During the course of Variety’s cover-story interview with Bruce Springsteen, we asked who some of his favorite contemporary songwriters are. “Let me get my computer and get it for ya,” he replied, and duly went back to the house and returned with his laptop. He put on an awesome pair of octagonal, Benjamin Franklin-esque reading glasses and began scrolling through his iTunes, commenting or singling out albums for some artists, for others just saying “I like them.” What follows is an edited version of the ensuing comments and conversation.
Steve Earle “One of the greatest. I listen to him a lot — he’s always writing songs I wish I’d written.”
Brian Fallon [from Gaslight Anthem]
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” soundtrack “An incredible creation, the show was fantastic”
Lana Del Rey “I love her, especially the extended version of her first record [“Born to Die: The Paradise Edition”].
Iron & Wine [veteran American indie band led by Sam Beam]
Thea Gilmore [British singer-songwriter]
Dry the River [British rock band]
Jakob Dylan “He’s done some good writing, especially on [‘Women + Country’], the record he made with T Bone Burnett.”
Ben Harper [veteran American singer-songwriter]
Antony and the Johnsons’ “I Am a Bird Now” album
The National “I’m a big fan, and my son [Evan] is a huge fan.”
Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo” album “I thought that was an amazing creation, especially the arrangements.”
Sufjan Stevens “He’s great.”
Frank Turner [British singer-songwriter]
Lucinda Williams “She’s fabulous.”
Rumer [British singer-songwriter]
Sam Amidon [American singer-songwriter]
Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” album “I love a lot of Stephin Merritt’s records, but especially that one.”
“I could go on for a long time here! I listen to all kinds of different things.”
She’s not on the list you just mentioned, but you said in your autobiography that you went to a Taylor Swift show with your daughter, Jessica. What do you think of Taylor as a songwriter?
“Yeah, when my daughter was in college she took me with all of her girlfriends, and it was a fantastic show. [Swift’s] audience experiences her songwriting very, very personally, and I think she’s speaking to a large part of them very personally. As far as craft, [her songs are] really, really well-built and well-made; they’re very, very sturdy, and the records are too. I admire the modern record-making craft and modern songwriting. It’s not necessarily something I’m driving around listening to in my car 24-7 — I’m too old, I tend to listen to older music.
“But through my children I’ve experienced a lot of different kinds of music. My son [Evan] was a big political/punk fan, he was into Rage Against the Machine and Tom Morello — Tom can really write — and he really tuned into the Dropkick Murphys and Against Me. My daughter was into Top 40, Taylor Swift and anything that was going on there, so I heard a lot of that through her. And my younger son [Sam] is the classic-rock guy, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan and Creedence — but he got a lot of his music from videogames, from “Call of Duty” and Vietnam videos, and that’s where he got turned onto a lot of ‘60s stuff.”
So was Evan responsible for Tom Morello touring with the E Street Band for a few months?
Actually, Tom was a friend of my sister’s in L.A. He came down to a few shows and we met, and I was always aware of his band and his politics and I was thinking maybe there was someplace we would connect, but it took awhile to sort it out. Finally we said, ‘Ah, come on up, we’ll figure out an arrangement of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,”’ ‘cause his band did a cover of it that was just great, and then it took off from there. Tom is just a fabulous person. Beyond his incredible guitar playing and his thoughtfulness, he’s a wonderful guy to be around — very insightful and intelligent and has a big and wonderful spirit. Playing with him was a great joy on the tours we did together.”
Rick Rubin produced a Rage album and a song on the Lana Del Rey album you mentioned. Did you ever consider working with him?
“We actually met once, right before I began working with Brendan [O’Brien, Springsteen’s frequent producer since 2002’s “The Rising”]. We had a great meeting and a nice dinner one night, he was a really interesting guy. We met in kind of a break between [my] records, and I think I played him a lot of stuff that ended up on ‘Devils and Dust.’ But we ended up just kinda missing one another [schedule-wise], and I ended up with Brendan, who did a great job.”
You’d said earlier that you mostly listen to older music, but almost everything you just mentioned in your iTunes is contemporary — and some if it is pretty far under the radar for most people.
“I go back and forth, but I’m always looking for something new that’s inspiring. I’m so well versed in all my old standards — you can always find something new in them — but I’ve mined them pretty well over the years. There’s a lotta good songwriting and tons of good music being made. Music still excites me and it’s an exciting time, but the trick today is you really have to search for it to find it. But I listen quite a bit and it still holds that sacred place in my life. A great song is always inspirational — it makes you want to be great. So I’m always on the lookout.”