Elvis Costello has been a vocal supporter of your talents. Are you guys good friends?
He's an acquaintance. We've toured together. We've gone to dinner and he's come to my shows. I don't want to say we're best buds. I just try to stay out of the way. We've talked a bit about my career. He thinks I'm too low-key for my own good. Coming from Canada, it's not a country known for its attitude. I can't pretend I'm something I'm not. I prefer doing my own shows over opening for someone because it really sucks the life out of things if nobody really gives a s---. Elvis is a special case, because I think his audience is more into hearing a song and are more respectful.
You've worked with producer Mitchell Froom now for all three Interscope albums. You must have the relationship down to a science.
Before each album it's been me and Mitchell sitting in a room arranging the songs. It's always been a one-on-one thing. Right after I got signed to Interscope, there was this producer meet and greet. It was like a week-long thing where I was in New York and then in L.A., and it was really confusing because I would sit in this hotel room and all these producers who I'd heard of would come in and it was like a doctor's appointment. Mitchell was on the list and right away we just kind of hit it off. He was the first producer who said things that made sense.
He said he liked the demos a lot but that my voice shined on the ballads or mid-tempo things. He thought I wasn't that convincing when I tried to rock. It was the kind of stuff I wanted to hear. I had a better idea of what I wanted to avoid than what I wanted to do.
You have two children, a son, 14, and a daughter, 10. What do they think of your career?
They're not that interested (laughs). My son is into the stuff that Interscope is pushing. My daughter, she's into Britney Spears and I bought her Abba and Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick because she has a nice voice. When you listen to Dusty it gets real deep. That's a voice.
You're viewed as an exceptional songwriter. So what comes first, music or words?
It's sort of both. The idea will come to you, whether it's just a phrase, and that'll take you just so far, but then you have to sit down and work and that can take months or years. I have a lot of songs right now that would be done if the words were done. "Strawberry Blonde" (from Other Songs) was almost two years on the road trying to finish it.
Your songs often sound quite profound. So what is the meaning of life?
Hmmm. The meaning of life is to experience and not to abstain. Religions have kind of messed everyone up because they operate on the business of fear. If you don't do this, you don't get in. We were given this thing called free will. The meaning is free will and what you choose to with it.
(June 8, 1999)