After writing thousands of songs, Nashville’s Aaron Raitiere finally gets to issue his own debut album, ‘Single Wide Dreamer’. And he has some great tales to tell. An interview by Andrew Darlington
Kat from the PR complains her hair has been blown around. Aaron’s dark hair is magnificently entangled. Being shaved to the scalp, I don’t have that problem. ‘Well. I’m sure it’s around the corner for me at some point’ Aaron laughs supportively.
What’s it like in Nashville today? ‘The sun is shining, it’s about forty degrees’ he glances past the photos tacked to the wall towards the window. ‘My car gets hung-up if it’s super-muddy or freezing. So I’ve been drawing and painting and reading. It’s supposed to be seventy degrees on Wednesday.’
Nashville songwriter Aaron Raitiere doesn’t do soundbites. He tells tales. And he laughs a lot. Rummage through his videos, and he’s onstage at the ‘Basement’ club wearing a Mickey Mouse smoking-a-joint T-shirt and he’s telling a convoluted joke about three mice in a bar as Anderson East tunes up for their ‘Devil In Me’ joint composition. Elsewhere you can find Aaron equally at ease doing Anderson’s ‘I Ain’t No Zebra, I’m A Bumblebee’ to an audience of preschool kids at the Lexington Avenue Baptist Church.
I was in Nashville some time ago, where even the buskers on the street-corner are scarily impressive. It’s a fiercely competitive place. ‘Yes, you better be good, if you say you play guitar, you better be able to play the guitar’ he says. ‘I don’t go around town claiming to be a bunch of anything, ‘cos wherever you are in this town there’s definitely somebody better than you. Including the busker on the street. I used to busk downtown though, that’s still a pretty good job in the right place. The thing is, last time I was down there, if you sit on Broadway, or one of the corners there, four hours, you can make $150-$200. I mean, there’s a trick to all of it, you gotta put two dollars in your guitar-case, then once you get about twenty bucks, you got to empty that out, put it in your pocket, go back to two dollars. Always keep just two dollars, yes, so everybody thinks you’re right there. And then you can always do fifteen-second songs, ‘cos people are only walking by for fifteen seconds. I used to just sing ‘I know my Momma wouldn’t like to see me here’ – and I would just keep singing that, and that’s it, ‘I know my Momma wouldn’t like to see me here’ (he sings the line, and it sounds mighty fine). Naturally, if somebody stops I would sing them a song, but usually if they turn and look at you they throw you a dollar just for looking at you.’
Country musician Brent Cobb performs a live namedropping ‘When Country Came Back To Town’ – proving ‘simple truths in music.’ Brent talks-in the song with a dedication to Aaron’s four-years-in-the-making debut album ‘Single Wide Dreamer’, about how ‘if ever there was something that wasn’t ‘for the birds’ it’s this album’ – before he and Aaron sing the co-written ‘If We Never Go’… which, as it happens, is not on the album. Unlike ‘For The Birds’ itself, which is, and lists the things he’s anti – ‘confrontation’, and the things he’s for – ‘conversation’. There are few frills, it’s straight-ahead good music with a ‘tweedle-eedle-di’. Aaron’s record is rammed full of such talking verse, sing-along chorus, agile down-home wordplay, anecdotes and tall bar-tales, in fact, you have to play it again – then one more time, to pick up on the lines you missed first time around, lines about ‘a preacher or professor of high-falutin philosophy,’ or the lines about ‘he pays cash and respect to Merle.’ Aaron is a poet and a know-it-all and a pleasure when he’s stoned.’ On the track ‘Everybody Else’, he uses just pen and guitar to carve characters out of exhaust fumes and dope smoke, he doesn’t like being by himself, so he’s out with the roughnecks and a Motorcycle Mama with a butterfly tat. ‘I smoke my grass and I cuss when I’m mad, though I wasn’t raised that way.’
He’d been around the Nashville scene a while, living in a camper-van, writing, co-writing, singing and sharing stages with various high and low-profile friends, until when they offer to make a debut album on him, Aaron simply goes along with it. The time was right. It was the logical next step. Ever since those initial studio sessions the enterprise managed to retain its casual charm, even as the guest list expanded. Co-producers Anderson East and Miranda Lambert (fresh from her own album ‘The Weight Of These Wings’), appear alongside Nashville musicians like Dave Cobb, Natalie Hemby, Ashley Monroe, and Waylon Payne, as well as Robert Randolph, Foy Vance, and Bob Weir. Two years down the line, Anderson and Raitiere got together in RCA Studio A, ultimately ending up with eighteen tracks in all, razored down to twelve. ‘I think the record kind of made itself, and that was the vibe I was going with,’ Aaron considers. ‘It was just a bunch of friends getting together trying to help me create something, because they thought I needed a record.’ Now it’s time for congratulations on a fine album. ‘Thank you. I’m excited to have it out, it’s been a long time coming. I mean, I’ve written thousands of songs, and I don’t know – I didn’t make a whole lot of decisions on the record, it was kinda like a group effort actually. Yes, it’s cool to have it finally come to life, and for people to get to hear it. It’s like a joke you’ve been telling that you know is hilarious, because you’ve been telling it for ten years, and now everyone around you has heard it for ten years, but the world is hearing it, so the joke is brand new all of a sudden! It’s like telling a new joke to a new crowd. And then I got a pocketful of other jokes.’
When I was in Nashville there was a big door-guy on the street who says ‘we got clean washrooms,’ so I go in and I’m in this bar just off the main strip and they’re playing Elton John, Beatles and Queen, and I say to the server girl ‘look, I’ve come all the way from Yorkshire to Nashville to hear country music and all you’re playing is Elton John, Beatles and Queen!’ ‘So which country star you’d prefer we play?’ she smiles sweetly, I say ‘Waylon Jennings’, she scrunches up her pretty face ‘…who?’
Aaron laughs. ‘Nashville is changing pretty fast. I mean – I’ve been here about sixteen years and it’s totally different from when I got here. When I got here in around 2008 – that’s about fourteen years!, so maybe… 2006? I just remember the guys I was hanging out with, and one of them said ‘you missed it, man, you missed it,’ and then he said that when he’d got to Nashville that’s what all the people told him, like ‘you missed it, it already happened.’ It’s like going to New York City and looking for Bob Dylan. It already happened. So, you go down on Music Row right now and it’s a bunch of construction sites and Condo’s, and there’s a few historic studios left but even then most of the sessions are either done remotely or at other studios – y’know, it used to be Music Row was like an assembly line kind-of-thing for the music industry, like, you need a fiddle, let’s call Bill, he’s right down the street, we’ll go over there, you need a tuba let’s call Fred, he’s right down the street, we’ll go there. Now, if you need a fiddle or a tuba you just get on the internet, somebody can do that for you over in Austria and send you the track. So you really don’t need Music Row like you used to, but you do need Condo’s ‘cos more people are coming down ‘cos they wanna see Music Row, so they gotta get a Condo. Yet – for as much as it’s turning into a big city, there’s a lot of new talent. Like you said, it’s pretty incredible going to some of those Writer’s Nights and listening to sixteen-seventeen-year olds, twenty-two and twenty-four-year old kids singing REAL stuff. I think there was a point where you listened to Country Radio, and it got kinda ridiculous there for a minute, and now the Waylon Jennings kind of writing seems like it’s coming back around a little bit.’
He stands and walks around grinning a wide grin. ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard Dillon Carmichael – he’s a guy out of Burgin, County of Kentucky, about fifteen minutes from Danville where I’m from. But he’s been singing on the Grand Ole Opry, and his uncle is Eddie Montgomery from the band Montgomery-Gentry, but look up Dillon Carmichael is all I’m saying, you’ll love him if you’re looking for some Waylon Jennings. And it’s like… with those kind-of people, there’s hope. Brett Cobb, he’s a good friend of mine. He’s another guy. Brett just wrote a song called ‘When Country Came Back To Town’ – and he just namedrops everybody that he knows, and he just sings ‘I was there when Country came back to town.’ And it’s pretty true, there’s Sturgill Simpson. There are people there keeping that spirit alive. I don’t know if what I’m doing is necessarily Country. Lately I’ve been leaning more towards just talking too much. I think…’ he laughs, hand on his head, ‘I think I just talk too much. But I’ve just been a lyricist, a writer – you know, most of my life. So, it’s different now being in the Driver’s seat with my own album.’
Maybe I should have gone to the ‘Basement’ Club in Nashville where some of Aaron’s videos were shot, it seems like a great place. ‘Yes, the ‘Basement’ has all sorts of stuff. Then there’s the ‘Basement East’, it’s like the Big Brother where they have a bigger stage for bigger bands. But the ‘Basement’ is kind-of a piece of Nashville history. Metallica played at the ‘Basement’, I think. Yeah – and I mean it’s kinda like a Ryman Theatre of sorts for Rock bands and – bands who play in basements. You don’t like Metallica? Listen back, you might be into it. Or Megadeth – if you’ve never listened to Megadeth? You’d be surprised, one of the bands you may actually love, is Tool, T-O-O-L. I mean, that band – I’ve only recently met the drummer in a hotel hallway, the drummer of Tool, and I didn’t really care ‘cos I didn’t know who he was or anything, and then somebody came up to me and said ‘that guy’s one of the greatest drummers alive, he’s the drummer with Tool’. So I started listening to some Tool – and it’s like classical music. If you listen to their fifth studio album, called ‘Fear Inoculum’ (2019) – what a title for a record! But it came out in 2019 and it’s on Spotify and if you listen to it – listen to it straight through, you’d be surprised. I used to think I didn’t like a lot of stuff too, and then…’
When I agreed to interview Aaron Raitiere, I never anticipated that we’d be talking about Megadeth and Tool! ‘I would say Tool is what I listened to most this year, ‘cos it just – I don’t know, I was born in 1982, and learned to play guitar listening to Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, and Mudhoney – and, like the Pixies, the Breeders, it was all just Grunge Rock around my place. That’s weird, I still listen to the same music I liked in eighth-grade! I’ll skim through some stuff, I love some old-time Bluegrass music like IIIrd Tyme Out or The Seldom Scene or some of those bands, but they’re like classic Bluegrass. Five-part harmony stuff.’
When he first arrived in Nashville Aaron famously lived in his Camper Van, where Brent Cobb talks about how he’d met ‘this homeless Dude with a ponytail down to his ass-crack.’ ‘HaHa. I would say – by choice. By choice’ he laughs. ‘Living in my van by choice. But yeah, I was just… for two years I didn’t stay anywhere longer than two weeks, I’d get somewhere and I’d stay for a while and then I’d say ‘alright, we’re gonna take off’ and I just kept riding around. I think everybody thought I was living out there ‘cos I was homeless. But homeless by choice is a different thing than actually being homeless. So yes, I took showers at the YMCA and all that – (he breaks out in rich head-back laughter), I did that thing. I had a little camp-stove. I was making lunch in the Park. I was on an eternal camping-trip for about two years. But I was probably like twenty-two to twenty-four, so it was just convenient, more than anything. You know, there’s still a lot of people sleeping in their vans in Nashville. It’s a whole culture. Nashville doesn’t really charge for parking either, so you can rent an office on Music Row – or you can park an RV (Recreational Vehicle) on Music Row for free! Which people do. And then they just go – right into your RV, or go to one of the publishing houses. But yeah, I was really fascinated with it… I loved the thought of a van-life. And it’s really come a long way, there’s $150,000 vans that are four-wheel-drive, they have showers and toilets and queen-size beds and living rooms and kitchens. You can park ‘em on a beach or in a field. I’m single and thirty-nine, I don’t have any kids and I don’t have any thought of them, I’m like, I’ve really considered doing it again is what I’m saying. I think I could do it alright. My apartment is super-small and I’m never home. The only thing I don’t like about it is the thought of your vehicle and your home being connected, ‘cos technically your house can break down. The thought of if your house breaks down on the highway, you’re like, oh man, this is the problem. If your car breaks down you can leave it. But if your house breaks down you don’t want to… so – so – ah, yes, I don’t know.’
What has always struck me is that Country – or Americana, respects its history. It has a continuity that goes back to the 1950s, and even before that. ‘Country music, you mean? I think – for me, I don’t know. I was talking about Tool and Grunge-rock. I love Country Music – whatever Country music is, and I grew up in the country. I went to public school in Central Kentucky, I was around all that stuff, and – I don’t know. Like you said, I still go back to Waylon and Merle Haggard and some of those other guys. I think what Country music is now is something totally different. It’s something that’s being written and performed by a bunch of people that was raised on Hip-Hop in suburban parts of the world, y’know? So they have a cul-de-sac and a three-car garage and a sub-woofer, and there’s not a whole lot of Country. There’s nothing Country about a Condo. There might be a Country song there, ‘Ain’t Nothing Country About A Condo, Kid!’
He does the jumpy Rockabilly ‘You’re Crazy’ with slap stand-up bass, descending bass-line and novelty scat-vocal effects that recall Roger Miller’s ‘Dang Me’. ‘I love Roger Miller’ he concedes. ‘Oh yeah – Roger Miller does a bunch of stuff with ‘Doo-doo-doopy-doo-do’. Dang me. Dang me – Yup. I think when we wrote that song we just didn’t really have anything else to say, except we were trying to show that this person was crazy. How do you say you’re crazy, without saying you’re crazy? And that might be a way. But then it just would up being… when I play that song live it just winds up being so far out and funny, ‘cos there’s not a whole bunch of people just losing their minds, on a microphone! On the recording it’s one version, but the live version I’ve just been boop-boop-boop-booping out of my mind (he breaks down laughing). You start going – and I mean, it’s ridiculous. I got a buddy named Charlie Pate and me and him have written a bunch of songs with a whole lot of boop-boop-booping in ‘em, and when we get started the two of us we’re booping, we start boop-boop-booping in harmony.’
Then there’s ‘At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids’, which is an almost traditional Country song with that wry break-up humour-bitterness that Country does so well. ‘Oh man, it kinda gets right to it’ he agrees. ‘At least we didn’t have any kids. And she actually did get the dog and I got the canoe, and I can’t wait for her to hear that song. It’s about my ex from – like, a decade ago. We wound up with tattoos of each other’s names. And I got her name tattooed on me. And then I wound up getting it covered up with another tattoo – of the State of Kentucky. ‘Cos I’m from Kentucky. So that’s the line ‘covered up with the State of Kentucky’ – ‘you got the dog and I got the canoe.’ And then there’s a line in there, ‘redneck white and blue’ – I would have changed that line. To be honest that’s probably my least favourite line on the whole record. It says ‘redneck white and blue,’ and I got twenty other ways I could end that song. But it just kinda gets to it, I guess. But otherwise, I wrote that song with Anderson East, that’s the one song on the album that he’s a co-writer on…’
What is it about that line that he don’t like, it’s patriotic overtones? ‘Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t – didn’t have a major problem with it. I just figured, no, I thought I could do better. But you know, I think that’s the truth of every song out there. It could be better. There’s some part of it that could always be better. It’s like – when do you finally walk away from a song? And say hey, that’s done? I said it was done, and then we paid to get it mixed, and then we paid to get it mastered, and then I said, ‘hey, I don’t know if it’s done,’ and they said ‘is it worth $3000 not done?’ ‘cos it would have been three-grand to go back and change the lyric. And I said ‘no – it’s done!’ Just to get the same quality recording and all that, but – yes, I don’t have a problem with the lyric, if anything I think it’s a distraction, there’s a lot of other songs with ‘red white and blue’ kind of stuff in it, you know. It’s just that I feel like I’m a better writer than that. But – it’s there, so. And it’s not bad or anything. I don’t know why I’m giving my own song a hard time?’
Striving to get better is not a bad thing! ‘Well, they can all be better. Every single one of them could always be better. But I have lived with this record for a minute now, and it’s comforting to know that that’s the only line that bothers me on the whole record. Usually, when you create something, if you’re painting, or you’re in a business or something, and you look back on it four or five years later you think ‘maybe I would have done…’, usually you’d have done some things different. Everyone would, for whatever reason, ‘cos you learn. But I don’t know if I would have done it a whole lot different. This record just kinda made itself. That’ll be it. That’d be the one change on the whole record. I’d change that one line, then everything else is pretty-much exact.’
The album sleeve is a blue background, with a profile photo-shot of Aaron. But he’s a painter too. Why not paint the sleeve-art? ‘I have been painting a whole bunch of stuff’ he concedes. ‘I just dropped off some sketches of flowers. Everybody’s buying some flower sketches for their sweethearts for some occasion. So I’ve got an advertisement on them saying ‘I’ve Got The Flowers That Will Never Die.’ ‘Flowers that will never die,’ I hope I don’t have to write that song, but yes, if you draw them and hang them on your wall, they’re always there!’ The way his lubricious drawl spiels out and wraps around the ‘Flowers That Never Die’ line is a lascivious delight!
If you can usually find Aaron in the bar with everybody else – according to his song, that ‘everybody else’ would theoretically include songwriter Shel Silverstein. ‘Oh man – one hundred percent! I used to sing his songs and his kids poems at Bars. I remember singing ‘Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too’. It’s not a song. But I would just sing it, ‘cos his poems are written like songs…’
He sings it…
‘Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too
went for a ride in a flying shoe
‘Hooray, What fun
it’s time we flew’
said Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too’
Of course, Shel had Dr Hook to take his songs into the Top 50, but Aaron’s doing mighty fine, thank you, without them. ‘And then he’s got ‘A Boy Named Sue’. Shel Silverstein wrote that song. I’m surprised there aren’t more boys called Sue. I think if I had a boy I might name him Sue, for ‘the gravel in ya gut and the spit in ya eye.’ He wrote some other big songs too. He was amazing. And he drew, he was a sketch artist. There’s a bunch of books on him. That’s one person that I’d have loved to have met.’
So let’s end with a summing up. ‘I don’t know. I’ve just been saying how I’m creatively relieved, feels like it’s just good to have something out there finally. Because I’ve written thousands of songs, I’ve got hundred of songs out there for other people, helping other people get their songs out. So it just feels good to have a little bit of this off my chest and outta my heart… kinda thing.’
Bringing Country Back To Town? ‘Well, thanks. I hope so. If that’s the case, I can get with it. ‘Cos it’s G, C, D, E, A, B and the occasional F. Those are all you need. That’s all you need. Three chords and the truth. But probably one chord and the truth would work. Hell – just the truth. I don’t even know if you need chords anymore. Just tell the truth.’ He pauses and grins. ‘I hope you got everything you need. I hope I didn’t just talk nonsense for too long…?’
‘SINGLE WIDE DREAMER’ by AARON RAITIERE
(2022, Dinner Time Records DTR25519CD)
(1) ‘Single Wide Dreamer’, talking verse, sing-along chorus, agile down-home wordplay, anecdotes and tall bar-tales. With its laid-back, speak-singing delivery, ‘Single Wide Dreamer’ immediately conveys Aaron’s contentment in living a low-key life. And although every song on the album could be considered a love song in its own way, what really ties them together is his observant writing, which is sometimes reflective, sometimes irreverent, but always inspired by his own experiences.
(2) ‘Everybody Else’, a pen and a guitar that carves characters out of exhaust fumes and dope smoke.
(3) ‘For The Birds’, by focusing on everyday pleasures like sleepy old dogs and ice cold beer, an optimistic tone elevates ‘For the Birds’, a feel-good tune he wrote with Miranda Lambert (who has also recorded a version of it). With a nice slide with a beer-can in the video.
(4) ‘Cold Soup’, he’s a down-&-out sitting on a Park bench ‘voices in my head and a police file,’ eating hand-outs from the Mission, where ‘you best friend is a hundred-proof. Charles Bukowski would be proud of these lines.
(5) ‘At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids’, ‘he has her tattoo beneath his skin, but he covered it up with the State of Kentucky.’
(6) ‘Dear Darlin’’, a searing (and sort of funny) letter to an ex, with a simple cartoon video, a talking letter, a slow bitter-sweet goodbye of poignant humour, ‘cigarettes and pizza’, ‘cussin you in cursive, hope this letter makes you cry.’
(7) ‘Your Daddy Hates Me’, an apologetic love song that invokes a girlfriend from when Aaron was eighteen, ‘he’s gonna always be your Daddy, I’m gonna always be your man,’ it is what it is, ‘I ain’t what he had in mind,’ but it ain’t ever gonna change.
(8) ‘Worst I Ever Had’, prettily tinkling piano with a La-da-da chorus that offsets the beat-up lyric, ‘living in a trailer that needs a coat of paint, pick-up truck on blocks, my baby’s on the pill, bourbon on the rocks.’
(9) ‘Can’t Rain All The Time’, with delicious instrumental interplay, the bad times won’t last forever.
(10) ‘Tell Me Something True’, slow, stripped and slightly echoed. He’s a tramp shining. A battered beauty, ‘even if it’s out of tune, go ahead and play it,’ a human depth is here for the taking.
(11) ‘You’re Crazy’, there’s also a live version performed at the Nashville ‘Basement’.
(12) ‘Time Will Fly’, even when he’s ruminating on life’s inevitable conclusion, Aaron’s going to have the most fun possible in the meantime, simple truths, ‘time will turn us back to dirt,’ with little organ ripples.