For Lyle Lovett, being the leader of his Large Band comes with no small responsibility — and pressure.
“I’m always hopeful that the idea of playing the band is appealing enough to keep the guys interested, that it can be a springboard to something else or just be a good experience,” explains the Texas-born singer-songwriter, who formed the ensemble during the mid-’80s as a vehicle to play his wide-ranging blend of country, jazz, blues, Texas swing and more.
“One of the things I try to do in the band is have a chance for everybody to really play. That’s one of the things I have to offer; if you play in our band, you’ll actually get to play something. I’m hopeful it has that kind of appeal to folks.”
And, Lovett notes with palpable pride, at this point he has enough long-timers in the Large Band for it to exist as a well-oiled machine that needs just minimal tuning up each time it plays.
“With tours or one-off dates throughout the years or corporate shows we might do, we get together often enough to keep everybody paying attention,” explains Lovett, 52, who’s won four Grammy Awards since 1989 and has also acted in films such as “The Player,” “Short Cuts” and “Pret-a-Porter.” “That’s a very comforting thing to realize that intuition among the players exists, to throw a glance at somebody 20 feet away and they know what you mean. That’s really fun.
“Just because the guys are so good and so smart, they get used to my misdirection and we’re able to keep things pretty much on keel.”
The Large Band is also flexible enough to take on the material from Lovett’s latest album, “Natural Forces,” which came out last October and combines a handful of original songs with covers of material by some of his friends and favorites — including Eric Taylor, Vince Bell, Tommy Elskes and the late Townes Van Zandt.
“The arrangements on the record allows us to all be out there at some points and allows us to be really stripped-down at others,” Lovett reports. “We’ve been having fun playing them.”
Lovett is now starting to think about his next album amidst a few other projects — including his continued patronage of “For the Sake of the Song,” a documentary about the historic Houston music club Anderson Fair, and this week’s FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, where a horse he co-owns is competing. Lovett says he’s “trying to figure out what to do” when he returns to the studio, noting that at this juncture he’d simply “like to do something that’s a good idea.”
“That’s part of the fun — before you commit yourself to an actual idea — to be able to search through and sort of verbalize and bother all your friends with a lot of different, bad ideas,” Lovett explains with a laugh. “I always enjoy when people have ideas and make suggestions for what you should write about. That’s always fun to hear ... even if you know you’re just going to do what you want, anyway.
“I’ve been so lucky in the course of my career to pursue my work the way I like to and play with people I like to. I feel pretty fortunate that when I go on the road or make a record it really can be about just getting to do it and that’s the reward. It’s not about going out to prove something. It’s all about the experience of doing it, which is pretty great.”
Lyle Lovett and His Large Band perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills. Tickets are $45 and $35 pavilion, $10 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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