Conviction isn’t the first word that usually comes to mind while enjoying new artists, but the music and indeed the voice of Colorado based musician John Statz has changed that for me, maybe forever. With a distinct and powerful tonality and carefully crafted ability, John writes songs the kind of heart-on-sleeve Americana-inspired numbers that have staying power, not just on a playlist, but in the bones. On his newest full-length, the aptly named The Fire Sermon, tales of love, passion and loss have swirled through my brain days after first hearing them. Which is the mark of something special; something you won’t hear all the time but should.
PULP: So how is it going? You just got back from tour, right?
John Statz: It’s going well, I’m at I’m at home in Denver right now, which is nice. I just got back from three weeks in Europe and then a couple dates on the East Coast. I’m here for a sec, then in June I’m starting up with some local release shows. Then in July I go out to the out toward the Pacific Northwest.
That’s a pretty busy schedule. Are they receptive to you in Europe?
Yeah. This was actually my sixth trip out there to play. I get a pretty good reaction I think. There’s a small niche of people that are really into Americana and singer songwriter stuff in the countries I’ve been in. By no means does it seem to be a super popular genre over there, but for that small niche of people, they are really they’re they’re kind of looking to discover new stuff open to new American songwriters. Playing there is putting you in front of some really loyal Americana fans.
How long has it been since your last full length?
Just a little over two years ago Tulsa came out, in March of 2015.
How have your newer songs changed?
You know, the subject matter has shifted a lot from my earlier albums. Like these are all love songs. Some are fictional, and some are personal. And whether they’re personal or not I think people can identify with that stuff really easily you know. Most people have experienced both sides or all sides of that emotion. The last album was mostly like “here’s a story about a fictional retired football player with head injury problems” or “here’s a story about the daughter of a failed presidential candidate who froze to death”. It was much more topical and so totally different material.
Do you feel like you changed as a musician at all?
Yeah, I mean I think the biggest change I’ve seen is my voice. I’ve been exploring that more and and just trying to sing out more and and I guess just use use more of my voice than I have in the past. I think that their songs on older albums like that I did were like maybe I don’t even really like the album anymore but I still like one or two songs on them.
So are there songs you don’t like of yours anymore?
No, I mean like my first album came out when I was like twenty one, or twenty. I mean, it was written when I was 19. I recorded it and sorted out and I was in college and it’s like fifteen tracks and it’s just like the first fifteen songs I wrote and recorded. No editing, you know. You could’ve taken out five of the songs easily. It’s hindsight. I I don’t know if I even thought I’d still be doing it eleven years later.
What does the title of the new record, The Fire Sermon, refer to?
So I took the title from a TS Eliot poem. One of those really long multi-part section poems. There’s a section called the Fire Sermon. T.S. Elliott is like some seriously academic poetry that I don’t wanna misrepresent; I’m still figuring it out and it you know it’s not the easiest to read, but I ended up reading the poem when I took the book with me backpacking up in the Wind River area last summer with my girlfriend and her brother. You need a thin book you know so I took this book of poems, and I was constantly like flipping back and forth between the poem in like the appendix at the back for an explanation of like what TS Eliot is actually talking about. Almost every line is notated. So, the fire sermon is the second part of this poem, which is exploring his own sexuality and relationships. And HE took that from a Buddhist sermon called the fire sermon as well, which was a cautionary lesson according to the notes at the end of the fire sermon was like a cautionary sermon on the fires of passion and love and hatred like not you know going overboard in any of those things.
So that’s like the lengthy academic version of these are ten love songs of all different stripes. Some of them are break up songs are angry some of them are really joyous; some of them are about fictional characters, some of them are real. I just thought that the fire sermon as TS Eliot kind of presented it via Buddha seem to set it all up well.
Cashmere, from the Fire Sermon, is a seriously great song. Could you tell me a little bit about the writing of it?
Yeah. That one was one of the ones that just came out really quickly after trip out to the Pacific Northwest. a year and a half ago or something like that a friend of mine went out and played some shows. It just kind of came out. I guess sometimes they happen like that and sometimes they’re more laborious. There’s something intuitive about and instinctual about a good melody, and it felt easy on Cashmere.
Did you start working on the songs that became the Fire Sermon right afterward?
I probably wrote a couple of the songs pretty quick after that; I always go in waves. When I’m preparing to release an album after it’s been recorded I’m not usually writing at all, and then time goes on and I haven’t written anything in months. While I’ve been preparing The Fire Sermon I haven’t written much. I’ll probably start writing in like a month or two.
It is that by design or is that just the way your brain works?
I guess it is intentionally. I’m doing most of the business end of things myself right now for the most part. I had a publicist in Europe, but I didn’t in the U.S., so all of all of the organizational stuff just takes so much time that it seems important to spend time writing songs while I’m doing all of that. I do enjoy the difference; I liked having both the last albums’ recording time booked a few months ahead; I still had to write a few more songs for them, and I like the pressure of like “okay, the band is hired. The studio time is booked. You have to show up with more songs now.” (laughs)
Do you do you feel like it fuels the creative fire?
I feel like songwriting is best when you’re a well lubricated machine; the hardest part of it just like people say about running or anything else is getting started again after a lengthy absence. We’re all at our best when we just try to keep writing I think.
Do you think like labels like Americana or Roots music apply to you?
I mean I don’t think I’m too roots-y. And I think I’ve done albums in the past that have been much more Americana than this newest one’ though the newest one has has a good amount of Americana on it too. I feel like you know it’s it’s such a hard genre to pin down, but to me it it’s when I hear a certain guitar tone or guitar lick, that’s what Americanas to me I guess. Not so much a label.
These new songs are somewhat unlike your older albums. There’s a bigger cinematic feel to it; these songs you could almost see on TV shows and in movies. Is that something you might have been going for?
Well, I’d give mostly credit for that to Megan Burtt who produced it, and it was her band the Cure for Love that we used on the recording. She’s a Denver songwriter and she’s great. This is her first time producing an album, but she had she just seem to have a lot of visions and ideas for with these songs could go. And we went went big on some of them, and I’m jazzed about it. I’ve never had songs that sound like this.
It has a sort of crossover appeal.
Well, I really like pop music, but and that’s a really wide genre as well. And I think that these songs are my version of pop music. They still have good lyrics, but the melodies are, you know, infectious as well and I don’t know…I guess I just was trying to do smartly written Pop Americana. I don’t know if that’s even a thing.
I think it is now.
The Fire Sermon from John Statz is out now on Why River records as digital download, CD or 12” vinyl. Pick it up and find out more about one of Denver’s best kept secrets at johnstatz.com