Robert Earl Keen Fans Get ‘Ready for Confetti’
The old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention," rang true for Robert Earl Keen as he started to think about recording his 16th album. When the touring troubadour decided it was time to start thinking about his next musical venture, he had to look at his calendar to see when he could squeeze in some writing time.
"When I got to this record and saw all the touring I had on my schedule, I thought, 'If I'm gonna be able to put out a record in the next three years, I better drop that stupid idea of being a solitary writer and figure out how to write on the road,'" REK tells The Boot about his new CD, 'Ready for Confetti,' due in stores Tuesday, August 30.
Calling it an eye-opening experience, the Texas native says, "The way I've been writing for years is like a Buddhist monk standing around in a cubicle. Now for this album, think about a truck driver lighting a cigarette in the wind. I thought it worked well, the good and the bad. Your best qualities connect to your worst. The good quality of writing alone in solitude is you find ideas that you might never have found walking around on the earth, and you mine some beautiful semi-precious stones. At the same time, sometimes you can get weird, and I found myself a lot of times writing something too inside. I would find that I was trying to amuse myself, and you think people will enjoy it, but it's too inside and they don't."
As for writing on the road, the singer-songwriter says the songs often came a little more quickly. "At this point in my writing career, I've tried just about everything outside of sitting in rowboat somewhere," he admits. "My thoughts on writing is to do anything that will get you to open that creative door and get out there. I didn't have a grand plan for writing on the road. I just had one rule, that I wouldn't frustrate myself doing it."
Looking back at his first album, 1984's 'No Kinda Dancer,' and comparing it to 'Confetti,' Robert believes the new collection is a little broader in theme. "I'd say it has more of a universal theme, not too academic. This record bounces along. You can tap your foot, bob your head, and sing along with the songs after about three listens."
Citing 'Show the World' as "the kind of song I would never have gone any further than the first verse if I'd been writing in isolation," he adds, "I would have dismissed the idea, which is a hug-the-world kind of song, let's be more involved and love each other. A theme of universal love. I was bouncing along in the back of the bus and I was enjoying writing it, and thinking about all the people you see, the world-at-large. A lot of times it's hard to look at the world as a happy place, but at times you feel that way. It's got a nice uplifting message, and a cool musical thing going on. That would never have happened with my Buddhist monk robe and a candle!"
The album may not be as academic as some previous works, nevertheless it has REK's stamp all over it, from the opening production of 'Black Baldy Stallion' to the summer sounds of 'Top Down.' 'Waves on the Ocean' is a poignant song about knowing you're going to lose someone no matter what you say, and 'Paint the Town Beige' is the story of a man who may have given up his former life, but he's not forgotten it. And then there's the title track, 'Ready for Confetti.'
"It's really a song about every day being a surprise, but all the characters are kind of whacked out, they have some kind of disorder," he explains. "It's like someone opened the gates on the looney bin. These people are waking up in a new world every day. It reflects our own sense of every day is a new day."
The legendary singer also covers Todd Snider's 'Play a Train Song," the story of a freewheeling vagabond who lives for the moment. "I thought that was a pretty solid song," Robert says. "I personally have a few train songs in my career, and also I loved that character. Todd really did find this guy. Todd was the guy [in the song] who walked in, so pretty much that's a journalism story. Todd is a genius, a funny guy, one of the only people I could put my hand on a Bible and say, 'This guy was born on stage, he is fantastic.' He listened to the song [I recorded] and was happy and then he launched off onto one of the stories about this guy from the song."
Acknowledging other songs he has recorded by his songwriting peers, REK says, "I tend to pick songs that other people should hear. That's why I do stuff like James McMurtry or Greg Brown. I still think these people are genius and great, and should be bigger than they are. So if I can give extra exposure for people like that, I want to help my buds. When I do the song it's like, 'You've got to check out Todd Snider.' I tend to pick songs that I really think I could write, but they beat me to it; songs that feel so natural to me, like a song I could have written."
When it comes to his fans, the performer has a diverse group and admits he thinks about them when he writes, contemplating whether the song is fun and relatable. "The main thing I think is, is this provocative, does it make someone sit up and think, 'I've been there' or 'I know that person.' I've gotten braver and more experimental over the years. The words are always about getting somebody's attention."
'Ready For Confetti' was produced by Lloyd Maines, who also produced Robert Earl Keen's critically acclaimed 2009 album, 'The Rose Hotel.'