Mark Collie‘s new album Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was inspired by the singer and actor’s visits to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, which also inspired a documentary.

Mark Collie On ‘The Mountain’

Collie recorded his live album at Brushy Mountain in Morgan County, Tennessee, 15 years ago, back in October 2001. The visit proved to be deeply affecting, with Collie witnessing the tragic goings on within what was once one of America’s largest maximum security prisons.

“There were a lot of young kids in there and some guys in there who doped, either dealing it or doing it. But, there were some guys in there who were mean,” Collie told uInterview in an exclusive interview. “We have to look into these dark places and try to shine some light, and we have to listen better and we probably have to teach better if we’re truly here to try to rehabilitate.”

In addition to doing his live album at Brushy Mountain, Collie wanted to make a documentary in which the inmates were shown actively making music with him. Some inmates were more into the concept than others.

“I tried to make sure that everybody was at ease, so they would talk. A lot of times I would share with inmates and they didn’t wanna be on camera and that was fine,” Collie explained. “Not everybody was glad to see me. Not everybody was willing to just take it for what it was, which was basically let’s sit down and share some music, stories and songs.”

Collie’s Brushy Mountain documentary ended up taking him 15 years to finish, but the entertainer believes that it was worth the wait. Music, according to Collie, offers a sense of freedom.

“Music for me as a kid could take me places. One thing about it is: everybody in their spirit has a song. You can’t keep that in a cage, you can’t chain that up,” Collie told uInterview. “The spirit of songs is freedom and I just felt like I was supposed to do this and it started out humbly, then it got big, then it got bigger and bigger.”

Alive At Brushy Mountain drops on Oct. 14; the documentary airs on Oct. 16.


Q: What was it like visiting Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary? -

There were a lot of young kids in there and some guys in there who doped, either dealing it or doing it. But, there were some guys in there who were mean; some awful, mean and ugly things. It’s hard to challenge yourself to have understanding and compassion for that. We have to look into these dark places and try to shine some light, and we have to listen better and we probably have to teach better if we’re truly here to try to rehabilitate.

Q: Why did you film ‘The Mountain,’ a doc about your visits? -

Music for me as a kid could take me places. One thing about it is: everybody in their spirit has a song. You can’t keep that in a cage, you can’t chain that up. The spirit of songs is freedom and I just felt like I was supposed to do this and it started out humbly, then it got big, then it got bigger and bigger.

Q: Why did the film take 15 years to make? -

When we began the record with Tony Brown and MCA and Bruce Hinton, people who got involved and helped me make this vision happen, it was rather ambitious to try to make a documentary film, a live record, and record a live concert on a record and video budget. But, I was gonna do it. We began to get it done, but it took a while to put all those pieces together and the politics of the music business changed. The record went into limbo, sort of went on the shelves. The whole project did and it took a while to get it back. Couple of years actually. By the time I was able to get the record, and get it mastered and get the footage back from the documentary, we learned that the footage had been underwater during the Nashville flood for two weeks. We finally got it all put back together, as much as we could...and then Tammy and I, my wife, were talking and there were so many of the folks that were trying to help us, we realized that it was a different movie now. It didn’t end when it ended. It was a different journey, so we decided to go find as many of the principle inmates who shared their testimonies and stories with us.

Q: Did you ever feel in danger while at the prison? -

I tried to make sure that everybody was at ease, so they would talk. A lot of times I would share with inmates and they didn’t wanna be on camera and that was fine. I just really felt like if you have somebody who goes, ‘Write your thoughts,’ or, ‘Sing what you’re feeling,’ that’s a whole lot different than any other way of communicating; it changes things. It’s a whole different relationship. But, there was times when they would say, ‘Watch out for this guy,’ not everybody was glad to see me. Not everybody was willing to just take it for what it was, which was basically let’s sit down and share some music, stories and songs.

Q: Do you think you helped the inmates? -

There are a few guys who’ve gotten out, but a lot of them have reached out and said thank you. That makes me feel like the music mattered.

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