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Ryan Johnson, Published September 15 2013

ND native Jonny Lang to play Fargo Theatre

Native son Jonny Lang said it’s been a humbling seven years since he released “Turn Around,” his 2006 record that won the Grammy for best rock or rap gospel album.

“It’s very glamorous, Legos and spilled cereal,” he said about fatherhood during an interview with The Forum interrupted by his daughter’s need for a little praise from dad for the tower of Legos she had just completed.

Lang traded in laidback nights out with friends and practicing at home in Los Angeles for diaper duty and the joys that come with raising four young children since he and his wife, Haylie, started their family in 2007.

But seven years after his Grammy-winning record, Lang is back with “Fight for My Soul.” The former wunderkind, who made it big at an early age and released his first major-label album just a day short of his 16th birthday, will return to Fargo on Tuesday for a performance in the Fargo Theatre.

Lang said it was “happenstance” that he was booked to play in his hometown the same day of his new album’s release, and said it’s a “pretty cool” coincidence.

But he said it took a while to get into the groove of being a family man – and finding time to actually record the songs that he’s written over the years for his latest release.

“I’m out doing concerts a lot, and the time that I have home, you don’t want to say, ‘See you later, I’m going to make a record now,’ ” he said. “It took a lot of careful planning to just find little places where we could record, and a lot of recording at night after the kids would go to bed.”

Adaptation

Lang, now 32, said becoming a father was “the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me,” and adapting to the end of coming and going as he pleased was “a little painful” at first.

“The brakes come on, and suddenly all of your selfishness is being wrung out of you,” he said. “They were great, and it was awesome, but it’s just this weird thing. It took me about a year to adjust to it.”

Now, he sees fatherhood as the best job he could have.

Lang jumped right into the fire, starting off his family with a set of twins. He said he had to give up practicing at home – his kids love music, he said, but they so far prefer to just sing and “beat on stuff,” no matter the instrument.

He said he’s made sure to keep his career separate from home, preferring quality family time over songwriting and guitars.

Still, Lang said he was able to find the time he needed to finish up the half-completed songs and ideas he had come up with in recent years and get them recorded for his new album.

A new direction

Lang said he didn’t start the recording process with any preconceptions of how his sixth studio album should be. It was his first batch of new songs since his Grammy win seven years ago, but he went about it the same way he has always done.

“I just write songs and let those dictate the direction of the record,” he said. “I don’t really have a thought or a direction I’m trying to steer the style in, necessarily. It’s just whatever comes out naturally.”

Lang said he prefers to let the studio musicians interpret his songs the way they want, “and see what happens.”

“Fight for My Soul” marks the first time Lang has worked with producer Tommy Sims, a “Stevie Wonder-like genius” and the co-writer of Eric Clapton’s Grammy-winning single “Change the World.”

“Creatively, you couldn’t hope to work with anybody better than Tommy,” Lang said. “He’s just all about the music and what’s going on musically.”

Lang said he still encounters “hecklers” at his concerts from time to time who want a more bluesy show, especially those who have carefully followed his music since he became nationally known as a blues guitar prodigy in his teens.

But he said his concerts today feature “more guitar playing than any sane person would want to hear” – even more guitar than when he was 16.

Lang said his main influence for guitar playing was the great blues guitarists. Still, he said he’s “definitely not a blues artist,” and said his singing and songwriting have always been a combination of many styles of music.

“I see myself as just somebody who loves so many different kinds of music, and any one of those could come out in my songwriting at any time and surprise me along the way,” he said.

Lang said he’s learned to not “suppress” those wide-ranging influences, and said that was his main goal for his latest album.

“I used to because I was afraid that it might not be what people are expecting,” he said. “But with this record, I just wanted to let the record be totally unrestrained and not try to be something that would fit what people maybe are expecting of me.”

“Fight for My Soul” has more intricate song arrangements and a lot of strings, he said, with a keener focus on the songs than the guitar that often has dominated his past work.

Lang said he’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish on his latest album and said fans shouldn’t have to wait seven more years for his next record.

“Not unless we have quintuplets or something, but I don’t think that’s going to happen” he said. “We’re going to be fast-tracking the next one.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587