John Moreland:
The TVD Interview

Like a lot of you, I’m guessing, I go to a lot of shows. There are many benefits to this, one of which is asking your favorite musicians who they’re listening to these days. Over the course of the past year or so, I noticed their lists almost always had two names in common: Townes Van Zandt and John Moreland.

That’s a hell of a thing for an up-and-coming musician to share a “must listen to” list with the late, great Townes Van Zandt (with whom I am already familiar), so I did what any good lover of music would do: I checked him out. Not only was I happy I did, but I also grew to understand why they were usually mentioned together: They’re both musician’s musicians.

How did you get started playing music?

My family is somewhat musical. My dad plays the guitar. I started playing when I was 10 years old when we moved to Tulsa from Boone County, Kentucky. I didn’t have any friends yet, and I was bored all the time, so I asked my dad to show me a couple of chords. I just kind of kept going from there. Then, you know, a couple of years later, I realized you could just, like, make up songs, so I’ve been writing songs ever since then.

How old were you then?

I was about 12.

So you’ve been doing that since you were 12?

Yeah, and throughout high school, I was in a bunch of hardcore bands.

Oh, who were your influences?

Um, well, back then, I really liked Converge and Pg. 99, and Minor Threat was my favorite band. Also, just a lot of DIY hardcore. At some point, that wasn’t really doin’ it for me anymore, and I kinda just started going back to music my dad had always listened to when I was growing up, like Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival and stuff like that.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people making the kind of music you make have hardcore, post-hardcore, and/or metal backgrounds.

Yeah, it’s funny. I also like 90s country. I grew up on a lot of that. I’m also a huge George Strait fan. I actually listened to him for hours last night.

It’s easy to do with him. I also love 90s Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” is probably one of my all-time favorite songs.

Yeah, that is a good one.

You mentioned Neil Young. I love him too. He’s right up there for me. CCR is my all-time favorite band, though. People are usually surprised to learn that about me.

Yeah, I think they might be mine too.

What were some of the first songs you learned?

Mostly stuff that was on the radio, like Green Day and Weezer. I would ask my dad to show me how to play them, and he’s pretty good at just picking stuff out real quick, and so he would teach me them.

How do you feel about Green Day and Weezer now? Like, were they just songs that you learned because they happened to be on the radio, or did you like them back then?

I still listen to the stuff from back then. Like, I still listen to Dookie, and I still listen to The Blue Album.

Personally, I only really like the Green Day from that era.

Yeah, I do too. Like, I don’t give a shit about any Green Day past, like, 1998.

That’s fair. I think Weezer holds up better.

A little bit. They’ve had some questionable stuff.

(laughs) Yeah… The Golden 90s. (laughs)

(laughs)

How do you feel about Pearl Jam and Nirvana? A lot of people view them as “guilty pleasures,” but I don’t.

I love them.

So do I! Thank you. I feel validated. 

When I was 10 years old, my cousin, who is older than me, bought me a copy of Nevermind, and I really love In Utero too, which I got later.

I think Nirvana did some important things, audio-engineering-wise, like on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I dug that they brought that dirty, grindy sound to mainstream radio.

Yeah, but I think that had more to do with Butch Vig.

Oh, definitely. As for Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder is touring again. I hope to get to see him solo. I’ve seen Pearl Jam in the 90s.

Yeah, he came to Tulsa not too long ago. I didn’t get to go, but I had some friends who went, and they said it was really great.

I don’t doubt it. So, I’ve noticed your older albums have a bigger rock sound. Your later ones are more stripped down. How did that progression come about?

Well, on the first couple records, I was kind of just writing for the band that I had at the time. When we first started, we wanted the band to be doing stuff that’s more like what I’m doing now. What I’ve realized now, though, is that we were really good at this very specific sound. You know, huge guitar and rock kind of thing. It sort of just came easily, so we kept doing it for a couple of years, and then it just, like, wasn’t really satisfying anymore.

I needed to branch out, and that led to Earthbound Blues, which was definitely, intentionally way different from my first two records. I was just burnt out on doing the exact same thing for a few years. It was time to do something else.

What were your influences on the earlier albums, and what were your influences on the last two?

They were very different. On the first two albums, it was a lot of John Mellencamp, who I love, along with Willie Nile, and kind of, like, 90s punk rock that I grew up on too, like Social Distortion. The last couple records were more like The Band, and I really love Randy Newman, and, of course, CCR.

You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who’s mentioned CCR, but you’re definitely not the first one to mention The Band. I grew up listening to them and classic rock, so I understand the appeal. How does a band like The Band become an influence to someone like you, who had a punk rock background?

To me, they’re basically everything I like rolled into one. Every little niche of American music is all in one band, and it’s from a time when R & B, country, folk, gospel, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll didn’t seem so far apart as they do now, I don’t think. That’s what I’m personally going for now, I think.

So, who are you listening to lately? Because everybody I know is listening to you.

(laughs)Well, thank you. Um, I listened to the past two Lucero albums while I was driving my grandma to Texas the other day, 1372 Overton Park and Women and Work, a lot of David Bazan, and there’s this new band from Oklahoma City called Prettyboy that I’ve been listening to. They’re totally, like, 80s dream pop, but it’s really, really great song writing. I feel like there’s a kind of art to pop song writing, and they’re really good at it.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m recording a new record at home right now. It’s gettin’ there. It will probably be done in February and will hopefully come out in the summer. It’s going to be called Bad Hustler Hymns. I’m on a regional tour right now, then some west coast shows in April, and then the east coast later in the year.

Moreland is performing this Saturday, February 16th, at fooBar in Nashville with two other musicians you aren’t going to want to miss, Austin Lucas and Todd Farrell & The Dirty Birds.

Photos: Carra Martin Photography

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