Plenty has changed for Americana star Jason Isbell in the past few years.
After spending six years with the Southern rock outfit Drive-By Truckers, leaving to pursue a solo career in 2007 and getting sober in 2012, Isbell has found a comfortable balance between skyrocketing career success and family life.
The two-time Grammy Award-winner will perform at The Township Sunday, Oct. 16 in support of his most recent release, “Something More Than Free.” He will be backed by his longtime band The 400 Unit, and contemporary folk singer Josh Ritter will open.
Isbell is touring with his 1 year-old daughter, Mercy, in tow.
His wife, singer-songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires, whom he married in 2013, just released her solo album and is on a tour of her own. She’s traveling cross-country in a van, while Isbell rides with Mercy (and a nanny) in a more spacious tour bus.
“It would have been a lot more difficult a decade ago when we were driving around in a van and staying in cheap hotels. But it’s pretty easy. I enjoy it a whole lot,” Isbell said.
Traveling with a 1-year-old “takes up a lot of time that used to be dead time,” he added. “The hurry up and wait stuff is gone now.”
Also in the rear-view mirror are the sad songs of atonement that made up his 2013 album, “Southeastern.” The songs on “Something More Than Free” – for which Isbell won Americana Album of the Year and Best American Roots Song for “24 Frames” – have a celebratory sound.
Isbell has attributed the difference to being happier.
“I’m not still adjusting. When I wrote ‘Southeastern,’ I was trying to figure out who to be, but now I’m more comfortable in the world,” he told Garden & Gun.
Going from niche popularity to cross-genre acclaim is certainly nice, but not the ultimate goal, Isbell said.
“All that’s really good stuff. I was happy about the Grammys, not necessarily because it was something I depended on, because I know a lot of people who deserve those kinds of awards and haven’t really received them. Being a dad is the most important thing in the world to me right now.”
Isbell last performed in Columbia at the Music Farm in April 2015. Before he performs at the larger Township, Go Columbia asked him about his South Carolina connections, life with a fellow musician and keeping audiences awake for the slow songs.
Q: Can you talk about the song “Palmetto Rose” from “Something More Than Free” and the intention behind it?
A: I wrote that song about South Carolina and about Charleston specifically. I’ve spent a lot of time there. A member of my band, (The 400 Unit guitarist) Sadler Vaden grew up around there and we’ve played there many, many times. You get a sense of history there, for better or worse. There are a lot of dark days related to that part of the country and a lot of beautiful things, too. It’s about how it fits into the South in general.
Q: Your songs have been widely complimented for their sense of storytelling. What do you think are the components of a good story?
A: You have to choose the right details, that’s the most important part. If you do that, you wind up writing something that the audience thinks is about them. When you’re working within the realm of songwriting, you don’t have the time to develop backstory, so you have to be careful about the details you reveal. You don’t have pages and chapters to develop things. You have to get to the point really quickly. Just writing those types of songs over and over, over the course of 20 years, is the only way I’m able to do it.
Q: How would you describe the vibe of your shows to someone who hasn’t been?
A: I think they’re more of a rock ’n’ roll show than people would expect. The last two records have been sonically low-key and quiet, with lots of acoustic. And the live show, we do a lot of that, but there are also a lot of loud rock ’n’ roll moments, which I think is a good thing. You don’t want to put people to sleep.
Q: Your wife, Amanda Shires, just released her own solo album. What’s it like being married to a fellow musician?
A: When we’re writing, we help each other edit. We got to a point early on where we could criticize each other’s work without being offended. Most of the time, rather than collaborate or co-write, we will write a song and bring it to each other, asking, ‘Does this word work here better than this word?’ It’s really helpful to me because she’s a good writer and a very good editor.
Q: Anything you’re looking forward to about being back in South Carolina?
A: I’ve got friends all over South Carolina. I know a lot of people in that state. Sadler always has his family come out (to the shows). He has some folks in Columbia and his wife is also from Columbia. So I’m looking forward to hanging out with their people.
If you go
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16
Where: The Township, 1703 Taylor St.