Dwight Yoakam is best known as a country artist, and his honky-tonk credentials back this up. With his boots and signature cowboy hat pulled low over his eyes, he has scored numerous number one singles, played countless shows and sold more than 25 million albums. But Yoakam is far from a one-trick pony.
After finding it hard to break through with his traditionalist honky-tonk in Nashville’s ‘urban cowboy’ early 80s period, he headed west to Los Angeles and starting sharing bills with punk bands. This unorthodox career move eventually led him to stardom with his debut album, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc,. Etc.” in 1986.
Since then Yoakam’s ability to endear himself to country music listeners as well as appeal to fans of rock and roll and other genres has brought him near-legendary status. Cinema fans have also seen his deft work as an actor in films like Academy Award winner for best adapted screenplay “Slingblade,” “Panic Room,” and 2000’s “South of Heaven, West of Hell,” which he also co-wrote and produced.
Yoakam’s newest album, “3 Pears” arrives on September 18th and on it he collaborates with genre-hopping performer Beck and extroverted rock star Kid Rock.
Yoakam joined Patt in the studio today to talk about music, acting, and the inspiration behind the upcoming release.
Patt Morrison: What gets you rolling to get an album together? Where do you get to a critical mass and say ok, ‘It’s time’?
Dwight Yoakam: With this one it was a matter of where we were going to do it — I’ve done my last two studio albums with an independent label … In both cases, I knew the individuals who owned those labels [and] I felt strongly about their entrepreneurial spirit … And then, I took a break, I didn’t tour, I didn’t perform much live music and was writing. By ‘08, ‘09 I decided that maybe it was time to go back to a major label and explore releasing the new album that way. Whatever the new album was going to be, it was already telling me — you know, in answer to your question: I never know, the music is the one that knows when it’s time.
PM: You’ve got a new album coming out next month, “3 Pears.” It sounds more like a still life than an album.
DW: It’s actually an accident … The title song is from a moment experienced watching the George Harrison documentary Martin Scorsese did last year … There was a point where George was discussing he and John and The Beatles and their dalliance with drugs and their non-succumbing — as much as people thought they were writing drug induced lyrics, it really wasn’t — but he said, ‘You know, we smoked some pot’ … but at that time we were never succumbing to anything except that dalliance … And then one night [they] were in London, swinging London, just kind of knocking around and someone slipped them LSD and they don’t know where they were for a day and a half. John Lennon and George Harrison were somewhere all over London, and I thought ‘There must be funny Polaroids somewhere,’ and as I said that they cut to John and John was wearing these round, Italian, wrap-around, Mod Carnaby Street sunglasses — a pair on his forehead, a pair on the bridge of his nose and a pair on his chin … And I thought what a tragic, tragic loss … and I got up and wrote the chorus, within a minute or two, of that song.
PM: You were in Slingblade, it won an Academy Award in 1996, you’ve done a lot of films where critics have looked at you and said, ‘Hey, this guy’s better than I thought he was going to be and in fact steals the movie sometimes.
DY: You know, actors are at the mercy of opportunity so I’m fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve had and I have been able to work with the people I’ve been able to work with … At the beginning I was around people you could only learn the best habits from … and I had done theater young, so it was like returning to another love, another love of expression.
PM: People love Slingblade, people love your music so I just want to know — is there a rap song on this album? Some hip hop?
DY: No. But there is some cowpunk.
DY: From about ‘81 to ‘86, they were calling this burgeoning country-rock [genre] cowpunk, the scene. I had always felt that I had never done a musical expression of that term, in terms of my records previously because it was kind of neo-honky tonk or new age honky tonky, nuclear honky tonk.
PM: One of our listeners, Susan, says she loves your voice, even your speaking voice is like velvet. Can you stay around and read the news and the traffic?
DY: Yeah, yeah I guess I can stay and read the news.
What are your favorite Dwight Yoakam songs or movie roles? How do artists like Yoakam maintain such high artistic standards in an industry where selling out seems to be the norm?
Dwight Yoakam, musician, songwriter, actor, writer and producer; Yoakam’s new album, “3 Pears” will be released on September 18th, 2012