Jason Isbell Discusses Getting Sober + Making ‘Southeastern’
Jason Isbell’s recently released Something More Than Free was a significant moment in the singer’s career. Its predecessor, 2013’s critically acclaimed Southeastern, was a brutally confessional look into Isbell’s life following his stint in rehab. His evocative songwriting is still very much present on Something More Than Free, but the peace and stability Isbell has achieved in his life and work since Southeastern makes his latest effort -- by his own admission -- “not nearly as depressing.”
In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Isbell recalls the tumultuous years leading up to Southeastern and getting sober -- the bedrock that made Something More Than Free possible.
As a college student in Memphis, Isbell joined the Drive-by Truckers, which led to life on the road replete with all-day drinking. “We were lucky if we could walk off the stage,” Isbell said. “I’d wake up in a lot of pain and not know where I was -- some girl’s house somewhere.”
“I was behaving in a way that was deplorable on a lot of levels,” he added. “The problem with drinking is you can drown out your conscience until it shuts up.”
In 2007, Drive-by Truckers founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley asked Isbell to leave the band. It was a few more years before Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, and friend Ryan Adams convinced the singer to go to rehab and get clean. “Rehab is like a divorce,” he said. “The divorce isn’t nearly as sad or s---ty as the two or three years leading up to it.”
That experience allowed Isbell to mine new depths on Southeastern, and the singer continues to hold that stark honesty in higher regard than album sales and chart positions.
“A lot of people in Nashville think that the best song is the catchiest, or the one that sells the most copies,” Isbell said. “They’re editing songs in a way that makes them seem more consumable, I guess. I’m trying to edit them in a way that makes them more honest.”