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Robert Earl Keen Talks Townes Van Zandt, Ready for Confetti & Bad Country Love Songs

Photo by Amber Abatecola for KQBR

Robert Earl Keen has played to just about every audience you could ever imagine. Every group from college students to old hippies, hardcore rednecks to die hard blues lovers; Keen has played for them. He saw a bit from every group mentioned above and then some when he took the stage Friday, April 20th in Lubbock as the headliner of the Rattlesnake Roundup thrown by Sigma Nu.

Keen has been touring hard and making music for the better part of 30 years. His name is synonymous with music in the Lone Star State, and some say that the lyrics to Keen’s “The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends” are etched into every Texans’ DNA from birth. Yet it’s his newest album, Ready for Confetti that has been the biggest commercial success.

“I’ve never been a guy that had a lot of commercial radio play,” said Keen in an exclusive interview with 99.5 The Bear. “I’ve always sort of bounced between what people might have called folk for a long time and outlaw country and some type of progressive country. The way that this one [Ready for Confetti] came out it just seemed that people kept playing it and the radio people liked it.”

Keen approached Ready for Confetti in a different light. From the recording to the writing, everything was done different than last albums. This album saw him sit down and write while on the road and make songs that were shorter. Though they are more radio friendly, the songs themselves are still 100% Robert Earl Keen.

Keen is more of a story teller than a song writer. His first single from Ready for Confetti, “I Gotta Go,” is the perfect blend of old and new Robert Earl Keen. It’s fun, catchy and a little dark at the same time. Here’s the final verse of “I Gotta Go.”

Photo by Amber Abatecola for KQBR

Cold steel up against my head,
They turned the lights down low,
in case you didn’t hear, I said,
I gotta go!
These are your very last words, sir
Say em nice and slow,
My last words on this planet were…

It’s not just love songs that catch the mind and heart of Keen when he is writing. While most songs that are written by any artist are about love you can still find a hit with deeper meaning and a different story line.

“I really think the world of songwriting is too constricted to love songs. And today it’s not even really great love lost songs. It’s just all about ‘how I just can’t stand myself because I just love you so much that I’m just about to die and you love me too and what are we going to do NOW?’ I just say who cares about that. I like to have a little contrast. I’ve always felt open minded about songwriting,” said Keen.

It’s that mentality and open mindedness that has given Keen his success. It’s also a big reason that Keen was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Photo by Amber Abatecola for KQBR

Keen was inducted alongside fellow Texas legends of Townes Van Zandt and Lyle Lovett in March. Lovett, a longtime friend of REK’s from his college days, and Van Zandt, a lifetime hero and musical mentor to Keen were the only members of this year’s class.

It’s a tremendous honor for Keen to be inducted with both members, especially Townes who played a big part in Keen’s musical life. He spent over a year on the road with Townes and this writer saw the overwhelming amount of respect and admiration that came out for him while conducting the interview.

“I think Townes’ songwriting is some of the most poetic there is. Poetic in a way that makes sense,” said Keen. “His stuff just meshes like a water color, it’s beautiful and fantastic.  I got the thought of how to bring color into my song and keep it throughout from him.”

The long road continues for Robert Earl Keen and he shows no sign of slowing down in 2012 and beyond. He’ll continue to tour in support of Ready for Confetti, wow tens of thousands of people across the country and live the life that most singer/songwriters could only dream about. It might sound cliché or cheesy but the road truly does go on forever.

 

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