This is your first album of original songs since 2006. Did it take some time getting into the songwriting again, deciding what songs to go on the album and so forth?
Well, I wrote the songs over a period of a year and a half or so. How I normally do it, is that the first half of an album, you sort of just write what you want to write. And particularly with this album, I had about six songs written, and then I stood back and took a look at them, trying to figure out what I was doing. Cause you don’t always know where you’re being led by whatever. So after I stepped back, I found out what these songs were shaping up to be musically, and that’s how I figured out what I needed to do from that point on to make a cohesive album.
So the songs usually end up fitting well together, even though you don’t have everything planned out when you write the first song?
The songs definitely go together as far as I’m concerned. I really don’t want to talk about it that much, cause I don’t want to take away anyone’s ability to relate to them. But as a whole, they’re pretty mature. These songs are looking at life and embracing the shadows, but also letting in that light that comes from looking at the shadows and the darkness.
After Mockingbirds, which mainly consisted of covers, did you feel any pressure about writing songs again?
I think it depends on how you go about it. I had an easier time writing these particular songs, because I let them develop organically. I didn’t allow myself to feel pressure. When I started writing these songs, I didn’t even have a record label, so I basically had no idea about where I would end up. I knew I would end up somewhere, I just wasn’t under the gun, if you know what I’m saying, so I just let this happen more organically than I’ve done. I didn’t force myself to write if I didn’t feel like it. If I was working on an idea and it didn’t come together, I didn’t fret about it. So I was much freer and let things develop in a very natural way.
But then again, having a label must provide some sort of comfort? Don’t you tend to feel some security knowing that the people who are supposed to pay your bills like your songs?
No, not at all. It’s not about that. It’s about the work. And especially with how the music business is today, a label is here today and gone tomorrow. You can’t depend on that, you have to do the work for the sake of the work.
And back when you were signed to major labels like MCA Nashville and Universal South – could you also afford the luxury of doing things strictly your own way?
Yeah, even then. I just wrote what I wanted to write. I was more concerned with commercial success then, because there was more pressure put on me writing something to put on the radio, but I never compromised what I thought I needed to do for that.
But don’t you miss the big cheques and the security you had being on a major label with a lot of money?
What makes you think there’s security on a major label?
Erm…I don’t know? Good point
Yeah, cause certainly there’s not. I never got any big cheques!
How much can you rely on inspiration coming to you on a steady basis? Are you the kind of songwriter who sets the alarm clock to 8 in the morning, gets up and just write songs?
I’ve been one of those songwriters on Music Row, who clocks in, writes songs and clocks out. I don’t do that now. When you’re a young writer and you’re honing your craft, there’s a certain amount of writing you gotta do. You need to write just to write. At this point, I don’t really do that. I think I’ve learned the craft enough to know what to do when lightning strikes. I have too much else going on in my life to get up at 8 in the morning to write. It is a job, it is what I do for a living, but at this point I’m not interesting in waking up every morning at doing it as if it was any other job.
Where do these songs come from? You mentioned earlier that Crows was about looking at life and embracing the darker sides.
Well…I don’t really know. It’s just my experience, my way of looking at the world. My filter if you will. It’s just things I was going through at the time, and nothing that would make the songs mean anything more potent to anyone. Just life. It’s a pretty self-indulgent thing to self-examine, but I think it’s a very important thing, and if you don’t do it enough, I think you find yourself sort of drowning. Everyone needs to take a minute and be in the moment every now and then. The song Goodbye To The Ground is specifically about that. One day I realised that I had spent most of my life either looking backwards or looking ahead, and not being in the moment. If you’re living that way, you’re robbing yourself of what’s real. What’s in the past is not real anymore, and you don’t know what’s coming ahead, so all we have is really what’s in the moment. And that’s scary, to get with that and to live with that, but I think it’s a real gift we can give ourselves, to live like that. If not always, then at least sometimes.
It sounds like a very honest album, certainly very intimate and personal. Does that come easy to you, writing these songs like you we’re letting people read your diary?
It hasn’t always been easy for me, cause I tend to be more private. But as you age, you get braver and you have less to hide, so this is really the most open I’ve ever been on a record. It’s very open.
Does it still, to a certain degree, feel intimidating letting people so close?
Sure, it’s like taking your clothes off in front of people. Performing is sort of an exercise in exhibitionism. Who really knows why we do that? It’s just something I’ve always done, and I don’t know how to do it half-heartedly. And I don’t want to do it half-heartedly. I remember recently talking to my husband about the music business being so screwy now, with everything turning on a dime, and he said “well, you know, it’s not personal”. But actually, it is personal because the work is personal, and I don’t want to hear a piece of work that isn’t personal. And if it’s not, then why are you making it? Art is personal.
You moved to New York City with your husband, Steve Earle, five years ago. How much does the city inspire you musically?
I think New York inspires me just as much as any other place would. It’s not necessarily more and not necessarily less. As an artist you have to have what I call your antennas up. I think that artists are always looking and listening and observing, and New York is a great place to do that.
Have you been able to find a big musical community there?
We have a place up near Woodstock, and there’s actually more of a musical community up there. You have Levon Helm there, his daughter Amy, John Sebastian, Larry Campbell, it’s a really close-knit community up there. More so than in New York. There’s not that much campfire-sitting, but we do frequent one another’s shows. Levon does his Midnight Rambles in his studio a couple of times a month, and we tend to show up there. They’re always great.
This is probably the question on everybody’s mind. When you’re married to Steve Earle and you’re a songwriter yourself, you must talk about and play music all the time at home, don’t you?
No, not at all. It’s what we do for a living, so I think when we’re at home, we just like to be home. If one of us is working on something, certainly we’ll go “hey, I got this, will you listen, blah blah blah”, but we don’t sit around playing music for fun very much. When we’re not working, we like to try to be as normal as we can. Not that playing music isn’t normal though!
Did he help out much on this album? He wasn’t around at all. During the writing process, he certainly heard what I was working on, and he’s very generous, such a great craftsman himself, so I always run stuff by him and always get his input if I think I need it. And I think he does that same thing with me if he needs my opinion on something he’s working on. We rely on each other for that. But he was in Europe when I made this record.
Final question – any chance we’ll be seeing you on a tour over here any time soon?
I’m about three weeks away from having a baby – I don’t know if you know that – so the promotion activities for this album have been a little been less than what I would like because I’m pregnant. So I’m not gonna get a chance to tour until the summer, so hopefully next year I’ll be coming over to Europe.
Allison Moorer’s Crows is out now on Ryko. Hurry over to Myspace.com/allisonmoorer for more on this great artist.