As Will Rogers was no ordinary man, this is no ordinary album. Jennings mindfully mapped out the major locations of Will’s life and visited each place to perform a song live. He describes how the song is like a plaque--marking the adored memory of Rogers. Jennings not only recorded these songs in a studio setting, he also had a film team documenting his entire journey. With popular filmmaker Brad Beesley joining the project from Austin, the crew made it’s way through Arkansas, Oklahoma, California and Alaska to retrace the footsteps of Will Rogers. The Verdigris: The Search For Will Rogers is due to make its film debut soon.
Beau says he shares the desire to be friends with everyone, as Rogers did, but is not sure he's as charming as Will. As I was honored to gain an interview with Jennings—who’s name has been the buzz around Oklahoma with his release of The Verdigris--I had no doubt that this creative artist has more charm than he gives himself credit for. A handsome thirty-something, with timeless vocals, in-depth and expressive lyrics, and nostalgic guitar and piano arrangements--he has charm written all over him. I was eager to find out more about The Verdigris, and the process Beau went through to honor the life of Will Rogers, through song and film.
Beau: It was a matter of reflecting on where I’d come from and what I knew best. I had really just arrived in New York so I felt like I didn’t have enough to draw on the make the record I would have wanted at that time. Maybe that will come later.
Jenn: The Verdigris is a major project that includes a film documentary, studio recordings and a support team for all of the above. We know several of the members are from Oklahoma, can you tell us about how you formed your team?
Beau: Brad Beesely is a friend as well as an accomplished filmmaker so he was a natural choice as far as someone to help with the documentary. Recording the record at Blackwatch Studios was also an easy choice, I know them well and they do great work and they bought into the vision.
Jenn: Did you have a concrete vision of The Verdigris? Or did the project develop and change as you embarked on the journey?
Beau: A little of both. I had a strong idea starting out which I think helped sustain momentum but I learned quickly how flexible I had to be as unexpected situations arose. And many times the improvisations that were required led to cooler results than I’d planned anyway.
"I got a good sense of what Will means to people still today. He had a unique quality to his life that has translated all these years later to people who know very little about him. He’s largely forgotten and yet any little mention of him reawakens something in people." -Beau Jennings
Beau: Visiting the site of Will’s plane crash in Alaska was really big time for me. It was really difficult to get there in the first place and once we were there it was very beautiful and sad at the same time.
Jenn: What were some of the challenges you faced in putting together this project? If you were back to square one, what would you do differently?
Beau: Funding and logistics are two things I would re-approach if given the chance I suppose. Maybe route the travel better, but then again I only know that in retrospect.
Jenn: You have some amazing guests on the album such as Sufjan Stevens and Allan Vest—can you share with us how they became involved with the project and what you feel they added to the album as a whole?
Beau: I got to know Sufjan while living in New York through some mutual friends. I was very honored that he was agreeable to playing and singing on the record, the time we spent in the studio was a real thrill for me. He’s a great guy and also obviously very talented. He works very quickly and off the cuff and it was fun to see his creative process. Allan Vest is someone I’ve known and admired for a long time and he really brought the songs to a new level. It’s funny cause he works the exact opposite of Sufjan, he’s very meticulous and takes his time but the results are equally impressive to me.
Jenn: Do you have a favorite song on the album? If so, can you share why?
Beau: I’m probably most proud of ‘Me & Wiley’ because it is my most ambitious song arrangement wise, but also because a lot of the themes and lyrics from the other songs made their way into that one.
Jenn: What are some of the most interesting aspects you discovered about Will Rogers’ life through your journey?
Beau: I got a good sense of what Will means to people still today. He had a unique quality to his life that has translated all these years later to people who know very little about him. He’s largely forgotten and yet any little mention of him reawakens something in people.
Jenn: What are some impacts that this project has had on your life, what have you taken away from it?
Beau: I’ve learned I enjoy taking a concept a little too far sometimes. It’s healthy for me.
Beau: I probably share his desire to be friends with everyone, if there’s someone I tend to not like I usually try to find a way to reverse that. But I don’t have that ability to charm anyone I meet or talk off the cuff like he did and make it sound poetic or profound. And I’m not nearly as funny.
Jenn: What would you say to Will Rogers if you could sit down with him today?
Beau: I guess I would just ask him about hanging out with the St. Louis Cardinals in the dugout after they won the World Series in 1934. I’m a big Cards fan, which is something Will and I had in common.
Jenn: The Verdigris album has been released, and many of us are looking forward to your release show (February 13th, 9:00pm) at the Opolis, Norman. Can you give any insight into when the The Verdigris: The Search For Will Rogers film will be released, and how can we support the project further?
Beau: Right now we’re looking for the right avenue to release it, but it shouldn’t be too long.
Jenn: In addition to the Opolis CD release, I know you have some shows coming up to promote the album—what are the best ways to stay updated on your upcoming dates?
Beau: www.beaujennings.com stays updated pretty well, as well as Facebook and Twitter and stuff.
Jenn: In closing, can you share a favorite memory from your journey in making this film and album?
Beau: Travelling to Alaska to the scene of Will & Wiley's crash was really special. It was very remote, no trees, a barren and still beautiful landcape, like the moon or something.