By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Yoakam’s vocal style, a pitch-shifting brand of pyrotechnics bristling with curlicues, feathering, and odd slips and slides, has, rather than maturing into a more subtle, graceful approach, neither altered nor advanced over the years, a point Yoakam disputes: “I think it’s evolved, in terms of range and comfort with singing, with approach to recording.”
What about that frosty distance onstage? “Well, it’s probably just the nature of who I am. It depends on the environment. I tend to drop into the music and take the journey with each song. I’m just doing what feels right in the moment. If it seems distant, it may just be something that’s going on inside. Performing, it’s the externalizing of very internal experiences . . . I wouldn’t say I’m introverted as a person, but I’m certainly not an extreme extrovert.”
Yoakam good-naturedly acknowledges the reality of that dichotomy when talk turns to his pal Buck Owens: “[Buck and I] are, in ways, the antithesis of each other.” The friendship recently took a dramatic turn when Yoakam’s South of Heaven, West of Hell film shoot in Texas ran out of cash, and Owens bailed Yoakam out. Doing business with Owens can be toxic, as Merle Haggard discovered in the mid-’60s when he asked his then–song publisher Owens for an advance. Owens agreed, on the condition that Haggard would sell him half of “Sing Me Back Home.” As Haggard wrote, “It was later I found out he’d already received a check for more than I’d asked for — all mine. It had been in his desk while he was talking to me.” (Haggard sued and won.) So what’s it like to take a million dollars from Buck Owens?
Another pause. “The film has been its own experience,” Yoakam says. “It was actually beyond what was stated, financially; those are very inaccurate numbers. I don’t consider it ‘taking’ it from him, either. He basically funded the largest portion of the film, and it was done with mutual respect. I mean, shit, without him it would’ve been a huge disaster, to have to walk away from something when we were left by the previously committed partners with no way of ever completing the film. So he behaved as a friend, really, and I’ll be forever in his debt for it.”
Yoakam’s fallen behind in the day’s schedule of meetings, but clearly wants to state his case: “Look, the first couple of questions you asked, I honestly feel inarticulate about. This record and these songs are what they are. I just make the music I’m making now, and the people respond to it. That might, in fact, be what I have gained in the last 16 years: the ability to do that in a freer way, and it doesn’t just have to do with commercial success, it has to do with artistic success. I’ve really quit letting external forces have any impact.
“What I’m trying to do is find inspiration in this music every day and every night. When I walk onstage, I want to be as inspired as I can be, for myself and the band, and if I can’t do that, then I have no hope of giving anything to the audience.”