If you told me once, you told me twice
I don’t take anyone’s advice
I would rather make my own way down the road
Take the gold from the sun
I will hold it close when the day is done
Keep the fire inside me til the dawn
When the sun begins to rise
I will open up with brand new eyes
Only from the dark can you see the light.
Every day I am born again
But not in any kind of Christian sense
It’s only me who can wash away my sins.
I am getting old. My friends have died.
I never got to say goodbye. The dead they don’t miss you when they’re gone
Me too, I will up and die but for now I am still alive.
Ain’t no use in mourning what has been.
“New Again” by Grayson Capps
Grayson Capps grew up in a cottage in Fairhope close to Mobile Bay. It was filled with music and literature, and it is where he writes songs and raises his 12-year-old son today. The only child of educators and a writer/artist, Capps turns life into poetry sung with a voice that rolls around in the dirt or lingers in the air, defying gravity. A voice that runs its full range for his new album, Scarlett Roses, released on December 1.
“Underappreciated” and “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” applies to Capps, one of the sparks who ignited music in south Alabama. After years of touring and living in New Orleans, he and his wife, Grammy-winning music producer Trina Shoemaker, moved to Nashville after hurricane Katrina and then to Fairhope in 2011. Wanting more time with his family, he took a break from touring and still plays close to home. He started music at a few venues himself — Saturday nights at Pirates Cove, Hangover Sundays at Callaghan’s and Sunday Socials at The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm.
“It’s a fragile world and everything is so connected,” Capps says. “The smallest things and influences can change the course of lives. Sometimes I think about what if I wasn’t around? Maybe music here would be different. Trina wouldn’t be at Dauphin Street Sound and you guys may not have The Southern Rambler because that started at the Frog Pond. I am good at starting things but I am not a good finisher. I am proud that I helped light the fires here. People are more hopeful and motivated about music in Mobile than I have ever seen.”
Capps’ first show at Pirate’s Cove was in January 2004. “It was 28 degrees and the wind was howling outside,” says Cathe Steele, who had just started booking music at the Josephine, Alabama landmark. She now hosts Sunday house concerts many weeks of the year at her Blue Moon Farm because Capps pushed her to do it and he plays at every one.
“We had 200 or more people inside that night,” Steele says. “Folks were dancing on tables and on top of the bar. A guy with a wooden leg collected tips for the band. We opened the door and the wind swept through and carried out the cigarette smoke. We slammed them shut until it got smoky enough to open them again.”
Cigarette smoke, winds of a hurricane, dancing on bars and a man with a wooden leg all fit in with Capps. With his long blonde hair, faded jeans and boots that stomp in rhythm, Capps is a pure, authentic narrator of the South and knows how to write about it. One line can speak a lifetime and every song feels like a movie. Songs of heartbreak, falling asleep at the wheel and driving down an old dirt road past the chicken man with a rusted-out stove with a bag of weed and a case of beer to spend the night out in the woods. Or simply being thankful for the sunshine that takes away the rain and the moonshine that takes away the pain.
“Now Everett don’t go out no more except for maybe to the grocery store. He likes to sit around his house and paint and let you think of things you are going to think. Young man Cory stole his car, trashed it to hell now it’s back in the yard. No remorse and there ain’t no shame. It stands as a statue to a young man’s game. I ain’t pointing no fingers. I can identify with a selfish man and his ability to lie, but the cold hard truth is like a hammer in the teeth, it hurts like hell and don’t give you no peace.”
“Bag of Weed”
Capps writes these lines in his small shack in the back yard. A metronome, ashtray and notebook sit on his desk by the window. Below the desk is a basket of written-out lyrics.
“I go out there and sing and make noise,” he says. “The scraps of papers are parts of songs. They are unfinished and it gets to be too much. However, the metronome is crucial.”
The Southern Rambler interviewed Capps on the porch overlooking his backyard with his dog Raven close by.
TSR: You grew up in this house. Is this where your music began?
Capps: Yes. I am an only child. On Friday and Saturday nights, my friends came over and my dad played DJ and we recited poetry and played guitar. That was more fun than any high school bullshit. My parents were teachers. While I did homework, dad wrote books and my mom graded papers. Everyone got up the next morning and went to school. (Grayson’s father, Everett Capps, wrote Off Magazine Street and the movie Love Song for Bobby Long was based on this novel.)
TSR: Writing songs in the same place your dad wrote books has to mean a lot to you.
Capps: Yes. Like my dad, writing is how I make sense of life and it is necessary to write and finish a song when I have to get myself through something. I have a lot of things going on in my life, including music, parents and children and almost all of the songs on this album got me through something. It was like a dream sequence.
Most of this record was finding something that felt good and starting to sing and write. I press record on my phone and sing for eight minutes making things up, then go back and try to decipher. Free form becomes a rough draft that has to be filled in. “Bag of Weed” was me ranting for ten minutes and I chose the voices that made sense together.
“Taos” came like a flurry. Trina set up a drum loop and within an hour, I had it. We were recording at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana, and trying to get it together. Russ, the drummer, was in the control room and you can hear him laughing. He realizes we are all in the studio and he runs in and shuts the glass door to his booth. He rattles something beside the drums to let us know he is there. There is a tape slapback (a short delay with an echo effect) that is rewound and you hear “Texas,” and we took off and that was the take. All of that was unplanned and on the album.
I played “New Again” once on an acoustic guitar while everyone went to lunch. It felt good and honest and that was it. Dylan LeBlanc sang harmony. “Scarlet Roses” is the image of loss and memory. Someone leaves and throws the roses that float back to you.
TSR: Your voice seems to take you anywhere you need to go. Has it changed over the years?
Capps: Yes. I have become comfortable with different parts of my voice. The older I get, the higher I can go and my range has gotten bigger. I sang most of the harmonies on the record. I couldn’t do that 10 years ago.
TSR: The details makes the imagery and story so clear, especially in “Bag of Weed” with lines such as, “Like an old snake shedding its skin/Crawling out to crawl back in.” Where do those details come from?
Capps: I was a theater major at Tulane. In theater, you can’t do anything unless you know the who, what, where, when and why. I write like that and give each song a specific place. I love images in music because it offers more than “I don’t feel good” or “There is a stick in my left toe.” I also grew up around people who savor the English language.
TSR: Does the energy and drama when you play come from your background in theater?
Capps: Yes. Performance is a part of it. I started my first band when I was 21. We were theater majors who couldn’t play anything but we knew how to put on a show. It was high energy and we called it “thrash folk.” We toured non-stop for three years and I thought I knew a lot more than I did. We got popular and signed with Tipitina’s Records. The name was the House Levelers from a hat someone found in Mobile. The band ended after we got in a three-way fistfight in West Virginia. There was no sleep, eating shitty food and a lot of angst. I took it for granted. I learned to use my name instead of a band name because it gets rid of fights. I am responsible for the good and the bad but I am investing my energy into my name instead of a name that can go away.
I made a living landscaping for 25 years. Music was the outlet and I played the way I wanted to. Music is how I make my living now, but I still play the way I want to and I am exhausted at the end of a show. There were nights at Pirates Cove where I played for four hours straight. When there was something good going on with the band or the audience, it seems like time stops. Taking a break can kill the momentum. It’s like a stew cooking. You put all of the ingredients in and after an hour it really starts bubbling. If you take a break, you lose that and the zone dissipates and it is hard to start over in the next set. If there is such a thing as God, he exists in that space between the musician and the audience. It is a conversation and a relationship. The connection with the audience is the best feeling.
Sometimes at the end of a show I wonder what I have been doing the past few hours. It is over and you can’t see what you created. Making an album is like that, too. You can go back and listen or hold it but it is not the same because you aren’t in it anymore. Working with plants is different because you can see your work.
TSR: This is your first solo record since 2011. Did it feel good to be back on your own?
Capps: I needed to take a break from my own records because I had been doing a record every year for five years. I did two albums with Willie Sugarcapps and that was good and easy. Willie Sugarcapps is showing up to a gig and having fun.
I don’t want to put out a record a year anymore because that means being on the road more. We will probably go back on the road next year. However, I love being in the studio. Great songs come from the studio when it is so fresh. The songs become revealed when the band plays.
TSR: Your wife, Trina, produced this album. How does being married to one of the best producers in music affect what you create?
Capps: Trina has a low tolerance for bullshit. It has to be really good or don’t do it. I respect that and I won’t bring something to her unless it is at a certain level. I don’t want to waste her time so I have to go in the studio ready. That forces me to be the best I can be.
TSR: Some of your songs are political or you speak out against injustice during a show. What does it mean to have a platform to speak out?
Capps: Sometimes I get carried away. Sometimes I think Alabama is so messed up that I don’t want to live here, then I think where am I going to go? Preach to the choir somewhere else? At least here I can give a different way of looking at things.
I am an only child and have always felt like an outcast. I even feel a little isolated here in the music scene because I don’t fit the mold. There are people who need a voice. Some say, “I am glad you said that because I have felt alone.” I focus on the one who may need to know he isn’t alone.
TSR: In “New Again,” the lines “I find myself caught between the generations either side of me. The son is the father of the man,” feels like one of the most personal moments on the album. What do they mean?
Capps: I am caught between generations right now with kids and parents who need me. Since I am an only child, I am responsible for everything and have a lot to take care of for my dad. Part of the angst and dream state of the album is from being caught between generations on either side of me. It is never ending. Any free time I have during the week is dealing with my dad and his future. I take care of his bills and paperwork for medical care and get him what he needs. That is another reason why I have taken a bit of a break from touring, but I am coming to peace with it. I am also saving up a stash of morphine and heroin so when it is my time I am going out in the woods in a flame.