Americana singer-songwriter Chad Elliott has always been honest about his life in his music. For instance, he’s written about his divorce, as well as a period in his life where he was homeless. But writing a song about his abusive, alcoholic father proved a much bigger challenge.
It wasn’t until his 2017 record Ringgold, his 21st album, that he was able to tackle the subject, on the ballad “I Am Thunder, I Am Lightning.” Now he’s finding that it’s a popular song with his fans.
“I never thought I was actually going to record it, let alone play it out live,” Elliott says. “I find that the ones I’m most scared to play are the ones that connect the best.”
Perhaps one of the reasons the song was so scary to write is what it reflected about Elliott himself. Through the process of writing, recording and performing the song last year, he was able to face his own alcoholism. Since then, he’s quit drinking.
“I was kind of avoiding it. I played it for a couple songwriter friends. I was shaking even playing it for my friends,” Elliott says. Some of these songs teach me about my own life. And I don’t realize when I’m writing it what’s going on sometimes.”
Raised in a small town in southern Iowa, Elliott has been playing music professionally for two decades, and touring heavily for the past 10 years. A lot of his songwriting ideas come from conversations with people he’s met on the road, and he usually finds a way to connect their stories to his own. He has a currently unrecorded song now that was inspired by a homeless man he met in New Orleans.
“I find a lot more interesting way to write is to try to meld my story with others. It becomes kind of a universal song that way,” Elliott says.
There’s a song on Elliot’s soon-to-be-released album Rest Heavy called “Embarcadero Street,” that chronicles his own experiences panhandling on Fisherman’s Wharf for two months with a guy named Randy.
“It was right during the rainy season. That was not fun. I was going through a pretty difficult time in my life,” Elliot says.
Unlike the folk-country sound that tends to dominate his records, his upcoming album, which comes out in August, has a bluesy R&B swamp-rock sound to it, while still incorporating some country elements.
The record was recorded in the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, and he recorded the songs live over the course of a couple days.
“There are several recording rooms that I have on my bucket list, and that was on the top of it,” Elliott says. “I really wanted to capture it. We thought we’d go to a really nice historical recording studio that has that kind of energy and vibe.”
Some of his records are recorded in his home studio, and tend to be more intimate folk albums.
“I’ll bring my band in for that, even. We’ll set up in my laundry room and the family room. We’ll bring in the band, but it’s definitely more of the stripped-down feel,” Elliott says.
As emotional as Rest Heavy is, it’s also a party record to a certain extent. It’s the natural progression his songs take as he plays them live.
“Some of my more folk-oriented songs turn into the stomping-blues type of stuff because it feels better playing it live,” Elliott says.
For his next project, the biggest challenge he faces is narrowing down his material.
“I was writing out songs I wanted to record. I came up with 75 of them. I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this,’” Elliott says. “I got to figure out how to streamline, so I can get these recorded more frequently.”
Chad Elliott plays on Monday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Flynn’s Cabaret & Steakhouse, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. $15. 335-2800.