By Ian Bremner
In an age where making plans any further than 3 days out seems like shooting pool with your eyes closed, Tre Burt is making the most of his time. His tour schedule stretched for months, zigzagging the country hopping on runs of shows with his songwriting contemporaries until just a few days ago. He now found himself with a hole in the calendar and a couple weeks to kill. As some tours roll on with new vaccine requirements put in place while people cross their fingers for the future of live music, the Shakey Graves tour, which Burt was opening for suddenly cancelled in the middle of the Midwest out of an abundance of caution. With nowhere to be fast, Tre Burt rented a car and drove to Nashville.
Perhaps the timing wasn’t so bad after all. Tre Burt’s 2nd full length record You, Yeah, You was set to release Friday August 27th and the time off the road allowed Burt to spend time with friends, labelmates and some of his biggest supporters. You, Yeah, You is noticeably a leveled-up sound from his equally incredible first record Caught It From The Rye, but it’s still the simplicity of voice and guitar that hit the hardest. He blends a poetic potion. The 12-song collection is special piece work of art that feels both extremely present and from an era a time ago. Though Burt may cringe at some of the name comparisons being thrown around him, his role as an important story teller of the modern days is one he takes seriously.
We met at a bar in East Nashville a day before You, Yeah, You will be set free into the world, a fact he seems to have forgotten until reminded of the reason for the interview. Promoting himself doesn’t come naturally to Burt, but a willingness to say yes and converse with a stranger over a few Montucky Cold Snacks sure does. That small characteristic of a singer always looking for a song was not lost.
Ian Bremner: You were on tour with Shakey Graves, probably the biggest tour of career to this point. With all the recent covid mess, it’s all up in the air, but that tour was called off for the time being. There is still a huge schedule ahead of you, but you now have this open block in the year unexpectedly. Does that change things for you a bit?
Tre Burt: I guess so, I was looking forward to touring but I also don’t get to spend too much time here in Nashville, which is a bit of a hub for me with the label here and a bunch of friends. It’s been nice to spend a lot of time with the label and parts of that [John Prine] family, so in that sense it’s been good.
IB: Of course you’re talking about Oh Boy Records, how did you get connected with them?
TB: Well, they came across my music back in 2019. Jody Whelan, he runs operations over there. He reached out instagram. It went to my other inbox, because I didn’t know how all that works. He said “hey great record. I think I’m late to the party, but wanted to let you know it’s great.” Once I saw the message I was beside myself and said “If you ever want to re-release it, that’d be cool.” Maybe two months later or so, he came back and was like “yeah, ok.”
IB: Caught It From The Rye was purely a self-release right?
TB: Yeah that was just me. It was basically just an instagram release. I pretty much posted a picture of the cover and said “hey, it’s out.”
IB: I used to listen to that record all the time, then one day I went on spotify and it was gone, I thought “what the hell?!” but then the re-release came out and I figured some cool things were cooking.
Now, this new one, You, Yeah, You is a bit more of a production in terms of label release, and I hate to even ask this, but did the ongoing pandemic change anything in terms of planning the release of the record and all that comes with that?
TB: No, I mean I don’t have a precedent for this. No one does, unless you’re like 150 years old. It’s all a whirlwind. The record has to do with all of this last year, so it’s really fitting to put it out now.
IB: You clearly rep Sacramento as your hometown, and sitting here at a bar in Nashville on a day you’re supposed to be touring is a good example, but it seems like you could be any city in any state and any given time. How do your Sacramento roots hold you when you’re out all over the world?
TB: That’s a good one. I guess it’s good to be able to draw from a single place from your childhood and Sacramento does that for me when I am writing songs. To know where you’re from helps you know where you’re going. The landscape, the rivers, the mountains, the skies, it all burns in my head. I get nostalgic for it sometimes.
IB: Caught It From The Rye and You, Yeah, You certainly appear to be from the same songwriting vein, but this new record has a much different energy, it’s very present. Was that a purposeful conceptual change or just the mode you are in a given time?
TB: Yeah that’s it. It’s just where I am at right now. Where I was at the time. There are some other songs that were very different, but we thought we’d save those for the next record.
IB: Are you just always writing?
TB: No, I have seasons and droughts. Sometimes it lasts 6 months or something. But when it’s crop season… oh yeah. I’ll write constantly.
IB: Do you have an ideal place or vibe? Are you a bar napkin guy?
