Folk rock band El Campo’s new song, “In Indian Blankets,” embodies one of humanity’s most important and primitive instincts- the wish to be remembered fondly after death.
I love the snapshots of memories lead singer Jerid Reed Morris provides in his lyrics. The wonderfully minimalistic instrumentals beautifully compliment Morris’ evocative vocals, as he shares childhood memories of his father. As melancholic as this song is, it becomes inspirational when you learn that Jerid Reed Morris wrote “In Indian Blankets” after he was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma- the same disease that took his father’s life at age 30.
orris wrote “Indian Blankets,” as well as the rest of El Campo’s album, “Goldun Stair, Meet You There,” during the seven months of his chemotherapy treatment. Thankfully, Morris has been in remission for several months. It’s amazing how Morris draws from personal experience to craft lyrics that can speak to individuals on an intimate level. A song like this can make you cry; especially if you’ve ever dealt with illness- afflicting either yourself or a loved one. El Campo’s “In Indian Blankets” is a poignant piece of art, accomplishing what art is supposed to do- make you think, feel, cry, and smile.
Give El Campo’s “In Indian Blankets” a listen, and then read below to hear lead singer Jerid Reed Morris’ thoughts on the album, his songwriting process, and more.
What musical influences inspired you to create this album?
I grew up listening to basically nothing but hymns–secular music was contraband. There were rare exceptions–The Dillards, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, old country tunes my grandmother would sing to herself. As a songwriter, my favorites are John K. Samson, Sam Beam, and Will Johnson.
What does the creative process look like for you?
I always write with an album in mind. The songs are never crafted to be standalone pieces, they’re always part of a bigger work, a longer form. I start with an idea for an album and try to write individual songs that will work well together–never as a “concept” album, per se, but complementary ideas and feelings. After that, it usually starts with a title and an idea, then a melody and some chords, and finally the complete lyrics and structure. Sometimes it pours out and afterward you’ll never remember how; sometimes it’s a process of tweaking; sometimes it’s abandoned.
What kind of message do you hope to convey to your audience?
Creating any kind of art, to me, is about communication and commiseration. Whatever is fed back to you, whether it’s people showing up to see you play live, or plays on Spotify, or whatever, the most rewarding and gratifying response, for me, is someone taking the time to tell me they enjoyed a song, and identified with it–that it meant something to them. People close to me, especially.
Does any kind of spirituality, or simply a certain awareness of the universe, inspire your music?
Because I was raised in what essentially amounts to a fundamentalist Christian cult, religion and spirituality were the center of my universe the entirety of my childhood. That’s something I’ll never shed–it informs everything from that center, even today. I spent a lot of time being reactionary to it, as a way to understand it, I guess. Nowadays, there’s a sort of acceptance of it as essential to my outlook and character. I’m no longer spiritual in the slightest, but the mark it’s left on me is indelible.
How has the band’s musical style evolved?
We’ve gone from a more folk sound to a more rock sound, probably for two reasons: personnel changes and an unavoidable pivot to the center of our influences.
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
I’m more of a songwriter than a musician. As John Samson said, “I can barely play this thing.” But music, as a forbidden thing, was extremely special to me from a young age. Access to it, hiding it, enjoying it, were little bits of freedom I didn’t really experience any other way. I guess writing songs was going to be inevitable.
What’s your favorite part about being a songwriter?
As you become more proficient and more prolific, there is a huge sense of accomplishment you get from conveying an idea or a feeling. It’s probably true for any art. But music is special because you have the opportunity to transcend literal meaning, of words or of music. Those two aspects can unite in a given song and convey a meaning. You can’t really explain how or why it happens, but it’s special.
What’s been your biggest challenge as a songwriter and musician?
The happier you are, the harder it is to write. A sort of basic discontent is necessary to the art, at least for me. That can be hard on the other aspects of your life.
What do you love about creating music?
I like spending time with my friends and creating something together that we can each be proud of in our own way. As far as the writing goes, melody and lyrical content are the most important aspects of any song, mine or somebody else’s. I enjoy trying to get them somewhere I can be proud of them.
What’s your fondest musical memory?
