Jason Isbell on Today’s Country: “It’s Just Real Bad Music to Me”

photo: David McClister

Jason Isbell is still riding high after hitting career marks for his recent album The Nashville Sound, which topped the Country Albums charts, as well as the Rock and Americana charts, and hit #4 on the all-genre Billboard 200 upon its debut, and made career numbers for Isbell with album sales for the first week. But if you expect the mainstream level of success of his career to change the songwriter, or his penchant to speak out, you’re sadly mistaken.

In a new interview with Rolling Stone, when asked why he tweeted out during CMA Fest that he “didn’t want to do that,” Isbell responded, “I don’t like that kind of music at all. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that I really like that’s in that world. I like that song ‘Girl Crush.’ Some of Miranda Lambert’s songs are really well-written. Stapleton’s great. But most of that stuff is just real bad music to me. It also seems like a huge mess. I like Nashville when it’s just regular old Nashville and there’s not a whole lot going on.”

CMA Fest is corporate country music’s premier annual event held in Nashville every June, and televised every August, headlined by the biggest mainstream names.

So does that mean it’s awkward for Isbell to show his face in Nashville with such and outsider’s attitude?

“I don’t really get any shit from anybody,” he says. “I own my record label. I have my own publishing. I do what I want. Nobody is selling a ton of records. Yesterday, someone tweeted the Garth Brooks Chris Gaines album sold 2 million copies. At the time, that was considered a disaster. Now, everyone would kill for that disaster. I don’t even know if Chris Stapleton’s ‘Traveller’ is at 2 million yet. So we’re all in the same boat.”

Actually, Traveller has now sold just over 2 million albums. At last count, Traveller has moved 2,016,700 units, and Stapleton’s latest record From A Room: Vol. 1 became the first country record released in 2017 to go gold. And like Jason Isbell, he’s doing it with little help from the radio. They’re both part of the new Nashville insurgency that continues to take away market share from Music Row, and by doing it their own way.

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