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Interview: Yelawolf & Shooter Jennings (Sometimes Y)

4 April 2022

Though their paths crossed over the years, producer/songwriter Shooter Jennings and hip-hop artist Yelawolf didn’t really form a tight bond until they were formally introduced to each other by Jennings’ nephew, Struggle Jennings, a dozen years ago. Since that friendship formed, Jennings says that the two “always made it a point to see each other when we could.”

A few years ago, both Jennings and Yelawolf were looking for a project that would challenge them and thus Sometimes Y was born. Throw out all preconceived notions of what you think the combination of a modern outlaw country artist and a hip-hop artist might sound like because, I can tell you, what you’re hearing in your head likely sounds nothing like what these two, along with Jennings’ band, were able to create.

As Yelawolf explains, this project came along at the right time in his career. “I needed this so badly. I was starting to feel expired. Even if the fans are still there, I was depleted of a drive,” he says. “It was getting too easy and the culture was growing younger and younger. I was like, ‘I have no place here.’”

Jennings and Yelawolf made quick work of writing and recording, completing an album in just 10 days. As I learned in a Zoom call with the two – Jennings at home, Yelawolf in the front seat of his car – you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover and both grew up in the ‘80s when MTV was thriving and you’d see a Journey video followed by a Run DMC video followed by a David Bowie video. While Sometimes Y is not a throwback, nostalgic album, it contains many of the elements that filled the FM airwaves in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

I wasn’t sure what to expect given your backgrounds and was pleasantly surprised by what sounds to me like an arena rock sounding record, almost like something Bon Jovi would have put out in the ’80s.

Shooter: Bon Jovi wouldn’t have been where I would have gone but my wife loves Bon Jovi. Both of us were born in ’79. We kind of missed out on the hair metal but we grew up in the Guns N’ Roses into Nirvana era which was heavily influential. But, we also grew up in the golden years of pop in the ’80s and electronic music and hip-hop. We’re children of MTV. I remember “Faith” by George Michael was the first video I saw where I was like, “What’s going on here? This is awesome.” That’s where we were coming from. We weren’t to cop any of that but we wanted to make something that excited us and this is what excited us.

Yelawolf: We realized that we both like pop music and it’s got a bad rep because of the boy band era but the massiveness of a song, a lot of those huge records are still my favorite records. A hit record doesn’t scare me. I’m not afraid to love something that everybody else loves as well. There is a group of people who are not that way, as soon as someone else likes it, they hate it. I’ve always been opposite of that. I love records for records sake, I don’t care if they’re underground or the biggest hit in the world. If I like it, I admittedly like it. When we write songs, it’s not intentional, it’s just that our influences are driven by these records that feel big. Challenging maybe, in a way, but still easy to digest, nothing you have to sit there and break down mathematically.

There’s a reason there’s a McDonald’s on every corner. It’s comfort, people are familiar with it, it’s popular.

Shooter: Is it better than the Big Mac? I have a friend that does that. He asks, “Is it better than the Big Mac?” and the answer is usually “no”.

Yelawolf: So, you’re saying we’re like a McJovi?

Did you guys come into this with stuff from your collective notebooks or were you coming in fresh to create something brand new?

Shooter: Yeah. All brand new, from scratch. We knew we wanted to do something and we set out to do it. We didn’t know what it was going to sound like but as we went on and on, we did about 20 musical tracks, 10 of which survived. It was a process of exploration that left us with big smiles on our faces.

Yelawolf: Our vibe was important as a unit to capture. Shooter is such a rad producer, he can translate very quickly what’s happening in the room. I can mumble an idea to Shooter and Shooter’s like, “Oh, okay guys, this is what he’s saying.” We had a really good language going on. That gave me the freedom to sit out on the porch, even before Shooter got there, and vibe with Ted [Russell Kamp] or John [Schreffler] or Jamie [Douglass]. We’d start thumbing through shit and by the time Shooter comes up, he’s like, “That’s rad, let’s cut that.” We just caught a vibe. We cut two demos that we had written, one of them was “Holding My Head” which we ended up keeping. The rest of the record was written on the spot in those 10 days that we were there.

Was there anything that either of you brought to it that the other one was like, “Yeah, that’s not going to work”?

Shooter: Of course.

Yelawolf: The art of making a record is the ability to look at each other and go, “Yeah, that’s not good. Let’s move on.” We cut 20 songs, what made the record was, what, 12 songs?

Shooter: Technically, 11 because we combined the first two songs into one song.

Yelawolf: We were really comfortable at saying, “Nah, that’s not it.” We never shut one another down until we started playing with it. There was just an obvious vibe. Everybody got their whip out. It was all good.

Is it true that you recorded the whole thing in 10 days?

Shooter: Yeah, at Sunset Sound. We just went in and Yelawolf was a great leader because, in this way, we had this band, we had the studio, we had me and this engineer, David [Spreng]. Yelawolf’s enthusiasm and his creative barrage was what kept everybody in motion, kept the energy going. We knew when to kill a song. We did this in 10 days. We spent almost an entire day on one song that didn’t make the record because we had a guest come in and do some stuff on it and we were like, by the end of the evening, “let’s keep moving.” We probably could have done it in a shorter period of time. Feeding off of his energy, he was just getting to know the band and they were just getting to know him, immediately his voice was so great, his energy was so great, his enthusiasm was so great and his feedback was so great that it created an energy that you don’t always get in the studio. It was special and we knew it was special. It was kind of scary because of that. It was moving so fast and it all felt so good. I remember when we did “Radio,” it was like, “Man, this is like Blondie. This is some Joy Division-meets-Blondie business going on here.”

