Steve Earle, Renaissance Hillbilly


Steve Earle, New Yorker

When we caught up with Steve Earle, he was hanging out in New Orleans on the set of HBO’s Treme, waiting to shoot a scene for season two. It’s the second time Earle has gotten into character for the show’s co-creator, David Simon. In Simon’s critically acclaimed The Wire, he played a bit part as a former junkie turned 12-step guru. In Treme, he plays an insightful street musician named Harley. In both cases, he has drawn on personal experience. “The Wire really required no acting,” he says wryly. “The role called for a redneck recovering addict. I could do that.”

Earle—a Townes Van Zandt disciple and self-described hillbilly—is a storyteller who’s drawn on personal experience and keen observation to create more than a dozen studio recordings, including three Grammy Award winners, and a collection of short fiction. This month, his newest recording, I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive, hits the streets. Next month, his debut novel of the same name will be published by Houghton Mifflin.

In the midst of the most prolific period of his career, the down-to-earth but steadfastly irreverent Earle talked about his move to New York, the craft of writing, and the art of politics.

Let’s talk about the new record. What will we hear when we hit play? 

In a lot of ways, it’s the most country record I’ve made in a long time. There’s fiddle on it, pedal steel, and some things I haven’t used in a while. It features the same rhythm section that [the record’s producer] T-Bone Burnett worked with on the Alison Kraus/Robert Plant record [Raising Sand]. Dennis Kraus, who also plays in my bluegrass band, is the bass player. The guitar player is Jackson Smith, Patti’s son. Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek is playing fiddle. There’s a duet with [wife] Allison [Moorer]. And it also includes “This City,” which we recorded in New Orleans for Treme. T-Bone came to town to record that song, and Allen Toussaint wrote the horn charts. The rest of it was recorded in like five days in November.

Patricia Boyle
4/25/2011 10:01:46 AM

I have loved Mr. Earle's music for years and had the privilege of hearing him in concert in Cornwall, ON, in 2010. I am looking forward to reading his novel.

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