Four-time Grammy Award-winning musician Jason Isbell spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on addiction and sobriety and the intersection of sobriety, addiction and music at the October Lab-to-Table Conversation—a monthly series organized by the School of Medicine Basic Sciences. Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research Danny Winder and Assistant Professor of Pharmacology Erin Calipari. The discussion took place on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
“When I’m writing a song,” Isbell said during the event, “I’m trying to talk about my truest self, the stuff that I really, really care about, and if I do that and I get the details right, then it forms its own sort of mission. Every album is really a concept album whether people admit it or not, because, you know, the concept is where was your mind for these few months or these couple years or however long it took you to write the songs.”
“So I don’t intend to tell people,” Isbell continued, “I think that gets preachy when your goal is to tell people how to behave or to encourage people to do a certain thing. I think my job is just to record myself and my concerns in a way that’s very precise and in a way that transports a listener from one place to another. But if you do that right, then you wind up getting songs about addiction if you’re an addict andyou wind up getting lessons, you know, personal lessons from my life if you’re listening to the songs.”
Isbell has personal experience with addiction and sobriety, which has influenced his music and work over the past decade. This influence can be heard on his 2013 album Southeastern—his first after getting sober—as well as more recent songs like “It Gets Easier” and his work with actor Bradley Cooper on the movie A Star Is Born.