Old-style country returns in the form of Justin Townes Earle

Doug Hite

Justin Townes Earle released his sophomore album, “Midnight at the Movies,” March 3. He’s on tour and sat down for an interview in Columbus this week to talk about his new album, his music and his family.

Q: How will the new album compare to your first two releases, “Yuma” and “The Good Life”?

A: Well, I think that we definitely didn’t make the same record again. I’ve grown up, and it was time for the music to grow up a little bit. so we approached some different areas of American music that we didn’t on the previous records.

Q: All songs are written by you with one exception, The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Of all the songs you could choose to cover, why did you choose that song?

A: We were looking for a cover to put on the record, and everybody kept throwing old-timey songs at me, and I’m just tired of hearing the same country or old-timey whatever band having a version of “Old Joe Clark” or “Reuben’s Train.” I was tired of that whole cutesy idea of digging back and trying to find the one song that nobody had ever heard before. It just irritated me at the time, so I decided to go for something that was so obvious it wasn’t obvious.

Q: It seems like you’ve got a lot of influences that you would not expect for the music that you’re playing.

A: Yeah, I mean I was born in 1982, and so when I was a kid, I was listening to. a lot of AC/DC and a lot of The Replacements, the Fine Young Cannibals and The Proclaimers. So, you end up getting influences that you wouldn’t otherwise get growing up in the country music surroundings that I did.

Q: The album starts off with the title track “Midnight at the Movies.” Is that supposed to be thematic for the whole album?

A: This album is one of those “lonely is the idea” records, but I kind of used the movie theater setting to start it off and get the point across. When I was 18. I got this real romantic idea of Times Square in the 1940s and early ’50s when it was less Disney Land and more skid row – all kinds of cheap motels and dirty movie theaters. And I thought that there was nothing lonelier than a guy sitting in a dirty movie theater by himself.

Q: A lot of these songs tell stories, and whether they’re fictional or not, they’re very believable. On this album, “Black-Eyed Suzy” does exactly that.

A: Yeah, I wrote “Black-Eyed Suzy” because I was getting bored and somebody suggested that I take up gardening. So, I started raising hydrangea bushes in my backyard and I got kind of obsessed. I planted wildflowers like Black-Eyed Suzies around my hydrangeas. Black-Eyed Suzies spring up in any little crack in the pavement that it can find, and it reminded me of several women that I have known. I just thought that if you were to write a song about a prostitute, you might as well help her out and make her a flower.

Q: It seems like you make a lot of indirect references to people you might have known. “Mama’s Eyes” is a much more direct reference to your family.

A: I wrote that song for a very specific purpose – to get across the fact that I was not raised by Steve Earle. I was raised by Carol Anne Earle. And I’m every inch my father’s son, but I will always be, first and foremost, my momma’s boy. And I wanted to make sure that everybody got that story straight. With everything my momma went through, she doesn’t deserve everybody thinking that Steve Earle raised me because she broke her ass to raise me.

Contact BSR announcer and all correspondent Doug Hite at [email protected].