Posts Tagged ‘What I Really Mean

20
Aug
10

Robert Earl Keen Interview – Part 3 of 3

On August 18, 2010 I was given the opportunity to interview the legendary singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen. In Part One of this three part interview we talked about a variety of subjects – a burning car, Todd Snider, and Robert’s not-so-traditional love songs. In Part Two of the interview we explored some of his more bizarre recordings and one of his somewhat unorthodox songwriting methods. In this final installment, Robert tells us some more about his songwriting methods, some of his thoughts on mainstream country music, and an interesting side-story about a song that is probably his most popular – “The Road Goes On Forever.” Enjoy!

Robert Earl KeenOKOM: Okay, you’ve already mentioned one of your methods of songwriting – lying naked on the floor with your guitar –

REK: [Laughs]

OKOM: [Laughs] So, I don’t even know how to ask this next one. When it comes to songwriting, when compared to mainstream – oh hell, I can’t compare you to mainstream, I can’t even listen to that shit – anyway, you seem to get it so right when others seem to be getting it so wrong. I guess the question is – how do you approach a song? Is it story first, lyrics first, melody first, or does it vary?

REK: Because I’m not a genius musically, I really like to latch on to some kind of music that stirs me or something that piques my interest. So, I do kind of just strum guitars. My God, when I really get set up to writing, I set about five, six, or seven guitars around me. I’ll strum on one for a while, and maybe I’ll feel like it’s kind of dead. So, I’ll pick up another one until I sort of get a vibe. What happens with me is that the music will bring out some sort of image. Then I’ll take that image and try to describe it. Maybe it’s a car in a parking lot under a street lamp, or maybe it’s a girl in a doorway – any kind of an image. That’s where the beginning starts to blossom a little bit. Then once I describe it to my satisfaction, then I’ll try to create a puzzle. And then I’ll try to solve the puzzle.

OKOM: That’s really interesting. That’s a cool approach, I mean, starting without knowing the ending.

REK: Yeah, I know. I like to read. One time I went on this Leon Uris jag where I read all his books. Then I read some of his biography stuff, and when I read that he’d started with the ending, I went, “Well shit, that’s cheating!”

OKOM: [Laughs]

REK: You know? [Laughs] Anybody can work backwards. Let’s work forwards and find the mystery, you know? Where’s the mystery? So, I’ve never been much on starting with the ending. I don’t know why. It’s just one of those things. I like to stumble onto the ending, you know?

OKOM: Yeah.

REK: It’s more why I don’t write from titles much. I’ve written a few songs from titles and they’re never as good as a song that I write from an image. So people will give you those – “Hey, here’s a good title for you!” – shit, I don’t know, man, I can’t write from a title. It’s a tried-and-true method; it’s just not my tried-and-true method.

OKOM: So, where do you do most of your writing? Do you do it on the road?

REK: No, no. I have this place; it’s a little shack on a side of a hill that I’ve owned for about twelve years. I do most of my writing there. I used to say that I didn’t write on the road. But, I’ve got where I’m on the road so much that I’m working on that. I’m working on getting over that whole fear. I’m not saying that it works all the time. It seems to be harder to really kind of mine some serious lyrical pay dirt on the road. However, I do try a lot more than I used to. I’m on the road all the time, so I got to write something.

The Rose HotelOKOM: Hey, one of the songs from Rose Hotel – “Village Inn” – Have they ever called you and thanked you for their increase in business since that song came out?

REK: [Laughs] No, they never did. But I haven’t been back. So, if I go back, I’m definitely going to hit them up for it!

OKOM: Yeah, they should at least put you up for free, right?

REK: Yeah, yeah.

OKOM: So you actually did write it there?

REK: Yeah, I wrote it right there. Even though there was some tongue-in-cheek stuff going on there, it truly was an inspiration. I was truly inspired. As a matter of fact – and I’m not a big [guitar] tuning guy but – I found a tuning on that, I swear that it was just because of where I was and what was going on. That’s how I ended up writing the song. Like I was telling you, I have to find some type of music to follow. I found this little weird small change in tuning that just made that song happen. That was what it was.

OKOM: Another song on Rose Hotel – “Wireless in Heaven” – You haven’t caught any heat from the Vatican over that one yet, have you?

