He’s the son of country rocker Steve Earle, but singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has made a name for himself.
With the Kaaboo music festival just days away, Earle talked with the Del Mar Times about his start, his sound and what he has in store for the three-day event at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Kaaboo is new in town and getting a lot of buzz. Are you excited to be part of the inaugural festival?
Absolutely! Festivals are always an interesting gatherings of people. You can have trouble on stage from festivals, but the people watching is worth every minute of it, and as a musician, I’ve done Kaaboo my entire life growing up in the East. I am definitely looking forward to this.
Your family has a musical background. When did you realize you wanted to be a musician? How old were you when you got your start?
I was probably about 14 years old. I’ve never been the kind to wait; I’ve always made very rash decisions, so I decided I wanted to be a musician at 14 and started writing songs, took off on the road at 15. Always thought it was better to do it and fake it until you figure the rest of it out.
Have any artists influenced your sound? What about your father?
My father, of course, has influenced my sound. I have heard his music more than most and heard it the earliest, so it would be impossible to say he didn’t. How? I have no way to tell you except that we are both story songwriters, but still approach it different ways. There’s a lot of them, though: Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Marvin Gaye. There’s all kinds of things that go in, that I try to fit into my music, because I see a connection between jazz, rock ’n’ roll, blues and country. They are all a product of the southeastern United States.
You’re a Nashville native, correct? Do you live there, or are you still in New York? Has living there influenced you as a songwriter?
Yes, I was born in another Nashville, long, long past. I’m actually living in an undisclosed location, nearly as far west in the U.S. as you can go, in the middle of the woods. I just got sick of a lot of things. The music business is tiring after a while. You still enjoy playing the shows, but you don’t want to talk about it all the time. That’s real common in cities like Nashville — people always want to talk about their projects and things. I just need a break and never wanted to leave New York, but found good reason to.
Living in these places has greatly influenced me. I think, in my time in Nashville, we learned how to not be songwriters more than we learned how to be songwriters. My dad’s time was a different story in the 1970s, with Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt around, but by the next generation, it had turned to flop. In that way, yes. New York had a major influence on me; I still can’t seem to get it out of my songs.
Have you ever performed in San Diego? If so, what did you enjoy about playing here?
I’m not sure exactly where the areas I’ve played, but I’ve played the Casbah several times and the Belly Up several times. I’ve never spent much time in San Diego. The only things I can really say that I’ve experienced that I enjoyed are not the kind of things you talk about in public. We will keep it kid-friendly and we won’t put a blight on the face of San Diego.
Your latest album, “Absent Fathers,” was released not long after your previous album, “Single Mothers.” How are the two connected? What was the inspiration behind them?
(Released in January, “Absent Fathers” is the companion album to “Single Mothers,” which came out last September. Also comprised of 10 tracks, “Absent Fathers” was recorded alongside “Single Mothers” as a double album, but as Earle began to sequence it, he felt each needed to make its own statement, and they took on their own identities.)
“Single Mothers” was written in a darker period. I started to find my way out of that as I wrote “Absent Fathers.” There was some time between because I got out of my record deal with Communion, so I had about a year between writing each record. My position in life had changed and I always do my best to represent where I stand.
What’s next? Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I’m working on several new projects and writing a new record. There are a few other things I’m not talking about yet. God only knows what the future will bring. I’m as fly-by-night as they come, and I have a beautiful wife that can lead the way.
What can fans expect at Kaaboo? Will you be sharing a lot of material from your latest album?
Most likely will be going heavily off of the newest records, but I never make any promises. If you want to bet on something, never bet on me doing the same thing twice. I might, but it still isn’t a safe bet.
For more about Earle, visit www.justintownesearle.com.