Extended Q&A: Justin Townes Earle On The Importance of Fashion On Stage

Justin Townes Earle is making quite a name for himself. Sure, he has a couple of pretty famous names already -- his father is Steve Earle, and his middle name comes courtesy of Townes Van Zandt. But the younger Earle has been making headlines all on his own the past few months.

Some of that has to do with his excellent recent album, Harlem River Blues, which is a tour de force in classic American roots music styles and strong songwriting. But some of that also has to do with struggles with substance abuse. You don't get off scot-free when you share legacies -- and even blood -- with some legendary hell-raisers.

In this week's Observer, we spoke to Earle about his struggles, which includes a highly publicized arrest in Indianapolis.

We also discussed something about Justin that one wouldn't expect from a former homeless junkie: The man is a fashion maven. Earle puts as much thought into his appearance as his music, and the results have generated an equal amount of attention, even getting him on the list of GQ's 25 Most Stylish Men in the World for 2010. After the jump, Earle talks a little bit about his style and how he came to embrace it.

How does it feel to be one of the best-dressed men in the world?
It was pretty stunning when it came out. We heard I was in consideration about a month before it came out, but when we saw the other names on the list we had no hope. We thought it was nothing to worry about. We didn't know until it came out. It was pretty strange. But I'm pretty proud of it. On stage, I wear a lot suits. I spend a lot of money on my suits for the stage. I can spot a cheap suit from three blocks away, and I don't like the look of them. I think it's something to take seriously. It's the same in my daily life, too. Right now, I'm wearing selvage denim jeans and a chambray shirt. That's typically my uniform for daily life. Fortunately for me, stiff denim and chambray shirts have come back in fashion.

Do you work with anyone to accomplish your look?
Yeah, Billy Reid [who was formerly based in Deep Ellum] has been making my suits for a couple of years now. I still have some vintage stuff, and some things I pick up from other designers, but Billy Reid's my main guy for my suits, and for a lot of my every day clothing. He's from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and he actually just won the GQ Men's Designer of the Year and the Vogue Fashion Designer of the Year award. We've talked a lot about my suits, and he helps me out with a lot of that. It's very much a partnership in making my suits, and it's a lot of fun.

Have you always been interested in fashion?
It kinda came in my late teens, but it really bloomed when I came to New York because of the accessibility of it all. It's easier to get your hands on it. Designers and department stores in the South think that there's no one with a waist smaller than a 34. And it's tough to find britches to fit my frame. But once I moved to New York, it became a hell of a lot easier.

Justin Townes Earle performs tomorrow night at the Granada Theater

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