Tim Easton’s raucous Not Cool rocks and rolls with thunderclap immediacy. Clear goals: Laugh. Love. Enjoy your life. The Nashville transplant spoke with CMT Edge about his excellent new album, fatherhood and recently returning from an Alaska tour.
“I just got back from Alaska yesterday,” Easton said. “It was excellent. I’ve gone up there about 12 years in a row now, and I have really good friends and basically family up there. I didn’t go up there for financial reasons. I went up for fun, but it turns out the two things go together now.”
CMT Edge: Where should someone go on a first trip to Alaska?
Easton: I’d say go south to the Kenai Peninsula. That’ll be a great trip. Really, within 10 minutes of the airport, you’re on a highway that’s like National Geographic, cinematic, huge, where the ocean hits the mountains right there.
Sounds great. All right, let’s talk about the new album.
Well, the first tune I wrote specifically for it is called “Little Doggies.” I wrote it the night I walked into Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway [Nashville]. That’s the place where you’ll hear bands playing the vintage stuff. I saw J.D. Simo and Joe Fick playing that night and I made up my mind to make an album that was a cohesive collection of vintage-sounding stuff with those two guys in mind. I wrote that first song that night in the car.
It was one of those days when it was time to make a move. It was the night of the Americana awards last year. I was in the alley hanging out with Jason Isbell, and he had just won for best song. I congratulated him and I made my way into Robert’s and was like, “Hey, I’d better get to work. I’ve lived here a couple months. It’s time to make an album.”
On Facebook, you called it your best work. Explain.
Well, it’s actually more representative of the kind of album I listen to around the house. It feels more enjoyable to listen to than some of the more confessional, singer-songwriter stuff from before I was a father. Now, it’s more about having fun and getting back into things because they’re enjoyable to do. I feel it’s more real than anything I’ve done before.
So, fatherhood’s about having fun again?
Yeah, you can’t help it. You don’t have time to wallow or think about your average bipolar situations. You’re thinking less about yourself and more about others. That’s probably the pathway to a better life, a more enjoyable life for everyone.
As a father, is there any concern about having the title “Crazy Motherfucker From Shelby, Ohio” on your album?
No, not really. No. My daughter knows the song already. She knows the words on that album because there was a period of time when she refused to ride in the car unless we played it. Now, she’s into Shovels & Rope, and she won’t go anywhere unless we play them. No, swearing’s just a part of life. That particular swear word happens to be brutal for a child for sure, but I’m not concerned.
Do your songs have a common lyrical theme?
There are a lot of couples getting in trouble, but it doesn’t have a theme so much as a collective sound. In the end, I threw the curveball in there of having a song that is more like the introspective singer-songwriter stuff and that’s the title track, “Not Cool,” where I’m singing about other people and myself at the same time.
Tell the story behind writing the opening track, “Don’t Lie.”
“Don’t Lie” really came out of thin air. You see those couples out and about in Nashville on the east side of town. It’s not hard to see them at work just burnt-out, on the edge, screaming at each other. I like to write in slightly cinematic terms, and it was easy to write as soon as I got the hook and the chorus.
Were you drawing on any particular songwriters while writing the new album?
I listen to a good amount of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee still. Hank Williams Sr. I went through a pretty big Elvis phase. (laughs) I was into Sirius XM. I was rockin’ the Elvis channel there. So, yeah, the short Tennessee Three blasts were definitely part of my work ethic on this one. Keep it simple. Keep it quick. Get in and out fast. Let’s not fuss too much with the overdubs.
You still into Townes?
Yeah, I could’ve put him on that list that I just made. I regularly get back into him and play his music on my iPod in my art studio. I listened to a little Big Star, a little Townes Van Zandt the other day. Townes is never far away. His lyrics and his songs keep you on your toes. He keeps away the fluff.
What’s most rewarding about being part of the Nashville music community?
Right now, it’s simply being here in the middle of what I can only describe as an explosion of art and culture. By the time we finish this conversation, several more people will have decided to move here. It’s not just music. It’s art, food — which is a really important one — and writing and filmmaking. There’s a renaissance going on right now. It’s very inspirational for me. You have to keep up with the neighbors.
You live on the east side?
Yeah, I’m on the east side. I’m right down the street from Mitchell’s Deli. Every time I step out, I’m networking or talking to somebody about something that has to do with the music business.
Have you been co-writing?
I have. I have begun that Nashville tradition. I have not had success with it yet, but I’m going to keep on trying because I have a daughter. You’ve gotta keep at it. I would love to write a song that other people sing. My goal is to write one that people sing around a campfire for all eternity.