Appearing on the Jambalaya Stage at 8.00pm Friday March 25!
By Stuart Coupe.
It’s hard to imagine Steve Earle doing – you know – nothing. He just doesn’t seem like the sort of guy to hang around his apartment in New York, turn on the television, put his feet up and kill a few hours. Earle is seemingly always busy. Always. Very. Busy.
Take the time he and I chatted recently as we’ve done many times over the years. In fact it’s a running gag that I tell people the first time I met Earle was over dinner and he was with wife number three. That was in Nashville in the mid 1980s. A lot has happened since then – including the fact that with every passing year Earle seems to embrace more and more projects, with a sense that time is running out. Even if it really isn’t.
So we’re nattering and he manages to discuss – in short succession – a new album with Shaw Colvin, the upcoming Camp Copperhead songwriting retreat, the writing of two more albums, what seems like about four musical/theatre concepts in varying stages of development . . . and the fact that he’s back working on a book about his life. Oh, and I also forgot to mention some shows to celebrate thirty years since his classic Guitar Town album was released and a deluxe reissue of same.
And, in between this, is a seemingly endless run of live dates. He’s just done a residency at a venue called the City Winery. But then he explains that there are ‘City Winery’ venues not only in New York City but also in Chicago and Nashville and the ‘residency’ involved him played four shows at each of them during January.
“That’s kind of leisurely compared to how I normally tour,” he says. “It was just me solo with special guests each night.”
It’s after midnight in New York. Earle’s had to wait till he put his son to bed before embarking on a bunch of chats. He’s clearly worn out – the pressures of looking after an autistic son and the money he needs to earn for his care, let alone Earle paying his own bills.
In fact, he’s so tired he repeats all the information about the new album with Shawn Colvin twice in a ten-minute period without appearing to realize. For the record it’s called Colvin & Earle. It’s six songs they wrote together plus four covers. Then there are another two covers that didn’t make the album but are coming out in April on vinyl for Record Store Day. Come the middle of the year, the two of them will go out on tour to support the album release.
Before then Colvin will join him at Camp Copperhead, a three-day songwriting camp that Earle has run for the past few years.
“The morning is me teaching a master class and in the afternoon everyone does different things,” he says. “Shawn will do her own class and we’ll do a class together on how we wrote the songs together for this record. We’re two different artists and we don’t co-write a lot so we’ll go through how we did it. That might be interesting for people who want to learn how to co-write songs.”
Earle has now written a number of books of fiction – both short stories and novel length works, the last being a fiction based around Hank Williams’ doctor. His latest book was announced as being published late last year but that didn’t happen. Amazon are taking pre-orders now and citing a 2020 publication date but Earle reckons it’ll be out before the end of this year, even though he’s still writing it.
“Well, there was the divorce and then the diagnosis of my little boy and I had to go through a legal process with the city of New York to make sure he gets to go to the school he needs to – and I have to do that every year,” Earle says. “I managed to get the songs written for the next two records but I couldn’t keep up with the book so I’m back on it now. It’s called I Can’t Remember If We Said Goodbye and it’s not so much an autobiography as a literary memoir. It’s about recovery if it really gets down to it.”
So as Earle gets older is the writing – both prose and songwriting – getting easier or is it harder searching for things he hasn’t addressed before?
“It’s harder but that’s one of the reasons I moved to New York – there’s just more input, and it helps me find different things to do. I’m heading towards Broadway. That’s part of the reason I moved here.
“I have two musicals in development – one of mine based on the songs on Washington Square Serenade. And there’s another in collaboration with David Simon who did The Wire and Treme. That’s in the early stage and is about Sparrow Point which is a neighbourhood in Baltimore. Plus, there are some other experimental pieces I’m developing.”
Thirty seconds later Earle is talking about the activities surrounding the anniversary of Guitar Town. Oh yeah, and he’s coming back to Australia for what almost seems like an annual visit these days. And he’s developing a Broadway musical based on the life of Molly Meldrum. OK, I made that last bit up but if you run into him on this tour don’t care suggest it to him as he’s more than likely to run with it. Anything to avoid putting his feet up and watching the telly!