Readying a new dose of solo material, the one-time Big Kid and Stand (or Howard Eliott Payne, if you like) takes five from us.
1.) What’s your favorite Beatles song and why?
“Tomorrow Never Knows.” That’s the one that comes to mind, I think because I can still remember the first time I heard it, like, and it made a massive impact on me. I lived in New York and I was walking down the street and I had headphones on. I’d just got a hold of Revolver off someone on cassette or something, and I had it on the player with me headphones on. I listened to the whole album, and I was lovin’ it and then that comes on and it just absolutely turned me world upside down. I also think it’s the most perfectly positioned song of anyone’s career as well, because it’s at the end of Revolver. It’s sort of like, “There it is.” You know the way the some people talk about how a film or a story should have a middle bit where if you pick it up, you can grab hold of it there, and both sides would be equal? There’s the bit that had gone before and the bit that comes after, and that’s the perfect center of it. I think “Tomorrow Never Knows” is almost that moment. If you pick it up, there’s a Beatles before that, and a Beatles after that. Before that, you had “Here, There and Everywhere,” and there were beautiful songs and everything. The next thing to come after that was “Strawberry Fields.” It was into a brave new world after that. That was kind of like the last song on the record, saying, “OK, you’ve liked it so far, this is what’s coming next.” It’s an amazingly positioned song.
2.) Who are three songwriters—living or dead—that you wish you could sit down and write a song with?
That’s a tough one, because the really good ones, you wouldn’t want to speak up, would you? D’you know what I mean? I’d say I’d love to be in the room when they wrote a song. To contribute would be amazing. Who would that be? Johnny Mercer. Irving Berlin. And, who else? Robert Johnson. I’m not sure about Robert Johnson, but I’ll leave him in. I’d like to see him write a song.
3.) If you had to pick one song that you’ve written that you really think sums you up as a songwriter, what would that be?
Really sums me up as a songwriter? That’s a tough one. What’d Edgar say?
[Laughter] I’m not toppin’ that one. God, I don’t know man. I guess—fuck, I don’t know. I just never considered that. I think my favorite song that I think has elements of everything I do in it in some way is a song called “Hold Steady the Wire.” It has sort of everything. All roads lead to that point, sort of naturally. I think, again, once you’ve reached that point, for me, it’s like, “A song that sums you up?” It would have to sum me up for a period, and then after that, nothing I write would be the same. It’s like that’s the song that was the directional change or something.
4.) Is there one song by someone else that you wish you could’ve written?
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” [by Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern]
5.) Is there anything you’re listening to these days that you’re particularly digging?
Yeah, Steve Miller. [Laughter] I really like Steve Miller now. Especially Fly Like an Eagle. I didn’t realize he’d had so many hits. I mean, you kind of do—he’s one of those people you put his record on and you sort of like—you know them all as they’re coming on. Sort of one of those things. Those tunes are amazing.