Yoakam on his playing style: “I don’t fingerpick, I flatpick. When I play bluegrass, I use crosspicking,
and I approach my songs the same way.”
Describe your songwriting process.
“In Another World” began as a little riff on my J-200 that I first captured with my iPhone and then re-recorded in the studio. I finished it as a track first and later developed it into a full-fledged song. It’s almost like being able to cowrite with myself.
Do you mean getting ideas down on tape or iPhone, and then coming back later to flesh them out?
That’s right. I began that process years ago when I was working on films in the late ’90s and knew I couldn’t set aside three months to just write songs. I was on a movie set, and I wouldn’t have time to finish a song. I found that if I captured the inspiration when it happened, I could pick it up months later with a different mindset—like it was another person contributing. It allowed me time to germinate ideas and gain objectivity through this germination.
I’d teach the band the idea I’d written and build the song out from there. And after hearing them play, I’d say, “Let’s do it differently, let me reshape that.” The album A Long Way Home had a lot of that on it.
Do you work out the arrangements ahead of time?
I’m very spontaneous. I don’t sit down and map it in any way, shape, or form. I kind of let the song lead me. I go, “let’s play this” and I’ll just start listening. If I have a bunch of guys who I’ve worked with enough onstage, who I trust to give me something that’s representative of what I’m hearing in my head, I’ll go with that.
In this live version of the title track from Second Hand Heart, Yoakam strums the Epiphone Casino he's paired with on the album's cover.
Most modern Nashville records sound highly produced. This record sounds polished, but also organic and live. How did you accomplish that?
Just by using tubes and knobs. To me, that’s where it really lives. It’s what I hear; it’s what I dig.
So no Auto-Tune or time correction?
To me, an effect like reverb or echo is intended to emulate something that occurs in nature when you sing in a glorious room or outside in an open area. Those systems that “correct everything” are not something of nature, so they affect the integrity of the music’s imperfections. The integrity of the imperfections—god, I want that.
I like the honesty of breath, of air, so I wouldn’t allow any compression. You can ask Chris. When we started mixing 3 Pears, I said, “You’re taking all my air away, man!” So when we started on Second Hand Heart, he just laughed and said, “More elbows and sharp, pointy edges, right?” And I told him, “Hell yeah, give me some hillbilly elbows and edges.”