On December 11, Sturgill Simpson released the second installment to his Cuttin’ Grass bluegrass album series. This two-part release reimagines many of his hit country songs through the lens of bluegrass. Sturgill released Vol. 1 back in October but has seen some somewhat confusing commercial results. In an Instagram post earlier today, he launched a long-winded explanation of his album’s commercial reception.
“Lotsa’ people messaging this morning asking how this could be when Vol 2 was at #3 and #4 on iTunes all week,” Sturgill Simpson wrote in his post. “Its because instead of teasing you for 3 months with a million interviews about bluegrass, releasing two or three singles, and a thousand posts about buying it pre-sale blah blah blah I surprise-released it digitally only instead of making you wait until the physical copies were manufactured and ready to be shipped to retail. Mostly because I believe people just want and need music more than ever. I also believe you guys are way too smart to need to be marketed to.”
Sturgill Simpson’s Vendetta with the Music Industry
At first, this rant seems like a trashing of the commercial music industry and all artists who succumb to it. Sturgill Simpson has butted heads with the music industry before, from blasting the CMA’s to discounting his former producers and record labels. His vendetta with the music industry runs deeper than his baritone voice.
This is far from the first time he has refused to market his album, either. Ahead of his 2020 tour, he told Steven Hayden of Uproxx that “this is literally the first time I’ve lifted a f***ing finger to promote the record or the tour,” which would start the next week. This may not have been entirely true, but he certainly lifted fewer fingers than most musicians do to promote their music.
What seems like the key difference between Sturgill Simpson’s attitude toward this set of releases and his attitude in the Uproxx interview boils down to his attitude toward his music. Namely, Simpson still likes and believes in the music he made in the Cuttin Grass series. In the Uproxx interview, Simpson claims he “was already burnt out and exhausted” after the 2017 tour. Then, ahead of his Sound and Fury tour in 2020, he had already burnt himself out on that album.
This time, he got his album out to his fans while he still believed in it. “I also truly believe “this is the way” forward,” he added in his Instagram post. “If for no other reason it allows you, as fans, to hear and love the music while it’s still fresh in the hearts of the artists. As a result, these grass albums have been the most gratifying releases of my entire career.”
Sturgill cites this as a return to his bluegrass roots in an email to his fans. “My paternal grandfather was sort of a bluegrass freak,” he says in the email. This second installment of Cuttin’ Grass features twelve more songs, many of them rearrangements of former hits. Highlights include “Welcome to Earth (pollywog),” a song written to his son at birth, and “You Can Have the Crown,” one of his comedic country hits that parodies tropes in country music.
For Sturgill Simpson, bluegrass music brings him home. From his grandfather who would “try to shove it down [his] throat,” to rural southern Appalachia where he grew up and now lives, bluegrass feels like his truth. He has mentioned that he would like to tour with his bluegrass outfit but doesn’t know when. For him, the prospect of potentially killing someone by giving them COVID Is not worth the risk. We all just hope he gets comfortable before he gets burned out on this series. Based on what he has said about it, he won’t burn out on bluegrass anytime soon.