Oklahoma troubadour John Moreland has seen it all. He has played it all, too.
Maybe that’s why his sparse, spellbinding folk songs bleed the sort of inimitable heartland wisdom they do; he has crossed the web of American highways performing music from opposite ends of the spectrum.
You wouldn’t guess it stumbling upon In the Throes, his personal apex, but Moreland cut his teeth playing in hardcore and punk bands in Tulsa.
“It just wasn’t doing it for me anymore,” Moreland said of his stark creative shift 10 years ago. “I couldn’t even say exactly what it was, but I knew that I had to try something new. I grew up listening to Neil Young and CCR with my dad, and that just started feeling like the right thing to do.”
Each release and each incarnation — from his Black Gold Band to The Dust Bowl Souls — has taken Moreland further and further away from that world sonically, and 2013’s In the Throes is far and away his most stripped-down collection of songs to date.
But if anything remains from those punk days, it’s a yearning for the truth — be it beautiful, dark, enlightening or tormenting. And his softer approach to the album placed a spotlight on those sage words.
“I really wanted the lyrics to have the full focus,” Moreland said. “Really, this record was about finding something in this sort of whirlwind … about finding out who you are in the chaos.”
It must have been the right decision, too. Moreland’s latest album has lent songs to TV’s Sons of Anarchy, been
championed by the likes of MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow and earned him
spots opening for Americana scene favorites Lucero and Jason Isbell.
overwhelmed yet appreciative of the attention, but he’s mostly glad
that it is this set of songs that has the national spotlight edging ever
“I feel like
those are the best songs I’ve ever written. I’m glad all this didn’t
happen until I was a little older. I’ve written stuff that I can’t
stomach anymore,” Moreland said with a laugh. “I’m more than okay with playing these songs every night for a really long time.”
has been a readily prolific songwriter up to now, even releasing two
different full-length records and two EPs in 2011, but Moreland is ready
to slow things down. He credits the success of In the Throes to a
longer gestation period. The road — which he has spent much of the past
year on — isn’t the most suitable place for Moreland’s approach to
writing, but he already has more than a handful of songs written in the
same vein as his breakout album.
He’s not afraid to evolve, but Moreland feels like he has become the artist he was meant to be all along.
don’t think I’ll just do the same thing over and over again forever,”
he said, “but it does feel like I’ve figured out something that feels
really good and really right to me, for now at least.”