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GRAMMY PREVIEW: TYLER CHILDERS
9/25/19

Unafraid of the Authentic

By: Samantha Hissong

Tyler Childers is a no-frills storyteller—an Americana man of the land with bluegrass roots, country influences and a penchant for poignancy. Country Squire serves as his first release through RCA (via his Hickman Holler) and his second collaboration with 2017 Album of the Year nominee Sturgill Simpson, who produced the record. It’s a calling card for the Avon-selling working mom, the depot graveyard shifter and the barfly, as well as an ode to the raw and real.


How did your upbringing shape your creativity and your sound?
I grew up in Lawrence County, Ky.—a mile as the crow flies across the ridge off Route 23, in a specific stretch often called “The Country Music Highway.” It got its name from the number of greats that came from there. Loretta Lynn, Hylo Brown, Dwight Yoakam, to name a few. As well as two particular artists from my home area: Larry Cordle and Ricky Skaggs. My first concert was Ricky Skaggs at Pogue Landing when I was five years old. My first three cassette tapes were two Ricky Skaggs tapes and a Jerry Clower tape. At that time of my life, I recall three particular things occupying my world: My three-cassette tape collection, hunting raccoon (referred to in the rest of this interview as “coon-hunting”) and going to church.

Going coon-hunting with my dad led to me sitting on a tailgate, listening to old guys jabber on about everything from tall tales to flat-out lies. Most evenings meant I wasn’t in school the next day.

Church found me standing outside with my papaw listening to old guys talking while they were getting one last cigarette in. The way they could tell a story—the humor and color of it. I always wanted to be a good storyteller.

Once you went into service, there was another type of storyteller: the Free Will Baptist preacher. A good Free Will preacher’s greatest ability is to leave you scared to death about the state of the world, and all the lost souls living in it that are bound to burn forever and ever in the fiery pits of Hell. It’s like taking your kid to a horror film ever Sunday and Wednesday. They flail and shout and get red in the face. The good ones have an urgency that can be as visceral as a coon being walleyed and torn to shreds in the jaws of a coonhound.

Artistically speaking, who are some of your biggest influences?
I’ve been a fan of Ricky Skaggs my whole life, and his ability to combine bluegrass and country into what I think is a perfect testament of home. Drive-By Truckers held the soundtrack to all my teenage angst, and I’ve always admired how their artwork had a cohesiveness that took you to a place visually, fully entering a trucker’s state of mind. John Prine and Robert Earl Keen were my biggest influences on songwriting early on, for their ability to really put you in a place with just a few words.

Tell me about your relationship with Sturgill Simpson. How did you two connect? What makes your dynamic so special?
I met Sturgill at a bingo hall outside of Estill County and we bonded over our favorite recipe for beaver. I prefer mine canned, then fixed in a red beans and dirty rice mix. The heartiness of the beaver with the spice of a good Cajun seasoning really works wonders.

I enjoy working with Sturgill because, given the proximity of our separate upbringings, he has an understanding of the place I’m trying to express through my music. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity that has been given me due to our collaboration, and I hope we continue to work together in the future.

This year, you played shows with the likes of Willie Nelson and John Prine. How would you encapsulate that experience?
Robert Earl Keen was at my house not long ago, and described it best when he said he understood how it can be “extremely heady, and incredibly daunting.” It’s been a wild ride. I’ve told myself that if I keep at it, this thing or that thing might happen. Now those things are actually happening, and it’s an extremely surreal feeling. I’m blessed. I’ve learned a lot and retained the majority of half of it.

Did you watch the Grammys growing up? What significance do they hold in your world?
Chances are if I wasn’t already in bed by the time the Grammys came on as a kid, I was coon-hunting with my dad. I hardly watched any TV as a young’un. Regardless of whether I watched or not, you can’t deny the recognition behind an award like a Grammy. For a serious-minded, working musician, it’s worth striving to achieve the quality in one’s own work to be worthy of such an honor.