Rachel Maddow once said via Twitter: “If the American music business made any sense, guys like John Moreland would be household names.”
Well, the singer-songwriter isn’t a household name—yet. He may be on his way, though, considering the fact that his music has been featured on Sons of Anarchy, and he’s performing at Stagecoach on Saturday, April 25.
John Moreland has spent most of his life in Tulsa, Okla. He was singing and writing songs by the age of 10, and fronted hardcore punk bands in high school.
“When I was about 12 or so, the first music I found that was on my own was punk rock,” Moreland, 29, said during a recent phone interview. “I loved Minor Threat, and I loved a lot of D.C. hardcore and ’80s hardcore, but I’ve been through every punk rock phase. I went through the Social Distortion phase; I went through the Rancid phase. I think I might still be in my Social Distortion phase, actually. When I was a little bit older, I learned more toward hardcore and metal, and East Coast DIY hardcore.”
He later burned out on hardcore punk, and returned to the music he grew up with—his father’s record collection, which included Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, Steve Earle and Tom Petty.
“I was really interested in melody, which you don’t really get in hardcore—just the way that lyrics can impact you when you hear the right words with the right melody, and all the words are in the right place,” he said. “… My dad listened to the Copperhead Road album, so I sort of knew who Steve Earle was, but when I heard ‘Rich Man’s War’ on The Revolution Starts Now, it was eye-opening, because I was used to hearing anti-war messages and political messages from punk bands, but it had never really seemed personal and hit me that hard until I heard that particular song.”
What makes a good song, according to John Moreland?
“If it feels good, it’s a good song, I guess,” he said. “I go back and forth on which ones to keep, which ones are going to make the record, and which ones will get wrapped. It comes down to if something feels really good when I sing it, I’m going to keep it. I’m always kind of self-conscious that I’m writing about the same stuff over and over again, but writing songs is just sort of how I sort out my thoughts and deal with stuff.”
I asked him about the hardest gig he’s ever had; Moreland responded that there are numerous contenders.
“I’ve had a lot of really tough ones, but I don’t have those as often anymore, which is really cool,” he said. “Any gig where you can finish a song and nobody claps or anything, those are pretty rough.”
Moreland said playing music in Oklahoma, on the other hand, isn’t as hard as some people may think it is.
“It’s actually pretty good,” he said. “Oklahoma has a lot of good music, and the thing that can be tough is there are a lot of gigs to be had. … You can always play some town festival or some shithole bar in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, they’ll pay you pretty good, because they don’t know what is what, and they think that’s the going rate for a band—but those are pretty soul-sucking gigs, usually. Finding the good spots takes some trial and error, but there’s some cool stuff going on here in Oklahoma.”
Moreland said touring has become routine to him; after all, he’s been doing it since he was a teen.
“I toured a lot in hardcore bands when I was a kid. It definitely opened my eyes and provided new experiences back then,” he said. “It’s still really exciting, but I’m much more like an old man about it now—I play the show and go to bed early.”