meta-scriptJohn Prine Talks 'My Kentucky Home, Goodnight' & Why He Wants To Benefit Coal Miners |
John Prine Talks 'My Kentucky Home, Goodnight' & Why He Wants To Benefit Coal Miners

John Prine

Photo by Danny Clinch


John Prine Talks 'My Kentucky Home, Goodnight' & Why He Wants To Benefit Coal Miners

The GRAMMY-winning Americana figure opens up about his brand-new 7", how mining affected Muhlenberg County and why the Bluegrass State runs in his blood

GRAMMYs/May 14, 2019 - 10:28 pm

GRAMMY-winning country/folk hero John Prine is widely known for his 1970 song, "Paradise," a wistful ode to a now-extinct Kentucky town that was ravaged by the strip mining industry. Almost 50 years later, he’s revived the song to benefit the very same coal miners and their families in Appalachia.

This version of "Paradise" rounds out Prine’s new 7" single My Kentucky Home, Goodnight, which arrived on May 11. The A-side is a cover of Stephen Foster's Civil War-era classic, on the reverse, a new version of "Paradise” with folk/bluegrass artist Tyler Childers. Sales will benefit the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, which provides legal representation to miners and their families.

While "Paradise" is full of warnings about the ruinous effects of mining on small-town America, Prine remains sympathetic to the miners themselves. Not only did they put their bodies on the line, but many have fallen into financial hardship as the coal industry increasingly turns to dust.

"Those miners were the hardest-working people," he tells The Recording Academy. "I'll always respect what they did to provide for their families." These two modest recordings connect Prine meaningfully with his past — and help extend a hand to a struggling American region.

Read on for an interview with Prine about the new 7", how mining affected Muhlenberg County and why the Bluegrass State runs in his blood.

On "Paradise," you evoked youthful summers in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. What made you want to evoke the state again with "My Kentucky Home, Goodnight"?

I love this Stephen Foster song and I love Kentucky. I guess it runs in my blood. My dad had a great affection for his home state and passed that love to me and my brothers. I still have a lot of family there and try to get to the annual family reunion as often as I can.

"My Kentucky Home, Goodnight" traditionally kicks off the Kentucky Derby. Do you have memories of attending the Derby as a kid?

We never attended the Derby. I’m not sure if my family could have afforded to take everyone. My cousin Jackie always had a famous Derby party, but I was always on the road. One of these days, I definitely want to go. I always make a small bet with my brothers on Derby day just for the fun of it.

Your father, Bill, actually grew up in Paradise. Can you talk about him a little bit?

He was a larger-than-life character. He worked hard to provide for us and enjoyed his beer and country music. I think he might have believed that one day he would take us back to live in Kentucky. He would take us there on vacation every year and those car trips are still some of my best memories of growing up.

Proceeds from the single benefit Appalachian coal miners and their families. What makes you connect with their plight?

When you grow up knowing that your parents' home place no longer exists because of mining, it’s a hard reality to shake. A lot of families are affected by the declining industry now and others are left with black lung. Those miners were the hardest-working people and I’ll always respect what they did to provide for their families.

A brand-new version of "Paradise" rounds out Side B. Why do you think folks connect with that song so strongly?

It’s one of my songs that I really didn’t think would make it to the 21st century, like "Flag Decal." I guess the world really has not changed all that much. People are connected to wherever they call home and where their parents were born, and we still have environmental issues and industries that no longer provide good jobs for working-class people.

Why did you connect with Tyler Childers for this version of "Paradise"?

Tyler has opened a bunch of shows for us and we traveled together to New Zealand and Australia earlier this year. I think he is one of the finest young writers out there and he is a great fella to hang out with. He gets what country music is all about. Writing about the people and places you know best and the feelings that come from growing up in rural America.

You've got a lot on your plate these days — this new single, an international tour. What keeps you so busy and motivated?

