Lyle Lovett released new music earlier this year, a mix of originals and standards titled June 12. It’s the first new record in 10 years for the Klein native, one of the Houston-area’s most iconic songwriters, and it’s been bolstered by the long-awaited return to the road with his Large Band. So, Lovett did some press for the album and the tour. On TV, on podcast, or in print, many interviews have focused on Lovett’s role as the father of her five-year-old twins. There is a real fascination. Even Dr. Phil recently asked Lovett what it means to be a dad.
Lovett wraps up a 60-show tour with his Large Band here at home this Saturday, in the friendly confines of Sugar Land’s Smart Financial Center. When I met the actor, singer-songwriter and four-time Grammy winner by phone, I asked him if he thought it odd that so many people were interested in his thoughts on parenthood.
“I mean, that’s really what the album is about. That’s really the main thing I was writing about. All of these songs were really inspired either by the idea of having kids or by the kids themselves, so no, it doesn’t feel weird to me,” Lovett said. “It’s really about what the album is about, family. It’s about my personal family and my Broadband family as well.
“Because it had been several years since my last recording, I wanted to make a record that could serve as a reintroduction to the styles of music I play. It was important to me to represent the Large Band as well as some of my new, more personal, smaller arrangements. .
These new songs focus on his family, especially the gripping title track. Her twins, a son and a daughter, were born on June 12, and the songs on the record cement the children’s place in the Lovett family tradition.
“We’ve been careful not to overexpose the kids but talking about being a dad and talking about having kids, everything I do is really about that. It’s in my life so it can only reflect in my work too.
When we spoke, Lovett expected to miss the twins’ first day of school by just a few days. In these podcasts and TV interviews, he shared how grateful he was to be home for their early formative years, a sort of silver lining for the COVID isolation period.
“I just hope I can stick around long enough to see mine grow. Even getting to that first mile of them starting kindergarten is a huge deal. I’m trying not to be sad that I missed their first school day,” he said. “They went to a summer day camp this summer for a couple weeks and it was their first organized school experience, you know? I was able to drop them off and collect them multiple times which is really fun. It’s fun to watch them interact with other kids.
Are people interested in his relatively new role as a father reminiscent of his breakup as an artist? Is there a parallel between the fascination with his notions of parenthood and the fascination listeners had with his singing talent when he was an emerging talent?
“I think anyone in your position would look at the material, look at the work itself and ask about its origin, so I don’t mind. I don’t care about any questions about anything. I’ve always thought it’s not the questions that get you in trouble, it’s the answers,” Lovett said, sounding as Texan as possible. “When my first record came out, I remember thinking or kind of realizing the advantage of being brand new, if you’re lucky enough to be promoted by, distributed by one of the big companies. And I was, you know, MCA Records.
“There’s a certain amount of attention that you get just because you’re new. Everyone has an appetite for what’s new,” he continued. “When I first went to Nashville, I met some of my heroes, my country heroes, and I remember thinking, wow, these people who’ve had great careers all their lives really get it. I said to myself, there will come a time when I no longer have the advantage of being new and I wonder how this will work.
“I think it all comes down to trying to do a good job,” he said, and I can’t help but think about how he might talk about songwriting. Where to be a parent. In true Lyle Lovett fashion, his words struck on so many levels.
“The most important part of everything is writing a song that makes sense and means something. The most important part of it all is always that song and then being able to play it and sing it. All business and all promotions and all the other things you get involved in, no matter how important, nothing is more important than this song.
If you have heard an interview with Lyle Lovett, you have learned that he is as interested in his interlocutors as he is in himself. Our conversation was no exception. He said he could hear in my voice that I was a native of Houston and that he wanted to know more about my time with the Houston Press. He asked me if I was a dad too. I told him that I had grown up with musical children and he wished them luck. I told him that I started writing music short stories to learn more about the local music scene and stayed long after they moved their music business to the road. I stayed to talk with my own musical heroes, artists like him. I told him that my favorite record in his discography is Joshua Judge Ruth. Lovett’s fourth album is getting the 30th anniversary treatment this year with a special release from Curb Records and Vinyl Me, Please.
“It has once again put a spotlight on this record that I’m so proud of. So yeah, it’s been a fun year for this record as well,” he said of the Special Edition release. I play songs from this album at every gig I play. It’s also an important album for me, for many reasons – because of the songs, because of a change in my company, moving to Los Angeles.
“It was the first record I was able to work on in the studio with George Massenburg as producer, Nathaniel Kunkel as engineer, Russ Kunkel on drums. I had worked with Leland Sklar on And his great band, the previous record, Leland played bass. It was my first record that Dean Parks was playing on, so it was a combination of these LA studio musicians and some of my friends that I had worked with before, like Matt Rollings on piano and Billy Williams was our co-producer, who co-produced everything I did.
“It was a pivotal album for me because it was the start of a new experience that continued through all of Universal’s other albums,” Lovett added. “It was really a crucial record for me in terms of business, in terms of the recording process and it introduced a change in my life. All of a sudden, rather than going to Nashville to do business , I was going to LA for business and it created a lot of different experiences for me, and this record represents all of that for me.
Lovett said he enjoyed performing songs from the new album on tour, including “Pig Meat Man,” a pork anthem. (“I made up ‘Pig Meat Man’ really for my little boy who loves bacon,” he laughed). I noted other food references in Lovett’s pieces, like beans and good cornbread from “Church” and he admitted he was a foodie. He is a fan of Mel’s Country Café in Tomball and all of Chris Shepherd’s concepts and the Lovetts are big Tex-Mex fans according to his list, which included Escalante’s, El Tiempo, Rancho Grande in Tomball and a long time favorite, Andy’s in the Heights. In a first for this writer, Lovett actually called me back after our interview ended because he somehow left out a favorite restaurant, CorkScrew BBQ in the spring. He even offered directions for the artisan barbecue.
“It’s right there,” he said. “Before it was just spring, but now it’s old town spring, right next to the train tracks.”
One of the food mentions I brought up was peanut butter and jelly, from touch Joshua Judge Ruth song “Family Reserve”. This brought us back to family and its importance in Lovett’s life.
“The peanut butter jelly, you know, is a tragic reference to my cousin Cal’s death,” he said. “I remember my mother telling me this story in a pretty awful way when I was just a boy. I’m only a little older than Cal and she told me this story of a horrible way, really to make me pay attention and pay attention From a storytelling perspective, you know, I feel like I told this story in a rough and insensitive way, but that’s exactly how it is that it has always been told to me. It has been told to me in a manner intended to frighten me.
“It was a real tragedy in our family. I think about it now. I don’t know if I would have written it exactly like that because it was frankly said, down to earth. In this pragmatism, my intention was not to minimize the tragedy. This story was told to me over and over every time I ate peanut butter. Be careful.”
You don’t need Dr. Phil to tell you what kind of father or person Lyle Lovett is. He is interested in others. For him, it’s not an interview, it’s a conversation. He’ll take extra time out of his busy schedule to show some love for a favorite restaurant, a place that has brought his family joy and full stomachs. And it’s in the songs, the good work he’s been striving for from day one to June 12.
“Besides being a hometown show for me, it’s going to be special with all of us on stage,” he said of this Saturday’s set at Smart, “just because it’s the last time we’re together on this tour.”
Lyle Lovett and his big band, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 27 at the Smart Financial Center, 18111 Lexington Boulevard in Sugar Land. $59.50 to $99.50.