When you guys are recording, when you click “Stop” for the day, does everyone go off and do their own thing or are you all hanging out after a long day’s work and grabbing dinner or drinks?

Yelawolf: When we’re in the studio, we’re working our asses off so, literally, everybody is exhausted. It’s not that we don’t want to hang, but, it’s like, “We’re here tomorrow. See you tomorrow dude, we worked 16 hours today.” But, we love to hang. We hung out a lot in Vegas when we were making our videos, a couple of nights that are really special to me. The first time I met the band is when we made this record. We got all dolled up to make the “Radio” video and then we kept our suits on and we went and enjoyed Vegas as a band. We partied down for the release party at the Rainbow Room. We have a blast hanging out outside of music.

During the lockdown, I watched The Beatles documentary, Get Back. I was impressed that they had the foresight to record footage of the process of making an album. Did you guys film stuff while making the record?

Yelawolf: We documented the entire making of the album on film. We’re putting that together. I’ve kind of changed my mind about releasing it. We were like, “Yeah, let’s do a documentary. When the album comes out, we can release that.” I’m just going to continue to stack footage and as we evolve and grow and do shows and we travel, I want to combine all that footage. I think it’s a bit early to put something like that out. But, yeah, we’ve been documenting everything. I documented everything on Polaroid. Everything that’s up on social is just stacked real-life Polaroids that I’ve collected. We’ve had some photographers like Jesse Lirola and Spidey Smith, those guys have been getting quite a bit of great photos. There’s legs to that, it’s not just film. That’s extremely important to me.

Your Instagram account is nothing but Polaroid pictures. I wasn’t sure if those were real Polaroid or styled to look like Polaroid photos.

Yelawolf: For the last two years, I took all the Polaroids while we were making the album and then I took the Polaroid camera while we were shooting the videos and then again for the release and I literally put them in a suitcase. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Polaroids. I sat down at the coffee table one night and just wrote on all of them. My manager goes around town and he takes photos of the photo. He’s got an assistant that holds an umbrella over them and he’s shooting all the Polaroids in weird spaces, getting kicked out of places. It’s pretty funny.

What two records do you each own individually that you think the other one also owns?

Shooter: That’s a good question. I bet he owns Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty and I bet that he owns … there’s obvious ones. I know he’s got Amerikkka’s Most Wanted by Ice Cube because we’ve talked about it. I loved that record growing up, that’s huge for me. I know he’s got those two albums.

Yelawolf: Yeah, I’ve got both of those records. I’ll say, for him, I’m going to throw out Portishead’s Dummy

Shooter: Yeah

Yelawolf: And I’ll say he may own Enter the Wu Tang.

Shooter: Oh, fuck yeah, dude. I may have that on vinyl. When they first came on the scene, I was like, “This is the most innovative sampling and musicianship stuff going on.”

Do you remember when you went from liking songs that you may have heard on the radio to becoming a fan of a band or an artist?

Yelawolf: It happened opposite for me. My household had a vinyl player and during parties, you just threw on the record. So, you listened to the whole thing and then you flipped it and listened to the other side. Nobody had time to DJ. Everybody was just partying and you needed a good album to party to. I grew up listening to albums in their entirety. It’s probably why I fell in love with the whole idea of it. As a teenager, I just fell in love with singles. In a lot of cases, I didn’t dig past that. I didn’t hear a single that drove me to go want to listen to the whole album. That’s funny. In hip-hop, in general, there was a lot of times not the best recipe for an album. There were a lot of great songs but they weren’t creating it for the album sake. Dr. Dre did, for sure. The Chronic was, top to bottom, very listenable. There was a singles culture and a mixtape culture around my life when hip-hop started to take hold. I’ve always crafted my projects with the idea of an album, especially studio albums.

Shooter: For me, the first band where I became obsessed with all the songs was Guns N’ Roses.

Yelawolf: I should have said the same, dude!

Shooter: I was like 7 when Appetite for Destruction came out so it was really Use Your Illusion that, when those two records came out, and I listened to all the songs. But the first band I became a super fanboy about was Nine Inch Nails. Once I heard the Broken record, and Downward Spiral came out, I was 15. I was like, “This is my thing. I’m going to be Trent Reznor when I grow up.” I read all the magazine articles.

I may be about 10 years older than you, but those bands were huge in my life too. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still love hair metal and Warrant is one of my favorite bands ever.

Shooter: Some of the Warrant songs are not that far off from some of what you’d call Yacht Rock now. Some of that songwriting and melody stuff was a little bit along the lines of that stuff.

Yelawolf: I always felt like if I became too much of a fan of it, I would never become it. It’s very strange. I would never let myself get too attached because I felt like I couldn’t become it if I dreamed about it too much. When I met Marshall [Mathers], Marshall came around the corner and he recited every single word of “Pop The Trunk” to me because he studies songs. That was the first time I ever met him, he just walked around the corner. I could not do that with any of his songs and I am a huge fan, but not that much of a fan, know what I’m saying?

Is Sometimes Y intended for a club stage, a theater stage, an arena stage or a festival stage?

Shooter: Festivals and arenas if you ask me. That would be the dream.

Yelawolf: My dream is Wembley. I’ll never not want that. But, you know what? We’ll rock whatever stage is put in front of us and we’ll enjoy every moment of it. I’ve played 300,000 people in front of Marshall Mathers. I’ve seen that. But it wasn’t my show. We’re here to let it be what it is. We’re extremely proud of the album, couldn’t be more proud. It’s really surreal, Every member of the band loves this record. That’s enough. What more could you ask for? But, yeah, me and him have been trudging it through the clubs for 15 years and we’ll go right back if we need to if that’s what it takes. But, I’ve got my eyes on Bridgestone Arena, the Titans stadium.