I love that my audience has expanded. My fans from the 1970s are still with me and now they bring their kids and grandchildren. It gives me new energy to play my songs for a new audience. When we traveled to Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of the year, I got to play for fans that had waited 25 years to see me live. That was an amazing experience and has really given me motivation to write new songs and keep performing.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Tyler Childers' Road To 'Rustin' In The Rain': How The Country Singer's Untraditional Moves Have Made Him A Beloved Star
Tyler Childers performs at the Railbird Music Festival in June 2023.

Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage


Tyler Childers' Road To 'Rustin' In The Rain': How The Country Singer's Untraditional Moves Have Made Him A Beloved Star

With his sixth album, 'Rustin In The Rain,' Tyler Childers continues a trajectory of standing up for his beliefs and staying true to his roots.

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2023 - 08:26 pm

Tyler Childers has made a career out of doing things differently. The Lawrence County, Kentucky native first built a grassroots following with his left-of-center country style, becoming a cult figure respected for his traditionally informed take on the genre and his unabashed authenticity. Now, he's one of country music's favorite outsider voices — and he continues to move the needle with his Elvis-inspired sixth album, Rustin' in the Rain.

While Childers first gained acclaim with his second studio album, 2017's Purgatory, his 2011 debut, Bottles & Bibles, hinted at what was to come. That record was raw and stripped-down, with spare production putting the spotlight firmly on his narrative-driven lyrics and his now-beloved soulful drawl. In the years between its release and Purgatory's, Childers further honed his songwriting and his singing by touring relentlessly with his band, the Food Stamps, which also helped build the fan base that would rabidly support Purgatory.

Childers was one of the first of a new generation of country artists to reject the traditional machinations of Nashville's Music Row in favor of building grassroots support for making music on their own terms. He did so following in the footsteps of another Kentuckian, Sturgill Simpson, who also famously avoids media, shares little about his personal life, and can be unpredictable with the timing and scope of his projects.

It's fitting, then, that Simpson (alongside David Ferguson) would produce Purgatory, with his own critical clout and cult success functioning like a stamp of approval for the then-relatively unknown new artist. Purgatory tied together Childers' many influences, which span bluegrass, gospel, blues and outlaw country. The LP opens with the hardscrabble old-time of opener "I Swear (to God)," whose Biblical allusions ("workin' on a building outta hand-hewn brimstone") won't be the last we hear from Childers in his work.

To Childers' seeming dismay, Purgatory resonated more with Americana audiences than the country music industry — even despite his unabashedly country sound and heavily narrative songwriting, much of which nods to traditional country themes like labor, poverty and faith. That conflict came to a head when he won Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Honors and Awards, where he reluctantly accepted the award and told the audience, "As a man who identifies as a country music singer, I feel Americana ain't no part of nothing and is a distraction from the issues that we're facing on a bigger level as country music singers. It kind of feels like purgatory."

That purgatory is faced by many country artists who don't fit the genre's mold, which traditionally prioritizes straight, white, cisgender men or artists who hew closely to the Music Row formula du jour. And though Childers may fit the demographic, he decidedly doesn't adhere to the genre's clichés: Nowhere in his discography will you hear lyrics about back roads or pickup trucks, or the pop-heavy country fusion popular on current country radio.

Growing in notoriety on the strength of Purgatory, Childers returned with 2019's Country Squire. Another Simpson/Ferguson-produced joint, the album earned the singer his first No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart, as well as his first Grammy nomination — in the Country Field, no less, as "All Your'n" received a nod for Best Country Solo Performance in 2020. Country Squire wasn't a far cry, sonically or thematically, from Purgatory, but it did establish Childers' staying power and laid sturdier groundwork for the more experimental projects he would later release.

Childers was only able to tour Country Squire for a few months before the pandemic shut down the music industry. Like many artists, the unexpected break led him into an introspective period, which birthed his 2020 record, Long Violent History, a political statement framed as a fiddle album. Written and recorded in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, Long Violent History is the most potent of Childers' early political statements, a middle finger to the establishment as well as a heartfelt rebuke of part of the singer's own complex Southern culture.

