When Oklahoma-based musician John Moreland released the album High On Tulsa Heat in 2015, he was still largely known outside the region he called home. When his latest recording, Big Bad Luv, arrived earlier this year, it was met with a flood of critical praise in top-tier press outlets.
There have been other changes in Moreland's life: He's gotten married and hired a touring band rather than playing solo acoustic sets. There’s also more: The singer-songwriter says that despite still spending much of his time on the road, he feels like he has stronger roots now.
“Overall, I feel like I have more of a home, I’m more settled,” he says. “Back then I was more transient. I didn’t really have a home. I stayed where I could and stayed with my parents sometimes. I’m a lot more rooted now.”
The acclaim and visibility that have visited Moreland in the past few years came in part because of fellow artists such as Jason Isbell and Taylor Goldsmith, who were early champions of Moreland's cause.
“I think other songwriters and other artists were sort of the first ones to accept me,” he says. “Having the support of guys like Jason and Taylor Goldsmith and the other guys from Dawes… those are artists I love and respect a whole lot, so of course it means a lot for me to have their approval.”
Big Bad Luv takes its title from a 1990 short story collection by Mississippi-born writer Larry Brown. Moreland says he drew some inspiration from and developed an appreciation for Brown's economical but powerful writing style.
“It’s so concise and it packs such a heavy punch while being extremely simple," he says. "It’s not flowery. It just gets straight to your heart with very few words and very simple words. I think that’s what I aim to do with my songs as well.”
The singing on Big Bad Luv is some of the best that Moreland has done on record to date. He suggests that sometimes his best work arrives when he's not aiming too high.
“There’s something about not caring that makes for very good performances, I think,” he says. “My favorite things I’ve done in the studio are often things where I think, ‘This is just a demo. I’m just going to demo something.' Then, when it’s done, I think, 'Oh my God. I love this. I’m going to put it on a record.' ‘Salisaw Blue’ on this record is an example of that. We set up a makeshift studio and recorded that at a bar here in Tulsa before the bar opened one day. There’s a looseness about it that I really like.”
The changes in Moreland's personal life have given some cause to think that his marriage radically changed his songwriting and that whereas some of his previous albums contained songs about loss and heartbreak his new material feels more celebratory. But the singer-songwriter is quick to point out that it's not that easy and when asked how changes in his personal life have impacted his art, he offers this:
“I don’t really know the answer to that question,” he says. “I’m just as curious as everybody else. We’ll just have to wait and see. It can also be a little irritating because a lot of times it comes with this tone of, ‘Oh no! I love your sad songs so much. How are you going to write sad songs now that you’re happily married?’ I’m a real person who wants to be happy and have a cool life and I don’t tell other people that I hope their life stays sad so they keep writing sad songs. It’s a weird concept.”
Moreland performs Wednesday evening at Barleycorn's with Aaron Lee Martin and Christian Lee Hutson.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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