BLURTING WITH… Grayson Capps

 

 

Humans are just
stupid. The prolific singer-songwriter knows because he’s one of them.

 

By RANDY HARWARD

 

In song or in conversation, Grayson Capps creates the sense
that you’re friends on a porch holdin’ highball glasses or guitars or books,
tellin’ lies or sharin’ troubles. It’s ‘cause that’s how he grew up, in Alabama
with his father, the author Ronald Everett Capps, and a cast of characters
straight out of Carson McCullers’ The
Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
. These people, like boozy lit professor Bobby Long
and his buddy Fred Stokes-who became the basis for the senior Capps’ novel Off Magazine Street, which was made into
the film A Love Song for Bobby Long-helped
Mr. Capps teach Grayson about people and life, how to observe and understand
them. On his third album, Rott ‘N’ Roll (Hyena),
Grayson Capps wields that knowledge like a scalpel, slicing scenes from life
and scoring them with his music, insight and humor, all of which are colored by
the coarse but cultured lessons of the people that surround him.

 

Following our interview, check out the videos for “The Green
Monkey Story” and a live performance of “A Love Song for Bobby Long.”

 

 

***

 

 

BLURT: How do you get
a dog to stop humpin’ your leg?

 

[laughs] Have I
told you this one before? You couldn’t print that one, could you?

 

 

BLURT: Yeah, for my Harp story [December 2006, Harp magazine] I tried to get it in
there. 

 

I don’t think it made it. [Somebody told me] the family
version of the punchline: “Pick ‘im up n’ whack his little pecker!” Yeah, that’d be more family oriented.

 

 

BLURT: You used to
split time between New Orleans and Alabama… Where are you
livin’ now?

 

I moved to Tennessee… close to Nashville; Franklin, TN. I didn’t
really know where to go after Katrina, [but] I got a warm reception in this
area. I don’t know Nashville
at all… but I’ve got eleven acres of land and it’s really awesome to be here
when I get off the road, ‘cause I’ve got a cave in the backyard…

 

 

BLURT: A cave? How many guys have their own
cave?

 

Not many. It’s real,
man. It’s carved through the mountain by a spring. I’ve gone in there, straight
back for over an hour, and still
haven’t reached the end. Some points, you have to crawl on your elbows, others
you can stand up in these big, open areas.

 

 

BLURT: How are the
acoustics?

 

Not as good as you’d imagine. It just goes; it’s not like it
echoes off of something- I also don’t wanna yell too loud, I don’t wanna start
an cave-in. I go in there, and there’s little animal remnants. I don’t know
what kinds or animals live in there, but there’s several. There’s bats in there
and all kinds of stuff.

 

 

BLURT: It’s dark and
there are monsters…

 

Yeah, my daughter-I took her in there, and she’s seven years
old. She found this one part of the cave and decided, “Aw, that’s the door to
where the imps live.” And she started makin’ keys. I said, “What’s gonna happen
if you open the door?” She said [affects
scared-excited voice
], “I don’t know!”

 

 

BLURT: Did your
father being a writer influence you as a lyricist?

 

Oh, God. Tremendously. [He taught me] conciseness, just
gettin’ to the point. And somebody asked him one time, “Who would you like to
meet?” He said, “Either God or Jed Clampett.” The point bein’, the simple truth
[is what] people pay attention to. Instead of sayin’, ‘I feel bad,’ you get the
point across better with, ‘I got my pecker caught in the windjam.’ You know
what I’m sayin’? There’s more interestin’ ways to say somethin’. He’s
influenced me a lot.

 

 

BLURT: One of the
simplest lyrical devices is also the most deceptively complex: the repetition
of a single line. You use that often on this album, like with “Sock Monkey” and
“Gran Maw Maw.”

 

“Sock Monkey” is Tom’s song; that’s my guitar player’s song.
[laughs] But uh, I actually try to
avoid repetition. People like Lucinda Williams piss me off these days, ‘cause
she does that too much. I say,
goddamn, you got great musicians, a great producer and you’re gonna say this
goddamn line over again?”

 

 

BLURT: Sometimes that
can work.

 

Sometimes it can work. I just have an oversensitive meter to whether it’s laziness or choice.
“Gran Maw Maw,” that song I made up one night ‘cause this guy John Thomas ran
this bar and this guy named Gary Coleman tried to kill a guy upstairs with a meat cleaver. And it was a bloodbath. [John Thomas] drank Grand
Marnier and he called it “Gran Maw Maw,” and he just drank more than ever after
that. He closed the bar down because it had the onus of this massacre that had
happened. So “Who takes care of big John Thomas, Gran Maw Maw” is kinda like a
children’s song in the spirit of “Ring Around the Rosie”: Ashes, ashes, we all
fall dead.

 

Like “goin’ back to the country,” I use that as a chorus. I
like choruses and the old Greek theater tradition. You got the actor, and you
got the chorus that comes out to recap the dialogue.

 

 

BLURT: I’m glad you
explained that because the John Thomas/Gran Maw Maw line can be taken one
particularly awful way.

