Lyle Lovett: "Being a Little Under the Radar Feels Liberating"
Photo by Michael Wilson
The great state of Texas is known for many things, including football, barbecue, big oil, women with big hair, men with big hats, and the fact that, well, everything is supposedly bigger there.
The latter assertion may be cause for debate, but one thing is beyond question: the Lone Star State has birthed some of America's most singular singer-songwriters, from Willie Nelson to Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Robert Earl Keen.
With a career that spans nearly 30 years, Lyle Lovett also belongs to that distinguished bunch.
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Having released 13 albums, won four Grammys, and earned the rarefied distinction of being cited as the Texas State Artist Musician, he's gained fame as a tireless troubadour whose modesty and humility belies his considerable prowess.
"I really do appreciate the notice I've gotten and the recognition I've received," Lovett says. "I value those honors highly. I remember each and every experience -- getting the Grammys, being part of the show, getting to be a presenter and being able to be around people I admire and that I'm a fan of. That's exciting.
"I got to go to the state capitol and receive the official Texas musician honors. That's great recognition. But ultimately, I really try to do my best work for myself. I think I'm a tougher critic than other people. So if I write songs that I like enough and that I'm confident enough to play for people, I feel like I'm in good shape. The songs have to get past me, and that's the toughest part."
While chatting with Crossfade, Lovett is enjoying one of his rare weeks off, relaxing at home in a rural South Texas community called Klein, which his ancestors settled in the mid-1800s. It's where he was raised and where he has resided his whole life. More often, though, he can be found on the road, touring with either his Large Band or his Acoustic Group, two outfits that largely overlap and vary only in their numbers.
"We average about 100 dates a year," he says. "That's my job. That's how I make a living. I just try to keep it all going. Playing is a real pleasure, especially when you get to play with some of the best musicians in the world."
It's been over two years since Lovett's last album, Release Me. Nevertheless, he seems unconcerned that there's no new product to promote.
"I continue to play, write new songs, and figure out what I'm going to do next," he shrugs. "I would like to put out a new album in the next year sometime, but I've first got to decide what kind of album it's going to be. I haven't made that final decision, or figured out the label I'm going to release it with. I'm not ready to sign on the dotted line just yet."
Shifting focus and changing his sound is nothing new. Although initially known as a country crooner, Lovett has since ventured into such styles as swing, blues, Americana, jazz, and gospel.
"I've been lucky to have been associated with people who allow me to follow my natural inclinations. That's a wonderful thing. I've never felt as if I had to restrict myself to one particular sound. I've actually been encouraged to do the kind of stuff I want to do and to look in different directions. I just like different kinds of music. I feel like it's a natural tendency not to be locked into one particular thing, and to be able to appreciate the variety."
He's also made his mark as an actor, landing feature roles in several films directed by the late Robert Altman, as well as parts in successful television shows, including Mad About You, Brothers & Sisters, Castle, and FX's The Bridge.
"I think it's important as an artist -- or in any kind of business really -- to lead," he surmises. "You have to do what you think is best and hope that the people will appreciate what you do. You can't just guess what some perceived audience might want. I haven't had the kind of huge mainstream success that tends to lock you into something, and so being a little under the radar feels liberating. When you have a certain success, there's pressure to repeat yourself. In a way, being a little bit under the radar might be a good thing."
Soon after our talk, Lovett will leave home and return to the road, eventually making his way to Miami for an October 16 concert with his Acoustic Group. And although he's an infrequent visitor to South Florida, the troubadour is looking forward to returning.
"The first time we were there, we opened for Bonnie Raitt at the zoo," he recalls with a hearty laugh. "It was around the time of Miami Vice, so Don Johnson was supposedly going to sing with me. However, it turned out to be only a Don Johnson lookalike."
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Lyle Lovett and His Acoustic Group. Thursday, October 16. Adrienne Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $39 to $95 plus fees via arshtcenter.org. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.
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