By Kate Willis. Conducted at The Prince Albert Brighton 28th June 2021.
CL: How did you both meet?
DE: House of Songs in Bentonville Arkansas. it’s a songwriter retreat of sorts.
JB: Stevie (Stevie Freeman) got me into it. I’m from the Netherlands, I’ve been a member of the AMA UK for a while and all of a sudden I got this super cool invitation. I wanted to come to America to spend a week in a beautiful house with local songwriters and people from all over the world and Dylan was one of the local artists.
DE: Yeah, it was kind of wild, honestly. I remember Graham, (Graham Webber) talked me into doing it at Americana fest in 2019, here in London, he’s an American and organises everything. He talked me into it. And I was like, man, I live right next to where the house is about 30 minutes away. I don’t know about that, maybe have me as a guest for some point? Then he hollered me “Hey, I got a spot on the residency for you.” I was like, okay, I’ll go live for a week 30 minutes away from my home. That sounded great. I was put into this house with all these other total badass songwriters. It was like, “Alright, here you go. Step up your game, son. You’re in the big leagues now”. That’s when I met Judy. I thought that this girl’s ultra-talented. She does everything in a second language
CL: 2019 Americanafest. That was when it was freezing. Wasn’t it? It was snowing?
DE: Maybe it was 2019, 2020 doesn’t exist. I keep thinking it’s 2018 but it was cold, I know that. I went in my big ass coat and I could see my breath the whole time and Uncle Bill (Willie Carlisle) was with me. This feller on my shirt (pointing at his shirt). Actually, Nick did the shirt Nick (Nick Shoulders) designed this shirt!
CL: You’re from you’re from Louisiana aren’t you?
DE: I was born in Louisiana, but I claim Arkansas now, I’ve been naturalised by the natural state, you know, pay taxes, voted, so I plan on dying there too! But I still consider myself Cajun as well but I’ve lived most of my life in Arkansas.
JB: The Cajun Archangel.
DE: Yeah. I’m an archangel. That works. Yeah. That’s how well we work together. We just get things like that real quick.
CL: I’ve got different questions for both of you, and then some mixed together. So why as somebody from the Netherlands did you chose Americana music? You were the first Dutch artist to play Americana fest in Nashville weren’t you? I guess The Common Linnets are Country/Americana?
JB: Yes, they are but they have never played an Americana festival. Americana is obviously super broad. When I first went to the States I was 19, I’d always kind of had a feeling that that’s where I was supposed to be, ever since I was little so when I had the chance to go there I went. I met a girl from New Orleans, in the Netherlands and she said, Hey, if you want, you can come with me to New Orleans next year. And I said, okay, let’s go, let’s do it. This was in 2014, I was 19. I visited New Orleans, and she took me to her family. I kind of just kept doing trips going back and forth there. These people became such great friends of mine. In 2015, I asked them if I could stay there for a longer period of time – for two months. I was still studying music education. I asked them if I could teach music at the school that one of my friends was at. She was the Principal. She said yes. I interned in the music department, and they just had one teacher. It was the way it was in this tiny town of Welsh, Louisiana, which is really weird.
DE: It’s crazy because Welsh is like 30 minutes or less from where I grew up. Like it’s a little country town, right? It’s in Southwest Louisiana. It’s the same Parish, which is just the armpit corner of America, you know, and it’s just crazy because you said your friend when to Lacassine High School like, she probably knows my cousins.
CL: Your real cousins?
DE: Ha! Yes those are my real cousins.
JB: She probably does know your cousins, that is crazy, but anyway, I went there. I spent a lot of time with these kids singing folk songs. That’s how I picked up a guitar and realised, hey, you know what, these three chords actually mean so much more to these kids than the songs I’ve been singing and writing before this. So it was that that kind of sparked a new musical era for me personally, because I had picked up the guitar. I also started writing different types of songs, I started listening to a lot of music from the ‘70’s. I then learned that music being timeless is kind of my fit, I want to hear timeless music, and I want to hear words that will be relevant in the future. That’s what I love about all that old timey stuff, because I can listen to that and kind of reflect on my own life and think Yeah, I feel that, I feel Gram Parsons.
