Saturday, January 2, 2016

Interview Flashback- Sounds Like Life To Darryl Worley

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in October 2009 on The 9513.

Darryl Worley grew up in Pyburn, TN as the son of a Methodist preacher and a mother who was a featured singer in the church choir. Like the symbolic angel and devil sitting on Yosemite Sam’s shoulders, his youth was the tale of two sides.  On the proper side of things, he earned a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry.  But on the flip of that coin, he partied hard in lots of honkytonks while pursuing a nearly all-encompassing music passion that would eventually extinguish any science dreams.  

Worley got his professional music start with a publishing deal with Fame in Muscle Shoals and eventually signed to DreamWorks Nashville in 1999.   His debut album, Hard Rain Don't Last (2000) was the first of four albums for the label.  I Miss My Friend (2002), Have You Forgotten? (2003), and Darryl Worley (2004) would all follow spawning three number one singles ("I Miss My Friend", "Have You Forgotten?", and "Awful, Beautiful Life") and 12 charted hits.  After the label closed in 2005, he moved to 903 Music, an independent label owned by Neal McCoy, releasing Here and Now in 2006, shortly before that label's closure. His most recent studio release is 2009's Sounds Like Life via Stroudavarious Records and its first charted single, “Sounds Like Life” is a bonafide hit and a satisfying return to the charts for the singer/songwriter.  

Now, with a recent marriage and with new children in the house, the once rambunctious honkytonker seems to have mellowed a bit. A little bit. 

Ken Morton,  Jr.- So I hear that if I’m ever hungry in Savannah, I need to eat a little café on Pickwick Street…

Darryl Worley- (Laughter) Oh, you can always stop right in there at the Worleybird Café. You won’t be at all disappointed in the food, I can tell you that. And it’s usually pretty good company too. 

KMJ- Tell me about the new album “Sounds Like Life.” What was your mission behind this new album?

DW- Well, you know we were kind of on our own at the time. And the major focus was to have music in hand so that when we started going in and talking to music labels, people in the business and people we wanted to pitch to, we’d have something to get them excited with. We took a little different approach to the music this time. I think the songs are an early throwback to the early Darryl Worley stuff. There’s more substance and it’s all a little more uplifting, the grooves are color and sonically, it’s different with the band being part of the mix this time. The road band played on all the tracks. So a lot of things have changed. We just wanted something fresh and new and something that didn’t sound like everybody else’s stuff on the radio. I think we accomplished that and very grateful that we’re off and running with a big hit like “Sounds Like Life To Me.” 

KMJ- As you were selecting songs, were you consciously looking at different themes or topics as previous albums?

DW- Well, not necessarily. We wrote most of the album. There are three that are outside pens that we didn’t have anything to do with writing. No, I never go into that with anything particular in mind. I just have to be aware of a hit song when you have the opportunity to hear one. And we definitely had some stuff pitched to us that was undeniable.  I think there are three outside singles and there’s some stuff in there that sounds like good singles. You’ll probably be hearing some of that on the radio. 

KMJ- “Sounds Like Life To Me” isn’t a soft message, it’s kind of a “suck it up and stop being such a baby” message.  Does that adequately describe you as a person?

DW- I think that’s the way me and my brothers were raised. Our parents came through life in a tough time in this country. They were a product of the depression. They watched their parents struggle and had struggles of their own. Even in our childhood and youth, it wasn’t always the easiest of times. But I think it taught us all that what you want out of life is directional proportional to what you put into it. It’s really a product of how hard you want to work. All of us boys have pretty much done whatever we wanted to do. I think that’s part of the reason for that. I have to say that’s kind of the type of person I am. I talk to people at my shows each night that tell me that they’ve been on both ends of this. They say that they’ve been on the end trying to lend a hand and they’ve been on the end where they needed a hand. I just tell people that in times like that, a word of encouragement can mean a lot. It’s very simple things that we can do sometimes that can help someone out in a big way. I think it’s one of those songs in which we’re blessed with really great timing. I think it’s one of those kind of songs that people needed to hear at this time. We’re really fortunate. 

KMJ- You have two big hits with songs of loss- “I Miss My Friend” and “If Something Should Happen.” This new album has another melancholy song of loss called “You Never Know.” I know there is a personal story behind this, would you mind sharing?

DW- I don’t mind at all. When I got this song- it’s one of the outside songs- the guy that pitched it to me was mutual friends with a guy that I’ve known for a long long time and worked with a lot in the music business, (Shenandoah's bass player) Ralph Ezell. He played base on all my early demos in Muscle Shoals. Ralph had passed very unexpectedly. And in the first verse of the song, it’s about Ralph. And it really floored me when I heard it because I hadn’t even heard the whole story of his passing. The guys were filling me on all that. And it brought it all back. In the second verse, they started doing their songwriting thing. I was floored because my younger brother and I had gone through a really tough time together. And it had to do with our parents and some real personal stuff that was hard. He and I had always been very close. And I’m thankful to say that we are again and he’s back on the road with me selling merchandise and just being a brother. We were distant from one-another for awhile and hadn’t talked in a long time. There was a lot of stress and a lot of tension there. It’s so weird. When I heard the second verse of the song, it’s like they wrote it just for me and didn’t even know it. And this has happened a couple times in my life like that. It’s like every once in awhile someone hits me in the forehead with a sledgehammer and says, “Do you think you oughta cut this song?” (Laughter) It’s one of those kind of songs. I remember the last part of the song, the closing part of the song, and it was still ringing on my CD player when I picked up the phone and called my brother. It’s just so weird. Those things are so simple. It’s like that simple song title. “You Never Know.” I thought, golly, I should have written that song 20 years ago. It is simple reminders like that which make us do the things we need to do. I’m just thankful that the song came my way even if it never does a thing but be part of this album. But I have a feeling you might hear that one on the radio. 

