Ahead of his Newfoundland return, music icon Steve Earle talks keeping up with Newfoundlanders, the state of country music and the do’s and don’ts of being a singer-songwriter.
Few artists have pushed the boundaries of genre, rendering them irrelevant and moot quite the way Steve Earle has over the course of a legendary career filled with sweeping highs and breakable lows.
Never one to mince words, the architect of such timeless records as Guitar Town, Copperhead Road (which celebrates its landmark 30th anniversary in 2018) and the bar staple cut Galway Girl (yes, THAT Galway Girl), returns to St. John’s for the third time in six years for a much hyped set at the sophomore lineup of Iceberg Alley on September 16th.
“It’s pretty unique,” the iconic singer-songwriter says of the island. “The music that I play, and always have played is so rooted in Ireland and Scotland anyway and so is the music in Newfoundland. There’s that, so it’s sort of its own path from across the pond directly to there, whereas what I play is filtered through the mountains in the states. It’s different. There’s a hardcore seafaring factor that’s part of it that doesn’t exist in other versions of it that I know.
“I learned, even back in the days when I drank, to try not to keep up with Newfie musicians, because it doesn’t pay,” he joked. “Not even girls. It’s an isolated place and therefore the culture remains unique. I love places like that and try to get to them. The world has become so homogenized and so plugged in. There’s great things about that, but also things get more diluted and more of the same everywhere. This one isn’t like that, it’s still kind of its own thing.”
‘This Band Smokes’
Earle is fresh off the release of his 17th studio album, So You Want To Be An Outlaw, a record that pays homage to the likes of Waylon Jennings and the outlaw country pioneers who Earle so much admired.
During his conversation with The Herald, Earle shared that he had just finished a tribute album to the late, great Guy Clark. So to say the visionary artist, who has tried his hand at acting, producing, playwriting and has dabbled at fiction writing and radio hosting, goes back to the well of what made him decades deep into an impressive career, well, that would be grossly presumptuous.
“It’s one of those things – I’m a songwriter and it’s all about what songs I’m interested in and what I want to write,” Earle explains. “It’s the stuff that keeps me interested and keeps me writing. I don’t know how unique it is or if I’ve done things that never have been done before, but I have managed to put my own stamp on it when I’ve done it. I don’t have a record that I’m ashamed of, which I’m thankful for. I have some friends where that’s not the case.
“I don’t know, right now I’m probably the least musically restless that I’ve ever been because I rather like the band I’m touring with right now. I’ve made a couple of records with this band now, the way it is, and right now I’m still interested in having the best country-rock band in America and that’s what we’re working on. This band smokes. It’s worth coming out to see.”
2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Earle’s seminal country-rock masterpiece Copperhead Road. And while he will play the album in full on September 16th (“and God knows what else”, he shared), he is quick to add that there is one tune (and one Newfoundlanders are warmly acquainted with), that surpasses that mammoth self-titled single.
“Somebody asked me if I get tired of playing Copperhead Road every night and I said why would I get tired of playing that song, when it becomes so important to people?,” he shares. “Arguably, that song has been surpassed by The Galway Girl. The Galway Girl, if you ask anybody from Ireland, is a much bigger deal than Copperhead Road is. It’s played at any wedding in Ireland or anywhere that has any connection to Ireland.”
Never one to shy away from meshing musical styles and genres, we asked Earle his opinion on the ever shifting landscape of country music.
“I think the most interesting music besides Chris (Stapleton) – Chris’s music knocks me out – but the girls interest me more than the guys in Nashville these days because the songs are better,” he admits. “I’m sorry, some of it is just me being an old fart and I recognize that. I’m glad that country music has found a younger audience. Country music and hip hop are the two parts of the old record business that have kind of survived, and it didn’t happen for no reason. It’s just not what I do. I still largely like to get a bunch of guys who can play, write some good songs and go out and play em’. I’m old-fashioned, I like a little guilt in my drinking songs.”
‘God’s Pretty Democratic’
For a multiple time Grammy winner and first ballot Hall of Famer, Earle is often probed on the hows and whys of the music business from emerging and aspiring artists? He shares some of that sagely wisdom with our readers.
“It’s all about songs, it always has been about songs and it always will be about songs. If you don’t have songs then you’re kind of f***ed. If you can’t write them you should go find someone who can and record their material and you should be very objective about whether you’re really a songwriter or not, because not everybody is. God’s pretty democratic. There are great singers who can’t write. I think that’s part of what happened to the record business, everyone out of greed decided they had to write their own songs and we got a lot of mediocre music out of that deal. Not everybody was put here to be a songwriter.”
For tickets to see Steve Earle and The Dukes on Sept. 16th at Iceberg Alley visit icebergalleyconcerts.com and select Orange Store etix kiosks.