The first: He's a perfectionist. The 55-year-old singer-songwriter, who's recorded more than 20 albums and sold about a million or so times that, sat down to play a flawless version of his new tune, "Nothing But Love." After finishing, he asked for another take. And another. And another.
In fact, every performance you are about to watch here, took multiple takes--and by my own unprofessional estimation, sounded crystal clear from the very beginning. But what do I know? Nothing, except that Yoakam doesn't rest until it's perfect to his own specifications.
The second: The Kentucky-native-turned-Los-Angeleno who's appeared in a slate of movies and built a film career as publicized as his musical efforts is a consummate professional in this arena as well. It's easy to see by the way he handles himself in front of a camera that he's 100% as versed as an actor--and as precise--as he is as a musician.
Either way you look at Yoakam, actor or singer--he himself states, "You know, I don't know," after some thought when asked which of his career paths has drawn more interest--he's a magnetic personality who has the rare ability to captivate an audience even with considerable gaps in his endeavors. His latest set, 3 Pears, comes a full 7 years after his last studio album, 2005's Blame The Vain. (He did release an album of Buck Owens covers in 2007, which he says he considers a studio set.) However, the buzz surrounding the weeks leading to the release, as well as the critical acclaim it has received since street date, has been extraordinary for an artist who's chosen to take such a long break between projects.
"There was certainly no plan to wait 7 years," Yoakam explains. "Things happen when they're supposed to happen." The record was finished in late spring of 2012, and contains a variety of interesting collaborations, including Kid Rock, the Pistol Annies' Ashley Monroe, and--notably--alt-rock hero Beck as co-producer on two tracks.
"I was always kind of curious about Beck's work," says Yoakam, who performed one of his Beck-produced tracks, "Heart Like Mine," at the Ram Country studios. "We'd been introduced a couple times over the years at events...I said I don't know if he's producing or co-producing; if he entertains the idea I want to meet with him." Beck is not known for alliances in the country world, but still agreed to work on Yoakam's upcoming project, ultimately co-producing two tracks on the album.
It wasn't just the people working on 3 Pears that made the album acoustically unique. Yoakam explains that the set was recorded in a variety of historic Los Angeles-area studios, including the Paramount recording studio which has been around for decades, which added much to the overall mix. "It was great to work in these rooms that are really a part of a dying element," he says, noting that nowadays musicians record in "little boxes."
"You can't do the kind of music we're doing, you need the rooms, you need to set amplifiers up in rooms with high ceilings. And I need to be able to beller and sing in those rooms. That's what gave us that sound."
Another powerful influence for the record overall was the Beatles' John Lennon, who inspired the title track (Yoakam got the idea from Martin Scorsese's documentary about George Harrison, Living In The Material World, which features Lennon fooling around with "three pairs of glasses")--and bits of Lennon's more psychedelic leanings can be found in the meandering, lyrical track "Waterfall."
"There was something about John's music that just had a raw-edged rock to it. That hillbilly wail, raw emotion, that appealed to me," Yoakam explains.
In fact, when asked if Twitter and Facebook had existed when he was a teenager, which artist he'd have liked to interact with, Yoakam admits it would be Lennon. "Either Lennon or Elvis," he states, but amends quickly that he would never have contacted either artist, even in the role of a star-struck kid. Just not his style, he explains. "I'd leave them alone."