Singer and songwriter Steve Earle still loves his job after 30 years
May 1, 2015
Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Steve Earle has been in the music business for more than 30 years. During these past three decades, he’s seen trends come and go and has experienced a shift in the business paradigm.
But Earle isn’t one to follow the crowd. He sticks to what he knows and does it well.
"The way the record business is these days it’s a good thing that I can write songs, because you have to make a record every 18 months to have a reason to tour and keep going," Earle said during a telephone interview with The Park Record from a stop in Los Angeles, California. "Writing songs is my job. It’s what I was put here to do and I’d just be taking up space if I don’t do that."
Steve Earle and the Dukes will give Park City a dose of organic songwriting and music when they perform at O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main St., on Sunday, May 3.
Earle is looking forward to the show.
"It will be fun coming back to Utah, and I think I’ll be there longer than I’ve ever been, which gives me three days that I’ll be able to eat at Red Iguana," he said. "We’re playing two nights in Salt Lake and those shows are about sold out, so if people want to see us, they’ll have to come to Park City."
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Earle and his band are touring in support of the new album "Terraplane," which was released in February. The disc is the 16th solo album in his career.
"I’ve never been one to make a record every three or four years," he said. "While there have been a couple of three-year gaps, they were unintentional."
One of those gaps occurred when he was experiencing personal problems and substance abuse.
"That was all on me because I was totally incapacitated," he said.
The other gap occurred when he was between record labels.
"That happened because the negotiations took a while to finalize," he said. "Other than that, they have been 18 months apart for most of my career."
During that career, Earle has performed an array of styles. Including rockabilly, alt-country, rock ‘n’ roll and folk. He cites the success of those outings boils down to the strength of his lyrics.
"My gift is primarily literary, but I’m a better musician than I ever thought I would become," he said. "But that’s because I’m 60 and have been playing for a long time.
"I always write songs where the lyrics are important because I grew up in an era when that happened," he said. "The music is a vehicle for the lyrics and not the other way around most of the time."
Earle’s songwriting and live performances have opened doors to other creative outlets such as acting and writing books.
"In reality, [all of these things] help each other," he said. "I had an idea of how to connect with an audience before I started acting, and since I’ve been acting, I think I’ve become a better performer when I play music live.
"I think it helps to do a lot of different [creative] disciplines," Earle said. "They enrich the other things you do."
Although he has more than 30 years of music under his belt, Earle doesn’t get bogged down on reconciling what he wants to play live and what his fans want to hear.
"I just do what I do," he said. "I try to come up with what I want to say that’s important to me. I have an audience that has been with me for a long time. They’re pretty smart. They have given me a lot of leeway, but they expect a high quality from me.
"You see, I’m not making records for myself," Earle explained. "I make them for other people, but I don’t give a lot of thought to whether or not I’m going to alienate people or whether or not they will like something I do. I just try to make the best song that I can and I think my audience expects that of me."
When he writes songs, Earle is his own harshest critic.
"I’m pretty hard on myself," he said. "I teach a songwriting course and the thing we talk about is the longer you write, you usually find the first verse and chorus comes from inspiration and the rest of the song is work.
"As you get better, you get into more complicated rhyme schemes and internal rhyme schemes," he said. "That’s what makes that second verse harder to write, because you have to match the second verse with the first verse."
Earle is fascinated by songwriting in general.
"There’s a thing about the way you write songs," he said. "The rhythm and the poetry help the information get into people’s brains."
Just because someone can write words that looks cool on paper, doesn’t mean he or she can sing them in a way that people will understand, according to Earle.
"It’s not about diction," he said. "It’s about the way people’s brains work. You learn something about that through trial and error, especially when you’ve been doing it for as long as I have."
Earle’s lyrics cover a wide range of topics including love, relationships, touring, history and politics. Being politically active isn’t so much a responsibility for him as an artist, as it is for him as a person.
"I don’t think everybody has to deal with political issues in their art, but I certainly don’t want to be told that it’s inappropriate and that I can’t do that," he said. "I was raised to do it. I started writing songs in the 1960s and 1970s and that’s what songwriters did. In all truthfulness, I still have more songs about girls than anything else, but there isn’t any issue that I would avoid."
In the past few years, his songs have won Earle three Grammys and other accolades.
"I’m really proud of my Grammys," he said. "I was nominated like 14 times so, I was sort of the Susan Lucci of rock ‘n’ roll for a long time. But then I finally won three in a row. I like to get nominated and if I get nominated, I like to win."
Although Earle is focused on touring for "Terraplane," he does have some other projects going on.
"I’m working on a memoir and I’m in the beginning stages of developing ‘Washington Square Serenade’ into a musical," he said. "My intent is to start off-Broadway and eventually end up on-Broadway."
Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, alt-country, rock and folk artist Steve Earle will perform with his band the Dukes at O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main St., on Sunday, May 3. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 and $70 and can be purchased by visiting www. http://www.ticketfly.com . For more information, visit http://www.oprockwell.com .