Sad Daddy photo by Melissa Brawner
With a newfound creative cohesiveness that their previous albums lacked, Sad Daddy immersed themselves in the comfort of isolation to write and record Way Up in the Hills, the third record that the collaboration of roots musicians has made together. Due January 28, the album is a blanket of warmth in a season of tumbling temperatures, and even features the soothing sounds of bacon sizzling, the perfect accompaniment to round out that down-home feel.
I recently sat down with members Brian Martin and Melissa Carper to discuss telling their individual stories, staying on the hunt, and embracing the collective porch stomps.
Americana Highways: I was first introduced to Sad Daddy after hearing Melissa’s solo album Daddy’s Country Gold. What does each individual bring to this project that makes it whole?
Brian Martin: Man, that’s a tough one to answer without turning it into an essay. There are just so many little things that each of us brings to this, based on our influences, songwriting styles, musical philosophies, etc… Since the lead vocal/songwriter role constantly rotates between us, we all get to wear our personalities on our sleeves in this band, and we all get to tell our stories. I think the fact that we’re able to bring that all together in a way that feels natural and gives us “our sound” is what makes it uniquely Sad Daddy.
AH: Way Up in the Hills is the group’s third record. No one knows your music better than you. How does this collection of tracks differ from the earliest songs you four wrote and recorded together?
BM: Above all, I think we appreciated the process more this time around. We’re all scattered out living in different places, so we don’t get to spend much time together unless we’re out on tour. The pandemic brought that to a screeching halt, so we were all sitting at home, missing making music and worried about the state of everything, including our careers. I think that perspective really allowed us to remember how much we enjoy making music together. So the energy was good and we had fun with it. We co-wrote songs for the first time and allowed ourselves to bounce around all our weird ideas off of each other. Hopefully, the listeners will feel our enthusiasm as well.
AH: Three albums is a full on catalog. Is there an extra sense of accomplishment when you look back and realize that you haven’t just created something, but instead, a library of somethings that serve as time capsules to not only your own lives, but those of your fans as well?
BM: I think as writers, we’re always focused on looking forward, reaching for that next idea, that next spark. I try to appreciate each album as a bookmark for where we were at that time, and maybe someday many years from now, I’ll allow myself to look back and take it all in. But the best part of all of this, for me, is staying hungry, staying on the hunt for that next idea that moves me. If you look back and start dwelling on what you’ve done, then you lose the trail.
AH: Way Up in the Hills was quite literally recorded way up in the hills at your Arkansas cabin. How did the space directly impact your creative output for this recording session?
BM: This answer sorta mirrors a previous response, but I think this kind of setting was the only thing that made sense during that time. We couldn’t escape the reality of what was going on in the world around us, but this place felt unchanged, unaffected. It felt like a safe haven. And that allowed us the ability to relax our minds into the process and enjoy making music without the distractions. I couldn’t imagine trying to find the right headspace to make this album in a highly-populated area, at that time.
AH: If someone sat down and listened to Way Up in the Hills front to back, what would they learn about where your collective mindsets were at when writing and recording these songs?
Melissa Carper: I think listening to the album, back to back, would give someone the feeling of the setting we were recording in, a cabin in the woods, and that we were having a good time with it and taking our time with the creative process. There are porch stomps throughout the album, which we overdubbed using the cabin’s porch with all of us standing in a circle stomping together. We also inserted real nature – insect buzzing and bacon sizzling and many other fun overdubs. We made our meals there in the cabin, ate together, hung out, and enjoyed each other’s company. I think all of this transfers into the album’s feel and our mindset at the time. I think the listener would also feel that Sad Daddy put some extra thought into this album with a recurring theme and a cohesiveness our albums haven’t had in the past. Spending the previous weekend writing songs together for the album and planning what songs would fit together was something new for us that gave us a “collective mindset.” It worked so well that I think we wouldn’t want to do it any other way in the future.
AH: The four of you go off and do your own thing creatively and then return to pick up where Sad Daddy had previously left off. Does absence make the artistic output grow fonder? Is that time away from each other the refueling of the tank you need to create something like Way Up in the Hills?
MC: Our process has always been something like, if one of us writes a new song that we feel will work well as a Sad Daddy song, we will bring it to practice and learn it. If we are going to record it, we then might spend a little extra time on the arrangement with suggestions from everyone. We have had times in which it feels like we have taken longer breaks away, busy with our other projects or jobs, or having moved further away from each other. So then it does feel nice and fresh when we get back together and we all have new songs to add to the repertoire. Making sure we set aside the time to practice and learn each other’s new songs is always challenging, sometimes we just jump right back into gigging together with all the old songs. Or, we will learn a new song and then forget how to play it. Having free time in 2020 with gigs going away was actually what freed up this time to do something creative together, and we were all really hungry to play music and have some fun together. It was Brian’s idea to have a cohesive theme for the album and I can’t remember whose idea it was to try to write songs together specifically for the album- maybe also Brian. I think we were all really happy and relieved to get out of our houses and do something creative together.
AH: Sad Daddy has been together since 2010. There is a lot of change that people can go through over an 11-year span. How much flexibility is involved in keeping a project like this together for over a decade when so much can (and will) work against four people remaining on the same page?
MC: Because we all have other band projects and jobs, we know we have to be really flexible with each other depending on what everyone has going on. We currently live in different states and Joe has a new baby, so we don’t go out for long tours and that is just fine with everyone. We just check in with each other and try to schedule in some Sad Daddy. Over the last decade, we have gone through times in which we have played a whole lot together and times that we haven’t played much at all, but we really enjoy playing together and know we have a good thing going, so we do it when we can.
AH: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Way Up in the Hills is going to be the last album you ever create,” what would you be most proud of having had this particular record be the last chapter of your musical journey?
MC: This question makes me a little sad! But, if for some reason Way Up in the Hills had to be the very last album I had a part of creating, I’d say I feel really good that we had so much fun with it and wrote songs together. I am proud of us as a band for stretching ourselves to create something together, inspiring each other in the creation process.
AH: We are just a few weeks away from ringing in 2022. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions that you’re going to put into effect and if so, how do you plan on sticking to them?
MC: Well, I haven’t thought about any New Year’s resolutions yet. I’ve quit almost everything there is to quit that is bad for me, alcohol, sugar, gluten, the list goes on. I have decided to take the entire month of February off from gigs to give myself a break and go into the woods and meditate more. I am hoping this gives me a chance to refuel personally on many levels, creatively for music as well.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
MC: Hmm, I don’t know if I would want to know what to know the future 10 years from now. I don’t know if I would fully trust the time machine as I believe there are many possible futures, that what we choose to do each day is what creates that future, and that future can change drastically even from small decisions, I suppose. My career in music is only a small thing I am concerned about in the big scheme of things. I am happy that what I do can affect others in a positive way and hopefully affect the future in a positive way. I can definitely see Sad Daddy still playing shows and making albums 10 years from now.
For more information on Sad Daddy, visit www.saddaddyband.com.