UNCUT: Since your earlier solo albums, the Americana thing has shifted country music back to a rootsier sound, like on your new LP…
DON HENLEY: Yes, thank God! Country music goes through cycles, like pop music. It goes through cycles of shallowness and poppiness and commerciality, then there’ll be a backlash and it’ll go back to more rootsy kind of stuff; and I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to go back to my roots. The Eagles started out as what you might call Americana, country-rock, and I wanted to return to that. All of these kids are doing country albums now, and none of them are from the country, they’re all from the suburbs. I’m a country boy, I’m from the sticks, so if anybody has the right to do a bona fide country album, it’s me!
There’s a very reflective cast to a lot of the songs on the LP. Do you find that you start out your writing career singing about your hopes for the future, and as you grow older, it becomes all about the past?
To some degree. Though there are some songs on there about the present, too. I deliberately close the album with a song called “Where I Am Now”, after all the sad, morbid songs about mortality! I mean, “Train In The Distance” is really about mortality, y’know – it’s comin’! – but then I close by thinking that, all things considered, my life is pretty damn good. But this album is more about interior landscapes than exterior landscapes.
Is country the natural home these days for the kind of singer-songwriters who would have been on Asylum, Warner and Elektra back in the ’70s?
Yeah, probably; and Americana certainly is. Someone said to me the other day, “I was wondering what this term ‘Americana’ meant, and now I realise: it’s country music for smart people!” But that’s the way it’s moving, because in cities like Los Angeles and New York, the music is becoming more urban, and the singer-songwriters are moving towards the middle of the country. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in Nashville, a lot of new bands, a whole bohemian thing growing there.
You include a Jesse Winchester song on the new album, and I noticed at the show the other night, the music immediately before you came on followed his “Mississippi You’re On My Mind” with Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee”, and it seemed so apposite for where you and The Eagles came from: midway between wistful draft-dodger and ironic good ol’ boy.
Yeah – you know, when Merle Haggard does his shows now, he basically gets up and apologises for “Okie From Muskogee”! Cos that’s not who he is – he’s into the pot now [see “It’s All Going To Pot” with Willie Nelson]. He played at a little theatre in my old home town, we brought him in there, and when he sang “Okie…”, he kinda sheepishly murmured, “It’s not where I’m at now.”
I love his duet with you on “The Cost Of Living”, that’s just a killer song.
Thank you. I’m very proud of that song, and I wrote it with Merle Haggard in mind. It was a trip getting him to come and sing it, cos he’s a little old and cantankerous now, but he did it, bless his heart… he showed up.
The album was mostly co-written and co-produced with Stan Lynch. How did two drummers get to be such good songwriters? I presume you’re familiar with the old joke about what you call someone who hangs around with musicians…
Yeah, what’s got three legs and an asshole on top? A drumstool! I know all the drummer jokes! Stan Lynch and I are just kindred spirits, we’ve both been the drummers in bands, had conflicts in bands, and we became friends way back. We’re soul brothers, we can talk about anything: when you write songs with someone, you have to be real open with them, you have to be able to reveal the real philosophical, personal things, and Stan and I can do that. He’s also got a great sense of humour – he helps inject humour into songs that might otherwise be a little too dark.