Jason Eady’s inside a borrowed RV somewhere off the Idaho highway when he answers the phone. “My van broke down the day before I left on this run,” laughs Eady, the Mississippi-born singer-songwriter turned Lone Star troubadour. “We had some friends in our little hometown of Stephenville, Texas that had an RV. It was just sitting in their field, but they just said, ‘You can take it if you want it.'” In the background, I can hear the white noise of pressure washers. “It just needed a lot of TLC. So I pulled into one of those Blue Beacon truck things and I’ve been sitting in the lane for an hour waiting to get it done. And of course, right when you call is when they get me in!” Even though he’s got an ambitious months-long tour imminent, Jason is clearly excited to be on a short jaunt, reveling in a return to live performances and touring while also anticipating the release of his new album To The Passage of Time. Written in a matter of days during the uncertain summer of 2020, the story goes that Jason holed up in a single room with only his guitar and ideas, vowing to finish the songs that make up his latest effort before coming up for air. The result is as immediate as anything he’s ever done (written in August, recorded in September) and showcases a songwriter at the absolute height of his ability. Already making the rounds, the lead single “Back To Normal” tackles the ongoing pandemic with wry observations and stoic reservation while “Saturday Night” sardonically reminisces about Eady’s early days on stage. A diamond among the gems on TTPOT is “French Summer Sun” (indeed a crown jewel in Jason’s entire catalog), a pure cut inspired by his grandfather’s experience in World War II and centered on a notion of what if…? Recorded in Austin, TX with Gordy Quist (Band of Heathens) and a wealth of handpicked talent, the album shares the one room, one take excellence of Eady’s previous album, I Travel On, but with a focused reliance on lyrical strength and only the most crucial of embellishments. To The Passage Of Time is a true feat and qualifies Jason Eady as one of the most powerful songwriters working today.
AI- A lot of things have happened since the last time you and I have spoken. I wanna start with the Sequestered Songwriters. I’ve had a chance to speak to a lot of people, a lot of your friends and peers that were a part of that. It’s just an amazing phenomenon starting with the Merle Haggard tribute, the Hag Off for his birthday back in April 2020, and then it grew into something so much more– a relief fund for musicians out of work during the pandemic. Tell me about when you knew that was gonna be somethin’ more than just gettin’ online and playin’ songs.
JE- I think it was the third week. We did the Merle Haggard show and that was all it was gonna be– just gettin’ together and playing Merle Haggard songs on his birthday. We were all bored and it just seemed like a fun thing to do. It might’ve been the next day, John Prine died and so we just kind of all said, “Let’s do this again next Monday. Let’s do it for John Prine.” And it was, again, just gonna be a one-off thing. And then after that one is when everybody started sayin’, “Who’s next?” That’s when we kinda thought, “Okay, well, I guess this is gonna turn into somethin’!” The stars all just lined up with the whole pandemic happening and the shutdown and so, yeah, we just turned it into a thing!
The relief fund came up a few months into it. People kept asking how they could donate or how they could pay us, and we just didn’t want it to be a profit thing. For one thing, there’s 30 of us– and how do you do that? We just didn’t want it to be that, but at the same time, people kept asking so much that we thought, “We should do somethin’…” We started this relief fund that’s been, to me, the biggest thing that’s come out of it. We’ve already been able to do some really cool stuff with that money and help some people that have really had some unexpected things come up in their lives that they just needed help with.
With musicians, there’s just not a lot of those safety nets. It’s really hard to get health insurance and all kinds of stuff that the 9 to 5 jobs provide that we have a hard time getting access to. We’re still doin’ the show. We’re doin’ one a month now instead of every week, and we’re doin’ a big festival in October. We wanna keep it goin’, one, ’cause we all love it, and two, because that relief fund is doin’ so many great things. We just wanna keep that goin’ and be able to help out people that need it. I think it’s somethin’ that’s really needed.
I was able to watch many of those performances, and then, of course, whenever you and Courtney [Patton], and sometimes you even had someone join you there in the living room at home. In addition to being able to connect with fans and play music, it was an opportunity for you to also stay in shape. I’ve spoken to a lot of artists over this last year and a half, and that’s been a concern– being able to maintain their chops. But I would say that not everyone embraced the livestream the way that you and Courtney did.