CL: That music has really got a resurgence now, hasn’t it? Now artists are able to share their music on social media without a label/backer. Obviously financially its better but you’re not selling your soul.
DL: That’s the ultimate duality!
JB: In Americana music I just felt like I could be myself and not be judged for it or not be “not cool enough” or “not weird enough” or “not quirky enough”. So, yes it just felt right.
CL: Where did you did you write that track “Never Said A Word”. Although it’s obviously modern some of the harmonies, particularly the chorus felt almost like music from the 1920s.
DE: We wrote it at The House of Songs in Bentonville during the retreat. Everybody got paired together, it’s kind of like a Round Robin situation with all the writers. Our session was the last pairing of the week, the very last session of the week was our pairing. I said “Judy, we are going to write a banger. It’s going to be as good as hell”. I got a good vibe. We kicked it off from like day one. Judy and I and Jonathan Terrell, we wrote a real good one, a real fun one! Maybe I’ll play that tonight. Anyway, we just we sat down for a session and I remember how fun it was because we wrote the first half of it and we’re like, hell, this is going to be great. Let’s go for a walk and we went for a walk.
JB: We had a tiny writer’s block, we had like a verse and a chorus and a bridge. Then we just couldn’t figure out the second verse.
DE: We were like, this song is going to be really great but we don’t want to blow it on the second verse and not deliver. The rest of it was already so good.
JB: Yeah, we already knew that, the chorus was pretty and classic.
DE: As songwriters you write a lot of shitty songs. So, when you know you got a good one. It’s exciting.
JB: I know. But it’s also scary because you don’t want to mess it up.
DE: Right, Exactly!
JB: So we went for a walk into Bentonville. The house is a walking distance from the town centre. As we were walking back we kind of had a bit of inspiration.
DE: So we sat down on the green but it didn’t really come until we got up to start walking back.
JB: We thought that maybe it’ll come as we start walking. Dylan said something and I said “Yeah, yeah..” I got my phone out and started making notes. It looked as if I was staring at my phone the whole time, and I was, but I was writing.
DE: Writing a Hit!
JB: Yes a hit!
DE: Chart toppin’!
JB: We got back to the house and played it through a couple of times and it was done. We both played Americana Fest in 2020 in London. Dylan said can we record this shit? Yeah, well, I have a friend, his name is Pablo, he’s a really awesome artist, Pablo Vanderpool. He’s in a band called The Wolf, kind of Southern rock and roll rock. They’ve been touring since they were 13 years old. Two of them are brothers and one best friend. They’ve been touring now for 15 years, well, anyway, he lives really close to my house. We’ve been friends for a while. I asked him “Hey, Pablo, do you want to record a song that I wrote with Dylan Earl? You do not know the guy but I’m pretty sure you’ll love him”. He said, yes, he had a gap in his studio the Tuesday after the festival. I went home to the Netherlands a little bit sooner because Dylan had another show. He then came over.
DE: Yes, I think I did another show or two in London and then came over.
JB: I asked Stefan to play steel on it and we were just going to do it together, but we had a full studio day and it was an acoustic recording. We technically had time for another song, but we didn’t have another song. The day before we went into the studio, Dylan said “Judy we’ve got to write a B side”.
DE: We almost did a cover then I thought No, we can write a song. We didn’t really have shit to do that day, so we said let’s write a song.
JB: We are sitting at my parents kitchen table, because that’s where we crashed and just started strumming. It didn’t take long, we were throwing lines back and forth.
DE: We had a song called “Throwing Lines”.
JB: The next day we went into the studio and recorded that too.
DE: It was kind of wild as hell because Chatham County line, they’re from North Carolina, they just happened to be in the Netherlands as they were touring with Judy Collins and had a couple of days off in Utrecht.
JB: They really liked Utrecht and decided to spend their five days off there.
DE: I know there are many Americans that say that their favourite city is Utrecht and it’s become probably mine too.