Writing alone in your underwear is manual labor. Recording can be at times fulfilling and at times frustrating, but in the end, you have very little control over the process. Touring around with your friends, playing to people you don’t know and waking up in a new town each day, while also manual labor at times, is one of the most enjoyable parts.
What’s your goal when you write a song?
I usually start out trying to convey a specific idea or use certain images. The goal is just to get that across, if possible. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it moves on you and becomes another thing entirely.
What does your song writing process look like?
Album > Idea/Image > Title > Chords and Melody > Structure > Lyrics.
Where’s your favorite place to write songs?
At my desk, in my underwear, with Stacey Sinclair lounging in bed a few feet away.
What’s the hardest part about writing a song?
Sometimes, finishing it. The process is either so easy you don’t recall doing it, or so difficult you have to nurse it along or abandon it entirely. Songwriting is incredibly difficult, if you care about trying to convey a coherent idea. But it’s rewarding when it happens.
Were there any specific events that inspired you to write “In Indian Blankets?”
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same cancer that took my dad’s life when he was 30. Fear of dying can take a lot of forms–simple survival, a kind of animalistic frenzy; the desire to complete your life, as if that were even possible; or fear of what you’re leaving behind. Survival, on its own merits, wasn’t important to me. But the idea of what I’d be leaving behind for those I love–my kids, especially–dominated my emotions. This song is a mix of images and memories of my dad and what he went through, through a lens of what my own kids would remember about me–was I a good person, a good daddy? Did the things I was good at deserve their understanding for the things I fucked up?
How have your life experiences shaped your music, and this album specifically?<h/3>
This album mostly just poured out due to the complex emotions I was experiencing at the time–the sheer volume of everything. Everything I am is due to the people I came from, their experiences as well as my own at their hands. I can’t help but write about that–it’s a way to cope, to help yourself understand who you are, who they are, and where you both came from.
What’s your favorite aspect of “Goldun Stair, Meet You There?”
I’m very proud of having conveyed a complete idea. There were lots of things I wanted to say, and I feel like I said them all. I’m really proud of the fellas, too. They’re all great musicians–unlike me–and they had an opportunity to take simple, ingenuous songs and transform them into something greater. Which they totally did. Pretty proud of them.
What was the first part of “Goldun Stair, Meet You There” to be conceived?
The oldest song is “Two Bulleits and a Beam,” which sort of stands by itself, away from the other songs. I included it because I was proud of its concise, complete idea. Ideas and stories are more compelling, I think, when they’re told through a series of images and recollections. You allow someone else to be a part of it, in their own way, if you lead them to a spot and say, ‘This is what I wanted to show you.’ They can piece those images together with their own experiences, and in that way, you’re communicating with someone in a way you couldn’t have imagined or planned.
How would you articulate the main theme of “Goldun Stair, Meet You There?”
When confronted with your own mortality, whether you know enough to fear the end of your life, and whether you’re capable of admitting that, even if it’s not as bare and simple as “not wanting to die,” you have to come to terms with what you did with this thing called consciousness. You have to address what you left for the people you love, whether it all stacked up to a life worthwhile or wasted. For me, I had to confront very old feelings of spirituality, an afterlife, and my core beliefs. At the same time, I had to decide whether I’d done what I had hoped to do, if it all ended. I don’t think the answer can ever be “yes, I did.” At least not for me. So, the record is about a confrontation–standing at the foot of a staircase, an image my family liked to use. Who cares that you’re there? What waits at the top? What does the accomplishment of climbing to the top mean? When you leave everyone, how will they remember you? Did you help them? Did you hurt them? So many of those answers are now out of your control–reconcile that, and make peace with it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and musicians?
Nope, just make something if you want to.
What’s next for El Campo in the future?
We want to share these songs with people for a while, try to enjoy the commiseration if we can. After that, we’ll see what happens.
Hey, Quick Sponsored Thing: PR Service to Get Your Music Featured in Music Blogs
The gist: the team at Two Story Melody is opening up a PR service to help artists get heard and covered at cool blogs like this one. We create a sweet EPK. We pitch until we get you covered. We celebrate success with a sweet customized handshake (optional).
If you're tired of pitching your music yourself, if you finally want to find your audience, or if you just like us, click here to learn more.