Unclassifiable songwriter stays humble
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Lyle Lovett is known for his “Large Band.” You can hardly say “Lyle Lovett” without adding “and his Large Band.”
When Lyle Lovett comes to the Clyde Theatre on Oct. 12, however, he will be without his Large Band. As it turns out, Lovett also tours with a smaller “Acoustic Group” and that’s the ensemble he will be bringing to Fort Wayne.
Refusing to be pigeonholed
Lovett is one of those rare singer-songwriters who has enjoyed much success in the music business despite his refusal to be easily pigeonholed.
Lovett has many musical influences but he is willing to single out two songwriting giants: Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
“I still admire their work,” Lovett told the Morris County Daily Record. “My love for them inspires me to write my next song.”
Lovett describes the songwriting process as a mystery.
“The most difficult thing to do is have a good idea,” he told American Songwriter magazine. “If you have a decent idea, the songs are the easy part. Actually having something to say is the hard part. If you get an idea for a song, then it pulls you along.”
Bad ideas can pull him along too, Lovett said.
“It’s hard to stop thinking about some bad ideas,” he said. “So you just finish it and you end up putting it on a record.”
Lovett calls a song “sacred ground,” a place (one of the few) where truth can be told.
“You don’t have to be diplomatic,” he said. “I think the point of a song is to just say something that’s true, or that expresses an idea that reflects something that’s true, whether it’s a truth about human nature or about the way people bulls— one another. A song doesn’t have to be serious to be true… but to me, that’s what a song is.”
If Lovett has an idea for a song and he believes it will result in something truthful, then he decides the song is worth writing.
“You’re asking people for their time and attention, and it’s a chance to tell somebody what you think, or to share a joke,” he said. “I just always hope that whatever’s in the song is worth [that demand on someone’s time].”
Loving Music in Texas
Lovett, 61, grew up loving music in Texas. But it didn’t occur to him at first that he could turn this love into a living.
“My parents always encouraged me no matter what I wanted to do,” Lovett told the Northeast Times. “So after high school, I went off to Texas A&M University to study German and journalism. In high school, I sang with a friend of mine during the summers. And when I eventually went to college, I started writing music, playing in coffee houses and even a local pizza parlor, never being able to get music completely out of my mind.”
Lovett went to Europe to study German at the Goethe-Institut. After the program was over, he planned on using a gig at a Luxembourg music festival to earn airfare back to the states. But the friend who’d secured him the gig got fired and he was left in Luxembourg with no gig and no money.
But a band called J. David Sloan and the Rogues took a shine to him and let him play during their festival set. He not only earned airfare but also an offer of studio time in Arizona.
Lovett did end up recording songs with the band. Music legend Guy Clark fell in love with a resulting demo tape and passed it around Nashville without Lovett’s knowledge. Lovett was ultimately signed by MCA/Curb.
Growing as a craftsman
That was 33 years ago and Lovett said a lot has changed in those three decades.
“I hope I’ve grown as a person and as a craftsman,” he said. “I’ve had the luxury of being able to perform my own songs, be a character within those songs, and be accepted as such. I’ve also been allowed to be myself so I never felt the need to follow current trends in popular music. I’m not writing songs for the popular recording artist to have a hit. I write things that reflect my own, individual spirit.”
Lovett is a humble and grateful guy, but he isn’t one of those stalwarts who claims he has no regrets.
“I’m always amazed when people say they wouldn’t change a thing. I would change a lot of things,” he said. “But at the same time, I couldn’t hope for a better result. I’m very happy with where I am now, happy with the company I keep, and very happy to have the ability to be on stage and to make music.”