Justin Townes Earle: Tennessee Troubadour, Harlem River Heartbreaker, Well Dressed Gentleman

March 17th 2011

Sydney fans of Harlem River Heartbreaker Justin Townes Earle will be delighted to learn that the singer has extended his run of Australian shows to include a one-off gig at the super cool Argentinean restaurant Porteño in Surry Hills.

The gig (which includes delicious snacks in the ticket price) caps off an extensive Australian tour for Mr Earle and his fiddle playing sidekick Josh Hedley. Earlier this month sold-out shows at the Annandale Hotel and The Basement had local audiences gushing over the troubled troubadour's fine guitar playing, splendid singing and good-humoured banter. Playing songs new and old, in-between he confessed to his true loves: women, fried chicken and cocaine, and the not-so-glamourous things he'd been up to since his last Australian tour (cocaine, getting arrested, rehab).

A couple of weeks before the tour, I spoke to him about everything but cocaine, getting arrested and rehab. The fruits of my labour are below.

Your new album Harlem River Blues is a little bit about life and death and rebirth and a lot about New York. What is it about that city that inspires you?
I think it’s everything about the city. I love the attitude of it. I love the pace of it. It’s one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been.

Do you ever get a yearning to go back to Nashville?
I was done with Nashville. I spent more of my life there. I mean hell, I died in Nashville. You know, it was very easy for me to walk away from Nashville. Face it, Nashville was a helluva lot nicer to me after I left. I had to go elsewhere to find a record deal.

When you say ‘died’ in Nashville, is that a reference to your sense of spirit as well as problems you’ve had in the past?
Well, yeah, I mean I did literally drop dead in a friend of mine’s house from my drug abuse. Nashville’s just a lot of ghosts. My childhood was not great there either. I kind of have more bad memories of than I do of good. And that’s kind of what I love about New York is that it offered me a place to come and start again, with no ties to the past. You know, I ran with some pretty tough people in Nashville. It’s not exactly stuff… I did some things that people don’t exactly live down. There’s a lot of wreckage in Nashville for me.

I guess there is some liberation with New York being so big…
It’s just a freeing place to be because you know that nobody gives a fuck.

Last year GQ magazine named you in its list of the 25 Most Stylish Men in the world. So clothing is something you give a fuck about?
I think that it’s important. I think men should dress well and dress like men. I personally don’t wear t-shirts. All my shirts have collars. And it has to be really hot to get me in a pair of shorts. And I don’t wear flip-flops. I hate to say it. I know Australians love flip-flops but there tacky. They’re fucken awful!

Are you afraid that being referenced as a style icon means more people are likely to rip your look?
Well that just kind of comes with the territory. I mean there are a lot of kids that show up at my shows wearing bow ties.

If you had unlimited funds then would it be fine clothes before fine musical instruments?
If I had unlimited money I’d probably get myself a nice place to live. You know, I would love to buy a place in New York.

So is that where you're headed after the Australian tour wraps up?
Actually, I’m going to


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