A couple of years ago, Nashville-bred Justin Townes Earle was proudly calling himself a Northern Californian as he set up songwriting shop in Fort Bragg. But like many of his well-intentioned residencies over the years, it didn’t work out. As the July 2017 birth of his daughter Etta St. James loomed, he and his wife Jenn Marie made a tough decision. “It was so remote up there, if anything had happened with Etta, health-wise we would have to have had her airlifted out, so I didn’t feel safe staying there,” he says. “And we couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco, so we chose the next big city that was close to a hospital, and we ended up in Portland.” Wherever he calls home, his music still retains that vagabond, rail-riding Woody Guthrie feel, as on his latest, “The Saint of Lost Causes.”
Odd to see that you and your dad Steve Earle are both signed to New West Records, with albums released within two months of each other.
Well, I didn’t realize that that was going to actually happen. But I’m sure they planned it that way. Luckily, I’ve never had a record release party in my life.
You and your father seem to be getting closer and closer. What’s next — a duets disc?
Yeah, we are getting closer. And we’ve been discussing a duets album. We’re going to pick a handful of covers, then we’re both going to write five new songs. But it’s been a good past few records for me — everything’s just kind of worked out. And this album has definitely done better than any of the rest.
And you imagined a tribute to society’s downtrodden?
Yeah. I was definitely thinking more of a Springsteen/“Born in the U.S.A.” kind of approach to writing. And it came from a whole host of things — stuff I saw in the street on tour, stuff I saw when I was in jail. And it was intolerable, all of the things that have gone on in Flint, Michigan, in Appalachia, South Central Los Angeles.
Everyone is feeling it — what in the hell has gone wrong with our country?
Having a child, I’m more fearful of the world now. Just because of all the crap going on, I can’t help but worry — what’s life going to be like for my daughter? And I can offer no hope, I have no clue what’s gone wrong. But people have somehow gotten greedier than they’ve ever been. But I’m a lot more conscious of my actions now that I’m a father, in the internet age when everything gets recorded. I don’t want my daughter growing up reading about me behaving like I’m the last of the hillbillies.
IF YOU GO
Justin Townes Earle
Where: August Hall, 420 Mason St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 872-5745, www.ticketweb.com