“I ain’t the devil, just the devil you know,” howls Jared Deck on the rollicking “Great American Breakdown,” the lead single from his newly announced sophomore album, Bully Pulpit. The Oklahoma-based troubadour evokes the hard-driving blues blend of late-Sixties Rolling Stones and soulful Southern gospel while maintaining his blue-collar earnestness on the politically charged anthem.
“I wanted something that felt really good so I could talk about some things that maybe don’t always feel so good,” Deck tells Rolling Stone Country. Like songwriters Will Hoge or Steve Earle, Deck has a plainspoken knack for unpacking the struggles and concerns of rural America. On “Great American Breakdown,” he explores the decaying ruins of the American Dream.
Deck recorded Bully Pulpit with Grammy-nominated producer Wes Sharon (John Fullbright, Turnpike Troubadours) at 115 Recording in Norman, Oklahoma. Bully Pulpit is due out February 1st.
You’re from Oklahoma, a state that’s been impacted by economic struggle, political turmoil, and civil unrest. You see an uneasiness and a distrust between a population and its government. Why do you think that is?
I love Oklahoma. I still live here. It’s my home. But I see this attitude of independence that can sometimes be self-defeating. We all want to believe that we don’t need anyone else to make it. We want to believe we can do things on our own. But that’s not how communities work. I’ve seen a whole lot of small communities fall apart because they lose that sense of togetherness. I grew up in a small farming community of about 1,200. In a lot of those small communities, you’re dependent on one another. Small businesses struggle or fold when you aren’t thinking locally. This happens when they stop working together toward a common goal.
On “Great American Breakdown,” you explore notions of the American Dream and the false hope connected to it. How much of “Great American Breakdown” is informed by seeing the unrest and struggles up close in rural Oklahoma?
After college, I worked at a small factory outside of my hometown. I worked there for a few years and we all got called in one day. They announced that they were going to outsource all of our jobs. Effectively, we had our entire plant lose their job the same day. It was definitely one of those moments where I thought you only saw this kind of thing on TV. This is the kind of thing that you see happening in Ohio or Michigan and not rural Oklahoma. But there we were and it was happening to us. That moment, it really changed my perspective on things. It changed what I thought about “The American Dream” was at large.
Bully Pulpit sees you expanding your musical palette. There’s still those strong Heartland rock elements, but you push further into gospel and soul.
I worked for about seven years in a predominately African-American church in Clinton, Oklahoma. It was a small congregation where I played the piano and led the choir. When I first began working there, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work. To be honest, I just didn’t know if I had the chops. But they were so appreciative and encouraging. It gave me an all-new musical and cultural education. It gave me some new perspective that I can never replace.
Why do you think those influences are starting to surface now?
In the past, I always compartmentalized aspects of my life and music. I kept the gospel at church and the country in the honky tonks. That’s just what you do growing up around here. It’s going to sound strange, but my voice has really grown these past few years. I’m able to sing in ways that I wasn’t able to in the past. Wes [Sharon] has been monumental in pushing me to try new things. I think it’s given me the ability and confidence to incorporate these influential styles. On this album, if we had an idea, we’d try it. Everyone always says they don’t want to be put inside a box. But I saw this album as an opportunity to expand.