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2013: The best of times, the worst of times for Justin Townes Earle

Courtesy photo
Justin Townes Earle headlines Sunday's "Mountain Stage" at the Culture Center Theater.

WANT TO GO?

"Mountain Stage"

With Justin Townes Earle, John Gorka, Welsey Stace, Nellie McKay and Elizabeth and the Catapult

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25

INFO: 800-594-TIXX or www.mountainstage.org

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Justin Townes Earle, who performs on Sunday's "Mountain Stage," was in a mixed mood when he called from Nashville.

On the brighter side of things, the 32-year-old Americana Music Award winner, songwriter and record producer recently married. "We met through mutual friends we've both known for a long time. They thought we should meet."

He gushed, "We fell in love, and it's the craziest thing I've ever felt or that has ever happened to me.

"I'm extremely pleased with myself. I've got an amazing wife."

Earle said over the past few weeks, they've been settling up her affairs in Park City, Utah. She does something called gyrotonics and gyronesis.

"It's a super advanced form of yoga and pilates," he said.

Outside of newlywed bliss, however, Earle sounded bitter -- particularly about his music career. Last year, the singer/songwriter said, should have gone down in the books as his best year yet, but it didn't.

"So I ended this year, the best year of my career, with no money," he said.

His story is an old one in the music business: people he'd trusted took advantage of him. Earle just didn't see it coming.

"It was kind of stunning," he said. "After four or five years of working with someone, there's this kind of 180. It just proves to me that no matter how long you're with [a record label], you can never trust them."

The trouble came on the heels of his fifth record, "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now." The 2012 release got good reviews and performed reasonably well on several Billboard record charts.

He started work on a sixth record -- and that's where it went wrong.

"I was working on a single record and was negotiating a contract," he said. "That's when the people that ran my record label acted like children. They tried to f--- me over. They tried to do a power play, thinking I'd buckle because they have money."

The record company said he promised them 30 songs for a double record. He said he'd told them no such thing. Ever.

"I've never done that in my life," he said, explaining he'd never written 30 songs in a year.

The problem, to him, was the record label wanted him to simply crank out a bunch of songs, just to cash in. There didn't seem to be much consideration for quality or even art.

"I do a lot of things specifically to make money, but my art is non-negotiable."

After a few choice words, Earle walked away.

"I've been poor before," he said. "I'm not scared of being poor again."

The singer/songwriter said he was looking at other avenues for releasing music, but would most likely move to forming his own imprint and just doing it himself, without the middleman of a record company.

"I'll private finance," he said. "I'll pay for my studio myself, pay for my musicians myself."

Earle thought he had enough experience and a good enough relationship with distributors and record stores from his years of touring to patch together his own distribution. A lot of work was ahead for him, but Earle sounded confident. Anger is a pretty good muse.

"I've written a few angry songs," he said. "I've also written some 'I'm going to show you' songs."

With his new marriage, it's not impossible to imagine, he might even work a love song or two in there.

"It's going to be a double album," Earle promised.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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