Derik Hultquist Dances Through "1983" - Video Premiere

Photo by Holly J. Schumacher

Hunter Hayes meets Bob Dylan and Paul Simon on Derik Hultquist's new single, "1983," from his album Southern Iron (out June 17 on Carnival Recording Company/Thirty Tigers). The video features images of a summer fair over which the song's lyrics scroll. The dizzying rides and the tempestuous fun of the midway invite us to throw our cares to the summer night and dance along with Hultquist's romping rhythms. The East Tennessee native delivers an infectious tune with easily repeatable lyrics that compels us not only to sing-along but to get-up-out-of-our-seats and let our backbones slip.

I caught up by phone with Hultquist recently for a chat about the song and his new album.

Henry Carrigan: Tell me story behind your new album, Southern Iron.

Derik Hultquist: Well, nominally I work for a publishing company. I'm supposed to write a certain number of songs per year. I'd made three EPs before this, but making EPs is like washing your car a few times and never going out in it. (laughs) I wrote these songs over a period of about two years. I wanted to make some improvements sonically. I come from a place where lyric is king, and I wanted to try more to hear the music behind the lyrics. Working with Frank Liddell and Eric Masse was a lot of fun, and making the record was a blast.

HC: Where does the album's title come from?

Hultquist: It's a dedication to my dad; I wanted to let him know this album's for him. He run this gym in Tallahassee called Southern Iron, but he's been fighting cancer. He's the nicest guy you'd ever meet, but he's one of the toughest people I know. I also wanted to show the idea of how strong your will can be and the idea that you can carry yourself a long way with the will and determination to do it. I also wanted to make the point that the album's not just a nod to the backroads and that Southern provincial thing.

HC: How did you select the songs that ended up on the album?

Hultquist: There were definitely songs that stood out on the front end. On "1983" we just put a mic in the center of the room and stood around it to record. There's a push on "My New Orleans" that makes it compelling; there's a riff on that song that I originally played that makes it stand out. Frank Liddell is a key part of the song selection. I'm never usually happy with the final thing. I just always think it can be better, probably because I'm competitive by nature. Sometimes I think it would almost be a relief to do something else; I always wanted to be that Wunderkind who was writing these genius songs, and I know I mostly miss that mark. Frank really helped out with helping me to see what songs worked and why some songs didn't fit the album, or what songs might need a different tempo or different approach to work on the album.

HC: When did you write your first song?

Hultquist: I probably wrote my first song in eighth grade.

HC: Do you remember what it was about?

Hultquist: Yeah, I think I do, but man, I don't think it's worth talking much about. I can say it was a song where I was trying to use my musical influences to write about the way I was feeling at the time. I did sing in church and high school choirs, and in high school I was in a punk emo band named after the principal in the TV show Boy Meets World.

HC: Who are your three greatest musical influences?

Hultquist: Dylan; part of it is just because of the mythology that surrounds him. Ryan Adams and Joni Mitchell; there's just something about their writing that to me seems more important and bigger than others' writing.

HC: Tell me a little about your own approach to songwriting.

Hultquist: Well, I'm not a very good instrumentalist. I play a little piano and a little guitar. Every time I would sit down and try to play somebody else's song, I'd get bored. So, I knew I wanted to write my own songs. Some days you hit something really powerful, and you feel like you're really saying something. I just sit and experiment. If something hits musically, I try to unpack it. Writing a song is kind of like sex; if it's bad, it's still music, but if you get way down into the art of song, it will give you back what you put into it. Down the road you feel like you were close to something really cool. I appreciate it when it shows up, but every time I think maybe I'm done.

HC: How does the road help you test songs?

Hultquist: The road is a good litmus test to see if the song has any legs. I've struggled for a long time in feeling tempo, but performing has really helped me get a sense of that and how I can use it in my music. I don't ever want to go out and say here's this song I've been playing for the past five years and not play anything new. I think part of the myth of Dylan is that the fiftieth time you hear one of his songs it sounds as mysterious as it did the first time you heard it.

HC: How do you think you've evolved as an artist?

Hultquist: When I first started singing songs, I definitely didn't have my own voice. Part of my growth has been finding a voice that's me. Sometimes it's not a very fluid sound and sometimes it's kind of pitchy, but it's me. It's also been hard to make a living doing this, but I'm trying to find joy in making music. I've come to the realization that I'm a songwriter, and I would love to keep improving. I know my limitations; I'm not trying to make a huge pop song. Taking my buddies on the road and getting to play live with them has been fun and a real treat. As a writer, I'm always constantly re-evaluating myself.

HC: What's next for you?

Hultquist: I don't want to be a dilettante. I'd like to be on the road full time and making records that still stand up. I care about the actual music; Nashville has become less about the music and all about getting famous, and that's why sometimes think about leaving this place. I'd definitely like to tour more; up until now stuff on the road has been piecemeal, and I'd like for it to be a little more organized. I hope that in five years I'm still a little naïve and not jaded.

HC: Tell me about the song "1983."

Hultquist: I wrote it on bass, and the bass is always driving it; that's probably one of the reasons it's more fun. I'd go try it out and it worked at the time. Plus, folks were always asking, "why don't you write an uptempo song?" The verse and the chorus are the same changes. It's like a Petty song that you can sing along with. Not sure why I used 1983, but it's obvious that it rhymes and it just felt right. Then again, this might just be a story I'm telling you. (laughs) When they asked me about the video, I said that's fine as long I don't have to be in it; I'm a songwriter not an actor. They ran it by me, and I liked, but I'm glad I didn't have to be in it. (laughs)