If you’re not already a Shooter Jennings fan, you will be after you read this interview. Even if you’re a Jonas Brother. (Maybe not if you’re Bret Michaels, a member of Rascal Flatts, or someone involved in choosing the performers for last month’s Grammys…). Today, Jennings celebrates the premiere of his CMT Crossroads concert with close friend Jamey Johnson. “It’s not a real raucous show. I play piano for most it,” he says. “I tried to take it as psychedelic as we could possibly go.” (Look for their “wild” cover of his father Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand.”) Tomorrow, his compilation Bad Magick: The Best of Shooter Jennings & the .357’s hits stores. Expect that to tie a ribbon on his time straddling the country and rock aisles. “The reason I chose to name the package Bad Magick is because the music I’m making now [with a new band bound for this summer’s Warped Tour] is kind of an extension of that song we did,” he says. “[My next album] will be a new sound, probably the most anti-radio but most progressive thing I could possibly do.”
After taking our EW Pop Culture Personality Test, there’s no doubt he’s a little bit country, but a lot more rock ‘n roll…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You called precisely on time. Is that typical for you, or did we just catch you on a good day?
SHOOTER JENNINGS: I’m usually pretty punctual. I’m not one to like to be late. When I was younger, I was the guy who’d leave the house early if I had to get somewhere and drive around for a while until it got to be time to show up.
[We like him already.] Let’s jump right in. What is the best concert you’ve ever seen?
That’s a tough one. I’ve seen some good concerts. In terms of being so excited that I couldn’t hold myself together, and production value and everything, when I saw the Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral tour. It was with Jim Rose Circus and Marilyn Manson. I remember seeing it at Vanderbilt Auditorium in Nashville. Most of the time I get bored at concerts by the end, and that was one where from top to bottom, I just couldn’t believe what was goin’ on. I felt dirty, I felt all kinds of stuff watchin’ all that s— go down, you know. I saw My Morning Jacket and the Raconteurs last year at the Greek [Theatre] in Los Angeles within two days, and those were both great concerts. I saw the new Guns N’ Roses, the first show they did on New Year’s 2001 at the House of Blues in Vegas, that was pretty wild. But in terms of the kind of glory that goes on in a teenager’s mind, that Nails show still stands out to me as one of the best.
The act you still need to see?
I would have loved to have seen Zeppelin if they were really gonna reunite, which I guess now they’ve called the whole thing off since Plant isn’t gonna be involved. Back to Nails again, I really want to see this tour with Jane’s Addiction. I never saw Jane’s Addiction play, and to see the entire group would be really exciting.
The song you wish you’d written?
“Please Come to Boston” [by Dave Loggins], as cheesy as that sounds. Or “Loving Her Was Easier” by Kris Kristofferson. Pretty much anything Kris Kristofferson ever wrote I wish I’d written. “Isis” is another good one, that Bob Dylan song.
Your guilty pleasure dance song? Have you been able to resist Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”?
Okay, “Single Ladies” didn’t resonate with me quite like it did with other people, but there are things on pop radio now adays that I can get down with. Like, I didn’t hate the Justin Timberlake record. “What Goes Around… Comes Around,” I definitely didn’t change the channel when that was on.
[Laughs] Look, the production was quite progressive on that record. I dig that. I’m kind of a stickler for progressive music to some degree. Not like Dream Theater, but if something seems different and new to me, I can kinda get down with it. Oh, you know what song I don’t mind? “Lovebug,” that Jonas Brothers song. It feels like the Beatles to me in a way. And then at the end, when it rocks out, I’m into that. I’m not afraid to say that. You’re probably just gonna print this part, and then I’m gonna f—in’ read this thing, and be like, Jesus. So you gotta state that there were expletives all around this statement. [Laughs]
Oh, it will be noted.
Oh yeah: “Jonas Brothers’ ‘Lovebug,’ that’s his favorite song!”
But you get the Jonas Brothers.
I get it for what it is. I don’t own the record. It feels very muchlike teenybopper music, but I’m not gonna hate on them before I’m gonnahate on Rascal Flatts or somebody, because their stuff feels a lot morehonest. Even though those guys are part of a machine, they still seemlike they’re doin’ their thing, so I can respect that. I can respectMiley Cyrus. I’m not gonna walk away and say that s— is completelyinvaluable, because I don’t believe it is.
