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Interview: Acclaimed Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland experiments with new sounds on 'LP5'

John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]
John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]

An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Evolving sound: Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland experiments with instrumentation on new 'LP5'

A lot has changed for John Moreland since he made his first album, 2011's "Earthbound Blues."

And some of those changes will be immediately apparent when listeners hear the Tulsa-based singer-songwriter's upcoming "LP5."

"It just kind of felt like time to incorporate some new elements. I approached writing the songs in slightly different ways this time, like some of the songs started with drum machines. When you just sit around playing acoustic guitar by yourself for years, it just gets to feel like, 'OK, this is boring. How can I reframe this in a way that is actually interesting to me?' So, that was kind of the mentality," said the acclaimed troubadour.

"When my career started going well and I had enough money to buy a couple extra guitars or extra gear that I didn't have in the past, I started to realize, 'I got all these guitars and I never play any of them. ... I play the guitar, but I just play the same one all the time.' Then, I just noticed that the gear that I was really getting into was more like samplers and old drum machines and synths and crazy studio gear. So, it was kind of just messing around with that stuff and just allowing (in) different influences that in the past I thought didn't fit in or I considered them off limits. I just kind of decided, 'That's b------t. I'd like to just be open to whatever I like, whatever sounds good."

Moreland is set to release his eagerly anticipated fifth solo album on Feb. 7 via Old Omens/Thirty Tigers, and he will mark the occasion with a free in-store performance and signing Feb. 7 at Oklahoma City's Guestroom Records.

And he will celebrate the new release regardless of whether people like his new sonic approach or not.

"No, I don't care at all. I have zero regard for that at all. ... I'm gonna do whatever I think is cool, and people can feel however they want to feel about it," he said. "I feel like I've always kind of understood that that's the best way to go about making art, because if you start caring about what other people think or how it's gonna be received, that just seems like losing game. You're just inevitably gonna be miserable. ... It's not like it's easy and totally stress-free. I guess I think about it, but I know that I can't let that affect my choices."

John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]
John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]

Doing the job

The anticipated follow-up to Moreland's multifaceted 2017 release "Big Bad Luv," "LP5" represents a new phase for the Oklahoma native's musical career.

"When 'Big Bad Luv' came out and it seemed like, 'Oh, s--t's really taking off for Moreland' ... I was not having much fun at all. But I feel like I have a much better grip on it now," he said in a phone interview from his Tulsa home. 

"When it becomes a job, it's weird all the sudden, because jobs suck and they're hard sometimes, no matter what it is. So, to go from 'This is my hobby, it's all fun, it's my passion, but it's fun,' and then when it becomes a job, it can take a while to sort of figure out 'How do I do this now and keep it where I actually like it and want to do it.' So, that's taken a few years to sort of figure out. But I feel good about it. ... I definitely was in the best headspace while writing songs that I've ever been in probably for these songs."

He said the album's more diverse and textured sound was influenced by his ongoing friendship and musical partnership with fellow Oklahoma musician John Calvin Abney. The pair have collaborated on each other's projects for years, and the multi-instrumentalist has played alongside Moreland not only on tour but also on high-profile showcases like "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," "CBS This Morning" and NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert."

"I think this album was really informed by me and Calvin just kind of hanging out and messing with gear and messing with sounds in my home studio and doing demos," Moreland said. "We have a lot of gear that we share and stuff, so he gets a drum machine and uses it on his album and then I'm like, 'Whoa, that sounds awesome; let me borrow that.' Then we use it on my album. That kind of thing happens a lot with us."

John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]
John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]

Going into the studio

Produced by Matt Pence (Jason Isbell, The Breeders, Sarah Jaffe) at The Echo Lab, in Denton, Texas "LP5" marks the first time that Moreland has worked with a producer rather than producing his own album.

"I really just wanted to go to a studio that I knew and work with an engineer that I knew was really great and who I was really a fan of - and Matt definitely fits that bill. One of my favorite Tulsa bands, Ester Drang, recorded an album at Matt's studio with him in the early 2000s, so I've kind of wanted to go down there and record there ever since then. I'm just a big fan of his and the sound that he gets and his drumming," Moreland said.

"So, I went down there just thinking, 'He's gonna get great sounds, I'll still kind of be the producer, and we'll just make an album.' And then pretty quickly into the process, it was like, 'This dude is really kind of next-level, and he's really taking my ideas and expanding on them.' And it just felt like, 'OK, I'm not the producer; he's the producer. I'm just gonna go with it because I think the album's gonna be better for it.' And it worked great."

After the Guestroom Records release-day stop, Moreland and Abney will embark on a tour in support of the new project, including an April 11 home-state show at Oklahoma City's Tower Theatre.

"I hate to sound boring, but (we're) just doing what we always do, trying to play the songs as good as we can," he said wryly. "We don't have any pyrotechnics or video displays or anything, but if you want to see a couple of dudes playing songs, we can offer that."


John Moreland free in-store performance and signing

When: 6 p.m. Feb. 7

Where: Oklahoma City's Guestroom Records, 3701 N Western Ave.

Information: www.facebook.com/GuestroomRecords.

John Moreland in concert

When: 8 p.m. April 11.

Where: Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23.

Information: www.towertheatreokc.com.


Related Photos
John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]

John Moreland [Crackerfarm photo]

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›