Navy Vet Sturgill Simpson’s Middle Finger to Nashville

Sturgill Simpson (photo by Semi Song)

Country singer Sturgill Simpson shocked the world last weekend at Comic-Con when he announced that his new album, "Sound & Fury," will be paired with an anime film of the same title to be released simultaneously on Netflix.

Simpson emerged as a radical force in outlaw country in 2014 with the release of his second LP, "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music." Fans and critics went wild, but country radio thought songs like "Turtles All the Way Down" were a bit too weird for their audience.

He let some of his rock-and-roll roots show with 2016's "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," a loosely constructed concept album with songs inspired by his Navy service. While singer Chris Stapleton used Simpson's earlier work as inspiration for a career that the country music establishment decided to support, Sturgill set out for parts unknown with an album that embraced rock, soul and psychedelia, in addition to his country roots.

The LP's cover version of Nirvana's "In Bloom" attracted new rock fans to his music, and he shocked the world when "A Sailor's Guide to Earth" won the 2018 Grammy for Best Country Album.

Nashville offered an emphatic "no thanks," and Simpson made sure they weren't going to make friends anytime soon when he decided to busk outside the arena during the 2017 CMA Awards after he received zero nominations. Someone filmed the performance and posted it to YouTube. If you click the link, make sure you notice that his Grammy is displayed in his open guitar case.

Where do you go with your career after that? While Simpson's defiant gesture was a powerful and deserved comment on the way things work in Music City, it was also the career equivalent of dousing yourself in gasoline and lighting a match on the street.

Simpson has a new plan. Check out the trailer for "Sound & Fury."

During his Navy service, Simpson was stationed in Japan (a topic addressed on "A Sailor's Guide to Earth") and seems to have picked up an appreciation for the nation's manga (graphic novels) and anime (animated films). For "Sound & Fury," he enlisted manga artist Takashi Okazaki ("Afro Samurai") and filmmaker Junpei Mizusaki ("Batman Ninja") to make a film that uses his album as its soundtrack.

"We went in without any preconceived notions and came out with a really sleazy, steamy rock 'n' roll record," Simpson announced via news release. "It's definitely my most psychedelic. And also my heaviest. I had this idea that it'd be really cool to animate some of these songs, and we ended up with a futuristic, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, samurai film."

Translation: "Hey, Nashville! Enjoy your next round of by-the-numbers songs about beer and trucks sung by guys with skinny jeans and beauty parlor highlights. I'm setting off for parts unknown, and it's up to you guys to follow."

Just like his records, Simpson the man seems both prickly and challenging. He doesn't take direction well and won't play by the Music City rules. Some of us can relate. If that sounds like you, there are a couple of older records you'll want to hear and a Netflix movie we all need to see when it goes online in September.

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