Catching Up With... John Hiatt

Music Features John Hiatt
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There are a lot of things I’ve never done in life, but interviewing John Hiatt while wearing swim trunks is no longer on that list

. Lying on the lido deck—yes, the lido deck—and sipping on some fruitilicious alcoholic concoction while our ship sailed back from Jamaica to Miami, it was easy to forget that I was here for work, and more specifically, that my work involved interviewing Hiatt. Hence my not having time to change.

We were both aboard the Cayamo cruise in the Western Caribbean. I’d seen him with Lyle Lovett wandering around that same lido deck the day before, and neither musician were attacked by adoring fans. But as deferential as his fellow cruisers were when they were off-duty, they were wildly enthusiastic once Hiatt took the stage. His 18th album, Same Old Man, is due out on May 27.

Paste: During your show, you said you don’t know why you don’t play your older songs. Is it good to hear folks call out for some of the songs from the ages?
Hiatt: Yeah, it’s always good to hear folks call out songs because—I think I said it from the stage—you get in the habit of just playing the same things out of human nature. But yeah, it’s great when they call the stuff out.

Paste: Is it nice to be able to have normal conversations with your fans that aren’t rushed, to be able to gauge your fans a little bit more?
Hiatt: I think Lyle had the funniest take on it. He reckoned that the audience was the captive ones rather than the other way around, and I guess that’s sort of true on this ship. You know, it’s them that can’t go home. I’ve done a couple of cruises. I did Delbert McClinton’s cruise a couple of times. This is much bigger. But this has been great; it’s run really well. The people that come on the cruise are clearly here for the music. It’s been a lot of fun. And just getting to meet people, you know. I think people appreciate just seeing you as you are.

Paste: You just recorded a new album in your home in Nashville?
Hiatt: I did. I just finished a record in between tours over a six month period, so probably all total I worked on it maybe six or eight weeks. I had a bunch of equipment I’d collected over the years, and I took what used to be my old racecar shop/writing room and had a buddy of mine who knows about these things wire it all together. I started making a record in June with Kenny Blevins playing drums and Luther Dickinson playing guitar. And I got word of this bass player named Patrick O’Hearne, and turns out he lived just up the road in Fairview, Tenn. He used to play with Frank Zappa, and I didn’t know he was even around, but he came up and played upright bass on most things and electric bass on a couple things.

Paste: So does that mean the racecar has been put out?
Hiatt: It has, unfortunately. I had a couple of back surgeries about two or three years ago now, which put me off it for awhile. I was cleared to go back and race it if I wanted to, but I just don’t have time.

Paste: That’s got to be very different, having your recording studio in your house where you can tinker with it.
Hiatt: You know, it’s been great because, being a megalomaniac, I sort of took the time to teach myself how to actually work the damn thing. And in my crazy way I found no need for an engineer or a producer, so I just sort of wound up doing the whole thing, those jobs, myself. My friend Arthur who used to actually run Zappa’s studio up in Laurel Canyon for many years, helped me learn my way around the various knobs and stuff. He’s the guy that actually hooked up the studio, so he kind of showed me how to work stuff. I gave myself plenty of room and went through with it, and I was real happy with the way things came out.

Paste: And the record will be released by New West again.
Hiatt: [Yes.] I think the last three records we’ve done were with New West. I’m what they call a free agent, which has been a really great thing for me. It’s been a nice way to work with the record companies. I did a couple with Vanguard in the early ‘aughties,’ as the British call them—that’s this century—and then I switched and started putting them with New West a couple records back, and I’ve been very happy with them. And what we do is a lease deal, where they basically have the right to sell the record for a certain period of time, and I maintain ownership of the actual recordings. It’s been great.

Paste: So, Same Old Man. Does that mean we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of sort of stretching out…
Hiatt: Well, no. Actually, for me, I think it’s a pretty stripped down record. It’s pretty straight ahead. I think the vocals are way up front; it’s all about me this record because I didn’t have anybody to argue with basically. So it’s vocals right up front, the song is front and center, and the backing is minimal.

Paste: After the album is released on May 27, will you tour with a full band?
Hiatt: Yeah, I think I’m going to get just a quartet together (two guitars, bass and drums), and it’s probably going to lean more towards acoustic, as the record really does, although it rocks pretty hard.