Sturgill Simpson Leaves His Old Sound (and the Spotlight) in the Rear View

Sturgill Simpson Leaves His Old Sound (and the Spotlight) in the Rear View

“I could’ve very easily probably made the same record five times by now and just gone right down that middle lane and played it safe, and I’d have $80 million in the bank,” Simpson said dryly. “And I’d probably be hanging from a [expletive] rope on one of these trees over here by now, you know what I mean? So it’s not worth it.”

By the middle of 2017, the core of the record was complete. But Simpson had grander ambitions for it. For part of his time in the Navy, he was stationed in Japan, where he was introduced to anime. With the help of a well-connected friend, he made overtures to some of its leading creators in hopes of securing one of them to make a video.

He got a meeting with Hiroaki Takeuchi, a well-connected producer, who subsequently introduced Simpson to Junpei Mizusaki, the director of “Batman Ninja,” who told Simpson, “I deal with these things, these feelings,” the musician recalled. “I know exactly what you’re singing about.” Soon after, a dream team of collaborators divvied up the album song by song: Mizusaki; Takashi Okazaki, the creator of “Afro Samurai”; Koji Morimoto, an animator on “Akira”; and others.

Rather than make the film directly autobiographical, Simpson created a hyperreal world of evil: “hegemonic structures, politics, corruption, greed — you know, things that usually lead to really [expletive] music,” he said. “Basically, we made ‘Yojimbo’ set in a dystopian future,” he explained, referring to the 1961 samurai film.

Simpson traveled to Japan six times to supervise the creation of the movie, which cost around $1.2 million to make — “Something they just had to do to get me to turn the record in,” he joked about his record label’s involvement.

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