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Joaquin Phoenix’s rap career: Real or rouse?
[Laughs] Everybody wants to ask me this. [Shooter played Waylon in Phoenix’s Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.] I know the guy, but I don’t know him well enough to know. I haven’t seen or talked to him in years. If he’s really gonna rap, f—, go for it. If it’s a joke, even better. I just find the whole thing really entertaining. Some people get really mad about it. They’re like, “It’s not funny, because he’s being smug.” To me, it’s better than hearing him gloat about what a good actor he is or something.
Watch the video for Shooter Jennings’ “4th of July”
Moving on to movies… The film you have to watch every time you spot it on cable?
Blade Runner, for sure. It’s my favorite movie of all-time for, like, a number of reasons. I’m a sucker for the space sci-fi fantasy of it all, and then the fact that it’s a film noir at the same time always gets me. Eyes Wide Shut also. Pretty much anything Stanley Kubrick, if it’s on, I’m watchin’ it. The Shining. I love horror films anyway. But all the Stanley Kubrick stuff is so smart the way it’s done.
The chick flick you’ll admit to liking?
The chick flick I’ll admit to liking… “Chick flick” is pretty broad. There’s that Is She Really That Into You? or whatever the f— that movie is [He’s Just Not That Into You] and then there’s Terms of Endearment, which is a fantastic film. I love Terms of Endearment, and a lot of people would consider that a chick flick even though it’s very dark and sad. Even Knocked Up could be considered a chick flick, which I love the Judd Apatow stuff.
The piece of pop culture memorabilia from your childhood you wish you still had?
I’ve never been a big collector of items. My girl [Sopranos star Drea de Matteo, with whom he has a 16-month-old daughter, Alabama] is a very big collector. She’s got Dukes of Hazzard stuff, all the KISS dolls, all the crazy Todd McFarlane things. I’ve saved a lot of things that were really important to me.
What are your most-prized pop culture possessions then?
God, back to this band again. [Laughs] You have to understand, when I was 16, 17 years old, Nine Inch Nails was the f—in’ s— to me. [Trent] Reznor was a huge influence on me because I was into computers, and he did all his music by himself on these computers,and I started doing it that way. A guy gave me a metal plaque with a giant nine-inch nail across it from their first tour. I’ve still got that. I’ve got all these random items laying around. Not that I’mthe biggest L-Seven fan, but they worked with my dad and they all signed this poster to me when I was kid. I’ve got a bunch of photos of my dad and Big Bird, from when he was in the Follow That Bird movie, which is funny. That’s a big hit with my daughter, ’cause she’s way into Sesame Street right now. That’s all she cares about. She says “Ernie” all day long. Ernie’s her best friend. I mean, I have some crazy memorabilia. When my dad passed away [in 2002], Neil Diamond sent me a nine-page letter and a yarmulke with rhinestones on it. I have this strange little pyramid thing, it’s like a paperweight snow globe, that Johnny Cash gave me for some reason. I don’t know why… Eventually, I’ll hand ’em all over to Alabama, and see what she wants to do with them. She’ll probably want to sell ’em. [Laughs]
Your best mistaken identity story?
I’ve had some homeless people think I’m Bo Bice. This was years ago. I’d be like, “Waaaaait, I’m not Bo Bice.” [Laughs] How did that happen? A lot of people get the drummer for that band 3 Doors Down confused with me and vice versa. Like, people that know him have come up to me. And, I remember somebody on the Internet said I was in Nashville hanging out in a mall with some country singer girl, and my girlfriend was like, “What are they talking about?” “That wasn’t me!” That’s happened several times, and it always happens to be in Nashville, and I’m never there. I think people think I live there. Usually though, I don’t get confused with other people. There aren’t many people who are as short as me. I think people know I’m short. [Laughs]
How tall are you?
Well, you’re a girl. If I was that small, then I’d be in trouble. It’d be an issue, some kind of chemical imbalance. With you, it’s all good.
You do realize that all the short men in the country just turned on you.
