"I'm still doing it. I don't sell any less records than I did 10 years ago even with the decline in the music business. We have to find different ways to do it."
The one blip on the sales screen was "Transcendental Blues" (2000). "I usually can count on 100,000 records, and 'Transcendental' sold 150,000, 160,000. Artemis did a bunch of stuff on the front end that you can attribute to that figure...We decided that we tried it, and we didn't sell that many more records...You try it, and it's not like you never do something like that again...The result in terms of money was probably a complete wash but I did get a few people to buy Steve Earle records who don't normally, so that's always worth something."
"Downloading's never been my idea of a political issue because no one died, but I wasn't concerned about that, I always felt like always such excess in this business that we could lose a lot and still be okay. I want there to be money for young artists to continue making records. That's the important part."
When not worried about his music, Earle is also finishing a novel, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," about Hank Williams, a doctor and heroin addict, who performs abortions, and San Antonio. The book has been six years in the making.
Although pushed to do a novel by a Houghton Mifflin editor, Earle says, "for lifestyle reasons, (I was) resistant. It takes a long time...Short stories and plays are easier...It's been tough with the other stuff I do."
He also will produce a new Joan Baez disc and is working on a one-man show about Seeger.
Through it all, Earle maintains no regrets about much of anything.
"I have a lot of gratitude of what happened to me in Nashville. I don't know if it would have been better for me anywhere else...It's hard for me to regret much of anything because I really am lucky. I make an embarrassing amount of money doing something I really love doing, and I did it exactly the way I chose to do with zero compromise along the way. And I still made a living."
"The lesson to be learned from that is it's perfectly okay to do what you need to do to sell the maximum amount of records, but for people who are at a point in their lives about whether they want to make art or whether they want to make money, you can make a more than comfortable living making art, especially in this particular art form. If you make music in a way or any other kind of art in a way that people realize what you're putting into it and realize you've made that decision to make art for the sake of art, I believe there are enough people out there who will support you. There's a little bit of a leap of faith involved there."
For Earle, the idea of not staying in the same place carries over to his artistic career. "It's just trying to stay interested. Give me a reason to make a record. Otherwise, I don't want to hear the same record from me. I don't think the people who buy all my records want to hear the same record from me over and over again. There are some people who might...A body of work in a career is the people who came along for you for the ride, and I really appreciate that. If I don't sound interested, I'm going to get bored if I do the same thing over and over again. The audience will know I'm bored. This is totally about getting outside of my comfort zone."