Roots rocker Slaid Cleaves’ influences are all of the usual suspects expected from someone of his songwriting ilk: Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. But it was a youthful listen to one of his father’s Hank Williams albums that set Cleaves on his songwriting path.
“I listened to those lonesome, sad songs, and it made me cry and affected me emotionally,” Cleaves reflected. “When I was trying to find my own voice, I remember making the decision that I am going to be the guy that sings the saddest songs. I wanted to make people remember me. I thought if I make them cry, they’ll always remember me.”
Cleaves gets weepy with fans 8 p.m. Thursday at The Blue Door to support his new album Still Fighting the War. Back in the States after a successful European tour, Cleaves said he was most amused by the subtle similarities, socially, between American audiences and those across the pond.
“In America, people are more rowdy and enthusiastic in the South but far more reserved and polite up North,” Cleaves said. “They are even more reserved in England, but when you get up to Scotland and Northern England, the people get pretty loud and rowdy. It varies from region to region, and it always makes each show entertaining.”
Cleaves finds The Blue Door to be a nice mixture of North and South and called it the “perfect venue” for a singer-songwriter to perform his craft.
“It’s got a lovable, scruffy persona to it in a very special, unique way,” Cleaves said. “People actually come to hear music at The Blue Door, and the audiences, they’re respectful, but they’re also not stuffy. They’re not shy. There’s a conversation going on. People sit down in their chairs, and they’re popping open their beers and handing out requests and laughing at my jokes … it’s a real conversation.”
Still Fighting the War has earned Cleaves some of the best reviews of his 15-year career. He credited this to taking a new approach toward songwriting and recording.
This time, he crafted more of a “collection of songs” rather than a cohesive album theme.
“It’s not a huge step away from what I’ve been doing these past few years, but I think that I’m honing in on my style a little bit more,” Cleaves said. “What’s different about these new songs is that when I was writing them, I wasn’t thinking about an album. I was pursuing the songwriting inspiration song by song, wherever it took me.”
Above all, Cleaves said he’s happiest to perform for an audience who will “feel something.”
“I just love the honesty and ease when you connect with someone,” Cleaves said. “I’m just following the tradition of storytelling and songwriting and concise, homespun musicianship. I’m not trained, I’m not trying to do anything sophisticated and I’m not trying to do anything urban or modern. I’m just old-fashioned. I’m just a guy with a guitar.”
Hey! Read This:
• Various Artists — The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams review