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Exclusive: John Prine On 'The Tree Of Forgiveness,' Protest Music & More

John Prine

Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy

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Exclusive: John Prine On 'The Tree Of Forgiveness,' Protest Music & More

Riding high on the widespread success of his latest album, the folk icon reveals a songwriting secret or two backstage at Newport Folk Festival

GRAMMYs/Jul 28, 2018 - 06:20 pm

John Prine may not be a household name – unless you're a songwriter. Since Prine released his groundbreaking self-titled debut album in 1971, he's written some of the most heartfelt, clever, quirky, and enduring songs of his generation. In April of this year, the 71-year-old unleashed his first new batch of original tunes in 13 years with The Tree Of Forgiveness. The songs feel as natural and essential as Prine's classics, and to no one's surprise — except maybe his own — the folk and country music communities have taken quite a shine to his new material.

Prine stopped by backstage at the Newport Folk Festival to talk with us about how the album came together, the importance of imagery in lyrics, folk music's power of protest, and a few of his songwriting secrets.

The new music video for "Knockin' On My Screen Door" features tons of all-star cameos, [including Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell, Dan Auerbach, and more]. How did the video collaboration with all of those folks come together?

I'd worked with everybody in the video, and some of them were really good buddies of mine. It just felt like a normal day for me because I go to lunch with half of those people, and I co-own a studio with Fergie [David Ferguson] and that's where Sturgill cut his record, and we cut Tyler Childers over there, felt like old home week. The fact that we got a video out at the end of the day, I thought that was pretty good.

Your latest album, The Tree Of Forgiveness, felt like a gift to your fans; to get all-new music from you was a real treat. How did it feel to write and record a new collection of songs for the first time in quite a while?

It was actually one of the easiest records I've ever made. It wasn't that I didn't believe in all the songs, I just I thought I was going to the studio to get maybe four songs that I liked, get them recorded, then take a break and write some more. But things were going so good. I kept remembering songs I hadn't done ... and that would turn out great, one after another. But the big surprise for me is that my records usually get received by my audience really good, but this record is something that's crazy. It's got stardust on it or something. It just keeps [going]. It's got legs and it keeps on running around, and we do all 10 songs every night in our show. … It's just a great feeling.

I've noticed a lot of younger songwriters are using tools out of your toolbox, and you can hear it in the songs of Kasey Musgraves and Margo Price, who both name you as an influence. What does it feel like to influence this next generation of songwriters?

Both these people that you're talking about are so good anyway, and then when they tell me that they took certain things from the way I wrote, it's such a huge compliment. It takes me awhile to hear what it is that they think is like John Prine that they put in their song, but after a while, I can tell. And it's just a big compliment really.

One of those devices I've always loved about your writing is your incredible use of imagery.

Thank you. I try to include stuff that everybody can relate to. If you're talking about a subject or an emotion that's hard to put your finger on while you're talking about it. If you mention there's a chair and an ashtray in the song, then everybody starts relating to the ashtray and the chair, and pretty soon they get caught up in the emotion, and boom you got them.

We're learning all the secrets here today.

That's it. That's my one secret. [laughs]

It's a good one. When we were driving to the festival today here in Newport, we saw a billboard with you and some lyrics from "Summer's End." Can you talk a little bit about writing that song?

I wrote it with my good buddy Pat McLaughlin. Pat and I have been buddies for going on 35 years, and we didn't write together maybe the first five years we knew each other, we were just buddies. And then, with The Missing Years, we started writing together. By the time we got around to just writing "Summer's End," when we go to write, we almost finish each other's sentences. So, it's hard to tell even after you sing the song where my mind left off and Pat's came in or vice versa. ... On that particular thing, we were throwing images back and forth and we both liked them so much. The only thing we had to stop for was to see if they phrased or occasionally rhymed. We went for this general mood. We didn't talk about what we were going for, we just kept throwing images back and forth at each other to see if we were on the same plain, and it just worked out to be a really beautiful song.

Folk music has always had a mainline into the protest sentiment. What does the song "Caravan Of Fools" mean to you?