Childers caps Long Violent History with its title track, a biting rebuke of racial violence that seeks to bridge the empathy gap between white working Southerners and their Black neighbors. In one of the song's most affecting verses, Childers sings, "How many boys could they haul off this mountain, shoot full of holes, cuffed, and laid in the streets/ 'Til we come in to town in a stark ravin' anger, Looking for answers and armed to the teeth."

Long Violent History punctured any notion that Childers was an artist afraid to make a statement. And on its follow-up, the triple gospel album, 2022's Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?, Childers once again bucked the conservatism typically associated with country music. That's especially heard on lead single "Angel Band," on which Childers sings of his interpretation of heaven ("There's Hindus, Jews and Muslims/ And Baptists of all kinds") and the assertion that Jesus "ain't a blue-eyed man."

The structure of that LP is also unorthodox, as Childers recorded three versions — "Hallelujah," stripped down and live in the studio; "Jubilee," more fleshed-out production; and "Joyful Noise," remixed and including samples — of each of the record's eight tracks. In addition to the project's retro sonic palette, Childers again nods to his traditional country influences with a cover of Hank Williams' "Old Country Church," and even revisits his own material with an updated version of "Purgatory."

Rather than returning with a more typical full-length LP, Childers followed Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? with the rowdy and rollicking Rustin' in the Rain, which sits at a tight but potent seven tracks. Sonically, the album sounds almost vintage, as Childers has explained that he wrote and chose tracks as though he would be pitching material to Elvis. Even so, the music still connects back to earlier Childers releases: opener "Rustin' in the Rain," with its jaunty piano and soulful vocal, wouldn't sound out of place on Purgatory; "Luke 2:8-10" continues Childers' tradition of incorporating Biblical imagery into his music; and "Percheron Mules" is the latest in a long line of Childers tunes that celebrate rural living.

And in signature Childers fashion, Rustin' in the Rain features another major statement piece — this time with a lead single, titled "In Your Love." The track's accompanying video allows Childers space to advocate for LGBQTIA+ rights, as he tapped friend and queer Southern author Silas House to co-write a deeply tender video treatment telling the story of two men meeting in a coal mine and falling hopelessly in love. The clip is sweet and intense, with the kind of sweeping love story made for the movies and — in country music, especially — typically reserved for the depiction of straight couples.

The track was inspired by Childers' cousin, who was his "first tough critic." "[I was] just thinking about him not having a music video on CMT that spoke to him," Childers told NPR's Ann Powers upon the song's release. Throughout the interview, he stressed the need for making a statement — as he's done since the start of his career. "Even if you have the privilege of walking through this world unfazed, it's more important than ever to stand with and for and up for things, to be vocal," he added.

Although Childers has yet to break through on country radio, "In Your Love" proved to be one of his most effective statements to date. The song scored Childers his first top 10 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, also landing him on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in his career. And with a headlining arena tour — his first full arena trek — set for 2024, Childers is clearly continuing to grow his audience by simply staying true to himself.

Whether or not he becomes a commercial darling, Childers has cemented his status as one of country music's more interesting, boundary-pushing artists. That seems to suit him just fine, as he continues to show new sides of his artistry without pandering to the sounds of the day. Like he declared on Purgatory, he's creating his own lane: "right now, I am focused on the universal sound."

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Living Legends: Seven Decades Into His Career, Swamp Dogg Wants To Give Audiences "Every Last Drop"
Swamp Dogg

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images


Living Legends: Seven Decades Into His Career, Swamp Dogg Wants To Give Audiences "Every Last Drop"

Swamp Dogg has been an antimatter hero of American music since his 1970 debut and is riding a wave of popular resurgence. Ahead of a summer tour, he discusses his live show, Chuck Berry, John Prine, and more.

GRAMMYs/Jul 27, 2023 - 06:06 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, spoke with Swamp Dogg, the eccentric soul and R&B titan still actively writing, recording and performing more than half a century after his debut album.

Swamp Dogg is about to play a major concert in New York City, and he has a few commitments to keep.

There will be no medleys. He won't talk down to the audience. When he hits a bad note — which he calls a "guaranteed" prospect — he'll pause, reassess and fix it.

"When they leave, they're not thinking much about the bad note, because we all talked about it in this conversation," the artist born Jerry Williams, Jr. tells "I do have a conversation with my audience, and it's good."

That gig, at Knockdown Center in Queens on July 28, should serve as a reminder that Swamp Dogg has been in a strange, wonderful dialogue with the planet from the jump. This dates back to when he made his first recording, "HTD Blues (Hardsick Troublesome Downout Blues)," in 1954 — an awfully pessimistic dispatch from a 12-year-old.

His 1970 debut under the moniker, Total Destruction To Your Mind, is a fantastic slice of left-field psychedelic soul — filled with fried, occasionally conspiratorial, frequently profound insights that framed him as something of a modern prophet. ("Why wasn't I born with orange skin/ And green hair/ Like the rest of the people in the world?" remains an excellent question.)

In the ensuing decades, Swamp Dogg (he spelled with a double g before Snoop Dogg was born) has released numerous albums; naturally, his career has ebbed and flowed.

But at 81, he's found indie stars like Justin Vernon and Jenny Lewis in his corner, and released inspired late-period albums like 2020's Sorry You Couldn't Make It and 2022's I Need a Job… So I Can Buy More Auto-Tune.

Ahead of the Knockdown Center show, read on for an interview with Swamp Dogg about his live philosophy, upcoming music, profound relationship with John Prine, and decidedly so-so relationship with… the state of Rhode Island.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What can people expect from your upcoming Knockdown Center gig?

To be honest with you, I don't know, other than I always try to give the last drop of whatever I'm doing. I don't do medleys and that bulls—. They can expect to get it all, and I usually try to get in as many songs as I can without trying to get the audience out of the way.

You feed off the energy of the crowd like a consummate performer should. You're not rushing through it or phoning it in.

Right. Plus, usually, I talk to my audience. Not just to hear myself talk. I get the audience involved. Not a lot of mundane s—. I talk to them like we live together. If you had somebody else in your house, the way you would talk.

When you launched your career all those decades ago, which performers galvanized you to give your all?

It's funny: one of the artists that inspired me the most — and kind of encouraged me, without knowing me, to give everything — was Chuck Berry. Chuck didn't have to do anything but be Chuck, and, damn: that's all you wanted.

Chuck did his singular thing as long as he could possibly do it. Every performance was pure, uncut Chuck. I see that quality in you as well.

Right. If I'm doing a song and we hit a bad note — sometimes a note that's haunting, it's so f—ing bad — I'll stop my band, and talk to my band. I'll take three or four minutes and give the audience what I want.

What can you tell me about the musicians who will accompany you at Knockdown Center?

I've got some great musicians right now, for the gigs I'm doing over the next six weeks. They've been with me for a while.

My keyboard man plays loop stuff. He plays just about every instrument there is. He'll cover for me, because I will hit a bad note. I guarantee I'll hit a bad note. But I'll make up for it. And it's not going to be bad notes all night long. [Laughs]

Human error is how I look at it. But I work real hard to make sure that my audience is happy. I'll stay out on stage as long as the house itself is fine with what I'm doing.

And you have some shows after Knockdown Center on the books, too.

I know we're playing in Rhode Island and some other things coming up. I don't know anybody who ever played in Rhode Island. Nobody ever says, "Hey, let's go to Rhode Island!" It's like, f— Rhode Island.

Don't get me wrong; that doesn't mean Rhode Island is a bad place. It's just musically, you never hear of anybody going there. 

I'm looking forward to it, because how many chances do you get to go to Rhode Island? But there are more memorable states for sure. You don't hear it on quiz shows. I guess if you did, it would be [the result of] the most complicated f—ing question you ever heard.

