“My records are always concepts, with loose themes to all of them,” said singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle in a recent phone interview with The Santa Barbara Independent. On his new album, Kids in the Street, which drops May 26, one of the subjects that Earle, who is the son of folksinger Steve Earle, ponders is the effect of gentrification in his hometown Nashville, Tennessee. “There are areas I don’t even recognize,” he said.
Earle’s songwriting is contemplative, often ruminating on the darker side of life, such as addiction and disappointment, his pleasing, wistful voice drawing in the listener. However, Kids is more hopeful than previous albums, he said. “It’s by far the most up-tempo record I’ve made.” With a daughter on the way, Earle has much to rejoice. “Life is changing for the better.”
Is there a theme lyrically to Kids in the Street? Yeah, it’s gentrification and the structure of the inner city. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and there’s a difference between the gentrification that takes place in Nashville and everywhere else …. They’ve wiped out whole historic sides of town.
There’s not much time between your records. Every year or so, you put something out. Do you think any of those records were made in haste? No, I mean that’s one thing I’ve been careful of from the start. I know a lot of people … [who] hate their first record. Or they don’t like their sophomore record. I still feel great about all my records. I haven’t listened to them. [Laughs.] Still, there’s none that I regret, no songs I regret.
Where did you learn that you should make the album when it’s time, as opposed to just churning them out? I got it from my dad. One of the things he said to me really early on, “Nobody should ever mount the record ‘til they’re ready, ’cause then you can make sure that it’s right.” But then he said, “You’re my son, so you really can’t make a record until you’re ready. They’ll rip you to pieces,” and they would. I think that’s the way I’ve been able to avoid — I hate to use it as an example — but the Julian Lennon syndrome, you know? Where you’re constantly compared [to your father] and it drives you insane.
411 Justin Townes Earl performs Thursday, April 27, 8 p.m., at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call (805) 963-0761 or see lobero.org.