The Earle of Nashville, killer Queens, Trout blues replica

Justin Earle

Justin Earle

Saturday, Aug. 4
Like his daddy before him, Justin Townes Earle had boarded a bullet train headed for one of two destinations: the penitentiary or the coffin.
The son of longtime alt-country bad boy Steve Earle, whose similar exploits are perhaps a bit too well-known, had been thrown out of every school in metropolitan Nashville, smoked cocaine like it was his job, nurtured a love affair with opiates and drank to excess over and over again. By age 18, when he joined his first band, a country/blues standards outfit called The Swindlers, he’d developed a rep for imbibing chemicals, not rocking and rolling.

“I used to be so drunk on stage that, if I even said two words to the crowd, they were either unintelligible or rude,” he recalled while driving to a gig last week in western Kentucky. “We were never in tune, but we weren’t concerned because we couldn’t tell the fuckin’ difference.”

A future of any kind, let alone the music business, seemed remote. In and out of treatment eight times, Earle finally got sober after a stint at Hazelton, the long-running and renowned Minnesota facility that works with alcoholics and addicts. From there, he moved to a halfway house in Wisconsin, then left on his own accord, or got kicked out, depending on whom you ask. Yeah, that’s a red flag, but what are you gonna do?

Nashville was home, so he went back. For eight months, he avoided stages — they’re usually located in places where people are getting their buzz on, and he wasn’t ready to see if his past would conquer his new fortitude. His first clean show was at Bongo Java, a small coffeehouse, followed by another at it-club The Basement. Earle began to see he could leave his old self behind.

“There was so much fear and adrenaline running through me,” he says. “Now, I’m a more open person on stage.”

His work — more Hank Sr. and Jimmy Rogers than pop’s “Copperhead Road” — has also  taken on a new characteristic: He remembers what he writes. “You don’t have to be fucked up or torture yourself to write songs. 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.”

Now he channels his temptations into writing better songs. “I hope I never get as good as I can get, because it’ll be a boring-ass life afterward.” Earle performs Saturday at Mom’s Music (1710 E. 10th St., Jeffersonville, 812-283-3304). Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets are $10.

Sunday, Aug. 5

And now, a few explanations and interpretations from Queens of the Stone Age utility man Troy Van Leeuwen.

LEO: You had to learn 30 songs in a week before the Songs for the Deaf tour. How did you pull that off?
Troy Van Leeuwen
: Well, it helps when you’re a fan of the band. First off, it wasn’t easy to learn three different instruments, but when you’re a musician, and you wanna do something, you’ve got to come to the table, and you’ve gotta deliver.

LEO: What dimension(s) does the rotating cast bring to Queens’ overall sound?
: The philosophy of the band is, you’ve got to serve the music. The music dictates where you go. Right now is a good time. Myself and (drummer) Joey (Castillo) have a good working relationship with Josh (Homme)So it’s sort of a quest, not a destination. With the addition of guests and stuff like that, you get the opportunity to do something you normally wouldn’t do. For instance, with Strokes singer Julian Casablancas, people didn’t even realize it was him singing on our first single. He sang different and the context was way different than the Strokes.

LEO: Josh’s knee is banged up. Do you have any horror stories of injuring yourself onstage?
Only my ego (laughs). No, in contrast to Josh — he tends to wear shoes that have grip — I on the other hand wear very slippery shoes. I’ve fallen on my ass once, but I continue to play.

LEO: You’ve been described as perfectly imitating the death of a robot, in addition to more pedestrian descriptions like “psychedelic” and “bluesy.” What do you try to accomplish with the parts that you write?
We’ll take this new record as an instance. A lot of the record is angular, and a lot of the parts wouldn’t call for a melody line. It would call for a rhythmic noise or some kind of thing, like a drunken robot. That’s what it sounds like to me. In my head, that’s a drunken robot. There’s a lot of different expressions on this record. There are one or two guitar solos that are seriously taken, and the rest of them are making fun of guitar solos.

Guitar solos are so juvenile sometimes. One solo that Josh does on the first song sounds like a chicken going (cluck-cluck). He’s making fun of some dude who’s spent his life learning how to solo. “No, you’ve got to play wrong notes all the time with every intention that it’s the right note.” There’s always a twist to what we do.
This Sunday, the Queens play a free in-store at 3 p.m. at ear X-tacy (1534 Bardstown Road, 452-1799). Later they perform at Coyote’s (133 W. Liberty St., 589-3866). Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets are $22 in advance, $25 at the door.

Wednesday, Aug. 1

Trying to move beyond ’90s nostalgia, Third Eye Blind makes a trip, this one also at Coyote’s, tonight. The group is still working on a new record, which is in the hands of its singer, producer and principal songwriter Stephan Jenkins.
“It’s tough to maintain any objectivity, but somehow he does it,” said drummer/slalom skier/surfer Brad Hargreaves, who splits time with his side project Yearlong Disaster. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Friday, Aug. 3
Guitarist Walter Trout has been around long enough to tell blues snobs where to get off. “I think blues is progressing, but there’s a whole group of critics and purists who don’t want to see it progress. They’re like the neo-cons of blues. They don’t want to see it go anywhere new, they don’t want to see it try to grow or change,” says Trout, now on tour supporting his new album, Full Circle.

“There are artists that want it to grow and change, who are not just out there imitating Muddy Waters,” he continues, referring to the legendary musician whose electrification of blues shocked traditionalists, but paved the way for Jimi Hendrix. “Muddy Waters was a trailblazer in his time. A lot of people were outraged, but then (electric instruments) became the norm. These conservative snobs — they listen with their heads and not with their hearts.”

Trout is all heart, and his passion took over when, as a kid, he met and hung out with jazz icon Duke Ellington in Atlantic City. “He asked how I had discovered his music. I think it kind of blew his mind that there was this 10-year-old kid who was into jazz,” says Trout. Duke’s dogma? Focus on art, kid, not hype. It’s a lesson Trout’s handed down to kids he meets. “To this day, if I’m playing a show, and the parents come up and they have their kid with them, I think back to how I was influenced as a kid by meeting somebody. I take it very seriously.”

Trout plays at 8 p.m. Friday at Phoenix Hill Tavern (644 Baxter Ave., 589-4957). Tickets are $10.

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