The only prophets worth a shit are the reluctant ones, and so it was that right before he started working on what would become his new album, The Bible, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner found himself at the proverbial crossroads. Nearing the end of Lambchop’s third decade as a recording artist, Wagner felt musically isolated. He questioned whether continuing to make music even made sense. “I feel weird because I’m going to be 64, dude,” he says on the phone in between drags of a cigarette. “What the fuck am I doing?”
The Bible is the sound of Kurt Wagner asking big questions, like that one, and all the other ones.
Wagner has always considered himself to be a late bloomer—he was 35 when he started Lambchop all those years ago, way back in the first big funk of his life. After losing his girlfriend and his job in a brutal Chicago two-fer, he came home to Nashville and started hanging around a songwriters’ night called the Working Stiff Jamboree at the Springwater Supper Club. He would bring the afterparty home to his house. “I finally started writing songs because nobody else was,” he says. “And we needed something to play other than covers.” This was Nashville, after all, home of the country music machine—there were legions of musicians showing up here every day just to play somebody else’s songs. But Wagner’s distaste for the cover song wasn’t only due to some noble artistic integrity. “I was that bad a musician,” he laughs, a little ruefully. “I literally would only play the chords I knew in the song and skip the ones that I didn’t.”
He’s terminally modest, so you believe that’s what he actually feels when he says his true talent was convincing enough burnout Nashville freaks to come over to his crib long enough to create the unhinged outsider country sound that fueled those first few Lambchop records. “We represented, in my mind, the actual Nashville sound,” he says. “These are people who were born or raised here, and this is the music that’s actually coming out of Nashville.” He was seeing how far he could push this self-definition when he facetiously called it country music in his band bio. “Careful what you call yourself,” he cautions, “because people don’t actually listen to music. They’ll just read a couple lines of your bio, and the next thing you know, you’re the most fucked up country band in Nashville.”