Justin Townes Earle‘s Absent Fathers reaches (“Farther From Me”) and reflects (“Looking for a Place to Land”) with effortless elegance. The seamless new collection serves as a complement to his 2014 release, Single Mothers, both on Vagrant Records.
“Single Mothers needed a companion piece from the kind of desolate feeling on it,” Earle explains. “It was going to be a double record but I thought better of it. I don’t have the attention span for a double record, and I can’t expect anyone else to. Also, being married changes a lot.”
CMT Edge: Explain exactly how getting married has changed things.
Earle: Well, I have somebody here with me who helps me with life and is good at it. My life has been lonely, no matter if I was surrounded by people or not. It’s been fucked up way longer than it’s been good, and we’re people so we lose more than we win. Now I’ve just got somebody to be there when I lose. I see life in a lot better light, but I’m not gonna start writing happy songs or anything.
Speaking of which, tell the story behind writing “Farther From Me.”
“Farther From Me” deals with a lot of relationships, from parental ones to relationships with the opposite sex. It’s a realization that you’re only gonna get so far with certain things and sometimes it’s not worth all of your energy. (laughs)
What songwriters are you drawing from?
Springsteen has a very sparse way in what he writes. He’s very good at it hitting you with this imagery that can bring about all kinds of different feelings about places in your life. I’ve based a lot of what I do off Springsteen. I think he was the closest we have — the closest I have — to a modern approach to Woody Guthrie.
I can hear him in “Looking for a Place to Land.” How did that song come to you?
That actually came from my wife. I don’t remember, but it was in a conversation we had the night we met where I evidently said something about needing a place to land. I met my wife in Utah and then I was home a few days later. When I’m home, every morning I’d roll a joint. So, I rolled a joint and looked out my front door to see what was going on and there was this beautiful, old antique rocking chair sitting on my porch. I was like, “What the fuck?”
A total surprise?
Yeah. It had this note on it. I couldn’t read the name on it, but it said “A place for you to land” on it. I put it on Twitter. I said, “The antique fairy visited me in the night I guess.” Later on, I found out that my now-wife, who knew I was a big antique collector, sought out this rocking chair and had the lady deliver it and write a note on it. I was still scared of her at that point, but looking back, that’s when I was like, “Who is this woman?”
You’ve said you write based on feeling as much as experience. Explain.
Well, I think that the human experience feeling-wise and emotion-wise is pretty much the same. People feel the same way, but they don’t react the same way. That’s the difference. There are plenty of people who grew up like I did and live perfectly healthy, normal lives. So, they can relate to the lonely when I write about it. They can relate to the time. Not many people relate to living on the streets and shooting dope. So, am I going to set myself apart from people or be a member of society?
How has your songwriting itself evolved?
I guess I’m just more of a precise writer these days. I don’t start songs and then go, “Oh, shit. That’s not good.” I know very quickly whether it’s not good. I think that my songs keep getting simpler, and I’m trying to find the least amount of words to get across what I’m feeling. I’m definitely a better singer than I was, so that allows me to write in different formats. I’m just going with the flow of life. As long as I keep searching and staying true to myself, my songs will not necessarily advance, but they will go somewhere else. I’m willing to follow them.