The words big and large are often interchangeable, but not when it comes to describing bands. "Big band" implies jazz and swing. "Large band" doesn't.
That's why singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett calls his 13-piece backing group — which is adept at jazz, but also plays country, rock, gospel and other genres — his Large Band. And that's why he titled his 2007 album with the band "It's Not Big It's Large."
The eccentric, eloquent Lovett is out on tour (with a show at Chastain Park on Sunday) and took time recently to talk about his approach to performing and recording.
Q: Did you title the album "It's Not Big It's Large" just because you've had to say that phrase a lot over the years?
A: It's just a joke. Of course, when someone would refer to the band as the big band, you'd never correct them. But my worry was that people who weren't familiar with my music would think I was trying to pass myself off as a big band.
Q: But even after you call the album that, the first song, "Tickle Toe," almost sounds like big-band jazz.
A: Well, right. I love playing that kind of stuff. Typically with the band, ever since we first started going out on the road as the Large Band, we would open the show with an instrumental.
Q: There were seven years between "The Road to Ensenada" (1996) and "My Baby Don't Tolerate" (2003), and four years between that and the new album. Do you think in the future you might get albums of original material out a little quicker, or is that the pace we should expect?
A: I don't know. It just depends on how the songs come. Really, the time between "My Baby Don't Tolerate" and "It's Not Big" seemed to fly by, to me. The seven years between "Road to Ensenada" and "My Baby Don't Tolerate" was longer than it would have been had I not been doing all those other projects in the meantime.
I had always wanted to do the record that we called "Step Inside This House" [a 1998 collection of covers]. I had always wanted to record those songs that I started performing before I was doing my own songs. And in my record deal, I was required to do a live record, and so we did that [1999's "Live In Texas"]. Then we did the music for [Robert] Altman's film, "Dr. T and the Women." And then we did a postproduction assembly of songs that I had recorded for different films over the years [2003's "Smile: Songs From the Movies"]. It actually always seemed like we were in the studio, in those days — on the road or in the studio.
Q: And, of course, you do shows with Joe Ely and John Hiatt and Guy Clark, too.
A: Exactly. Those are so much fun. You know, the first one of those we did was in 1989, for the old Marlboro Music Festival they used to have in New York. Then we kept getting together occasionally. It's been really in the last four or five years that we started going out more consistently on our own, just because we enjoy it, and it gives us a chance to go into areas that I can't always go into with the Large Band.
Q: Do you think you might do a live album or DVD from one of those shows?
A: Funny you should mention it. Last year, we recorded three nights in Redwood City, Calif., at the Fox Theatre, which is a really nice 1,200- or 1,300-seat theater. We've been trying to get a deal, and we're hopeful that it will happen sometime next year.
Q: I know you've filmed a new movie called "The Open Road." Can you tell me a little about that and when it might come out?
A: Golly, that would be something really good for me to know, when it might be coming out. I know they're editing now. But I don't know when it might be out.
"The Open Road" is a story about a father and son and some of their issues they go through and resolve. It's a sweet father-son piece ... I didn't really quiz [director] Michael [Meredith] on it, but it certainly comes from his heart. The main character is a famous retired baseball player. And of course Michael's dad, Don Meredith, is a famous retired football player.
Q: I know Justin Timberlake is in the movie, too. Did you guys sit down and talk about music?
A: We really didn't. I just told him that I was a fan. The scene that I did was with Justin, and it was great fun. Justin plays the son, and Jeff Bridges plays the father. And I got to work some with Jeff as well.
Q: So you are a Justin Timberlake fan.
A: It's a little beyond me, that whole musical culture. But when I see him on television, and meeting him in person ... he's a very thoughtful young man, and obviously talented. I think he's a great singer, and he's a wonderful dancer.
The first time I went to the American Music Awards was in 1989, and I got to present an award to MC Hammer. And I really got it, seeing that music live ... It's such a different type of presentation than the singer-songwriter deal that I grew up in. But seeing it, and seeing how physical it was ... it made a ton of sense to me.
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