Right. I know. You’re gonna be like, “He loves the Jonas Brothers, and he hates short people.” I’m gonna be like, “Wait, there was so much more to this article.” [Laughs]
Watch Shooter Jennings perform “Southern Comfort”
Your position on karaoke?
I love watching people do it, but I’m not one to do it. I think partially because being a singer and having my own insecurities about singing, when I get on stage, I feel like I have to do my best and bring the house down the best I can, and so it takes all the fun out of karaoke for me. When I have enough drinks in me, I’ll get up there and do something. But I’m not up there doing Bon Jovi. I’ll look through the whole book, and, like, they’ll have one Neil Young song, and I’ll do that. The last time I did karaoke was on my birthday last year in New York City. There was this band playing, and they knew I was there, and they were like, “Hey, get up here and do it.” I did [Neil Young’s] “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Name something in pop culture you think is overrated.
I think pop culture in general is overrated. I’m hoping that this economic decline is gonna make people not really give a s— about the US Weeklys and stuff like that. That stuff is just [sighs]… I can admit that I was hooked at first when that s— started getting really big. And it’s really interesting to look in those magazines for a minute. But now, it’s such a disgrace. And all the reality shows… The Rock of Love, I f—in’ hate Bret Michaels. I cannot f—in’ stand him. At least with Flavor of Love, it’s Flava Flav and he’s like this ridiculous character. But Bret Michaels thinks he’s a rock star now because of this thing, and it’s like, man, you’re f—in’ so far away from all this.
Name something you think is underrated.
At this point, rock ‘n roll is completely underrated. If you watched the Grammys… The Grammys was the f—in’ worst piece of s— I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Excuse all my bad language.
Oh, I’m enjoying it. Continue.
[Laughs] If they had taken three of the bands that were nominated in the rock category — the Raconteurs, the Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket — and put any of them on the show as performers, that show would’ve been so much better. And it’s like, what did we get? Lil’ Wayne 12 times. Jay-Z on eight songs. I like hip-hop, and I like the culture of hip-hop. Like, I loved Public Enemy, I loved NWA, I loved all the people that came out that. I like Jay-Z records. I’m not against that. But [the Grammys are] so wrapped up in politics, who they want to push, who’s on top. And it’s just like all we get is Taylor Swift. You know, god bless her soul, at least she writes her songs. I’m not mad at her for that. But that’s all we get is that. We’re fed that s— and they just overlook rock ‘n roll. They overlook people who are making a change and a progressive stance in rock ‘n roll. The closest we get to rock ‘n roll is John F—in’ Mayer. And it’s like What is goin’ on? That’s a controlled dynamic. Clive Davis, or whoever, is gonna benefit from whoever’s up there. They know what they’re doing. They have the ability to put focus on the area that they want to put focus on, and all they seem to care about is the short-term. I think the most important thing that could happen would be, especially in rock ‘n roll, for everybody to ban together and be like, we’re not f—in’ dealing with you, we’re not dealing with your f—in’ Grammys, we’re not coming to your Grammys, we’re not comin’ to your f—in’ record label thing… It’s a sad state of affairs in my mind. I consider myself as much a rock ‘n roll artist as I do a country artist, in the sense that all that music is really not that different. And country is cluttered with all this pop stuff, which is just absolutely horrible, and that’s all politics. And rock ‘n roll is so disjointed that the labels don’t even care about it. Like, they don’t even want to try to fix it. They got 8 million different kind of bands, half of which aren’t even rock ‘n roll, and who wants to hear a new Incubus song? Nobody. It’s like, let’s get it moving forward. And they just won’t. I feel like it’s definitely overlooked and underrated. My heart mourns for that.
I feel like this is an opinion you’ve put a lot of thought into.
[Laughs] Look, I have a lot of time to sit around and think these days. I’m working on this new album. I have a little daughter now. My life is better than it’s ever been, but I spend all my time workin’ in the studio and at home. I don’t go out anymore. I got a lot of time to think about this s—, especially the stance that I want to take musically this year. I think there’sa lot of lost sheep out there, but there’s nobody leading the flock and that’s the problem. I think something’s gonna happen, and the unity in rock ‘n roll is gonna change things. We’ll see.