Robert Earl Keen Gets Deep

Itís no secret Robert Earl Keen loves the Monterey Bay. Last March, SantaFe.com 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 2009ís The Rose Hotel, but do you realize this is your best album in several years?

ROBERT EARL KEEN: Thatís 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?'

Thatís the song that friends or fans will always mention to me is one of their longtime favorites. And I realized itís on a record [from when] a lot of people who are fans now werenít even born yet. Thereís that. And then thereís 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.

Weíre all flattered that ĎComing Homeí 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 Iím having. Even through all the fun, I still would like to go home.

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

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

Youíve 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. Itís called the Arkey Blueís Silver Dollar Saloon. And itís 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 itís almost silly.

Iíve 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 Margaritaóthe 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.

Whatís it like getting high with Todd Snider?

Like getting high anywhereóconfusing. Youíre just with someone whoís 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 guyís 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 backgroundórivers and streams and the hills and trees and forests.

Do you believe in God?

Thatís hard. I donít think anyoneís ever asked me that. I believe in the great human spirit, my friend. Thatís 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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