It’s around 5pm and 32 degrees Celsius in Nashville when I find Justin Townes Earle. I tell him we are sitting at about half that here in Auckland and he does a little homage to the cold, and dreams of it filling him up from the toes. We talk for about 20 minutes, about America, Americana, Marlon Williams, his admiration for New Zealand, and just a little about his new album The Saint of Lost Causes. And we talk about guns.
Here’s what I learned, but you can also listen to the man himself in the interview if you wish:
Justin loves the people who run the Americana Music Association (as do I), but he laments the broadening of the Americana genre to allow almost everything. (of course, that’s what I like about it)
He is conflicted when it comes to whether America will finally get better gun laws as a consequence of this past weekend’s shootings. He grew up with guns. He’s a southern guy. He doesn’t want them banned. He does like the idea of better psychological checks on gun buyers. And he wonders what the parents of these kids have been doing.
He’s coming back to New Zealand for about the fifth time because he just loves us. He can’t describe it as succinctly as describing Australia as Texas without the Texans, but he just thinks we are a special place, in spite of the fact that he has this crazy mate in New York who comes from Wellington and who goes into bars dressed in shorts and no shoes and does the haka. He’s just managed to avoid killing him.
He also loves Marlon Williams. Last time I saw Justin, he had Marlon opening for him and he described him as so talented he could kill him. Another urge resisted. But he agrees that we need to see Marlon doing better internationally. He calls him “you little shit”, but he has just turned some friends on to the recent Marlon's Live at the Auckland Town Hall album.
Justin's latest record refers to Jude the Apostle, the saint of lost causes and children. They all multitask, these saints. It’s also a little bit about him. He feels compelled to remind Americans that “if you marginalise anybody, for their race, religion, sex, sexuality, for anything, they will eventually lash back at you and you’re not going to like it. If you marginalise those people, then you deserve it”
The album is a reflection on what America has become. I ask him about my sense of America’s extremism in search of the American Dream, all or nothing, sin or redemption. He reckons the American Dream died in the 1970s. Loss of jobs, loss of humanity, loss of community. He agrees that America follows the laws of the jungle. He comes back to New Zealand and how we have dealt with our legacy of marginalising and depriving Maori of their rights. He can’t think of anywhere else who has done what we have done. He thinks we are perfect saints for the lost cause of predatory colonisation.
I ask him if he is a happier person these days because the new album seems to be more upbeat, (despite reading several reviews which would argue the opposite). I’m really targeting a comment about his family, and I score a twenty-five, if not a full bull’s eye. He reflects a bit and then says that he is really determined to do what it takes to make a better world for his daughter.
Finally, he likes New Zealand beer and is playing solo at the Tuning Fork in Auckland, NZ on August 23rd before heading to Christchurch and Wellington. I hope to buy him a beer. I hope to see you there!