Talking with Lyle Lovett on the phone in 2012 is little different from talking with him shortly after his career began. Even after a string of critically acclaimed albums, working with great film directors (most notably Robert Altman), a brief marriage to one of the most popular movie stars in the country (Julia Roberts) and becoming one of the most consistent touring artists in music, Lovett seems as natural and unaffected as when he was a young upstart in the young country movement of the mid-1980s.
Whats worked out well for me is that Ive always gotten to be myself, Lovett says while traveling to his sound check at the Rams Head in Annapolis, Md. Ive always gotten to play music that I liked. Ive never had to do things that I dont like to do. Ive never had to play any kind of show-business persona thats not true to my own life and character. I couldnt be happier.
Lovett credits music-business associates with making that possible, including Tony Brown, who headed MCA Nashville and first signed Lovett, and Paula Batson and Al Teller, who worked with Lovett when he seemed a better fit for the Los Angeles arm of the company and his publicist, Ken Weinstein.
They let me be myself. To get to be yourself and be what you want, its kind of a good deal.
Lovett has been touring with a four-piece acoustic group promoting his recent album, Release Me, the last album in a contract he signed more than 25 years ago.
I used to joke early in my career that if you didnt like your record company, all you had to do was stick around because in a few years it would be a completely different company anyway, he says.
That has certainly been true over the course of Lovetts career. Twice while recording an album he has gotten calls from record-company presidents telling him they were being let go and that he was being moved to another subsidiary.
Lovett says hes still trying to decide how hell release his future work.
Actually, Im grateful for the deal that I had with Universal and Curb, but since I signed my deal in 1985 the business has changed so much. I think its important to move forward in a way thats modern and up to date, businesswise. Whatever I do, it wont be a record deal that lasts 25 years, not that those even exist anymore.
Touring has changed as well.
It really comes down to what you can sustain with the length of the tour, Lovett says. Economically, summertime is about the only time you can put together a tour with the Large Band, because youre able to play those outdoor shows.
Putting together a show that pleases everyone, he says, is impossible.
If you can please anybody, youre doing pretty well! I try to do what suits the group. I actually enjoy it when people holler requests. This group can pretty much handle anything.