While living life as an expat in Stockholm, John Gladwin—also known as the Last Tycoon—found himself longing for a place a bit removed from the chilly north: the state of Arkansas, his place of birth. No wonder, then, that upon returning to the United States, Gladwin took to Nashville to record Death by Dixie EP, whose Americana roots make Gladwin’s fondness for the South quite plain.
For Death by Dixie, Gladwin was joined by Jim White, who brought to life what were otherwise fairly straightforward Americana tunes through the use of atypical instruments like hammers, gas cans, and children’s toys. With White’s involvement, the tunes on this EP took on another dimension, with Gladwin’s lyrics given additional texture through the varied instrumentation throughout.
For one example of this, stream the Southern ghost story of “Ballad of the Bloodstained Bible” below.
Gladwin goes into detail with PopMatters about the tune, “‘Ballad of the Bloodstained’ was born out of a banjo bought from an ad on Craigslist. This guy down the street was selling his banjo. I bought it having no idea how to play. Instead of learning the proper technique, I just sat down and started plucking away. The only riff I could play ended up being the basis for ‘Ballad of the Bloodstained Bible.’
“I bought the banjo around the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting and the George Zimmerman trial. There were protests constantly on the news, and I’d sit around playing with the television on mute. The narrator in the song ended up with a little of that paranoid attitude of persecution that George Zimmerman and his supporters had. The song turned into more of a fictional Southern ghost story, but the narrator’s manic view of the world was informed by the nightly news.
“Jim White and I took the basic tracks I recorded in Nashville and tried to make them more cinematic. We kept talking about Travis Bickle, Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver, and how to recreate the manic sense of his psyche. I sang the vocal through a child’s toy recorder to make it even more detached. Jim’s studio is a treasure trove of things he’s found at flea markets and yard sales. He has an extensive collection of rusty chains and gas cans, and we made full use of them as percussion instruments on ‘Ballad of the Bloodstained Bible’. On top of the junkyard percussion, I played this manic slide guitar solo, which was meant to capture the uneasiness of the narrator. When put it all together it made for a really haunting track. It was the best $50 I ever spent on Craigslist.”
Death by Dixie EP comes out via Silent Kino on 19 May. You can pre-order it at this link.