Shooter Jennings has always lived with the weight of family legacy as the only son of country legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. He’s followed his own musical path, though, and now it has led him back to country.
Following Black Ribbons, a concept album released in 2010 that found him exploring psychedelic rock and using author Stephen King as a fictional radio DJ, his new project, Family Man, reconnects the singer-songwriter with his roots. As its name suggests, the disc is heavily informed by the latest generation of the Jennings family — his young daughter Alabama and son Blackjack.
Far from slowing down, though, Jennings says the experience of learning to become a father and soon-to-be-husband has given him new inspiration — and new insight into his relationship with his own dad.
Friendly and down-to-earth, Jennings recently stopped by CMT to introduce the record and drop off his video for “The Deed and the Dollar.” During the visit, he also talked about how family life has changed him and assured longtime fans he has not gone soft.
CMT: Let’s talk about your Family Man album, which is very different from the last one. How did you approach it?
Jennings: I became sober. No, just kidding. I didn’t become sober. (laughs) This was the first album that I produced, and the best way to describe it is as my first solo record. I actually wrote two records, hopefully which will come out later this year. But for Family Man, this is the first time I stepped out and wrote everything. It’s pretty upbeat but more of a country upbeat and not rock. My other records were more like a hard rock band playing country music, and this album is more authentic country. That’s what I wanted to do. I felt like with my last album, Black Ribbons, I got some stuff out that I wanted to get out. This time, I wanted to dig deeper into country music.
Where do these songs come from? Is it all your own family experience?
I am now a family man, but I am still the same person I used to be. It’s not like, all of a sudden, I am this clean-cut domestic person. So it’s kind of sarcasm because although I am a family man, I’m still a wreck. But I’m doing the best I can. There are songs that deal with my family and the love of my life. There’s “Summer Dreams,” also known as “Al’s Song,” which was written to my fiancée Drea’s dad, who suffered a stroke last year. [Jennings is engaged to actress Drea de Matteo, best known for her television roles on The Sopranos and Joey.] And “Daddy’s Hands” talks about the stuff I went through with my father, then with her going through the same thing. It’s very personal, but at the same time, it was fun while we were doing it.
Do you think having kids changed your life?
Oh, yeah. Having kids changes you in a million ways. There is a certain responsibility that you have forever. At the same time, you wake up and can’t be the whiner that you use to be. You don’t have time for that. You begin to appreciate the little things, like sleep. (laughs) Being on tour right now is tough, but you just have to realize that you have to do it. You have to make choices that reflect other people.
Has having kids affected your creativity?
Yeah, in a good way. I thought after having my first kid, I would lose my edge, but then right away I did Black Ribbons, and I was like, “OK, I’m fine. Probably worse than ever.” (laughs) But it does soften you. I am more sensitive to what’s going on in the world. I kind of care more about the future and what world my kids are going to live in. I feel more responsible about the message I’m putting out with my records. Not that I put out messages I didn’t like before, but when you don’t have kids, you’re free floating. And once you have kids, you look back asking “Why did I do that?”
Has having kids made you look back at the relationship you had with your own dad?
Definitely. Having kids makes you relive your own childhood. I go back and see how my parents handled the road and why they did some of the things they did. My fiancée’s childhood was so different from mine, so both of our childhoods come into play. And I also want my kids to know about my dad’s music, so I play it a lot more than I would usually. And my mom is around, so they are really close to her, which is very awesome. I want them to have some of the things that were instilled in me to be instilled in them.
You never really were a part of the mainstream Nashville scene, but what was the industry’s reaction to you releasing “Outlaw You” last year?
It was funny. The only reason it even got released was because of CMT at the time. The record label that I was with didn’t want to put it out because they didn’t feel like it would go over well. There were some people who were mad about the record, but the majority said thanks for saying some of the things you did, and they loved it. They heard the history I was giving.
Does the song “Family Tree” kind of follow the “Outlaw You” sound?
“Family Tree” was written to a person who is very smart and has built a great label, but he felt that some of my stuff was encroaching on his artist. So I released “Family Tree,” which kind of makes fun of that situation.
For “The Deed and the Dollar,” what aspect of love were you trying to capture?
A little bit of playfulness. It started as an exercise. I looked at all these Southern sayings and then wrote lyrics that ended with those sayings that I found. The chorus came from a letter to the editor I found in the back of a magazine. In doing this song, I was able to just say “I love you” to my fiancée because I feel like I have grown a lot in this relationship, and it’s due to her.