Concert preview: John Moreland dwells on low times on High on Tulsa Heat

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

"I'm so damn good at sorrow," sings John Moreland amid "You Don't Care Enough for Me to Cry," a harrowing, heart-rending cut off the Oklahoma singer and songwriter's 2015 long-player,High on Tulsa Heat.

Truer words have rarely been spoken.

Moreland, who opens for Lucero at Skully's Music-Diner on Tuesday, April 12, has a knack for mournful tales, gravitating toward weighty songs that hang on the horizon like gathered storm clouds still fat with rain.

"I've tried to write songs that are a little more fun or surface level - and I don't mean that in a bad way - like songs about hanging out at the bar, or a song about a pretty girl," said Moreland, 30, who was born in Texas to a teacher mother and a father who worked as an engineer, spent his formative years in Northern Kentucky and moved to Tulsa with his family at age 10. "But I'm just not very good at that for some reason. I'm always drawn back to the heavy stuff."

So heavy, in fact, that it led Moreland and one morning show in Dallas, Texas, to mutually call off a scheduled 2015 appearance after network executives deemed "You Don't Care Enough..." too sorrowful for early morning audiences.

"They said, 'That one's too sad, pick another one,' and I don't really love it when people try to tell me what to play, so it ended up being this whole back and forth between them and my publicist and manager, and after several hours of discussion I think everybody decided we should cancel it," he said. "And that's cool. I didn't really want to get up at 5 a.m. to be on morning TV anyway."

Fortunately none of these issues surfaced prior to an early February appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," where Moreland performed a solo acoustic version of "Break My Heart Sweetly" while perched atop a stool on a barely lit soundstage.

"They have lots of lighting options and LED screens, and they were asking if there was any video stuff I wanted on the screens when I was playing and we were like, 'No, let's turn 'em off,'" he said.

Much of the music onTulsa Heatis similarly unadorned, building around Moreland's graveled voice and delicate acoustic picking that frequently offers a leavening counterpoint to the singer's battered words.

"I guess I've got a taste for poison/ I've given up on ever being well," he offers on "Cherokee," his tone suggesting the grave is a far more realistic destination than the recovery wing.

Despite the overcast mood, Moreland said he actually does most of his writing when things are going well. "I might try to write [when I'm depressed], but I always fail," he said. "I think I need the perspective that comes with moving on and being in a happier place."

He has, however, gradually become a more discriminating writer. In Moreland's earliest days, it wasn't unusual for him to churn out as many as 40 or 50 songs a year. Now that number is closer to 10 or 12. "And I edit those 10 or 12 to death," he said.

"Maybe that's the wrong way to say it, but I spend the same amount of time working on songs now as when I was writing 50 a year," continued Moreland, who started writing his own material shortly after he picked up a guitar for the first time at age 10. "I'm just putting all of that work into fewer songs instead of churning out a bunch of stuff that's not gonna make a record. Now I try to write songs and choose songs … that I'm still going to feel good singing in 10 or 20 years."

Moreland's early musical forays were far removed from the Americana realm he occupies these days. In his teenage years, the singer gravitated toward punk and hardcore, drawn in by the genre's more egalitarian nature.

"Punk music was accessible to me," he said. "When I would hear music on the radio, it seemed out of reach [because] I didn't know how to make those sounds, and I didn't have that skill. But when I heard Rancid, or Social Distortion, that seemed like something I could do. That was the gateway. It showed me that anybody can do it."

Even with his two decades of experience, Moreland still downplays his talents as a singer and guitarist, saying, for him, it all hinges on what happens in the moment he presses pen to paper.

"I still don't consider myself much of a guitarist. I'm good enough to get done what I need to do, but I'm really no better than that," he said. "I play solo, so I don't have a crazy live show that's super exciting, and I'm not a flashy person. I think my songs are all I have to offer, really."

Skully's Music-Diner

7 p.m. Tuesday, April 12

1151 N. High St.,

Short North

Also playing: Lucero