GRAMMY Award winner Marty Stuart has been way off the radar as of late. We haven’t seen him at award shows. He isn’t on late night TV. And we don’t see him playing the big country musical festivals. Just last week, Stuart released his new, ten-song album Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down that is some of the most traditional country music released by a major artist arguably in years. The music is a pure joy with plenty of steel guitar, fiddles and harmonies. But just why has this member of Nashville royalty, who has played with everyone from Lester Flatt to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, purposely taken himself out of the eye of the mainstream public? Stuart took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us just that.
OS: Your last album, Ghost Train, was so well received. What was the plan with this album Tearing Down the Woodpile.
MS: Just carry on because Ghost Train was part of a lineage. This whole traditional country music trajectory that I seem to be on right now, it’s where my heart led me. It was a long time coming. When I started [my current band] the Superlatives about eleven years ago now I knew it was the band of lifetime. We found ourselves in the role of cultural missionaries.
Other than the Grand Ol’ Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, we were kind of not part of the system of trying to chase hits or awards or [appear on] red carpets.
In the beginning we were simply looking for a place to play. My only request of our booking agent was to book us as far back in the woods of America as you can. I don’t want to mess with charts. I don’t want to see demographics. I don’t want to see numbers. I just want to play music. We will play ourselves right back to the light or as Merle Haggard said we have found ourselves right square in the middle of the forgotten land.
We found ourselves at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (in the Great Plains of South Dakota) that I have been going to since the early ’80s championing the Oglala (Sioux) people; we went to the Mississippi Delta. Somewhere along the way, traditional country music reappeared.
I had collected more than 20,000 pieces of a personal collection of treasures and artifacts of that era. It was the music more than anything else, though, started reappearing. The first in the lineage of all this to me was a record I did with Porter Wagoner, Wagon Master, Porter’s last record.
OS: Was there something that propelled it forward for you?
MS: The catalyst of it all was our television program (The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV). It gave me a stage and a voice that we couldn’t find anywhere else for traditional county music.
Traditional music is a big part of American culture; it is the empowering force of country music as we know it right now. We saw it as great American art form that was unacknowledged and misunderstood and slipping away. The idea was to hopefully make music and create events and TV shows and live performances to bring it back to life, shore it up and hopefully create a new chapter by way of songs in the twentyfirst century. We are on the way to doing that. This new record just another chapter.
OS: There is so much in country music now that crosses over to pop, yet you just haven’t taken that route.
MS: Authenticity is the watch word to me. I woke up one day and thought “You know what? I’ve been a part of this since I was thirteen, and the part that really speaks to my heart is traditional county music.” Until further notice you’ll find me on the other end of the string, and it is a pretty dignified place to hang out.
OS: What type of instrumentation do you use on your new album album?
MS: We are basically a guitar-based band. On stage we have two Telecasters, drums, bass and everybody sings. On this record, we augmented it with steel guitar and fiddle. That is traditional country music instrumentation.
MS: Recording is a very intense time for me. It’s a time of fun; if you have fun it shows at the microphone, but the level of concentration is really intense and so it’s not a good place to hang out. Family or friends drop by for a moment to cheer us on but nobody wants to hear a guitar part played twenty-one times. That’s when you find out who your real friends are! It’s nice to see people come and go, but to stop and entertain somebody, well, that’s not a good setting for that.
OS: How do you go about deciding what songs you want on your albums specifically this one?
MS: If you have your own television show, it is a song devouring monster. As many songs as you come up with, the TV show gobbles them up. One interesting thing is the TV show has a look, sound and target audience so you know what works. One thing I love doing is that if I have a place for a song and don’t particularly have a song for that place, it’s “OK, so write one! Write it.” The trick is to make new songs sound like old friends. So I left the third season [of the television show] with some of these songs in hand, and I had some insight what could make it on this record. What I didn’t have, we wrong along the way and collected along the way.
OS: It has to be odd to you, to see this renaissance in the way. And frustrating too. You know Fred Eaglesmith did a song titled “You Sure Do Like Johnny Cash now?” about all the people who love Cash but weren’t supporting him—were ignoring him basically—until alms the very end of his career. What was it like when you played with Johnny Cash?
MS: Nobody really cared about his music. Now we all know how much power the music has. I knew that Johnny Cash would have a Buffalo Bill second coming. It was a matter of the right schedule of events coming together. It’s like Merle Haggard. His songs will live from now ’til forever. They are timeless.
OS: As you tour, who do you see in your audiences that reflect the renaissance?
MS: The audiences run from babies to grandmas, all walks of life. America comes to see us.
Find out more about Marty Stuart, his music and upcoming tour dates on his Web site.