It's a cool, crisp November evening in Nashville, Tenn., and Bruce Springsteen knows where the hell he is.
A few days ago, Springsteen committed what he called "every frontman's nightmare" by confusing Michigan during an onstage callout with neighbor and rival Ohio. But if Springsteen gets mixed up occasionally as to which city or state he might currently be about to rock mightily, it's understandable.
Springsteen and his titan E Street Band have been on a seemingly endless global touring run since 2007, through two albums cycles, appearances at both the Super Bowl and presidential inauguration, first-time appearances at major festivals, and a full slate of other milestones. Even for an artist who has largely built his career on epic shows, Springsteen and the E Streeters have managed to find yet another gear at this stage in their legendary career.
Similarly, Springsteen has been unusually prolific in the studio, releasing albums of new material in 2007 ("Magic") and this year ("Working on a Dream"), while at the same time acknowledging his beloved albums of the past by playing full sets of classic recordings in concert. On this night in Nashville, his 1975 breakthrough album "Born To Run" will get the live treatment, to stunning effect.
In his dressing room at the Sommet Center -- four nights before this marathon trek ended in Buffalo, N.Y. -- Springsteen seems anything but fatigued, but rather remains enthusiastic about his own future and that of his E Street Band. What the Boss is most concerned about is his pending show, blowing the roof off yet another house as he rolls on in front of this speeding train. And this Bruce will do, repeatedly assuring the ecstatic crowd that he knows he's in Nashville and is thrilled to be there.
Billboard: The last couple of years for you have been pretty exceptional in terms of productivity, both live and in the studio.
Springsteen: We were talking about it the other day and we said, "I don't know if we've been this busy since 1985, or ever." It's just the way things worked out. Some of those things we planned, and some of them just happened. I've been prolific with my songwriting, so I've been able to just get more music out there, which is something I always wanted to do. I found my 50s to be very, very fruitful. The songs came -- I don't want to say easily, but they came in a continuous flow. I had a lot of things I wanted to write about, so it allowed us to record quite a bit, and then back it up with the touring.
With the end of these shows, we're coming to the end of a decade-long project that really was a tremendous renewal of the power, the strength and the service that our band hopefully provides. A decade ago, I wasn't quite sure if I wrote in a style that was suited to the band anymore. I wasn't quite sure how we functioned as a unit, and to sort of see the whole thing just have so much vitality and power, it's just one of the sweetest chapters in our entire time together.
The productivity has been remarkable; before "Working on a Dream" (2009) and "Magic" (2007), there were "The Rising" (2002), "Devils & Dust" (2005) and "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" (2006), plus a Greatest Hits album. As a kid, I remember waiting three years for "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (1978). Why so prolific?
Looking back, I was very interested in shaping what I was about and who what I wanted to be. For every record we released, there was a record I didn't release. I was very cautious and wanted my records to have very strong identities and be about a very particular thing. The nice thing about where we are now is that the rules are much fewer and further between. I had this huge folk band that I toured and recorded with, and that was a wonderful experience. I toured solo and I loved that, and I have the E Street band at full power. I can do all these things now and really record whatever kind of music comes into my mind. Who you are and what you do is already established, so you don't have those identity concerns that you had back in the day.
So you were less cautious about it and just turned it loose?
Yeah, and your craft improves. You become better at discerning your good songs from your not-as-good songs. The writing process is shorter because you refine what you leave in and what you leave out to a higher degree. You're able to do more work in a compressed amount of time without the quality suffering in any way.