Big in Berlin: U.S. Roots

Musicians find a home in Europe

Music Features Berlin
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Being an American in Europe isn’t easy nowadays. Six years of the Bush administration’s approach to foreign policy have made Americans more unpopular overseas than they’ve been in decades—unless those Americans happen to be touring roots musicians. Artists like Ryan Adams, Calexico and Lambchop, who have only achieved middling to cult success in the U.S., often play sold-out shows across Europe.

“I think there’s a genuine curiosity for American music—meaning music that’s uniquely American—throughout Europe,” says Kurt Wagner of Nashville collective Lambchop. “There’s an innate fascination with this country and the amount of culture that ?ows out of it, whether it’s music or Coca-Cola.”

Of course, Europeans have appreciated American music more than Americans for a long time. In the ’60s, The Rolling Stones and The Who sent American blues back to the U.S., and in the process became far more popular than the artists who in?uenced them. And as the country and roots music that breaks through in the States becomes increasingly slick and homogenized, Europe keeps many of our best bands solvent. “Multiculturalism is more accepted and celebrated in Europe,” says Joey Burns of Tucson, Ariz.’s Calexico, a group known for fusing American roots music with the border sounds of its Arizona hometown. “In many parts of the U.S., our music gets pigeonholed, and certain kinds of songs in our sets don’t connect as well.”

In fact, Burns says Calexico streamlined its sound and became more guitar-focused on its latest album, Garden Ruin, in part to appeal more to American audiences. “Europeans seem more receptive to experimentation,” agrees Lambchop’s Wagner. “I think they cherish music more, or are at least more open in their affection.”

For Ian Ball of Gomez, a British band heavily in?uenced by American blues and classic rock, the European interest in American sounds has a simpler explanation. “Everybody likes stuff that’s not from their own backyard,” he says with a laugh. “My lady’s a big Anglophile. She buys anything that comes from England regardless of quality. She just likes cute English boys.”

And all the artists agree that while Europeans may protest U.S. policies, it’ll take a lot more than George W. Bush to tame the passion of overseas music fans. “Music transcends that kind of shit,” says Ball. “You can never underestimate the stupidity of the public, but if they’d stop listening because of that, then they don’t deserve to hear the music.”