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Robert Earl Keen Gets Deep

It’s no secret Robert Earl Keen loves the Monterey Bay. Last March, asked the alternative country singer/songwriter what his favorite beach in Texas was, and he said his favorite beach was actually just outside Santa Cruz. We caught up with Keen, a KPIG favorite, on the phone this week to talk about songwriting, pop music and his new album Ready for Confetti.

SANTA CRUZ WEEKLY: No disrespect to 2009’s The Rose Hotel, but do you realize this is your best album in several years?

ROBERT EARL KEEN: That’s what I told everybody, but nobody listened. I thought it was really, really good.The Rose Hotel was practice on the way to Ready for Confetti.

I hear pop influence.

I was thinking in terms of making these songs a little bit jumpier and more fun. I was thinking more in terms of a pop song thing, instead of a slow, lope-y country song.

Why did you redo your song 'Paint the Town Beige?'

That’s the song that friends or fans will always mention to me is one of their longtime favorites. And I realized it’s on a record [from when] a lot of people who are fans now weren’t even born yet. There’s that. And then there’s this: when I wrote it, I was thinking about someone else. When I recorded it this time, I thought it fit me.

Are you impressed by how insightful and prophetic the song was?

Am I impressed by my own brilliance? On the contrary, I barely give myself any credit for anything other than ordering a pizza.

We’re all flattered that ‘Coming Home’ is written about Santa Cruz. But could you write a song about how happy you are once you get here, rather than when you leave?

Okay, I will. But I do think I gave a nod to it within the song. I talk about how much fun I’m having. Even through all the fun, I still would like to go home.

Rand Paul calls you up and says he wants to use 'Swervin’ in My Lane' as his campaign song for a presidential bid. What do you say?

That would be perfect for him. I don’t know. I really try to avoid all that connection, particularly with these hardcore guys. I’m not a big fan. I like a certain amount of moderation, and some of these guys are extreme.

You’ve written so many dark, surreal songs. What inspired you to write 'Feeling Good Again,' a tune where everything goes right?

The overall general feeling I had about that particular place at the time. I like to go to that place. It’s called the Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon. And it’s in this little town that I lived in at the time, and it made me feel welcome. The experience in the song is not much different than the feeling they would have if they went in there.

Many people think of that song as dream logic: so happy it’s almost silly.

I’ve had people tell me they thought it was a song about heaven. And then my favorite description from someone else was one that it was about alcoholism. Dan and Margarita—the guy had decided to quit drinking, and he had been reunited with his drink, his margarita, instead of her being a person. I loved that interpretation.

What’s it like getting high with Todd Snider?

Like getting high anywhere—confusing. You’re just with someone who’s a lot funnier than anyone else on the planet. More laughs.

Do you remember the first time you saw Lyle Lovett?

He was riding his bicycle by my house. He just pulled up in the yard and sat there and listened to us play a little bluegrass or string music, whatever we were playing at the time. He said he played music. Someone handed him a guitar and he played a song, and I was like: boy, this guy’s really good.

Your knack for insight, escapism and wit reminds me of Mark Twain. Do you like him?

Absolutely. The first American writer really, the one who created the tone for great American writing: a certain amount of wit and beautiful and insightful dialogue, but always with a natural background—rivers and streams and the hills and trees and forests.

Do you believe in God?

That’s hard. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that. I believe in the great human spirit, my friend. That’s what I believe in.

Robert Earl Keen performs at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz on June 12, 7:30pm, $25-$40.
Get tickets here
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