REK: No, I don’t even worry about it anymore. [Laughs] Actually, I was worried more about heat from Starbucks.

OKOM: [Laughs] Yeah, they’re pretty tight with their trademark.

REK: Right, they are.

The Road Goes on ForeverOKOM: Okay Robert, this next question comes off the Todd Snider Listserv – they call it The Shithouse Wire. [Robert laughs] I put this question out there – “If you had one question to ask Robert Earl Keen, what would it be?” So, this comes from Eric Kincaid in Grand Rapids, Michigan – damn, I sound like Casey Kasem…

REK: Yeah. [Laughs]

OKOM: Anyway, he asked, “Have you ever been approached about making a movie based on the song ‘The Road Goes on Forever’?”

REK: Well, that one – I used to have a stack of screenplays that people used to send me based on that song.

OKOM: Really?

REK: Yeah, yeah, and I was always like, yeah, go ahead and write this screenplay or go ahead and make this movie. And I read some of them, and they all really just pretty much reflected the song scene for scene.

OKOM: They didn’t expand on it?

REK: No, not much, not importantly. Then, this girl from somewhere around Dallas wrote one and won some kind of little local screenplay writing contest with it. They sent it to me and it was great. It was really great! It was sort of Smokey and the Bandit meets The Road Warrior [Mad Max 2] sort of thing, and it was really interesting! It clipped along and filled in lots of stuff. It had some exposition and it had a lot of back-story for the characters. It was great! So, William Morris – I don’t know whether they’ve optioned or something – there was no money, of course, that changed hands – but it’s been sitting on somebody’s desk somewhere for the last couple of years like that. But, that was cool.

OKOM: Yeah, that is cool. I’ve got to ask you about a trilogy on Walking Distance – that pretty much makes Walking Distance one of my favorite albums of yours – and that’s the trilogy of “Road to No Return” – with “Carolina,” “New Life in Old Mexico,” and “Still Without You.” Do you do those much live?

REK: No, I did when I first [released] it. It’s not what you’d call a crowd-pleaser. I did it back then because I really loved doing it, and it was fun to do. I’d have to dust it off; we haven’t done it in a long time. It was a lot of fun but it took eighteen minutes. So, if you have a crowd full of beer-drinking screamers, it didn’t hold their attention very well.

OKOM: Do you have a preference when it comes to types of crowds? Do you like a crowd that really listens?

REK: I love a crowd that really listens but you have to be on your best behavior and you got to keep moving. You’ve got to be a little bit more on your toes with a crowd that really listens. Since I’ve been playing with this band for the last fifteen years, we’ve played so many crazy, rowdy, drunk crowds and stuff; I’d have to say that getting up for that is a little more difficult than riding the wave of a crowd of screaming, yelling, happy people.

OKOM: Do you have to sometimes adjust your set list on the fly?

REK: Yeah, I do. As a matter of fact we have – what is called in the band – The Secret Mike that’s located in front of the drums where I run over to Bill, the bass player, and tell him, “Alright, slash this bunch of stuff, and we’re going to go to these songs!” Then he’ll tell the rest of the band.

OKOM: Yeah, I can imagine that the crowds can really vary so much.

REK: Yeah, they really can.

OKOM: Robert, thank you very much for your time. I’m really looking forward to seeing you in Roseburg.

REK: Great!

OKOM: I really appreciate your time, Robert. Damn, I could go on for hours about your songs but I know you’re busy. I’ll see you in Roseburg.

REK: Well, I appreciate it, too. Be sure and say hi!

Note from author: I didn’t make it to Roseburg BUT I did go to Robert’s show the next night (8/25) in Portland, Oregon. What a great show it was, too! It’s always a treat to see him with a large group of true REK fans.
Some personal highlights – hearing “The Great Hank,” “Farm Fresh Onions,” “A Border Tragedy,” “Feelin’ Good Again,” and the tattooed girl in the baby blue dress who danced non-stop for two hours in front of my cousin Brian and me.
Thanks for an unforgettable night, Robert!

Go back to Part One

Go back to Part Two

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20
Aug
10

Robert Earl Keen Interview – Part 2 of 3

Robert Earl KeenOn August 18, 2010 I was given the opportunity to interview the legendary singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen. In Part One of this three part interview we talked about a variety of subjects – a burning car, Todd Snider, and Robert’s not-so-traditional love songs. In this portion of the interview we explore some of his more bizarre recordings and one of his somewhat unorthodox songwriting methods. Enjoy!

OKOM: Now, going back to your What I Really Mean album – There are two songs on there that I love, that’s “The Great Hank” and “Mr. Wolf and Mamabear.” Both of those make me want to ask a two-part question – Where did those stories come from, what were you smoking at the time, and where can I get some?

REK: [Laughs] Well, “Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear” has to do with a personal small-town politic thing that I got involved in. Well, I didn’t get involved in it; I got sucked into it. I didn’t ever want to be a part of it.

OKOM: Wow, really?

REK: Yeah, and it [the song] was my vindication.

OKOM: [Laughs] That’s great.

REK: That’s how I vindicated the entire scenario, to be able to write something in kind of a puzzle form. What do they call it? It’s kind of an allegory without any religious overtones.

OKOM: I’m assuming that you can’t say where that took place.

What I Really MeanREK: Yeah, it was where I was living there in Bandera, Texas. It was all pretty well documented. It was in all the papers and all kinds of stuff. My thing was – because I tried to really hold the noble and gentlemanly line on the whole situation – I never felt like I got my true emotional indoctrination out there. I never really let them have it like I wanted to, so I did it in a song.

OKOM: So, that was your payback.

REK: Yeah, that was my payback. [Laughs] Oddly enough, I have a few songs like that, and every time you sing those kinds of songs, you kind of get your own inner-grin going about that kind of thing.

OKOM: Yeah, I can imagine.

REK: And “The Great Hank” was kind of a combination of some long thoughts on Hank Williams and his career, the strangeness of it, and the shortness of it. And I was in a play in Philadelphia about fifteen years ago that had some elements of Hank Williams. I was truly trying to do one those things that was really interesting and really sideways. I got naked and laid down on the floor in the shack that I write in –

OKOM: [Laughs] You’re kidding, right?

REK: No, I’d lay on the hardwood floor and I’d play the guitar until that kind of popped out. Once it popped out, it was all there in front of me like a hologram. I thought, “Wow, this is it!” So I just stayed with it. I even thought of changing the end but it came out so smooth and beautiful that I didn’t even want to mess with it. I could have tweaked the end a little bit because it does kind of fade off into the dust.

OKOM: Yeah, it does.

REK: I could have come with a little bit more of an impact or something like that, like I like to do, but it just fell out so great – I left it alone.

OKOM: The first time that I listened to it, I had to back it up and listen again where you have that line about him being in drag.

REK: Yeah.

OKOM: Plus, the visuals of him sitting there under the glow of the TV with mascara running down his cheek – it’s just priceless.

REK: Yeah [Laughs]

OKOM: [Laughs] It’s just great, man.

REK: Well, thanks. Yeah, I love that one. That’s fun, but it’s hard to do on stage though, because there’s a bunch of words, a lot of words. It’s almost a tongue twister. If I get started and I stumble – I’ll stumble big time.

OKOM: So, that’s one of your personal favorites?

REK: Yeah, I like to do it. It’s fun to do. It’s more of a performance piece than it is a song.

Gravitational ForcesOKOM: Another one of yours – that just popped into my head – that’s along those lines is “Gravitational Forces.” Were you actually in a club like that?

REK: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. That was all, like I said, more journalistic. I was pretty much talking and telling what I thought. But what I wanted to do with that was the music gave it that spaceiness, gave it the total weird vibe that was really occurring at that place. That was a nightmare from start to finish. I could write another song about the gig itself.

OKOM: Wow, so that actually did happen.

REK: Yeah, oh yeah. It was this place called the E9 Club in El Paso, Texas – the worst place ever. I mean, I’ve played worse places, but that was one of the more bizarre bad places.

OKOM: Man, that’s great. I thought – as bizarre as it sounded – this place can’t really exist. If it did, that’s really something.

REK: Only in El Paso, basically.

OKOM: I guess anything goes there.

REK: Yeah.

Go read Part Three…

Go back to Part One…





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