JB: What’s cool is that all their gear was already in Denmark in the van. So the guys dropped by, but John Teer didn’t have a fiddle with him, so we posted on Instagram “Does anyone have a violin or a fiddle that we can borrow?”. A friend of mine just happened to have one but it was a really crappy one, a little learner one, like a school violin, or something like that. It kept going out of tune but John said he would try to make it work. He had to tune up during the recording a bunch of times, but it sounds beautiful. It just shows you how great a fiddle player John is!
DE: John is like one of the best old time Appalachian fiddle players I’ve ever witnessed before. He’s just the fiddling laureate, really. I don’t know if that is a phrase you could use.
CL: So many of your stars just aligned.
DE: Yeah, it was such a cool recording because it was all in one take straight to tape. They normally isolate and they put you in headphones, you can hear the mix coming back and everything for this was just us two in a room, no headphones, no monitors nothing. It’s just us, Judy playing guitar and us just singing it together into the same microphone. I don’t know that I’ve ever had an experience like that in my life and listening back to it, I’m just like, Holy shit how that works so well, but sometimes I guess that just is proof we just work real tight. I’ve never really had that experience my entire life, so it was just such a wonderful memory.
CL: The videos were filmed separately?
DE: We came up with this idea because we’ve been talking throughout the whole pandemic, saying that we have got to release the song, but it was such a hard time when you’re sitting on music to know when it’s the right time because last year I felt like no one cared.
CL: Yes, after a couple of months of live video streams of music I was done with it.
DE: It was so soul sucking, but yeah we were saying when are we doing this? But then finally the vaccines started coming out, and you could kind of see that there was an end in sight. That’s I think, when we were finally like, okay, we have more reason to actually do this. Judy’s got a great videographer friend and I do too. The song is all about distance and disconnection and longing and so we were able to be like, actually, let’s use this to our advantage. Shot half of it with Judy then they sent us the footage, everybody watched it and we said ‘Alright let’s see if we can match it’ and so it’s thematically very much the same on both ends and it’s supposed to be our day routine and we both use a French press!
JB: Yes, we do!
DE: I didn’t do that just because you were did it. That’s what I use every morning when I smoke a little CBD spliff then make myself some coffee.
CL: Judy what impact did Elton John have on you when he promoted your music?
JB: When something like that happens no one really forgets about it? It’s something you can always throw in there …” Elton John really likes this song”. Oh, I should do this story tonight, I forgot. For me personally, it was the biggest compliment I could get. No one knows how he found out about it because he added one of my songs to his personal favourite songs playlist on Spotify and he made a post out of it. “This week, Elton John’s adding this song to his playlist”. It was in 1995, at that time, that was just, wow, I had put in so much hard work. God knows how he found the song because at the time I didn’t have a team in the UK, someone must have showed it to him somehow. I would love to meet him. He’s one of my heroes.
DE: If you want to meet him you ought to tweet him!
JB: He is just the King of Melody.
DE: I’ve always referred to you as the Queen of Melody, ever since I met you.
JB: I went and saw him in concert. I figured it was his farewell tour, but apparently he’s going to do another farewell tour now! It was in 2019, it was one of the most beautiful shows I ever saw. I’m just so honoured. It’s ridiculous! You work your ass off for so long and sometimes it feels super selfish. Why am I doing this? Like, who cares? Because this handful of people, I didn’t sell out this show again and then all of a sudden you get a notification on your phone that says that one of your greatest heroes likes your song! That is just worth it and worth all the hassle.
CL: Do you think it’s easier to promote yourself now with social media? Or is it a double edged sword?
JB: What do you mean?
CL: You can promote yourself so much easier just by posting a video or a song or a video of you building a tree house (Dylan) or of you (Judy) dancing on the beach in Brighton etc. You can do that without paying anyone, but, is it a double edge sword?
