Did the two of you talk about what you were after?
A little bit. Mostly it was instinctive. We just kind of went song by song and tried different things. We let everybody do their thing. That's pretty much always the way I've done records, but the thing that was different this time was that I had an actual producer producing the songs as opposed to my just going in and laying them down. I've never worked with a real producer before. Everybody I've worked with before has done some producing, but they've all been musicians-slash-producers: Gurf Morlix and Steve Earle and Charlie Sexton and Bo Ramsey.

Were you comfortable letting someone else share in the decision-making process?
Yeah, because I like the fact that Hal wanted to go in and experiment and kind of tinker around. That's usually what I've been accused of doing that drives everybody else crazy. Finally, I had somebody who was into that too.

It sounds like the kind of album you can make only after you’ve made a bunch of other ones. There’s something very confident about it.
I know exactly what you mean. I think I really grew into this album. If there was anything that I said before Hal and I went in, it was that I wanted to make a mature yet hip album — a little bit more sophisticated, a little bit more produced. The record of his that really kind of made sense to me in terms of that was Marianne Faithfull’s Strange Weather. I listened to that and just went, “Okay, he’ll get it.”

Do you think West might appeal to listeners who aren’t really aware of your old stuff or even of country music in general? 
I hope so. I don’t really ever think about that much, but it’s funny: I got a lot of criticism for Essence (2001) and for World without Tears (2003) because I was trying to do some different stuff. And people really had a hard time accepting it after Car Wheels. I think it took a couple of albums to get to the place I am at now, where people are finally just accepting what I’m trying to do instead of comparing it with everything before.