It’s been a productive couple of years for Robert Earl Keen. The Texas troubadour joined Randy Rogers in the release of Burn Band– an excellent honky tonk concept album based on the fictional Stryker Brothers— while furthering his role as Americana ambassador and champion with Americana Podcast. Working with his daughter Clara Rose, Keen’s podcast delves into the stories and music of new and established artists within the genre while injecting the host’s own enthusiasm and… Er, keen wit. REK checked in from the road to talk about these projects and more before his return to Macon on January 25th.
In our last exchange, I asked about your views on the current state of Americana music– you’ve since had the opportunity to host your own podcast where you talk to newer and established artists. How did that come together?
Came together because it felt there wasn’t a unified discussion taking place with the genre from the artist’s perspective. A lot of people have seen me over the years and go, “I don’t know what you are, but I like it.” I think a lot of people out there really just aren’t hip to [Americana] at all, they don’t know what it is. The more we talk about, define, and expand it, the more people will get on board with it, the stronger it becomes.
When you are a touring musician you can become really isolated. I strive to stay in the music periphery and hang in there with [what’s going on]. You can get out in your own solar system, spin out into the universe and never return. I’m always trying rope myself back in. I can feel it when it’s happening. Making records is one thing, but I’ve made a lot of records. There are so many other avenues in the music business to explore in a creative way. I thought this would really, really be good as one of those trying-to-give-back kinda things.
Were there any podcasts you enjoyed or researched before tackling your own? What’s been your biggest takeaway so far in interacting with other songwriters and performers as the interviewer as opposed to the interviewee?
Less sympathy for the interviewer! I’m not a podcast listener. I’ve listened to snippets and things like that. It’s a 50-minute format with interviews and songs. We have a thing called “Will’s Picks” where a friend of mine picks a song, and we talk about that for a few minutes. But it’s mainly about interviewing the artists.
Also, I do like Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor. He has had some really great guests on there. We did a fun podcast switch off during Americanafest. I interviewed Chris and he interviewed me. It was very fun. That episode will be coming out soon. Look for it on the 20th [of January].
What’s it like being able to work with your daughter?
It has worked out really great. There is a true honesty with working with people like that. No hard feelings. All out on the table.
I want to ask about the Stryker Brothers, Burn Band.
For the characters, I thought it was just funny and cool and interesting. Let’s have a little mystery in life. It’s surprising how many people were like, “Now, what’s going on?” If you have to explain it to ’em, it’s kind of like having to explain a joke. It really started one day when we set this field on fire and took a bunch of pictures for this thing. Then I started making a bunch of jokes about how we have to make this record called The Arsonists. My thought was, put it out there and let [the listeners] figure out who it is. As a touring band, you can really become isolated. The Stryker Brothers was something else, something that seemed fun.
What’s coming for REK in 2020? Can you tell me some prospective guests coming up on Americana Podcast? Any writing collaborations on the horizon or album projects you can share or at least tease?
Chris Shifflet, Drew Holcomb, Lori McKenna… Their interviews are all in the can. We will be celebrating one year in April. I would like to explore more live tapings. At Americanafest in Nashville, I was able to record a lot of great episodes. We did some from the grounds of Keeneland during the Railbird Festival. Live recording is different. There is a great energy in the room. And the response from the audience always adds to it.
You were re-reading all of Cormac McCarthy’s work the last time you came to Macon. Did you finish? What are you reading now?
Still on Cormac. I am back on The Orchard Keeper. I could keep coming back to Cormac every year. Maybe next time I’m in Macon I’ll be on All the Pretty Horses.