If it seems like T Bone Burnett is everywhere, that’s because he is. In the past year alone, he produced albums for Elton John and Leon Russell, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Gregg Allman, Steve Earle and more. He’s wrapping up the soundtrack for the new Bill Monroe biopic, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and planning two new multi-artist tours: a second iteration of last year’s Speaking Clock Revue and a new Down from the Mountain outing, in celebration of the 10th anni of “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”
The 10-time Grammy winner is up for three statues at Sunday’s ceremony. Tonight, he’ll be honored by the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers wing. During an interview at his home, with incense from a Palo Santo tree burning (“It’s calming and everybody digs it,” he says), he talked to Variety about the state of the industry, his new label and what he’d do if Eminem came calling.
Variety: Your album with Allman debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 two week ago. Do you care about the charts?
Burnett: No, I’ve never cared, but I’m thrilled for Gregg… I talked to him yesterday, and he wants to do another record or two.
V: Dr. Luke recently scored his 20th No. 1. You two couldn’t be more dissimilar. When you hear a Dr. Luke-produced song, what do you think?
B: I hardly listen to anything made after 1968… I’m paying close attention to everything that’s going on. I don’t want to sound like a hermit in a cave… I just don’t have a lot of time to spend with things (in terms of) absorbing deeply and analyzing them.
V: You’re been tremendously prolific the past year. Why?
B: The (music industry) seemed to be collapsing to the degree that I thought I just better become my own industry.
V: You launched a new label, Beladroit, last year through Universal Republic with an act they brought to you, the Secret Sisters. Why?
B: I think (Universal Republic) wanted to get into business. We don’t have a formal exclusive relationship, but I’ll certainly take things to them.
V: Do you ever think you don’t get the call because you exist, as you’ve said, outside the “hive mind”?
B: Oh yeah. I probably never get a lot of calls. (laughs) … I just heard that Kevin Smith is retiring. I think it’s interesting that someone would just say, “I’m not going to do this anymore.” I want to be able to consider that too…that freedom to do a whole other thing … The thing I’m probably most interested in is archeology.
V: What do you listen to when you just want to clear your ears and you turn back into a fan?
B: I listen to a tremendous amount of old time music because of the work I do, but if you said put on something right now that you really like, I’d like to listen to “The Bolero” and then (Roy Orbison’s) “Running Scared” and then “White Rabbit,” (all) on vinyl and let’s hear what we can get from that … because (they all) are connected by the beats.
V: What would you do if Eminem wanted to work with you?
B: I’d do it because I think he’s a gas. He’s fantastic … I almost had a chance to work with Mos Def. I love that guy. I love the Roots.
V: What about Britney Spears?
B: I probably wouldn’t do that. It sounds like trouble to me. But you know what? If she came over with some great songs and she was cool …
V: You’ve been pretty immune to criticism, but do you remember a bad review that stuck in your craw?
B: I never felt there was any criticism leveled at me that wasn’t true. Even when it was horrible, I had to just laugh. The other thing is if you started hating people in Hollywood, you’d just never stop (laughs). You just gotta move on. I’ve always been an acquired taste. I never intended to be anything else.
V: Then you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams.
B: Oh, way beyond it. So far beyond it!