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"I was in Europe and fell in love, and that helped:" The Steve Earle Interview



Q: How did you spend election night?

A: Playing CBGB's in New York. We planned it that way. We did a cursory run in that we aimed at swing states. We did Ohio, Pennsylvania. We did play Chicago and we did play Nashville, and then the last three nights before the election, we went into New York and played Webster Hall. The next night we played the Bowery Ballroom, then we took a night off and the election night we played CBGB's, then the next day we went to Europe.

Q: Were the election results affecting the show?

A: We kept track of what was going on, but things still looked pretty good. We went on at 10 o'clock and there was still hope. As we walked on stage, we won Pennsylvania, so we felt pretty good. Ohio wasn't decided until about an hour after we came off. The black hole hit when Florida finally went (Republican) and we realized it was going to come down to Ohio and we were probably losing Ohio. For the first time, things started looking pretty dark. It still wasn't decided when I got back to hotel. It was by the time I went to sleep. I think Kerry conceded while I was having coffee with a friend right before I headed to the airport to fly to Amsterdam.

Q: How did the election affect you?

A: It would have been devastating. I worked really hard on it for two years, but I was in Europe and fell in love, and that helped.

Q: It seems like it would have been nice to have been away from here at that point.

A: It's much easier to process a debacle outside of the insane asylum. It's hard. It's hard for me living here now. It's especially hard in the part of the country I live in. I think I'm going to keep my place in Nashville -- I'd been leaning this way anyway -- but I'm pretty much decided I'm moving to New York when the tour's over. I'm not quite ready to abandon the playing field yet, but I feel a lot less like a martian in New York than I do in Nashville. I've been there 30 years and I'm probably done with the town. I'll still base tours out of here, and keep my house because it's virtually paid for and there's no reason not to keep it, but I think I'm going to get an apartment in New York.

I'm going to have to be here for a while because I'm producing Alison Moorer's next record. We'll probably do that here because my studio's here and it's cheaper for us to do it here.

Q: I found it hard to be around other people and realize they might have voted for someone who chose an optional war.

A: It was more than an optional war. It was a war that there is no basis for. Whatever Saddam Hussein was, it isn't really any of our business. You tell the average Iraqi that his life is better now. The average Iraqi had no more contact on a day-in, day-out basis (with Hussein) than I have with George W. Bush, and Saddam Hussein didn't affect their lives one way or the other as long as they were minding their own business. That doesn't mean he wasn't a tyrant. That doesn't mean he wasn't a criminal. He was, but what have we given the Iraqi people in exchange? We basically waged war against Iraq for 10 years and we finally completely and totally destroyed it. This is a country that has existed since it was created by another imperial power right after World War I.

This isn't an optional war; it's a crime and it's about money and it's about the oil, stupid. You can dance around that all you want to, but the dangerous thing is -- it's all over the street in Washington that basically Bush is digging in his heels because he's decided he's got God on his side, but everyone around him is trying to figure out a way out as soon as the elections are over with. I think there are a lot of people in the administration whose intention is to walk away now, and leave it in the mess we left it in. You know what? I think that's all we can do. We're not willing to pay taxes, so how are we going to go fix another country when we have the problems we have in our own? The way history will remember this is that the United States went in and destroyed Iraq and walked away, and I'm ashamed of that.

Q: After the election, it seems like it's fair to ask, has the revolution started?

A: Yeah. The revolution started a long time ago. What the song's about is that the revolution is ongoing and it starts when you understand that. That being said, I think what we go to now will look a lot more like f--king full-blown insurrection than a political process, and I didn't choose those weapons. I tried to do it the other way, but I think it's important to remember -- and the only hope I have -- is that I'm old enough to remember first hand that we did stop the Vietnam War with Richard Nixon in office, and we can stop this war with George W. Bush in office.

Q: Is it difficult to sing songs designed to rally support in an election after the election is over and lost?

A: The songs aren't designed to rally support in an election. I rushed it to get it out for the election because I felt that I could be of service and be part of that effort. I wanted it to be about a lot of issues, and it turned out to be an anti-war record. The reason I didn't have any fears about its relevance in the aftermath of the election from the git-go was even if we won, there would still be a war the day after the election. This record's about stopping a war. It's about wars and this war.

This is the part of the tour I've been waiting for. I've been singing these songs for Brits and Germans and French people, people that are half of my audience, but they're not the people I wrote these songs for. I wrote these songs to be sung in the United States of America. Everything's been practice up to now. Now I feel relevant as a motherf--ker.

Q: Are you comfortable in the role of protest singer?

A: Yeah, I'm totally comfortable with it. Copperhead Road's a pretty f--king political record. That seems to be lost on some people, but there are a lot of kids that bought Rage Against the Machine records that don't know what they're about. That happens. The reason you do it is because there's also an appreciable percentage of people that are introduced to political ideas just because it rocks. I like my job.

When I die and they tally it all up, you'll probably find I've written more songs about girls than I have anything else.

