Justin Townes Earle Talks to Twangville

Justin Townes Earle has had a busy year, but he was gracious enough to allow Twangville a couple of minutes to discuss his catalog, touring with Lucero, the Big Surprise Tour, and landing a review in Rolling Stone Magazine…..

Your last record Midnight at the Movies, had a little bit different sound to it, a little more soulful or R&B influenced than the Good Life.  Was that something you were going for or did it just turn out that way?

It definitely was something we were going for.  Being from Tennessee, unless you’re just blind, you are influenced by all that, gospel, country, bluegrass, and blues, it’s all there.  Unless you are not paying attention, you are just sucking that up your whole life.

So, you had the Good Life in 2008 and then Midnight in the Movies early this year.  That’s a pretty quick pace, you have another coming out next year?

Um, yeah.  There will probably be another one out in 2010, but it will probably be toward the end of 2010.

Are you in the process of recording that?

No (chuckles).  We won’t even….we record really fast.  Both my records have been recorded in less than a week.  I did The Good Life in 4 days and Midnight at the Movies in 7.  So we don’t take long to record.  I don’t like to.  It gives time for second thoughts.

I’ve always thought about it as kind of like shooting pool.  They say that when you lean down to the table, your first aim is probably best.  Don’t reset and try to do things, otherwise you’re going to miss the shot.

What are your thoughts on the Big Surprise Tour and touring with that group of musicians?

It was really great.  It was a great time all around.  People get scared sometimes, especially us musicians, when you talk about putting a group of musicians together.   Because sometimes it can be kind of bad.  It can be kind of ugly when you have like 5 different entities all in it for themselves.  But one thing with us that was great, was that all of us out on that tour we’ve all have known each other for years.  So, it was kind of like family coming together, no one had any pretensions.  Everyone played on eveybody’s show and it was a lot of fun.

So you’ve known Old Crow and everybody for a long time now?

A girlfriend I had when I guess I was turning 18 years old (I was living in Chicago and I came back to Nashville to visit),  she wanted to take me to see this band she had found while I was gone.  She took me down to the Station Inn and there was me, a country singer that I think is gone now– Rusty Morrell, and some girl he was cutting around with, and the staff of the station.  There was like 5 people there including the staff.  I met them all (Old Crow) that night.   I’ve been friends with them for a long time and I’ve known Gil and Dave since I was 14.  The Felice Brothers were the most recent ones I’ve met, but I’ve known them for a couple years.

I wasn’t actually able to make that show.  I was gonna try to make it up to Boston for it, but the logistics didn’t work out.  From my understanding though, you each did individual sets and then kind of a group set at the end?

We all played kind of played mini sets, but I’d have like Gil, Gil Landry, Morgan Jahnig, and Catch played with us on most things.   I’d come out on the Old Crow stuff, and Cory would come out on the Old Crow Stuff.  The Crows would come out on Gil and Dave’s.  And anyone who wanted to could come out on the Felice Brothers.  It was just a lot of fun.  It was a really long show, and everyone had to be on point all night.  But, it was just fun.  It is what I’d imagine it was like in the fifties, when they were taking Fats Domino, Chubby Checkers, and Buddy Holly around and they’d play like 3 songs.

Hopefully, y’all will do it again sometime and I’ll catch you coming through.

I’m sure the bill will be involved in another one at some point.

Cool.  I’m a fan of all those guys on the bill.  But, I often muse that every artist should record a record with Gillan Welch and David Rawlings, cause I just think that everything they do is great.  But, do you have plans to record with any of those guys?

Well.  They approach recording in a different style than I do.  They are very slow and painstaking.  They pay very close attention to every detail, every tuning, everything is perfect.  I’m a little rawer. I’m more of a “first take is probably the best one” kind of person.  I don’t take a lot of time in my recording process. So, I think we would actually would not mix well.  Me and Gil and Dave probably would not mix well in the studio (chuckles).  As far as live performance, it works fine.  You know, it works great.  I would definitely be way too impatient to work like that, but I’m amazed at how they work, because they produce such amazing stuff.  I just know it wouldn’t be for me— that style of recording.

You’ve toured with a bunch of different bands, including some of my favorites like Jason Isbell and Lucero.  I guess this question is more specifically about Lucero.  They’re kind of like a more punk-rock, or if not punk rock, a loud, noisy rock and roll band.  Was it disconcerting at all to do your more straight forward country style thing and then have them come on or was the crowd into it?

Yes.  We made a lot of fans.  We have a whole new section of our fan base because of that.  People with tattoos on every possible part of their body and piercings everywhere.  I mean all those kids that are into that stuff, they’ll show up with a bunch of tattoos and be like ‘fuck you’.  But they’ll all show up wearing Johnny Cash t-shirts.  It’s a mix.  Somehow…. I mean I will never know how this happened, how punk and rockabilly and country ended up getting smashed together, but it did end up happening.  So, it’s working a little bit.  They are some of the more fun fans we have.  There is nothing I can’t stand more than a faulty crowd.  You know, quiet people that think they’re being police, but are really being boring.

