Fred Eaglesmith: "Anyone Can Make a Record -- the Sad Part Is They Do"
Being 56 might seem a bit old to be out bouncing around in a bus with a handful of people half your age and staying up all night, but Canadian songster Fred Eaglesmith flips that on its back.
"You know, at 35 when you're doing this, you look around at your friends and they're lawyers or they're plumbers and their life is a lot different than yours and you maybe question the path you've taken," he observes. "But then when you get to my age, your plumber friend has back pain all the time and he realizes he spent his whole life repairing toilets or unstopping drains and maybe you realize he envies you your life.
"We did 230 dates last year, and I still love doing this rock and roll touring thing."
Eaglesmith notes his is one of the few bands working this hard anymore.
"We used to run into bands on the road all the time all over the place," he says. "Nowadays, we run into some of the country guys on the weekends and of course you run into some of the folkies in the summer, but we've mostly got the highway to ourselves these days."
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Eaglesmith, who credits Texan Robert Earl Keen, Jr. with introducing him to American audiences, says his is a happy life in spite of the vagaries of both the road and the music business.
"No matter how much we work and how much we travel, you don't hear anybody on the bus saying, 'Can we quit now?" he explains. "If we stay home a month and just play local shows, I start getting calls: 'When are we going out again?'
"You have to admit that's something to be able to say about what you do for a living, because a lot of people would do anything to do something else than what they do every day," Eaglesmith adds. "So in that way, I'm a very lucky man."
He also counts himself lucky in another way.
"Today, virtually anyone can make a record -- the sad part is, they do," observes Eaglesmith, slyly. "There's just too many records all fighting for attention. I quit even making a big deal about a new album coming out. At the place I am in my career, I look at recordings now as just another part of my overall business.
"I realize too that radio probably isn't going to play me, so records are really for my fans because they actually want them," he continues. "But because there are so many records out all the time, records don't mean what they used to mean to artists. It's all about fame now, not about albums."
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With 20 albums to his credit including the brand-new Tambourine, plus a slew of paintings, Eaglesmith has become a big enough cottage industry that he's now fuzzy on album sales and royalty streams.
"My most popular albums aren't necessarily my best sellers," he notes cryptically. "Each album kinda has a life of its own.
"When [2002's] Falling Stars and Broken Hearts came out, that thing sold like crazy," Eaglesmith adds. "And 6 Volts [his previous album] also just keeps selling. But I'm really not certain which album I've sold the most of."
On the question of royalties derived from other artists covering his songs, Eaglesmith snorts, "That's probably gotta be ""Time to Get a Gun", which was covered by Miranda Lambert. I'm pretty sure that's my biggest royalty-earner because that album sold a couple million copies."
6 Volts was a lo-fi recording, done live with one microphone and recorded in mono. Tambourine also has a murky, cement-grinder earthiness, but is a more conventional recording.
"We did this one on 8-track live on the floor," Eaglesmith explains. "I wanted it to sound like the Rolling Stones recording in 1962 and I think we got pretty close to it.
"We came back and added some backing vocals, but otherwise this is pretty much just us getting in there and playing the songs," he adds.
The crusty, acerbic former Ontario farmer has been known to have a prickly disposition, particularly with people who interrupt his shows. Once at the Mucky Duck, where he returns Thursday evening, we saw him hector three obnoxious men at the bar until they left.
"I haven't had to do that much lately," he laughs. "But there was about a ten-year period there...you know, everything changed when bands started playing these big arenas and stadiums and ticket prices went sky-high. Suddenly people stopped being respectful, stopped caring if anyone else was trying to listen. It became about them, it was an event for them, it wasn't really about the music per se.
"But the word must be around, because I really haven't had to do much of that the past couple years," he laughs. "Maybe I ran all the talkers off or word got around not to come to my shows if you plan to talk."
Informed that Houston has a bad reputation for talking crowds, Eaglesmith dismisses the idea.
"It's not just Houston, it's everywhere," says Eaglesmith. "It's like when we do shows in Nashville, if the audience is quiet and respectful and listening, you can tell no one in the music industry is in the audience."
Fred Eaglesmith plays McGonigel's Mucky Duck at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 6.
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