On a Friday afternoon in January, Jason Isbell was sitting at home in Tennessee, his eyes glazed, an episode of Hoarders flickering across the TV screen.
“I like that show,” he says now, only half-guiltily. “It makes me feel better about myself.”
Recording sessions for his sixth album, The Nashville Sound, were scheduled to begin the following Monday. He’d been working on new material for weeks, sitting in his bedroom with an acoustic guitar and a headful of ideas while his wife, Amanda Shires, finished her master’s thesis several doors down. They’d developed a good system. Whenever Isbell finished a song, he’d type the lyrics into his laptop and send it to the printer in Shires’ office. She’d take the document, jot down some corrections with a pencil and bring it back to Isbell for revisions.
“I know she loves me because she didn’t use a red pen,” he jokes. “For any writer, a red pen is such a trigger.”
The printer was silent on Friday, though. Isbell wasn’t writing. Instead, he was distracting himself with daytime reruns, watching obsessive-compulsive people stock their homes with things they didn’t need. It felt good to let his mind rest. He still didn’t have enough material for next week’s studio visit and Shires eventually came knocking, insisting he turn off the TV and get back to work.
“She reminded me that the show is on at least seven times a day, so it’s not like I couldn’t catch it another time,” Isbell remembers. “So I turned off the TV and wrote ‘If We Were Vampires’ that afternoon. Once I got rolling, it just fell out.”
Released this month, “If We Were Vampires” is The Nashville Sound‘s emotional centerpiece, its lyrics rooted in the intersection of marriage and mortality. If “Cover Me Up,” the kickoff track from 2013’s Southeastern, reads like a broken man’s confessional to the woman who’s piecing him back together, “Vampires” dives deeper into the complexities of love, taking a sweet, sobering look at the…