Well, for one, we just love playin’. I just couldn’t imagine goin’ a year without doin’ anything! I liked the livestreams. I definitely prefer playing in a room with people, playin’ live– but if that’s what our choices are then I definitely would rather play online than not play at all! We just went with it and we learned a lot. As far as the Sequestered show, I think not only was it keepin’ everybody’s chops up, I think we all got better from it! Everybody was really good about if we did something that stylistically was out of people’s wheelhouses, people didn’t just sit it out. They did the show!
The whole funny thing to me about the Sequestered thing is it’s all covers, but it’s a bunch of songwriters that never play covers doin’ the show! That cover world is really new to a lot of us, you know? So if we did an Aretha Franklin night and you’ve got a bluegrass player, they’ve probably never played anything like that in their lives! I think we all learned things that I think will start showing up in our music, just different styles, and different techniques and tricks. It was unexpected– that definitely wasn’t the intent of it, but I think we all grew from it, learning different things that we probably never in a million years would’ve learned in any other way!
The story has been that it was around August [of 2020], that you sequestered yourself. You went into a room and decided that you weren’t leavin’ until you finished this series of songs. Up to that point, how had your creativity been? Were you able to write and were you able to put your thoughts down on paper while you were enduring the unfolding pandemic?
No, not at all! In fact, there was about 10 of us that started this songwriting group to kinda force us. ‘Cause we started talking, I guess, about June or July to each other, and we realized nobody was writing. And you’d think with all that downtime that everybody would be writing! But I think really it was just a deer in the headlights situation where we were almost frozen. We hadn’t had that much time off in forever! Nobody was doin’ it, so we started this group to get everybody’s wheels turnin’ and it did that for me, for sure. Three of the songs on the new record came from that group and then the other seven came from this little three-day period that I had. You’d think we would’ve all been writing during that time. I definitely wasn’t. I’m always collecting ideas. I’m always writing down little snippets of things, but I wasn’t writing writing. I started kinda beatin’ myself up about it! But once we got the wheels turnin’ and got everything goin’, it fell back into place pretty quick!
Who were some of the other writers that were in that group with you?
Josh Abbott started it. Brent Cobb was in it, Jamie Lin Wilson was in it, Courtney, I believe Adam Hood was in it… Honestly, there was a bunch of people that Josh knows, a lot of Nashville writers that I didn’t know. Those groups are always really good because there’s also an unwritten rule of no judgment. You’re supposed to write a song every week. Well, we all wish we could write a great song every week! I end up with 52 great songs every year! It just didn’t quite work that way. So there’s gotta be a trust factor of everybody understands that sometimes, they’re just not gonna be good! But it’s not about that. It’s more about just pushin’ each other to do it!
I remember seeing when you started making the foray to get back out and do shows. A lot of folks were. I was on edge the entire time as a fan, as a person who wants to go see music. I haven’t been to a show since March of 2020. I saw people gettin’ back out, what I considered to be too early. And when I saw your post about you being sick, having COVID, man, it was like a shack of cold water. I was like, “Aw, man, Jason, no!” You and Courtney both had a battle?
Yeah, we caught it the same time.
Having been out, having gotten sick, I know you’re vaccinated now… Concerns going forward? I mean, everybody’s making a push to get back out. And we’re really startin’ to see a push from artists to engage venues to make vaccinations or negative tests or some sort of security mandatory for shows going forward. Tell me about your experience with this so far and where you want to see it goin’.
Man, I’m really torn on it. I really am! At first, there was a part of me that was thinkin’, “At this point, it’s different than it’s been before.” The first time around, everybody was equally as vulnerable. Now, you have the choice to get vaccinated or not. So you take your own chances when you go out. But now there’s this whole thing that even if you’re vaccinated… I know several people that have gotten it, even though it seems like the ones that are getting it after they’ve been vaccinated, they’re pretty mild. I don’t know, man? It’s unchartered territory. I’m starting basically a three-month tour, and man, I don’t know what the answer is! I’m gonna go forward and do it.
I’m not gonna get into telling venues what to do and how to run their shows. I think that’s up to each venue. Because it’s so different too! It seems like regionally, it’s so different. It’s certain areas are getting it a lot worse than others. I have my personal thoughts about it, but I’m not really gonna try to dictate what I want the venues to do. I think that’s up to each venue to make that choice and I’ll go along with whatever they decide.
At the end of the day, it is a personal choice. It’s something that each person has to decide whether they wanna go out and if they are vaccinated, whether they feel confident in that. And if they’re not and they want to take those chances? I personally wouldn’t recommend that but… This whole thing, we’ve never seen anything like it! I don’t think there’s there’s really any black and white answers to any of it. I think we’re all just kind of feelin’ our way through it.
I think that brings us into the album proper, To The Passage Of Time, and the lead single “Back To Normal”. One of the biggest topics of conversations that I have been having with artists is that concept of normal. What it is, what it was, and if it was something that existed, something normal, can we go back to it? And dare I say, should we go back to it? I feel like so much has changed that it would be foolish to try to go back to the way anything was done before, including the way that we’re presenting live music.
That’s kinda what the song is about. I mean, the song is called “Back To Normal”, but the lyrics really are saying that I don’t think we’re gonna get there. I don’t think there is a normal to go back to. I think once we come out on the other side, we’re going to realize [like the lyric says] it’s someplace we’ve never been. It’s definitely gonna be a new normal! I think there’s gonna be some positives from it. For one, people’s appreciation of live music has really gone up. Both on the artist and the listener side, I think everybody has really seen what it’s like to not have it. Everybody’s appreciation of it has gone up– I know mine has! Not that I ever took it for granted, but it was 15 years of just goin’, doin’ it, doin’ it! I appreciate it more now, you know? I definitely appreciate every moment out there. I don’t take any of it for granted at all. So I think that’s a big positive that’s gonna come from it. I don’t know what normal means? That’s kind of the point of the song really is what does that even mean? I don’t think it’ll ever go back completely to the way it was.
If the songs were written in August of 2020, tell me when you got together with Gordy Quist and all those great musicians out at the Finishing School. And were you able at that point in time to get everybody in the room the way you like to record or was it still a distanced ordeal?
We had the luxury of one of the co-owners of the studio there is a doctor– and he had access to COVID testing! So the first day, we did the distancing and mask thing ’cause this was in September…
So it was immediate! You went into the studio immediately!
Yeah, I wrote the songs and recorded them a month later. We did the distancing thing for about a day and then we all got tested and everybody was negative. We all made a pact not to do anything other than just go to the studio and go home. We were able to relax with that, which was really cool because a lot of us hadn’t done that. It was the first time for a lot of us that we had sat in a room and made music with people since it all started. We were able to do that because of the testing. That was really nice to be able to just not think about it. It was not only nice on a physical level to be able to take your mask off and do all that stuff, but also just nice on a mental level! We’d all just been so consumed with it for so long that it was nice to just relax and take a week and not think about it at all! I think that added to the vibe of the record for sure.
A by-product of everybody being out of work would have been that you had an opportunity to really handpick the people that were involved in making this record. Outside of Gordy, who’s on the record?
Gordy and I talked and I just kinda cherry-picked my favorite guys that I’ve played with over the last 10, 15 years around the Austin area. We had to use local musicians because of just the nature of people not bein’ able to travel, so I called these guys that I’ve loved playing with– and I’ve never played with all of them together! We’d never sat in a room together. In fact, some of them had never played with each other ever! It was just a really cool mix of people, and I had a feeling that it was gonna line up with the style of the players. I was really happy with how it turned out for sure.
I’m a songwriter first. The songs come first– and I’m not really a band guy. I do most of my touring solo. I just love the songwriter thing. I love songwriter rooms. I love all of that! And so I wanted the band on a record, but I didn’t really want to make a band record. I think about those Guy Clark records. He always toured solo or with one other guy, with Verlon Thompson on guitar. It was a real stripped-down show, but his records were always fully produced with full bands. But when you went and saw a show, you didn’t miss the band. And that’s what I was really looking for was a record that stood on its own with the band, but also at the same time, if you come see the show and it’s a solo show, you don’t miss the band. We had a lot of conversations about that and how to pull that off.
A lot of times you get in the studio and everybody’s there and it can kind of get away from you. You can end up with a record that’s bigger than what you set out to make. We were talkin’ about how to avoid that, and what [Gordy] came up with was when we were workin’ the songs out, I would go into the studio and then everybody would sit in the control room– musicians, and everybody– where normally, from note one, everybody’s in there together in the studio and you’re recording. But what we did was I went and sat in the studio and I played the song and the rule was, anybody could play on the song, but you had to raise your hand and intentionally be able to say that you could go in and add something to the song.
So any move that anybody made to go in, you had to justify why you were going in and what it was gonna add to the song. Basically, we built the songs from the ground up instead of the other way around, where normally, you would go in with everybody and then you’d have to start pullin’ people out if it got too big– which is a hard thing to do! It’s a hard thing to just stop some momentum once it’s already goin’. So we just started the other way around. There’s some songs that don’t have drums, there’s some songs that don’t have bass, and it’s just because from that approach, there were certain times when people just didn’t hear anything. And to their credit, it takes a very, very good, ego-less player to be able to take that approach. I don’t know that every musician would be able to do that. You really have to get your ego out of the way and really think about the songs. These guys were just fantastic about it! Every time they came in with an idea, it was the right idea! I was just incredibly happy with that approach.
Now that doesn’t mean the final take of the song… We might all be in from note one, but I’m talkin’ ’bout working up the song, getting to that point. Some of these songs on the record, they are first takes. Some of ’em, what you hear is the first and only time it was done. And then some of ’em, we’d run through it a few times, but what you hear on the record is a live take. We didn’t go back and punch anything in or do any kind of overdubs or any of that kind of thing. What you’re hearing on the album is what happened in that moment. It may have been the third take or the fourth take, but it was a full take from start to finish. It was a live performance that happened.
You talk about songs being done in the first take. “French Summer Sun”, I believe, is one of those songs. And Jason, I damn near couldn’t get through that one! It was just so powerful– and right from the very first line! If you’d’ve told me that you just sat down and wrote that, like in half an hour, I’d probably believe you, but it sounds like something that… There’s a patina to it. I don’t know if it’s somethin’ that’s been aging within you or it’s something that you have been working on over years, but it seems like something that was not crafted immediately, that there was a process to it.
Yeah, that’s cool that you say that. That’s exactly how it happened. I got the idea back in 2018. My wife and I went and visited Anzio Beach in Italy. We were tourin’ over there and that’s where my grandfather fought in World War II. I had heard about it my whole life. It was a huge battle and the short version of the story is that the Americans and the British soldiers were pinned down on this beach for about six months due to a strategic error from the general that was in charge. He didn’t move fast enough, and they hesitated too long and got stuck on this beach. They were pinned down and they lived there for six months with these Germans and Italians just pickin’ ’em off from the cliffs up above ’em!
When I realized how small the beach was, I just started thinkin’, “There’s just no room for error here! We can’t make one wrong move in this situation!” Then I thought how easy it would have been if he had made that one wrong move, that I wouldn’t be there, and all the downhill effects that not only affect my life, but my daughter wouldn’t be here! And just so many things that would’ve been completely different had he made one left turn instead of a right turn! That was a pretty powerful thing to think about, so I knew immediately I wanted to write to the song, and I knew immediately that I wanted the character in the song to not have existed. I kinda had the whole thing almost just from the time I was standin’ on that beach. But putting words to it, making it actually a song was… Honestly, it was pretty intimidating! It was such a personal idea, and I really wanted to get it right. It was hard to actually get started and get it goin’. I thought about it for years! And then it was February of last year, I just thought, “Man, I’m not gettin’ anywhere with this thing! It’s time to do it!”
I called Drew Kennedy, who’s one of my favorite writers. He’s just an incredibly gifted songwriter in every way. I told him the idea– and this is something I’ve never done before, but we actually had three or four phone calls where we just talked about it! We didn’t write, we didn’t try to come up with lyrics, we just had conversations about the idea. So when we sat down to write it, it really did only take 30 minutes! But there was two years that went into that 30 minutes, you know? There was two years and a whole lot of conversation and a whole lot of talk. By the time we sat down to write it, we had already put so much work into it on the big picture side of it. So yeah, it took 30 minutes, but I like to say it took two years and 30 minutes to write that song (laughs)!
But that’s another one that has that same idea as the way we produced the record in that we couldn’t find anything that added to it. We wanted the lyric out front, and even when we were writing it, we didn’t intend for it to be a spoken word thing. We were writing the lyrics and we were trying to put melody to it, and just anything we would do to it kinda messed it up, you know? Anything! It just got in the way and it was distracting, and finally, we just said, “Why don’t we just say the words? There’s nothin’ that says we have to do have to sing.” Spoken word songs are a thing, and I’d never done it before. I had to get used to doin’ it, but it was the same idea. We just couldn’t find anything melodically that added to it. Same thing when we got in the studio with that song. We tried putting a cello on it, we tried some different things, and in the end, it just worked better with just an acoustic guitar and presenting the song. I think the simplicity of it really, really brings out the lyric, which is the whole point of that song. That song’s not supposed to be about the music. I’m really glad that none of the other techniques that we tried on that worked out ’cause I’m really, really happy with how that ended up.
It’s still very hard. I haven’t played that song live, but maybe… I bet it’s been less than 10 times! It’s a hard song to perform, you know? It’s so personal that it’s a tough one to get through. It really is! It’s got to be exactly the right room too. If there’s any sort of commotion goin’ on, that song doesn’t work. You have to be fully engaged in a live situation. For that song to work, you gotta really be a hundred percent locked in or it just gets lost in the noise. It takes the right situation to be able to pull that song off.
To The Passage Of Time is comin’ out on August the 27th. But I saw an interview that you did where you talked about wanting to put out another record potentially this year as well. Is this something that is finished or something that’s in the planning stage? And are these songs written during the pandemic or something that you had been working on before?
I was originally scheduled to go in the studio in April of last year and I had everything lined up. Gordy wasn’t gonna be able to produce it. Our schedules just didn’t line up. I had a whole other album that I was gonna do, and then of course, the pandemic happened and everything shut down, so we canceled that session. But I had 10 songs ready to go for that album. In the meantime, I wrote this album– but I still had that original album’s worth of stuff! I’ve already recorded it. I recorded [To The Passage Of Time] in September and then went back in December because again, it was another one of those kinda “silver linings” from the pandemic havin’ so much time to do that. In a normal year, I could never have taken that much time off! It was a month later and I was sittin’ around and gigs weren’t coming back and there was nothin’ to do, so I called Gordy and I said, “Hey if you’ve got time, why don’t we just go do this other one then?” So we did!
The other one is somethin’ I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. It’s songs that I’ve written over the years that just never made an album. I think Gillian Welch just put a record out that’s kind of the same thing, and Steve Earle did one called Sidetracks. They’re interesting because there’s not really a theme to those records and that’s why they never got recorded. They didn’t line up with whatever theme that album was at the time. It was a mix and match of different styles, which has always sounded really interesting to me. So that’s what these are– 10 songs that just never quite made the album. I’m gonna call it Overtime, ’cause it was just songs that were written over time and with different people that I’ve written with over the years. It’s recorded and ready to go!
I don’t have any plans to put it out [yet]. I just was gonna feel this one out and see. Albums have a weird way of takin’ on their own lives, you know? I definitely want to let this one live before I start makin’ plans for releasing the other one. But it’s a really nice option to already have one recorded that when it feels like the time is right, all I’ve got to do is put it out! I don’t have to go in and go through the whole studio process and all of that. I’ve never been in this position! I’ve never been an album ahead (laughs)! It’s a good feelin’ to know that I can put that album out whenever it feels like it’s time to do it! That was just one of those unintended positives from last year– time to be creative. 2020 turned out to be the year of creating– which I didn’t see comin’! When the pandemic hit in March, I was booked through the end of October and I was doing this thing where I was tryin’ to hit every single state in 2020. So I really thought 2020 was gonna be this massive touring year!
Yeah, you and everybody else (laughs)!
(Laughs) Yeah! It turned out to be exactly the opposite of that, of course. So to have that luxury of time and free time, I don’t know that I’ll ever have that again. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a year to just write and record and do all the things that I want to do without having to work it into a tour schedule.
