Since 1986, Steve Earle hasn't pulled a punch. From his beginnings as a savior of country music to his current role as a folk singer championing the environment and other political causes, Earle has always presented himself as someone willing to risk the backlash of the public in order to stand up for what he believes is the truth. On his 12th album, Washington Square Serenade, Earle blazes another trail: the newly wedded country boy moving to New York City. The Pitch spoke with Earle on a tour stop in North Carolina.
The Pitch: You moved from Nashville to New York City. That's what this album is about, right?
Earle: It's about that, and it's love songs for Allison Moorer [Earle's wife] and New York City. I'd gotten married and moved to New York. It was part of the decision. I could afford to live there because I had a girl with a job for the first time in a long time. We needed a place to ourselves. We had both lived in Nashville for a long time, and we felt like we needed a place that was ours and that we didn't have to live through so much debris. I've always wanted to live there. It's a pretty energizing environment for an artist to live in. It always has been.
On the song "Steve's Hammer (For Pete)," you speak about the things you write about as almost a burden. Is it?
I'm giving myself a pep talk. It's written for Pete Seeger, and there's a little tongue-in-cheek involved with it. I wasn't raised to believe that artists weren't supposed to comment on things. It's the way they pay the rent. The way you keep from going to jail is that you don't keep your mouth shut. I was raised in the '60s and '70s, and that made it OK. We hold these things up to look at ourselves. That's what art is. Not all pop music is art, but some of it can be. The Beatles proved that, and I'm not all that concerned about what Britney Spears thinks about world affairs, because I'm not fucking Britney Spears.Steve Earle discusses making his first album in New York City:
Bruce Springsteen said in an interview that folk singers were canaries in the coal mines, and when they stop singing, we're all in trouble. Is that true for you?
Absolutely. He grew up with that, too. He approaches it a little differently than I do. I write some overtly political songs, and there's no doubt where I stand. It probably is a lack of artfulness on my part. My songs are not all rhetoric. In "John Walker's Blues," you're not hearing what I believe. You're hearing me empathizing with a 28-year-old kid who I believe got done in because I believe we needed a scapegoat. I happened to have a son who was exactly the same age, so that's my connection to it. I don't believe that people should go out there and fight because of their faith, but I say that in the song because that's the character in my song. I had a guy ask me one time when I served in Vietnam because of Copperhead Road. It's hard to get the character out of people's heads. In Baltimore, I'm Waylon from The Wire.