Dwight Yoakam on Beck, Byrds, Rebel Spirit and New Respectability
Nearly 30 years ago, Dwight Yoakam played a record release party for his first album, Guitars Cadillacs, Etc. Etc., at the Roxy. This week, he returned to Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Strip to celebrate his latest studio album, Second Hand Heart.
“This is only the second record release party I’ve had,” Yoakam told his fans at an oversold Whisky A Go-Go, just a few doors down from the Roxy. “Thanks for letting us make some mischief. We’ve already blown up an amp or two.” During the tight, 100-minute set, the country icon and his crack band steamrolled through 22 songs, spanning from that first album through the new music. Confined somewhat by the postage stamp-sized stage, Yoakam still managed to do enough of his famed leg swiveling, which provoked joyous screams from the 500-person audience.
It was a fitting return to where it all began for the 58-year old: Musically, Second Hand Heart exhibits a youthful rebellion and exuberance that recalls Yoakam’s early cowpunk spirit, while thematically, it deals with adult themes of overcoming cynicism and doubt in matters of the heart. A few days before the show, Yoakam talked to Rolling Stone Country over almonds and soda in his West Hollywood office, opening up about his newfound optimism and the album’s salute to his Southern California forbearers.
Next year will mark 30 years since the release of your debut album, Guitars Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.. Does it seem that long to you?
No. But I’m really gratified about having been able to have 30 years to do it and to still be able to make music. I remember all the moments.
In some ways, Second Hand Heart feels like a continuation of 2012’s 3 Pears, in both spirit and especially that you continue playing electric guitar.
There are things that happened in my career if I look back. . . You can take the first three albums; They’re a trilogy in a weird way. The second three, If There Was A Way, This Time and Gone, are kind of their own trilogy sonically in emotional expression and intent. Then A Long Way Home, Tomorrow‘s Sounds Today and then Blame the Vain would have maybe wrapped that up. And then you have 3 Pears, now this, and the next album is there beckoning to be recorded and [for me] to finish writing it. There’s a lot of material.
It seems like Beck, who produced a few tracks on 3 Pears, had some influence on this new album, as well.
I picked up the electric [guitar] and I’d been fooling with it, but he certainly gave me a confirmation that my instinct was right. Again, he confirmed instinctual behavior. That’s what [Second Hand Heart executive producer/WB exec] Lenny [Waronker] all those years ago was saying. One of the earliest conversations I ever had with Lenny was in 1986 after seeing me at the Roxy at the record release party. He called me the next day and said, “Look, we don’t know each other, other than last night, but if anybody ever tells you go against your artistic intuition or instinct, don’t listen to them.”
Can you think of a time when you followed your gut and it turned out horribly wrong?
No, I don’t think so. I would do some things differently. I would indulge listener’s desires maybe a little further and maybe do something again that I had already felt that I had done but maybe wasn’t on the surface as entertaining to me to revisit. But my instincts serve me pretty well artistically.