This winter and spring, Lyle Lovett gets to once again experience one of his favorite aspects of being on the road.
“I just appreciate them so much,” Lovett says of his touring musicians, who over the years have been deployed in various configurations from a small acoustic combo all the way up to his Large Band, which has showcased as many as 16 members on stage at a time. “I mean, nothing gives me a greater thrill in my musical life than to get to stand in the middle of them and listen to them. I get to do that every night. So just to stand there and listen to them think, that’s really what it amounts to. It’s just fun.”
It’s been some time since he’s had that experience in the studio– seven years, actually– but an end to the drought of new Lovett music is on the horizon, as he has gotten started on making a new album. Previous works Release Me (2012) and Natural Forces (2009) were made up mostly of songs written by Lovett’s favorite artists, so this will be his first album of primarily original songs since 2007’s It’s Not Big It’s Large.
Lovett says he has been writing songs all along since he recorded Release Me, which makes sense for an artist who not only enjoys the creative process but has established himself as one of the most literate and perceptive songwriters going.
“I’ve had some of these songs for some time. Some of them are newer than others,” Lovett said. “Everything’s [been written] since Release Me. I’m still trying to figure out exactly which songs will end up on the (new) record.”
The long gap between albums has partly been a function of the titanic changes that have occurred in the industry since downloading and streaming became the primary ways people acquire music.
Release Me marked the end of the record deal Lovett signed with MCA/Curb Records (and its parent company, Universal) before releasing his self-titled debut album in 1986. Lovett stepped back to take stock of how the world was changing before deciding how he would move forward with new music.
Finally, in November 2018 Lovett signed with Verve Records, a label also owned by Universal, and his familiarity with the parent company played a big role in Lovett’s decision. “I always worked more closely with the MCA side of the record deal than Curb. I mean, Curb was kind of a silent partner, so whenever I dealt with the record company, it was always with the folks at MCA, first MCA Nashville, then MCA Los Angeles, and when they (Universal) shut down MCA Los Angeles in 2003, I ended up on Lost Highway Records out of Nashville. So it was always a Universal label I dealt with. So I like the company. They administer my publishing as well. I’ve been with two publishing companies over the years, Criterion Music and PolyGram, and Universal bought both of those publishing companies. So I have a relationship with Universal anyway. And Danny Bennett was running Verve when I signed the deal. And I liked
him a lot. So I felt really at home being back with a Universal label. So that was sort of my thought process. Danny’s gone now, but I’m still excited about working with them and excited about recording in November.”
Lovett will approach the new album with the same goal that’s behind the songs he chooses for each concert and how the songs are arranged for live performance.
“Most of the players that I am on stage with are the same players I’ll record with,” Lovett said. “My hope is to be able to select songs that will– in the same way that I try to organize the live show– let the audience know this is what you could expect if you come to see us live.
“By the end of the show, I’d like everyone in the audience to feel as though they’ve gotten to know everybody on stage,” he said. “So that’s really how the arrangements, the live arrangements come from that. It really is a matter of thinking of ways to expand a song or take a song in a direction that would allow someone in the band to be featured. So we might expand some of the solos and include instruments and solo sections that might not be on the recording. It’s a way to say ‘Hey, check this guy out because he’s really good.’”
Lovett may not yet have settled on the songs that will go on his next album, but he can say one thing with some certainty. There won’t be a unifying concept to the songs.
“The theme really is just my life experience,” Lovett said. “With just about every song I’ve recorded, I can point to something I’ve experienced, either gone through or something that I observed or happened that was real. And then writing about it is a great way to remember that, really, that experience. Writing about it, in a personal way, for me, it helps me to appreciate some of the things I’ve gotten to live through.”
One recent event that figures to filter into the new album is Lovett’s 2017 marriage to long-time girlfriend April Kimbrell. Lovett said he’s enjoying married life, but didn’t get specific about any songs that relate to that change in his life.
“You know, everything works its way into your songs,” he says.
On a musical level, Lovett says fans can expect the album to feature the kind of diversity that has characterized his previous work– and the musical range of his live shows. That means the new songs could incorporate any number of styles, including country, soul, blues, bluegrass, rock, or horn-accented swing and jazz. Lovett said he expects to perform a few new songs during his shows this spring, which will feature his acoustic group. He will have some flexibility in how songs new and old are performed– although there is a limit to how far Lovett and the group will go in reinterpreting those songs.
“We always try to pay homage to the recorded arrangements. [But] I’ve never asked the guys to play solos note for note the way they are on the recordings,” Lovett said. “So every night we surprise one another. They certainly surprise me. There’s a lot of [musical] conversation going on. When musicians are that talented, they react to one another so quickly, so that makes it fun, too. The songs aren’t performed exactly the same [night to night], and so
you get a sense for who’s sort of, who’s willing to go out on a limb or who might feel really good on a certain night and be leading us onto the creative limb before it breaks off. It’s fun to try things and have that in-the-moment quality on stage every night.”