Interview: Songwriter Brad Armstrong Discusses Christmas Bombing Inspired Single ‘Red Nashville Skyline,’ Upcoming Album, & More

Few will forget what transpired on Christmas Day in Nashville in 2020.

In the brisk early morning hours, a bomb was detonated by a suicidal mad man in an RV, causing a ripple effect of devastation up and down 2nd Ave in Downtown Nashville. And naturally – as a shocking, nationally recognized event – it drew inspiration for a song courtesy of singer-songwriter Brad Armstrong.

The track, “Red Nashville Skyline,” – which features vocalist Maria Taylor – is the debut single off of Armstrong’s upcoming album, Heart Like a Sigil, expected to be released on March 11th. Understandably so, the single is moody, haunting, and draws the listener in from the get go.

Armstrong, an indie-acoustic meets Southern-rock artist, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, before taking his talents north to New York in 2014. His song, “Brothers”, was featured in the Netflix show, Kingdom, starring Nick Jonas, and has had numerous releases discussed in some of the most prevalent publications over the years.

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Armstrong put in all the heavy leg work on his upcoming album, as he not only wrote it, but also self-produced it- an honest product of the pandemic. 

We got the chance to ask Armstrong a few questions about his new single “Red Nashville Skyline,” the album, and much more.

So what’s the story of Brad Armstrong the songwriter and musician in a nutshell?

It’s probably a familiar story to most of us: Boy finds guitar. Boy finds rock and roll band. Boy finds out that rock and roll is not lucrative. Boy finds job.

Haha. I dunno. I very much liked doing it when I was young, and the once or twice that I’ve tried to put it down, for financial reasons, have been catastrophic emotionally, both for me and for everyone around me. So I quit trying to put it down, and just accepted that it’s going to be a shitshow, and now it’s been a really long time I’ve been doing this. Like geologically long, it feels like.  

You’ve got your new single, “Red Nashville Skyline,” on the cusp of being released. What’s the story behind this track?

So you will remember that guy that built a bomb in his RV and drove it downtown and blew it up. That’s what it’s about.

I’ve been thinking a lot for the last few years about how we are so disconnected from each other, like there is no way to connect with anybody anymore if they aren’t reading the exact same shit as you, watching the exact same videos and following the exact same people. So I’ve really been trying to get into people’s heads as much as I can, trying to see stuff their way, just for perspective, and so maybe I can try to communicate with them.

I mean, people are thinking and speaking some crazy shit. It’s harder than you would think. So I was thinking about that bomber terrorist, and he was a paranoiac, a conspiracy theorist, and I know more than a few, and I interact with more than a few, and what is the thing that pushes them through to the other side? How are they seeing it? I mean, they see it as an act of heroism, as a way to become more than they are. Maybe. I mean, I have no idea, I’m just saying, there is definitely something going on there, and that’s what the song is about.

We have come to a place in the world, in every little town in the U.S., where it is getting easier and easier for confused, lost people to push on through to the other side of reason. We all know the reasons why. 

Naturally, the song has a very somber and dramatic feel to it. What do you hope listeners feel and take away from it?

I am not great with that. I don’t have a message or anything. I hope they listen to the song, and I hope they have an experience. But as for characterizing that experience, I’m certainly not qualified. All I can do is tell a thing and put a beat to it.

How do you know when a song is finished? Do you find yourself wanting to keep tinkering and re-recording tracks etc.?

When I was younger, for sure. I used to mix stuff forever, redoing and adding and wearing it out. Now, I am about gettin’ it fast before I hate it. Used to be that I would despise a record by the time I got done with it. Now, I really don’t do more than a few takes of anything. I don’t ever know for sure it’s finished, but a good signal is if you can’t think of any more parts. And I’ve mixed my own tunes for so long now, and I pretty much always use the same players on everything, so that I know exactly what to do to get it to sound the way I want it, so I can mix pretty fast. 

And how did you get hooked up with Maria Taylor who sings on it, and whose label, Flower Moon Records, your upcoming album will be released on?

Well, Maria and I went to high school together. We started back and forth-ing music when we were like 17 years old. And we have always done stuff together, she’s been on most of the records I’ve ever recorded in one way or another, and I’ve been on lots of hers and we have toured and I play in her backing band a lot. But I’ve always put out my records on other labels than her. When she started Flower Moon, I really wanted to put one out on her label, but I was always committed elsewhere or whatever, and this time everything conspired to make it possible to do it. It’s perfect timing. She is singing on like 10/12 of these tunes. There’s nobody else in my musical life that I have worked with for so long or so consistently. I feel like I know her thing exactly and she knows mine. Most rewarding musical relationship I’ve ever had.

Speaking of the new record: what might fans expect from it? Any overarching themes or motifs throughout?

I mean, you know. Death, loss, fear of death, fear of loss. Existential dread, transcendental crisis. The usual.  

What does a day in the life of your songwriting process look like?

I’ll get a feeling like I want to write a song, and I’ll get a feeling on what kind of vibe I want it to have. Then I’ll just start noodling around on a guitar, and if something happens I put it in a voice memo. If nothing happens, I go back through all the memos till I find something I want to work on. Then I’ll just hammer away at it till I get a shape. Then I’ll sit down at the keyboard and start typing lyrics and trying them out. I get up and walk away when I get stuck, roll it around, come back after while, maybe go to work, then come back and fiddle with it some more, then I make another memo, and listen to it in the truck, and I can tell what lines I hate, then I get it fixed up. You never know though. Last Sunday I got a feeling and I picked up a guitar and the whole thing just fell out and I had it recorded by dinner time. Other tunes take literally years. There’s both kinds on this new record. 

What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?

I just want to write songs and get them recorded. Success to me looks like having a whole armful of records done when you die.  

What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as an artist?

I think pinnacle means different things to different people. I have had some very exciting live music moments in my career. I used to be in a band called the Dexateens for about 15 years, and we got to tour with the coolest people all the time, and it was super great and super fun. But pinnacle for me is when I have a breakthrough, like when I figured out how to play my guitar in a different way, or when I figured out how to structure a song on purpose or tell the story without telling the story, you know what I mean? Like letting the story tell itself and just getting out of the way. I feel like I have a pinnacle moment every time I finish a record, where I’m like, Ok! Finally! Ya’ll ignore everything else I’ve ever recorded and just check this out. Good as it gets. Till next time.  

What goals might you have set for 2022 musically or otherwise?

I feel like it is impossible to set any goals in the Pandemic World. I really want to get back to playing shows. Hope that happens. But my metric has definitely shifted. My goals are to get the rent paid, get my girls through school and off to college, and cook some good food. And make another record! 

Featured photo by Chattman Photography

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