John and Karen Fairchild Talk Up "A Ride Back Home,"
05.06.2009 - Depending on how they edit and present the interview footage, CMT has plenty of excellent material to work with following John's extensive sit-down at the Nashville country music cable TV network earlier this week.
He and Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild visited the CMT studios to accompany the station's programming this weekend of the video for "A Ride Back Home," the latest single from "Life, Death, Love & Freedom." They were interviewed by Top 20 Countdown Host Lance Smith (additionally, CMT Radio Network did a separate radio interview with John for use in other CMT programming slots).
John and Karen first spoke about the song itself.
"When I wrote ['A Ride Back Home'] it kind of frightened me," John said. "But I was listening to a lot of great American folk and country songs and so much American music written in the [1930s] and '40s was about things that mattered in people's lives [like] how are they gonna eat? How are they gonna live and how are they gonna die? And it dawned on me while writing this record that people just don't write songs about this subject. Consequently a lot of people thought this is such a dark record, but actually I thought it was a very uplifting record. It's always different from what the writer thinks he's saying and the message people receive."
John went on to note the importance of "keeping things vague" for a songwriter "and not be too specific. That way you have the opportunity to connect with a lot of people so I try to stay mindful to not write too specifically about me. I'm just not that interesting--but I think people are interesting and people's behavior is interesting and how we deal with our own mortality is interesting, so that's what 'A Ride Back Home' [concerns] me as the writer of the song."
He recounted his experiences singing with Karen in concert and on record: "It struck me that Karen's voice not only sounds good in Little Big Town but also works well with mine." She returned the compliment and expanded on the experience of working with John. "When he writes something it's as though he's speaking it, so it's a bit of a challenge," she said, referring to their pairing on "A Ride Back Home." "I didn't want to mess that up or get in the way, so I call it kind of 'chasing' John--but it worked and I liked the spontaneity of it: We're not looking for perfection but feel--and that's a great way to work."
This prompted John to note that America's great country and folk songs have such spontaneity, from the Carter Family through Hank Williams. "Those records are not perfectly made--they're actually pretty raw but the emotion they're able to capture is the essence of [them]," he said. "Somewhere along the line the music business lost contact with that because we got so much technology thrown at us all at once and the emotional part of music kind of went away and just the pop part remained. There's nothing wrong with pop, but I yearn for a song that makes me break down and cry."
After Karen added that John's recording process has had a great impact on her band, talk turned to the video.
"I think this is my fiftieth video," John said, then noted that he had returned to "the traditional way of making video," as he did in the mid-1970s when videos were made more as a means of servicing countries that otherwise might not see recording artists. "I remember being in London making a video and Rod Stewart had just made one, and it took him two hours and I came in and did one and it took two hours--because they were all the same because it was an assembly line--but only to present the song to other countries around the world. And then MTV started.."
Karen's presence in the clip was vital, he joked, because "somebody's got to look good in the picture!" Asked if there was one thing he wanted viewers to take from watching the video, he turned thoughtful: "People are not alone in their loneliness," he answered, "and that life can be very difficult and [that] the decisions that you make are important. Anything heavier than that might be too much to expect from just a video [but] you get to be a certain age and realize this is the way it is, this is all there is--and it's not bad and if people get any bit of that message from the video, it would be fantastic."
The interview concluded with John's hope that Karen could join him, following his summer tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, in an acoustic guitar tour of "all the great venues in America and Europe like Carnegie Hall."
"I don't know if that would be workable with her or her band, but I want to extend an invitation to her because I think my audience would appreciate it," he said. "Me standing there with a guitar can only go so long! I need something else to spice it up a little bit!"