Fred Eaglesmith

Fred EaglesmithInterview by Joyce Peters

September 1999
Reprinted courtesy of Taconic Press

I caught up with Fred Eaglesmith by telephone from his native Canada.

JP: What would surprise people to find out about you?
FJE: I haven’t been in trouble for a long, long time [laughs].

JP: What’s the goal of your music career?
FJE: I just want to maintain a decent living with a cool career. To have a normal life when I’m doing something that’s not necessarily considered normal.

JP: What are you most proud of?
FJE: I’m most proud of the fact that I came out of where I came out of [rural Ontario]. I was raised real rural–in a small little box–to think limited. I don’t think that way anymore. The box is way bigger now. I can’t see the parameters.

JP: Tell me about your sound.
FJE: It’s roots music played in a wrecking yard [laughs].

JP: You’ve said that crossing genres was easy for you because it’s not allowed.
FJE: Whoever made those rules? I hate those rules. Personality-wise, we don’t follow those rules. Why should artists follow those rules? I just do it [break the rules].

JP: What other rules have you broken?
FJE: I’m putting folk music and rock music together–using updated technology–we used a jam machine where the dulcimer is being played backwards.

JP: Whose praise is most meaningful?
FJE: The everyday person–the working person who’s living normal. They’re sort of my heroes.

JP: Who would you love to collaborate with?
FJE: The Dalai Lama.

JP: Describe your strangest gig.
FJE: It was in a place where they had to clean the manure out of the turkey barn. We played there that night.

JP: How do listeners’ expectations influence you?
FJE: They don’t really. I try not to let my little gift here be influenced by outside opinions. It totally is, but I try not to.

JP: What are you trying to express lyrically? Trains & cars figure prominently. What do they represent?
FJE: I’m trying to use those big, heavy metaphors for edge, for pushing the limits. Trains push things through. Nobody can stop them. I like the monster car that’s going fast down the road, that sounds too loud, that wakes you up.

JP: What car do you drive around your hometown in?
FJE: Right now, believe it or not, a 1940 Dodge pick-up truck–it’s just out of storage.

JP: How do you go about writing and performing honest songs?
FJE: It’s to not lie to yourself. The Sufis [Muslim mystics] don’t like craft when it comes to art. I try to keep that philosophy in my head all the time. Stay away from craft.

JP: You’ve said that you live to write songs. Tell me about your writing
FJE: I’m endlessly writing songs. I leave myself messages with lyrics–to get it out of me [laughs]. I don’t even know how to stop. I work it until I’m sure every word is buzzing. It’s got to sound like the whole thing is true to me, not even a bad line.

JP: How do audiences differ in the US and Canada?
FJE: In America, the audiences are pretty much the same. Canadians are so polite. They barely clap until the end of the show–they don’t scream & yell.

JP: What can we expect from your performance at The Towne Crier?
FJE: My band is with me–a mandolin, acoustic bass and washboard player. It’s raucous. People tell me it’s intense–because it’s both funny and sad.

JP: What’s on your nightstand at home?
FJE: Books. I read almost exclusively Buddhist books.

JP: What’s always in your tour bus?
FJE: Water, of course. Always books.

JP: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
FJE: Oh, yeah. I take 13 vitamins just before I go on stage.

JP: That’s why you need the water?
FJE: Yup. Chugging back those vitamins.