Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think I really realized that, “Wow, I can do this,” until right before I did that album for Rough Trade Records [Lucinda Williams, 1988]. I’d been writing the songs that are on that album, and then people started recognizing; and I started getting some recognition when that album came out. That was really when — and I’d been doing it a long time before that, but — I finally went, “Wow.” I’d just been playing in bars and clubs and stuff; I hadn’t been involved in the music-business part of things. I’d just been writing songs.
Was there a transition to begin with? We’re you ever writing poetry and then switched…
I mean, when I was six-years old I was writing little poems and things. I started writing songs, I guess, when I was about 13 or 14, but I didn’t know if they were good enough yet or anything. And when I was out playing, in the ‘70s and all, I had a few of my own songs, but I was still doing a lot of other people’s songs, like Bob Dylan’s and stuff, just varied things.
But the Lucinda Williams album did help your confidence?
Yeah, and I just got better. The oldest song on that album, I guess I wrote in 1980; “I Just Want to See You So Bad,” that one. But the bulk of those songs were written when I first moved out to L.A. right around 1985. I got this little development deal with CBS Records, when they used to do that; they['d] give you money to make a demo. The head of A&R there heard me sing one night. So they gave me money to live on for six months, which, back then — I was living in Silver Lake, my rent was only $400 a month; this was before everything got real expensive — I was in heaven. I was in hog heaven. I had money for my rent and buy groceries, didn’t have to work a day job. That’s when I started writing all those songs, like “Crescent City” and “Changed the Locks.”
Before I recorded that Rough Trade album, I got interest from this guy at Elektra Records. We had a meeting. He said, “You’re on a good path, but you need to work on your songs some more.” And I said, “Really? What’s wrong with them?” He said, “Well, a lot of them don’t have bridges,” like verse/verse/chorus/bridge, you know. [Laughs] One of the ones that he said that about was “Pineola,” and another one was “Changed the Locks,” because they just did the same thing over and over. So he said, “You’re not ready to make a record yet. You need to go back to the drawing board, work on your songs some more.”