Terra Rosa is Jace Everett’s most ambitious album to date, a raucous, revelatory song cycle exploring tales and themes from the Old and New Testaments. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s deconstructs and re-imagines the Book through his own unique perspective, examining matters of love, death, faith, and contemporary America via these most primal of metaphors. There are allusions to such Biblical greatest hits as Sodom & Gomorrah, Jonah and the Whale, and Peter the Rock, alongside deep cuts like “Sapphira,” a righteous romp through trials, tithing, and divine judgment. Everett’s musical approach is as daring and wide-ranging as his subject demands, a hallucinatory hybrid of blues, country, boogie, gospel, and rock – in short, the span and spectrum of American music in all its glory. Yet despite its epic scope, Terra Rosa is at heart an intensely intimate album, its invention and irreverence all reflecting Everett’s own struggles with sin and spirit.
“The truth is, all swiss replica watches these songs are about me,” he says, “trying to figure out what I believe and don’t believe. It’s me going back to my closet and pulling all the skeletons out, looking at the bones and seeing what’s there.”
The old time religion is forever embedded in the very fiber of Everett’s being, as much a part of him as his distinctive baritone and gift for deeply personal song-craft. Born in Evansville, Indiana and raised in Grapevine, Texas, he began life as an Episcopalian but his folks eventually “decided they wanted some peppier music” and found their way to an Evangelical church. “Riddled with sin at 12 years old,” Everett was compelled to come forward at the alter call and was oh yes, saved. Pious to a fault through most of his teens, he avoided secular culture as best he could until his guard began to fall.
“By the time I was 18, I was trying really hard to not be an atheist,” he says. “By the time I was 19, I was trying even harder to be an atheist. That didn’t pan out either – apparently, I lacked the faith.”
Everett soon made his way to Music City USA and scored his first #1 co-writing Josh Turner’s RIAA platinum certified 2006 country smash, “Your Man.” He officially became an overnight sensation two years later when “Bad Things” – the spooky, sultry highlight of his self-titled 2006 debut album – was featured as theme song to HBO’s blockbuster series, True Blood. “Bad Things” proved a worldwide hit single, as well as a multiple BMI Cable Television Music Award winner, and helped propel the show to its extraordinary long-running success. A series of albums followed, each more adventurous and acclaimed than its predeccessor, including 2010’s Red Revelations and 2011’s Mr. Good Times. Everett further tightened his gritty, groovy sound with frequent international tours, raising up a fervant fan following at every turn.
“I’m a lucky dude, that’s for sure,” he says. “Every time I start to complain about my life i just remember that I was literally a ditch digger at one point and this is better than that. No offense to the ditch diggers out there – I salute their work, ditches need to be dug.”
Widely celebrated in songwriting circles as a master craftsman, Everett was teamed with Stephany Delray in winter 2011 and together they penned the haunting “No Place To Hide.” Co-writing the saga of Cain and Abel lit a spark inside Everett, stirring him to try his hand at another Genesis story, “In The Garden.” Then, just like in the Book itself, the flood came…
“Within a few weeks I had written eight or nine songs,” he says. “I got really into it. It was the first time in a long time that I’d been really excited to write songs, because I knew what I was writing them for. To have a real purpose and a goal for what I was doing, that was inspiring for me.”
The Bible indeed proved a “fecund swamp of material” for Everett, who began recording the new songs at his own home studio before joining up with longtime producer Brad Jones (Josh Rouse, Hayes Carll, Chuck Prophet) at Nashville’s Alex the Great Recording in June 2012. Everett led his crack band – multi-instrumentalists Dan Cohen and Chris Raspante, bassist James Cook, and drummer Derek Mixon – through a 10-day session in which they tackled and traversed a span of sonic stylings, from Appalachian folk (“Pennsylvania”) to Zappa-esque psychedelia (“Lloyd’s Summer Vacation”).
“I don’t really feel like I have a responsibility to a genre,” he says. “What is really important to me is my responsibility to my writing and my performing, not dependent on some pre-ordained genre that I have to sit in for market reasons or whatever. Country is part of who I am, just like rock ‘n’ roll is, just like pop is, it’s all just part of who I am.”
Terra Rosa – which unfurls in the same chronological order as the Bible, “because nothing else made sense” – resonates with the tension between sensuality and salvation, faith and skepticism, all marked by Everett’s devilish wit, intuitive meditation, and fire-breathing zeal. Judas Iscariot – “the first anti-hero and a pretty compelling cat” – figures prominently as the album progresses, with featured roles in both the railroad R&B of “Love Cut Me Down” as well as “Rise Up,” a dark take on the Lazarus story inspired by Irish poet Brendan Kennelly’s epic poem “The Book of Judas” and American Music Club’s classic ditty, “I’ve Been A Mess.” Terra Rosa finishes with a succession of tales of early Christians, culminating with “Pretty Good Plan,” ostensibly a letter from one of Peter’s early co-conspirators who has begun to take umbrage with the direction the new church is headed.
“It’s like somebody who was in the Haight in 1967 and is now looking at his buddy who’s living in L.A. in 1971, coked to the gills, wondering what happened to the brown acid, man,” he says. “The Summer of Love turned into the Winter of Our Discontent very quickly. That’s what happens to young idealists once they become successful. They become the very thing that they were idealistic against. What’s weird about me is I’ve gone the opposite way – at 15 I was a right wing conservative Christian with no money, now I make a decent living and I’m a total lefty.”
While Everett is adamant that “someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Bible will still be able to listen to these songs,” there’s no doubt he views Terra Rosa as that rare opportunity to engage the other side in a frank conversation about religion.
“I would love to perform this record in churches, for some Christian groups,” he says. “I want to talk about this stuff, but in a friendly way. Not crucifying each other, but discussing ideas. Trying to pull back a little from belief, whether it’s fundamentalist religious or atheistic. When ideas ossify into beliefs, that’s when they become incredibly dangerous in my opinion.”
Fraught with myth and mystery, miracles and madness, Terra Rosa marks a milestone on Jace Everett’s already extraordinary journey, a brave and transcendent album that stands as this consummate American artist’s most personal and definitive work thus far.
“When you’re making records, the more you they are, the better chance you have, because no one needs another version of somebody that’s already doing it,” Everett says. “You need to do something that’s uniquely you. I feel like I’ve achieved that more on this record than any other so far.”