Swamp Dogg

Swamp Dogg. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

What are you working on lately? Can we expect new music coming up?

I've got an album that's finished. It's a country album, and it's great. It's just that I've got to get the liner notes together, because it's got a lot of s— in it as far as information.

I'm not using a drummer at all, but you're not going to miss it. Because if you listen back to the old, old stuff, they didn't have a set of drums. So, I left the drums; I'm trying to go back to the beginning.

On a different note, it was bittersweet to hear John Prine on Sorry You Couldn't Make It. That had to be one of his final recordings. What was it like working with him?

He was a very real person. He and I had planned to go to Ireland together, because he had a house in Ireland. We were going [to go] there for about a week and just write our asses off.

I miss him. I'd known him since sometime in the '60s. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to track lyric-wise, but I guess music-wise also. Good guy, filled with talent.

Which Prine song means the most to you?

"Sam Stone."

Yeah, I know you covered it.

I do it every show. There's a different ending every time I do it, because it's one of those songs that gives me a chance to talk to my audience about how things are, what's going on, what I feel we could do for the country, and to make people more comfortable.

Like giving away clothes. Some people forget that if you put a bunch of clothes away a few years, and moths haven't eaten the s— [out of them], you could give it to these people. And don't be ashamed of the money you can't give — just be happy about what you can give.

I see all the problems that we have, that are unnecessary. That's what makes me really get into "Sam Stone." Usually, 90 percent of the time, I am with Sam Stone.

It's like a preacher on Sunday morning. He preaches and it is basically the same s—, but delivered in a different way. So, that's what I'm doing.

What did you think when Johnny Cash covered "Sam Stone" and controversially changed the lyric "Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose" to "Daddy must have hurt a lot back then, I suppose"? Some say that carved out the meaning of the song.

I've never heard it. I like Johnny Cash. But there are about 10 country artists that I like better.

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On His Debut LP, 'This Far South,' Tommy Prine Found His Unique Voice: "I'm Just Tommy, I'm Not John Prine, Jr."
Tommy Prine performs n Nashville, Tennessee

Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images


On His Debut LP, 'This Far South,' Tommy Prine Found His Unique Voice: "I'm Just Tommy, I'm Not John Prine, Jr."

Growing up, Tommy Prine looked for music that differed from his parents’— one of whom was the late John Prine. On his new album, 'This Far South,' the singer/songwriter reflects on his varied musical tastes, his father's influence, and finding meaning.

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2023 - 02:57 pm

Singer/songwriter Tommy Prine’s debut album is joyful, introspective and angry — just the emotional mix you might expect from someone who’s lost his  father and best friend, toured internationally, and released an album, all before turning 30.

Losing a parent is a profound, painful experience, doubly so when your dad is the musical inspiration John Prine. Filling those shoes would be impossible, and Prine doesn’t want to. Instead, he’s written a deeply personal, decidedly individual album, which in no uncertain terms tells the world that he is not riding his father’s coattails.

Out June 23, This Far South opens with an unapologetically fiery, soul-searching disquisition. The 27-year-old Prine encourages the listener to consider the meaning and existence of God, and to sit with the confusion and frustration inherent to processing pain. From there, Prine takes off on a personal and professional artistic journey.

He’s both sweet and thoughtful on This Far South, slowly releasing his anger as he probes rock bottom, ruminates on a panic attack and the hazy malaise of the pandemic. Mid-album, Prine takes a goofy trip with the punk-rock infused "Mirror and a Kitchen Sink," and longs for bygone mundane moments in "Boyhood" and "By the Way," his ode to his father. Prine ends the album triumphant in his independence on "Cash Carter Hill" and with a love letter to his wife, Savannah: "I Love You Always."  

Becoming an artist wasn’t a given for Prine, who didn’t consider the career path strongly until late in 2019 when he played an impromptu solo set at All the Best Fest in the Dominican Republic. During the pandemic and after losing his dad in April 2020, Prine began writing more; in November of 2020, singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly and sound engineer Gina Johnson talked Prine into cutting an album.