 

Yeah, my son likes it. He’s three years old and says, “Gran
Maw Maw!” But it’s about Grand Marnier. But yeah, I’m fascinated with [double-entendres].
That’s just one of the cool things that entertain me, so I wanted to put it on
the record.

 

[Lyrics Excerpt:

 

Who takes care of big John Thomas,
Gran Maw Maw

Who takes care of big John Thomas,
Gran Maw Maw

Who takes care of big John Thomas

When night time descends upon us

Gran Maw Maw, hey Gran Maw Maw, oh
Gran Maw Maw]

 

 

 

BLURT: And suddenly,
we’re back to peckers.

 

Oh, God. Speakin’ of… that damn song “Sun Don’t Shine on Willy”
[from the same album]. It’s actually about a little possum in the backyard. I
started comin’ up with the song and I started singin’ it out and my friend
Earl’s mama said, “Good Lord, why would you wanna write a song about your
pecker?” I said I didn’t-but I started thinkin’ about it and damn! It could be.

 

 

BLURT: At least you
can blame “Sock Monkey” on Tommy.

 

Yeah, exactly. I don’t know who came up with it, but that
was just a term we started usin’ for a crack whore that was hangin’ out with an
old bass player of mine. She’d done so much drugs that her eyes looked like X’s;
you couldn’t even see her soul. So it was like, “Alright. She’s a sock monkey.”

 

 

BLURT: Characters populate
your songs and it’s interesting that “Sock Monkey,” which uses only seven words
and seems like a novelty song, is actually about someone.

 

Yeah, it’s about the angst we felt because she was just
fuckin’ things up. I remember her breakin’ in, five o’clock in the morning,
we’re all passed out, and she’s got the refrigerator door open, with something
ridiculous- pasta, peanut butter, and like an egg or somethin’. And Earl’s
like, “Goddamn it, ya sock monkey! Go home! Get outta this goddamn…” So the
name stuck. People love that song down South. It’s like the new “Louie, Louie.”
[laughs]

 

 

BLURT: I don’t wanna
call you a freak magnet, but you attract some interesting types.

 

There’s interesting people everywhere. I think I might be
nicer to the interesting people than some people. And that way, they end up
stayin’ around. I’m one of those guys that if some troglodyte comes into the
bar, he tends to come toward me and wanna tell me his life story or somethin’.
And I don’t know why that is, ‘cause I will listen… but if it gets to be too
much, I’ll tell him to fuck off.

 

But I think in some sense that is true. I think I have a
little bit of empathy, this unusual… mostly from my dad’s perspective. You
know, it was pretty intense, growin’ up, havin’ that whole Carson McCullers, Bobby
Long thing. You say well, that was Dad-but that was my whole life. Who are the
invisible people, you know? Shiny objects [or plastic people] don’t really
appeal to me after bein’ taught what they tend to be or represent. The prettier
stuff, sometimes, is deceptive. It’s like castin’ your pearls among swine.
Stuff looks too shiny, appeals to too many people, there’s somethin’ wrong with
it.

 

 

BLURT: You’re
observant-do you also analyze things? Do you people-watch? You see some guy in
the bar, do you give him a back story?

 

Oh, yeah. That was a game me and my dad would play when my
mom would go to the mall or somethin’. Me and my dad would sit on a bench. He’d
smoke cigarettes and we’d take somebody walkin’ by in the crowd and say,
“Alright. What’s his story?” He was fascinated with people.

 

 

BLURT: Pretend that the
“Fear Fruit Bearing Tree” is real; fear fruit is in the produce section. What does
it look like? Does it have skin? Seeds?

 

Oh, it’s shiny. It’s one of those shiny objects. [laughs]
It’d probably be perfect. It’s the thing that you want when you don’t need a
damn thing. It makes you want it.

 

 

BLURT: How do you
tell when it goes bad?

 

You can’t, I don’t think. That’s a hard one. I don’t think
it would ever go bad. It’s already inherently bad. It’s more of a numbing
thing. Fear fruit is not the same as the fruit Eve ate and gave to Adam. It’s
not the tree of knowledge; it’s its own thing-it’s fear. When you have fear,
you no longer make rational judgments and can no longer seek. I just hope that
people can get to the point where they’re not so damn afraid of death. And
they’re not afraid of sex, or cigarettes, so much. In a metaphorical way.

 

 

BLURT: Or Gary
Coleman in a cave with a meat cleaver?

 

Yeah, there’s always Gary Coleman in a cave with a meat
cleaver. You can never relax ‘cause he’s always there.

 

The problem, with everything, stems from fear. That’s the
only thing that controls people. And I just think about stuff like a damn bird
in a nest. That thing is braver than any human being: he doesn’t go hoard worms or crickets in a refrigerator. That
little animal trusts God more than any human being I have ever met. Every day
he wakes up naked and trusts that this life is gonna take care of him. And it
does.

 

Humans are just stupid. Me bein’ one of ‘em.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Danny Longfinger Foster]

 

 

***

 

BONUS BLURTS: VIDEOS FOR “THE GREEN MONKEY STORY” AND “A
LOVE STORY FOR BOBBY LONG”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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