CHECKING IN WITH . . . DWIGHT YOAKAM : The Outsider Gets Personal

Richard Cromelin writes about pop music for Calendar

Dwight Yoakam's new album, "Gone," has a tough act to follow. The L.A.-based country singer's last studio album, 1993's "This Time," was the most successful of his decade-plus recording career, with sales of 2 1/2 million and critical acclaim for its blend of country, rock and pop. In an interview in his Hollywood office, Yoakam, 39, discussed the events that shaped his latest music.

Question: What inspired the new album's emphasis on the theme of loss?

Answer: There were a lot of things going on in my life at the time of writing this album that I didn't realize were having the effect that they probably had on me. Not the least of which was my aunt, whom I was very close to all my life, almost a surrogate mother, became very ill and passed away within a period of about four months. I didn't consciously write anything on here about her, but retrospectively I heard lines in songs and I realized that I was being influenced a great deal by the loss. As well as the breakup of a relationship that I had.


Q: So it's a fairly autobiographical album?

A: No, I wasn't literally writing line for line a chronicle of a specific relationship breaking up. But it was a catalyst for some of the songs. As a writer I always tend to take the liberty and the great artistic luxury of a composite form of writing. I don't put this forth as autobiographical or specific to a literal occurrence in my life.


Q: Did the success of "This Time" give you confidence to continue in your eclectic musical direction?

A: No, it's totally irrelevant. As an artist you have to maintain focus and eliminate the distraction of second-guessing yourself based on the opinions of others.


Q: You have this image as country music's outsider, but the last album was well-received by country radio.

A: We've actually had acceptance and airplay from country radio from the first album to now. Ironically, the success I've experienced at country radio has left me ostracized from pop and other formats of radio.

The first air performance of any song I recorded was on KXLU, Loyola Marymount's college station, in 1984. . . . I was in my car in Hollywood one night, and I heard "It Won't Hurt" played over the air between the Dead Kennedys and the Butthole Surfers. I say ironically because now we no longer get airplay on those formats. It just shows you how segregated our radio formatting has become.

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