"It was the most excited I've ever been in my entire life," Prine told "I think I needed that from someone outside of  my family that I loved and trusted; I needed that validation."

Growing up, like most teenagers, Prine looked for music that was different than his parents’. He listened to a variety of artists including Jason Isbell, System of a Down, ATLiens, Outkast and Gorillaz, dabbled in EDM, and fondly recalls driving to school with his big brother in the family’s ’85 Ford Bronco blasting Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP. Reflecting his varied musical tastes, This Far South samples auditory flavors from punk rock, pop, and folk and Americana.

Prine spoke with after wrapping up a tour, which included sold-out shows opening for Tyler Childers, and his first residency at The Basement in Nashville (with special guests including Amanda Shires and Katie Pruit). He detailed finding inspiration and humor in life’s seemingly insignificant moments, his struggles to process loss, how he took control of his artistic image, and why his music is different than that of his father.

I imagine music was quite present in your household growing up. What are your early memories of listening to music?

Music was just always in the household. My dad was a firm believer in A.M. radio; he'd just have that playing 24/7. And he'd be telling me about all these old country songs. 

And me and my brothers, we were all given the space to make our own relationship with music. There wasn't a certain type or a certain record or anything that my parents would be like, "Oh, you guys should only listen to this" or whatever. And I think that was really beneficial.

Growing up, I was listening to so much random stuff. I'd have a couple of months where I would violently switch between genres: like metal, and then classic rock, and then I listened to EDM for a couple of years. I’d say the record that that made the biggest impact on me in terms of what I'm doing now was Southeastern, Jason Isbell's record. It ripped my heart open and put it back together in an hour or so.

Tell me about starting to play music yourself.

I was a really little kid when I picked up the guitar, I think I was just kind of mimicking my father. And family friends that would come over and play music. A majority of how I took in the adult world was adults playing music. I thought that's what everyone did. So I was like well, I better start now

So I picked up a guitar and would hit it and make noise. And then I just instantly fell in love with it. So I've been playing guitar really my whole life. I started writing my own songs, probably at 16 or 17. But I wouldn't dare show them to anybody until 19 or 20. That's when I started making my own music.

I've read elsewhere that you didn't really write music to share with people until after you lost your dad. 

There were like a very select few of my buddies that I would play my songs for when they came over. I was pretty shy about it, as most people are. It's a pretty vulnerable thing to be writing a song and then showing somebody, let alone my parents. I would never show them really much until just the last few years.

So then what changed for you?

I don't know what it was. A majority of my life [now] is sharing my heart and my mind and putting it on display for the world. 

I think that every artist would probably say the same thing: it's almost out of necessity. It's just so much going on inside that it has to come out and I have to play it. And I have to show other people to make a connection with it or else I'll just go crazy. I think it was just bursting at the seams with all the things that I wanted to say. And I've always found it easier to tell my story through a song rather than actually talk about it.

I think that was late 2019 when I started seriously thinking about [sharing my music]. I played an impromptu set at All the Best Fest in the Dominican Republic. And I played like a 40-45 minutes set and most of it was originals. As nerve wracking as it was, I was like, wait, I really thoroughly enjoyed that. And I remember walking off the stage, and I had this weird feeling of being more comfortable in my skin than I ever had been.

It sounds as though you were understandably a little bit reluctant to choose a career as a musician. Can you talk about that hesitation and getting over the hump?

I think most people will probably look at it and be like, oh, of course he was because of who his father was and how big of a career he had. It wasn't that, it was really just the ins and outs of the day-to-day life that I knew artists went through. It's a hard job — you're traveling a lot; it's pretty taxing on your mind and your emotions, your body. And I saw what that did to my dad and…it just felt like this big, massive, insurmountable mountain that I didn't even want to start.