JB: I remember starting out. Yesterday I was looking through my photos from the first time I played in Brighton. This was in 2017, it was a really tiny show, I know there weren’t many people there. I remember coming here, and I didn’t take as many photos as I have done this time. I took maybe 10 pictures of that whole trip, it’s also because I didn’t have that many people caring about my social media at that point, I had like 1,000 people following me and then you have the algorithm kind of working against you and nobody cares, but then my album came out and I travelled places so you kind of grow your audience and see it on Instagram. I know now that people really care and that a lot of people are on it.
DE: Yeah, I think you’re right, it’s a double edged sword because some people can just play the ball game a little better. A lot of artists that are even just like yeah, don’t mess with that shit. I mean honestly, what I like about is that anybody can get their shit out there, it does kind of level the playing field probably more than it hurts but it does make it a whole new ballgame and a lot more interesting.
CL: What do you think of the recent changes in the type of Country music being released?
DE: I feel like with Country and Americana music it’s become such a whitewash conservative idea almost. It’s like these gatekeepers are all these straight white dudes. I mean, all the music that we love, that we call Americana and Country music was actually made by misfits and weirdos and non-white people, like everything down to the fucking Delta. Those weren’t white folks making rock’n’roll and inventing the blues, you know, and arguably inventing Country music, it just became a white man’s game because white men are capitalists. You hear of Johnny Cash being the man in black, you know he’s spoke up for the misfit, the weirdos and the marginalised, he existed for those folks. Willie Nelson, man, I don’t know about you guys, but if I had to send one human being up to space to argue for like, the existence of Earth and humanity, I’d be like, hell our best shot is Willie Nelson, Willie would be the guy who sparked up a joint and say “There’s no reason to kill us, man”.
CL: I remember hearing Rhiannon Giddens speak at the Americana Fest conference – she spoke about the history of Country music, of banjo playing etc. It was fascinating. One of the things I most remember about the festival that year.
DE: I saw her sing at the Americana Fest awards in the Hackney Empire that same year. God damn I was there with Willie Carlisle and we were up in the top and Willie and I were holding each other crying. We were just so proud that there was a Southern black woman in London singing in one of the most glorious venues you can think of, for us it was like a fairy tale. To see her be up there owning the goddamn room harder than anybody else, oh man that got me. It got my emotions going. Yeah, she’s great.
CL: There is definitely a shift going on in country music.
DE: There is this alternative and indie Country scene that is mixing with the punks and skaters because it turns out all the kids that are now doing Country and Americana were punks and skaters because they rebelled against their parents initial influences of Country music as it was starting to come , especially nowadays because there’s so much more trash coming out after the Millennium. The 90’s is the last really good era of Country music and so you have all these kids that are coming into high school like me and it was like all this shit country so I said I’m going to get a skateboard and listen to loud ass guitars and shit and then I got into classic rock. But I remember the Drive by Truckers brought me back into Country music it’s just the way they can talk about the southern thing it’s the same way Lee Baines can talk about it. It’s super delicate and those guys can navigate it in such a way, like Nick was saying in that video that we put out today or yesterday or whenever it was, it’s like there’s a little certain sense of pride of coming out of all like the toughness and the bullshit of the South and then also being able to maintain some sort of conscious empathy through it all. As a straight white dude, we get washed with this book in like, straight white bullshit. The Drive by Truckers are the first guys that really like talking about, um, somehow that they can talk about meth and people throwing up chicken wings all over a goddamn courvette and it is beautiful. I’m like, “How did y’all make that beautiful?” But I totally know that scene, it’s so part of where I’m from. The colloquial of it is so strong and anchoring, they got me with loud guitars, I love loud guitars and they had steel guitar and I was just like, wait…”Oh, I do love that sound”. The reason I stopped loving Country music is because it was that sound that was lost then their music brought me back. I found my mom’s old Merle records, I inherited like a bunch of albums. I put on Merle and I remember getting into ”Redheaded Stranger” it brought me back into it big time. I was just like, wow, because I started loving the idea of the concept album, you know. Redheaded Stranger is one of my favourite concept albums of all time is like the whole fluid story of the entire album.
CL: Thank you for your time, have a great show tonight.