Yeah, you won’t get that at a Lucero show.

No you will not (raised voice).  And we didn’t.  There was a little scare when we first started with them.  I think the second show we did was in Detroit.  We played a theater in downtown Detroit and I’ll tell you what, you haven’t seen a Lucero show until you’ve seen a Lucero show in Detroit. 

Hard knock people?

Ungodly.  It’s like a scene out of Braveheart, insane Detroit inner city rockers.  They live up to their reputation.

They dug you too though?

Yeah.  We were in front a thousand Detroit punk fans.  We tried our best, the goal was to bring the house down.  And I mean when you can get a bunch of boys with black hair, blond bangs, and girl’s jeans dancing around to country music then I think you’ve pulled it off.

Sounds like a blast.  Other things you’ve done this year….I don’t know if you’ve played a lot of the big music festivals in the past, but I know you played Bonnaroo this year, you opened up fro the Pogues, the Big Surprise Tour, do you have a particular highlight for this year?  Something that just blew you away?

It’s kind of been one of those years.  Whenever I say something, I know I’m gonna remember something else when I get off the phone.  So, I think the big thing- when I was a kid and you know you get the magazine and look at the reviews- I got a four star review from Rolling Stone Magazine.  Which is something that I….I mean its Rolling Stone Magazine, it is what it is, but it was one of those things that I looked at when I was a kid.  So its cool to see my record there not treated as a shit sandwich or anything.

That’s rare, usually their just middling on almost everything.

When I found out we were getting the review- they called a couple weeks before- I was carrying on getting cut [unintelligible].

So, I don’t have the whole story on this, but I understand that Cory has left your band I guess.  Are you planning on doing something else or are you planning on going out by yourself for awhile?

Well you know Cory and I were together for 10 years and problems starting arrive when people work that long together.  But, Cory is….my show will still maintain its spirit, my part of it won’t change.  But when Cory Yonts was on, he was the best sideman that I will ever have.  That’s it.  No one will ever sing with me like Cory.  No one will ever interact with me like Cory on stage.  And so, but its like we were just getting to a point.  There were some decisions made that affected out positions with each other and they way we felt about each other.  And, they were arbitrated on both sides.  And I think, that I just think it is time for a change.  I will never try to replace Cory, it can’t be done.  And my stage show will have to change too.  I’m gonna come out with a little bit more of a band now.  There is no one person that’s ever gonna take his place.

It’s gonna have to be at least two.  There is no one person that is gonna do that.

So, I know you’re a big Townes Van Zandt fan and you’re named for him.  Did you meet him as a kid or was it a latter thing like- my dad talked about him all the time and wow he’s awesome.  How did that influence come about?

I met him when I was a kid, but I mean when I was kid I was like most kids my age.  It was like 1990-1991 The Chronic came out and I didn’t give a f**k about Townes Van Zandt.  You know I was like every kid in America and was watching what was on MTV.

I mean I met him when I was a kid and thought he was a very strange man.  It wasn’t until I was about 12 that I started really delving into Townes.  It was after I started getting into people like Leadbelly and worked my way up to Townes.  He never really had a real personal impact on me.

Are there any songwriters out there right now, that are around your age, who you would recommend to people or who have had an influence on you?

Yeah.  There is one that is several years younger than me Joe Pug, who is from Chicago.

I actually just interview him like a month ago.

Yeah.  I think he’s like a monster.  I think that whatever he’s found, it’s just beautiful.    He’s got all the cards.  He’s exciting, because he’s got….he’s done something that I’ve never been able to do, which is right off the back came out with his own structures.  He absolutely disregards structure, like traditional structure of songs.  Most people that do that, it’s terrible.  Most people that write their own structure tend to be jam bands.  That’s what jam bands do, disregard structure.  Whenever it is that he’s doing, it mystifies me and it’s just fuckin great.

And Ian Felice is the other one that I think is….those are my two favorite. [on Ian Felice]  I think his songs are just brilliant.

On your songwriting though, how do you normally approach it?  Do you do it all the time, like in the backseat of the van or is it something you sit down and focus on?

I’m a cocktail napkin writer. I’ve never been able to sit down and write.  It comes in bits and pieces and you just write it down and hope you don’t lose it.

So, you are about to go on tour with Dan Auerbach and Jessica Lea Mayfield.  You wanna say anything about that, or just come out and see the show?

Yea, its gonna be the last run of the year.  Where going to come out and have an end of the year kind of time.  I think their gonna be great shows.  I haven’t had a chance to see Dan’s solo project, but it has all the right players in it and I’ve heard nothing but amazing things from all the people I trust about it.  Jessica Lea Mayfield is great.  She is really strong, strong performer.  So, let’s go out there and have some fun.

Check Justin out on Tour here

About the author:  Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd

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