I kind of always just gave myself a reason to be like that's not you. The negative self talk which, surprise, surprise doesn't go away, even when you become an artist, is still thriving. But I think being able to look into the face of that version of yourself telling you that you can't do it is pretty empowering.

You don't want to be seen as John Prine Jr. obviously, but also, your dad is an inspiration to you as well. How do you hold space for both those ways of relating to him?

I've always made the distinction, even when I was a kid. There's John Prine and then there's dad. Of course, they're one in the same, but when my father would go out on the road, it was kind of like a switch. He would flip and go into his John Prine personae and go out there and play shows for the world and be who he was, an amazing songwriter, singer/songwriter and artist. And then when he was home, he'd be like, "Hey, buddy, you want pancakes?" And we'd sit down and talk about movies and stuff.

One thing that I hear a lot of artists struggle with is that there isn't ever going to be that many people in your life that can fully understand what you're going through and what you're doing. And it does kind of suck because I have a million questions that I'd like to ask him. And he would be the greatest source of information on this kind of thing. But I'm really lucky that I get to listen to his songs, watch interviews, and learn from that.

I don't know if there's really a way for me to put into words the inspiration that my father has given me. I mean, I'm 50 percent of him. I share DNA. So he's inspired more than just my songwriting and my singing and artistry, he's inspired me to be a good human and he helped raise me. 

They say people end up turning into their parents, the older you get. So I think I'm answering that question just by being alive and figuring things out about myself.

I'm curious about the very first single that you released, "Ships in the Harbor," which isn’t on the album. How did that song come to be?

Well, it was after I recorded the record, so that's why it's not on the album. I had only been on the road for just a couple of months at that point. And I was home and it was really pretty outside. So me and my wife and my dog were just kind of chillin’ in the backyard. And I just started picking around and that melody was floating around my head. It was near my birthday. And whenever it's near my birthday, I always get super pensive, introspective, thinking about time and all that fun shit.

And I had this thought that we as humans have the capacity to feel all these crazy, strong emotions and loving people, and missing people, and fear. And I had a thought that the only reason that we're able to feel as deeply in those emotions is because everything that we experience is finite, including our own lives. If the things we loved, the things that we experienced in our life, were around forever, I don't think we'd be able to feel as strongly as we do about them. 

We always look at cardinals and blue jays, blue birds because it's a big thing in my family – if we see one it’s someone looking after us. And that's where the second line came from. So I just kept going. 

I was getting really emotional towards the end of the song, and I didn't understand why. And then that last verse came out, and I was like, okay, this is what I'm getting at here. So, that one was a tough one to write but I'm glad I did. 

It's a beautiful song. Why cardinals and bluejays?

My grandma on my dad's side, his mom, when she was passing away she said if I see a cardinal or a blue jay, it’s her looking after me. And she had pictures of them all over our house. So I ended up getting a big blue jay tattoo on my right arm for my dad's side of the family. And then I have one for my mom's side. It's an ogham, it's an ancient Celtic scripture. It's love in Gaelic. So I have something for my mom and for my dad.

And speaking of powerful moments, when did you perform for people first?

The first time I ever performed on stage was at a sold out Ryman Auditorium show with my dad, I think it was [with] Jason Isbell, when I was a junior or senior in high school, and I just fell in love with it. So I started doing the encores with my dad and then I would sell merch before and during the shows. I just loved it. 

It was a lot of really amazing experiences and I got to play some really cool venues with him. And now I have this thing in my head where I'm like alright, I gotta get back there and do my own songs.

I'm curious about the opening track of the album, "Elohim," which is profound and angry. And it's an interesting place to start off an album. Why start there?

I wrote it from a place when I was still really struggling with the loss of my father, and I lost my best friend to an overdose in 2017. And that obviously had a very profound impact on me, and the way that I saw the world.

