At Black Deer Festival, Assistant Editor Claire Stones sat down with Arkansas’ Dylan Earl to talk music, his retro style, and Rupert.
CS: What inspired your look?
DE: My look? To be honest, nothing. Um… It’s just me. You know?… I think really the only inspiration that I’ve really received from the get-go… My uncle always had really good style and he always wore really whip-ass old cowboy shirts. And when I’d go visit him in Austin, in the ’90s, he’d always send me home with a cowboy shirt, too. And I’d wear those at school and some folks would just be like, “What’s going on with this kid?”
It’s funny – I look back at pictures of myself in seventh, eighth grade and I’ve got these shirts on with these big old collars and stuff. And it looks out of place with all the other kids wearing Gap shirts, and Old Navy, and here I am in, like, a leisure suit, you know? So I think that’s where it started.
Right now, my dungarees – I guess y’all call ’em overalls – I just started thinking, like, “Man, I need to bring more practical clothing on tour. What’s the most comfortable and utilitarian?” And, well, this is it. I got all my stuff right here [he taps his bib pocket] right close to my heart. So, yeah, I mean, it’s just… Hunting clothes are comfortable and they’re durable and practical.
CS: And the ’80s hair and…
DE: Oh, I don’t know. I can’t really grow long hair cos my hair’s so thick, but the back kind of lays down all right, so that was kind of it. I don’t know – I was born in the late ’80s, I guess, and… Little bit of that, you know? I think when I really leaned into it, I was living in Canada for a little while and the hockey hair up there and redneck hair down in the Deep South… I was like, “Man, this is like… This is the same damn thing, I guess,” And I thought, “Man, them boys look fast as hell,” and, uh… So, yeah, I guess that’s what I’d say, I was just trimming the sides to keep it off my ears and the top. I didn’t mind the back being long cos it covered up my neck while I’m working. I used to work in a lot of fencerows and stuff. So maybe that’s it. I don’t know. I’ve had this haircut for probably too long and I’ll probably have it forever.
CS: There is a festival for hair like that in Australia.
DE: Just a mullet festival?
CS: It is a reason to go to Australia.
DE: I really would love to. I keep getting teased by people saying, “Oh, we’re going to bring you over, we’ll get you over.” And it never ends up happening.
CS: Yeah, it ain’t cheap.
CS: What made you choose country music?
DE: Oh… I didn’t choose it, it chose me. I’ve been around country music my entire life. My momma always was playing country music. Yeah, like I said, it just kind of chose me. It’s just been… It’s a huge part of my identity. It’s been around for the most important moments of my entire life. I guess just the soundtrack that was given to me, you know?
CS: What inspires your music?
DE: Whoa. I’d say the people, places and things around me. And I know that might sound a little cliche but it’s true. It’s definitely reactionary. And how is my identity interacting with my surroundings and the people around me?
CS: How did your collaboration with Arkansas Tourism come about?
DE: Oh. Crazy enough, it came about through Black Deer, I guess. I was just really surprised when the state got involved, and I was really pleased – I’ve been wanting to work with the state forever. First and foremost, I’m just so honoured that they’re having me out here, and they’ve chosen myself and some of my favourite contemporaries from the state to represent the better side of Arkansas. Especially this life, these times, this political climate, they’re pretty adamant, making sure that people know that we’re not a bunch of racist bigot assholes, you know? And so it’s nice that the tourism department gives us the ability to do that and represent our state in a much more kind and accepting fashion. Oh! So, to answer your question, it was through Black Deer. They just said, “Hey, the state’s working it,” and the state got in touch with me about it. It’s funny cos, like I said, I’ve been trying to do that for quite some time.
CS: If you could duet with anybody, who would it be, and why?
DE: Dolly Parton, hands down. I think because Dolly ceaselessly continues to inspire and is completely timeless and ageless. And the real reason why is that Dolly has never been afraid to stand up for those that could use a little standing up for. Even when it’s unpopular. And she’s always just stuck to her guns and being true to herself, and she’s good at making fun of herself a little bit. And anybody hanging out with her has got to be able to make fun of themselves a little bit. I think it’s just her relentless kindness and compassion for other human beings, regardless of who they are, how they sexually orient, what they look like, or abilities or disabilities or whatever. I think everybody should try to be more like Dolly Parton. And also she’s an incredible singer, and – more so – an incredible songwriter.
CS: Why the Razorbacks?
DE: Why not?
CS: OK, why college ball rather than NFL?
DE: I’ve always kind of liked… I mean, I’ve always liked the NFL – I’ve been a [New Orleans] Saints fan my whole life, growing up, even when they were terrible – you know, we used to call them “the Ain’ts” when I was a kid. But college ball, to me, there’s a little… I don’t know, it’s hard to say there’s more of a sense of community in it because the NFL definitely has a huge sense of community. And going to New Orleans and being down there during a Saints game is one of the most exciting things you can do. But I think…there’s a little more state pride that comes with being a Razorbacks fan. And in particular in Arkansas – there’s no professional team there, and so the Razorbacks are basically the professional team. But college football to me is a little more exciting, and a little more fun. There’s a lot more on the line for a lot of these young players and I feel like sometimes there’s a bit more passion in the actual play on the field. But, yeah, there’s just nothing like Calling the Hogs at Donald W Reynolds Razorback Stadium on a Saturday. There’s just nothing like it.
CS: What drives you in your music?
DE: My mother.
DE: My mother and then, secondly, my peers. You know? It’s a treat of a lifetime to grow in fondness with my peers.
CS: How did you meet the other three musicians you are sharing the Arkansas Porch Sessions with?
