NEW YORK (AP) — The idea that they would someday record a duets album seemed inconceivable to Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle when they met in 1987, sharing a bill at a club in western Massachusetts.
Each burned with ambition, consumed with establishing themselves. Besides, “I was more neurotic back then,” Colvin said.
“And I shot dope and smoked crack,” Earle recalled.
All righty, then. Grammy Awards and fame for “Sunny Came Home” were in Colvin’s future. Prison time and a spectacular creative resurgence were ahead for Earle. They followed each other’s work, though, and when Colvin suggested a tour performing together a few years back, Earle happily signed up.
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Each liked the experience so much they recorded a duets album, “Colvin & Earle,” with veteran musician and producer Buddy Miller. They wrote six new songs together, and each chose two covers. With the exception of a couple of verses on one song, their voices intertwine on every line.
The disc is out Friday, and Colvin and Earle talked The Associated Press about the experience. This interview has been edited for brevity.
AP: How is working in a duet rewarding in ways that you don’t get in your solo careers?
Earle: The audience gets two or three acts at the same time, you don’t have to work quite as hard, you get to split the expenses. It’s a cool thing. And it’s fun. What we discovered is that we sing really well together and that’s why the record got made. That was my idea. When I heard us singing together, I wanted to write songs for that group.
AP: What did you learn about the other’s work that you didn’t know before?
Colvin: I knew his work pretty well. I learned his writing process. I got a window into that because we co-wrote. I learned that he’s quick and that he trusts himself very much, which isn’t surprising. There isn’t a lot of laboring over this participle or that.
Earle: Especially now with the Internet. I get on the phone and if I need a research item, I can get it. I try to get ’em written. There are other songs to write and other deadlines. That’s my attitude.
AP: Did your songwriting methods mesh?
Colvin: We liked what each other did. There’s a kind of a short-hand, I guess, for several reasons. I’d throw something out and I’m just a little more chicken and I’d be afraid that he wouldn’t like it. He nearly always did.
Earle: That’s the thing about songwriting that intimidates people, even me. It’s doing a very intimate thing in front of someone you don’t know when you co-write for the first time. I always feel like I write fast and I’m leaving people in the dust — writing more of the song and getting less money, basically. But it didn’t work out that way with this.
AP: What’s your favorite song that the other has written?
Colvin: It changes. I recorded “Someday” many years ago.
Earle: And we do that together, that’s a connection we have.
Colvin: But since then, he has a song called “Burnin’ it Down” that we nearly always do together.
Earle: My favorite song of hers is … “That Don’t Worry Me Now.” It’s gorgeous in harmony. I found out I could do things as a harmony singer that I didn’t know I could do from doing that song.
AP: The first single, “You’re Right (I’m Wrong),” is pretty dark. Where did that come from?
Colvin: There was a moment where I had this line, “maybe the truth is neither one of us loved each other at all,” and he goes, “maybe the truth is that neither one of us ever loved anybody at all.” I was like, yeah!
Earle: My therapist says that I constantly involve myself with women that I couldn’t possibly succeed in a relationship with because I really want to be alone, and I’m starting to believe her.
AP: Do you see this as the first of several duet records?
Colvin: I don’t see why it couldn’t be.
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder