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Jason Isbell performs in The Current studio

Jason Isbell performs in The Current studio.
Jason Isbell performs in The Current studio.MPR photo/Nate Ryan
  Play Now [28:20]

by Bill DeVille and Jason Isbell

February 28, 2016

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free (live on 89.3 The Current)
by MPR
Jason Isbell - 24 Frames (live on 89.3 The Current)
by MPR
Jason Isbell - Speed Trap Town (live on 89.3 The Current)
by MPR
Jason Isbell - Flagship (live on 89.3 The Current)
by MPR

Before going to the Grammy ceremony in Los Angeles, Jason Isbell made sure he had his suit and his lucky socks, noting the socks were more important than the suit. "I got married in those socks, I had the socks on when our daughter was born," Isbell says, adding he doesn't take the superstition so far as to avoid washing them. "They're clean," he insists. "I find that the luck runs out if you don't wash your socks."

Isbell, along with fiddle player (and Isbell's wife) Amanda Shires and guitar player Sadler Vaden visited The Current's studio for a session with Bill DeVille on the same day they were set to play a sold-out show at Northrop in Minneapolis. The Grammy wins — awarded for Best Americana Song, "24 Frames," and Best Americana Album, Something More Than Free — had occurred just one week prior. "It was really fun," Isbell says of the experience. "I'm grateful for it. We had a really great time, and it was a nice opportunity to publicly thank a lot of people who had gotten behind the album and helped us make it."

Isbell and Shires said they got to see a lot of musical luminaries up close, and they also had a nice time eating chili dogs at the Staples Center with Anthony Mason of CBS. Going to the ceremony also crystallized an idea about the Grammys the two had shared for a long while. "More than anything else, I think it reaffirms the idea that we've always had that it's not rigged, that you don't buy those," Isbell reflects. "You actually work really hard and then somebody notices one day, and that's a really great feeling."

Interview Highlights

Isbell on whether he thought '24 Frames' would be a Grammy winner:

"I don't know if I ever feel that way immediately. There's always some trepidation as far as, 'Is this even what I meant to say in the first place?' But I enjoyed listening to the song, and I didn't get bored with it really quickly, and that's usually about as good a song as I can hope for."

Isbell on the meaning of '24 Frames':

"It's not a direct narrative. It's sort of a series of reflections and images that sum up to one idea, really. It's about the passage of time, like a lot of songs are — sometimes I think all songs are about that. ['24 Frames'] is about that, and it's also about relationships with other people, the kind where you want to encourage somebody to be happy and to do the things that it takes to be happy without overshadowing that person or being overshadowed by that person. There's a lot going on in that song. It's probably a little bit more vague than some of the things I'm used to writing, and that might have been why it translated a little bit better, I don't know."

Isbell on taking a disciplined approach to songwriting:

"There's no other kind of songwriter, really. There's the disciplined kind and then there's the people who are just sort of playing at it. You don't always know what you're going to write about; you take a lot of notes, and then when you find something that fits, you work that in. Amanda calls it 'solving puzzles' — and it is that in a lot of ways. You wind up looking for things that fit the right spaces, almost like you're doing a crossword. But there's more to it than that, obviously, because the finished product has to add up to some sort of communication between the person who's creating it and the broader audience. In your mind, you sort of imagine this listener that I think over the years you build, and you're like, 'Will this person understand what I'm saying?'

"And also, Amanda and I bounce songs off of each other and help each other edit. Each day, it's a different thing. Every time you sit down to write, you're writing as a different person in a lot of ways."

Isbell on John Prine:

"He is one of our heroes, and one of a very short list. There's really nobody like John … he's sharp as a razor. He's really, really funny and unassuming. There's no ego. If you follow John's path, he's a really good role model. There's a lot of background in those early days; coming from the South and then moving to Chicago and writing songs on his postal route and spending so much time alone in his own mind, he probably aged mentally and emotionally a whole lot quicker than most people do."

In the course of the interview, Isbell also shares his thoughts about visiting the Mall of America with his and Shires' baby daughter, and he also talks about the Muscle Shoals documentary and the number of good music stories that came out of that area. Listen to the complete interview by clicking the audio player above.

Songs Performed

"Something More Than Free"
"24 Frames"
"Speed Trap Town"

All songs from Jason Isbell's 2015 album, Something More Than Free, available on Southeastern Records.

Hosted by Bill DeVille
Produced by Derrick Stevens
Engineered by Michael DeMark and Sasha Druva
Images by Nate Ryan
Web feature by Luke Taylor