I was alone in Cincinnati with nothing better to do than to listen to, and play, music. Chris Stapleton had just put out his first record, "Traveller." It was outlaw country the way it was meant to be played. It also talked about whiskey a lot. I mean a whole lot. I wanted to write a country song about whiskey.
"Neat" started with a pun. I like to drink my whiskey neat. In my opinion, it's the only acceptable way to consume the nectar of the gods. Well, the opposite of neat is messy. Hmmmm. Maybe there's something there.
I decided I couldn't just write a song about drinking whiskey, either because that's lazy and hokey, or because at the time I was a pastor for a brand new church and I didn't want people put off by my frequent consumption. So I decided to embrace the outlaw country, and write a country song about an outlaw.
The story is simple enough. The main character is an outlaw. Has been his whole life. He was ready to retire, but before that he had one last big job. The problem is that the job didn't go well, and someone (we'll assume it was a close friend) ended up being shot. The tragic hero of this story has now lost everything. He walks in a bar, and decides that he might as well drink the rest of his miserable life away.
I usually try to avoid being too clever in my lyrics, as inevitably what I think is clever ends up sounding hokey. But with this song, either because country music pulls this out of any songwriter, or I just really like whiskey, the lines wrote themselves. "Bartender, you ask me what I'd like to drink. Well, it's been a long day and I can hardly think. My life is such a mess, so if you're asking me, well I'll take my whiskey neat." I wrote that chorus first, then the story for the song came. But it's the second chorus is my favorite. "Bartender, you ask me about my drink of choice. Well, I don't want anything to water down my poison. My life is such a mess, so maybe what I need is to take my whiskey neat."
Neat would create a character that I would go on to write more songs about, each with a different country feel. I took that page from the book of one of my favorite songwriters, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Sometimes you don't need a deep metaphor or meaning behind a song. Sometimes you just need a good story that is just a story. And sometimes you need a good glass of whiskey. Neat of course.