Musician-actor Lyle Lovett

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and actor discusses his unique connection to Texas and shares what it’s like to feel the energy of the audience during a performance.

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett pushes the boundaries of various musical genres. Initially pegged as a country singer, he incorporates elements of jazz, folk, gospel and pop into his music and has developed a loyal cult following. Born in Klein, TX—named after an ancestor—Lovett studied journalism and German at Texas A&M, where he first began writing songs. He's also segued into acting, with roles on TV, in film and the L.A. production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. He was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in '06.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome back to this program – no, I am honored to have back on this program, Lyle Lovett. The four-time Grammy winner and actor will be joining John Hiatt in January for a major U.S. tour. On the acting front, he recently starred alongside our friend, Helen Hunt, in the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Also in January – busy guy, man – in January he’s appearing on the last ever episode of the iconic music series, Austin City Limits. From the program, here he is performing “I Will Rise Up.
Tavis: As I mentioned, you are one busy dude.
Lyle Lovett: Well, you know, thankfully. I love my job. I want to keep it.
Tavis: Yeah. When you say “your job,” you have so many. You’re working like your [unintelligible]. You’re acting, you’re singing, you’re recording, you’re writing, you’re touring.
Lovett: You know, it’s really a wonderful thing to be able to do something that you like to do. You know, it’s rare that I have two days that are alike, two days in a row that are alike. I love all the variety.
Tavis: Yeah. Does the variety mean that you are restless, that you are just super-gifted and you got to find different things to do, or you get bored easily, or all of the above, or none of the above?
Lovett: You know, I think it means that I know so many talented people and that really is the thing I enjoy most about getting to play music or get to do the occasional acting. I get to meet so many immensely talented people and get to hang out with them. I get to learn from them. This thing that I was doing in Los Angeles, the Shakespeare deal, to get to work with Helen Hunt –
Tavis: – great actress.
Lovett: – and David Ogden Stiers and to play music with Sean and Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek, it is just inspiring every day.
Tavis: How do you go about picking your acting choices? I mean, you are a person who seems to make good choices and you’re not doing the same thing over and over again. How do you make your acting choices specifically?
Lovett: Should I say that I’m very careful and I read through everything. But, you know, there aren’t many choices really [laugh]. There aren’t many offers, so if one comes along, you know, that seems like it would be fun and it has quality people, you just say yes [laugh].
Tavis: But working with an Academy Award winner like Helen Hunt, that offer doesn’t come every day.
Lovett: Helen Hunt is terrific and I got to do a couple of guest spots with Helen and Paul Reiser on Mad About You.
Tavis: Mad About You. I remember that, yeah.
Lovett: In fact, the very first thing I ever did on camera was in 1983 just at home. They were looking for a local guy to play a song and it was a deal that Helen Hunt was in for television, so I met her years and years ago.
Tavis: I want to talk about Austin City Limits. The venue is changing, so what we have come to see all these years on PBS is gonna be tweaked. So what can you tell me about it?
Lovett: Oh, you know, Austin City Limits is one of the greatest live music shows that’s ever been because they treat it like a live show, not like a TV production. They don’t ever stop you in the middle of the song. You’re able to actually develop a relationship with the audience. They’ve been in the same studio for all these now 36 years. I was teasing them. I told them, you know, we change venues every day when we go on tour [laugh].
Tavis: [Laugh] This ain’t no big deal.
Lovett: You guys get all torn up about moving. But they’re going to a really nice studio and it’ll still be a great show.
Tavis: I’m told, though, that that last recording with you and others was pretty emotional.
Lovett: It was really fun because – you know, the crew, so many of the people that do that show, have always done the show. You know, they’re very attached to the place and were very nostalgic and I was able to twist their arm and talk them into getting on stage with us for the last song and that was the ending. We all sang together and it was really fun.
Tavis: Speaking of Austin, if one reads your bio carefully, one looks at all the stuff that you do, you have if not an affinity, certainly a connection to not just Austin, but to Texas, maybe a pride in it. Tell me about your unique connection to Texas.
Lovett: Well, I’ve always lived in Texas. I was born and raised in the Houston area. You know, my family has lived on the same piece of ground since the 1840s there, so I have lots of extended family.
I love Texas, but it’s the people that make a place and I feel so fortunate to be able to live near my family and to be – you know, my mom’s my next door neighbor, so I feel really grateful to be able to have her and to be able to spend time with her when I’m home.
Tavis: You mentioned how you’re in a different venue every day and you are. There are some artists at a certain point in their career, though, while they love the live stuff, they get tired of all the traveling and all the moving around. You still seem to be full of energy for all that bouncing around from place to place.
Lovett: You know, I just enjoy getting to play and sing. It really is a privilege to be supported by the public. For people to turn up, and to be able to play the great theaters across the country that I get to play, it’s really something. I may enjoy it more than ever really. This tour that we’re doing in January with John Hiatt, you know, John is just one of my favorite songwriters and singers. He and I have worked together off and on over the years, really for a long time now.
Tavis: What’s the run of show, as we say? What’s the staging for you and Hiatt on this tour?
Lovett: You know, the two of us sit together on stage just like you and I are.
Tavis: No, no. Not like you and me [laugh]. You don’t want to sit on stage with me at a concert. Trust me [laugh]. And I can’t play guitar, so that takes me out. But, anyway, you were saying. I’m sorry.
Lovett: We just take turns and it’s fun. And we talk and I ask John questions. I’m curious about his songs and his processes, so I get to talk to him about that. It’s really different from night to night because he won’t play the same songs from night to night necessarily and, you know, it makes me want to make a different choice too. We try out some of our new songs on one another and it really is a lot like what we would do if nobody was around.
Tavis: I was gonna say, it sounds pretty organic.
Lovett: Well, it’s not overly made up.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. So any given night, you’re suggesting to me that, based upon the conversation, the music choices may actually change on the spot?
Lovett: Oh, you bet. Oh, sure, sure. We’re playing alone and we’ll join in with each other a little bit, so it’s not a big rehearsed kind of deal. It’s pretty spontaneous.
Tavis: First of all, I love you, as you already know that. But that seems to me to call upon – how do I want to put this? You have to call upon a real sense of confidence to go out on a stage on any given night and take a show wherever it goes. You know, no artist these days does that.
I speak of a running show, they got a play list, we are sticking to the play list, we are not gonna change this tonight. I’m gonna play this song for three and a half minutes; we’re moving to the next song, nothing changes. But to go out and be organic and be in the moment, there’s a certain level of confidence, I would think, that comes along with that.
Lovett: You know, and if it is confidence, that comes from the audience really. It’s the audience that gives you that. I mean, they’re there to help you really. One of my favorite things is when people will ask for a song that I hadn’t planned to play. It is really fun to see if you can remember something, and you don’t always. I mean, sometimes it’s just crash and burn.
Tavis: I was about to ask. What happens when you’re on stage and somebody wants you to play something and you start singing it and you forget the lyrics?
Lovett: You know, that actually does happen. Eventually, you know, if you do this long enough, just about everything that can go wrong really does. You know, I’ve fallen down on stage and broken a bone and, you know, from that to crazy stuff goes wrong. I think, with enough repetition, you realize that you can survive all that and just keep going.
Tavis: I teased you when you came on the show about your love for haberdashery. You are always sharper than any guest I ever have on this program.
Lovett: Not true. I watch your show.
Tavis: No. Every time you come on, man, I got to buy me a new suit. Lyle Lovett’s coming on tonight [laugh]. You are clean every time you come on. What’s this love for clothes? I’m always anxious to see what pair of boots you have on. I always look at your feet first. I’m not being rude when you walk on the set. I look down at your feet to see what you have on first, then I look up. But you’re always so clean. Where’d this love for fashion come from?
Lovett: Oh, you’re kind, Tavis. You know, I’m just trying to be like you [laugh].
Tavis: You are such – I was talking to somebody about this when you walked on the show and it’s kind of weird to say this on television because it takes away from the point that I want to make here, which is that, whether cameras are on or not, you are the most – I mean, you are everything that your fans would expect that you would be. Kind and gentle and humble. Have you always been that way or has that been a process of growth and maturity? I mean, you’re the same guy every time I see you.
Lovett: Oh, that’s nice of you to say, Tavis. But I tell you, I really feel grateful to be able to play and sing and to be supported by people. There’s just not a better feeling for me than to meet the folks that come out to our shows and know my songs and might mention one of my songs. I mean, it’s extraordinary really to feel that from people.
Tavis: When you say “supported by the people,” beyond buying the records and coming to see you at the show, this is an inside baseball question, but I’m curious. When Lyle Lovett’s on the stage, when you say that in that moment you feel supported by the people, what does that mean in actuality?
Lovett: Well, you know, you feel the energy of an audience. You know, you feel when people are pulling for you and if they want to hear something or if they ask for a certain song. You know, it really does give you a confidence to try to play it if it’s something you haven’t played in a long time.
You know, you feel a supportive energy from a crowd, or not. I mean, in some cases. Every crowd is different. But that’s something that I enjoy and you can feel it in the first few seconds when you walk out on stage. You know, how a crowd is.
Tavis: You know the energy almost immediately.
Lovett: You really do, and it’s a really and enjoyable – I mean, it’s definitely a two-way experience doing a show.
Tavis: Beyond these shows with Hiatt, you ever walked on the stage, felt the energy of the audience and decided to go another way? I ask that because I think of the advice – one of my best friends in the world is a guy named Wren Brown. Wren’s grandfather, Leonidas Raymond Young, Sr., better known as Lee Young, was Nat King Cole’s band director for 30-plus years.
His grandfather, who’s now deceased, God rest his soul, Mr. Lee Young would always say to me and to Wren with regard to performances, “Never miss your house.” I love that advice. Never miss your house. When you walk out on stage, whether you’re giving a speech or a performance, you got to feel that particular house. He would say never miss your house.
So my question is whether or not you’ve ever walked on stage, felt the energy of the house and, based upon that energy, decide to go another way?
Lovett: Well, absolutely, absolutely. Usually if I turn around to start to explain what I might do to the band, you know, they’re ahead of me. I mean, they realize just exactly what I might realize and they’re like “Just go. We’re with you.” That’s a great expression.
Tavis: So finally, your most recent project, “Natural Forces,”this is what?
Lovett: You know, it’s a few of my songs and it’s also some songs written by people that really helped give me my start. When I first was trying to play the clubs around Houston to start playing my own songs, songwriters like Eric Taylor and Vince Bell and Townes Van Zandt and Don Sanders were just really encouraging to me and would let me sit in with them during their sets and introduce me to the person that owned and booked the club. So I did a few of their songs as well.
Tavis: The latest project from Lyle Lovett is called Natural Forces. You want to add that to your collection in case you don’t have it. And you can catch him with Mr. Hiatt on their tour starting in January. Lyle, good to see you.
Lovett: Tavis, thank you for having me on. I love watching your show.
Tavis: I love having you on the show. Come back any time. What you doing tomorrow night [laugh]? Come back any time.

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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm