Adam Hood ambles into Bad Days Better graced with the grin of a man who knows he’s delivered. Stoked by an early morning clarity born of last night’s challenges, the Opelika, Alabama native sings/drawls, “I’m the only one I can change,” and finds a certain satisfaction in the notion that resonates throughout his first record in four years.
Southern rock n’ roll, faith, and funky country rhythm abound, and with ol’ buddy Brent Cobb behind the glass as producer (his first full-length effort in the role), a gold star roster of special guests (Miranda Lambert, Charlie Starr, Courtney Patton among them), and the environs of a fabled studio, Bad Days Better sets a new standard in an already significant career. For this commentator, it’s the kind of project Capricorn Sound Studios was ordained to accommodate and a wishlist-come-true of potential realized.
Other highlights include the Tulsa-timed “Throw Me A Line” (written with Warren Haynes) and “Harder Stuff”, the album’s spiritual anchor that began while Hood was sequestered in a hotel room, hiding from temptation in the early days of his sobriety.
Cobb lends his cadence to the dual autobiography of “Flesh and Blood” and “Don’t Do It”, two cuts that showcase both his ability as a facilitator and skipper at the helm and like the rest of the album, eschews unnecessary sonic pageantry in favor of lean, cat-like compositions that should translate as effectively within the confines of a three-piece club band as they do strumming for an intimate listening room.
The grand finale “Livin’ Don’t Give A Damn” is rousing, a working-class anthem that unquestionably succeeds in the ultimate position, but once you’ve enjoyed Bad Days Better the way Hood & Cobb intended, indulge me and listen to it in complete reverse for a whole new take.
Heck, maybe they intended that too.
AI- I wanna get into this ’cause you and I haven’t chatted in quite some time and I confess that I actually had this album and was able to listen to it last spring. There was frustration in trying to get it released ultimately– do you wanna talk about that? Or are we just happy that it’s about to be out for everybody to enjoy?
AH- As far as like gettin’ the record out, man, it’s been such a blur, I don’t even remember the rough parts of it! Especially now! It’s a light at the end o’ the tunnel now! It’s been tough, it really has, but I can’t complain because my struggle has been everybody’s struggle. It’s been everybody’s issue tryin’ to figure out what to do and how to do it and who to do it with.
Let’s talk about the “who to do it with” because when I spoke to you and Brent and Charlie down at Capricorn when you were making the album– which being involved at that point [in the process] was a first me– the thing that has stayed with me was somethin’ that Brent said: “If this album turns out really good, it’s because I’m just a fan. And if it turns out really bad, it’s because I’m just a fan!” I would’ve paid money I don’t have to be in the room when you guys sat down to do that final listen-through on the full sequenced album. Tell me about that experience.
The cool thing was– and he will attest to this– we sent it to the Kitchen Sink mastering guys, and he kinda snuck around me and got it remastered! He was like, “Well I didn’t wanna bother Adam with budget or anything like that,” because anything that’s budget, anything that’s money involved, I freak out about! I’m a creative person, I don’t do numbers, I panic!
We were at a writer’s retreat at the end of January and we didn’t have any cell service and so there was this one hilltop, and he said, “Hey, come on get in the truck with me.” We drove up to the hilltop and we sat in the truck and he said, “Alright look… I had this thing remastered.” The two of us just sat there and we listened to the whole record and just talked through it and everything. It was spectacular! It’s a real testament to his creative energy and his creative knowledge for somebody who… I mean, this is his first time doin’ this! I don’t think I give him the credit that he deserves for his understanding of how this operates.
Of course, I’ve worked with Dave Cobb too, but I think [Brent] learned a lot more from Dave than I give him credit for. And also, [he] just has an understanding of a lot o’ these things– he knows what he wants. He was real specific about this one, and like I said, this was the first time that he actually had gotten on that side o’ the console and gotten at the helm and drove the ship. Every decision he made was a great decision, and everything that he did, I trusted him wholeheartedly. It’s been a really great experience, so yeah, it was spectacular to sit in that truck on that hilltop with stars up above us in cold January weather and just listen to that record.
“Harder Stuff”… You started it with Davis Nix and ultimately, you ended up finishin’ it with Brent and Charlie Starr here in Macon. The decision to address your own personal– I guess, really, private– choice to quit drinking wasn’t something you had been keen to do, and I absolutely get that. What made you more comfortable with finally finishing that song? Was it the participants or was it just time?
I think it was the quality of the song. I think had Davis not walked into that hotel room with a chorus like that, I wouldn’t have written this tune. In fact, the idea came from a conversation that he and I’d had during my first year not drinkin’, and so I kind of alluded to callin’ it the “Harder Stuff” and sayin’, “I don’t really know where to go with this.” We had this conversation and two days later, I was hidin’ in my hotel room and he walked in and said, “Hey, I got this chorus.”
It was the chorus; the chorus that you hear on that song is the chorus he walked in and played for me. So the decision was kinda made for me, to be honest with ya’ (laughs)! I wouldn’t have written this song, I wouldn’t have worked to pull something like that out if Davis hadn’t’ve come in and done it– and probably wouldn’t have finished it if Brent had not said, “This song is gonna be great. Let’s finish it.” It was really something that was encouraged for me, and I’m thankful that it is.
I told somebody the other day that probably the first two, three weeks that the song was out as a single, I got a message or text message on social media every day and somebody was like, “Hey, man, look, I just want you to know that I heard your song on the radio; I had to pull over,” or, “I just want you to know, I been dealin’ with this…” And you know, that’s not my bag! I’m not anyone that’s gonna tell anybody how they need to live their lives. I mean, who in God’s name am I to tell anyone how to do anything? I suck at all of it (laughs)! So for lack of a better word, the soapbox was not my intention, but sometimes the song writes itself, and sometimes the Lord puts a platform under your feet– whether you want it to be there or not!
Do you think because you are spending more time on stage and in front of people as opposed to the writer behind the scenes that people are listening to you in a way that they haven’t before?
I think it’s just one of those things where you start diggin’ through my catalog– and this is not the first album I’ve released– there’s just such a long time frame between [albums]. Where most people’s album cycle is between 18 months and two years, I been doin’ an album every three years, and so it’s kind of a starting-over period. With this one, I think number one, people have listened to enough back catalog and have listened to enough songs that I’ve written with other people to where they are curious about what I have to say because of the fact that I have the endorsement of people like Brent and like Charlie Starr and like Miranda Lambert. Your read interviews and you look at the people that are on this record– if I was an outsider lookin’ in, I’d wanna know, “Who the hell is this guy?” That in itself would make me look, so I think that it’s mission accomplished. I know these guys, they participated because they like to play, and we all have great relationships– but at the same time, these people are gettin’ behind me (laughs) which is somethin’ to be proud of!
You brought up Miranda Lambert and I’m glad you did– one of your greatest and longest supporters– and if I understand it right, this is the first time that you and Miranda have appeared together on a studio recording. Is that right?
Did it require any arm twistin’ or was she just ready to go when the time came?
You know, I think that was because Brent asked her! I try not to say that– I think that if I had asked her she’da said yes– but I think because Brent did it she said yes (laughs)! All jokin’ aside, Brent and I both kinda asked her about it, and I feel like the opportunity presented itself when the timing was right. Maybe there was another song that she would’ve sang on another album, but I can’t really think of a more appropriate, a more perfect song for somebody like her to come in on. Timing is everything, and so I think that worked out because we had this song that was really great for her. Aside from the content, the way the melodies move, and just the whole thing, it’s a great song for her to get behind.
“Can’t Stand Leavin'”, that’s one of the solid rockers on the album– who is that singin’ back up with you on that track?
Courtney Patton! She is somethin’ else, isn’t she?
No, kiddin’? I’m lookin’ forward to talkin’ to her about her new album. I can’t wait to have that conversation!
If Brent is my best friend, Jason [Eady, Courtney’s husband] is my other best friend. So I have a Georgia best friend and I have a Texas best friend [laughs]! Jason and I have known each other know for a long time. I was in [Courtney and Jason’s] wedding– Jamie Lin [Wilson] and I were the two people in their wedding, and they’re our kids’ Godparents, so we’re really, really close. Courtney is a brilliant songwriter and she’s a great singer, and she’s probably one of the more giving personalities– she really tirelessly gives to people that pay attention to her music and friends. If nothin’ else, she could be a Bekka Bramlett, you know, someone that stirctly has a lifelong career just as a backup singer. [Courtney] sang on that song– she did all those harmonies on it– she did “Speed Of The South”, she sang the harmonies on “Way Too Long” on my Welcome To The Big World record, so the proof’s in the pudding. She’s just a spectacular singer!
Since you brought up Jason Eady, I was going to interject this a little bit later, but just keepin’ up with things on social media, you two have been writing prolifically– a substantial number of songs written, and I believe, completed and recorded in just the last half year. As a matter o’ fact, you guys were writin’ Delta blues songs just barely a week or so ago, right?
Yeah! And the cool thing about that was that it was a little bit of a whim. Jason text me and he said, “Hey, man, what are you doin’ next Monday?” (Laughs) And I was like, “Well, I don’t guess I have anything to do,” and he mentioned Clarksdale. I’ve never been to Clarksdale before– so number one, I had not been; number two, it’s only like three and half hours from here. He kinda had it all set up. He was like, “I’ve already gotta place to stay, why don’t you come, we’ll just hang out, we’ll go get somethin’ to eat, we’ll go listen to some music, and we’ll see what we can accomplish.”
