By Brent Thompson
“That’s where I pay my rent – I’m hardly ever there,” Abe Partridge says with a laugh when asked about his home base of Mobile, Ala. And when you look at his show calendar, you realize that he isn’t joking. The singer/songwriter’s unlikely career path has taken him from the ministry to the military to his current careers of music and visual art. Earlier this year, Partridge released Love in the Dark [Baldwin County Public Records], an 11-track collection of raw and honest songs that reinforces the comparisons Partridge receives to Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Recently, Partridge spoke with us by phone on a rare day-off.
Southern Stages: Abe, thanks for your time. We are really enjoying Love in the Dark. How did the album’s material come about?
Abe Partridge: About half of the songs on there were going to be on an album I was putting out in July 2020. When everything happened, I shelved it because it didn’t make sense to put out a record when I couldn’t tour. During the pandemic, I wrote other songs so we went back through what we were putting out, took about half of those out and put a bunch of new ones in there. It’s kind of like a compilation of the songs I wrote over a four-year period.
Southern Stages: Where was Love in the Dark recorded?
Partridge: Most of it was recorded at Great Hill Studios in Nashville with my buddy Shawn Byrne. He produced my first record as well.
Southern Stages: How would you describe your writing process?
Partridge: I just write whenever I feel the need to. I paint too, so I make stuff every day.
Southern Stages: Which came first for you – music or painting?
Partridge: They kind of started around the same time. I was 26 or 27 years old in Middlesboro, Ky. pastoring a church and not really satisfied and kind of lost. I started writing and painting at about the same time.
Southern Stages: Have music and art always been parts of your life or did those interests come later?
Partridge: I loved listening to music, but I didn’t know anything about art – I still really don’t [laughs]. I never really tried to write music until I was in my mid-20s.
Southern Stages: If you will, talk about the path that led you to music and art.
Partridge: I left home at 18 and got a theological education. I went to four Bible colleges in four years, married a woman I met at the third Bible college on the day after I graduated from the fourth one – her name’s Cathy. We started having children and I was preaching up in Northwest Georgia at that time and then I got called to pastor a church in Kentucky when I was 25. By the time I was 27, I’d had all I could take of that and had one of those pivotal moments in my life and I decided to change direction. I moved back to Mobile with my wife and two children and quit the ministry. I joined the Air Force and went to the desert in 2013 and 2014 to participate in a war. When I was over there, I realized that all I’d ever done was bring negativity and violence into the world. I had been writing these songs and painting these pictures for eight or nine years. I told God that if he let me come home, I’d try to put a little beauty into the world. I got home and I played my first song in front of people in 2015 and it led to this.
Southern Stages: Given the life changes you made by pursuing music and art, has your family been supportive of your new direction?
Partridge: It wasn’t immediate, but everyone around me is supportive.
Southern Stages: Some artists tell me – given easy access to listeners via modern outlets such as Youtube, Spotify and satellite radio – that this is a great time to be in your position. Others say the current climate fosters over-saturation and therefore makes it difficult to be found among the crowd. How do you feel about the current state of the music industry?
Partridge: I get to make art for a living and, if this was pre-Internet era, I probably wouldn’t have ever had that opportunity. The world wide web allowed me to connect with people all over the globe. I don’t have a huge fan base, but what fan base I have is extremely supportive and I make a living doing it – I’m never going to complain about it. I mean it is hard to get your stuff heard and there are thousands of people putting out music, but I go old-school on that. I don’t look at trying to build a fan base via the Internet. I try to build my fan base the old-fashioned way – by just going out and playing music for folks and hanging my art in places. I’m able to stay to connected with those people digitally and I think that’s the best way to do it. If you’re in your bedroom putting out records and you’re not out there trying to build a fan base, I can see where you can get frustrated.
Southern Stages: How does your schedule look going forward?
Partridge: It’s jam packed – I’ve got all the shows I want, honestly. I think I’ve slept in my own bed 15 nights since the second week of January. I’m about to head to Europe in a couple of weeks and I’ll be there for three or four weeks. Then I come and I’ll just be busting my ass for the rest of the year.