Finding a sense of self with Lyle Lovett

About midway through his time at Texas A&M, Lyle Lovett decided to make a change. He switched his major to journalism, and started taking the idea of being a professional musician more seriously.

“My classmates were interested in writing and in journalism in the same way I was interested in music,” Lovett said during a recent interview with Interlochen Center for the Arts. “I knew I wanted to play music, and I didn’t know if that was a realistic aspiration in terms of making a living. I finally gave up sort of thinking about what I wanted, and decided to consider what I could do.”

At the time, Lovett was playing gigs of his own, booking musicians for his college student union, and working the Bryan Texas City Council beat for his school paper.

“It was the kind of experience that I imagine Interlochen students having: walking into a room and seeing people who are really good at what they do, and are excited to do it. It creates such a great atmosphere,” Lovett said.

Working with his editor, Lovett found new ways to approach his writing. He felt the quality of his stories improve, and he learned to appreciate that what seemed like insignificant details where incredibly important to real people.

“It was a real eye-opener for me,” Lovett said.

The impact of those early lessons can still be felt today in Lovett’s music. Songs like "If I Had A Boat," "She's No Lady," and "Bears” benefit from the playful honesty of a journalist’s eye.

“I learned as much from my fellow students as I did my professors,” Lovett said. “In journalism, it used to be you were restricted by facts.”

Lovett paused before adding with a laugh, “That's a joke.”

“In journalism, you have to write about what you're writing about. In creative writing, in songwriting, you're not restricted by facts. You're able to engage your imagination.”

Throughout his career, Lovett’s accolades have extended beyond his playful and imaginative songwriting. Critics, fans, and everyone in between have lauded Lovett for being affable and approachable. In 2012, Lovett surprised NPR Music by contacting them out of the blue to ask if they had any interest in allowing him to come perform a Tiny Desk Concert. The answer, of course, was a resounding yes. Simply put, Lovett isn’t phased by the business side of his industry.

“Being a performer is not just walking on stage,” Lovett said. “There is a whole lot to the business to enjoy, and I’ve often thought that if I weren't performing, I’d still enjoy working in the business.”

Over the years, Lovett has not been a stranger in northern Michigan. Interlochen has been a regular destination for his tours since releasing his first album in 1986. When asked if there’s a reason he enjoys coming back, Lovett replied, “I always enjoy working with people that I develop a relationship with, and over the years the Interlochen folks have always been really good to me.”

But for Lovett, a product of a childhood arts education, his interest in Interlochen extends beyond the stage.

“That's what's great about a place like Interlochen: When these students show up, the only thing that distinguishes them from one another is their ability and skill level,” Lovett said. “I’m sure your students value the experience while they’re there, but as they grow older, I am guessing they value having been there even more. As they grow older and gain perspective in life, I’m sure they look back at Interlochen as a pivotal experience.”

Lovett’s response isn’t merely speculative.

“I've worked with musicians in my band over the years who have spent summers at Interlochen, and they always talk about it,” Lovett said. “They've always been excited to come back. They go and point out which cabin they were in, and their classrooms, and I can tell by the way they talk about it that it was a significant experience in their lives and in their development.”

When asked what advice would he give Interlochen students, Lovett is hesitant to respond.

“I am always mindful that the things I’ve done in the past which led me from the beginning of my wanting to play music, to playing music, to where I am now, is an experience that’s unique to me. The decisions that I’ve made in my career may not work for someone else.”

“The decisions that I made in 1976 as an 18-year-old—what songs to play or what kinds of songs to play or what kind of places to play—might be very different choices than those available to an 18-year-old in 2019. So, I’m always cautious about saying, ‘This is how you do it.’”

Lovett does, however, underscore the importance of self, and having the right collaborators.

“It’s not really about seeking out a community. It’s simply doing what you do,” Lovett said. “That’s the most important ingredient: being yourself, and doing what you do. That will draw the community to you. When you are committed to what you think you should be doing, that’s when you meet the right people.”

On Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, the audience at Interlochen Center for the Arts will see for themselves the community Lovett has cultivated for himself as Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group take the stage in Corson Auditorium. Tickets for that performance are on sale now.