Three years, ago Jason Isbell was a guest on The Daily Show. He walked into the New York studio, he sat across from Trevor Noah, and he played a song. He did all the normal things that big musicians do when they’re promoting new albums. Last night, Isbell once again returned to The Daily Show, but the situation was very different.
Isbell and his band the 400 Unit have a new album called Reunions. It’s great. (If you ordered a copy from an independent record store, it’s out today.) Last night, Isbell appeared on The Daily Show, and he and Trevor Noah spoke to each other remotely from their respective homes. Isbell sat in front of a sparkly gold curtain and talked about the effect that the current pandemic is going to have on the music business, something that’s only just starting to become clear: “As far as making a living making music, it’s going to be a lot harder for people who were living show-to-show, or paycheck-to-paycheck.”
Isbell knows that he’s lucky to have a real fanbase right now, and that he can keep making music. But he knows that his situation is a rare one: “Had it been 10 years ago, when I was still riding around in a van and playing for a couple hundred people a night, I would have to start rethinking career choices and making some hard decisions.” Isbell also talked about his late friend John Prine and talked about what he’s been doing under quarantine: “I sit with headphones on, and I play the electric guitar for about five hours a day.”
There’s a performance, too. Isbell played a lovely version of “Only Children,” one of the more devastating songs from Reunions, with Amanda Shires, his wife and bandmate. They did that thing where they hold eye contact while singing harmonies, which is always great. Watch the interview and the performance below.
Reunions is out now on Isbell’s own Southeastern label, though it’s only currently available from independent record stores. Everywhere else, Reunions is out 5/15.