On Tuesday morning, Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. Simpson is up against pop superstars Beyonce, Adele, Drake and Justin Bieber and Rhianna.
His nomination came as a shock to many around the world, Simpson himself included. Yesterday, the New York Times contacted him for a comment.
“[My publicist] woke me up. My wife said, ‘Who the [expletive] is calling you at 7:30?’” explained Simpson. “She told me the news and we just kind of stayed in bed for a while. I was trying to wrap my head around what this even means and looking back on everything. It’s extremely humbling. I went downstairs and made pancakes and watched ‘Sesame Street’ with my son. That was pretty much it.”
Simpson’s Grammy nomination is extraordinary, considering the arc of his relatively short career thus far. A native Kentuckian, Simpson moved to Nashville in 2005 to pursue music. Dismayed at the politics of Nashville’s music industry, he left a few years later and traveled to Utah to work on the railroad. With the encouragement of his wife he returned to Nashville in 2010 to continue with his former band Sunday Valley. In 2013, he released his debut solo album, High Top Mountain. A collection of traditionally inspired country songs with a fresh approach, the record grabbed the attention of a handful of critics and Americana fans.
Things really began to explode for Simpson the following year when he released his experimental sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Chatter about his music spread far and wide in a matter of months. When he recorded his first taping for the tv show Austin City Limits, the show’s producer Terry Lickona introduced him by saying he hadn’t seen an artist with such buzz and talent in a long time. It was true. By the end of 2015, Simpson had amassed a sizeable fanbase around the U.S and Europe, with some hailing him as the new savior of country music.
In 2016, he surprised everyone’s expectations with a Sailor’s Guide To Earth, an ambitious concept album that blends country, soul, funk, psych rock and folk. It is a masterpiece of a record, so if you haven’t listened to it yet, go find it now and play the whole thing from start to finish. When it was released in April, Sailor’s Guide climbed to the top of the country charts without any airplay on country radio. The supporting tour for the album has been a massive success too. Simpson sold-out concert halls and theaters from the farthest reaches of the West Coast all the way to the Scandinavian nations across the Atlantic and everywhere in between.
As his popularity has increased, he has become more outspoken about his distaste for the establishment of modern country music. Over the summer, he went on a Facebook rant about the Academy of Country Music for naming an award after his late friend and mentor Merle Haggard. In a recent interview, he said that he would become the biggest country star in the world in 10 years. Certainly a bold choice of words, but you know what? He may be right on target.
Simpson’s music comes straight out of his soul, and what he has stirring down there happens to be striking a chord with a lot of people around the world. While he has tip-toed in and out of country music, his style is rooted in the genre, which has always been about communicating the complexity of the human condition through relatively simple musical methods. There’s something about his style that sounds familiar, but wholly unique.
Whether or not he wins the Grammy in February — and I bet he will — his nomination has already secured his place as one of the most significant country artists of this era. If you were to ask Simpson, he’d probably be more likely to tell you that he’s just making the music he wants to hear.
“I’m not sure what I represent,” he told the Times. “I just want to make art.”