The Poetic Journey of Todd Hearon: An Intimate A&R Factory Interview

In this exclusive interview, we explore Todd Hearon’s latest poetically virtuosic ventures, highlighting his departure from traditional roots towards a distinctive sound with his single, “Looking Glass.” Under the influence of the esteemed producer Don Dixon, a key figure in shaping early REM’s sound, Hearon has reached his creative zenith. This interview sheds light on his upcoming album “Impossible Man,” where Hearon’s rich heritage and Dixon’s innovative production converge to forge a path that promises to redefine his musical trajectory.

Todd Hearon, welcome to A&R Factory!  We couldn’t get enough of your last single, “Looking Glass.”  We don’t want to ruin the magic of the release too much, but could you give us an inside view of how the sublime single pulled together?  What inspired it? 

There’s so much self-absorption in our world.  And with it, mental illness, loneliness, depression.  I see it in the young people I work with, and I think a lot about that connection—the one between Narcissus and his sadness.  Whether the “looking glass” is a reflection pool, a make-up mirror or an iPhone screen, sometimes you just want to get the person out of him- or herself to engage with the greater, wider world and the beautiful, vibrant other people in it.

Your new album, Impossible Man, is due for release on August 16th; what can we expect from the LP?

Eleven tracks of homegrown, hard-driving original Americana with a rootsy/retro/rock feel that takes quite a different direction from my earlier two albums.

What inspired you to move away from the sound exhibited on your debut and sophomore albums? 

The songs on Impossible Man, with exception of the title track, were all written before the songs on Border Radio and Yodelady, when I was definitely and self-consciously crafting a more classic country/alt-country/Americana and folk sound.  The new songs—which are actually the oldest songs—were among the first that I wrote after coming back to songwriting in 2016 after a twenty-five-year hiatus writing poetry.  A lot had been stored up in that time, and I think the songs harkened back to my experience in the ’nineties playing in an alternative rock band. I find the return to that type of music invigorating, and I plan to take it even farther on my next album.

If you could name one core element of the Todd Hearon sound, what would it be?

“Poetry-in-song.”  I’m a poet as well as a songwriter, and I’m always looking for ways to optimize the two, having them work in tandem, the one contributing fluently and flowing into the other.  It’s not the same as putting poems to music—poems are poems and have to work on their own; and it’s easy enough to write lyrics that satisfy the song’s superficial demands but have no substance.  I’m trying to bring all the skills I learned from those years of writing poetry to the crafting of song lyrics, to make them durable while also workable, singable and immediately accessible.  The challenge is seeing what lyrics the song itself wants, in its melodies, chord changes, inflections and moods, and then finding the words that are just right for it.

How has being born in Texas, raised in North Carolina and currently residing in New Hampshire shaped your sound? 

If you’re a songwriter from Texas, you’re going to be laboring under and within a very formidable shadow—which is also inspiring, as a night sky in Texas is inspiring, but can be artistically crippling.  Texas is the home of some of the best songwriters this country has produced:  Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, just to name one short beeline of influence on me.  There are myriads more.  I had to leave Texas for a long time in order to appreciate my inheritance, and then begin to assimilate what I wanted to absorb from it.  To be there, immersed in it, was much too stifling, claustrophobic.  I couldn’t find a direct line to what I wanted my own voice and my own contribution to be.  North Carolina—and the greater South in general—helped me to discover other roots which turned out to be just as fructifying.  The deep-running river and song-ways of traditional folk music were wonderfully inspirational to me, and they helped me to discover the kind of sound, musically, that I wanted to make.  That sound is all over my first album, Border Radio.  New England, where I’ve lived now for more than half my life, provided an unexpected (to me) richness of local and regional music; New Hampshire in particular, and our little corner of the Atlantic seacoast, is abundantly thriving with artistic talent—so many musicians and poets all making their own sounds, which have combined into a community of artists supporting each other, playing gigs together, playing on each other’s albums.  I couldn’t ask for a more generous—and more talented—group of friends.  You’ll hear lots of them on my first two albums!

What did the legendary Don Dixon of early REM fame bring to the new album? 

Preeminently, Don brought a vision for the songs.  He said to me on the first day of our work together, “We’re making a rock album.”  I’d been listening to his sound for all of my adult life—those early REM albums, bands like Guadalcanal Diary—and so I instinctively trusted him.  Besides that, he brought the abundance of experience, instinct and wisdom that he’s known for.  When I listen back to the demos I originally sent him—just me singing with an acoustic guitar—the magnitude of his presence is driven home hard.  He made the Sistine Chapel out of a shotgun shack.

What was it like to record in the Fidelitorium Studio alongside top Nashville talent? 

It was a dream inside of a dream, from which I don’t think I’ll ever awake.

When I saw the list of musicians Don was assembling for the session—Peter Holsapple, Rob Ladd, Sam Wilson—and heard that we were heading to Mitch Easter’s equally legendary studio in North Carolina, I had trouble scraping my jaw up off the ground.  Then I had time to panic.  But they, magnanimous souls that they all are, immediately set me at ease.  I was amazed at their generosity and commitment to these songs—and to the unknown me.

How much of a role do your fans play in your music career? 

As an independent artist, I feel like I have a very small pocket of people whom I aim to please.  And they seem tolerant—supportive even—of my whims, experiments and idiosyncrasies.  It’s important to have even a small listening base; actually, I prefer it to the other thing.  I like knowing the faces and tastes, personalities and stories of the folks I make music for.  It makes their approbation more genuine and substantial.

How does your upcoming album fit into your career ambitions?

Impossible Man completes the trilogy of albums that, with Border Radio and Yodelady, I had hoped to release into the world.  Their songs are a selection of the 150+ numbers that have poured forth after “Myrtle,” the 1950 Gibson J-50 acoustic guitar—a slope-shouldered songwriting machine—came into my keeping in 2016.  Sure, there are some—lots—that didn’t make the cut, songs that I’d intended someday to record.  But this, what’s now done, is what I’d intended and hoped to do.  I’m going to do my best to promote it, and I hope it reaches the audience it deserves.  Thank you, A&R Factory, for helping it as it takes its first steps into the world.

Stream Todd Hearon’s single, Looking Glass, on Spotify now; follow the artist on Facebook to keep up to date with new album news, and head to his official website for more info.

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Photo by Nate Hastings

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