Noah Guthrie's "That's All" Innovates on His Americana Sound (premiere + interview)
Americana's Noah Guthrie debuts the bittersweet, nostalgic lyric video for his latest single, "That's All", and talks with PopMatters about how he creates the music that resonates with so many.
On the road traveled so far, Noah Guthrie has become a viral YouTube sensation, as well as a fresh face on Glee's final season. He's performed on America's Got Talent and beyond. At the crux of it all, is a warmhearted troubadour with a soulful tenor and a finger on the pulse of narrative-driven Americana. Alongside his band, the Good Trouble, Guthrie has moved audiences around the world with his matured songwriting while opening for Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, and others. Now, even though his plans have changed considerably since the start of the recording process, Guthrie is releasing studio singles of the well-loved songs that he has been touring with for years.
Amongst them is "That's All". With an offbeat bassline and percussive center to usher it in, the single presents Guthrie and his band's willingness to innovate with their Americana. As the song continues, it becomes filled-in by longing guitar parts and Guthrie's signature vocals. He drives the arrangement with strong control of his natural instrument. Bending genre conventions, Guthrie's voice hits with a pleasing, rock-ready grit, but his layered navigation feels more akin to a seasoned soul. All in all, it's a nostalgic affair that is elevated by consummate musicianship and vocal performance. Its lyric video, meanwhile, presents the nighttime drive that Guthrie has always felt would associate well with the song.
Please give us a bit of background on "That's All".
This one is just one of those songs that happen to have a very specific feel to it. I wrote this in Nashville three or four years ago. It started with a lead acoustic guitar part. I brought it into a writing session with three other writers, which is actually a bigger group than I usually work with. This was Corey Batten, Jason Duke, and Jason Massey.
We were just on fire that day. We all had good heads on our shoulders during that writing session. It was really in our faces, what the song was about. It's told from this person's perspective—I always imagine this person on the phone, driving around some familiar street somewhere. Maybe it's their hometown or somewhere else that they've known. Anyway, they're on the phone with an old flame, and they're rehashing history and the past they've had together.
"That's All" really is a song about what might've been, and that whole question of "What if?" What if you'd stayed in that town with that person at that time, or what if you'd taken that drive somewhere else? There are so many things in our lives that pivot us into other directions without us even knowing.
When I first brought this song to my band—I refer to them as Good Trouble—we started playing it in rehearsals to work it up for a live show. This is a song that we've been playing live for years now—which is great because when you take it into a studio, everyone is already playing it really tight. There's not a whole lot of tweaking you have to do.
But, when I first brought the song to them, my bass player, Phillip Conrad, had this little bassline that was so much more unique than what I was hearing in my head. It's not what you would expect right off the bat with a mournful country song. We just went with that, and I think that that combined with my brother Ian's drums in there—those soft mallets—it just makes the song mysterious from the get-go. We ran with that weird, darker approach. There's those western-sounding guitar parts, then more modern-sounding ones, and more classic country-sounding ones. It's just this weird mix that I'm really happy with.
You mentioned your band, the Good Trouble. I noticed your recent Instagram post. It's pretty cool that John Lewis gave you a shout-out.
I know! I wish I could have met him in person. I would've given anything for that.
I think that there's—and this is a tired phrase—a "changing of the guard" happening over these last couple of years. John Lewis was just an absolute hero. Half of my band is from Atlanta, so they've been his constituents for a long time. We just all looked up to the man. That phrase that he carried around his whole life—"make some good trouble"—is just so great. For some reason, it just rolled off the tongue when I was looking for a name. It feels good to me.
A lot of my stuff gets released under just "Noah Guthrie" just because it's easier logistically. But, whenever we use that name live, it just seems like a little bit of inspiration to do a little bit better. With your music, as a person. That's what I want—to find that happy balance that I'm really proud of, but also music that can connect with people. Music that can make them feel good about what they're going through, or rethink what they're going through.
You mentioned your brother, Ian, earlier. He's co-producer on the song, right? What's that vibe like, working with your sibling on your lifeblood?
It's great! We've done this since we were kids. When he got into recording when he was in his teenage years, I was just behind him and getting into singing. Then, I got into songwriting, and he's played drums his whole life. This connection came naturally.
We've always been creating together. Usually, it's more that I write the songs, and he helps to interpret them and get them into the digital form. It's nice. It's about what you'd expect. It's a lot of really good times, and it's a lot of really frustrating times. He's my older brother; he's five years older than me, but we are extremely close, and he is my best friend. So, we have a lot of good times, and we disagree on some stuff, but it's nice to have someone who has your best interest in mind no matter what. In their heart.
You had a different perception of how you were going to handle these new releases before the COVID-19 pandemic. What are you looking at now? Just releasing singles and seeing where they land or are there plans for an album down the road?
Man, it's hard to say. Honestly, that's been one of the most frustrating things about this time. Altogether, I have 11 finished songs with "That's All" and "Hell or High Water". I have a full album's worth of songs recorded and in the tank, and I'm really proud of it and happy with it. The plan was to move forward with a whole album release, and then the pandemic happened. Pretty much everything stopped as far as concrete planning goes because you can't really make concrete plans.
There's a way to release an album, but I haven't quite figured out how to do it yet. Right now, I'm probably going to at least release a couple of more songs. The other thing is that now that I'm home so much, I'm writing new songs that either directly reflect what we're all going through or they don't. But, they're written during these times and have an overall theme. Now I don't know if I should put those songs on this record or not. It's a weird back-and-forth game that I'm playing with myself, but I'm going to figure it out.
It's that and finding new ways to connect with people. I can't spend all of my time trying to put the album out because I'm spending some of that time playing virtual shows. It's a strange juggling act, really.
And I would imagine that a lot of the costs that go into an album release would have been handled by all of the live shows that you've now had to cancel.
Oh yeah, you'd have it right. It's not at the forefront of my mind, but that is another reason—that I don't have the money to do that right now. [laughs]
I'm an independent artist, you know? I'm fine, financially, but it's a lot to put an album out. I don't think a lot of people get that unless they've done it themselves. It's all about timing right now, I think. Finding the right time to put it out.
There's also a certain amount of positive energy that comes from releasing these songs now too. Even though it's all blown into this realm that you couldn't have imagined at the start of the year, I still think that it's a positive thing that you're releasing this music because you have a lot of folks who love and appreciate you who are enjoying it.
One hundred percent. It's always a good feeling to release any new music. I say that, but on the day of release, I'm usually terrified for some reason. That just comes with the process.
That being said, it's been nothing but good feedback since "That's All" has come out. People have been vocal with their support. It's nice to feel like you're sharing something with people who are going through a lot of the same things that I'm going through at this moment. It feels good to write and connect with everybody.
Feeding off of that positivity now, this is the last thing that I'd like to ask you before we wrap things up. Given all that we are going through personally, in this country, and around the world right now—given all of the bad and all of the change that we're having to wade through—what are you most grateful for?
There are a couple of things. Firstly, I'm grateful for my family and all of my loved ones. This time has reminded me of just how important your close friendships are and how important your relationship with your family is.
It's so funny, man. I spend so much time with a lot of my family because we spend a lot of time on the road together. My dad is my tour manager, and my brother is my drummer. We spend a lot of time together, but it's so funny how much you miss when you're working that much. These times remind you of how much that you do have and that you do cherish, and really what you cherish.
I wrote the song the other day that I'm going to release at some point. I wrote it to do exactly what I'm talking about, to remind myself of all of the good things that are still going on in my life. There are still some good things.
For example, I got engaged a couple of weeks ago to the love of my life, and that's amazing. Just being able to spend some time with my family and my friends have been nice. It's just so nice to remember that you do have that kind of love and support back at home.
I'm grateful for music. I've been one of my most creative selves at this time. I'm so happy to say that because when the pandemic happened, I was sort-of terrified that I'd turn on myself as far as my creativity goes. I love writing by myself, but it's a little scary when a sudden shift happens. I'm happy to say that I've been very creative, and it's been really nice to get back in touch with my solo writing abilities. That said, I'm hoping to get into some Zoom co-writes in the near future.
I'm grateful for music. It heals so much and helps people on a constant basis.
I'm also grateful for all of the people who are working in hospitals right now. I can't wrap my brain around how anyone could deal with working in that kind of stress level on a normal day. There's so much being put on our hospitals and first responders and doctors and nurses now—the people that are trying to hold our nation together on a daily basis—and I just want to say that I am very grateful for those people. I hope that there's a little light at the end of the tunnel for them sometime soon.