The Reason Rod Picott's Workingman Songs Ring So True? Dude's Worked His Whole Life.
Joshua Black Wilkins
Alt-country singer-songwriter Rod Picott writes songs about the working man because, well, the guy is the embodiment of the working man. For over 20 years, Picott held down a day job hanging sheetrock. At night, to perfect his songwriting, he would hit whatever coffee shop would let him play. Such didn't take long, though. Picott debut recording, 2001's Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues immediately drew raves from critics and fans of authentic Americana.
Meanwhile, Picott's seventh album, Welding Burns, came out earlier this year and may be the guy's strongest work to date. Featuring songs that delve into the genuine experiences of those folks who live paycheck to paycheck, each of Picott's albums is a must-have for fans of Steve Earle and even Bruce Springsteen.
In anticipation of tonight's performance at AllGood Café, Picott took some time to talk with us about, among other things, how writing songs about work is best done by those who have actually worked those jobs.
You were born in New Hampshire, grew up in Maine, moved to Denver and then settled in Nashville. Did you have a restless spirit?
Well, I've been in the same place now for 16 years. I tour so much that I feel like I have many
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The change from Maine to Nashville must have been especially startling.
It was culture shock for sure. I remember my first day of work. I got a job doing drywall and the boss was telling me what to do and I couldn't understand him. I said "What?" about eight times. That east Tennessee accent can be very confusing.
How has your songwriting evolved since your debut recording in 2001 to your most recent release, Welding Burns?
I think I've gotten better at finding the balance between the narrative and the internal songs. I've gotten better at using my own life and using that stuff in songs. My sense of detail has gotten better. I think my songs are more honest now.
Are all of your songs autobiographical?
Not all of them. Now, all of the songs on the new record are about me or people that I know. Some of them are stories made up about people I know. I like to use my own life in my own songs. A lot of songwriters don't like to say that. There can be a whole lot of other issues when that comes up.
On the new album, a song like "Sheetrock Hanger" can either be seen as a song that's been around a while or you digging up painful memories.
I noticed that five or six songs on the record were about work. That song was about remembering when I wanted to be an artist, but my day job was what I had to do. As the years have gone by, I've made peace with that and I am now able to write better about it.
Do you still do about 120 shows a year?
More than that. We're only in June and I've already done 87. I work as much as I can. I don't even mind the driving.
You've written songs with Slaid Cleaves and Fred Eaglesmith. How did those collaborations come about?
Slaid and I grew up together in Southern Maine. We've known each other since we were 8 years old. We got into the same trouble sometimes. We got pulled over by the same cops. We've known each other our whole lives, so writing with him was kind of a no brainer. Slaid and I sometimes just help each other with certain songs -- finish up a lyric or a riff. With Fred, it was a promotions company that was courting him and me at the same time. They kind of suggested that we work together. The song we wrote together, I am very proud of that.
In an interview with Cleaves, he compared you to Springsteen, Steve Earle and Woody Guthrie. Those are some pretty big shoes.
Yes, they are. But I'll tell you, with the exception of Guthrie, a lot of those people who write about work have never worked that job. Certainly not for 20 years. I feel that I have something to add. I'm saying those guys haven't written great songs, but there are details about things that you have to live to understand.
Is it true that you drove Alison Krauss's merchandise truck?
When that tour first started, I went around telling everyone that I opened for Alison Krause, which was true, but, yes, I also had to drive the merchandise truck. They let me play because they didn't have an opening act. But after the show, I always had to drive all night, check into a hotel at 8 a.m., not get any sleep, and play again that night. But it was nice to be at shows of that caliber.
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