Charley Crockett Can’t Stop Creating
The only thing Charley Crockett likes as much as recording music, he says earnestly, is playing it. And he likes playing it an awful lot.
"I feel like it's always fairly flowing," Crockett says of his creativity. Writer's block? Sure, he'll sometimes find himself stuck when working through an idea, but when it happens, a walk usually does the trick.
"That almost always, if nothing else, makes you feel better, getting the blood flowing," says the singer-songwriter, explaining how some recent manual labor — flooding an old irrigation ditch system to take care of the fruit trees on his land — had a similar effect.
"[It's] a real rewarding thing ...," he says. "You sit there under the trees and looking out at the valley ... I don't know, [there's] a lot of inspiration in that."
Music City USA, out Friday (Sept. 17), is Crockett's 10th studio album in six years, and his second of 2021, following February's 10 for Slim, a tribute to his friend and fellow musician, James "Slim" Hand. There's an old-school pace to his frenetic musical output that Crockett says staves off burnout rather than possibly leading to it.
"I think the way that the industry operates is what burns musicians out. Meaning, the 18-24-month record cycle is a drag on the artist because sitting there and having to deal with that one piece of material that long isn't that inspiring," Crockett muses, noting that playing music inspires him to write music: "I know a lot of people have trouble writing when they're touring, but that's never been the case for me. Touring makes it kind of automatic that I'm gonna write songs."
Before he started finding wider acclaim, Crockett was something of a nomad; he played constantly, wherever he could, and he didn't know that songwriting while traveling wasn't always the norm. Now, then, when he's on the road, there's plenty of both time and inspiration to be found.
"Touring life is a game of 'hurry up and wait,'" Crockett says, later adding, "I would be surprised that people wouldn't find ways to write, meeting all the new people and seeing the different towns and the different seasons ...
"There's been so much going on in America in the last couple of years, and you can see the impacts of those things, culturally, in the different towns as you go through ... I mean, I see that kind of stuff all the time, not even looking for it ...," he continues. "This is a very polarized country, but that's even more reason you ought to be able to see stuff when you're out on the road."
Across Music City USA's 16 songs, Crockett tells stories of love, heartbreak, betrayal, family discord and down-on-their-luck individuals. Several have lyrics pinning them to a specific place, but even the album's title track, which takes its name from Nashville's nickname, is open to interpretation.
"Songs, whether it's mine or anybody else's ... whatever you think it means is just as true as whatever I might think it means, you know?" Crockett muses. So while in "Music City USA" he sings "I shouldn’t have come here in the first place / 'Cause folks in here don’t like my kind / I hear they’ve got a lot of reasons / I think I see them on their signs / They’ve got a lot to say in Music City USA," Crockett understands that others might attach those feelings to a different locale.
"And so, in a way, it's not about Nashville at all," Crocket says. "It's about anywhere — Anytown, USA: whatever corner I played on or wherever some young person hears this music."
That's the thing about a good story: Even when it's specific in its details — often, in fact, because it's specific in its details — everyone can find their own meaning in it.
"Who doesn't understand, from their point of view, a raw deal or feeling like they're in a fight that's not fair?" Crockett says. "That's what I like about simple storytelling."