Perspective is a secondary aspect of music that seems to get overblown quite a bit. Its somewhat indispensable within the art in the sense that the word itself has a somewhat nuanced nature.
There’s the empathetic perspective of seeing it from “their shoes” which in relation to music might best be served as reigning it in when some drunken fan won’t stop caterwauling during a set – maybe this is the one concert they could afford to attend all year.
Then there’s the external perspective of trying to market one’s self as an artist – its fine to believe in one’s self, but not to believe too much, so you have to present an unassuming, almost lackadaisical appearance from the uninitiated’s perspective.
There’s figurative perspective – whatever one’s views or beliefs that have been built up over the years through first hand experience that influence the way they operate.
Then there’s literal perspective – as in a camera or the angle of which you can view something; the vantage point.
Anyway, those are a handful of loose interpretations of perspective that some (myself included) are unable to attain. Better people are able to maintain perspective throughout the trials and tribulations of life, better people like Charlie Worsham.
Perspective – or more specifically, retrospective – is a view point Charlie Worsham seems to have ample supply of. Its been four years since the release of his debut record, Rubberband, back in 2013, and to put things bluntly, it wasn’t the biggest success in country music.
But Worsham is at peace with that.
“It was a beautiful gift for me, because had things taken off right out of the gate, I don’t know if I’d have been ready for it. It’s a comparison driven industry that I’m in, and comparison is the thief of joy. Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert now, because I still struggle with things every day – just headspace. But I think I’m better prepared for if and when success on a rocket ship level comes.”
That “headspace” helped orient Worsham throughout the four years of touring and writing that followed his post-Rubberband life, and he further honed his perspective in terms of his career. Where he might have once yearned for immediate acclaim and accolade, Worsham shifted into building his career at a more concerted pace.
“There’s a great Leonard Cohen line that goes “The cracks are where the light gets in,” and I think that is such a true statement whether you’re applying it to politics, religion, or music and art of any kind, or anything. Its when the things we think we need are taken from us is when we really grow and we become more resilient. So I had this brilliant opportunity to get to take the time to do it and grow up in that regard.”
Always a good sign when someone can quote The Godfather of Gloom off the cuff, and doubly impressive when it has great application to its use, to boot. So while Rubberband fell short to a certain extent, it wasn’t a total loss. Worsham started to see songs that hadn’t seen the light of day in terms of single consideration on Rubberband begin to pick up heads of steam in Europe and on streaming. It began to alter his approach to writing what would eventually become his most recent release, Beginning of Things.
Worsham’s confidence had suddenly received the reboot it needed. It forced him to look within himself for inspiration rather than seeking out the validation of what’s charting at the moment. In turn, he headed down to Austin and began the process that would ultimately lead to Beginning of Things.
“It was these three notebooks. I was right at the peak of being burned out of things for me – I was on tour and I had some time to kill in Austin, Texas just try and clear my head. I went to Waterloo records and got these three notebooks. I don’t remember what made me do it, but I sat in a hotel room and scrawled out “Tell the truth” on the first notebook and sort of in my head promised that I would fill up one page a day minimum. And it could be the crappiest writing that’s ever been written, or it can be the angriest thing that’s ever been written, the saddest, it can be anything, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that it had to be true.”
Worsham began working out songs, word by word, line by line, and piecing the album together slowly but surely. In due time, Worsham began showcasing the songs to his team at Warner, who only heightened the process of building out Beginning of Things, much to Worsham’s excitement.
“It wasn’t like I did it on my own – I had Frank Lidell helping me and Cris Lacey at Warner Brothers. She is the definition of what A&R should be. She cares about the whole person. She cares about the dignity of the music as well as the ability to just go out and kill it. So I took those notebooks – I had four notebooks by then – and every few weeks I had a handful of new songs and I’d go into Cris’ office with Cris and Frank and I had my guitar.
I wasn’t building tracks or anything like that. The song had to knock out Frank and Cris with just me singing and a guitar. So it was that process – it wasn’t really any one – where the record started to take shape. It wasn’t until we had every song we needed and then some before they unlocked the doors to the studio and we started making the record. Or at least making a skeleton of the record with a four piece band – that was six day at Southern Ground. Once we were getting ready to capture it on the tape, so to speak, that was a snapshot, but for the picture I “went to the gym a lot.”
So once again, Worsham’s perspective was forced to shift with the added perspectives of Lacey and Liddell, their indelible influences benefitting Worsham in ways he couldn’t have imagined, so with new songs in tow, Worsham’s focus shifted to another perspective – the overall perspective of Beginning of Things. In short, the album’s perspective and tone had morphed into something a little less self-serious than Rubberband .
“You do have to not take yourself too seriously, but you can actually take things real seriously if you want. I picked that whole perspective up by listening to a lot of Jerry Reed, listening especially a lot to Roger Miller, and then reading so many books. Reading books that… I think the modern day equivalent would be like Saturday morning cartoons for kids, or a Pixar film that tells one story while the adults are getting a different story; I’m so into that.”
But at the same time, the album isn’t totally devoid of some more serious aspects.
“But there’s a verse on “Lawn Chair Don’t Care” about the sad king, and you can kind of take it as a stoner verse, but I think you can also sort of apply… I think what I was trying to say was that there’s a lot about politics and leadership that I’d love to get on a stump about and bitch and moan about, but at the same time, heavy lies the crown.”
So while Beginning of Things has been out in there world for right around a month now, Worsham is still getting back into the swing of things on his tour support of the record. Touring alongside Brandy Clark, Worsham has seen a remarkable shift in tone and perspective from his audiences, which had once been unfamiliar and for the most part unwilling to receive his music, but have now become highly attentive and willful listeners.
“Yeah, it is different for sure. I think its more inspiring because I love being on stage – its my happy place. But certainly towards the end of the last cycle, I was playing in front of audiences I couldn’t seem to win over, and that’s frustrating. So this is really wonderful, and Brandy is amazing, and I just think that our audiences are one and the same.”
All in all, things look to be coming up aces for Worsham and Beginning of Things – a burgeoning tour, solid music and most importantly a fresh new perspective and overall outlook. Rather than begin looking on to the next single, Worsham is looking at things with a slightly longer term economic view, and that’s a perspective we all could benefit from adopting.
“Its easy to forget our careers are not about the next nine months or twelve months, they’re about the next thirty years and are we still in love with it and its important to do the things you’ve got to do in the next twelve months or so.”
Charlie Worsham is playing City Winery with Brandy Clark in Nashville on May 19th and 21st.
Photo credit – Allister Ann