Jon Randall + Jack Ingram Talk Grammy-Nominated ‘The Marfa Tapes': ‘The Pasture Was Our Studio’
Jon Randall has always been the kind of person who goes all-in when he finds something he likes.
"I'm one of those people, obnoxiously so, that when I find something I love, I won't shut up about it until everybody knows — whether it's food, a restaurant, tequila, whatever it is," the singer-songwriter tells Taste of Country.
So when he stumbled by happenstance upon the small, West Texas town of Marfa — a map dot on a Rand McNally atlas that he picked out while toying with the idea of buying some land outside of the nearby ghost town Terlingua — he couldn't keep his newfound hidden gem to himself. He started talking about Marfa to everyone around him, including his two fellow Texans and regular songwriting buddies Jack Ingram and Miranda Lambert.
"Those two heard me talk about it until they called my bluff on it," Randall continues. So the trio headed down for what would be the first of several songwriting trips to Marfa. Surrounded by cows, stars and acreage — The 5,000-acre property their ranch sat on backed up to 100,000 more, which backed up to the Davis Mountain range — they wrote songs including "Tin Man," which would go on to be one of the biggest hits of Lambert's career.
In 2017, that song earned the three musicians their first mutual Grammy nomination, for Best Country Song. Now, at the 2022 Grammy Awards, they're nominated once again: This time for The Marfa Tapes, a 2021 acoustic project that presses the magic of Marfa onto a record, incorporating the sounds of the wind, the coyotes and the cries of young animals the trio called "weanlings" being weaned from their mother in a neighboring pasture.
Lambert's connection to the wilds of West Texas is self-evident; she's long taken musical inspiration from her home state. For Ingram and Randall, The Marfa Tapes had personal musical precedents, too. Randall grew up with one foot solidly in the bluegrass world, complete with its robust tradition of field recordings.
"And I grew up digging on Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff [Walker], and they have a lot of recordings where you just go, 'What are they building in there? What's going on?' You can hear things happening," Ingram explains.
"Jack and I always talk about those kinds of recordings, even the ones that are just live in the studio, on the floor, raw. There were no fixes. There was no pristine micing, and so on," Randall agrees. "We talk about those records all the time, and that's kinda what we did even further, because the pasture was our recording studio."
"To have the cows be a part of the song, or the wind...We weren't trying to do anything. We were just trying to be," Ingram sums up.
For Randall, who often finds himself on a mission to turn his friends on to his favorite food, things and places, The Marfa Tapes just might be his most successful and widest-reaching publicity campaign to date. Crafted specifically to be an intimate snapshot of the experience of making music — and just simply being — in Marfa, it's reached ears around the world. Now, it might nab a trophy at the Grammys, too.
"I've had people say they felt like they were eavesdropping on a conversation that they shouldn't be a part of, or that they were sitting at the campfire with us," he recounts. "That was exactly what we were hoping we'd share."
The Grammys are set for Jan. 31, and both Randall and Ingram are planning to go to L.A. for the ceremony. For both of them, it'll be a bit of a do-over from the 2017 awards show, when "Tin Man" was nominated.
"I didn't get to go that year. I got the flu," Randall says. Meanwhile, Ingram did attend the awards show, but not without incident.
"I went in 2017, and forgot to get tickets for [my kids and wife], so I went by myself while they sat in the hotel," he remembers drily. "So I sat there at the alternative session, the one in the afternoon, sat there by myself and watched [Chris] Stapleton win an award." (Stapleton's "Broken Halos" took home the trophy for Best Country Song that year, edging out "Tin Man.")
They'll be going head to head against Stapleton once again in 2022, as his Starting Over is a Best Country Album nominee in the running alongside The Marfa Tapes. Ingram and Randall joke that since they'll be there at the ceremony, they'll have the chance to "whip his ass" if he beats them again this year.
"Every male vocalist is wishing that Stapleton would fall down and break his mouth for just one year," Randall says good-naturedly, adding, "He is just phenomenal."
But in all seriousness, both musicians are just grateful for the chance to attend the show.
"These days, man, [Jon] and I are old enough to know: Never trust a fart, and never miss a Grammys if you're nominated. You just never know if you'll be there again," Ingram says.
What they do know is this: They're not done with Marfa. In fact, just a couple of days after their conversation with Taste of Country, Ingram and Randall have plans to head back down to their magic West Texas outpost with Lambert for another round of music-making. The pair demure when asked about what's next for The Marfa Tapes, but it seems likely that some of the songs currently only available on the Tapes might find studio version homes at some point.
"I'm not at liberty to give titles, but there will be a few studio recordings for public consumption soon," Randall adds, with Ingram quipping, "It'll be better than Christmas!" in the background.
Could a part two of The Marfa Tapes, with the same sparse, rootsy, place-imbued production style be in the works?
"We serve at the pleasure of the president," Ingram replies, cackling.
"You know, who knows. I'll say this: In a fit of good taste, this record was so special that trying to do this again would be kinda hard to do," Randall elaborates, after the two have finished giggling. "'Cause the cat's out of the bag, kinda. But here's the thing. The songs will guide us. If we keep up the good work and write songs we love as much as we love The Marfa Tapes, then anything's possible, I suppose."