DE: Jude [Brothers] and I met, actually, in Santa Fe (New Mexico). Jude was putting together small DIY shows at their house in a little spot called Zephyr, little venues that were just in these little warehouses/garages. So I was trying to do a show, someone put us in touch and Jude put together a show and we kind of hit it off. And Jude moved back to Arkansas, we’ve just been thick as thieves.
I first met Willi [Carlisle] – we did a show together in two thousand…thirteen – about ten years now, ’13 – at JR’s Lightbulb Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
And then I first started seeing Bonnie [Montgomery] – I would sneak into the White Water Tavern in Little Rock, Arkansas, when I was 19 or 20, so I could see Bonnie play. Cos I’d always just heard of Bonnie, so I was a fan, you know? We honestly didn’t really finally get to hang out until 2019. We’ve known each other and kind of known each other forever but it was always just very much so in passing. And then we got in touch one time and said, “Hey, let’s go do a little run of shows out in west Texas together.” She’s like, “Cool,” and so we met at a laundromat in Alpine, Texas, way out west, and did a little three-, four-day run together that was just the biggest hoot. That’s a rapid, quick way to become super-tight. And then whenever you’re hanging out with someone that you know all the same people and you have, a lot of the same experience and you cut your teeth in the same place, all of a sudden you know each other so well. Cos I’ve got such a shared experience.
CS: Are there any songs that you love playing and will always put in a set if you can?
DE: Oh, any chance I get to do a Blaze Foley or Merle Haggard number, I’ll do that. That’s kind of the long and short of that one, I guess.
CS: Are there any other songs that you’ve written that you would prefer not to have to perform again?
DE: That’s a really good question. Dwight Yoakam said don’t ever write a song you don’t plan on playing the rest of your life, which I think is pretty good words of wisdom. Cos I know that guy’s playing Guitars, Cadillacs every single time he takes the stage, you know? There’s one or two in there that I really don’t like playing, and I can’t really describe why. You fall out of love with a song and sometimes you didn’t love it to begin with but you’re filling an album and you got to throw it in there and then you have people request it because they actually really like it and you’re just like, “Damn, I don’t actually know the words to it any more because I’ve done my best to forget it.” I think Just Because is one of those. That’s the first one that comes to mind – that’s off of my Squirrel [in the Garden] album. When I was writing it I was the most proud of it, most excited about it. And I’m not sure why I’ve just fallen out of love with it completely. I’m still giving it a chance – it might come back someday.
CS: Is there any song written by somebody else that you wish was yours?
DE: Oh, all of them. I mean, yeah, so many songs I wish I’d written. Geez… That’s a tough one to pull out of the air right there. There’s a lot of them. There’s a lot of them. I mean, that’s the continual bliss and joy of growing in fondness with your peers, … you get to see them perform songs and you’re already a huge fan and you already have a shared experience with that person, usually, you know?
Here’s a good example of this. When Willi and I and old Nickybob [Nick Shoulders] all got together for the first time in forever after the pandemic… I had just written Buddy and I was really excited to show Willi cos a lot of the muse of Buddy is especially times I’ve been on tour with Willi. We used to do a lot of these Beers and Gears tours – and I still do Beers and Gears but Willi hadn’t been on one in a while. Beers and Gears 6 is coming up – pretty excited about it – Chris Acker will be on that. But, yeah, you know, Willi and mine adventures together – our adventures together was my muse for that song. Me and Nick and Willi got together after the pandemic and I was excited to show ’em that song, and then he whipped out Vanlife, cos he had just written Vanlife. And I just… I didn’t… I just kinda sunk back down and was like, “Well…” Cos they’re very similar songs. My biggest fear is that he thought that, whenever he finally heard Buddy, that I was ripping off Vanlife. But they were written completely separate, I just… I never showed him, cos I was like, “OK!” Vanlife is like a better version of what I was trying to say. So it’s like, it is funny because …there’s stuff in Vanlife that’s specifically from mine and his time together and, especially for me, cos I know that – and he never even had to say anything. It was a special way to connect there, I guess. But, yeah, he definitely wrote Vanlife and I wish I had.
CS: Who’s looking after your dog at the moment?
DE: His other daddies. So Rupert was a rescue in 2010. He was rescued out of a shed some meth-heads had him locked up in, and me and some buds were all in our 20s and my buds went and busted his ass out. And I guess we were all 20 years old and Rupert’s just been kind of communally raised for now 13 years. And… So he’s not my dog – he’s no man’s dog. He has no gods and no masters, and that purity is something that we strive to uphold as much as possible. He is not owned by anybody. He makes his own decisions. We’re just like the bumpers in a bowling alley – just trying to guide him best we can to live the happiest, most full life that little creature can. Because he is sacred, he’s like a deity. Anybody that meets that dog knows that he’s something different, he’s something special, and we can’t all put a pulse or a finger on it but there will be…so many people at that dog’s funeral.
CS: He’s doing well – 13.
DE: He’s 13, he runs around with me all the daggone time. We go on great hikes and he’ll even trot and run with me and… I mean, he ain’t showing any signs of slowing down. Just trying to keep that dog’s heart as full as much – his heart as full as possible because I think that’ll help contribute to his longevity.
CS: That’s everything. Thank you very much.
DE: Appreciate you talking about my dog…Rupert loves to sit in the sun and he just stares at the sun and closes his eyes. Isn’t that precious?
For anyone interested in Mulletfest, you can find details here: https://www.mulletfest.com.au/
For a photo (or two) of Rupert, check out Dylan’s Instagram.