Kentucky has a long history of heavy hitters in the music industry, stretching from jazz great Lionel Hampton to rockers My Morning Jacket. The state is no slouch with indie stars, either, from Ben Sollee to Daniel Martin Moore and Cheyenne Mize. Add a new Kentucky star to that indie crown: Sturgill Simpson.Originally from Breathitt County in eastern Kentucky, Simpson lived in Lexington for a while and was part of the bluegrass band Sunday Valley. He began focusing on his solo career and in 2013 put out the stellar album High Top Mountain. He upped the ante in 2014 by releasing Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
The 36-year-old singer-songwriter has been profiled by an impressive lineup of media sorts. This year, Simpson was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine, profiled on National Public Radio and even highlighted in The Wall Street Journal (too bad The WSJ chose to refer to his baritone as “backwoods”). He sang “Life of Sin” on Late Night with David Letterman in July and kicked butt. Simpson has grabbed the music world’s attention with his mix of traditional country music with a bit of psychedelia. Imagine Waylon Jennings reading a lot of philosophy and metaphysics and then singing about it.
Simpson is following the success of his latest CD by touring across America and England. He took time out of his schedule to answer a few questions posed to him by his home state’s magazine:
KM: What part of Kentucky are you from?
SS: Originally, I am from Jackson, Kentucky. I moved to central Kentucky while in elementary school, and I graduated high school in Versailles, Woodford County.
KM: Did growing up in Kentucky influence your taste in music?
SS: Of course. There aren’t many states with a richer musical heritage. Both of my grandfathers were musicians.
KM: What musicians had the biggest influence on you? Any Kentuckians?
SS: The Kentucky musicians I’ve been most influenced by are Bill Monroe, Roy Lee Centers, Keith Whitley, The Everly Brothers, The Osborne Brothers and Roscoe Holcomb.
KM: The title of your new album sure brings to mind Ray Charles’ classic album [Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music]. Is there a connection?
SS: Yes. It’s a nod both to some of the production values on Ray’s landmark album and some of the lyrical and thematic elements found on mine.
KM: What’s it like to be so much in demand (e.g., NPR, Rolling Stone, David Letterman)?
SS: It feels like the exact opposite of what my life was like three months ago.
KM: Where do you live now?
SS: I have lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for four years now.
KM: You keep being hailed as a savior of traditional country music. Where do you see your music heading?
SS: It’s not something I think about. I love all types of music, and saviors always end up getting crucified.