I struggled for several years with my own personal faith, and why things happen. There was a long time where I thought that we were all just kind of living in this state of limbo. And I wrote that song from a very angry space — just questioning whatever is the omnipotent force that is looking over us, like, Why did I have to go through these things? It doesn't seem like I'm learning anything. It's just like I'm in pain.

And I wanted to start the record that way because the album is a story of me. It's the introduction of Tommy Prine to the world and my formative years and why I am the way I am. And it starts with "Elohim," this big, loud, angry song of me not really even interested in figuring things out. I think that that's a really powerful thing that everyone should know: that it's okay to just

 be angry and not have answers. You're doing the good work by letting yourself feel those things.The record kind of moves through from there to me talking about how I don't want to go back to the person I was when I was partying all the time and needing to grow up. And then I start talking about my anxieties and panic attacks. And then I start talking about my family and I'm kind of coming back to my roots a little bit and getting closer with them and talking to them about my life experiences. And then the album ends with a song about my wife. We got married last year, so it's my story of basically entering manhood.

"I Love You Always," the album’s final track, is pretty far from "Elohim." There's also these sweeter and lighter moments on the album, like "Boyhood." I'm particularly curious about "Mirror and a Kitchen Sink"; it’s been stuck in my head for days.

So funny enough, that was actually the first song that I wrote after my dad died. It was literally within the next 72 hours that I picked up the guitar. I was like, why am I writing this goofy sort of punk rock song? 

The song is about how I find myself  arguing with myself a lot of the time. I’ll be thinking of these people that don't exist, and then a conversation that I would have with these people and …how to win an argument that I'll never have. And then I realized I'm literally just arguing with myself. And the only thing that's in the room is me, a mirror and the kitchen sink. 

The album also covers a lot of musical territory, can you describe that variety a bit?

To me, there's three distinct vibes on the album: There's the loud rock songs, anthemic, big songs, where I'm kind of getting a lot off my chest. There's the alternative folk/Americana [songs] where I'm getting really introspective. After getting things off my chest, it's like the questions that I come up with, I kind of dive into those and work some of that out. And then there's the dedication songs — like the one for my dad, the one for my wife, "Letter to my Brother," for my friends that are going through hard times and I'm just telling them that I'm there for them.

I had such eclectic music tastes growing up that there is never one overruling genre that I would ever listen to. But to me it all made sense and was a cohesive thing. And that’s really hats off to Gena and Ruston and that they were able to take all my insane ideas and put it into something that I love. I'm happy that I did it that way with the first record. Because I feel like I can go wherever I want to go now with record two.

Is record two on the horizon?

I probably have enough to make record two right now in terms of songs. I'm taking my time with it, just because the first one isn't even released and I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. I've been thinking about record two for a while, it'll happen whenever it's time.

Can you lay that out, how you would like people to understand you as an independent artist and as your dad's son?

Well, honestly, I really think that the music speaks for itself in that regard. I think that there's some pretty obvious parallels and some times where it intersects, just in my turns of phrase and the way I go about explaining things, or sometimes the in simplicity of the lyrics where people can be like, ‘oh, yeah, like, that sounds like something John Prine's kid would do.’ And I honor that and I fully take that on. I'm never not going to be his son.

But also I grew up in a very different world than he did, I have very different experiences than he did. And when you're making music and you're writing your own songs, that is also going to come through. One big difference is my father was a really amazing character writer.. And through the stories that he would form with these characters were little bits and pieces of him in it. And I think that was something that people had to figure out.

Whereas I'm just straight up talking from my perspective and I'm talking about my life and things that have happened to me and how I felt about it. I think if you come to a show or you listen to the music, you'll see that I'm just Tommy, I'm not John Prine jr. I care about the people that like the song "Elohim," and like "This Far South," because it makes them feel less alone because of my story, rather than like, oh, John Prine’s kid also makes music, this is cool.

And I had to get over that day one starting block before I even did this. I'm just me being me, and if people find similarities, cool, if they don't, good, you're listening.

On 'Weathervanes,' Jason Isbell Accepts His Internal Pressures And Fears