Tearjerker John Moreland

Okie songsmith breaks out with songs on Sons of Anarchy

Oklahoman John Moreland has been garnering high critical praise from fellow songwriters and critics alike for years. It’s as if he’s in a boxing ring, every word a punch, every line bending the listener to an emotion, an ache, a memory. Catch him in an early evening show on Saturday at Strange Brew, with Caleb Caudle and Aaron Lee Tasjan, 5pm.

Photo by Michelle Crosby

While evading major labels, he’s won fans far and wide through several of his songs being featured on cable television hit Sons of Anarchy. Sometimes he says his music is folk, other times he calls it rock & roll. Like his pal John Fullbright and the Woody Guthrie legacy, Moreland’s home state adds perspective.

“I’ve always been really interested in knowing where the bands/artists I love are from,” he attests. “Oklahoma gives context to put the music in. Maybe it helps me understand it better. When I was a teenager, I was fascinated to find out about other little scenes, like Lawrence, Kansas, or Louisville, Kentucky, where you could see these subtle threads running through all the bands.

“Those towns weren’t considered ‘cool’ places, and I didn’t think I was from a ‘cool’ place either, but it was really inspiring to know that you didn’t have to be from some over-romanticizd city to make music that meant something to people.”

Moreland grew up in Tulsa, which he says didn’t have quite the music scene it boasts now. He recently moved to Norman because he wanted a change, but then moved back to Tulsa. Most Sundays find him taking a nap, watching basketball or baseball, and looking at guitars.

Austin-by-way-of-Alabama songsmith Chris Porter recalls the first heard time he met Moreland:

“Joey Kneiser from Glossary told me that John’s tunes were the best. Ever. We ended up hanging and playing a set together at the Sahara Lounge a couple of years ago and hit it off.

“John’s whole thing is just special. He comes across as quiet and shy, and he’s super humble. He’s soaking it all up and when he performs he always crushes. I’d put him on par or better than anyone that I have ever seen. It’s hard to maintain the consistency that he has in his writing and performing.

“I’ve never seen him fail to make at least one person cry at every show I’ve seen him play.”

Moreland’s content to stay outside the majors game. He does things now the same way as when he started out as 17. He books his own tours and puts out his albums himself. He started out in a punk band at 13.

“There’s been nothing else I’ve wanted to do since that day. I’ve never kept a ‘regular’ job for more than three months. I was always trying to figure out how to make the music thing work.

“It’s been a slow build,” he admits. “It’s a really long chain of events that I can’t trace anymore.

“I'm really grateful for that now, because any little bit of success I’ve had, or may have in the future, has come from trusting my instincts and doing exactly what I wanted. That’s a pretty nice position to be in. I’ve found that if I do my best and stay busy, cool stuff slowly starts to happen.

“I think my favorite show I’ve ever played was opening for Jason Isbell at the Belmont in Austin. It was about five times bigger than the biggest crowd I had ever been in front of before that, and I was terrified. The way the crowd embraced me just meant so much.”

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John Moreland, Sons of Anarchy, John Fullbright, Woody Guthrie, Jason Isbell, Chris Porter, Caleb Caudle, Aaron Lee Tasja, Joey Kneiser, Glossary n

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