With two albums coming out on February 19th, 2021 (I’ve Chosen Love & Creosote Flats), Americana troubadour Reed Turchi seems to be in constant motion. I caught up with him recently as he was filming a live taping for Bud’s Presents #Live and Direct in Austin TX.
Americana Highways: I really dig the song “I’ve Chosen Love”. It’s got a great vibe and really feels to resonate with the times we’re living in. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for that song?
Reed Turchi: It’s funny in an odd sort of way that “I’ve Chosen Love” has found its moment now, as I started working on it about four years ago in the midst of crashing out of a relationship, job, and the kick-you-when-your-down city of Memphis. At the time I was crashing with a friend of mine (the saxophonist Art Edmaiston), and the guitar vamp is one of those things that just “came out of the water.” Obviously it has a STAX / Steve Cropper vibe, but I don’t remember ripping it off of any one particular song, just that it felt right.
Spiritually, the song is about “choosing love” in both a literal and abstract sense — love serving as a higher calling in the idea of aiming your life and efforts to serving a larger universal balance, and also, every day, choosing the people around you and the things you do because of the love that fosters as nourishment.
There are things I don’t know how to say, and likely never will, and so the song turned into a series of references, aiming to weave together a quilt of the people and ideologies I believe in — the quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. that anchor the song lyrically, Heather Moulder‘s voice, the groove established in the three-part rhythm section of Anthony Farrell (bass), Johnny Radelat (drums) and Lemuel Hayes (drums).
We recorded the track down in Austin, at Bud’s Recording Services, but, given the ghosts that haunt the song, I had to go back to Memphis to finish it — my longtime partner-in-crime Adam Hill and I mixed it at Electraphonic Studios, only a few blocks from the Lorraine Motel. Little did I know an enormous mural of Martin Luther King Jr. would be there waiting for me propped against the studio wall….some things aren’t coincidence, after all…
AH: Looking back at your career, you are quite a prolific artist. But on this release, what made you want to release two albums at the same time? What ties the two albums together?
RT: Some might say that I’ve released too much material in my career, but for me recording and releasing music is something I do as much for the journaling of my own life and my brief time on this earth as it is a “strategic approach to creating financial viable recorded material.” To me, Creosote Flats and I’ve Chosen Love exist in different spaces and reflect two different worlds of music I’ve been working on for a number of years. And yet, I’ve been working on both for four or five years now, which makes me suspect that somewhere in my subconscious they are linked, or two sides of the same coin. To be an artist is to be always seeking new inspiration, embarking on new creative journeys, and it just so happens that both of these albums have hit their culminating moment concurrently.
AH: These albums seem to have very specific inspiration. I’ve Chosen Love is steeped in golden era in Memphis’ musical history and Creosote Flats is drawn from time spent in the Sonoran Desert. Can you elaborate on the drive to make these albums ?
RT: Both came from certain moments, with an overlap in influence between places and people. Creosote Flats is the most clearly shaped by landscape, and by a person: While on tour in Europe together in 2014, Adriano Viterbini introduced me to Saharan Blues (Tinariwen, Bombino, etc.), and I was — like so many — immediately entranced by the sound. What took many years of work after that moment, however, was finding a way to write songs in that style without simply copying, and that drew on my time in and love for the Sonoran desert around Tucson, Arizona, somewhere I’ve gone frequently since before I was born (my parents lived there in the pre-Reed days). The challenge was fairly straightforward: How can I work with the rhythms and feelings of this Saharan music, but write songs about my life, and my experience, on the other side of the globe.
I’ve Chosen Love, which has a distinct A Side / B Side structure, reflects two places I spent a dangerous amount of time: Memphis and North Mississippi. The A Side is the most STAX influenced, with a set of songs I began working on in Memphis and have slowly developed with various bands and lineups since. The B Side has more of a Junior Kimbrough style mono-chord romp, but was recorded in my backyard in Nashville in the COVID era — Lee McAlilly (bass) and Wallace Lester (drums) manage to stir up the cicadas into quite a groove on those more extended tracks.
So, ultimately both albums are celebrations of people, and places, that have been significant to my life and musical development.
AH: I understand that Creosote Flats isn’t just an album but a collaboration with famed photographer Mark Klett. Can you tell us about the collaboration ?
RT: Over the last few years I’ve grown more and more interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, as I believe one of the weaknesses of creative work in our over-developed culture is an increased segmenting of artistic work. On one hand it makes sense that on our more-crowded-every-second planet “specialization” has become an end-goal, but when I look back over the course of human history, most art is based in a multi-sensory experience: Poems accompanied by music, music accompanied by dance, etc., etc..
Given that Creosote Flats is an album designed to evoke a sense of place, getting to work with Mark, and have him select a series of photographs from his “Time Studies” series to accompany each song, was a perfect fit. These particularly photographs are also all based in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson, and deal with the passing of time, just as these songs seek to be both intimate and infinite.
AH: From reading your press release, you are planning a tour month self sustainable “Tour” / “Journey” out west to support these releases. Can you tell us a little about what this journey will entail? Can you elaborate on the Self-sustainability?
RT: The goal of the journey is to present, and document, performances of the Creosote Flats material, collaborating with various arts and environmental organizations along the way. Rather than night after night in a series of clubs and bars (which is impossible due to COVID anyway), we will be performing the music outdoors in the landscape which gave birth to it.
As a part of this, we will keep developing the interdisciplinary nature of the project, for example working with mezcal producers who are partnering with bat conservationists to increase the sustainability of their agave harvest, and with Don Guerra, an incredible baker in Tucson who has helped restore and promote heritage grains of the Sonoran desert.
Thanks for your time and thoughtful responses here Reed. Before we go I wanted to ask you about “The Million Book Project” directed by poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. I understand that “I’ve Chosen Love” has been chosen as the theme music for their podcast. Can you tell us a little about the “The Million Book Project”” and Mr. Betts and your relationship ?
Dwayne Betts and I met when he was in poetry school, getting an MFA at Warren Wilson College (where I am a student now in the same program…go figure). That was a long time ago, but since then we’ve stayed in touch, and last year did a recording session together related to works in his collection of poems Felon. While that material is unreleased as of yet so there’s only so much I can say about it, I can say that the The Million Book Project (the goal of which is to donate one million books to juvenile detention center libraries around the US) is an incredible project, and getting to contribute “I’ve Chosen Love” to that work is as fitting as could be, given where that song came from, and the energy it hopes to project into the world.
Reed Turchi‘s albums I’ve Chosen Love and Creosote Flats come out February 19th, 2021.