There’s a clock that ticks for the rest of the world; then there’s Dwight Yoakam time. An identifiable singer, mind-piercing songwriter and highly progressive actor, Dwight sets the pace for the clock’s moving hands, knows exactly when and how to respond to the alarm and will occasionally stop the clock for a surprising rewind. When this happens; look out, great chances are in store for a time-warping explosion of thrills and excitement. In the midst of such excitement–as unveiling new lyrics and music from his brand new A Long Way Home disc, starring in more movies or even taking stabs at other surprising challenges–he continues to come off being confident, relatively shy and mysteriously “cool.”
With his trademark painted-on, knee-blown jeans and low-riding cowboy hat often shadowing his eyes, the lean Kentucky native has since his recording debut in the early 80s been hailed as a hipster-twang idol. The June CMT Showcase Artist, however, is still quite content with keeping an almost secretive, personal profile. It’s that enigmatic personality that continues to melt into his music and songwriting — causing the artist to continually re-invent himself. For Dwight, that’s just how he does things, and for his enormous cult of growing fans, it oddly enough keeps them wanting more.
“I hesitate to dwell on it and I’m not complaining,” explains Dwight of his bittersweet, personal-vs-public platform, “but I’m just answering the question by saying that it’s a dichotomy. It has to do with my finding the necessary level of balance in my life in what I’m able to do and what I’m willing to do to maintain connection to the public. It’s necessary to incorporate them into the equation that is my life, which is music. I’m in a business where if you succeed, you’re exposing yourself to mass numbers of people, and it’s the emphasis of being solitary. The paradox to that is that I then have to, if I want to continue to make a living at doing that and sustain myself financially doing that, I have to submit to compromising that solitude and that isolation to a greater or lesser degree — doing things like interviews and allowing myself to be accessed by the public. All of that supports and sustains what I do. I guess it’s my need to feel that part of my purpose in being here and on this journey is to learn from the response that the music that I make elicits from other people. Now, having said that, it is an outgrowth of my being very solitary. I now realize more so than I did before that that does come with a certain price. Being very private and needing an enormous amount of solitude and just wanting it and seeking that kind of place allows me the isolation I need to be able to continue to create music and articulate my emotional thoughts through music.”
Although those emotional thoughts and Dwight’s often left-of-center approach to success have not always kept the 41-year-old entertainer at the top of the country charts, they have kept him fascinating and in demand. Like other such artists as Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang, Delbert McClinton and Nanci Griffith, Dwight’s deep traditional country roots have been existent from the beginning. However, by allowing those roots to graft and grow with other musical genres that have been equally as influential, he’s nestled into a commanding league of his own. Along with such success attached to his distinctiveness, comes learning to manage a certain degree of fame. For Dwight, the degree has been great.
“Being well known is just another part of my life,” says Dwight. “It’s not so much something that I think that I can separate or that I should try to separate from my life because it’s just another part of my life. It’s a reality in my life. Good, bad or indifferent, it will probably to some degree, depending on what happens to my career, or maybe to a lessor degree or maybe a greater degree — I don’t know — will remain a part of my life through the rest of my life. I think that hopefully by being aware of that, I’m better able to make the adjustments that are necessary to maintain the level of privacy about my personal life that allows it (stardom) to exist at all and hopefully flourish at some point, in terms of if I get married or have a family.”
While marriage and family have not yet become as vital parts of Dwight’s life as his music and career, he is considering both more seriously than ever. Again, timing is always an element with Dwight.
“I’m not married yet and don’t have a family yet,” he admits. “Yeah, actually I do want that. I’ve hesitated over the last few years. The last few years I’ve actually been more prepared and open to the idea of it, and I’ve been willing to embrace that idea. It’s just that timing is everything until you meet someone that’s a willing co-conspirator and tolerant and/or understanding enough to forgive your flaws. But I don’t think it’s smart or wise to put yourself or another person in that kind of situation. Probably during the last four or five years, I was really not seeking it out and I really didn’t feel it was an appropriate time in my life. The circumstances were not very conducive to having a healthy marriage and embarking on having a family. I just felt that what was going on in my life and career was going to be not only a distraction but a detriment to it, too.”
If Dwight’s previous musical success is any indication that choosing the music-before-matrimony path was the right decision, then it was. With close to a dozen critically-praised albums under his belt, including such discs as Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., If There Was A Way, This Time and the double-platinum selling Gone, his latest A Long Way Home project reveals the singer being more creatively confident than ever.
“This album feels as natural as anything that I’ve ever done,” he explains. “It felt as effortless as anything as I’ve ever done. That’s why I’m excited about it and excited about the public hearing it and receiving it. I’m just anticipating their reception of it, and hoping that they receive it in a very positive way.”
More than 20 years have passed since the Pike County, Kentucky native left his home in Ohio to move to Nashville. With music in mind, but not the kind that was coming out of Music City at the time, Dwight soon left the country music capitol for California. It was here that he found his niche, or at least a sense of freedom to make the kind of music that he believed in. An enormous cult of believers soon followed, so did the hits and eventually an acting career that now keeps us all on the edge of our theater seats. His commanding role in Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade blew the roof off.
“I hoped that it would happen,” explains Dwight of his acting success.”You never know for certain that anything will come to fruition. I had set aside the pursuit of acting because I felt control of my own destiny to a greater degree with my music. I set aside the pursuit of acting to fully focus on my recording career. That was when I was 21 or 22. I thought that if I was successful and realized the success as a recording artist that at some point I would have the opportunity to pursue acting again as a means of expression. It proved to be the case but in a very round about way.
And my success in music actually proved to be a much larger obstacle — a heavier albatross around my neck than I ever anticipated. I became categorized and pigeon-holed. I guess it’s human nature to do that, but that’s what happened. But I’ve finally, with the help of roles like, beginning with Red Rock West, but also Roswell, which is where Billy Bob Thornton saw me, and of course Sling Bade, been able to sort of open the door and cross the threshold of that doorway and enter into another room with a performing environment.
“Sling Blade was a great role, and it was written very very well,” he continues. “That role was extremely well written. The whole piece was masterfully well written, and that was the joy of being in that movie. Once we were on set and doing it, I saw daily that it was going to be something historically important and culturally important. And I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to have been a part of something like that.”
Dwight’s recent role as Brentwood Glasscock in The Newton Boys, a western movie based on the Newton Boys Gang, real-life bank robbers in the late 20s and early 30s, only precedes more film ventures to come. This month, Dwight will begin shooting a film in Los Angeles called The Minus Man, and will finally bring to life a script that he wrote himself.
“It’s almost been a poor-man’s film school for me,” admits Dwight of his film/video knowledge. “Now I’m at the point where I’m excited and anticipating with excitement the prospects for shooting my first film as a director. I wrote a Western that I’m hoping to shoot this fall.”
With over a decade of professional credits to his name in both the movie and music departments, it would be difficult to choose what truly thrills Dwight the most. Gut feelings and the pierce from his eyes lean toward music, but then Dwight’s rarely specific.
“At different points there are different kinds of gratification,” he exclaims. “I derive from different aspects of what I do. When I finish writing a song, I’m probably more satisfied than I am at any point in my life. But it’s really stimulating and exciting to then see the song through as a recorded piece of music. I only do music because I’m infatuated with it still, and try to only do things – performances and recordings – that I’m inspired by and caught up in and infatuated with.”
Time will only tell what’s next. That’s Dwight time, of course.
A few years ago while dabbling in the kitchen in his Hollywood home, Dwight created a recipe for biscuits that would make anyone’s grandma proud. He took the recipe to country music legend and friend, Buck Owens, for the grand opening of his new club, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, in Bakersfield, California. The biscuits were so popular that Owens put them on the menu permanently. Dwight Yoakam’s Bakersfield Biscuits quickly became a favorite in grocery stores throughout California and Atlanta, Georgia. The biscuits are now available in grocery stores across the country.