Dwight Yoakam speaks to Billboard's Tom Roland during his Keynote Q&A at the Billboard Country Music Summit. (Photo: Michael Seto)
1986 saw the release of one country music's most acclaimed albums ever -- Dwight Yoakam's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc, Etc. That album, which contained the hit title cut, as well as his breakthrough cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man," served as the introduction of Yoakam to the format.
Over a quarter-century later, the singer has returned the Warner Music Group family. Yoakam sat down with Billboard's Tom Roland earlier this afternoon at the Billboard Country Music Summit to discuss his re-signing with the label, among other topics.
It's been seven years since Yoakam has released an all-new studio record. He told Roland that a lot of factors have figured into his absence. "We did do an album, Dwight Sings Buck, for New West in 2007. But, that was a labor of love for Buck Owens. We also played a lot of live dates during that time -- in addition to taking a year off."
The singer, who last hit the top twenty on the singles chart with his 1999 cover of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," also admitted that he was unsure of what direction he might go in with a new recording project. "The business has changed so much," he reflected.
Yoakam said that WMG Nashville chief John Esposito flew out to Los Angeles along with the label's Scott Hendricks to meet with the singer, and in time, a deal that returned Yoakam to the Warner fold was finalized.
Though many performers are starting their own label, or choosing to simply to release their music online, having a label home was something that the Kentucky native still felt was important.
Dwight Yoakam on stage at his Keynote Q&A at the Billboard Country Music Summit. (Photo: Michael Seto)
"There have been other formats that have worked with an independent label, or in some cases, no label at all," he said. "But, I think that art is a medium where the delivery depends on a collaboration," he said. "What I feel for me, is that I needed to go back to an earlier model."
Yoakam released a pair of albums each for Audium and New West Records. He said he was treated fairly at both labels, and recalled longtime Warner exec Nick Hunter as a reason for his signing with Audium, but was glad to be back where the Dwight Yoakam story started.
Just as his 1986 - 2001 stint for the label was cutting edge, Yoakam revealed to the audience that one of his collaborators on the album is rock star Beck. "We got to his home studio," he said, "and we came up with an idea. He ran in, and put a drum beat down on it," says the singer, who compared some of the cuts to a swampier Creedence Clearwater Revival sound.
The album, to be released this fall, was recorded in some very prestigious studios. "We used Sunset Sound, Capitol Studio B, East-West, and Henson Studios," he said, admitting that the sound was very different in those historic sites.
Looking back, the singer takes a lot of pride in his career, saying he takes a lot of personal satisfaction in his music. "I don't regret any of the musical decisions I have made," he said firmly.
And though the music -- and delivery of music -- has changed over the years, he says it's still going to require heart to succeed. "It will still demand artistic integrity. I don't think you'll be able to get by with slick marketing," he admitted.
To promote the new music, fans will likely see Dwight Yoakam all over the viral community. He stated that he had yet to get on Twitter, but was a big fan of Facebook, saying that he felt it had a "less frantic" pace.
Yoakam also addressed his successes in front of the camera, saying that "film acting has been a very pure experience, because you have to give the purest form of yourself as an artist."
And that artist still loves to create. Attendees could feel the excitement from Yoakam when he discussed such tracks from the new CD as "Trying." Though Dwight Yoakam keeps looking ahead, he also is quick to admit that his career is a sum of its parts.
"The future has a lot to do with the past," he said.