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Bloodshot Briefing: Justin Townes Earle

By Matt Harness

In case you don't already know, Justin Townes Earle is the 27-year-old son of Steve Earle, the notable country musician/political activist who coincidentally recently released an album of Townes Van Zandt covers. Steve honored his friend and mentor by bestowing Townes' name to Justin.

I caught up with Justin by phone as he was relaxing in a hotel room preparing for a show in Kent, Ohio. We chatted about his bad-boy days as a teenager in Rogers Park and what he would put on his jukebox, if he had one.


Beachwood Music: Read where you moved from Nashville to Brooklyn not too long ago. Seems worlds apart. How is NYC treating you?

Justin Townes Earle: I live in Manhattan now. Alphabet City. Being an imagery-based and situational songwriter, you can only go so far in one place. Nashville ran its course, and I moved to New York. The possibilities are endless here. Nothing ever calms down, and nothing gets old. All Southern songwriters should live in New York.

And I happened to get a good deal on an apartment on the Lower East Side, which otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford. I'm still young, but I don't go out to bars. When I was in Brooklyn, I never went to Willamsburg. Here, there's no yee-haw at 2 a.m. in the hallways and no yee-haw at 2 a.m. outside. Everybody here's been through that.

Beachwood Music: You lived in Chicago years ago. Where did you live, and what are your memories?

Justin Townes Earle: I was there when I was 17 for maybe a little over a year. I'd hang around the Old Town School of Folk Music. It was a bunch of really artistic people attempting to live this artistic life. I stayed on the east side of Rogers Park on Touhy and Greenleaf. At the time, it was a perfect neighborhood for me. It was rough, and there was a lot of dope. All the trouble was all right there.

Beachwood Music: I'm a former Rogers Park resident. Which places did you favor in the neighborhood?

Justin Townes Earle: Red Line Tap. Morseland. But my whole life revolved around whatever it is you call Bucktown now. On Western Avenue there was this bar that I don't even want to talk about now.

Beachwood Music: How was Chicago good to you? What made you leave?

Justin Townes Earle: For me, it was about being on my own. The friends I had in Nashville, I grew up with. Chicago was my first chance to be somewhere that no one really knew anything about me. I was able to get friends on my own terms.

But I got into a lot of trouble in such a short period of time, like a lightning flash, and all of a sudden I'm back South.

Beachwood Music: You self-released your debut, Yuma. Talk about your relationship with Bloodshot Records, which has released The Good Life and Midnight at the Movies.

Justin Townes Earle: A friend of a friend gave me an address for some guy's house, Rob. I must admit when I went over there it took me a few hours to figure out it was Rob Miller (co-founder of the label). He came and saw me play, and it all kind of happened from there. It all fell together.

Bloodshot's been nothing but good to me. Never once did they hear any of my records before I sent them to be pressed. No advance tracks, nothing. They sign people because they trust them. That's the beautiful part.

These bigger labels . . . They don't give a fuck about music anymore. Everybody who works at Bloodshot Records, especially Rob and Nan Warshaw, are huge music fans. They absolutely love what they do.

Beachwood Music: We are big fans of jukeboxes here at Beachwood HQ. You're the DJ of your fantasy jukebox. What earns your quarters?

Justin Townes Earle: First, New York's Lakeside Lounge has the best one. But if I'm getting my hands on a jukebox, without a doubt Merle Haggard's "Sing a Sad Song" is going to be on it. I also have to have George Jones, probably "Window Up Above." I've been listening to Randy Newman a lot. I'd go with "Rollin'."


Justin Townes Earle headlines the folk stage at this weekend's Metronome Festival; he goes on at 8 p.m. Sunday. It might look a little something like this:


Bloodshot Briefing appears in this space every Friday. Matt welcomes your comments.


Posted on June 5, 2009

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