Sign up for newsletter
 

Dwight Yoakam returns to roots

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 1998

Dwight Yoakam escaped from under the covers and now finds himself going A Long Way Home.

The trip actually isn't that far for the honky tonker and occasional actor. While his last disc of covers found him all over the map to varying degrees of success (though not commercial), his brand new highly personal and introspective disc is a return to vintage Yoakam with honky tonk, Elvis rave-ups, a Ray Price-like shuffle and tender ballads all adorned by his sturdy tenor.

Yoakam, 41, makes it quite clear that he is the one calling the shots when it comes to the direction of each musical move.

"I try to literally divorce myself from any second guessing, the concerns of any given radio format or attempting to do anything as a way of appeasing anybody," says Yoakam, Kentucky born, LA-based. "The only thing that I'm doing is trying to seek out musical expression that inspires me to want to continue to perform."

"I've never been asked to compromise really from the folks at Warner (his record label)," he says. "They've suggested (ideas) different times. They've only presented it as that. I think you have to be open to listening to variations on how to deliver a song or what you're doing as a musician to an audience, but at the end of the day, you only have yourself to blame for maintaining control over it. You have to be willing to be accept the consequences for that control."

"A lot of artists are not willing to do that - to accept the consequences...for the lack of success," he says.

"I'm saying, 'hey I'll accept the consequence.' There have been times where what we did was played on radio, and there were times where what we did didn't work for radio. That's a distraction. That's not what I'm doing. I can't really concern myself if I'm going to continue finding satisfaction in what I'm doing as an artist."

To be sure, the prolific Yoakam has racked up his share of hits. His first album, "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc." from 1986 hit the top as did his follow-ups "Hillbilly Deluxe" and "Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room."

Every album has hit the Top 10 except last year's Christmas album, although his last four albums have not sold quite as well.

And Yoakam's last big success on the singles charts came five years ago with "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere," "Ain't That Lonely Yet" and "Fast As You" from 1993's "This Time," which all reached number two.

His first single from the new disc, "Things Change," has been moving up the charts.

But Yoakam isn't just lookin' for a hit with that or anything else.

"Whether or not radio will play it or radio is correct in playing or not playing, it's cyclic," Yoakam says. "It will kind of arrive at its own conclusions, at its own kind of life."

"Look at what the playlist was in '84 and what we were doing," Yoakam says. "We stood our ground when we weren't even sure we were going to be signed."

In other words, if you're looking for Yoakam to be your flavor-of-the-mouth, chew on someone else because Yoakam will still be there.

As for what caused Yoakam to return to more of his musical roots as opposed to the risky "Under the Covers" with very out there versions of "Wichita Lineman," The Beatles' "Things We Said Today" and The Clash's "Train in Vain," Yoakam says, "It's the album that showed up for me to make."

"It's a blessing and a curse," Yoakam says of the covers. "Certainly, there's a familiarity with the covers material, but at the same time, you're burdened with the fingerprint of the previous artist. I think in the case of what we did, in our covers album, with great respect to the original integrity of the original material, embrace it with our own hands, lift it with our own hands and leave our fingerprints on each track."

"I always approached it in my own fashion," he says. "I allow my own voice to contaminate it in its own way."

Speaking of covers, Yoakam also is in the spotlight through "Will Sing For Food: The Songs of Dwight Yoakam," a benefit for the homeless put together by Yoakam producer, guitarist and friend Pete Anderson for his Little Dog label.

"It's odd for me because I'd only heard the songs in my own mind's ear and coming off my own lips," Yoakam says. "Each one has a new kind of existence beyond me which I find fascinating." David Ball, Gillian Welch, Kim Richey and Sara Evans sing on the disc.

While Yoakam often has included story songs, "A Long Way Home" points directly inward, looking at heartache by the numbers, while also occasionally possessing a spiritual bent.

Yoakam thinks the title track sets the tone. While on its face about yet another broken relationship, Yoakam now sees the song as going beyond that.

"Years and years
is a lot of time
To drag your heart across
Every rock you find
Hate is deep<
And its pull is strong<
But the passion's short
Then it's a long way home."

"The title track deals with some of the things that I was feeling at the time I began writing for the album about a little over a year ago," says Yoakam. "I felt that it became a thesis statement of sorts. I don't mean 'a long way home' in a literal sense. I felt it was a long way home to a physical place. I really felt that that song addressed the emotional home we each have inside ourselves and how we can be completely removed from it at any given moment."

1   |   2 NEXT PAGE »