Anyone who heard Dean Alexander's debut single "Live a Little" back in 2014 may have wondered what happened to the Nashville singer-songwriter. Now, he's answering the query with with Devil Man's Blues, his upcoming full-length debut album, with the track "Different Kind of Same" premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Oct. 16).
"Took Dean Alexander and buried him in my backyard," Alexander quips about the long wait for new music after his Top 40 Country Airplay success. "I just went soul-searching. It took a long time to get into something that's deep. This record was a long time coming, but it's very therapeutic. I laughed and told my wife that I think I saved a couple thousand dollars on therapy with this record. It's like a psychology jolt to the system."
Alexander had a lot to dig through on Devil Man's Blues’ 10 tracks, including losing both of his parents, in separate car crashes when he was 13 and being raised in his grandparents' strict, religious home in West Virginia. "There's a lot of stuff I'd been hiding away," explains Alexander, who got his first publishing deal from Roy Orbison's widow Barbara after he did some landscaping work for her. "A lot of these [songs] were really bringing that back and really tapping into that truth. I've never really dug this deep before. It just took that long to do it."
Alexander did come up with other songs after "Live a Little," but they didn't resonate in the same way as his current material.
"I wasn't writing anything worth any substance," he says now. "I became disconnected — almost like I blacked out and just forgot about all that stuff in my life before. I felt like I wasn't being myself and I wasn't being true. I went downhill and I had to go into the cave, if you will, to try to find myself. And that took a long time, 'cause I hated myself for a long time, secretly. I don't do that anymore."
Alexander wrote "Different Kind of Same" with Tim James, and during the session the two started finding similarities in “our messed-up histories and just combined the two." Alexander, himself, found a bit of self-revelation in that. Among that history was a sister that Alexander's father had with another woman, who was raised by the same town sheriff that used to bring his dad home when he was too drunk to drive. She eventually revealed herself on her 18th birthday.
"I started thinking about little things like that and one thing led to another and we just started putting down funny things about our past," Alexander recalls, "like my brother growing up in a religious home, a very devout Christian, but he messed with an Ouija board, which is weird. Just funny things like that.
"I feel like we're all kind of messed up. We've all got our own little things in our families that just kind of stuck out like purple thumbs, but it's time to embrace that and talk about them. Yeah, we're all messed up, but we're all in it together. We're all the same. We're all human."
"Different Kind of Same" also features Lillie Mae, who joins a Dead Man's Blues guest roster that also includes Todd Snider and Aaron Lee Tasjan.
"When I first started playing Layla's on Broadway [in Nashville] I would do shifts around her family band at that time, and we got to know each other," Alexander says. "We jumped on in each other's sets and everything. I hadn't talked to her for a few years, so when I reached out to her she thought [guesting] was a great idea as well. I think she left a Layla's shift one evening and came straight to the studio and laid her parts down all in just a couple of hours, and it was pretty amazing."
With Devil Man's Blues out this Friday (Oct. 18), Alexander's goal now is to "tour, tour, tour — as many dates as I possibly can." And with his songwriting in gear he's planning to have more new music sooner rather than later.
"I feel like I really have something to say and I have my message and I want to get out there and try to change some people and bring some smiles," he says. "That's the plan. I just want to get in my truck and drive around and sing for people for the rest of my life, and now I have the music to do that with."