NEW YORK (AP) — Jason Isbell wakes up next to his most trusted songwriting critic every day.
The Americana singer, whose disc "Something More Than Free" is released this week, is married to another well-regarded songwriter, Amanda Shires. Each will first test a new song out before the other, which can be tricky if the song is about the other.
Isbell said he was terrified to play his song "Cover Me Up" to Shires. Not only was he worried he would cry singing it to her, but he also wanted to write something more than a hokey love song and needed a songwriter's opinion on whether he achieved his goal.
Generally, though, the rule for the listener is not to ask if the song is about them.
"If that information is volunteered, we'll take it," he said. "But we don't ask the question, 'Is that about me?' That's a bad question in any situation to ask a songwriter. If you can't tell, you should never ask that. That's kind of like asking, 'Why are you breaking up with me?' That's better left unsaid."
If Shires were to come to him with a song about being terrified that her relationship was going to end, his job would be to swallow hard and focus on the song.
Really? He wouldn't get freaked out?
"I would, afterward," he said. "First you listen to the song. The song comes first. It has to. That's the only way you can get good at it."
Shires said she feels the same way.
"It's not about one another," she said. "It's about the person's art."
Maybe it's because women are more often attuned to these things, but Shires said she doubted there was any aspect of their relationship that Isbell could bring up in song that she didn't already know about.
"It's just nice to have somebody's opinion you can trust," said Shires, who is pregnant with the couple's first child. "Not everything you write is going to be good. But I trust his taste. If I brought him a song that wasn't my best work, I hope he would — well, I know he would (say so). I married someone I knew would have the guts to tell me."