The artist takes a new shot at a first impression
Mel Washington (above) released his country album, Feast or Famine, in November and plans to issue a vinyl edition this spring.
Music as purpose is nothing new to Mel Washington. The Charleston-born, Goose Creek-raised singer-songwriter grew up playing in church, before earning an associate degree online so he could focus on writing and performing full time. He’s lived in Nashville, written with famous songwriters such as Wyatt Durrette (Zac Brown Band) and Earl Lee Bud (Garth Brooks), and toured the nation with his former band, All Get Out.
Now, with the recent release of the decidedly country album Feast or Famine, recorded with Wolfgang Zimmerman, he’s scrubbed his prior material from streaming services (much of it more rock-leaning) and compiled nearly a decade’s worth of songs into a collection it seems he was born to make. Here, Washington talks about the album’s origins and the inspiration behind the songs.
New Start: The oldest song on the album is “Whiskey River.” I wrote that in 2015 when I’d been living in Nashville, working on a music publishing team. I lost my job and then ended up without a home, out on the street at night, and I was jealous of a homeless man because he had a blanket. I walked around all night and said to myself, “I need to write a song.” I called a friend up, and we got up on a roof and drank whiskey at 10 a.m. and wrote a song about whiskey and being homeless.
Being Honest: I crashed on a friend’s couch and then called my mom and dad and said, “Hey, Nashville’s not working out.” When I look back on that period, I see that my life has been really great or really not. It’s a lot of feast or famine, and I knew that I wanted this album to celebrate the highs while being honest about the lows.
Finding his Roots: What is country anymore? For me, it’s, “Make it simple and tell the truth.” [The latest single] “Mad Love” isn’t a song I brought to the studio to record. Wolfgang forced me to write it on the spot, and the progression at the beginning is the scratch recording—it’s literally me writing the part. It was one of those magical moments. It’s got this outro that’s two minutes long. I can imagine someone driving and vibing out and being lost in that moment.
Singer-songwriter Mel Washington plays regularly at King Street Dispensary (above), as well as at Blind Tiger, Bumpa’s, and The Dinghy on Isle of Palms.
On Working with Wolfgang: Back when Wolfie still went by Ryan—he’s still in my phone as Ryan—he came to see All Get Out in Charlotte, probably in the fall of 2008. I ended up recording a few songs with him that year, and we’ve worked together ever since. We’ve cried together. We’ve yelled at each other. We really are brothers. Half the time we’re working together on music, and the other half of the time it’s therapy.
Going to Church: I still play in church at least once a month. In my house, it was Southern gospel music all the time, so I wasn’t exposed to music that other people had known their entire lives. I’m still catching up. Someone is like, “Do you know that George Strait song?” and I’m like, “I sure don’t.” As a songwriter, especially around Nashville, I’m very focused on not trying to make a certain type of music. I just want to write the song in the room—the song that I can sing the best. What makes a great artist, like Elvis or Johnny Cash or Charley Pride, is the ability not to limit your expression and still be true to yourself.
Making his Debut: You only get one chance to make a first impression, and from an industry standpoint, my last album (2013’s Houses) is not what I want a suit to hear on their first listen. The majority of the people in the world do not know who Mel Washington is yet. So, the album that gets you to reach new people is the real debut. All the other stuff was just training.