‘Hey Paranoia‘ is a raucous tale of a young band out on the road, aiming for fun no matter the cost. Is it autobiographical? That elements of the new album ‘Dearly Departed‘ from which the song is taken would seem to correlate with the band’s experiences on their 2018 tour following the release of their second album ‘Thirty Pieces’ certainly suggests that it is – and Tennessee Stiffs do describe the album as “an ambitious, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age concept record about a band on a good-intentions-paved tour to hell and back.” As they tell it, Tennessee Stiffs were lured by a shady Judas goat of a record label and PR firm. On the eve of the band’s promo tour for the record, the company declared bankruptcy, was dissolved as a legal entity and vanished into the ether, making off with a large sum of the band’s money and leaving them with no tour support. Penniless and in shock, the Stiffs pulled together best as they could and pressed on.
“We were young and naïve in many ways,” says singer and mandolin player Cara Jane Sadler. “We took a chance—for the first time, we handed the torch to someone else, and they disappeared. It was a rough tour to say the least, four of us driving across the country in a thirdhand church van, trying to make the best of a bad situation. By the end of it, we were all just broken. ‘Dearly Departed’ is a result of that.”
When the band finally made it home, Cara Jane’s husband and bandmate, Tennessee Stiffs singer-guitarist Ethan Lee Sadler, was taking things pretty hard. “I was crestfallen to the point where I didn’t play guitar for a month,” he says. “For a minute, I fell out of love with music. Which was strange since music has always been my catharsis. I first picked up a guitar because the shrink I went to as a kid told me, ‘You have trouble communicating. Not for lack of vocabulary—you just have all these emotions you can’t assign normal words to, so you’re gonna need to venture into art. Pick up a paintbrush, learn to play piano, violin—something.’ Music has always filled that role for me. Whether I was angry or sad or things were spiralling out of control, it’s always helped me to feel balanced again.”
Though he’d initially run the other way after the tour, Lee finally picked up his guitar and dove headlong into the unpleasant experience that had driven him and the Stiffs to the brink. Soon, he was spewing forth songs, exorcizing the demons. “Every few days,” Cara says, “I’d wake to find out Lee had stayed up all night and written three more new songs. He was absolutely possessed.”
“The only way to get through what I was feeling was to expose the nerves,” Lee says. “It was imperative I get it out of me. I told the band, ‘Y’all, this is my therapy. I have full rock & roll PTSD, and I’m gonna need a double album to work through it.’”
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