"What (Fisher) has done has simply been to acknowledge that the Opry, like it's always done, has to bring in old and new singers, and then try to give people an idea of all of the different things that are out there. For God's sake, Porter Wagoner brought James Brown to the Opry."
"I think Pete Fisher sees that there's a spectrum of music that includes the traditional Opry stars that includes Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner (and) Bill Anderson, and they can share the stage with people who are giant country stars now. And they can share the stage with people who are future Opry stars, or people who are simply in the world of country music. It's such a giant realm of music it seems weird to want to cut off a part of it."
Ireland's latest, "Try Again," will sound like familiar territory to fans of the first album. Former Lovin' Spoonful member Jerry Yester is again handling the string arrangements, giving several numbers the countrypolitan feel that permeated much of the first album.
"Try Again" was recorded at the old pre-Civil War Colt firearms factory in Hartford, Conn., with Dan Mesh held over from the first album, as well as guitar work from John Horton and drums from Spencer Marquart, since replaced by Will Rigby, formerly of '80s college radio icons the dBs.
"We're going to be touring with Will Rigby," says Ireland. "We got all these suggestions, and when I saw his name I said, 'Oh my God! He was the dBs' drummer! I am such a college radio geek!"
"The Colt .45 factory is a marvelous place; marvelous and weird. It has these really long corridors and rickety floors. It was hard to roll a dolly down the hallway to the studio because the floorboards give if there's any weight on the dolly. There's weird piping everywhere, (and) everything looks pre-industrial. I expected there to be ironworks and smoke coming out of the place. You look out the window, and on top is
this strange Russian onion-shaped dome." (a gift to the factory from the Czar)
If there's one major difference between the first album and the new one, it's Ireland's attitude.
Largely -- though not completely -- gone is the bitterness and disappointment of the first record, mostly replaced by a tentative kind of hope, exemplified by numbers like "Tonight" and "I'd Like To."
Though the vast majority of the album's songs have been written in the past four years, the title track dates back further.
"I'm sort of committed to putting an older song of mine on each album. I like that the songs are connected to other places that I've been. I've had (versions of 'Try Again') since the band before The Starkweathers. And we played it in The Starkweathers, and back then, it was an uptempo waltz kind of thing. The more time I spent polishing it, the more it made sense to me. By the time we were done with it I (was saying), 'Yeah! This sounds like a song that this band can play!'"
The album's sole cover is a version of Margaret Ann Rich's "Life's Little Ups and Downs," originally recorded by husband Charlie Rich in 1969 and also a number 4 hit for Ricky Van Shelton in 1991.
"To me, that is just one of the best songs ever. I think about what it's about -- a man who's lost the thing that he attributes to his wife's happiness -- and he continually ruminates about the things that aren't going to happen because of that; the ways that she's going to be hurt. And she keeps coming back to the idea that she's going to be okay with him no matter what happens. She loves him, and he knows that. It's not really a sad song. It's a very tender love song; 'she loves me no matter what.' It's sort of the same guy who sings 'I Take It On Home'; this solid trust in a love partner. I've cried so many times to the Charlie Rich recording of it."
Besides his regular shows with Holler, Ireland also plays solo acoustic shows from time to time, though he admits that he's not entirely comfortable in that format.
"Y'know, I do that really infrequently. I practice guitar pretty much every day, but I don't think I have any natural aptitude. Occasionally I put myself in harm's way and go ahead and commit to a show. I write all the songs on guitar. I'm just not really good at moving between chords. The people that see me play are always amazed that I can sing and play bass at the same time. And I'm frankly always amazed that people can sing and play guitar at the same time."
Ireland makes no bones about his love of the pop-country of his childhood. In fact, during the conversation, Ireland expresses his admiration for numerous strains of pop, from '70s disco (early on in his musical career Ireland played sax in a large funk band) to the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds."
"I think a lot of people have the idea that if pop -- in any form -- touches country music, it's horrible," says Ireland.
"But you know what? All the things I loved when I was little was country music that had pop in it. The things that I was exposed to were like 'Rose Garden' by Lynn Anderson. Which I loved when I was a kid, but if someone had asked me if it was country music, I never would have thought of it that way. It still doesn't strike me as a country record. It strikes me as an incredible record minus any sort of genre description. Charlie Rich's 'The Most Beautiful Girl' does not sound particularly country. It doesn't sound like honky-tonk. It just sounds like a guy singing a song."
"When Anne Murray sings 'Snowbird,' I live. Hank Williams? Neve heard him."