Lyle Lovett wanted his first new album in 10 years “to feel personal. I wanted it to represent my life in the way my other albums have.” And nothing’s been more personal than becoming a father five years ago — to twins no less, a boy and a girl who are audibly playing in the background as Lovett speaks from their home in Klein, Texas.
“These songs all started with and were inspired by our little ones,” Lovett says of the 11 tracks that comprise 12th of June, which is due out May 13 as the first release on his new deal with Verve Records. The album takes its title from his twins’ birth date. “I made up (the song) ’12th of June’ as they were about to turn one, and the other songs were kind of in-process. They were just mainly little tunes or snippets of a chorus or a verse that would pop into my head that I would sing to them as I was trying to dress them or feed them or persuade them to do what I wanted them to do — which is ongoing. And it just went from there.
“The depth of it all is just the real-life aspect of it. The songs are not that complicated. They just came from real-life moments. I wanted it to represent my life in the way my other albums have.”
Nowhere is the twins’ impact felt more than on the single, “Pants is Overrated,” one of those prototypically droll Lovett songs whose title pretty much says it all. “‘Pants’ was really from struggling to get them to wear them,” he acknowledges. “They made me realize the value of (pants) as optional.” “Pig Meat Man,” meanwhile, is a paean to Lovett’s son. “He loves bacon — it’s that direct,” Lovett says with a chuckle.
The title track, however, offers a deeper rumination on family and lineage, even invoking a creek branch of the San Jacinto River that runs through the Lovett family cemetery. “At the core of it, really, is just being grateful for family and finally having a chance to be a dad after all these years — and also being sort of grateful for not realizing what I was missing all this time,” Lovett explains. “It really is a looking back on your life perspective and then just feeling grateful to have these little ones and grateful I’ve had my parents and my family that got me to this point.”
12th of June is Lovett’s 12th album overall and first since Release Me in 2012. Much of the gap, he says, was spent “figuring out the business.” He’d been in the Universal Music Group orbit since his self-titled debut album in 1986, releasing albums on UMG-distributed Curb, MCA and Lost Highway. Six of the albums were certified gold, and Lovett also placed a number of songs in movies, some collected on 2003’s Smile: Songs From the Movies. He also acted himself in movies (Pret-A-Porter, Short Cuts, The Player and more) and TV (Mad About You, Castle, Blue Bloods and others), and he acted in and composed music for a 2010 production of Much Ado About Nothing for the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. A horse owner and Quarter Horse reigning competitor, he was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2012 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Reigning Horse Association in 2018.
After that Universal deal ran out, however, “it took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do,” says Lovett, before he decided that Verve (which is also in the UMG family), with its legacy of eclectic artists, “was a natural place to be.”
Lovett recored 12th of June primarily during November 2019 and slated to come out in 2020 but was put on hold by the pandemic. “The seventh of March (2020) was our last show,” Lovett recalls, “and the idea was in the middle of March to get together again with (producer) Chuck Ainlay and finish (the album) up. On the sixth of March I remember hearing that South By Southwest was canceled, and I thought, ‘Oh man, what’s next?’ Little did we know….”
Lovett wouldn’t return to recording until September of 2021 to finish vocals and mix. Some of the work was done virtually, including the recording of a string section in Los Angeles, but Lovett was more interested until waiting until it was safe to be together with his team again. “I love being in the studio,” he says. “Typically I’m in the room for every playback and I know where every change is, every fix, everything. I wasn’t able to do that, and I didn’t enjoy it as much. Something that would take a five-minute conversation in the studio would be a two-day process virtually. The lack of immediacy and lack of focus just wasn’t as much fun.”
That said, the lockdown portion of the pandemic “flew by” for Lovett, partly thanks to the children — “They were full-on, all the time,” he notes — and a virtual concert series he put together, teaming up for duo performances with frequent touring companion John Hiatt, as well as Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, Dwight Yoakam, Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, Michael McDonald and others. A teaming with Chris Isaak led to a co-headlining summer tour that kicks off June 15.
“Those were great — so much fun, and I learned a new skill set about how to do them, and how to perform for an audience that’s out ‘there’ somewhere,” Lovett says. “The nicest aspect for me was hearing from folks who were shut in and felt like those (shows) connected them back to the world in some small way. I’d like to keep doing them when the dust settles this summer, even figure out (virtual) things to do on tour.”
All the while, of course, Lovett knew he had 12th of June in his pocket. The characteristically diverse set — hopping between country, folk, jazz, blues and Texas Swing — blends original material with covers, the latter including the brassy Horace Silver instrumental “Cookin’ at the Continental” and David Frishberg’s “Peel Me a Grape.” Lovett had previously recorded Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” for the 1996 Garry Marshall film Dear God and did “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” for one of Large Band member Matt Rowling’s MCA Masters solo albums. Lovett’s usual crew of players is intact on the set, and three of the tracks feature duets with longtime vocalist Francine Reed, who’s retiring from touring at the age of 74.
“She’s going to sing the occasional show with us, but she said that she wasn’t up for doing a tour on a bus,” Lovett says. “We’d been doing those [songs] live together on the past couple of tours, so I wanted to record them with her as a way to give them to the audience, to folks who have heard us do them live. She’s been such an important part of my music and live performing over the years, I’m just glad to have her on the record. Selfishly I wish she was feeling up to touring but she’s not. I just want her to be happy and healthy.”
In addition to the Isaak tour, Lovett will be playing a sold-out four-night residency May 17-20 at City Winery-Pier 57 in New York to celebrate 12th of June’s release. He’s certainly hoping it won’t be another 10, or even eight years before the next one, but Lovett also feels that time has worked to the album’s advantage.
“I didn’t want to just put something out to put something out — I never do that, really,” he says. “I had the business stuff, yeah, but I waited ’til I had the songs. I’m just grateful to still have my job and still be doing this, and now that we can tour again I just appreciate it that much more. I’m sure a lot of people are feeling the same way.”