Norfolk native Michael Lille left home to ply his trade as a singer, guitarist and songwriter more than twenty years ago, and currently makes his home in Lakewood, Colorado. But he’ll be back in town this weekend for a Sunday night gig at Town Point Park with old friend Lewis McGehee.
Lille just released a new album, Suitable Disguise, recorded in Austin, Texas with country music giant Lloyd Maines as co-producer. It’s a superb disc, already a candidate for my yearend “best of” list, that includes eleven originals plus an Allen Toussaint cover and an acoustic take on the rock classic, “Born to be Wild.” Lille’s guitar work is exemplary, his songwriting compelling, and his voice sounds great. The CD can be ordered directly from www.michaellille.com.
I called him last week at his home.
JN: Lloyd Maines is well known as the father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. How did you get hooked up with him?
ML: I was playing a gig down in Dallas, and he was on the same bill along with the girl that he plays sideman for, Terri Hendricks. He came up to me after the show and was talking about the sound of my acoustic guitar and my playing, really nice as you can imagine—he’s such a Texas legend. We stayed in touch, and I had the opportunity to go down and live in Austin for the winter. I had worked with the other producer, Paul Pearcy—he played drums with me at a few shows in Texas—and they had worked together quite a bit. So it just fell together.
His ideas are great; they’re simple, but they serve the song. He pushed me as a guitar player, and we had fun; we really played off each other. I had no idea what a monster player he is until I had the chance to work with him.
JN: Is the song “Better Brother” autobiographical?
ML: Yes, I think for both me and for [co-writer] Michael Johnson. We got together to write a song years ago when I lived in Nashville and found out we had similar stories of single parent homes and younger brothers.
JN: How does it work when you co-write with someone?
ML: Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re working [together] on the music, the changes, the lyrics, the construction of the song. However, there’s one song where the music is strictly mine and the lyrics strictly belong to my cowriter. That’s “Cakes and Lemonade,” a lyric that Diane French had and she brought to me to put music to. But that’s pretty rare. Most of the time they start with little seeds that one or the other writer had, and it grows from there.
I’ve always felt like I’m a better co-writer than I am a writer. They may have planted the idea or the seed, and I’ll find a better way to say it, or it just sings better. Living in Nashville I did a lot of it, but not so much out here.
JN: How did you pick “Born to be Wild?”
ML: I’ve been riding a Harley now for four or five years, and I do a lot of Harley touring, and I often bring my little Taylor travel guitar along. When you go to these biker events, the bikers aren’t big into the sensitive singer/songwriter kind of thing. [laughter] So I had to learn some tunes that those guys would dig, you know? And I’ve always loved that tune—I’m a big fan of Easy Rider, and that’s the opening scene. So one night I was fooling around, had this Michael Hedges kind of weird tuning, and started playing it. It evolved, [but] that version is pretty close to the one I first came up with.
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"Michael Lille's Musical Wanderlust"
October 11, 2005
Talking about his life and music.