KMJ- You’ve got another rambunctious song on the album featuring Bill Anderson, John Anderson, Ira Dean, Mel Tillis and the rock group Smash Mouth singing on it called “Don’t Show Up (If You Can’t Get Down).”  Was it as much fun in the studio to make as it sounds on the album?

DW- It was, although it’s a lot different than most people will think. It sounds like one of those things where we had everything on that song planned out. But it’s across so many different studios and some of it was recorded there at Mel’s house. It was all over the place. It wasn’t the plan to start off and make that kind of song. It evolved into that. I think that’s for the best because if it had been more planned, it will have felt more sterile, more planned. This way, it’s like we were all jamming and everybody just showed up. It felt better that way. 

KMJ- Do you have a favorite song on the album?

DW- It could be “You Never Know.” It’s really strong. But there’s another song on there that you’d probably never hear on the radio called “Messed Up In Memphis” that I like a lot. 

KMJ- What’s the next single to be released from the album?

DW- I think it will be “You Never Know” or “The Best Of Both Worlds.” That’s kind of where my head is. I love both of those songs. I think “The Best Of Both Worlds” is a very commercial song because it’ll have mass appeal to the female audience. And that’s something that would help me because a lot of times, my songs seem to connect with the males. They’re about real life and making a living and stuff and I’m just getting to a place in my life writing about that whole relationship thing. “The Best Of Both Worlds” is in a romantic place that I’ve been in with my own personal life. And I can say that hasn’t always been the case with me. 

KMJ- One of the songs you are most known for, “Have You Forgotten,” has had its fair share of controversy over its lyrics and topic considering people’s polarized views on the subsequent wars.  Six years later, how do you feel about the song?

DW- It’s one of the only song that I have that every night and every time we perform, it is a still full-blown ovation. It’s one of those songs that still evokes emotion, whether it’s the same kind for everyone or not. There was an overwhelming positive response to that song. There was some air of controversy, but it was just very sparse. And mostly, the controversy was people trying to make some kind of connection between that song and the situation in Iraq with that country and Saddam Hussein. It is very funny, because there wasn’t any conflict in Iraq when we wrote “Have You Forgotten.” I wouldn’t change one thing. If I was to change anything, it might be some of the things that we did in an attempt to follow-up that song. I think we see things better in hindsight that you don’t see when stuff is happening to you. There are probably different things and different angles and stuff that we might have been able to capitalize on a little more if we have just known it at the time. At the same time, it definitely did a lot to further my career. I was just talking to my dad the other day and he said, “You know, maybe it’s a situation that that song is your biggest hit and your biggest accomplishment. How do you feel about that?” And I said, “If I had to pick a song out of the songs that I’ve had that was going to be that song, that’s probably the one I would pick.” I think we were very blessed and fortunate to be given that message to give to the world at that time. Even though there was a small amount of controversy over it, it sure did a big feat for a song pulling a nation sort of back together that was creeping apart after 9/11. I really believe that at that time, it was a sort of a message and a voice for the majority of the American people. I don’t have any regrets.  

KMJ- After your Dreamworks contract ended, did you believe there would be another Darryl Worley record?  What was that time like without a recording contract?

DW- We felt pretty confident that we weren’t just going to be done at that point. We didn’t necessarily know where we were headed. We just kind of stepped back away from it at the time. We let a little time pass and then got right back into talking with people and making music and discussing strategies. The 903 thing could have been one of the most fun and enjoyable things I’ve ever been a part of. It was just a great group of people and I love Neal McCoy. It’s just unfortunate that the money ran out when it did and it fell through when it did because we had just released the title track from that album. It was showing signs of being a big hit song and besides that, it was really moving product out of the stores. You never know what the reason is behind those things, but I guess there is one. It’ll probably get clearer as we move on down the road. I really do feel that we’re in a great place now and we just got to see what’s going to take place after we ride the heck out of this tune. We’ll put something new together. 

KMJ- Tell me about the Tennessee River Run. (Each year, Worley hosts a Charity Foundation Event, the "Tennessee River Run." Proceeds benefit the Darryl Worley Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that provides funds to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.)

DW- Well, the concert and event is getting ready to take place again in my home town in West Tennessee. I put it in the same category as all of our trips to the Middle East and supporting the troops like we do. I think it’s some of the best work that we do. We’re down there giving everything we got to the cause. Obviously, we award grants to people in need in that whole region down there. We’re giving money to several national charities every single year including Cystic Fibrosis and St. Jude- a whole lot of charities. But we have a new focus the past few years, we’ve started a campaign to build a four million dollar cancer treatment center in my home town. I think financially, we’re ready to break ground, but we’ve got a few political hurdles to clear right now. Hopefully we’ll have that straightened out and cleared up so we can get started later this year or this fall. 

KMJ- What is country music to Darryl Worley?

DW- Obviously, it’s our means of existence. It pays the bills. But I just believe that I have such a passion for it. Any time that you find something that you love to do and you can make a living doing it, you are a blessed person. It’s almost like you don’t have to go to work anymore. It’s very intense and it’s very time-consuming and it puts a lot of stress on my family and our personal lives. But it’s making music out of little pieces of real life and putting it out there for the public. It can be therapy for them and it’s an opportunity to put to use a talent God gave us and hopefully make people smile. 

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