As Tim Easton might tell you, if you ask him where he’s from, his first answer probably isn’t “Columbus, Ohio.” And yet, in certain (many?) circles, we’re proud to claim the songwriter as a prodigal son and when Easton makes semi-frequent returns to Columbus, he’s met with open arms.
On Friday night (May 17), Easton and his frequent collaborator Megan Palmer – another former Columbus resident – will be performing at Shadowbox Live as part of The Columbus Songwriter Sessions along with Billy Zenn and Joshua P. James. The performance starts at 10:30 and tickets for this intimate and exclusive event are $20.
In my note to Tim, I asked if he’d be up for answering a few quick questions about his upcoming performance and then do a more formal interview when he’s in town at the end of June for back-to-back nights at Rumba Café on Comfest weekend (June 28 and 29) in preparation of the August release of his latest album, Not Cool. As you can see below, a few questions turned into 7 questions and though the turnaround time was tight, I think we have Tim’s 2-year-old daughter to thank for this. Tim indicated that she was up a few different times in the night and therefore HE was up a few different times and figured since he was already awake, might as well tackle these questions!
Because the name of the site is Columbus Calling, I’m wondering, do you find Columbus calling you home pretty regularly?
I didn’t grow up in Columbus, but I grew up some in Columbus, you know what I mean?
Do you get the chance to recharge by visiting old haunts or do you find trips to Columbus to be stressful because there’s only so much you can do in a 24-48 hour period when you’re here?
Recharge by visiting old haunts? You mean like put on a blindfold and have someone walk me to the top of the stairs at Bernie’s and then descend the stairs until my olfactory memory mechanisms start kicking in? Next thing you know it’s 7 am and I’m trying to find my dorm room.
Here’s one thing I seem to do with extreme regularity when I return to Columbus, or possibly just driving through, for real – I go to Yeah, Me Too for a cup of coffee.
You’ve got a new album coming out in August but it sounds like your show on Friday night will focus on the Out of Our Tree material you’ve been working on with Megan. Is it too early to start the promotional cycle for the new stuff or was this tour booked as an Out of Our Tree tour?
Promotional cycles are for music business people, what I do is try to play well so the town I’m in will have me back. I haven’t always succeeded, but I get on the trail and try again. All that being said, I find having to try and use the internet to self-promote a bit difficult, in that I am probably awkward at it. Megan and I will mostly play whatever feels right for the room, be it new songs we’ve written, songs from my new album which she is all over, or older songs that good friends love.
I made this new record with efficiency and clarity, and I am extremely proud of it, so I will do my best to represent, but there is always going to be a bit of the spirt o’ the jam when Megan and I work together. It’s part of who we are. There will be some consistency, which comes from rehearsal and playing together, and there will always be surprise, which helps us continue to grow as musicians and performers.
For the next album, I’m surrounded by people who care.
I think the great thing about your career is you’ve proven that you can do things on your own with a great deal of success but also be just as successful when teaming up with other musicians. Talk a little bit, if you will, about your relationship with Megan.
Oh, yeah, just did. What Megan and I are as separate solo musicians is different to what we are as a duo on stage. Something else happens, and we are trying our best to do more of that!
I am so happy she moved to Nashville and took over our old house. She has a lawn now. Ask her about mowing it and what it’s like to suddenly live in the jungle compared to Brooklyn. She has a 93 year old neighbor woman named Mama Lu who likes to say, about the grass: “It’ll grow on you!”
We both feel pretty lucky to be living in a town with so much bonafied inspiration and talent around every corner. Food, music, art, writing…..arts and crafts-I honestly feel my neighborhood is one of the greatest on the planet. Certainly one of the most creative. People making stuff! Aaron Lee Tasjan is moving into the basement of our old house next week. He’s in the band EVEREST now. How great is that?
You don’t really strike me as somebody who fears a stage (or a sidewalk or a potentially uncomfortable live situation, whatever that may be), you deal with whatever situation you’re put into. That being said, is there a particular club in Columbus that you have a particular fondness for?
I think I covered that above too! Working on the ESP with your 7 paragraph questions. Bernie’s was where I first saw JP Olsen play. The other one isn’t there anymore. Me and Megan are working our way back to the Southern Theatre.
One that you think you music sounds better in than others?
One where you’re able to capture the audience’s complete attention and not have to compete with people having conversation during your songs?
Also that one! Todd and everybody that works at Rumba have been so great to us, but that theatre rules. You’re right though, I’d be just at home on stage at The Ryman as a campfire in the back yard.
Just like I think you don’t fear a stage, you don’t seem to fear moving around the country the way those of us who are tied down to corporate jobs and who have laid down family roots in Columbus may. Do you move around for your music – different opportunities, new experiences to write about, new musicians to meet – or is there another reason you’ve lived on both coasts and various places in between?
Now therein lies a bit of a difficulty, as I too wonder why I haven’t put down many roots in a town until now. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact is I was born next to the Niagara River on the border of Canada, and moved to New Jersey as a kid, then over to Akron, Ohio, then Tokyo in the Second Grade, then back to Akron to finish high school, then down to Columbus-but my traveling bug had already kicked in, and I just think that it’s good to get a feel for the world, which I’ve done.
I lived in Paris for a year. I can hardly believe that I even get to say that now. NYC, LA, London-also a year in each of those great cities. Then the desert for five years. In high school, I spent two summers in a row in the Dominican Republic. The first summer with AMIGOS DE LAS AMERICAS, which is a kind of Junior Peace Corp, and the second summer just to skateboard around and drink El Presidente beer.
After our daughter was born, we decided to leave Joshua Tree and move back east, closer to my Dad, and in the shade, near rivers. We just bought a house and I’m studying my new town intensely. It’s absolutely brimming with activity, and also in proximity to complete relaxation and Southern goodness.
I started coming to Nashville in 1996, and The Haynes Boys made their record here, so it’s not like it wasn’t meant to be, I just took my time getting home. One thing is for certain, when you are back in the game it gets busy quick. Making a record that you put your guts into is just one click on the cycle of what happens when you are compelled to make recordings. I sang my guts out on this one. No more mumbly, fancy metaphorical “what the fuck is he going on about anyway?” lyrics on this new record.
Did I even answer your question? New experiences? I’d say so.
Now that you’re based in Nashville (with the type of touring you do, maybe you don’t even spend a whole lot of time at home), do you find yourself going out and checking out more or less music than you did when you weren’t in one of the music capitals of the world?
The fact is, I have not. Each time you step out in Nashville, you see one or more amazing bands, if you know what you are doing. I don’t go out like when I lived in Columbus, because I have a 2-year-old daughter. It’s only fair then when I am not on tour, I mostly stay with our daughter and my wife gets to go to the Ryman two nights in a row to see Jack White or whatever she wants! Okay, I went to the first one with her because our old friend from Joshua Tree was running front of house sound.
The classic example is the story of the first band my wife Katie went out to see, just a few blocks from our house. It was a band called Luella And The Sun. It was their second gig. They were so good that she made me go the next time they played. Sure enough, an amazing and beautiful cohesive interpretation of American music played by smooth motherfuckers. I love them, and a year later so do people across the globe.
What’s your gut feeling about whatever “scene” there might be in Nashville right now?
Damn. I just started into that with the last question…again! Well, it’s not all Dan and Jack arguing at the taco stand about who ordered what and who copied who or anything quite that dramatic. It’s more like a bunch of people who are trying hard to do good work, and make hits, and make people dance, while also encouraging everyone else to do the same. It just happens to be a great rock and roll town as well. How about this for bluntness? There is a scene, and it blows away every other scene in every other town by a million miles! Where else are you going to get so many different styles of music played so well, AND the greatest music FANS in the world, which is what makes a great scene, musically speaking. Music lovers make it great. Not so much disgust here. Of course, there are people that consider themselves the guardians of every scene, but music itself always outlasts that bullshit.
I’ve read the press release for Not Cool and it does go into details about the songs and inspirations. But, tell me something about the album that we can’t learn through the press release. Maybe, for instance, tell me when you knew that Not Cool was going to be the name of the album and where that title came from. Was there an “ah ha” moment where you were having a conversation with somebody and said, “On man, that’s not cool, not cool at all” and then said, “Wait! That’s what I want to call the new album”. Or am I way overthinking the reasoning behind the name?
I think I spilled my guts pretty good for 4:30 in the morning, but what can I say?
Miles gave birth to the cool, and I flipped it around. You are way overthinking this man. Not cool. That’s just the title I’ve wanted to call every album I’ve ever made, but nobody believed it until now.