It’s been 27 years since Lyle Lovett signed his first (and only) record contract. But after four Grammys and 14 albums that have successfully mixed country, folk, blues and even gospel, the singer has decided to strike out on his own. Lovett’s finale for his longtime label, Curb/Universal, is aptly titled Release Me. TIME spoke to Lovett about going independent and the joys of social media.
Where am I reaching you today?
We got to New York last night. We’re doing Letterman this afternoon.
New York is so different than Texas. What’s it like to play here?
People in New York don’t normally do things they don’t want to do, so the audiences are really good. I find that people are actually really friendly.
What do you do for fun when you’re in New York?
I call my friends who live here and try to get them to come out to my show.
The title of your new album is Release Me and the cover is a photograph of you tied up in rope. What’s going on there?
I’m trying to call attention to the fact that this is my last album on my original record deal. This is the record deal I signed back in 1985. I’m proud of it and grateful they kept me around all these years. It’s kind of a rare thing.
You sound positive about it, but did you actually feel tied up by your record contract?
I really mean that more as a joke. But I am very much looking forward to what’s next. The music business has changed a lot since 1985.
There’s just a greater ability than ever to reach your audience yourself. Gosh, it’s incredible the ways people can get music these days – or anything really.
Most of the songs on your new album are covers. How did you decide on which songs to include?
I didn’t feel as though I had enough of my own original songs and it was time to make a record. The outside songs on this record are songs my audience has heard me do over the years that I had never recorded. It’s a way to say this is where I come from and this is where my music comes from. I wanted to include people that I worked with over the years. I met k.d. lang in 1986 shortly after her first record came out. And Sean and Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek — we did summer with them in 1999. And of course Arnold McCuller, he has a featured vocal on the Michael Frank song “White Boy Lost in the Blues,” which is a song I learned in 1978.
You live in a house on your family’s ranch land in Klein, Texas. How does living there feed into your songwriting?
I don’t know how it affects my songwriting, but I can say that it’s really important to my life. It’s a small wood frame house my grandfather built in 1911. My mom and all her brothers and sisters – my mom’s from a family of 7 – were all born in the house. When I was growing up, after school, I could go there and my grandmother would fix me something to eat. It was like the safest place in the world to me. As a boy, I would look around my grandparent’s house and think I would love to live in this house one day. Sure enough, I get to.
You recently took over managing your own Facebook page. How did that happen?
On Twitter there was somebody that had my name as a handle and they were posting really lame tweets, like quoting my songs. It was just embarrassing. I thought, I gotta put an end to this. My record company had started my Facebook page and they would just post if we had something coming out or if there were tour plans. But my real motivation was that a friend of mine was teasing me and he said, “Well I sent you a friend request, but I never heard back from you.” So I looked at it and I thought, “Well heck. Maybe I ought to sort of try to get in touch.”
And I started really enjoying it. It’s kind of given me a reason to take pictures when otherwise I might have just looked out the window. Of course, you shouldn’t undervalue just looking out the window.
I’m not an obsessive tweeter or poster. I think it’s really important not to reveal how boring you are.