sabato 17 gennaio 2009

Steve on Townes

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Faccio un eccezione perchè Steve Earle, fresco 54enne, sta registrando (finalmente, dico io) un tributo all'amico, cattivo maestro di vita e straordinario esempio musicale, Townnes Van Zandt. Mi sembra un riconoscimento importante per un artista tanto seminale nel folk contemporaneo, quanto sfortunato e incompreso. A seguire l'intervista concessa da Earle a Rolling Stone USA, nella quale anticipa il progetto.

Steve Earle wasn't out of his teens when he introduced himself to Townes Van Zandt. Although Van Zandt was 11 years older than Earle, he agreed to mentor the younger musician, and the two became lifelong friends. These days, on paper at least, they don't appear to have too much in common aside from a history of substance abuse. Earle is an outlaw country roots-rocker who emerged in the 1980s a rabble-rousing iconoclast. He's inched into mainstream consciousness through his music as well as acting gigs, political commentary and his fiction. Van Zandt, the drifter son of a Texas oil baron, was a songwriter's songwriter who actively eschewed the mainstream (he turned down overtures to write with Dylan, who he dismissed as too much of a celebrity). He was as comfortable with a country-folk song as he was with a driving blues stomp, and he died in 1997 at 52, a cult hero broken by addiction.
Earle was so affected by his relationship with Van Zandt that he named a son after him. Now he's putting the finishing touches on a tribute album to Van Zandt, recorded in both Nashville and New York. Rolling Stone called Earle in Nashville to discuss the album, listening to the Kings of Leon, recording with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello and his unique relationship with the late, great Townes Van Zandt:

So these are all Townes' songs you're doing?

The idea was to try to record these songs as close to the way that I remember Townes performing them as possible.

How was that?

It's how I learned to play; it's how I learned to perform. I arrive at it slightly differently than he did. I technically execute my guitar style differently than he did, in that he used metal finger picks and I don't, but I finger pick like he did. He was sitting right in front of me when I was really learning to play.

What do you mean he was sitting right in front of you?

This was a real live apprenticeship. I met him when I was 16. Townes was a stunning solo performer. I've only seen a handful of people that were as good as he was. Loudon Wainwright is in that class as a solo performer. It's a really rare thing. The way Townes did it, he could literally just stand there and close his eyes ‹ sometimes not open them for an entire set ‹ and you were mesmerized. By the time more people knew about him, his skills were somewhat diminished as a performer and as a guitar player and as a singer. I barely got there in time to see him when it wasn't.

Do you have a favorite vocal or song or lyric of his? A favorite moment or slice of a song?

My favorite record overall is probably the one they called The Nashville Sessions. The people that released it were not authorized to release it. It was his last studio record before a long break. It was made in the mid-'70s and it's got some really really, really great songs. It's got "The Spider Song" on it, and it's got "Buckskin Stallion" on it. So I like that record overall. I think my favorite songs are probably "Colorado Girl," on an album called Townes Van Zandt, 'cause nobody fucks with that at all. It's a solo vocal performance.

Have you sort of apprenticed any aspiring Steve Earles?

I had the benefit of a real, live, hands-on apprenticeship, so I know the value of that. Even more with Guy [Clark] than Townes. With Guy, I could ask him a question, he could answer it. He could show me how he did something. With Townes it was more like he'd give me a copy of War and Peace, and then I'd find out later, after I'd read it, that he never fuckin' read War and Peace. They were both hugely influential but they approached it differently. There's been a lot of people I've run into over the years that are younger than I was, and because I benefited from that type of learning environment I try to provide it for other people.

You're in Nashville now, but you're also recording some of this album in New York?

To tell you the truth I still haven't found a pool of players [in New York] anywhere close to what I have here. This record, 75 percent of it was recorded in New York, but all the stuff with musicians has been done here, 'cause I overdubbed all the bass and I overdubbed all the drums and then I'm doing these three tracks live with the bluegrass band. So, this record's really kind of a hybrid. I have a novel I need to finish anyway, and I've wanted to do this Townes record for a long time. I'll do it now and I can record it and deliver it, and then I can spend the winter finishing my novel.

You're recording a track with Tom Morello, though, who doesn't exactly suck.

Morello's one of the few real guitar gods that his generation produced. He's one of the few guys who did something else that nobody else had ever done on electric guitar before. In a long time. And of course we're both pinkos so we get along just fine. The track is a song called "Lungs," which is a really great Townes song. Lyle Lovett recorded it several years ago on the record of covers he did. It's one of the scariest songs ever written. Towne's always said that it should be screamed rather than sung.

Were there any records that you've been listening to this year that have caught your ear?

I love the Kings of Leon's record and I'm really glad to see them grow up as a band. And they're local and I've been bumping into them as long as I can remember. My tendency is to pull for them. You're listening to one of the best singers that rock & roll's ever produced I think.
That's high praise.

Have you worked with them or are you going to try to work with them at any point?

No. Oh, I'd kill to work with them. I have to accept the fact that I'm 53 years old and my audience is getting older too and its one of those things. Sometime in my 40s I had a new girlfriend that saw me make the bluegrass record and she thought that's what I did I guess. Then we were put in a rock band together and making transcendental blues and the first gig we played at for not playing together for a year and a half was farm aid and it was a Crazy Horse year for Neil and we were really ridiculously loud and she goes, "Why do you play that loud?" and I go, "Because it makes my dick hard." And I still have that in me. I'm a lot of times too loud for my own audience.

Steve e Townes in una vecchia fotografia.

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