Tyler Farr’s a thinker, an observer of the human condition, a man in the middle of a surging testosterone country movement in today’s Nashville who insists on digging a little deeper, getting a little realer and owning how hard it can be. On Suffer In Peace, the son of a Garden City, Missouri farmer opens his veins and examines the pain that comes from being truly engaged with living.
From the wracked hangover of what you don’t see coming in love “Withdrawals,” the smoky acoustic “I Don’t Even Want This Beer” or the spare run-from-the-memories title track, the classically-trained vocalist knows that love isn’t just hard, it’s risky. With a resonant tenor that has a powdery bottom and a warm center, Farr heats up difficult emotions and peels back what most men barricade behind bravado.
One listen to “A Guy Walks Into A Bar,” Suffer’s lead single, is to hear the tension, the exhaustion and the devastation that comes with a stiff upper lip. It falters just a bit, buckles and throws unspeakable pain wide open without going for melodrama as he transforms the joke into a punchline that is the hero’s life.
“I could sing you heartbreak ballads for over an hour and a half,” laughs the easy-talking Farr. “I have a lot of heartbreak ballads, because I think there’s a lot more heartbreak than happily ever after… But happily ever after is still what keeps you going after it.”
Not that he’s looking to throw an industrial strength pity party. From Craig Wiseman’s thumpin’ “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.,” the hillbilly word-tumble a la Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” straight through to “Damn Good Friends,” which features tour mate and pal Jason Aldean trading verses celebrating good ole boy’s hanging tough, Suffer is also the gusto of cold beer after a hard day’s work, the notion of raising Hell and chasing the night and the grass roots eroticism that happens when you lose the posturing.
Farr evokes old school rednecks, hellions and honky-tonkers like the Hank Jr of Major Moves and 5-0, the John Anderson of “Swingin’” and “Let Somebody Else Drive,” Gary Stewart in his prime and Keith Whitley channeling Lefty Frizzell in “I Never Go Around Mirrors.” Confessing, “I chew tobacco, I don’t smoke. I drink whiskey ‘cause I like it,” he suggests his vices qualify him straight up and honest.
But his affinity for hard country and honky-tonk comes from an even more bedrock place: his parents. Following behind his father’s tractor raking the hay on the 150 acres he raised cattle on, Farr was basted in Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty’s “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind,” Vince Gill’s I Still Believe In You and Sammy Kershaw’s Politics, Religion & Her – and his Mom, an aspiring singer who loved Dan Seals’ “Bop,” ended up married to George Jones touring guitarist, which pulled Farr right up to the bumper of one of country’s greatest raw lightning vocalists, as well as being exposed to Merle Haggard, Vern Gosdin, and Gene Watson.
He also found his own way to the party. “Carol, our bus driver, smoked Marlboro Reds while she was driving ‘cause that’s how we do… and I’d go to the back of the bus where there was this older girl who was just built, and who had a boom box she’d play Tim McGraw’s Not A Moment Too Soon on, and that was pretty good for a young high school kid.”
Farr’s way was paved with the prestigious OAKE National Choir and years of formal voice training. But the high road didn’t appeal. At 21, like so many hard-scrabble dreamers, he made his way to Nashville to try his hand at being a star.
“I saw guys who’d been there for ten years and nothing had happened,” Farr said of the sobering reality. “I got there, thinking I’ve got an album… I’m gonna be a star. It cost me $25,000. It was a total mess.
“You start to realize: it doesn’t matter how good, or what you’ve got. There’s just so much more to it.”
Farr didn’t know, beyond what he’d picked up from his stepfather. But he was determined. “I got a job at Tootsies, first day passing out flyers. I was a bar back. I’d pull sets playing for tips when they’d let me… and I swear that was the best hamburger in the South!”
In true country boy can survive spirit, while Farr was waiting on his shot, he did what was necessary. Physical labor, parking cars, short order cooking, landscaping, singing demos, construction work, recreational therapist, working in a halfway house for children, “which was rough; we’d find suicide notes in tissue boxes, razor blades hidden under chair cushions.”
