Justin Townes Earle is no stranger to Australia. Over the course of his seven album career, he has been a regular visitor to our shores playing shows with varying line ups and dynamics. The brash youngster of earlier tours has made way for a sober songwriter who has just encountered the birth of his first child. As he tours on the back of his recent album Kids In The Street, Earle makes his way to the Fremantle Festival’s Opening Night this Friday, October 27. CHRIS HAVERCROFT reports.
Whenever on tours, Justin Townes Earle always came across as one of those musicians who looked like they just loved being on the road and weren’t at all phased by the prospect of living out if a suitcase. With the birth of his daughter Etta St James, that may be about to change.
“It’s something i don’t even know the real depth of yet,” offers Earle of the impact of being a father may have on his touring life. “My daughter is just three months old, so it is one of those things that is just becoming real. Unfortunately because of this life (of playing music), I was in Norway when she was born. I think out of the three months that she has been on this earth, I have been around for about two weeks of it. It’s not easy but the baby has to eat and with me there is no schooling or nothing, so it’s either a minimum wage job or this.”
Kids In The Street sees Earle exploring his love of soul music and the Memphis sound instead of following the Americana or Outlaw Country path that has been well worn by his father. The relationship that Earle has with his famous Dad is a dynamic one, but some ground rules around how they would approach their music was laid out decades ago.
“My father and I made a very specific pact when I was a teenager,” Earle says. “He looked at me and he was convinced that music was what I was going to do for a living. We made a pact that musically we were going to stay away from each other. Unlike most sons or daughters of musicians, finding footage of me and my father playing together is like hens teeth. We did that on purpose as he wanted me to stand on my own and to write on my own. He never wanted anyone to be able to say that I rode in on his coattails. That is one of the best things that he handed to me.”
The previous couple of records that Earle had released were put out in a rush, but for Kids In The Street, Earle took a more relaxed approach. With his wife, he moved to a small town of about about 13 people right on the coast in Northern California. It had about 20 houses, but only about 9 of them were inhabited and the nearest grocery store was 40 miles away. It was a locale where Earle could be genuinely alone.
“I had a lot of time to just think this record through,” he says. “I have become more and more deliberate with each record that I put out, and this one has really taken it to a peak. I did feel that there was something a little more daunting about it, because I felt that for the first time as a writer I wasn’t just speaking for myself. I wasn’t just solely dealing with what was going on in my head and how it relates to the world around me. It’s not like I am the President or anything, but I was attempting to speak for people other than myself.”
Up until now, Earle has been in control of making his own records, but was approached by the record label to work with Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) as producer. Eventually Earle came around to the idea as a necessary step for him to develop artistically.
“It was important for me to step outside of my head and see how people do things differently outside of Nashville,” he says. “The thing that always impressed me about Mogis was that his ability to capture sound is an ‘old soul’ kind of thing. Whenever he records an acoustic guitar it sounds incredible. It was just the sounds that he was able to capture and the sense of rhythm that he has that isn’t the four on the floor type of rhythm that he brought to the record.”
For his show as part of the the Fremantle Festival, Justin Townes Earle will be joined by Josh Headley. It is far from the first time that the two will be sharing a stage. Earle couldn’t be happier to have his long time friend along with him for the ride.
“I took him out on his first tour and bought him down here for the first time,” Earle says. “He has made a great record, and it makes me a little misty. He is one of my kids, you know. The first time I met Josh was right around the time that he moved to Nashville and he was too young to drink the first time that he played with me. He definitely wasn’t too young to drink when he first started touring with me though!”