"I write a lot of music in motel rooms, and Iím always up late, so my idea was to bring people into that space,"" Jack Ingram says of his new album Midnight Motel. "I donít know what constitutes a conventional country record these days. Iím just interested in making music that speaks to me."
Through the myriad ups and downs of a recording career thatís spanned more than 20 years, the Houston native has maintained a reputation for uncompromising, personally charged songcraft and bracing, charismatic performances, earning him prominent stature in a prestigious tradition of iconoclastic Lone Star singer-songwriters. Although Ingramís prior work has won him a fiercely devoted fan base as well as reams of critical acclaim, Midnight Motel marks a creative milestone for the veteran artist, reinventing his sound while showcasing some of his most expressive, emotionally raw songwriting to date.
His eighth studio album, and his first since his 2009 smash Big Dreams & High Hopes, Midnight Motel features spare, stripped-down instrumental arrangements that highlight the intimacy and urgency of such new originals as "Iím Drinking Through It," "Nothing to Fix," "Canít Get Any Better Than This" and "All Over Again." The albumís organic late-night vibe is perfectly suited to the material, and brings out the emotional edge in Ingramís deeply-felt vocals.
"After Big Dreams & High Hopes, my management at the time told me, íCome on, letís make a big commercial record and keep the momentum going,í" Ingram explains. "But I needed to take some time to figure out who I am and how I want to be looked at as an artist. I knew that if I was gonna go in and make a quote-unquote ícommercialí record at that point, it would have been 11 veiled attempts at telling the establishment to f--- off, and Iím not interested in doing that. I already did that when I was 25, and I donít want to spend my career telling people who Iím not.
"So I made Midnight Motel, and it turned into something that was so real and so honest, with no brakes. Thatís really important to me at this point in my life. Before I went in, I made a promise to myself that I was going to completely avoid making any commercial decisions about the music. Every night after my kids went to bed, Iíd go into my music room and stay in there until about three or four, just working out the songs and being the same kind of artist I was at the beginning of my career."
Midnight Motel was cut with Ingram and the musicians recording live in the same room, with a minimum of overdubbing or sonic trickery. With understated audio-verite production by fellow Texas singer-songwriter Jon Randall and a stellar studio band including guitarist Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan, Arc Angels) and drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Dire Straits), along with bassist Robert Kearns and keyboardist Bukka Allen from Ingramís longstanding Beat Up Ford Band, the 11-song set demonstrates how Ingramís artistry has widened and deepened over time.
"I couldnít have made this record when I was 25, because I just didnít have the experience then," he asserts, adding, "Itís kind of a concept record, but itís a loose concept. Thereís thereís the late-night thing, and the them of travel, and then thereís the concept about not letting go of the important relationships, even if theyíre not working. These songs are all about loving, troubled longterm relationships, whether itís with the music business or my wife or my family."
The road to Midnight Motel has been a long and sometimes rocky one for Ingram, who was named Best New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 2008, despite the fact that heíd already been rocking honky tonks, theaters and stadiums for a decade and a half by then. He began writing songs and playing gigs while studying psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and quickly earned a rabidly devoted audience while performing high-energy live shows in bars and roadhouses throughout his home state.
Ingramís remarkably loyal fans enthusiastically embraced his early, independently released albums Jack Ingram, Lonesome Questions and Live At Adairís. His indie success helped to win him acceptance within the Nashville major-label mainstream, and he expanded his constituency with such acclaimed national releases as Liviní or Dyiní, Hey You, Electric, Young Man as well as the live albums Live at Billy Bobís Texas, Live at Gruene Hall: Happy Happy and Acoustic Motel.
Ingram moved to the Big Machine label with 2006ís Wherever You Are, which spawned a pair of major country hits in the title track, which became his first Number One single, and its Top 20 followup "Love You." His next studio effort, 2007ís This Is It, hit the Top Five on the U.S. country charts and produced a trio of hits in "Lips of An Angel," "Measure of A Man" and "Maybe Sheíll Get Lonely." Big Dreams & High Hopes followed two years later, spawning five chart singles, including the Top 10 "Barefoot and Crazy" and the Top 20 "Thatís A Man."
Despite those career achievements, Ingram was looking to create something different, and the result is Midnight Motel. "Something inside me was itching to do this," he recalls. "The pressure in my chest was just so heavy that the only way I could get it off was to write these songs. Frank Liddell, who produced my record Electric in 2001, gave me some great advice: he said, íGo away and do someone great while no oneís looking.í That became my motto for this project. I just decided that I was just gonna do the best work I could do, and have it take as long as it takes. I didnít care about trying to be technically perfect; I just wanted to be emotionally available. I can honestly say it was the best recording experience Iíve ever had. The waters got rough, but I really had a ball and enjoyed navigating that course."
Rather than shooting conventional music videos to promote Midnight Motel, Ingram and noted filmmaker Michael Tully (Ping Pong Summer, Septien) have created a short companion-piece film incorporating the albumís songs and featuring Ingram as a troubled troubadour.
Ingram sees Midnight Motel as an exhilarating opportunity to recharge his creative batteries and reboot his musical direction. "Right after I made this record," he says, "I went in and made another album, called Checkiní In, Checkiní Out, which will come out next year. Itís different, and itís built more like a studio record, but theyíre very much related, and all the things that I learned making Midnight Motel are on the second record.
"Midnight Motel opened a door for me, so Iím not closing off any possibilities," Ingram concludes. "I spent years asking myself what I was doing wrong, what did I need to change. And I finally realized that I donít need to change anything. I just need to show up and be the best, most authentic Jack Ingram I can be. Whether or not Iím gonna have hits is not up to me, but whether Iím gonna have a career over the next 20 years has to do with me making records that are authentically me, and that no one else in the world can make."