Americana extraordinaire Justin Townes Earle is gracing us with his presence once again in April. Shortly after the release of his new album, Nothingís Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now in late March, Earle is playing four shows across the country, from Leigh to Christchurch. Under The Radar spoke to Earle while he was at home ďresting on his laurelsĒ for a while, before beginning another year of touring.
Hi Justin, How are you?
Iím good thanks. Just taking advantage of some down-time before we hit the road.
Yeah, youíre coming to see us again! Weíre spoiled.
Yeah Iím back in Australia and then making my way down to New Zealand right afterwards late in April. Iíve been to NZ three times so far and I love it.
Why do we get to see so much of you? It can be hard getting people like yourself all the way down under.
Iíve actually been doing really well in Australia for several years now; itís one of my best markets. And, luckily I enjoy coming to NZ and itís a very easy stop for me to make. Coming down to Australia and New Zealand is my favourite part of touring every year Ė Itís usually the kick off so itís a relaxing way to start. In Australia you have the beaches and then in New Zealand you have beautiful scenery and you eat well and all those good things...
Itís a bit of a change of pace from New York I guess, but you love New York right?
Yeah I do. New York is a great place artistically Ė itís constantly in motion, constantly changing, constantly inspiring. It has a Ďyouíre either on the train or under the wheelsí kind of vibe about it, and I like that. Itís the epitome of the rat-race and everybody is working and working really hard. You donít come to New York to do anything else. But that is a great challenge for me. Itís just like the saying, Ďif you can make it New York you can make it anywhereí, and thatís the truth.
So, the album is great.
Itís one of my favourite pieces of work Iíve done.
Why is that?
The recording process was live, and every sound that you hear, including all the vocals, was done live and in one take. It gave the record a feel that is impossible to get if you are recording in any other way.
Also there are horns, which you havenít used in a big way before.
Yes, I used a little horn on two songs on Harlem River Blues, but very lightly. Horns are something Iíve wanted to work with since Midnight at the Movies, but itís just never been in the budget. So, I finally got a big enough budget to be able to afford horns and record live Ė itís not cheap to record live.
Was it more challenging to record live?
There was less work in studio and more work out of it. We only spent three days in the studio going over the songs and working them up Ė figuring out what was going to go where and how it would all come together. By the time we walked into the studio we were pretty dead-set on what we were doing. It made the process in studio a lot faster, but all up it took longer than it usually does.
Harlem River had that gospel infused sound, what kind of vibe have you got going on with this record?
This one has a delta feel. Itís a sound you would have heard in Memphis in the 1960s, and you can still hear it today in places like new Orleans.
Did you have fun making it?
Yeah it was fun - it was great. I work with a small but very effective group of musicians and recording staff, and we work really well together. Everyone on this record with, the exception of the horn people, has been playing with me forever, so I have a very tight family of musicians around me.
Would you say you are primarily a songwriter or a performer?
Iím a bit of both, and it takes both in this business. I definitely write from a different place than I perform. My writing is very personal and what I do on stage obviously has a degree of acting involved Ė youíre not always going be in a good mood. The person that goes on stage is definitely a lot more confident than the person who writes the songs.
Have you changed much as a performer?
Iíve definitely evolved as a performer. Iíve always stayed pretty close to my audience as far as performance goes, and there is that connection there which is definitely something Iíve tried to hang on to as the rooms have gotten bigger. Itís hard to keep focused in that environment for anyone - Iím a prime example - I have the focus of a two-year-old.
If you donít mind sharing, when youíre not working, whatís an average day like for you?
I donít know - I watch cartoons, read... I like to go shopping and... I like ice cream... Iím really not a very exciting person these days. I had so much excitement early on that I got over it.
What about hobbies Ė is there anything youíre into that would surprise us?
Iím kind of into, well I have this thing with baggage, you know luggage. I collect nice old leather luggage and I like to restore it and sew it up Ė Iím one of those people whose, well pretty soon Iím gonna buy a Louis Vuitton duffel bag, Iíve always wanted one.
Arenít they ridiculously expensive? Why, aside from the obvious status thing associated with them, have you always wanted one?
Yeah, theyíre very expensive. Iíve always wanted one with the monogram because theyíre an amazing piece of luggage. I have the same thing with clothing as I do with luggage. I wear a lot designer clothing and there are very few designers these days that are making the clothing with the level of craftsmanship they used to. A good Louis Vuitton wallet Ė every little corner fold is perfect. Every little stitch is absolutely perfect Ė there is no irregularity, there are no flaws Ė itís perfect.
So, youíre into quality across the board?
Yeah. When I buy anything I make sure itís gonna last. When I buy clothing Iíll look at it carefully - I donít care who made it I just want to know itís a good garment.
What have you not done yet, musically speaking, that you want to do?
There are a lot of things I still want to do. I want to record with Levon Helm one day, I did realise I just by the skin of my teeth accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish by the time I turned 30 and Iím a pretty lucky man in that regard. I might just sit and rest on my laurels and rest for a while.
Are you planning ahead, for example, what youíre going to do when you finish touring your new record?
I just take it as it comes, I donít like to plan too far ahead. Iíve had a lifetime to plan ahead and I want to keep my expectations in check, especially in this business.
Okay quick fire, whatís the best Americana song ever?
Okay maybe thatís too hard Ė whatís a really good one?
Well, 'Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria' by Townes Van Zandt is one of the prettiest songs Iíve ever heard.
And who is an up-and-coming Americana artist we should be looking out for?
My favourite thatís come out recently is Joe Pug Ė he is a great songwriter with a great future.
Justin Townes Earle April 2012 Tour
Thurs 19th April - Dux live, Christchurch
Fri 20th April - Bar Bodega, Wellington
Sat 21st April- Kings Arms, Auckland
Sun 22nd April - Leigh Sawmill Cafť, Leigh