And he kept pulling sets at Tootsies, playing for tips. “Four, five sets a night. People loved it. That’s where I really honed in on what I wanted to do – playing covers, classic country, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd and trying to write songs.
“We figured out how to get out of town, too. Whiskey River in Valdosta, Georgia, Rumors in Atlanta, all over Florida and the Southeast. I’d play Tootsies three, four nights a week, then take off on weekends.”
Punching it out on the streets and in the honky-tonks. It’s where the survivors and the-won’t-go-homers refuse to die. Every now and then a kid with talent rises from the herd.
Fate stepped in. Country-rapper Colt Ford was looking for a background singer. Farr was looking to make it happen for himself. “Colt called me personally; he said, ‘I know you’re trying to make it. Take the job. I’ll let you open for me.’”
Just as importantly, the gig opened doors and Farr’s eyes.
“I learned a whole lot that year out on the road, singing ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ before Jason (Aldean) ever cut it. Dreaming every damn night, learning the ropes.”
As time passed, Farr met Stephanie Cox, his publisher, “and someone who believed in me enough that I didn’t give up when other people might have.” Jim Catino, now his producer, took the roughneck with the golden pipes to RCA Nashville. “They didn’t know what it was, but they thought I had something. Beyond being real, I think it made me a mystery.”
They signed the hard singing songwriter with the nuance in his midrange.
If he wasn’t like all the other kids, he was an awful lot like the fans, the working people who turn out for country shows. With little fan fare, Redneck Crazy was a #2 Billboard Country Album debut and an even more impressive Top 5 BillboardTop 200 Album debut, en route to yielding a pair of #1 hits in the title track and “Whiskey In My Water.”
But Farr was just getting started. He toured incessantly: Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Lee Brice, Jason Aldean, festivals, dive bars. A working class country singer, he was trying to get people to hear his songs. Ultimately his debut sold well over six figures, but more importantly, the time staring the fans in the face solidified his take on what he wanted his kind of country to be.
“I don’t think real life is flowers and sunshine – and I didn’t have a white picket fence in front of a little house,” he explains. “My parents split up. My Mom was married four times, so I’m used to people leaving.
“I’ve been through a lot… but so have most people. And I want to be honest. I’d be lying if I made a record that’s all girls and love and perfect ‘cause that’s not real. I’d be lying to myself and to the people who look for their life in these songs…
“I wrote more songs on my first album, but in the end, while I had plenty of songs written, people made much better songs available to us. Songs that said what I wanted to say… that maybe said it better. And some of my songs I know are hits, but I want an album when you put the songs together, it fits. To me, Suffer does.”
Certainly there are emergent themes. Pride in who we are charges “Why We Live Here,” “Damn Good Friends,” “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.” and “Raised To Pray,” while the notion of addiction being the reality when facing love gone bad or just plain gone offers a metaphor to harbor “Withdrawals,” “I Don’t Even Want This Beer,” “Suffer In Peace” and “A Guy Walks Into a Bar.”
It is the good; it is the bad. Mostly, it is the real.
“I think most of us are fighting the good and the evil sides of who we are. I’m a good person, but I genuinely like people. You get out having fun, one thing leads to another, you flirt with that line and it can get real thin.
“That’s the truth about life. There’s always that other side, and it’s not black and white. It’s not that easy. I’m a simple person, but inside, I might be complicated.”
Farr voices trails off. Like he said, it’s not that easy, but the things that endure never are. Not slick, not fast, not obvious, he harkens back to a time when country singers raised hell and went to church, worked hard and played harder. They fell in love, but faced profound grief when it fell apart – and maintained their dignity no matter what.
“If Suffer In Peace does anything, I hope for people who don’t have perfect lives, they can go, ‘Hell, yes!’ Because life is messy and hard to trust sometimes, but it’s deep and it’s intense – and if you do it right, you get to experience it all.”