Your dad being a poet must have influenced your view of the written word as a powerful tool of emoting, so I have to ask about your literary heroes or influences and if they manage to weave their way into your lyrical ideas.
The main one would be Flannery O’Connor. I read all of her stuff when I was a teenager. I just really grabbed onto it. She was very influential in my writing. In fact, the last couple nights we performed a version of my song, ‘Atonement,’ and I talked to the audience about Flannery O’Connor and that Southern gothic and particularly her book Wise Blood, which really influenced that song.
But no matter what song I write and whatever subject it’s about, I’m in there. I think the writer has to always be empathetic with the subject. I think that’s true of any art form. You know, you have to put part of yourself in it in order for there to be honesty. I think that’s why the audience connects so well with my songs.
Eudora Welty was another writer for me, just that whole genre, the local color; it dealt with the South and that sort of dark side of life. Welty and Flannery O’Connor to me are what Diane Arbus is to photography. (laughs) You know what I mean?
I do. Excellent analogy. You can’t turn away, despite its shocking nature. There’s beauty to the darkness. Speaking of which, there are three particular songs on Little Honey that denote the darker side of celebrity or stardom or artists struggling through or with the creative process, for instance ‘Little Rock Star,’ a touching conversational ballad, ‘Rarity,’ a beautiful track with a wonderful horn arrangement, and ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock & Roll,’ the old AC/DC song.
None of it was thought out ahead of time, but there’s a definite connection, certainly those first two; although they really deal with different things. And with the AC/DC one, we were looking for a good old rock and roll song and thought it would be cool to do a cover. We had a lot of possibilities and that was one of ‘em. So we worked it up and it was just kind of one of those after-the-fact coincidences that there was a thread running between ‘Rarity,’ ‘Rock Star’ and ‘Long Way To The Top.’
All three of those songs, including much of this record and quite honestly your entire catalog, reflect this amalgam of country, folk, rock and roll, blues, it’s all in there. Do you thrive on not being tied to one particular genre?
I’ve always been into different styles of music, it wasn’t that one day I just decided, ‘Hey, I’m gonna do this other thing.’ I’ve always listened to different kinds of stuff. Like now I listen to Santo Gold and Thievery Corporation. I’ve never been just a folksinger. It’s all connected, I think.