Steve Earle is one of the great singer songwriters of our time. He recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about his new album, “The Low Highway” which comes out April 16. He also played a few songs, which you can listen to if you scroll down to the end of the interview. Excerpts from the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: You’re just back into town, huh? You just came in?
Steve Earle: Yeah. I was just in…I’m doing a press tour which is…this the last day of it. This is home. I get to sleep in my own bed tonight. But I was in DC yesterday and Detroit before that and Boston before that. We were suppose to fly from Detroit to DC and then this big snowstorm was supposed to be coming and they shut down every single flight. So we were kind of stuck in Detroit. So we flew back to New York to get a train to DC. And then, I’m coming back on the train this morning and the snowstorm that was supposed to be here 2 days ago, finally shows up. So it’s crazy.
Ron Bennington: Well, I’m telling you – if you can’t write a country song on a train in the snow. You know what I mean, man? (Steve laughs)
Steve Earle: Yeah. Took a train to die in the rain. (starts tuning and strumming guitar), I’m out promoting the record which is great. It’s good to have a record to promote.
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Ron Bennington: You like it? You’re comfortable with this one? It’s very eclectic songs coming from all different directions.
Steve Earle: Yeah, musically, it’s just the band is so good. It started out being just about recording a record with my band – because I have the best band, I think I’ve ever had – and I found out really quickly, I was writing about what I saw out the window. I wrote most of it at the end of the last tour. Suddenly it dawned on me – all of us that do this job, post Bob Dylan, the singer / songwriter thing – are writing songs that stylistically originated during the depression. And we all start singing songs about the depression, including Bob. And none of us, including Bob, actually witnessed that first hand. Now, what we’re seeing out the window, isn’t that much different than what Woody (Guthrie) saw. It’s pretty tough out there.
Ron Bennington: Well, it’s funny because I remember we were talking about this a couple of years ago. And we were ready for it to bounce back up in a couple of years.
Steve Earle: We’re still waiting.
Ron Bennington: Now, it’s got to this point where we’re starting to go – is this it? Is this the way life is in America?
Steve Earle: Well, I don’t think it’s the way life is permanently, but I do think we’re at a point where we’re going to have to decide. We’re going to have to decide…and that’s probably what “Burnin’ It Down” is about. We’re going to have to decide – do we want jobs or do we want cheaper and cheaper and bigger flat screen TVs? It’s one of those things. I mean it’s okay to have big flat screen TV and as affordable as possible, but…I know a guy who tried to organize Walmart. And he basically, he was an AFL-CIO organizer. And the way you do that is you start with the unions that are doing business with the business that you’re trying to organize. And he went to a Teamster. He went to a driver that he knew, and an organizer and a career driver and said – you know, we’re thinking of organizing Walmart. And he said – well, no, no, no. I like cheap big TVs. I’m not going to help you organize Walmart. It’s pretty interesting. So, we’re going to have to make some decisions about that kind of stuff. Wall Street is doing great. Records the last 3 or 4 days in a row. And that means that for some people, things are doing way better than they were or they wouldn’t be spending that kind of money – that kind of money wouldn’t be changing hands that far downtown. But for other people, things – not so much. Maybe that means that all this idea about there being this huge gap between bigger and bigger, an ever widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in this country, maybe there’s something to that.
Ron Bennington: You brought up the unions. And I grew up in the Northeast. And most people’s dads belonged to some kind of union when I was a kid. And they’ve gotten demonized over my lifetime.
Steve Earle: Well, it’s like the thing with teaching. I’ve been telling audiences – whatever you think is wrong with this country – I can tell you what’s not wrong with it. What’s going on out there has nothing to do with trade unions. Trade unions are a fundamental component of democracy. And it has nothing to do with teachers whether they belong to a union or not. Because teachers…if we took better care of teachers in this society, I think maybe we wouldn’t be in some of the trouble that we’re in. If we prioritize that – made teachers feel like what they are doing was worthwhile, we would have better teachers and we would have teachers that felt supported and were able to do their jobs the way that they were intended to. So, it’s one of those things. We’ve slowly, but surely started believing some of the things, some ideas that were put out there by people who have a vested interest in there not being any unions and not paying teachers anything and not paying anybody anything when it gets right down to it.
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Ron Bennington: Steve, you do all kinds of writing besides even songwriting. You write books and you pay attention to the news and get involved in things. Do you see a way that Americans can come together on this or are we just so far apart on everything?
Steve Earle: Well, I mean we’re pretty far apart, but I think the reason that we’re far apart is there’s people that watch FOX and there’s people that watch MSNBC. And I watch MSNBC unapologetically. And I don’t watch FOX, on purpose. (laughs) But I think people have bought a lot of lies. It’s really important to remember that there are really powerful people that were doing great 10 years ago. They made a lot of money on these wars. And they’re still making money on them and they’ll make money on something else. And they’re starting to kind of regroup to do whatever it’s going to do next. But there’s a certain class of people – and it’s not necessarily that they’re bad people, but they are people with a lot and they’ve been doing fine during all of this time. During all this so-called down turn, this depression. We call it a “recession”. I don’t know what the difference between this and the 30’s is. It looks like a depression to me.
Ron Bennington: It certainly looks like a depression. And if you have kids, we’re probably the first generation in a long time to say to your kids – oh, you don’t know how easy I had it growing up. You know what I mean?
Steve Earle: Right. I know, I know.
Ron Bennington: It used to be just the opposite.
Steve Earle: I know. It’s crazy. That’s one thing about this record. It dawned on me that what I was writing about – my job was sort of invented by Bob Dylan who created himself in the image of Woody Guthrie. And Woody…once Bob invents this job of singer / songwriter, kind of based on Woody – everybody is singing songs in a style that originates in the depression. And even singing songs that are about those kind of hard times. And none of us, until now, ever witnessed that first hand, including Bob. But now, I’m looking out the window and I’m seeing what Woody saw. I’m seeing something much more like that. And it’s kind of scary.
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Ron Bennington: “The Low Highway”. Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses). It’s available now for pre-order on Amazon.com. Head on over to Steveearle.com. And on SiriusXM, check out Steve Earle’s show, “Hardcore Troubadour Radio”, Saturdays, 9 o’clock. The guests this week, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Thanks so much, Steve. I’ll see you next time buddy.
Steve Earle: Thanks man.
Ron Bennington: I appreciate it.
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“The Low Highway” by Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses) is available for pre-order now on Amazon.com and comes out everywhere Tuesday, April 16th. Get more information at Steveearle.com . Now you can also listen to Steve Earle’s show “Hardcore Troubadour Radio”, on Saturdays at 9 o’clock Eastern on Outlaw Country, channel 60 on SiriusXM
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews atRonBenningtonInterviews.com.