Kevin Hardcastle with arms crossed. Indeed, he’s serious about writing.
Recent contributor Kevin Hardcastle discusses components of his process as a writer. You can taste the fruits of his labour in Issue XXI: Spring 2013 of The Puritan.
The Puritan: Did music lyrics have anything to do with the piece we’re publishing? Were any particular lyrics important to you in your development as a writer? Is there any recent lyricist you’ve been digging, and why? Is there any piece of writing, by you or someone else, that you would like to see turned into a song? Why?
Kevin Hardcastle: As far as lyrics that have influenced me as a writer, I’ve got a few examples that inspired bouts of writing, and that I often listened to while putting in work.
Back when I first started to find my footing as a serious writer, maybe ten years ago, I came across Johnny Cash’s American Recordings. I’d never been a country fan, but that was probably because my understanding of country was based on the crap you hear on the radio up in my neck of the woods, aka new country, which is mostly little better than pop or soft rock with a goddamn slide guitar. I heard American IV, and it ruined me for a good long while. I was stuck overseas with no money and I was writing about rural North America, trying to nail down my voice. That album set a tone that I could write by, and I listened to it a hell of a lot while I was writing. The best part about those American albums is that Cash didn’t just record old country or gospel or folk tunes. He also re-cast modern rock and pop songs that had a distinct storytelling edge, and laid them down in his own way. I’d spent a lifetime trying to get away from rural life and the way new country music seemed to misrepresent it, but when I heard that album I started to dig into more serious folk and country and alt-country, whatever that means, and found a wealth of music that suited the way I write and what I write about.
This laid the foundation for when I later came across a band called Drive-By Truckers, out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They’ve been grinding out honest, pure narrative in their music for about twenty-five years. And they’re still at it, still writing some of the most significant and prosaic and devastating songs out there. They straddle a line between southern rock and more traditional forms of country or folk, and they write about all of the things that I consider significant in literature. They have a distinctly working class bent, and a goddamned incredible sense of empathy, which is the most important tool any good writer can have. Most of the lyrical weight of their music is because of the Truckers’ two main songwriters and founding members, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. But I was also particularly fond of the writing done by Jason Isbell, a former member who went on to form his own band.
I consider songs like The Living Bubba, Bulldozers and Dirt, Uncle Frank, Deeper In, Outfit, Puttin’ People on the Moon, Space City, TVA, Birthday Boy, The Wig He Made Her Wear, and Used to Be a Cop as complete and entirely absorbing as any short story, any sure-footed narrative. In three to five minutes those songs can tell you a life’s worth of all the stuff the matters. As a guy that grew up on late sixties blues and rock from my parents, and later on the more abstract lyrics of the grunge scene, music that thrived on lyrical muddiness and rude emotion, I think it made be a better writer and better goddamned human being to hear lyrics and music like that. It filled in a lot of gaps for me. I’ve heard it said that most people can’t write to music with lyrics, vocals, but the vast majority of stories I’ve written in the last few years have been written while Drive-By Truckers songs were playing, at least in part. Same goes for my last novel. Those lyrics and that atmosphere readied me to write and often kept the beat while I hammered out those sentences.
For more information on Kevin Hardcastle, including his biography and publication history, continue to Part I of our blog posts on him.