Aside from simply being a concerned American citizen, as an artist how do you negotiate the waters of politically motivated music?
I’d been thinking and reading a lot about what’s been going on in the country in the past 30 years, back to the Carter recession, the Reagan deregulations, and you see this long historical arc that was moving the country in one direction. On Wrecking Ball you hear rebel music, gospel music. I wanted both a current and historical sweep, musically speaking. In the end, it was hard to stand by and see what was happening in the last seven or eight years. The record was a response to that.
When I had the privilege to help you with your book, Songs, back in the late ’90s, I remember going to your house and being amazed at the books in your study that were about American history, politics, art, and music. You really seemed to be immersing yourself in the American experience.
Reading those books and listening to that music, to me it was always a tool, a part of seeking out your truest identity. It was all part of trying to find out who I was, where I came from, and I was always interested in writing about what I found. So, yeah, I did become quite a student, and still am.