Lyle Lovett listens with fond curiosity to his 5-year-old twins, but they don't pay attention to his music.
Ella and Will joined the Texas singer-songwriter on tour this summer for the first time, showing up for late-afternoon soundchecks but never staying up for the actual concerts.
"It was no big deal to them, which was perfect," Lovett said last week.
Between songs at rehearsal, the twins did what kids do — wave and holler. They came onstage and strummed Dad's guitar in its stand — like it was a harp.
"They were more interested in coming back on the bus and playing with their Legos than the music, which suited me just fine," said Lovett, who, sans twins, returns Saturday to the State Theatre.
Actually, Ella and Will have been kind of listening to some of Dad's newer songs for their entire lives because, well, they inspired several tunes.
The title track of Lovett's first album in 10 years, "12th of June," commemorates the day the kids were born, and he pledges his everlasting love for them and their mother, April Kimble.
"Pants Is Overrated," a slice of classic Lovett dry-as-West-Texas humor, was sparked by the twins' toddler ways.
No pants was "their philosophy from the beginning," he said. When the kids were between 12 and 18 months old, they simply resisted getting dressed.
"My thinking was maybe they're right," Lovett said. "Here we are grown-ups who know everything, imposing our values on these perfect beings who actually do know better."
"Are We Dancing," featuring the singer in a rich croon, also dates to early days with Ella and Will.
"I just started singing that to them when they were little babies and dancing around the living room to soothe them," he said. "Rarely did I have both [of them] in my arms at once. That was more of a photo op."
"Pig Meat Man" celebrates the fact that strong-willed Will loves bacon.
"Our son does not eat meat except for bacon," Lovett explained. "To him, a hamburger is just a bun. He just wants a bun. He's healthy and he's good. It's not an ethical or conscious choice."
Besides all the kid-influenced tunes, "12th of June" reflects Lovett's live show better than any of his previous 11 studio albums. There are elements of western swing, blues, folk, country, gospel, bluegrass, jazz and usually a mélange of the various styles because Lovett is pretty much a genre unto himself. In any case, this is his jazziest record, with him taking advantage of his first project on Verve Records, a longtime jazz imprint.
Recorded in 2019, the album showcases personality-plus singer Francine Reed, always a key figure at His Large Band concerts. She retired from touring during the pandemic and, to avoid comparisons, Lovett replaced her with three men.
No hobbies, just fatherhood
Late-in-life fatherhood has had a profoundly positive — perhaps even giddy — effect on the 64-year-old, especially on how he spends his free time. It's no longer with horses, motorcycles or his other hobbies. The soft-spoken Houstonian with the cauliflower hair and crooked smile is now fluent in Legos, "Encanto" and other animated movies.
"For me, [life] hasn't changed in a single way that I haven't wanted it to," Lovett said. "There's been absolutely no part of it that has been a sacrifice, no part of it where I felt like I've given up anything.
"Any kind of discretionary time I've had, I'd rather be with them. So fatherhood at this point in my life is a blessing."
Lovett — an only child whose father died at age 42 and whose mother is 92 — can get philosophical about this late journey into parenthood.
"I guess the most delightful part of all of this is being Dad and being wrong about anything," he reflected. "[Kids] just know so much and they tell you, 'No, Dad, that's not right.' I love seeing them get traction."
COVID-19 reshapes the band
While the twins and their mom have returned to the farm, Dad has been struggling on tour with COVID. At almost every gig this month, he has featured a slightly different lineup of his 15-person band.
"We did three shows in a row missing eight people from the band. We did three more shows missing five people. This week we've been missing two," said the singer, who tested positive for COVID but hasn't bailed on any gigs.
At each performance, it was pretty much the same songs with different arrangements worked out during daily soundchecks.
Lovett has been fortunate that the revered rhythm section of drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar — known for recording with James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt, among others — has been available every night.
Touring, not recordings, is how most music artists make their money these days. And with a supersized cast, Lovett needs a volume of concerts — 60 this summer — to pay for it all.
"We work five and six days a week and it's [with] the last show of the week that I can pay myself," he said. "I've approached touring and presentation from a creative point of view rather than a practical one. ... It's not the kind of business model you present to your accountant across the desk in a meeting."
Acting on 'Blue Bloods'
During the pandemic, Lovett livestreamed performances from home, often with fellow singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello and Jason Isbell zooming in.
"The livestreams allowed for a conversation [with his collaborators] that wouldn't happen onstage," he said. "I enjoyed them to the extent that I'd like to continue doing it."
Being off the road for two years, Lovett also got to exercise his acting chops, appearing in CBS' popular "Blue Bloods" as Texas Ranger Waylon Gates, helping to solve crime in New York City. That was all because of producer/writer Ian Biederman, who saw Lovett perform in 1989 in Los Angeles at the same gig that director Robert Altman discovered Lovett and cast him in "The Player" and other films.
"Ian said he was finally able to write something for me," