Luke Winslow-King had a lot on his plate when he began writing songs for his new album I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, which recently came out on revered Chicago label Bloodshot Records. The New Orleans singer-songwriter had recently been through a prolonged ugly divorce with his wife and frequent collaborator. Before that, he did a stint of jail time for a pot bust in his home state of Michigan. Both experiences, especially the breakup, form the subject matter of the album as Winslow-King lays it all out on the table with a collection of deeply personal songs.
The album is also his heaviest to date in a musical sense, drifting away from the softer, jazzier sounds of his previous two albums to electrified blues, soul, and rock. These musical styles fit well as Winslow-King opens up his heart and shares all of the details that brought him to this current crossroad. Whereas many artists will opt to keep their personal lives out of their music, he goes all in. Still, at the center of it all, is Winslow-King’s unmistakably smooth voice and his ability to do things on his own terms. With the album released and already receiving rave reviews, we recently caught up with Luke Winslow-King as he made his way to the West Coast for a string of tour dates.
Can you talk about the title of your new album – is it based on your own personal troubles?
Yes, it’s based on my own personal struggles. I wanted to make an album that acknowledged and expressed my own heartbreak but could encourage myself and others to look for light at the end of the tunnel.
Do you think you came out of those troubles with a more positive outlook on life?
It’s an ongoing process, but I feel like I am definitely on my way to a better place. As soon as you think you are all better, you find another stone in your pathway.
This album is noticeably more electric and heavy than The Coming Tide and Everlasting Arms. Was there a point in the last year or so where you found yourself more drawn to heavier, bluesier music?
Yes, I’ve been experimenting with electric blues for most of my life. I started my first band when I was 14, The Winslow-King Blues Band, doing Stevie Ray and Jimi Hendrix covers. That said, I’ve kind of come back to my roots with this album. I have a more refined approach at this point, but I’m still dealing with similar styles. This album is also informed by gospel music, country, Motown, and Memphis soul.
Do you think you naturally gravitated back towards the music you played when you were younger?
Definitely, it’s funny to look back over all the styles I’ve played with over the years. I was into the music of Woody Guthrie and started writing a lot of folk music after high school. I went to The University of New Orleans and studied classical music 2002-2007. My first self-titled album (2006) was definitely reflective of that. I was trying to marry impressionist classical string quartets with 70’s finger style folk music. My 2008 album Old/New Baby was mostly focused on New Orleans traditional jazz, but had some delta blues and folk mixed in. The Coming Tide (2012) had a similar approach but had better production. Everlasting Arms (2014) was kind of a transitional album. It started to meld traditional jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and country all together.
The new release is 90% electric bass and drums throughout. It definitely brought me back to my rock ‘n’ roll roots. I feel like all the tangents along the way have led me to a more refined approach to the style.
You seem to have preserved a New Orleans flavor in your new album. How has the city influenced you as a musician?
I have spent most of my adult life in New Orleans and feel like I have come of age as an artist here. It has influenced my music in many ways. Most notably, in the way that music can be a living part of life here. Blues or folk themes aren’t being revived here, but still living. They never went away. I have taken this approach with my lyric writing and with the way I try to live my on music honestly. I write about my true experiences and try to live up to the music I write.
I don’t treat Americana or blues music like an antique, but like a member of the family. Also, there are certain styles of improvising and band leading in New Orleans. My band and I have adopted a few of these over the years as well.
Have your feelings towards New Orleans changed at all since you’ve been there?
Definitely. There is a time when I was completely enamored with this city, its mysteries and the darker corners. I was so curious about its history and what is head to reveal to me. Its cultural heritage still has much to teach me, but I’m enjoying wide open spaces a lot these days too.
I read somewhere that you said you quit cigarettes, alcohol and weed in jail. Has that sobriety affected your mental state and musical outlook?
Not much creatively, more on stage. I think it has given me more skill and confidence as a vocalist and band leader. I’m more confident and solid in my split second decision making, and am enjoying a greater lung capacity.
“Change Your Mind” seems to be the most personal narrative. When you wrote it were you actually coming from a place of hope that things could work out or just seeking closure for yourself?
I was still keeping hope alive at this point. I was still trying to change a mind or heart with a song. The entire album is my way of seeking closure for myself. This song is part of that too.
Did you listen to any other notable break-up albums when you were writing this?
Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.
Were there any specific albums or songs you were listening to going into the recording?
The album was recorded on the road, so we weren’t really listening to any specific records at the time. “Watch Me Go” is influenced by Aretha Franklin’s “Never Loved a Man the Way that I Loved You”. Tom Petty, RL Burnside, and Howling Wolf found their way in there as well.
You recorded part of the album in Italy of all places. How did that come about – was there a burst of inspiration?
We definitely had a burst of artistic inspiration as a band. We were halfway through our 2015 European summer tour and took a break in Tuscany to record
the album. We did the original taping during a 12-hour overnight recording session, 9 PM- 9 am. The band was freshly rehearsed on the material. We were still excited about it, and I think the spirit of heartbreak on tour somehow transferred to wax. We are able to capture a very fresh and raw sound in this session. Upon returning home, we polished what we had and added some additional overdubs to finish the album.
Is it weird turning your personal experiences into a piece of art that could outlast you? Some songwriters seem to pull stories out of fiction or things they’ve witnessed, choosing to avoid the personal stuff altogether.
For me it’s a means of survival. I had to write my way out of this one. I’m proud to share my personal experiences and let them fuel my music and my career. It can be painful, but I feel like it leads to an authenticity that can be substituted by intellect or storytelling. That said, I have written fictional tales that have eventually become true.
One of the standout tracks is “Heartsick Blues”. It references a few classic country tunes (“She’s singing ‘Please Release Me’ [a reference to the Ray Price song], and ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ [Hank Williams]/ It’s thinking about her ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ [another Hank classic]/ That makes me want to die”.) Where did this idea to reference those come from?
It came from real-life. I found that my partner started listening to different kinds of music one day. She started spending a lot more time with her new friends who were classic country music enthusiasts, staying out all night learning how to two-step. She was literally singing these songs during our break up.
Luke Winslow-King is on tour now. For more info and tunes visit lukewinslowking.com.
Photo credit: Martina Monopoli