During a recent Texas tour stop, Jason Isbell sat down with cyclist Lance Armstrong for Armstrong’s The Forward Podcast. The pair discussed Isbell’s path to sobriety, his friendship with Ryan Adams and Sturgill Simpson and the current state of country music.
Armstrong introduced his guest by acknowledging that while his listeners may not own Isbell’s music, the reigning king of Americana is known among the “gnarliest of the gnarly in the singer-songwriter world.”
Below are some highlights from Isbell and Armstrong’s conversation.
On Muscle Shoals
Isbell, who grew up 20 miles from the Muscle Shoals, Ala., spent his youth around some of the most respected musicians in the country. His proximity to professional musicians inspired him to pursue a career in music.
“I could sit for three or four hours and watch the people play the songs they had recorded in the ’60s and ’70s,” Isbell said.”It was a good education.”
On Ryan Adams
Isbell, who’s nearly five years sober now, spent two weeks in rehab and embarked on a tour with Ryan Adams immediately after. Isbell said Adams, who has also struggled with addiction, was an incredible support system for him during those trying times.
“I depended on Ryan a lot when I first got clean, got my life straightened out,” Isbell said. “He knows how to live life without depending on those things that he used to depend on.”
Armstrong contacted Ryan Adams before the podcast to get his thoughts on his friendship with Isbell.
Adams called Isbell “one of the funniest people I know” and described Isbell’s career rise as “an inevitable karmic process that this world probably doesn’t deserve but damn well will make it a better place.”
On Sturgill, Sneakers and Merle
Isbell also discussed his bond with Sturgill Simpson and shared some insight into Simpson’s signature footwear style. Apparently, Simpson showed up to Isbell’s daughter’s birthday party wearing Kanye West’s “Yeezy” sneakers. Yes, Sturgill Simpson wears Yeezys.
“He said somebody took him out and bought him those shoes and he made the mistake of putting them on and he said they’re the most comfortable thing,” Isbell told Armstrong.
Isbell also addressed Simpson’s comments earlier this month criticizing the Academy of Country Music for its Merle Haggard Spirit Award.
“(Sturgill) and Merle knew each other. I think they were fairly close, and anybody who knew Merle would know that he hadn’t always been treated great by the Nashville establishment,” Isbell told Armstrong. “They didn’t really support his career as much as they did some other artists and I think Sturgill was really upset that they were making money off his name.”
Isbell also criticized major labels for prioritizing record sales over true country music.
“Whatever is selling–they don’t care if it sounds like Skrillex–they’ll call it country music,” Isbell said. “If it’s selling they’ll sell it.”
Isbell said that since it’s easier for people to share music on a grassroots level, it’s no longer necessary to have a presence on mainstream country radio.
“I can get my music to plenty of people. I don’t have to participate in Top 40 country radio,” Isbell said. “If you just refuse to quit you can figure out a way to do it yourself.”
Listen to Armstrong’s full conversation with Jason Isbell below:
Isbell is currently on tour throughout 2016. For upcoming tour dates and tickets, visit here.