Steve Earle leaves comfort zone – October 2007
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Steve Earle leaves comfort zone  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 2007

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"The only bummer is I'm around the corner from the best guitar shop in New York, and that sets me back money wise" says Earle.

Living in New York also has impacted Earle several ways musically.

"The first effect was it separated me from studio I've been working in for 10 years. I got a ProTools gig," he says, referring to the software used to compose music.

"My pre-production on my last five or six records has basically been writing the songs and working them out with ' the band in sound check for the tour. This time, I pretty much wanted to keep everybody else's finger prints off of them until I got them finished...This time, I was going to make demos for the first time in years, but the demos turned into a record...There was some stuff I couldn't beat. There was that part of it - just working by myself in New York City and separated from my normal musical support system."

John King, one of the Dust Brothers, who works with the Beastie Boys, produced.

"I started with beats on my own because I thought I was making a demo at first. When I thought I was arriving at something that way, I thought who does it that way? One of the obvious choices especially with doing it with acoustic instruments, was the Dust Brothers. It was John on his own who called back."

What helped cement the deal was Earle's acting role on "The Wire," an HBO series on which Earle plays a recovering redneck.

"He was a big 'Wire' fan," says Earle of King. "We cut the track 'Way Down in the Hole' (a Tom Waits song that is the theme for the series), figuring out how it was going to work for both of us. I did a vocal and guitar to a clip. I sent it to John. We redid the vocals and guitar later when we (met). It was basically done on the Internet."

"I was looking for a producer to make the record. We had common ground where 'Wired' was concerned. When that worked, the worst that would come out of it was the track for 'Wire,' but it did work out. So, John made the record."

Earle's version will be this year's theme song for the show and also appears as the closing track on his CD.

Lyrically, "City of Immigrants" with its semi-tropical beat was clearly influenced by New York. A New York-based Brazilian band, Forro in the Dark, helped on the cut.

"I actually saw them for the first time in SXSW," he says referring to the annual Austin music fest.

"They were playing in my hotel, and by that time Lou Dobbs was irritating me sufficiently that I knew I was going to write something about the experience of living here." Dobbs is a CNN newsman, who has railed against liberalizing immigration laws.

"It just dawned me on how good it was for me to live in New York City as an American or a place like New York City at this point."

"City of Immigrants" makes it clear where Earle stands on the issue. "Livin' in a city of immigrants/I don't need to go travelin/Open my door and the world walks in/...livin' in a city that never sleeps/my heart keepin' time to a thousand beats/singin' in languages I don't speak."

"There is some ugly stuff out there that is not true," says Earle about the immigration issue. "It's a total red herring, diversionary tactic...They blame it on people who are coming across the border."

"Steve's Hammer (For Pete)" longs for the day when Earle can stop writing political songs. "But it's not completely serious song," says Earle. He sings,

"One of these days I'm gonna lay this hammer down/And I won't have to drag this weight around/When there ain't no hunger/And there ain't no pain/Then I won't have to swing this thing."

The "Pete" is folk singer Pete Seeger, still fighting the liberal fight in his late 80's.

"I'm a pretty politically involved person. I'll stay involved in the things that are important to me. I was somewhat self-conscious about the fact that things haven't changed that much in the last two records, but I'm never going to stop ...Someone else can step up to the fucking plate and...see what needs changing by the time I make the next record."

Earle is a steadfast opponent of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. "The war continues, and we have to stop it...We have to determine that we're going to stop this. The immigration thing is part of the same ugly lie. It's just a lie to distract us and scare us and to keep us from what (the government is) doing."

"Yeah I'll stop writing political (songs)," Earle jokes, "Probably fucking never."

Earle doesn't get quite as political on "Washington Street Serenade" as he has previously.

Here, he sings joyously of love in "Days Aren't Long Enough" and "Sparkle and Shine." The former is written with Moorer, who is featured prominently on vocals. "This record is more personal. Therefore less overtly political than its two predecessors, but I had personal business I had to take care of artistically. Don't think it means I'm mellowing. It just means I'm in love with Allison Moorer and New York City, and that took up a lot of space on this record."

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