Wheeler Walker, Jr. says he's been banging his head against the doors of Nashville, Tennessee, since he showed up 15 years ago. That happened to be the same time that everything coming out of Nashville took on a watered-down formula it sticks to today.
A backlash has begun, though. Talented musicians have grown too bitter to be quiet, and they're slowly taking Nashville back. But Wheeler arrived in Nashville at a particularly bad time—spending the past 15 years in Nashville would make anybody bitter, and the experience has done a number on him.
Maybe that's why he's released the EP Fuck You Bitch, which can be heard on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube. It has all the makings of a talented musician getting fed up, drunk, and jumping on a barroom table with a guitar to mock the music he despises.
He lays all the cards on the table, deconstructing the tropes of pop country so surgically that nothing else needs to come from it for quite some time.
It's not, of course, a deconstruction that is painless for many popular Nashville musicians to hear—it's already caused him a Twitter fight with a Judd.
The Daily Dot spoke to Wheeler about online beef, the headspace that gave birth to the Fuck You Bitch EP, and the soon-to-come full-length. (It makes "Fuck You Bitch" seem tame by comparison.)
[Knocking in the background.] "Hold on one sec—got somebody at the door. Hold on, hold on... it always happens like this, ya know? You there? Sorry about that, man—word on the street is that you love the record?"
I do, yeah. I’m a big fan of the record.
"I gotta say, this is the best interview I had yet."
It’s off to a good start.
"I go after the fuckers who don't like the record. But when you like it, I got nothin’ bad to say to you. You’re my favorite journalist."
Thank you, I’m putting that on my portfolio, actually…
"Put it on the portfolio."
How long have you been working on this album? I first heard heard your music in 2013, on an appearance you made on Comedy Central's The Ben Show.
"I’ve been working in Nashville since about 2000. I been bangin’ my head against the doors in Nashville for a long time. I’ve been doin’ this for a long time. This actual record, we worked on for about six months—we were only in the studio for about a week.
It came pretty easily, got a bunch of my buddies to play backup and record it. I just had a lot of deals gone bad… ya know, in Nashville, I don’t know if you’ve seen… are you a country music fan in general?"
On and off. Mainly that Texas country.
"The mainstream shit’s so fuckin’ bad. I thought I could make it, and bust through, but it wasn’t to be. I learned after about 15 fuckin’ years, so I just said “Fuck it, I’m gonna make an album my way, and on my terms.” And, uh, that’s what you’re listen’ to. I just had a bunch of bad fuckin’ deals, ya know? You sign with a major label, and you, ya know, ya fingerfuck the CEO’s wife, and you get in a little bit of trouble. Shit happens, ya know. I love Nashville."
Tell me about some of the people who you worked with in producing this album.
"I knew this guy, Sturgill Simpson, from back in Kentucky. He heard me sing with this guy, Dave Cobb, who’s kinda doin’ all the best shit out there right now. Sturgill’s record, and Chris Stapleton [Stapleton won Best New Artist and Best Male Vocalist at this year's CMAs], Jason Isbell… kind of a go-to player. Leroy Powell, Brian Allen… and I think, ya know, these guys make the best records out there. I wanted a guy who could get the kinda sound I wanted, but, ya know, wouldn’t censor the content, because to me it’s serious shit. It’s just dirty, ya know?
The whole thing was, ya know, about country music is that you sing about real shit, and why would I censor real shit if no one’s’ s gonna fuckin’ listen to it, anyway? I mean, people will listen to it, but the radio ain’t gonna play it, so I may as well... They ain’t gonna play it, anyway."
Did you find that the album, and the songwriting process, was that kind of cathartic for you to revisit stuff?
"You can’t really, in the normal life, you can’t actually talk like you mean. I can’t walk up to a girl who’s dumped me and say “fuck you, bitch.” I’m a gentleman, at the end of the day. But when you write it in a song, all of a sudden it sounds like poetry. I think. The song ain’t "women are bitches," or anything like that. It’s just… this girl dumped me, and that’s what I felt like at the time. Ya know, we patched shit up now. She’s not a bitch. But, ya know, at the time, I was pissed. Why pretend I wasn’t."
You guys are friends, now? You’re close?
"Let’s not get carried away now, man."
But you don’t hate each other? You wouldn’t write another "Fuck You Bitch" about the same girl?
"I give her credit— she put up with a lotta my shit. I ain’t no angel, ya know. When she dumped me, I probably deserved it. It’s more empowering to her, really, that she has that much power over me to get that kind of song out."
Did it take several songs with her?
"It really is just a traditional country breakup album. I just kept the naughty shit in there... Did you see the shit that Wynonna started up? Wynonna Judd… I got nothin’ against Wynonna Judd, but she started lecturing me on Twitter."
I was trying to cover that back and forth as much as possible, but I’m still a complete idiot with Twitter.
"I’m not that good at it, and I think it’s pretty stupid. Look: I’m from Kentucky, so I ain’t gonna talk no shit about no Judd. But I try to act like a badass sometimes, and then Wynonna started lecturing me about how I can’t use that kind of language, and “that ain’t right,” and blah blah blah. And then, of course, ya know, you think I’m Wheeler and I’m gonna rip into her, but I just took it like a ltitle fuckin’ bitch. It’s almost like when my mom yells at me: I act like I’m cool, but I just take it like a little pussy, ya know? I just, like, apologized to her. Everybody thought I was gonna fight with her, but I was just, like, “Yes, ma’am,” ya know?
You know what it is? It’s two different ways of lookin’ at music. What she was sayin’ on Twitter was that, when she has those nasty thoughts, she goes out into the woods, and screams ‘em all alone. When I have those thoughts, I go into the studio and record ‘em. I think my way’s what people want to hear, and she thinks her way’s what people want to hear. She’s sold more records, so she might be right."