Our Interview with Justin Townes Earl: Part Two

By Jelisa Castrodale

In part one of Jelisa Castrodale's interview with Justin Towne Earle, we learned about Earle's electic taste in music and his musical influences. Now, Jelisa asks about Justin's hereditary roots in country music. (His dad is, afterall, the Steve Earle.)

When you were getting started, do you think your last name was a help or a hindrance?

The only way it can hinder anybody is if they let it.  It gets your foot in the door but when you get the rest of you in behind it, you better fucking come correct.  You see what they did to Julian Lennon.  It almost seemed like they were doing that just to do it, just to tear him apart. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it. 

When people first heard my name they expected this gravelly voice and political songs so I came out and made a record that was the exact opposite of what everybody expected.  That’s what I did--that’s what I do--and the tone changed.  I haven’t really had to deal with it ever since.

Do you get tired of answering questions about your dad?

Yeah, people ask me questions about my dad, but I’m glad that they do because the day they stop asking me questions about my father means that he’s probably been dead for a while.  That’ll be a bad day. 

Your duet with him is one of the highlights of his latest album. [Townes, a collection of Townes Van Zandt songs].

Yeah, we did “Mr. Mud & Mr. Gold” together.  It turned out pretty good.

You’ve got a pretty stacked tour schedule coming up, working with the Felice Brothers, the Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.  Are you looking forward to hitting the road with them? [Note: We spoke with Justin before this tour started.]

It’ll be really good.  Some of us will pull in more numbers than others but we’ll definitely pull in big crowds into these shows.  We’re all like-minded.  We’re gonna play a lot together.  We all came from the same egg.  That’s one of the cool things about this tour.  Everybody who’s on it is an artist who’s definitely done everything the way they wanted to do it the whole time.

Gillian Welch has made some unbelievably gorgeous records.  

The thing with artists like Gill is like that evolutionary scale of musicianship.  You have these people who made their first record and then they started working their way up and then, like, their fifth record they come out with this amazing record.  Gill showed up evolved.  Like, when her feet hit the boards and she showed up on the scene, she showed up fully evolved. I think she knew what she was, how she wanted to do it, and she went out and did it.

You played your first Bonnaroo festival in June.  Do you prefer your own tours to a festival performance?

Without question.  Festivals are fun, they do what they do.  They’re a lot of exposure that you just can’t deny.  But they’re a big mess, you’ve got to walk a lot, it’s hot, sweaty and music from one stage bleeds over the other stages.  I never liked going to festivals as a spectator.  That never sounded like fun to me.  I used to like to take a lot of drugs and I knew if I was way out in the middle of nowhere I was gonna run out of drugs and I’d have to come back. 

You’ve always been open about your former addictions.  Do you think those kinds of past indiscretions have shaped you as an artist?

Yeah.  Definitely.  I think we all... I hope one day I’ll outlive that, that I’ll come clean of it.

I don’t think it defines you.

No, I don’t think it does, but you just hope that one day you can quit writin’ dope songs.  It’s not gonna happen anytime soon because it’s been the majority of my life.  I was a junkie longer than I was anything, so I’ve got a little catching up to do.

For more information, CDs, merch and tour dates--including his appearances in Australia and New Zealand this fall--visit Bloodshot Records.   

Mon, 31 Aug 2009 14:00 (GMT+01)
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