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How a Country Music Vet Made a Moroder Tribute Album and Found Himself

Shooter Jennings: "There's no boundaries between any of this. It all works."

In a list of artists most likely to make a Giorgio Moroder tribute album, Shooter Jennings probably won't be the first name that comes to mind. The long-haired Los Angeles resident inherited his frayed croon from country music royalty; his parents, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, helped define the genre's Outlaw movement in the 70s, countering the slick, controlled productions coming out of the Nashville studio system with a tougher, sparer sound. Conscious of this lineage, much of the younger Jennings' solo work explores the scruffy textures of southern rock.


Countach (For Giorgio), which arrives in digital form on March 11, is different: an idiosyncratic homage to a crucial figure in the early history of disco and electronic music, couched in guitar, fiddle, and Jennings' own gloomy tenor. Except for two songs, Countach was recorded straight to tape with a full band, with a roster of guest vocalists that includes Marilyn Manson alternative country singer Brandi Carlile. The album includes renditions of solo Moroder tracks—"I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," which borrowed its refrain from Elvis Presley—selections from his soundtrack work—"The Chase," from 1978's Midnight Express, along with the originally David Bowie-vocaled "Cat People," from the 1982 movie of the same name—and several of his collaborations, including the Donna Summer-sung "Born To Die," from 1974.

Irregardless of his country music background, Jennings was a child of the 80s, when Moroder's music was pretty much ubiquitous in popular culture, not least because of the original soundtracks he wrote for blockbusters like Scarface and Topgun. The Italian record producer and songwriter's partnership with Donna Summer in the 70s helped define a steely European strain of disco; in particular, 1977's "I Feel Love," a top-ten hit in the US, turned mainstream America on to the body-moving impact of synthesizers and drum machines. Those weren't the only new technologies that interested Moroder—vocoder played an important role on a number of his recordings.


Although Jennings had encountered Moroder's work on the radio and in the theater, he says he didn't understand the full extent of the producer's impact until more recently, when he picked up a copy of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and heard the song "Giorgio By Moroder." From there, Jennings worked his way backwards, rediscovering the elder musician's "badass" electronic production work and determining that Moroder was an important influence on acts he fell in love with as a teenager, like 80s Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. Though Jennings acknowledges that his salute to Moroder is unorthodox and perhaps not for everyone, he affirms his right to ignore the confines of genre: "There's no boundaries between any of this," he says. "It all works." Below, he explains his appreciation for Moroder and the genesis of Countach.

Shooter Jennings: The way Moroder came to [my attention] was kind of weird. I had not put together all the pieces of Moroder and who he was and all the things that he had done until I bought Random Access Memories. I bought it because of Paul Williams—I'd loved The Muppet Movie, I'd loved "Rainbow Connection." I was a crazy fan of this '70s songwriter, and I couldn't believe he was actually on this record. I thought it was so cool that Daft Punk had done exactly what they wanted to do, done something really wild and had success with it. It was a good artistic moment.


The "Giorgio By Moroder" track is on there, and Moroder talks on it, and he talks about some really cool shit. I was aware of his name, and I was kind of aware of what he did. But I did not know he had done all of the shit that I had been listening to since I was young. When I was 13 or 14, I used to listen to Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM, and that starts with the tune "Chase" from Midnight Express, which Giorgio did.

I started piecing together who this guy was, and this huge mental bomb went off. All this stuff that I used to associate with the sound of the times was this one dude.

All those movie soundtracks: Top Gun, Scarface, Midnight Express. Things like "Axel F.," the Beverly Hills Cop song—they wouldn't have happened had Giorgio not made that kind of music popular, especially in association with movies. Fletch [a 1985 film starring Chevy Chase], Planes, Trains & Automobiles [a John Hughes-directed flick featuring Steve Martin] —those are all just an evolution of the thing that Giorgio pioneered and brought into the culture.

"This is about my childhood—this whole record is just a tribute to that: people who were children in the 80s and teenagers in the 90s."—Shooter Jennings

I love my dad's music, and I love my mom's music, but [growing up,] MTV was there. I loved rock & roll; I loved everything dangerous. When I heard Broken by Nine Inch Nails in eighth grade, that was the deal for me. Manson came out, and I loved those records. All that pioneering heavy electronic music of the 80s and 90s—all that tied heavily into Giorgio.


In 2013, I bought [Moroder's 1977 album] From Here To Eternity—all vocoder, great songs. "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" was on there, and when I heard that, I was like, "I think we could do this." I think I could make this sound really cool with a full live band. I started messing around with some ideas.

At the same time, I was doing this George Jones tribute record [Don't Wait Up For George, which came out in 2014]. I was kind of going to do more Moroder-style music with the George record, and more traditional country instruments over the Moroder record, and do it as a pair of singles. Then it evolved into an EP for George and an album for Giorgio.

When we did the George EP, I was at [the label] 30 Tigers. We had planned to have [Countach] out much quicker. They were definitely like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, that record. Let's focus on this record [Don't Wait Up For George]." You could tell really early on that not many people were going to get [Countach].

I [ended up putting] all my own money into this record. When you're dealing with another company, it takes forever to get anything done. It takes like two weeks to get emails sent back and forth. We pulled the tube on thinking about what anyone else thought about it and just went for it. And that was the point where I think we got traction. This is about my childhood—this whole record is just a tribute to that. The whole point of it was to service a certain group of people that were like me, people who were children in the 80s and teenagers in the 90s. That's the genre. There's no boundaries between any of this. It all works.

I picked my favorite of [Moroder's] solo records [for the first side]. That was my tribute to his and what an amazing pop songwriter he was and pioneer of synthesizers and drum machines. The second side is more of the stuff that really mattered to me when I was little: "The NeverEnding Story," Metropolis—I remember seeing the movie when I was younger. One side is the rock & roll Giorgio, showing how badass he was making these killer songs. The second side is all the shit that excited the 13-year-old Shooter.

We could have made a second one; we could've gone on forever. But I was like, "I'm just going to take the ones I can nail." It's a [continuous] experience; it didn't feel like something that needed breaks in between [songs]. I love records like that. It's this thing where you're supposed to turn the lights off, smoke a joint, and just go away for a minute.