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Jeff Moehlis: Acclaimed Artists Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle Join Forces for Album and Tour

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin will share the Lobero stage Sept. 6, presenting songs from their respective pasts as well as new collaborations. Click to view larger
Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin will share the Lobero stage Sept. 6, presenting songs from their respective pasts as well as new collaborations. (Alexandra Valenti photo)

Steve Earle first made his mark with his debut album, Guitar Town, which became a No. 1 country album but had enough edge to also appeal to many rock ’n’ roll fans.

Since then, Earle has had other milestone albums, including the more rock-inspired Copperhead Road; the acoustic Train a Comin’ recorded after years of drug addiction that left him homeless; the, well, transcendent Transcendental Blues; and a tribute album to his mentor Townes Van Zandt.

Earle’s latest milestone is the album Colvin & Earle, a collaboration with singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin. The pair will be performing at the Lobero Theatre Tuesday, Sept. 6. Tickets are available here.

Earle talked to Noozhawk from a bus in the mountains of British Columbia about the upcoming show and his life in music.

•        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: How did your collaboration with Shawn Colvin come to be? What made you decide to record an album together?

Steve Earle: We’ve known each other for a long time. She recorded a song of mine [“Someday” on her Cover Girl album] when I was at kind of a low point in my life. We’d run into each other now and again, and she suggested that we do a tour together.

It was a thing she’s done with other artists — Mary Chapin Carpenter and a few other people — where one of you sings a song, the other sings a song, you sing a few songs together, and tell a lot of stories. We did a tour like that.

But for us, the deal was the way we sang together. It made me really want to make a record. I wanted to write songs for that. There’s something about the way we sing together that I thought sounded cool, so that’s what it’s really all about, the singing.

JM: What can people look forward to at the upcoming show? Are you mostly performing together, or are there some solo pieces?

SE: We do some of our own stuff, but we do it together for the most part. There’s a couple of times when you’ll hear us sing something by ourselves, but neither one of us really leaves the stage.

On the record, you never hear our voices separately except on one song, and that’s a new song. There’s some covers, there’s some older songs of both of ours and there’s some new songs. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.

JM: Do you have a favorite Shawn Colvin song?

SE: Yeah, it’s called “That Don’t Worry Me Now.” We do it in the show. It’s on a record of hers called These Four Walls, and it’s always been my favorite song of hers.

JM: You’re probably aware that your album Guitar Town is 30 years old this year.

SE: Yes, I’m very much aware of that.

JM: What are your reflections on that album, through the lens of 30 years?

SE: I’m proud of it. It’s a record that ends up on a lot of lists and is getting talked about again. We’re going to do a handful of dates to commemorate the anniversary at the end of the year.

JM: One of my favorites of your albums is Train a Comin’, which was recorded about 10 years after Guitar Town. Where was your mind at when you started that album? I know you’d just gone through a rough patch.

SE: I just wanted to make a record...There was a lot of resistance to me making an acoustic record like that at the time. I decided I’d make that record first, because I’d always thought about it, and I went back to some older songs that had never been recorded, and I wrote a few new ones.

I put a few things aside for the next record, which I knew was going to rock a little harder, so I was kind of writing two records at the same time. I made Train a Comin’ in like January of ’95 and recorded I Feel Alright six months later, and it came out a few months after that.

JM: I saw you in 2009 at the Troubadour, when you were doing your Townes Van Zandt tour. As a songwriter, when you consider his body of work, do you find it to be more humbling or more inspirational?

SE: Well, it’s always humbling when you run across somebody like him. He was the real deal. But I’m 10 years older than he lived to be, now, and I’ve written songs for a lot of that time. So I’m probably less in awe as a songwriter than I was. But I think that happens. I still think he’s one of the greatest songwriters that ever lived.

JM: What is the most important thing you learned from Townes Van Zandt?

SE: Just him being an example of the idea that he made the decision to write songs at the level where it was literature, whether he made any money or not.

For the full interview, click here.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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