Colter Wall is just 21 years old, and he’s from rural Saskatchewan, Canada. Neither of those parts of his biography would lead a listener to expect the gravely drawl on his eponymous, Dave Cobb-produced full-length debut.
“I discovered at an early age that I had a baritone register and that I could sing a little deeper,” Wall said. “And I guess I smoke a lot of cigarettes, so that probably helps, too.”
His influences were more traditional; you’ll certainly hear hints of Johnny Cash. He got into Dylan, and as a student of music began to discover Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie. He started listening to Chicago blues, and then the Delta blues.
“I grew up in a household where [Johnny Cash] was one of the main things that would be playing in the house,” Wall said. “In Dad’s truck or Mom’s car, it was a lot of country music from that time period. I always gravitated toward older music. I tried to develop my sound around my biggest influences and heroes, and most of those are old cats that are either gone or they’re still around, but they’re kind of getting up there in age.”
Canada will always be home, he says, but for nearly a year, he has called Southwest Kentucky home. That year saw him open for Lucinda Williams at The Ryman and sign a publishing deal with Rick Rubin.
“I have no idea how Rick heard me,” he said. “I’ve never asked him. A couple of years ago, we went up to L.A. and he invited me to his studio. I played him some songs. He won a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys and threw what was supposed to be a party, but it was really just a big press thing that he had put together. The reason he invited me was to play a couple of songs; me and another artist he was enamored with played a few songs for some cameras. He doesn’t say much. He’s not a very talkative guy.”
Wall’s work with Dave Cobb on the new debut allows him to join the Cobb family tree; one that includes Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Anderson East, Brent Cobb, and Miranda Lambert. Their meeting wasn’t deliberate on either side, but a humbling experience for the talented young Canadian.
“Some mutual friends of ours mentioned me to Dave, and I had not met him yet,” Wall said. “But at some point, the idea was presented by some folks on my team. We decided to see if he wanted to hang out, and we did. We grabbed some food and some drinks in Nashville and just kind of shot the s—. We didn’t talk about work; we just talked about records and music and hung out for a while. It never felt like either of us was forced on the other. We hung out, decided we got along. I was always a fan of the records he was producing and felt pretty lucky to be able to work with him.”
That seal of approval immediately presents Wall to an audience that trusts Cobb as a tastemaker, something Wall doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s humbling,” he said. “The list of people that Dave is most recognized as working with is pretty impressive. They’re great records and great people and great songwriters. They’ve gone out of their way to do things their own way and do their own records the way they want to do them — not the way anyone else wants them to. All those folks that he gets mentioned alongside with, they’re just friends. They’re buddies that hang out and make great records together. I certainly hope that I can be included in that. After we made that record, I felt like I made a new friend.”
Colter Wall opens for Jamestown Revival on Tuesday, June 6, at Saturn. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.