Inquiring Minds: Justin Townes Earle Is Not Going Electric

Justin Townes Earle at House of Blues, October 2009
Justin Townes Earle at House of Blues, October 2009
Craig Hlavaty

The last two years have been a coming-out party of sorts for Justin Townes Earle. Two albums into his career, Earle is cultivating a devoted and intense following among older roots listeners and young indie-rockers. The older people get roped with his slant on a classic form and the younger people see him as a nice counterweight to the other electric twiddling clamor going on in indie today. Last year's sophomore release, Midnight At The Movies, showcased Earle's newfound cinematic scope, as he and his band experimented with sonics and different tones. It made its way to plenty of best-of lists and also expanded his audience further. Tours with Old Crow Medicine Show and the Pogues brought in an untold amount of listeners who may not have been familiar with him before. Plus, with his famous last name and lineage, he's bound to bring around the curious. You may have heard of his dad a few times. He's a legendary singer-songwriter guy, made a few albums, no big deal. Tonight Earle plays the sold-out McGonigel's Mucky Duck with Dawn Landes on hand as a supporting act. His dates at the Mucky Duck are always barnburners, even if you do have to sit quietly like an adult.

Rocks Off: Are you about to get into the studio to record a new album? We heard you finished writing it already...

Justin Townes Earle: I will be playing a few of the new songs. I definitely don't want a million versions of new songs out there before I get a chance to make the new record. We'll pick a few new ones and rotate them around to see how it goes. We do wanna make sure that there aren't live bootlegs of my new record before I record it (laughs). Now when I play new songs, they show up everywhere really fast. We have to be careful to still keep the shine on it.

RO: What's this thing going to sound like? What's been creeping in?

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JTE: A little more of a primitive gospel, pre-war blues kind of thing. I'm not going to make a blues or gospel record or anything, but I see myself leaning more towards that than the honky-tonk thing. I think with Midnight we found this atmospheric sound that fit with these old forms. I think you can expect airy stamp will stay. We really found a sound with Midnight. A big part of it was how it actually sonically sounded.

RO: You ever see yourself going electric one day?

JTE: I don't think so. I don't have a lot of fun playing an electric guitar. I'm a better acoustic guitar player and I know how to control the tones. I know less about controlling the tones of an electric. I have more fun with an acoustic than an electric.

RO: You got engaged recently. Do you see that coloring the music down the road?

I know that if I do, it will be several years down the road. I'm a slow processor. It took me years to be able to write a song like "Mama's Eyes" (from Midnight). That goes back to the realization of manhood. You realize you are not a kid anymore and you are responsible for your actions. I had the idea for that song for a long time. I just didn't get to put pen to paper on it.

RO: For so many guys at a certain age that song touches a nerve...

JTE: I think at 25 or 26 you start to notice that downhill slope, and realize you are your father's son and you are turning into your mother.

RO: What younger artists are you getting into?

JTE: Joe Pug is my favorite out there right now. Definitely Jessica Lea Mayfield. The Low Anthem is pretty goddamn rocking. I think that we all have a chance to make a good stamp at this particular time. There has been such bad music for so long.

Slowly we are getting all the people who have been listening to Top 40, and the punk rock kids are getting older and can't always go to punk shows. They are starting to soften a little. I played in punk bands as a kid, and I listened to a lot of hip-hop when I was a kid. You can't see it all over the face of my music, but it is still there.

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