It’s well known that Nashville has been a major hot bed for new music, especially this past decade with Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Lady Antebellum…on and on. Lesser known musicians with that same caliber of production and craft, such as JD Simo, have been releasing high quality Blues and Rock n Roll that truly deserve special attention. That starts now with SIMO’s new album, Rise & Shine. Personally, my music preferences include the Doors, Guns N Roses, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Alabama Shakes, and Albert King to name a few. What makes JD Simo and his way-above-par guitar skills so special is that his new album covers so many of these flavors of genres yet still sound like they were made to be together. I love this record.
My favorite track on the album, Meditation, carries a vibe of funk with an incredible combination of guitar and keys. I Want Love reminds me of an Isaac Hayes and Alabama Shakes tune. Be With You is an awesome classic rock tune that ends with Pink Floyd type heavy, screaming guitars. The second to last song on the album, The Light, is a beautiful acoustic song that has the flow of Nirvana’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night. When I stream this album end to end it is very easy to tell this album would be incredible to hear live and had me racing to my Bandsintown app to set an alert.
In my nearly thirty-minute interview with JD Simo, we chatted about his new album, recording with Jack White for Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, the disdain for Pro Tools, and the quite serious psychological affects a 215 gig, 300 day tour had on him and the positive things that came out of it.
Writers on the Storm: Your last album, Let Love Show the Way, you recorded at the Allman Brothers’ studio, The Big House, in Macon, Georgia, in two days. Your new album, Rise & Shine, you recorded on your own in Nashville’s House of Blues Studio D over several months with lesser known engineer, Don Bates. What went into the decision of doing this album yourself locally?
JD Simo: “We were gone nearly three hundred days last year. So, the thought of coming home in January and going to some place to make the record was not very appealing. We wanted to make it at home so that we could sleep in our own beds. As for as Don’s involvement, he’s a friend of ours. He’s made like four records in a row with independent bands that I’ve really loved. He’s a really close friend of Elad [Shapiro], the bass player in the group. We had met with multiple producers throughout the year with the intent on working with an outside producer for the new record and we even kind of committed to one of them. But when we had to schedule everything last Fall, we were in Europe, and we had this big conference call meeting thing to decide on all the particulars so the budget could be approved with the record label. All this…we were just feeling like we didn’t want to work with anyone. It was a gamble because we didn’t know if the label would allow us to do that. Luckily they let us and most labels wouldn’t. It was an intense experience. It was four months of non stop. I was in there every day for months.”
I read in another interview you did that your studio grind every day was 3:00pm to 6:00am?!?
JD Simo: “Yea, that’s just my hours, man. I’m nocturnal. We got home the first week of January from touring. We spent pretty much every day of January doing pre-production. We arranged and rewrote the songs. Weeks and weeks of doing that. Then we moved into the studio and were in there for nearly a month. And then two months mixing it. By the time it was all over with I was really worn out.”
Who are some other bands your engineer, Don Bates, has worked with?
JD Simo: “He’s worked with this solo guy, Guthrie Brown, that I really love. I particularly really liked that record and he’s an independent artist here in Nashville. I think he’s really talented. And then there’s a band that’s unfortunately not together that’s the band Elad was in before he joined our band called The Cunning. Don had done their record and I really loved it. Don is a young guy, 26. He’s hungry and extremely talented.”
It seems like a lot of the Nashville bands I’ve interviewed have gone through Vance Powell [Jack White, Chris Stapleton, King of Leon] at Sputnik for engineering. Have you ever crossed paths with him?
JD Simo: “Oh yea, I’ve worked with Vance many times. There was a moment in time, as the group SIMO, we did a session with him and Jacquire King and it just didn’t work out for us. I have a lot of respect for Vance but in the end, I’d much rather work with someone who everybody else is not working with.”
Sputnik and Vance of course have done a lot of producing for Jack White. Both being long time, great guitar players in Nashville, have you and Jack ever crossed paths?
JD Simo: “Yea actually, I’ve worked with Jack once. I got a random a call about a year and half ago from my buddy Josh who was actually Vance’s assistant for several years and now Josh is Jack’s full-time engineer. And he said “Hey man, are you in town? Could you come do a session for Jack?” Luckily I was and I said, “Well yea, I’d love to.” So he said, “Well we’re doing it at the house not at Third Man.” So, I showed up and it was actually sessions for the Beyoncé record. It was really secretive because they hadn’t announced that Jack was working with Beyoncé yet.”
JD Simo: Yea, sessions for Lemonade. It was really funny because it was a BIG deal for us not to say anything. No tweeting. They were like, “If we find out you told people you’ll be in big trouble!” It was funny. I had a great time. I haven’t seen him since, but It was a really fun experience to get to see how Jack works. It was pretty surreal working on a Beyoncé track with Jack White.
Ah, right. Her track “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” Very cool. Were you just doing rhythm guitar?
JD Simo: Rhythm and lead guitar. Everything was being tracked live. It was essentially Jack’s road band. Daru Jones on drums. Dominic [Davis] on bass. And my old friend Lillie Mae on fiddle, who now has a solo record out on Third Man. Jack didn’t want to play guitar. He wanted to produce, so I was playing guitar.
So, back to your new album, Rise & Shine. As musicians evolve there’s highs and lows with marriage, divorce, drugs, children…was there anything going on in your life that affected the song writing for this album?
JD Simo: “Yea, without getting too personal last year was just really rough. To be gone as much as we were gone it really screwed with my head and made it really difficult for me to just exist. It’s really hard to describe unless you’ve been through it. It kind of forced me when we did get home and started working on the record to seek some professional help to sort out some of my psychological problems because it was plaguing me and making me pretty miserable. I’m doing a lot better now and I feel like I’m more equipped to what it takes to go out and slug it. And that was everything that I wrote about. In retrospect, I’m really proud of it because as a writer I tend to prefer people that don’t allude to things and rather say what they want to say in a very direct fashion.”
And it sounds like your band mates were supportive.
JD Simo: “Yea! Being in a band, it’s cliché to say, but it is a marriage. We love each other and we hate each other. We fight all the time. We get along all the time. It’s all the above. To make it through what we did last year most bands wouldn’t. I totally see why bands fall apart. It’s just really hard! (laughing) But if you care about each other and it’s meant to be and it’ll work out.”
I love that your new album sounds like it was recorded live. There’s a lot of power in the tracks. It’s happened so many times I’ve loved a band live and then I buy their album and it’s like all treble in their instruments.
JD Simo: “Haha. Yea, it’s important. In the case of this album, there’s a lot of crafting involved and methodical production if you will, but at the root of it there are takes that are unmanipulated. Nothing is edited. No vocals are edited or tuned. But there’s a lot of production on top of it. And that’s the healthy marriage. Because the second you start manipulating tracks and fixing vocals and stuff like that you’re going down a rabbit hole and it’s going to make stuff worse. I just think it’s terrible the things that you can do in Pro Tools to make up for the inability to play things. It’s just horrible. And it’s only the last twenty years. You couldn’t do that before the late 90s.”
Stream the new album: