When you’re born and raised in a small town in Alabama, chances are you’re fed on a strict diet of deep fried turkey and country music. So what do you do? Embrace it and strap your bulging belly into a tight pair of Wranglers, or do you get the hell out of dodge to discover your inner vegan and rock n’ roll?
Well Grant Langston may not have discovered the joys of tofu and soy, but he knew he loved a good power chord when he heard one, and headed out West to Los Angeles to make his name. Only once there, the darnedest thing happened: he rediscovered his musical roots, this time on his terms.
“Growing up where I did I was force-fed a steady diet of very slick Nashville stuff,” says the singer/songwriter. “As a result I hated country music, or at least thought hated it until I heard the real deal.”
The ‘real deal’ was Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Dwight Yokum and Merle Haggard, Country artists who were busy upsetting the Nashville elite while Langston was still in diapers. The music resonated with Grant, and he set about fusing it with his love of contemporary rock music.
“I didn’t want to make music that was formulaic,” he says. “I wanted to step outside that and have lyrics that are sassy and written from a modern perspective. I wanted to be free to throw in a Led Zep riff if I wanted to, to poke some fun at the genre, but at the same time pay homage to that style.”
One live and four studio albums later, he’s found the perfect balance, capturing the rawness of the country records he grew to love and the drive of the rock records he’d become enamored of.
“I wanted to make good interesting songs in a genre that I feel is real and I can represent in an honest way,” he says. “With this new album, Stand Up Man, I’ve got the closest to that yet.”
He’d tried to make raw studio albums before, him and his long-standing band, The Supermodels, implementing various tricks to capture their energy of their live performances. The band – MI grad guitarist Larry Marciano, former Buckcherry bass player Josh Fleeger and drummer Tony Horkins, who’d played on hit records in his native UK – were not traditional country players, deliberately so.
“I didn’t want a bunch of guys who are just running through the country lick they’ve been playing for 25 years,” he says. “They try and do something fresh and I let them run free, reigning them in where it needs to be reigned it.”
Inevitably, this four-piece unit got closest to the raw sound they were after on the live album they released last summer, Live In Bakersfield, where the local following they’d built there over the years came out in their droves to be part of the recording: one night, one show, all live.
The success of the live album was a lesson learned: with Stand Up Man, he enforced a two-take rule on The Supermodels and the various LA friends and musicians that contributed to the record. Some songs he wrote one day, rehearsed with his band the next and recorded the day after. The result is the first time he’s been able to fully realize his alt-country/Americana dreams.
“I told my co-producer, Rich McCulley, that we had to check ourselves at every step of way,” he says. “There will be times when we want to fix something, but we have to leave it be.”
Soon they’ll be taking the album out on the road, where Langston believes it belongs. It’s the stuff of roadhouses, music to dance to and drink to. They’re already a leading light in the burgeoning LA alt-country scene, a loose collective of like-minded musicians and venues, and when not on home turf they’ve been packing them in in England and France and across the United States.
“It’s hard to believe we’re getting ready to promote our fifth album,” he reflects. “I get closer and closer to what I’m trying to do with each one – to make an album steeped in its country roots but with a sound and lyrical content that’s equal parts irreverence and homage. This time, I think we nailed it.”