Eagle eyed

Alt-country veteran Fred Eaglesmith sees everything a little differently and likes it that way.

Fred Eaglesmith left his family farm at age
15 to pursue music, hopping trains and hitchhiking all over North America.

Photo courtesy of Fred Eaglesmith

Fred Eaglesmith left his family farm at age 15 to pursue music, hopping trains and hitchhiking all over North America.

Griffin Fillipitch


What: The Fred Eaglesmith Traveling Show

When: 7:30 p.m., April 15

Where: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 S. Cedar Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $15 in advance, $18 at the door


It’s not clear when alt-country singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith released his most recent record, “6 Volts.” But when he did, it marked the 19th album of his 32-year career. The release date confusion is certainly no accident.

“I’m now releasing my albums eventually. Just taking a really long time to let them in,” Eaglesmith said. “I’ve been getting this out there over the last eight months now. I do it because there’s this whole perception of old music now. After three months, your record is an old record. I’m getting away from that so even after like three years it can still feel new.”

Eaglesmith will sell the albums himself at concerts, release them in other countries first, keep it from the media if possible in order to combat an era in music that is perpetually bored with what came out yesterday. It’s an interesting and odd strategy, but that’s how Eaglesmith operates. You’d be hard pressed to find an aspect of his career that wasn’t handled in a creative or unorthodox way.

On “6 Volts,” the fantastic album released on iTunes earlier this year, each song was recorded with one microphone and one track in one take. Eaglesmith’s reaction to the effect technology has had on music was to reject it altogether.

“I can’t overwhelm anybody, but I can sure underwhelm them,” Eaglesmith said. “Anybody can be as good as me, but not too many people can be as bad as me. There’s a real history of that. It’s like everybody wants to be as good as Bob Dylan but nobody wants to be as bad as Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan goes out and plays the shows, and no one understands a thing he’s singing. He plays the harmonica so much, he doesn’t know if he’s even got the right one anymore. And we love it. At the end of the day, he’s one of the guys we look up to.

“Technology has remade it so that everyone can be really good, but there’s nothing about technology that allows them to be bad. And being bad is what I think we love about our favorite artists. We love the stuff we can’t quantify.”

But it’s hard to imagine anyone else calling the songs on “6 Volts” bad. They have an ineffable quality and ease that must only come from more than three decades of songwriting. Eaglesmith feels like the method is what really made the songs so great.

“We would record these songs 30 times and someone would blow it on the last note, and it would be tears. “It’s like, ‘We’ve worked all day. It’s one in the morning, we’ve been recording this song since 11.’ You’re just exhausted after,” Eaglesmith said.

“What happens is, you, as an audience member, start to hear the tension on this record,” he added. “You can feel and hear that it’s the 26th take. I’m surprised by this record because people say to me it’s got that ear worm where they just listen to it over and over and over again. I think it’s because they are hearing that struggle.”

Eaglesmith’s songs have been covered by country superstars like Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert and Alan Jackson, but he has never allowed himself to become a big star.

“I think if I had a mainstream career, you’d be talking to a different guy today,” Eaglesmith said. “I’d be drinking hard and very unhappy. I’ve got friends who retire at my age. It seems like they spend the rest of their life looking for something to do. And that’s how I think about stardom. I haven’t made enough money in this business to be comfortable, and it’s really good for me.”

The show he puts on is booked pretty much all year long, so even if Eaglesmith has not achieved complete financial stability through music, there is a certain level of comfort that comes along with the stature and respect he has earned in country music. But still, it’s clear that comfort is not what he’s after.

“I keep evolving and changing. We have such a wacko lifestyle,” Eaglesmith said. “We drive this little bus that runs on vegetable oil that we get from diners. We have a traveling show with 10 of us out there. We’ve got a baby and a dog on the bus with us. We cook our own food. Most nights we camp out or park and stay in a Wal-Mart parking lot. There’s a certain joy in that, because it is the exact opposite of stardom.”