The resulting album, High on Tulsa Heat, is a tortured love-letter to Moreland’s home state that finds the 29-year-old singer homesick and lovesick, questioning the comforts of familiar faces and places.
“You’re the place I miss when my heart gets heavy,” Moreland sings, addressing his hometown on the album-closing title track before changing his mind a few lines later: “Damn every inch of this town.”
“I’ve always had this love/hate thing with Tulsa where I can’t describe how I feel about it,” says Moreland, who returned to the Tulsa area to record his new album and eventually moved back for good after a few less-than-perfect years in Norman. “That’s what a lot of the record is about.”
Watch the video for his live performance of “Cherokee.”
We recently caught up with John Moreland to chat about his new album, his relationship with his home state and how he feels about getting compared to Springsteen.
CMT Edge: Why did you name the album High on Tulsa Heat? Does that song speak to the album as a whole?
Moreland: I think it does. Me and some of the other people involved with the record were going through some weird, depressing stuff at the time, and my intention was to write this uplifting song to help us through it. For me, a lot of that had to do with moving to Norman, 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. Then I realized a lot of the songs on the record are about that. It took writing that song to make me see how everything else was tied together.
Hearing you talk about home being a place or a person makes me think of “Cherokee”. I understand that song was based on a dream?
Yeah, I had a dream about this girl I knew in high school, and in the dream, we had been married and then she had died. It just seemed like a thing to write a song about. That’s another one where after playing it a thousand times in a couple years, maybe I’ll know what it’s about.
Have you ever written about home and Oklahoma before as much as you do on this record?
Probably not. I had a song a long time ago called “Endless Oklahoma Sky” in an old band I was in that was kind of just about my friends and local bands trying to make it, but that’s really it. It wasn’t something I thought about at all, but afterwards, there was “High on Tulsa Heat,” there’s “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars”, there’s “Cleveland County Blues,” there’s “Cherokee,” which is a reference to Cherokee County. It kind of just ended up that way.
Did part of it have to do with leaving Tulsa and moving to Norman?
I think so. I think people maybe find it weird when I say that. Because Norman, it’s not like it’s far. It’s two hours away (from Tulsa). It’s in the Oklahoma City area. But, to me, the two different places have way different vibes. It felt like moving very far away to me.
When I play your music for friends, they always say you sound just like Springsteen. Do you ever get Springsteen comparisons?
Yeah, people tell me that pretty frequently. I love Bruce Springsteen, so I’ll take it.
It’s not the worst person to get compared to. I hear similarities in your voices.
One dude one time was like, “Buddy you should do a duet with Bruce Springsteen and call the duet ‘Guess Who’s Singing Now.” I was like, “That’s hilarious, so thank you.” But I don’t think that’s true. People always mean it in a positive way, so it’s OK. People are never like, ‘You sound like Bruce Springsteen, but fuck that guy.”
I’ve heard you say that, for you, songwriting is an act of self-discovery. Does this new album still feel that way?
My favorite songs are the ones where you’re just getting out of the way and letting it happen, and then maybe somewhere down the line, when you have a little bit different perspective, maybe you know what it means. And then maybe you learn something about yourself. I don’t really like to like spell it out.
Are there any songs on In the Throes where that’s happened yet? You’ve learned what it might mean after a couple years of playing it?
“Break My Heart Sweetly” is one like that. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t know what it’s about, but I can play it now a couple of years later, and I’m like, “Man, it’s the same shit, just with different people.”