When Sturgill Simpson took the stage to accept the Grammy for Best Country Album in February 2017 for the extraordinary A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, he was suffering from a sinus infection so severe it would require surgery and a long recovery in Los Angeles. “I got to lay out in California for about a month,” he tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “They gave me all these Percocet and pain pills that I was not going to go anywhere near. So I just had my buddy Gino bring me a bunch of medical-strength edibles, and I laid in bed for about a week just high as giraffe balls, listening to all my old favorite records I hadn't listened to in decades.”
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Simpson spent that time revisiting albums by Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt—the sort of purists and outlaws to whom he’s long been compared. But Simpson’s also shown himself to be a seeker, an artist whose vision and interests extend far beyond the traditional limits of country music, whether he’s referencing psychedelics, metaphysics, Kurt Cobain, or Elvis and The TCB Band. SOUND & FURY finds the Kentucky native not so much bucking narrative and post-Grammy expectations as taking a large flamethrower to them, with a set of thick, feverish, synth-lined Southern rock that gleefully bridges the gaps between ZZ Top, Black Sabbath, and La Roux. He’s a punk at heart: “I realized you can be a commodity and just making the same record over and over just to appease people and hope they show up and give a shit,” he says. “Or you can just be a musician.”
Recorded over two weeks in Michigan with Simpson’s touring band—drummer Miles Miller, bassist Chuck Bartels, and Bobby Emmett on keys—it’s an album that hews closely to its title, lifted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. These are not quiet meditations on love and parenthood, but sweaty, often scornful songs of catharsis partially inspired by the directness of local hero Eminem (“I was just like, ‘Man, this guy gets to talk mad shit—why can’t we do that?’”) “Sing Along” takes aim at a demanding relationship (“You’ve done me wrong/So here’s your song”), “Remember to Breathe” brings to mind Bob Seger at the bottom of a volcano, and “Make Art Not Friends” mutates from futurist groove to a delicate (and delicately charred) pop number that Ric Ocasek might have loved.
It all arrives alongside a dystopian companion film on Netflix—about a post-apocalyptic samurai, naturally—that Simpson wrote and produced alongside director Jumpei Mizusaki, founder of the Tokyo animation studio Kamikaze Douga. “The guys in my band and I, we spent the last couple of years doing the things we love—which is being a bunch of music geeks who grew up on classic rock, and hip-hop, and country music, and blues—and throwing that into a big melting pot. The only way we're going to get paid is to go play shows, so we might as well make it fun for us, and we made a record that was very fun for us. I cannot wait to get out on the stage and play with my brothers.”