I wrote it with Pat McLaughlin, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and our good friend David Ferguson that has the studio that I was talking about. We wrote six songs in two days. We were just hanging out. ... They could have said, 'Come on over, we're gonna play cards.' Instead, they said, 'Come on over we're gonna write songs.' … I knew Dan Auerbach was getting ready to do his first solo record, and so I thought that the songs were supposed to be for Dan. And we wrote, like I say, six songs in nothing. I made everybody break for an hour to go get White Castle hamburgers, and then we went back to writing.

The reason that I'm saying that about "Caravan Of Fools" being taken as a political song is to me when I sing it. But I never asked any of those guys if they were writing about anything [in particular] or what their politics were or anything. It's just that the song to me has a connotation I would say of what's going on. And it's got more verses then there are original members of Trump's cabinet too. … When I'm singing it, it's a protest song.

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Allen Hughes' "The Defiant Ones" Wins Best Music Film | 2018 GRAMMY

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Allen Hughes' "The Defiant Ones" Wins Best Music Film | 2018 GRAMMY

Director Allen Hughes' four-part documentary takes home Best Music Film honors for its portrayal of the unlikely partnership that changed the music business

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2018 - 02:09 am

The team behind The Defiant Ones celebrated a big win for Best Music Film at the 60th GRAMMY Awards. The crew awarded include director Allen Hughes and producers Sarah Anthony, Fritzi Horstman, Broderick Johnson, Gene Kirkwood, Andrew Kosove, Laura Lancaster, Michael Lombardo, Jerry Longarzo, Doug Pray & Steven Williams.

In a year rife with quality music documentaries and series, the bar has been set high for this dynamic category. The Defiant Ones is a four-part HBO documentary telling the story of an unlikely duo taking the music business by storm seems better suited for fantastical pages of a comic book, but for engineer-turned-mogul Jimmy Iovine and super-producer Dr. Dre, it's all truth.The Defiant Ones recounts their histories, their tribulations and their wild success. These include first-hand accounts from those who were there in Iovine's early days, such as Bruce Springsteen and U2's Bono, as well as those on board when Dre and Iovine joined forces, such as Snoop Dogg and Eminem.

The competition was stiff as the category was filled with compelling films such as One More Time With Feeling, Two Trains Runnin', Soundbreaking, and Long Strange Trip. 

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Portugal. The Man To Aida Cuevas: Backstage At The 2018 GRAMMYs

Photos: WireImage.com

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Portugal. The Man To Aida Cuevas: Backstage At The 2018 GRAMMYs

Also see James Fauntleroy, Reba McIntire, Latroit, and more after they stepped off the GRAMMY stage

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2018 - 05:39 am

What do artists do the moment they walk off the GRAMMY stage from presenting, accepting an award or performing? Now, you can find out.

Take a peak at Album Of The Year GRAMMY winner Bruno Mars, 60th GRAMMY Awards Host James Cordon, Cardi B minutes before her electrifying performance of "Finesse," and more!

Also see Best Pop Duo/Group Performance GRAMMY winners Portugal. The Man posing with their first career GRAMMY Award, Best Roots Gospel Album GRAMMY winner Reba McIntire right after she walked offstage, Best R&B Song GRAMMY winner James Fauntleroy, Best Remixed Recording GRAMMY winner Latroit, and many more, with these photos from backstage during the 60th GRAMMY Awards.

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Glenn Danzig

Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion

GRAMMYs/Aug 22, 2017 - 05:28 am

There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.

The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.

This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.

"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."

Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.

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Bruno Mars Wins Song Of The Year | 2018 GRAMMYs

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Bruno Mars Wins Song Of The Year | 2018 GRAMMYs

The Hawaiian native takes home Song Of The Year for "That's What I Like" at the 60th GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2018 - 08:11 am

Feeling the 24K Magic, Bruno Mars' successful progress through the categories he's been nominated in at the 60th GRAMMY Awards picked up another one at Song Of The Year for "That's What I Like."


Christopher Brody Brown and Philip Lawrence co-write with Mars under the name Shampoo Press & Curl. The other winning songwriters for Mars' hit tonight in this category are James Fauntleroy and production team "The Sterotypes" — Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus and  Jonathan Yip.

For additional "Finesse" on stage at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, Mars was joined by Cardi B for a reprise of their 148-million-views hit remix.

The Album Of The Year GRAMMY Award wrapped up the night and wrapped up Bruno Mars' complete rampage through his six nominated categories — now six wins.

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