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Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle

Monday 14th March, 2011 9:45AM

Justin Townes Earle is returning to New Zealand at the end of this month in support of his honest, lilting new Gospel-infused album Harlem River Blues. UTR caught up with him to discuss the record, his Christchurch connection and why there isn’t any honesty in music anymore.

Tell me about your new album, Harlem River Blues:

Um, the new record was me kind of going back and looking back at different forms of gospel music. I kind of took two families the Carter family and the Staple singers and based everything that I did off of what either one of those families had done or would do or what I figured they would do. It was me trying to capture those kinds of sounds of the church basically.

How did you go about infusing the album with Gospel?

Um I just listened to a lot of gospel and kept it in my head a lot.

Would you say the album is thematic in any way?

Um, no I mean my songs are about usually about the bottom of society and they’re usually songs aimed more at that.

There’s been some horrific recent events in Christchurch, and you’ve got a song on the album called ‘Christchurch Woman’. Tell me about your connection to that city:

Actually I wrote the song about a girl I’d met who’s from Christchurch but I met her in Sydney actually. I had heard about it and I’ve seen what’s been going down and it’s absolutely terrible.

Going back to Gospel. Tell me what draws you to this form of music?

The honestly of that form of music and of earlier forms of music really kind of speaks to me and draws me in and keeps me interested. This doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

You think music has lost it’s honesty?

In most forms of music these days it’s lacking in potency and lacking in real talent. There’s a whole lot of really untalented people making a whole lot of money right now.

What do you think it is about these traditional forms of music that is powerful?

It just spoke so plainly and it was music of the people and screamed of their struggles and their feelings. It’s like punk rock only more grown up. It’s got an angsty kind of growl to it that keeps it interesting.

How do you find yourself progressing from album to album?

I’m trying to figure out what I can take away on every record. I’m trying to trim down the fat to what is the real thing and then go into the studio and watch the layers come off every time you go in to make a record. It’s always about one little turn that you didn’t realize was there the time before, that you take off the next time. It makes for an interesting growth process.

You grew up in a musical household obviously? Did you know you wanted to be a musician from a young age?

I decided that I wanted to be a musician when I was eleven or twelve. I’d been playing in punk rock bands with my cousin and that was when I kind of made the decision that that was what I was going to do.

What influence did your family have on you?

Um, well I think it had a lot of influence on me, everything has. I’m a very affected person as far my surroundings go and my art is seriously affected by it. My mind forces me to take in things even if I don’t want to.

You’ve recently relocated from Nashville to New York City?

I find myself completely taken with the city. I have intentions of leaving New York right now but with every intention in the world of returning. I find it one of the most inspiring places on earth. To me it’s a constant reminder of all things great.

Tell me about the process of penning a Justin Townes Earle song?

I just kind of go about my day. I’m a cocktail napkin writer - I don’t sit down at certain times a day and write - I carry little notepads with me and kind of scribble as I go. I’m just working all the time.

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