Sturgill Simpson on his surprise album of the year Grammy nod

Sturgill Simpson, shown at the 2015 Stagecoach festival in Indio, received two Grammy Award nominations for his latest album, "A Sailor's Guide to Earth."
(Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more surprised by the general album of the year Grammy nomination for Sturgill Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” than Simpson himself.

“In terms of what happened today, this never even crossed my mind,” the Kentucky-born singer and songwriter told The Times from Nashville on Tuesday. “When we came off the road at Thanksgiving, I really thought, ‘Well, that’s it for this one. We’ve done everything,’ and I started thinking about what to do for the next record. This has all been slightly surreal to say the least.”

The nomination puts his critically lauded album up against pop blockbusters such as Adele’s “25,” Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” Drake’s “Views” and Justin Bieber’s “Purpose.” Surreal indeed.


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One of the best accolades Simpson picked up came from one of his idols, Merle Haggard, who lauded him as “just about the brightest star around right now” when the two met backstage last year at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.

For Simpson, who already was a critic and fan favorite — and Americana album Grammy award nominee thanks to his 2014 album “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” — making “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” felt like he was onto something significant.

“When the music was speaking, I was definitely hearing a lot more of my own voice, finally. I poured my heart into this one more than any other record I’ve made,” he said, quickly ceding a good share of credit to the birth of his first child, who inspired many of the album’s songs, and to his engineer, David Ferguson, for helping him realize the musical and sonic ideas in his head.

“I couldn’t have done this without him,” he said of Ferguson. “He was a mentor and a touchstone on the project. I can get pretty intense in the studio. I get lost in it, and I’m probably not easy to be around. He worked with [celebrated producer and engineer] Cowboy Jack [Clement], so he knows what to do when working with crazy bastards.”

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Simpson said he often feels isolated from much of the music world, but became aware of the real-world impact of a Grammy nomination when “Metamodern Sounds” was singled out.

“For one, it kinda shows you more people are aware and paying attention than you can realize,” he said. “I live in an insular bubble by choice. Other than band and my team around me I don’t get out much, and I don’t see a lot of other people.

“I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the country music world,” Simpson said. “But that nomination sort of let you know it’s not all in vain, and maybe that’s what happened here. I feel like maybe this represents something a helluva a lot bigger than me.”

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