Interview: Sam Outlaw Talks ‘Tenderheart’, Family and Meeting Bonnie Raitt
There's not a more perfect title for Sam Outlaw's sophomore album than Tenderheart. A collection of 13 tracks, the record mellows out Outlaw's already mellow "SoCal country" sound; his last name may sound tough, but Outlaw's a softie.
"I want people to, I guess, understand that that's the kind of music I'm making, and that's the kind of music I'm trying to make ...," Outlaw tells The Boot, jokingly calling his influences "Xanex rock." "I've always connected more with the softer kind of music and the more mellow stuff ... That's me."
It's not that Outlaw can't or doesn't rock out or get completely un-mellow from time to time: He cites "Jesus Take the Wheel (and Drive Me to a Bar)," a song from his freshman album, Angeleno, as an example of a song that, live in concert, turns downright raucous, and freely admits that he's "the least patient person in the world" and innately a not-very-laid-back type of person. But two things keep him calm, grounded and happy: Southern California's stereotypical relaxed vibe, and having a son about a year ago.
"That doesn't necessarily mean I'm well adjusted, or that I don't deal with a ridiculous amount of stupid angst and anxiety," Outlaw confesses, but his baby boy has "brought so much joy to my life, and having that kind of joy on a regular basis, it just makes your heart bigger."
Although he spends more time away from his home in Los Angeles these days, Outlaw, his wife and their son still call the City of Angels home. On Tenderheart, the city's influence especially comes out on "Bottomless Mimosas," “Bougainvillea, I Think” and "Dry in the Sun."
"For all intents and purposes, LA, or Southern California, and this vibe is still more home for me than any other place could be considered home," Outlaw notes. "There is a vibe out here and an aesthetic that I just think is so special and so beautiful, and it kind of just sinks into your blood ... Even though I'm gone a lot now, this is my home, and it's in my blood and it's certainly in my heart, and when you're writing music, the stuff that you write that somehow gets from your heart into your head to your fingers to the guitar out into the world, that comes from whatever's deepest inside you ..."
I've always connected more with the softer kind of music and the more mellow stuff ... That's me.
Los Angeles was the only place Outlaw considered making Tenderheart, in part because he wanted to work again with engineer Martin Pradler ("just a little genius," as Outlaw describes him), who has a home studio in the San Fernando Valley. Outlaw recorded Angeleno in LA as well, with Ry Cooder producing; this time, Outlaw and Pradler co-produced the project. Also back for Round Two on Tenderheart are Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and My Morning Jacket's Bo Koster, both of whom, Outlaw says, "insanely made time" for him in their busy schedules.
Outlaw and his crew "busted out" much of Tenderheart in two and a half days; he later went back in, on off-tour days, to polish up his vocals and other pieces of the record.
"My personality tends to over-think stuff and maybe try too hard to grasp at some kind of magical better take that -- it doesn't exist," Outlaw shares, "so I've tried to learn to just let the song be and not stress it too much."
Outlaw's major concern on Tenderheart was making sure that his vocals sounded good. He's got "no problem admitting to you" that the singing listeners will hear wasn't recorded live: "I'm just not that kind of person," he notes.
"I've been singing so much finally for the last couple years that, like, hey, I can actually almost sing now," Outlaw says with a chuckle. "I want people to hear a good example of when my voice sounds good."
The songs on Tenderheart are all newly recorded, but those who have seen Outlaw live will likely recognize at least a couple of them: In addition to sharing "Trouble" and "Everyone's Looking for Home" ahead of the record's release, Outlaw and his band have been playing "Diamond Ring" and "All My Life" live for quite some time.
"I knew that I wanted the record, at its heart, to have that kind of sweetness, that tenderness -- I wanted that to be there," Outlaw says. "I just used my gut, and I just picked the ones that I thought felt right."
My personality tends to over-think stuff and maybe try too hard to grasp at some kind of magical better take that -- it doesn't exist, so I've tried to learn to just let the song be and not stress it too much.
On Friday (April 14), Outlaw will head back out on the road for about two months straight. He'll go back over to Europe in July -- "Those fans are just nuts, and they love this music," Outlaw says, "and it always makes me feel loved" -- but first, on June 1, he'll headline the Troubador for the very first time.
"I feel like there's just a ton of awesome country-rock history in that venue," Outlaw says, clearly excited for the experience, though it will be tough to top one of his recent shows at the famed West Hollywood venue. In February of 2016, Outlaw was part of a Glenn Frey tribute concert there that included, among others, Bonnie Raitt. Outlaw performed "Tequila Sunrise" and took part in an all-star rendition of "Lyin' Eyes" ... and during rehearsals, Raitt complimented his voice.
"I almost wanted to be like, 'Ma'am, would you mind repeating that?' and record it on my phone or something," Outlaw remembers. "Few people in the universe have kicked as much a-- in such the best way as Bonnie Raitt has, so, yeah, it was a freak-out moment to just be in the same room with her, but then to get to talk to her was just the best moment ever."
Tenderheart is available for purchase, digitally and physically, via Outlaw's official website. There, fans can also find his updated concert calendar.
More New Albums Coming in 2017