A CONVERSATION WITH STEVE EARLE (continued)
PM: How's home life, and how are the kids?
SE: Everybody's fine, you know. My kids are older, and Sara's kids are younger. It's like starting all over again.
PM: How young are Sara's kids?
SE: They're 12 and 9 years old. It makes Christmas a lot more fun. I thought my days of staying up till four in the morning cussing at instructions written in Japanese and translated to German and then into English were over, but I'm back at it.
PM: They say your boy is a real good guitar player.
SE: Who, Justin? He's a better guitar player than I am, he's got a thumb like a jackhammer. Fingerpicks better than I do, for sure. He's writing a lot of good songs, one that really makes me jealous.
PM: What's that one called?
SE: "The Time You Take."
PM: Is he a thumbpick player, or just bare thumb?
SE: He usually can't keep up with a thumb pick, so he uses just his thumb a lot. He aspires to using thumbpicks.
PM: So many people out there with a soft thumb learned from Mississippi John Hurt. Who's Justin's big fingerpicking influence?
SE: Mance Lipscomb. He knows all that stuff, but Mance Lipscomb is probably his biggest influence.
PM: That's cool. Hard to find any kids that know shit about Mance Lipscomb.
SE: He went from Nirvana to Mance Lipscomb overnight. I mean, that stuff was always around, if he wanted to listen to it. The bad thing about it, of course, is that all my Mance Lipscomb records have disappeared.
PM: Are there songwriters out there today, not ones we grew up with, that are turning you on, that make you work harder?
SE: Joe Henry is one. Ron Sexsmith, too. I know I'm gonna leave someone out that's really, really good. Julie Miller is really that good.
PM: She gets down to the nitty gritty.
SE: Julie Miller is just one of the best songwriters that I know, period. Let's see, who else. On a pure literary level, and I automatically go to that, I think those three are that good. There are a lot of people that just write really good tunes. The thing about Ron Sexsmith is that it's really easy to dismiss his work, because he's so strong a melody writer. Lyrically, he's as good or better than most good songwriters, but he has absolutely no peer melodically. No one is consistently writing good melodies the way that he is.
PM: I just had that conversation with my girlfriend yesterday, that when it comes to chord progressions, the melody over the progression, and the way the words are married to the melody, that you can't beat the cat.
SE: But I think that's the difference. I think Ron is literally writing melodies, and the chord changes are incidental and subservient to the melody. Whereas most of us grew up listening to the Beatles, and for us writing melodies works around the chord changes, that the melody is the thing that slides around the top of the chord changes. It may not even solidify until you're ready to commit it to tape.
PM: Ron's walking down the street writing a melody without a guitar in his hand.
SE: That's exactly what I mean, that's more how he does it. And that's what never stops for him. What never stops for me is language. But he's just a very melodical writer, and I think it's important to study how other people write and have written, don't dismiss Gilbert and Sullivan, or the tradition of greats that led up to the possibility of there being such a thing as Pop music. And then when it stopped being just Pop music and became literature again. Because it did start out as literature, songwriting began as literature. Then there was a period in the middle when it really wasn't. Certainly with the advent of Bob Dylan, it became literature again. continue