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On The String: Knowing Tim Easton

Tim Easton
Robby Klein

It’s an arresting, almost accusatory title, spilling in cartoon letters down the right margin of Tim Easton’s tenth studio album. You Don’t Really Know Me. I don’t? I’ve been listening to Easton’s songs for twenty years, appreciating the variety of his musical moods, hearing his lyrics, learning his unusual story. I mean, Tim, you’re the storyteller. What haven’t you been telling us?

I’m kind of kidding. Easton’s title is both an incentive to think about how well we can ever know artists or each other, as well as an acknowledgement that his writing has tended to be more observational and character driven than confessional or autobiographical over the years. The new opus, an energetic full-band project produced by old colleagues and friends Brad Jones and Robin Eaton, brings us more candidly into Easton’s 55-year effort to be himself.

“I basically set out to get more familiar with an audience by putting this album out, and on the whole, It does reveal a little bit more about me then than my other records,” Easton says in Episode 185 of The String. “I wanted to kind of lay it all out there and and say: This is me. This is my life. This is what I'm going through. And if you're going through this too maybe we can pick each other up.”

Tim Easton Cover

For Easton, the sudden stasis of 2020 came after a divorce and moving to a new home in Madison, where he focused on writing, reading, filling in gaps in his love of music history and spending quality time with his grade school age daughter. He allows that he wrote a batch of angry breakup songs, but his producers coaxed him toward a more celebratory and comforting repertoire for the new release.

“There's a place for angry songs. People need them. We all know them,” Easton says. “But I really got to thank them for kind of ushering me in a direction of positivity and acceptance for what's gone wrong in your relationship, your role in it, and what happened there. And also positivity for my daughter and basically, for humanity, you know, as we entered this pandemic and quarantine time.” The house, where we sat for the interview, was also a source of profound comfort he reports.

That’s a shift for Easton who’s been known for his nomadism in earlier years. His youth was split between Akron, OH and Tokyo, Japan, where his father was transferred as an executive for Goodyear tires. Then there were six or seven years making his living as a busker and touring troubadour all over Europe. Back in the US, he lived in Los Angeles and then the relatively remote surroundings of Joshua Tree before moving to Nashville.

Here, we talk about many different chapters of Easton’s interesting life - how busking in Europe shaped his feelings for America and its music, how Lucinda Williams and John Hiatt offered him support and mentorship when he was getting started on New West Records, how he’s been changed by time in Alaska, his favorite place, and how two grave losses of the past year or two - John Prine and Justin Townes Earle - led to songs on the new recording.

Follow Tim Easton’s online journal here.

Tim Easton - Speed Limit (Official Music Video)

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.