When it comes to artists delivering authenticity in their music, there is no question that Yelawolf and Shooter Jennings are at the top of the list. One’s been hailed as “one of hip-hop’s most vital voices” by The Guardian; the other’s one of the Americana world’s most sought-after producers and songwriters with a pair of GRAMMY Awards to his name. While they might not seem like the most obvious combination, a quick listen to the duo’s debut collaboration as Sometimes Y; you’ll quickly come to understand that their chemistry, built from a decades-long plus friendship, is as intoxicating as it is unexpected. The album was recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in the heart of a tumultuous summer marked by social and political upheaval, to say nothing of the global pandemic that nearly scuttled the entire project. With Yelawolf in the limelight as their invigorating frontman, Jennings, who appears on synthesizer, piano, and acoustic guitar, enlisted his longtime bandmates – Jamie Douglass (drums), Ted Russell Kamp (bass, banjo, acoustic guitar), and John Schreffler (guitars, pedal steel) to complete the project. The songs forged during these ambitious sessions were mixed by GRAMMY-winning engineer David Spreng (Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Dylan) and mastered by GRAMMY-nominated engineer Pete Lyman (Chris Stapleton, Weezer).
The resulting album is a sonic fusion of influences from the past melded with future sounds, which conjures up some alternate universe where David Bowie fronted Thin Lizzy or Axl Rose sang with The Cars. The songs are addictive and unpredictable, mixing ’80s bombast and arena-rock energy with country earnestness and hip-hop swagger. The performances are thrilling to match, fueled by the pair’s undeniable chemistry and irrepressible joy. Jennings’ production work is lush but never crowded, and Yelawolf’s lyrics are utterly arresting, grappling insightfully with purpose and perseverance, struggle and triumph, pain and transcendence. Yet, weighty as the record can feel at times, it’s ultimately a work of liberation and release, an ecstatic declaration of creative freedom fueled by adventure, discovery, and just the right amount of chaos.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Yelawolf to discuss the creation of Sometimes Y’s captivating self-titled debut album. Along the way, he offers unique insight on working alongside Shooter Jennings, the importance of the album to him as an artist, and where this new era of musical exploration may lead.
Sometimes Y marks the start of an exciting new era for you as an artist. When did you know it was the right time for you to take the plunge and explore new musical territory?
Taking the plunge was really more like taking my time. If you would’ve asked me ten years ago if I was ready to make a rock and roll record, I would’ve likely said yes, but the truth is I just wasn’t ready. My voice wasn’t ready, and neither was my confidence. It took a while to exercise my voice and to grow comfortable with my abilities to become the frontman of a real rock band.
This project showcases your vocal ability in exciting new ways. What went into exploring that side of your skillset?
I brought my friend Peter Keys (piano player for Lynyrd Skynyrd) to help me find my voice on this album. I actually allowed him to vocal coach me, which is something I’ve never done. But Peter is so in tune because he knew exactly what I was going for with my melody ideas because of his piano playing. He helped me navigate it all.
What was your vision for this collaboration before entering the creative process, and what surprised you the most about the resulting tunes?
I really didn’t have an idea what the collaboration would be. Shooter didn’t either, but that’s how I always work. I start all my albums with a title. Sometimes Y was the name, and I even had the logo done before we recorded the first song. And that’s because it helps me visually map out what the records should feel like. They should feel how the logo looks and how the name sounds. That’s what we did.
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for the album?
We wrote all the records on the spot in 10 days at Sunset Sound, with the exception of one acoustic guitar demo Shooter and I cut over the internet during quarantine “Hole In My Head.” I wrote all the lyrics and melodies as well and tracked my parts in Nashville a couple of weeks later. But we cut maybe 20 during those 10 days in LA of which we chose what we felt to be the best ones.
You began working on this project during one of our nation’s most unique and tumultuous periods. How did those strange days influence this album’s writing and recording process?
There’s been no time in my life where the environment of the world directly affected my work in the studio, except for this one. It deeply affected me and the band. Helicopters above us and thousands of humans marching right outside the studio walls, which I took part in a few times in between sessions. It all came out on “Fucked Up Day.” But the record is full of energy that was just trying to fight to feel better. We all wanted to just redirect the energy. It wasn’t easy.
When it comes to your chemistry, this album speaks for itself. What do you feel you bring out in each other in a creative sense?
Shooter brings confidence out of me. And although I’ve been confident to a fault through my hip hop career thus far, this was like being a new kid at a playground who was only known to play in the sandbox and now forced to play with kids who can do backflips off the monkey bars. I just had to fling myself into motion and try to land on my feet.
This album features some incredible tracks. You’ve had some time to live with them at this point. Which of these songs resonate with you the most?
I never have permanent faves, actually. Today it was “Catch You On The Other Side.” Tomorrow, it’ll probably be “Moonshiner’s Run,” because I’m gonna rage at The Rainbow in L.A. for our release party tonight!!!
What were some of the standout moments of your time together while bringing this album to life?
There were many. Every day actually, there were moments of clarity and realization of one another’s similarities and like-minded ideas. One of those moments that stand out to me was when we wrote “Jump Out The Window.” It just felt like at that moment; we became a band. And we were not just cutting an album.
As you mentioned, you recorded at the Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles. What role did that legendary space play in making this amazing record?
It’s hard to say whether it was the room or just us. Looking back, I remember being taken by the amount of history that went down there; Zeppelin, The Doors, Prince, etc., and I’m sure we caught some mojo, but I feel like we can make music anywhere. What affected me more than being in the “Purple Rain” room was what was going on around us. I also feel after hearing the album down from top to bottom that we more than deserved to be there and become a part of that story. We also did something legendary, and I’m more proud that we contributed to the legacy of that space than to just be a mere fan of the space itself. The challenge is stepping up to the hits recorded before you on the same board on the same microphones.
Do you feel this project has impacted you as a songwriter/storyteller? How do you view that evolution?
I’m really not sure of the long-term effects of this change. I can say that this day, the day the Sometimes Y album went to the world, I feel refreshed and lighter on my feet. I was dragging myself around before this record was made. I was simply bored. And I’ve always felt a bit displaced from the norm of hip hop because I blended so many styles over the years. I blended myself and my fans right into pieces and I found it to be artistically extremely lonely. It was like having nobody to play with. [laughs] No one ever really got it; although many are still trying, it was a very tough road to navigate. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far, and I’m proud of what I set seed to. But my heart needed a new beat, and now that it’s come to pass, the irony is that I have a very similar and if not the same hunger, energy, and killer instinct I had with “Trunk Muzik,” and I love that. Like I cracked a seal of new songs and potential I can ride with for a long while. I’m psyched!!
What does this album mean to you personally, and what do you feel it says about you as an artist?
What it says about me as an artist isn’t up to me; it’s up to the fans. However, what this album means to me is that it’s the most important album I’ve ever been a part of, with “Love Story” falling into second place. And it’s not only the music and its unique style and recording quality; it’s the wall we just kicked down. When listening to Rock and Roll currently, you can hear that Sometimes Y is as different to rock as “Love Story” was to hip hop. But what makes it more important to me? Is that no one can be confused by its genre like they were with “Love Story,” where they can discount, discredit or disregard it. Sometimes Y is a rock and roll album. Period.
This album unlocks so many new possibilities for you. Where do you see yourself headed musically, both short and long term?
Man, if I had a crystal ball, I could see Sometimes Y selling out Wembley Stadium and headlining Coachella. I can speak for the whole band that the dream will never fade to have a record that impacts the world and finds its place in the zeitgeist. And that’s what I set out to do, whether that’s long term or short term, I don’t know.
Your hard work and dedication to your craft are incredibly inspiring. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Chase your dreams, not your fame and everything will be fine.
Sometimes Y’s self-titled debut album is available now via Slumerican.
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