No Cover Podcast, Episode 1: John Calvin Abney

Jan 8, 2020

This is No Cover, a production of KOSU and Oklahoma State University and hosted by Matthew Viriyapah. No Cover is a podcast giving you an inside look at the musicians coming from and to Oklahoma at no cover charge.

On this first episode is folk Americana singer-songwriter John Calvin Abney. He has been called by Rolling Stone Country as an 'Artist To Watch' and he has made Ryan LaCroix’s Top Oklahoma Albums list two years in a row now.

Abney has somehow found the time in between touring solo and as a sideman for other bands and musicians such as John Moreland and Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires to release another album. Safe Passage came out last fall and draws from a number of different influences like Japanese video game composers, Beach Boys, and those he calls his friends and peers.

He spoke with Matthew on two different occasions: just as he was about to leave on tour in late spring of 2019 with Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires and again before the release of Safe Passage.

In the first half of this episode, Abney talks about Coyote and how he found his own voice on the album, his view on the craft of being a sideman, and his overall influences.

In the second half, Abney explores the origins and the making of Safe Passage, and what his mom thinks about the album.

Listen to No Cover above (or subscribe on Apple PodcastsStitcher and Spotify) and read some highlights below.

On protesting and playing music

There's a photo of me with the counterprotesters. It's so funny to think back, because I haven't changed that much. I would still do that today.

We had this punk rock mentality... Me and all my friends would all just show up and if anybody was hating or subjagating anybody it was, y'know we just wanted everything to pan out. We didn't stand for that crap in our town.

I don't have a lot of protest songs in my repertoire, but I do speak my mind quite often.

On his mother and grandmother

Occasionally I'll go visit my mom in Tulsa and she works all the time so she's out of the house a lot. Her kitchen table is my favorite place to write. I have this process where I just take all of these pieces and lyrics and spread them out on a table and everything just kind of pops out to me.

I always feel really comfortable writing at my mom's house for some reason. Sometimes I'll finish a song and I'll be like, 'I wrote one of my favorite songs today' and I'll play it for her.

My grandmother on the other hand, when I was fifteen I told her I wanted to be a rockstar and she just turned white as a sheet, white as a ghost. And she just said, 'You should be a doctor or lawyer or something.'

My sweet grandmother writes me a note every single year that says, 'Doctor or laywer? What was I thinking? I'm so proud of your music career.' It's very sweet.

I'm lucky to come from a line of really killer strong women. 

Recently my grandmother, she bought a boombox, like a CD boombox that she keeps with her wherever she goes now. And she just spins my CDs. She just tells me how much it brings her comfort. And it brought a tear to my mom's eyes and it sure as hell brought a tear to my eye. That's the whole point of this.

Music featured in this episode:

  1. John Calvin Abney - Soft Rain After All
  2. Woody Guthrie - Hard Travelin'
  3. Bob Dylan - Hard Travelin'
  4. John Calvin Abney - Sundowner
  5. John Calvin Abney - Always Enough
  6. John Moreland - Sallisaw Blues
  7. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires - Black and White Boys
  8. John Calvin Abney - Cowboys and Canyon Queens
  9. Chance McCoy - Whippoorwill
  10. John Calvin Abney - Maybe Happy
  11. John Calvin Abney - I Just Want to Feel Good
  12. Love and Mercy - Good Vibrations
  13. Beach Boys - Let's Go Away For Awhile
  14. John Calvin Abney - Kind Days
  15. Keiichi Suzuki - Eight Melodies
  16. St. Paul's Cathedral Choir - Eight Melodies
  17. John Calvin Abney - Days of Disconnect