"When we start losing the roots, we become terrible pop music." It's a little slice of wisdom (not to mention fantastic reasoning as to why country music has careened down a scary, scary course the last decade or so), courtesy of a Tennessee songwriter who is doing his part to preserve a piece of country history.
By his namesake alone, Justin Townes Earle
pays tribute (whether he likes it or not) to two titans of country songwriting. But Earle's fascination with the genre is a bit more antiquated, escorting him a bit further back than the work of both his father Steve and Townes Van Zandt. Leadbelly, Emmett Miller, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Buck Owens; these are singers it's evident the 28 year old singer-songwriter holds dear. Their passion, urgency, and absolute authenticity is written all over the batch of country folk songs JTE prepared for a recent visit to the Guest Apartment. - David Pitz
Justin Townes Earle's age belies his experience. Growing up in Nashville he mis-spent his youth playing in bluegrass/ragtime combo The Swindlers and the louder, more rocking The Distributors and developing some very bad habits. During tours as guitarist and keyboardist ("and not a very good one," laughs Earle) in his father Steve Earle's band, his problems became untenable and he was fired. Ultimately he cleaned up his act, dropped his self-destructive habits and began to focus on songcraft. "You don't have to be fucked up or torture yourself to write songs," explains Earle, "I used to write a lot, a whole lot, and half those songs I don't even remember. Now, I sit there and I write it and I finish it and I keep it."
With inspirations as diverse as Townes Van Zandt (he was named in honor of the elder Earle's hero), Jimmy Reed, Kurt Cobain, The Replacements, Ray Charles and The Pogues, Justin forged his own brand of American roots music. Going through life with a namesake of Van Zandt's stature cannot be easy for a young songwriter, but Earle takes it in stride," saying, "Anyone who tries to live up to Van Zandt is a fool. I'm honored to carry the name, but if I spent my life trying to live up to it, I'd have a pretty miserable life."