For Americana great Justin Townes Earle, it's about keeping your friends close
It’s no surprise that the music industry is filled with pitfalls, misfortunes and harrowing experiences. Recall any number of one-hit wonders you can think of, and their demise can be chalked up to internal conflicts, monetary issues or licensing problems.
When you’ve only been navigating the heady waters of the music world for a scant six years, one would expect cynicism to play in your favor. But when you’ve been raised around the notion that one day you will have to play music to make a living, things are a little different. For Justin Townes Earle, the acclaimed 30-year-old singer/songwriter from Nashville, Tenn., this alternative route was the case.
“In the music business, you have to make sure that your eyes are wide open,” Earle said. “You can say that you don’t want to be a businessman all you want, but if you’re not a businessman, nobody’s ever going to find out about you.”
Earle has made a career out of his genre-bending Americana, incorporating blues, folk, country and, most recently, soul (on this year’s Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now), into his body of work. As the son of alternative country great Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle was set up to write music from the get-go, but his father’s name is about the only thing that links the two together now. Earle got to where he is solely of his own accord.
“You can’t just put that much trust into anybody these days in the music industry,” Justin Townes Earle said, speaking by phone from Nashville. “You have to prove that you can pull some shit on your own.”
And while Earle’s accolades have come at his own hand, his earlier work with bluegrass and ragtime group The Swindlers shaped and contributed to his varied sound.
“I ended up joining that band for about five, six years on and off, and there’s one guy from that band that still works with me,” Earle said. “He was the one that survived. Some of them went off and got married. Some of them have terrible drug habits.”
While Earle is candid about his past drug usage, his time in rehab and his subsequent sobering up, Earle is more focused than ever. For Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, Earle recorded the album in just four days. “My recording sessions are very fast-paced and are very private, because we don’t need people in the way,” he said.
With focus comes artistic clarity. As he’s released about an album a year since his debut, Earle knows what works for him and what doesn’t, and preemptive measures are crucial to his work.
When you’re heralded as the newest voice of a genre, it pays to make sure your approach is precise.
“I could not spend like five weeks in a fuckin’ studio,” Earle laughed. “If it takes that long, then I haven’t done my work. The first step of the work wasn’t finished right.”