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Slaid Cleaves Reflects on Struggles of War Veterans

  • Katherine Cole

Slaid Cleaves (credit: Karen Cleaves)

Slaid Cleaves (credit: Karen Cleaves)

Born in a small town in rural Maine, singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves now calls Austin, Texas home. Not that he’s there much - the former philosophy student is a 20th century troubador, spending most of the year traveling and playing his songs at venues in the U.S. and overseas. “Still Fighting the War,” is Cleaves' first album of new songs in four years.

Over the past two decades, Cleaves has won acclaim for his songs about the small-town, working-class men and women just struggling to get by…like the ones he’s singing about in “Rust Belt Fields.”

“Rust Belt Fields” is one of two songs on “Still Fighting the War” that Cleaves co-wrote with childhood friend and fellow singer-songwriter Rod Picott. When the two first wrote together, they’d sit down face-to-face. But between living in different cities and busy touring schedules, they are rarely in the same place these days.

“So we send ideas back and forth on emails or texts or whatever," Cleaves said. "And we’ll send little melodic ideas, just little snippets, sound files. And we’ll send partial songs. For instance, usually one of us will work real hard on a song and only get halfway through and not know how to finish it. And that’s when we’ll bring it to our friend and see if a fresh set of eyes can kind of spark the completion of the song.”


Rod Picott’s father worked as a welder, and he and Cleaves bring that difficult and physically demanding work to life in a song called “Welding Burns.”

The original inspiration for the title track to “Still Fighting the War” came from a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Iraq War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a song that ended up taking Cleaves four years to write.

“I’d seen stories in the news about vets coming back and having a hard time and you know, frankly, I knew…I remember writing down in a notebook when we went to war in Iraq… I said ’10 years from now, we’re going to have Iraq War vets on every street corner, they’re going to be homeless," he said. "They’re going to be having a hard time adjusting. It’s going to be the Vietnam situation all over again.’ I wanted to write a song that kind of told their story. Not to advocate or anything. But just tell their story - that people are having a hard time coming back.”

A note on Cleaves’ website says proceeds from downloads of that song go to Operation Homefront, an organization providing assistance to service members and their families.

There are some lighter moments on “Still Fighting the War.” “God’s Own Yodeler” is a tribute to the late Don Walser, a Texas country singer known as the Pavarotti of the Plains. And the tune called “Texas Love Song” is exactly that.

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