I get it now. I’ve listened the [North Mississippi] Allstars and I’ve listened to the Black Keys and I’m Junior Kimbrough fan, that RL Burnside stuff… One of the songs that I walk on to is an RL Burnside song, so I understand those kind o’ things, but I didn’t realize the specifics of that style– half step down, guitars are played through a bass amp, they don’t tune specifically, it’s all done to find the note. There’s a real– and I hate to use this word– but there’s a real science to the art. The science is like a free form and it’s like jazz and it’s really, really cool. That whole vibe was really appropriate.
We sat down, we wrote four songs in a day! I don’t know that I’ve ever done that! I’ve done two in a day and four in a weekend, but I got there about six and we went and ate somethin’, and then probably in a three, four-hour time period we wrote four songs (laughs)! So I would say, for lack of a better word, we were extremely inspired! But Jason and I are like that. We’ve always really effortlessly written [together] because we try not to make so much of a point of like, “Okay, it’s Tuesday, it’s ten o’clock. Your kids may be sick but it doesn’t matter, we have an appointment that we have to be apart of, so I need you to be here at this time,” you know what I mean?
We take advantage of the opportunity when it comes, “Hey man, I got this idea for a song– you into it? Sure, I’m into it!” So because of the fact that we do it in a creative mindset, we get a lot more accomplished. A lot more accomplished. I’ve written as much with Jason as I have with anybody!
“Speed Of The South”… Immediately in that song, you evoke both William Faulkner and Shelby Lynne. I thoroughly appreciate that combination and it’s a mood-setter for sure. Was that an off-the-cuff moment of writing or was it more calculated? Were you like, “These are two outstanding symbols of Southern art that leave no question as to what they are?”
I agree, that was direct. It’s kinda like that “Good Ole Boys Like Me”, [Don Williams] talks about Uncle Remus and stuff like that. That is Southern culture– and granted, that’s a little bit different time period in the South– but Faulkner is a direct illustration. You get it! When I mention those two, you understand more specifically exactly what I’m talkin’ about. Yeah, there was specificity to that for sure.
Goin’ back to the room, Capricorn, and the song “Don’t Do It”– you are absolutely channeling Jimmy Hall in that song to me. It’s got a Wet Willie bounce and vibe, and I think I asked you this when we originally spoke down there, but how much did being in that room have an effect on the way you performed for these songs?
That room had more presence and more personality than any other studio I’ve ever been in. That’s probably the case. I’ve been to FAME and Ocean Way… I’ve never been to Muscle Shoals Sound, but I’ve been to a lot. Hell, I’ve been to RCA, you know what I mean? I’ve recorded at Studio A– or in the B room too– so I’ve been to legendary studios, and the Capricorn room has more personality. For some reason, the lighting in there and everything just bein’ the way that it is, you can feel it when you’re playin’. You can feel the warmth. Usually, you go and you just record, you don’t know what it sounds like, and then you go listen to it in the room. It’s almost like you can feel it in real-time, so yeah, I would say that the room demands that of you. It pulls the vibe out of you. And Jimmy! Man, Jimmy– he’s a presence! He sorta embodies cool. If you’re wantin’ to shoot for cool, I’d say start wearin’ what Jimmy Hall’s wearin’ (laughs)!
I’m always interested in how an artist chooses to end an album, and in this instance, I daresay, as an album closer, “Bad Days Better” might’ve had more of a finality to it though you chose to open with that one. With “Livin’ Don’t Give A Damn”, you end the album as if it’s gonna keep goin’, that you either need to start it over or we need to put in disc two. Was that by design?
I think that was the hope. Sequencing is real hard, and the cool thing is that Brent cares as much about sequencing as I do– or as anybody does– because he understands the importance of it. His approach to it is a little bit different from mine, where I tend to want it to be more like a rollercoaster, which not everybody wants to ride a rollercoaster (laughs)! I think his was more of a gradual climb. We met in the middle on a lot o’ things, but the first and the last, the choice to start with “Bad Days Better” was Brent’s choice– credit where it’s due– and the choice to end with “Livin’ Don’t Give A Damn”, same thing. That was his choice. If I woulda hated the idea, I guess I woulda bucked, but at the same time, I do agree. I think you realize that’s a mic drop. If you’re gonna end with a statement, that’s as groovy and aggressive of a statement as you’re gonna end with. I’m glad to know it does leave you wantin’ more because there’s certainly more where that came from!