Rod Picott adds the singing to the songwriting
Rod Picott went to Nashville 16 years ago looking for a songwriting contract, intending to write for the big artists of the day. But somewhere along the way his life took an unexpected turn – he ended up singing his material himself.
That’s okay by Picott, who says there’s something very special about songwriters singing their own material, giving the example of Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe.
“There’s all these hit songwriters singing what appear to be crappy Nashville pop songs. But when you hear these songs sung by the person that wrote them, it takes on a whole different tone, completely different. You’d be surprised how moving and how sincere some of those songs can come across when it’s the person that wrote it singing it in front of you.”
All the same, Picott has got to hear his material sung by other artists, including Ray Wylie Hubbard, Fred Eaglesmith and Gurf Morlix, as well as many times by his friend since childhood, Slaid Cleaves.
“I’ve had some really great artists that I think a lot of record songs that I wrote,” Picott says. “None of them are famous and none of them have really made any money, but it’s a wonderful thing to hear someone that you admire play and sing something that you wrote. In a way that has just as much value.”
Picott grew up in South Berwick, Maine, and has been friends since the age of eight with Cleaves, a friendship that has marked both their careers.
“We’ve written a lot of songs together – a good chunk of his catalogue, I like to remind him,” Picott laughs. “I had three co-writes on his last record, and he’ll have two on my next record.”
The same year that Picott moved to Nashville, Cleaves settled in Austin. The distance hasn’t affected their work, however. “We write with e-mail, send each other MP3s. Technology has helped our co-writing infinitely. We used to have to mail cassettes back and forth. Now we just send an e-mail and get a response immediately.”
Picott has been more prolific than Cleaves over the years, which he puts down to a very different style of working.
“He’s very slow, very methodical, but he’s also a very good writer, very smart guy. He’s just meticulous, and slower and slower as time has gone on. He doesn’t write on the road. That’s a problem I don’t have – I’m writing right now. I don’t even know what I just said, I’m working on a song…”
As he works on material for his sixth album, Picott has been on the road most of this year with fiddle player Amanda Shires, with whom he made the album Sew Your Heart With Wires two years ago.
“Amanda and I met at Folk Alliance four years ago in the hallway, and we stayed in touch,” Picott says. “I had heard her play fiddle and I just loved how she voiced the instrument, and thought she had a beautiful voice. We became friends and played a couple of shows incidentally along the way and it sounded pretty great so we started booking shows together as a duo, and then we started writing together. We had enough songs for a CD and so we pushed the record button.”
Picott acknowledges, however, that the pair are beginning to go their separate ways now, returning to solo projects.
“I’m about halfway through the new CD. It’s come out great. I’m being more slow this time, but I’m being more vigilant than ever that I have enough songs to pick from.”
Picott tours regularly in the UK, where he says he finds a more appreciative audience than in the US.
“In the States a lot of time it’s more of a party atmosphere. You get a lot of people who are just there for a night out. Here, the audience is more focused. They’ll ask specific things about specific songs.
“They seem more patient than Americans, which is really gratifying. They’re wonderful.”
Rod Picott on Backroads