TB: I need a legal pad. A pen. A good pen. One of those Pilot G2s. I can’t be around anyone. No one can be in the house or anything. I wrote the You, Yeah, You record out in Yosemite in a little cabin. That was pretty ideal. Just me and my mom’s dog.
IB: And there’s no ode to an old dog on the album?
TB: I would have! She was going to make it into the song solo, but I ended up scratching the lyric.
IB: You wrote it in Yosemite, and recorded it out in Carolina with the Cook [Brad and Phil] brothers, Amelia from Sylvan Esso, Kelsey Waldon, Matt McCaughan from Bon Iver, a bit more of a star studded affair. What was that recording experience like?
TB: I started out coming out of the haze of being alone for what, 7 months at that point, to being in a room full of people you’ve admired. That was also the fanciest studio situation I’ve ever been in, so there was a lot of intimidation for the first day. But then we all got to know each other and got more comfortable. It was really cool.
IB: Speaking of Carolina, I was listening to Adia Victoria’s podcast Call and Response, which is incredible, with Rhiannon Giddens. Her songs carry of a lot historical context and a lot of weight and she was speaking to how it can be a bit draining singing to white audiences every night. A song of yours like, By The Jasmine for example, is it simply “Hey, here is the song” and move on? Or do you carry some of that responsibility of having to teach some white folks?
TB: That’s a good question. That’s just the way it’s always been. When Mississippi John Hurt was discovered, he was discovered by college kids who brought him along on the festival circuit and he was playing to mostly white audiences. If you go to a Tyler the Creator or Kanye West concert, it’s the same thing. Sam Cook struggled with that too. It’s just kind of the way it’s been. It gets a little hard to understand sometimes when you’re playing songs like that, but when I talk to other black people about my songs it recharges me. Even just one person in the audience. At the end of the day, I am just there to play my songs. Sometimes it’s for other people, but it’s very much a selfish act.
IB: Two records in, you have the air of a lifer songwriter, an old school troubadour-type. You obviously get compared to a lot of the Bob Dylans, John Prines, folks like that, but seem to reject that a little bit due to different times and socio-economics, politics, whatever. Is there anything in the traditional traveling singer lifestyle that you can pluck from those times?
TB: Absolutely. Those are all huge inspirations. My great grandfather was a bluesman. He had the same trope as most of the other bluesmen walking out on family and traveling along with the Chicago and Harlem renaissance movement. Townes Van Vandt life inspired me in high school a lot. Abner Jay, folks like that. I understood that traveling and writing songs had a very strong correlation. Music has location.
IB: The cover art for You, Yeah, You is incredible. What can you tell us about that?
TB: Jupiter. @Jupitertheartist. His name is Jupiter Lockett. I commissioned him. I saw one of his pieces and loved it. Looked like a cross between Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon or something and I told him I wanted something like that in the corner of an enclosed room, a little claustrophobic.
IB: The album nerd in me loves talking about the artwork and the sequencing. In this batch, how much time goes into that for you?
TB: Spent about a week. Figuring out which order. That’s fun for me. I think you have to create that arc. I don’t think the album would have hit as hard if it wasn’t for the sequence.
IB: When do you leave again for tour next?
TB: There is a Katie Pruitt tour in November and December, then the Shakey Graves tour will get rescheduled again at some point. I got a few one-offs and festivals here and there. I’ll be back here for American Fest then me and Nathaniel Rateliff have a show in Franklin, Tennessee.
IB: I’ll see you out at Americana Fest. I’ve never been.
TB: It’s nuts. It can be pretty soul sucking. It’s a lot of industry folks. Last time I was here for that was in 2019, I was in talks with Jody from Oh Boy and he brought me out. No one knew who I was, but I would bump into people and they’d say “oh you look famous, what’s your name?” So I would tell them and as I was talking to them they’d whip out their phone and see my 1,000 monthly listeners or whatever it was and say “nice talking to ya” and just keep walking. It can be pretty gross.
IB: I am excited for it, but I hear ya. I’ve been told to start budgeting for uber now. I noticed you have a touchy relationship with social media and networking. It seems like you post because you have to. Is it all just part of the necessarily evil of being a working musician?
TB: Yeah. Eileen and Sophie at Oh Boy, they got me out of my hibernation. It came time to post about Under the Devil’s Knee and they were like “Tre, we don’t feel comfortable posting about this for you. That needs to come from you.” So after the album cycle is over I am going to get back off for awhile.
You, Yeah, You is out now on Oh Boy Records. Buy/Listen -> HERE