Shooter Jennings prides himself on creating the unexpected. As the only son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, he’s dabbled in everything from southern rock ’n’ roll to outlaw country to traditional country and even psych-rock. Jennings joined his father’s former band, Waymore’s Outlaws, for a recent sold-out show in Baltimore. Their 40-minute set included everything from classic Waylon to classic Shooter to an enchanting cover of the Ramones’ “She Talks to Rainbows.” “You know, I haven’t sold out shows like this for years,” Jennings said backstage after the show. “We’d sell out one here or there, but we have no idea why that is happening now.” Jennings isn’t touring as much these days, which may have something to do with the spike in ticket sales. If you’re hoping to catch him live soon, it’s best not to dawdle.
Jennings took some time out of his schedule to talk with Paste about Nine Inch Nails, working with Dennis Haskins and his releases for Record Store Day on April 18.
Tell me a little about your work as a producer. What drew you to that?
Shooter Jennings: My dream was always to be on the production side of things. Even as a little kid when my dad would bring me to the studio, I always loved that. It was almost like when I first discovered Nine Inch Nails and when [the 1994 album] The Downward Spiral came out. That record was a sound collage of all kinds of the things Trent Reznor was using. I fell in love with that record. I studied that record and it taught me a lot.
You seem so comfortable on stage. I’m surprised you haven’t gravitated more towards that.
Jennings: I was in a few bands when I was young, and I’d seen so many shows with my dad that [it] was never exciting to me. What was exciting was creating the actual music. It’s an adventure, the first time you hear something that you had only just imagined. I heard David Gilmour of Pink Floyd talking about it. He said “I wish could have heard [the 1973 album] The Dark Side of the Moon for the first time just like the fans did. We never got to have that experience, because we created it from the ground up.” That is the kind of thing that excites me.
How did you begin producing in earnest?
Jennings: When I produced Ashes & Angels [by Fifth on the Floor in 2013] that was my first foray into doing somebody else’s record. It was an exciting jumping-off point, but I was also anxious get that first record out of the way. After that I worked with Jason Boland & the Stragglers on Dark and Dirty Mile. That was a great experience, although I didn’t fully produce the record. I was there for the construction of the music and left and [Boland] did the vocals and capped it all off. Essentially, what I did was go in and speak to the players, simplify certain songs and things. That is the thing I enjoy doing most, the composition side.
You’ve created a slew of records for Record Store Day, correct?
Jennings: Yes, I’ve got four Record Store Day projects, including one with Billy Ray Cyrus and one with Dennis Haskins. And I’m producing Julie Roberts’ next record. I’m really excited to work on it. We are about halfway done with that, but it’s been amazing. A lot of times when you work with other people, you get friction about certain things. Julie has trusted my vision, followed my lead and let me take some risks with it. She is willing to try different things. I have always loved her. She was always on my bucket list of people who I wanted to work [with].
Another one is with my old band, Stargunn. None of the material is available, and there are fans that want it. We put some of [the songs] out on limited vinyl. And then we have what we think if the first known recording of my dad done in 1955. My dad’s brothers had run across this tape recording they had of my dad singing, and talking about [his first wife] Maxine and Buddy Holly and other things. It was a family gift. We put that out for everybody.
What other projects are you especially excited about?
Jennings: I’m also working with a New York band that needs a boost. We warned them ahead of time that [Black Country Rock pressings] are limited, until we have a massive success. We don’t have a lot of funds to do a $100,000 radio campaign or anything. They understand that. It gives me space to move around and not just do Shooter records. I can do all these other things and guarantee the outcome.
Your work with Billy Ray seems to have really stunned a lot of people. I know he was a friend of your dad’s, but how did this recording come about?
Jennings: Billy Ray has popped up in my life many times in very weird situations. One time in Toronto he was randomly on the same property as me. Another time I ran into him at the airport. We always got along. He’s such a sweet person, very funny, charming and generous. Just a really nice guy. I always loved that song [“Killing the Blues”]. He loved it too so we made it happen. It was one of those things that was just really magic. We had to put it out.
What about your project with Dennis Haskins?
Jennings: I’ve known him a long time, about 10 years. He would send me a text here or there saying he saw me on Imus or something. It was always a nice feeling to know there is this famous actor in Hollywood who is legitimately just a really nice dude. His show was such a big part of my life when I was growing up. So he was always on the slate. He reached out to [my manager] and said “Hey, why don’t you do a record with me? I love to sing.” We were going to go with a traditional jazz arrangement, a live studio arrangement. [But] we literally ran out of time. I asked if he minded if I made all the music and he would come over the next day and sing. It was just the two of us. We built these tracks, based on ideas from me, my manager, and Haskins.
Was it intended as a mashup between Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” and Tom Jones’ “Delilah”?
Jennings: No, the mashup was almost an accident, but it really works. It’s so honest and real. Just the two of us experienced it when it was first created. It’s very weird, very unexpected, very different from what anyone would expect from Mr. Belding. No one can take that away.
What’s next? Do you have more music coming out this year?
Jennings: I’m finishing the Giorgio Moroder [tribute] record and hope to release that this summer. It’s one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever done and I kind of can’t wait to see where that takes me.