Dwight Alright

18 September 2012 | 5:30 am | Michael Smith

“Hopefully people will see what the new album has in it for me, the message of joy and happiness.”

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Born in Kentucky, it was in Los Angeles rather than Nashville that singer/songwriter Dwight Yoakam's mix of traditional country, rock, Americana, pop and soul found its first real audience, in the early '80s. It's where he recorded his major label debut LP, 1986's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., and it's where, 25 albums later, he recorded his latest, 3 Pears, surprisingly perhaps only the second he's produced himself. He utilised four different studios around LA – Sunset Sound, Capitol Studio B, EastWest and Henson Studios – to record the album.

“All four are pretty historic rooms,” Yoakam explains from a chair in the Warner lot where he's being prepared for a film shoot in the Warner Sound Live Room. “Three of the four are Neve boards; at Henson, we were using an SSL, but that's still the old school of Class A/D [analogue desk], and we were using the same amps, moving from room to room. It was interesting – I enjoyed the experience.

“EastWest Studios was originally United Western Recorders, where I did some of my original demos back in 1981, that were on the Best Of that Warner's and Rhino put out in 2004, and it was really interesting to go back, and we worked in there a lot. Capitol Studio B, we cut Long Way To Go there, blocked out the time there for the one track, but we worked a lot in the old A&M Studios, which are now called Henson. Those are great rooms – the molecules in those rooms are simply magical.”

As it happens, United Western Recorders' Studio 3 is the room Brian Wilson used for much of the recording of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. While Yoakam produced the bulk of 3 Pears, he did hook up with Beck to co-write, record and produce two songs – A Heart Like Mine and Missing Heart. “I just wanted to be in real rooms with real sonics. Beck and I went to Sunset Sound where we cut Missing Heart. The first track I recorded with Beck, A Heart Like Mine, was actually at his home studio, which is dubbed The Library, in one section of his house.”

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Yoakam's vocal on A Heart Like Mine is drenched in reverb; very Sun Studio meets mid-'50s rockabilly. “Beck ran that through an Atari eight-track one-inch tape machine from the '70s, and he actually put the tape slap onto that, so it's real tape slap that he's got running. We were just exploring what was here in the moment. We weren't trying to do anything that was retro but unlike on contemporary records where it's all cut into hard drive, Pro Tools, it's done through real tube amplifiers, tube mics and through Telefunken mic pre's – some of the best music recording was done that way.

“The thing he and I kind of established on [those two tracks] was my approach. I just went in by myself with my electric guitar and his assistant engineer played drums and synth engineer played the bass, and I overdubbed a little electric and acoustic, and I found that to be a good template for the rest of the record.”

Gibson recently released a limited edition of one of Yoakam's trademark guitars, the Elitist Dwight Yoakam “Dwight Trash” Casino Epiphone, and has also released a Dwight Yoakam Honky Tonk Deuce Acoustic-Electric guitar.

While it's been seven years between 3 Pears and his last album, 2005's Blame The Vain, his first not to be produced by guitarist producer Pete Anderson, Yoakam was writing new material throughout. The gap was essentially down to his decision to leave the independent label he'd signed with – New West – and seek another major label, ultimately signing once more with his original label, Warner Music. As for the songs themselves, though undeniably country, they're shot through with Yoakam's other, sometimes unlikely, musical passions. For a start, the album opens with the track, Take Hold Of My Hand, written by Kid Rock.

“There are a variety of melodic influences throughout,” he explains. “I mean there's a bit of The Monkees' lick from I'm A Believer, Neil Diamond's song, at the beginning [of A Heart Like Mine], but it turns into a bit of an homage, unintentionally, to the Stones' The Last Time kind of meets Johnny Cash. I grew up listening to Top 40 radio when it was truly an eclectic mix of all kinds of music, and that's had a major impact on me that remains. So with Trying, I'm sure the influence of having heard Sam Cooke's work is there.”

There are two versions, too, of Long Way To Go – a full band version and a haunting solo voice and piano one that closes the album. “Yeah, it just seemed that night, in the studio, Joe Chiccarelli was actually engineering, and I walked by the mic and I said to my extremely talented multi-instrumentalist sideman Brian Wheelan, 'Hey, would you just play the chord changes on Long Way To Go?' 'cause we'd just recorded it – he played bass on the track, on the electric version – so he started playing it through and I said, 'Just play the changes. I'm gonna sing it stripped down like that.' And we did a version of it that way, and there's an additional verse on that version.”

Monday 24 September Yoakam will be presented the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award at the sixth annual Academy of Country Music Honors Awards in Nashville. Then in November, Yoakam brings the guys he made the album with to Australia for a tour. “Hopefully people will see what the new album has in it for me, the message of joy and happiness.”

Dwight Yoakam will be playing the following shows:

Monday 12 November - Palais Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Thursday 15 November - AIS Arena, Canberra ACT
Friday 16 November - Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW
Sunday 18 November - Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre, Tamworth NSW
Monday 19 November - WIN Stadium, Wollongong NSW
Wednesday 21 November - Townsville Entertainment & Convention Centre, Townsville QLD
Thursday 22 November - Great Western Hotel, Rockhampton City QLD
Saturday 24 November - Brisbane Riverside, Brisbane QLD
Monday 26 November - USQ Clive Berghofer Recreation Centre, Darling Heights QLD