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The Wanderer

Steve Earle: "There are people who go off on Houston, but I think they're pussies."
Ted Barron

Steve Earle is out of breath, but not from pontificating on all manner of topics from politics to Kings of Leon (an admitted favorite). The 56-year-old native Texan, former Houstonian, singer-songwriter, satellite radio host, actor (HBO's Treme) and now author is rambling between backstage and his tour bus at Colorado's Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Earle and his band the Dukes (and Duchesses) — featuring wife Allison Moorer, ex-Houstonian Chris Masterson and his wife, Eleanor Whitmore — are booked for the next day. "It's 9,000 feet here," he gasps.

Coming on the heels of 2009's Grammy-winning Townes Van Zandt tribute album, Townes — recorded in Earle's New York apartment with SugarHill studios engineer Steve Christensen — his latest project is the starkly personal I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (New West), the T-Bone Burnett-produced album released this spring alongside a companion novel of the same name.

Earle is a great interview. He admits he goes out of his way to do in-stores at Cactus Music, even without booking another show in the Houston area, in part because "Cactus is owned by the guy who owns my record label [George Fontaine], for one thing."

Asked if he thinks he'll ever do another rock and roll record à la 1986's Guitar Town and '88's Copperhead Road, he winds up: "You know what? No matter what kind of record I make, somebody else is going to want me to make the record I made..." before the reception breaks up.

No matter. Earle had quite a few other things to say, too.

Chatter: How cathartic was ­doing the Townes album for you?

Steve Earle: It was a big deal. I knew I was going to do it one of these days, and finally doing it was more than I even thought it was. It was a more emotional experience than even I expected.

C: What effect did doing that ­album have on the new one?

SE: I think it gave me a lot more time to write it. I wrote "God Is God" and "I Am a Wanderer" for the Joan Baez record [2008's Day After Tomorrow], and I wrote "Lonely Are the Free" for a film I was in called Leaves of Grass. I was working on the book the whole time, so that's what I was concentrating on. The songs that insisted on getting written got written. Once the Townes record was out, that was part of the purpose of it — to buy myself some time to finish the book.

C: Did you have some sort of ­ritual for writing the novel?

SE: Just get up in the ­morning and write. Get as much done before the phone starts ringing as possible.

C: Do you get writer's block at all?

SE: I haven't in a long time. I don't think of it that way. I go through long periods where I don't write anything, but I think I trust myself to eventually write something. The closest thing to writer's block I ever had was the four and a half years my drug habit got so out of hand I didn't write anything.

C: I like the way you stick up for Houston musically on your show.

SE: I love Houston. There are people in Texas who go off on Houston, but I think they're pussies. It's the closest thing to a city in the state. It's where I first got out on my own and started playing my own music in front of people. It's where I met Townes, and look — ZZ Top is from Houston. Lightnin' Hopkins is from Houston.

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