Q: Are you going to start writing songs about girls now that you're in love?

A: You can count on that, but I'm not going to start working on a record for a while. As soon as this tour's over, I'm producing Allison Moorer's record and finishing my novel, which I interrupted working on to make The Revolution Starts Š Now and get it out for the election, and then I may make a bluegrass record with the Bluegrass Dukes, but that'll be a band record. I won't write all of it. Tim O'Brien will write some of it, and Darrell Scott will write some of it. We want to make a band record because we tour with that band from time to time, but we've never had a whole studio recording. We only had tracks here and there of that band, and it's a cool band. I'll do that pretty quickly, and in the meanwhile start working on songs for another rock record.

I'm going to wait a little longer. I made seven records in 10 years, and I want a little breathing space before the next one. My guess is that we're still going to be leaning left. I'll definitely put out another record before Asshole's out of office, so the odds of it being totally apolitical are slim.

Q: Are there downfalls to being thought of as a protest singer?

A: Not that I can tell. I make an embarrassing amount of money for being a borderline Marxist and I travel all over the world. My girlfriend's really pretty, so no, not that I can think of.

Despite the best intentions, many interesting CDs and DVDs sit around here listened to, thought about, but never quite a review priority. Here are some highlights from that pile:

Mark Sandman -- Sandbox (Kufala): Mark Sandman of the Boston "low rock" band Morphine died of a heart attack onstage in Italy in 1999. Drummer Billy Conway and baritone sax player Dana Colley have since formed Twinemen, and they've wisely avoided Morphine comparisons by filling out the band and employing a woman, Laurie Sargent, as lead singer instead of trying to replicate Sandman's baritone voice. Sandbox, a collection of previously unreleased Sandman recordings, suggests that it's more than his voice and two-string bass that was irreplaceable; the songs here are some of his best.

It's understandable why some of these never became Morphine songs. Songs like "Patience" and "Tomorrow" don't loan themselves to the band's stripped-down, sax riff-driven grooves. They're pop songs, but they and many of the tracks here required more development than Morphine's instrumentation allowed to be fully realized, whether with guitars or thumb pianos.

Since the two-disc set wasn't designed as an album, it's uneven with Morphine-esque tracks, pop songs, gags like "Riley the Dog" and a number of melancholy, slower songs, some of which try to get by on mood more than they should. Still, Sandbox suggests there was a lot more to Mark Sandman than Morphine made evident.

Michael Powers -- Onyx Root (Baryon): You have to love a blues album that starts with a song called, "Successful Son." The autobiographical sounds an unusually positive note, just as a Latin version of Howlin' Wolf's "Baby's Got a Train" is a novel direction to take the song. Powers also covers the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Count Five and Leonard Cohen, making them work as well as originals like "Shock" and "Graffiti" -- "I spray-painted your love on my heart and my wall," he sings in the latter. In a genre as convention-bound as the blues, any CD that surprises that many times in that many ways deserves attention.

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble -- Mean Ameen (Delmark): Before moving to New Orleans, trumpeter Maurice Brown was playing in Chicago, and on this album, he fills the vacancy left by the ensemble's Ameen Muhammad. He fills the ample space left for soloing with fleet, energetic runs that tear off in one direction, then cut surprisingly back another. His local debut, Hip to Bop, is a fine if more conservative affair and could stand some of the fire in these performances.

Tom Freund -- Copper Moon (Surf Road): A longtime member of the Silos and one of those figures who ends up on half of the roots rock albums you pick up, Freund's the bard of melancholy here. It's not that every song is down, but few of them sound happy about the way things -- generally, relationships -- turned out. There's a lot of craft here, but the album suffers from a humorlessness that frequently accompanies skillfully made songs. In short, Copper Moon's a somber pleasure.

Various Artists -- African Underground Vol. 1: Hip-Hop Senegal (Nomadic Wax): This collection of Senegalese rap, curiously, reveals how much hip-hop is about sound, despite all the words. BMG 44, for instance, is as hard as any American rapper with as much flow, despite the language difference, and the beats only subtly suggest non-American origins. In ways, this is the perfect hip-hop album for those who love the idea of hip-hop but have issues with the tendency toward sexism, homophobia and celebrations of violence. The most alien sounding raps here are those done in English, where the accented speech simply sounds weak.

Slade -- Slade in Flame (Shout! Factory DVD):
Slade in Flame now seems as much like a document as a movie. This film from 1974, starring British glam rock band Slade, depicts the rise and subsequent disillusionment of a band, and it's interesting in that it's a very different way to the top from that of a typical American band. While telling the story, director Richard Loncraine captures the drab, grinding nature of lower middle class life the band emerges from, and his story finds almost everyone except the band corrupt at some level, and even they have issues. It's not the good time party fans of the band's music might expect; instead, it has an appealing, hard realism that's welcome because it's so unusual in a rock 'n' roll movie.

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