The brief liner notes to Oklahoman singer-songwriter John Moreland’s upcoming album, High on Tulsa Heat, say it all in just a few words.
“This is a record about home. Whatever that is,” he writes.
A gritty storyteller with influences ranging from Steve Earle to hardcore metal, Moreland has a knack for expressing what most people try to bury deep inside. But on the title track to his third solo album, out April 21, he’s finally seeking out comfort.
With a sweaty, stifled vocal delivery straight out of the Dust Bowl, “High on Tulsa Heat” is the final song on the album and ties the whole project together, even gifting its melodic theme to the opening track.
In this interview with CMT Edge, Moreland talks about the track’s on-the-fly genesis and what he thinks a home really is. Check it out after the player.
CMT Edge: How’d “High on Tulsa Heat” come to be?
Moreland: That one, it was the last one I wrote for the record and it was the morning that we started recording. I just woke up early and I had that melody stuck in my head, and I was trying to go back to sleep but it wasn’t really happening, so I just got up and wrote that first verse and the chorus.
Musically, we were just kind of winging it, I think. It was so new that we didn’t really have production ideas, we kind of just tried some shit and it worked out OK. Jesse Aycock came over so we had him play pedal steel on it and that’s pretty much how it came about.
I had an old song called “High on East Texas Heat” that I never did anything with, but I liked the phrase and I wanted to find a place to use it again. I’m not sure what it means but it sounds good.
You can hear you guys sort of discovering the song during the breakdown at the end.
Yeah, it was so new there wasn’t really an arrangement yet. It was sort of like, “Where do we go now?” and then (the breakdown) happened. So that became the template for everything else. It was fun. I like when things aren’t too planned out like that.
Does that song speak to the record as a whole?
I think it does. I mean lyrically, me and some of the other people involved with the record were going through some weird, depressing stuff at the time, and I think my intention was to write this uplifting song to help us through it maybe.
For me, a lot of that had to do with moving to Norman, Oklahoma, and then I came back to Tulsa to record. There was all this stuff going on in Norman that was bumming me out and it felt really good to be back here in Tulsa.
It just kind of got me thinking about the concept of home and what that even is. Is it a place? Is it a person? And feeling like whatever it is, I don’t feel like I have it. That’s sort of what the song is about. And then I realized a lot of the songs on the record are about that. It took writing that one to make me see how everything else was tied together.