Well, let me ask you about that part then, because that’s something that goes back to “Back To Normal”, and it’s something else that I’ve spoken to other people about– that question of time and what it means to be a musician and to live on the road and have to make your living that way. It would seem to me that there are enough of you to affect some kind of change. Now granted, I understand that there are gonna be people that are only happy when they’re on the road workin’ and playin’ night after night after night. And there’s always gonna be people that do their best work at 3:00 AM in the morning when they sit down to write. I understand that. That’s a given that’s not ever gonna change. But knowing how many people, artists at every level in their career, were able to be home with families and in a capacity that they’ve legitimately and literally never been in before, I can only imagine that so many of you are looking at that time and going, “You know, there’s a way I might be able to have it both ways.”
Yeah, for sure. I definitely saw the value in it. I love touring. I mean, I absolutely love it, and I’ll be Willie Nelson as far as I’ll tour until I just physically can’t get on stage anymore. It’s my favorite part of the job. I love bein’ out, I love playin’ live. It really is my love! The performing part of it, the travel part of it, the long drives, I love every bit of it! But it was really nice and very, very productive to have all that downtime. So yeah, I’ve already been thinkin’ of ways to how do you strike that balance of structuring this so that you don’t have to be on the road all the time. I’ve definitely been thinkin’ a lot about it. I think it’s attainable.
I called 2020 a spotlight year. Before that, it was a lot of just go, go, go, go, go! You did this one thing and then it was immediately onto the next thing, and you never had time to really separate anything. It was head down, full steam ahead! You didn’t really get to evaluate everything on its own. This last year, everything was so spread out, and even when you had a gig, it might’ve been the one gig that you had that month. Everything you did was under a spotlight. Everything. Every piece of it was, “Here’s this. What do I think about this?” It really opened my eyes to a lot of things.
There were some things that I thought, “Man, I love this more than I even realized! I love it!” And there were things that I did and I thought, “You know, actually, I really don’t like doin’ that, and I don’t think I’m gonna do that anymore!” It really helped me to focus on what I want this to be, what I enjoy, and what I think I’m good at and what I’m not good at it, what I want to do, what I don’t want to do– and not even in a selfish way! But if it’s not somethin’ I wanna do, I’m not gonna do it as best I can. That’s just the nature of people. So if I can focus on the things that I truly love and really wanna do, I think all the way around, it’s gonna be better. It’s gonna be better for every part of this. I learned a lot about how I want to tour. I think I’ll be way more intentional goin’ forward than I was in the past just because of having had a year to really see things clear without goin’ a hundred miles an hour and then tryin’ to see things out the window on the way! I wanna really be able to see it all!
I feel like it was a reset definitely, but like I said, I’m startin’ this weekend and I’m out for about three months. I think I’m still in something like 30 states! I’m over the moon excited about getting to be out and do it, but I definitely have a different appreciation for it now than I ever have before. I’m very aware of every part of it now and how fortunate I am to get to do it. I personally will look back on 2020 as a positive year. I think I’ll look back on it as a turning point for me in a really good way.
I talked to Sean McConnell last week and he brought up the same thing that you did earlier about taking it all for granted. When I was gettin’ ready for this interview, that popped into my head because I think if I had to nail down one artist that I’ve seen, that I’ve met, that I’ve talked to, that I’ve never ever thought took the business or the ability to do it for granted, it would be Jason Eady. It would be you. You have always seemed to be in love with everything that you do. And that comes across when you’re on stage and that comes across on your albums.
Good! That’s great to hear. I think some of that comes from that I didn’t always do this. I did other things. I was in the Air Force for six years and then I got out and then I had a corporate job for five years. I didn’t really start playing music full-time ’til I was 30. So I saw other things and I lived completely different lives before this. Having had other things to compare it to, I think I felt lucky. From the day I was able to quit my day job and do this full-time, I’ve felt lucky. I’ve never not felt like this was a gift. I spent my whole 20s doing other things! I wake up every single day, appreciative that I get to do this for a living. It’s pretty unbelievable! I mean, even now I think about it! This is how I get to spend my life and make a living! Everybody has bad days, but if you ever really catch me complainin’, grab me and shake me and punch me in the face or somethin’ ’cause there’s really nothin’ better! I consider myself pretty lucky!