John Inghram photo credit: Sam Wiseman
John Inghram Reconciles The Past And The Present On His Self-Titled Debut Album
John Inghram has been a self-professed “jack of all trades” in music for 20 years, but that term may not quite convey the wealth of his experience in a wide array of genres, both in the studio and on the road, as a bassist playing for people like Chuck Prophet, Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee), and Catherine Russell (Steely Dan, Bowie), while also serving as assistant producer for NPR’s Mountain Stage Radio Show. Despite his incredibly busy life, he had already come to the conclusion in 2019 that it was time to start working on his first solo album, bringing more of a rock sound to his well-known roots skills.
Fortuitously, though the pandemic divided his time working on the album into two eras, it also gave him more time to write and process what the sounds and themes of the album should be. He has recently released his self-titled debut album, but shortly before that, the assistant producer of the Mountain Stage Radio Show got the chance to take the stage on the show and play his music with his band. It was definitely a full-circle moment for Inghram, only reinforcing the ways in which this album creates harmony between the past and the present. I spoke with John Inghram about the eventful road he took to his first solo venture.
Americana Highways: I understand that you had a big experience recently, of getting to play your songs with your band on NPR’s Mountain Stage Radio Show.
John Inghram: That was a pretty huge moment, really. Of course, I’m assistant producer with the show, and I’ve been subbing and backing up other artists on the show for some time now, but I’ve never been front and center stage. It was an amazing experience.
AH: Was there any danger that you were going to cry?
JI: Well, sort of, because beforehand, my mother texted me and said, “If you see a beam of light from the audience, it’s just me beaming with pride.” She had to send that right before I went on stage! But it was great.
AH: What songs did you play for the set?
JI: We played “Palisades,” which was the first single for the record, “Underdog,” “Little Mountain Mama,” and “Back in The Goodle Days.” But we’re editing the show, and one of those will probably get cut due to time. But the other cool thing is that it was livestreamed and there’s footage for all of that. I’ll have singles edited out for each song.
AH: Had you been able to play as a band much beforehand?
JI: We’ve been able to do a couple of shows in the past few months, but we haven’t really gotten to the place where we’re ready to hit the road yet. As a bass player, I stay pretty busy with other projects and I’m waiting for festival season to die down. In the Fall and winter, the hope is to hit the road a little more with this project.
AH: I’m sure you’re suddenly really in demand as shows come back.
JI: It’s been pretty crazy. After two years of being at home, my schedule is suddenly very full because I’m saying, “Yes,” to everything. But being at home was a weird blessing because it meant that I could focus on this project and not rush it out or feel like I was bound by anything but my own arbitrary timelines. Looking back, it couldn’t have worked out any better, really.
AH: Was there a moment in time where you officially started working on your own album?
JI: I’d been writing and putting the songs together in the late Fall of 2019, and we started tracking in December, then things shut down, which halted things. But that’s the other cool thing: it gave me some time to really write some new material and pick the best material. Then, towards the end of 2020, we were able to safely get back into the studio in Nashville. We finished up the tracking then, and 2021 was a lot of mixing and editing.
AH: Did the break in working on the album introduce new directions for the album, or was it something that was very defined from the beginning?
JI: An interesting coincidence that happened is that the songs I was writing before things shutdown were rooted in the passage of time. With “Palisades” and “Back in the Goodle Days,” I talk about that, though I didn’t write that one. But these were things that were bubbling up in me because I’m 37, and I’ve been a side-man my whole career, but now I’m deciding to do this solo record and I feel it’s not too late. Why think that I have to be a certain age or stage in my career to do this?
That whole essence was already part of things, then everything in the world happened, and all that took on an even deeper meaning. Then, the songs that I wrote in 2020 dove a little further into that, but I was also able to really focus on what I wanted to write. I didn’t have any outside influences creeping in. It was just me, and my guitar, and my piano, on my project studio at home. As a side-man doing a lot of different projects, those influences can trickle in if I was working on it on the road. What was nice is that I didn’t have all those influences going on.
AH: I saw that rock is key to this album. Were you thinking that you would like to make a rock album?
JI: That was the intention, to focus on a rootsier sound of rock. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted, both sonically and lyrically. I wanted the format of bass, drums, piano, organ, and two guitars. I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan, and a lot of rock that I listen to is really driven by two guitars. My two guitarists, Bud Carroll and Adam Meisterhans, play so exceptionally well together on this record that it was kind of surreal. When it all started to gel and happen, it felt like a self-actualization moment. We were aware of all the steps we’d taken to get to that point, where things were happening the way I’d envisioned them.
AH: Do you feel that it’s a different landscape for solo musicians now than it would have been if you’d gone down this road at the beginning of your career?
JI: Sure, it is. It feels almost funny to talk about an “album” now because things are very single driven, but I’ve always been a fan of albums as a collection of songs that represent a vibe, aesthetic, or essence. I love that. I know that it’s less common for people now to put on a whole record and listen to it from top to bottom. But I love that, and one of the coolest things about this project has been that I made it for myself. I love serving other peoples’ music, playing bass and trying to make it better. I love that deeply.
But with this, I didn’t have to wonder, “Is this going to please somebody else, like the songwriter, producer, or band?” I just got to make it for myself, which is ultimately what the artist should do. That’s a new deal for me. It’s all me on this album in terms of being producer, playing on it, deciding the artwork, and that kind of stuff. I actually didn’t want the changed landscape to influence me too much. I just wanted to make a good record.
AH: Did you have specific ideas about the track order since you were thinking about the album format?
JI: I did. I’m a huge Grateful Dead fan, and I’ve been playing in the jam band and festival scene for the last 20 years. I consider setlists a lot and geek out on the flow of the setlist, so I wanted the order of the songs reflect what you might hear live, in terms of the flow and energy of it, ending with the big, rocking tune. To that point, when we’ve played this stuff out live, there have been times when we’ve almost played the album in order. It’s changing and evolving as we play it more.
AH: Did your wealth of experience playing across genres and recording make it more possible for you to jump into creating an album yourself?
JI: I hadn’t really thought about it until recently, but I realized that by playing latin music, jam band rock, blues, or R&B, or funk, or jazz, those things seep in and become part of your musical DNA. Making music in those different genres brings different things, but it also makes you realize the ways in which they are all similar. A lot of those human, fundamental things are consistent throughout. I think playing with a lot of different people and personalities also affected my process on this.
I’ve also been in the studio so much with other people, that once my songs were written, going into the studio to record them was like going home. It was like a home field advantage. You do still have to try to remain objective, and be able to say, “This is something that I want to be on the record, but maybe, really, it shouldn’t be.” You get that objectivity through being in the studio a lot. Then you can just have fun. But I feel like with age and experience, in my case, I’ve become more able to criticize myself in healthy ways and examine stuff. I don’t think of things as bad or good, necessarily, but maybe they are just not the right thing.
AH: Everything we’re talking about seems to play into the themes on the album, too, since there’s some self-critique here in looking at the past and looking at life choices, like in “Same Old Game” that talks about youthful partying, or “Mile by Mile” that comments on tour life. Did you feel that you had to find a balance between criticizing and appreciating your past?
JI: Absolutely. A lot of it is owning the past, in terms of the partying, and letting things get out of control. For a long time after that chapter in my life closed, you get to the point where you’re not proud of it and you want to get beyond that reputation. Then, you get to the point where you own it, and can even be proud of having gone through the ringer, because you have a whole other level of appreciation for being better off now. The struggles are what make you who you are. Being able to touch on some of that in my music, of all places, is really gratifying and freeing. It’s good to be open and honest with myself about it.
AH: A lot of people can relate to that. Actually, a lot of people reckon with their past when they make their first collection of original songs. Do you think that having done that this time around frees you up for other approaches in the future?
JI: It does. There’s a catharsis that happens. When you put things into songs, and then you record them, and then you’re playing those songs out for people to hear, catharsis is happening where it’s almost a reconciliation or coming to terms with things in a visceral way. Now, I do have other things that I want to write about, and I’m already starting the writing process for a second record. I do feel that I don’t have to write in that way again. It’s pretty cool and comforting to move forward into other things that I need to deal with and write about it.
AH: How did the cover artwork come about? It’s really interesting and symbolic.
JI: Jimbo Valentine is a great artist, who has worked with people like Tyler Childers, Arlo McKinley, and other folk musicians doing great things. He lives in West Virginia, so I know him regionally and we go way back. I hit him up and gave him some ideas that I had in mind. But he knows me, and where I come from, and he ran with it. He really took ownership of the artwork, which is a hard job.
With the hand and the circles behind the mountain, the hand represents creating things and playing music, and the primary colors in the background that intersect represent the inception of this album. Then, I’m a big outdoorsman, so there’s a man in a boat fishing. I loved how much thought and feeling Jimbo put into it and it made it that much more special to me.
Thanks for talking with us John! Find more information about John Inghram on his social media sites, like this one: https://www.facebook.com/johninghrammusic/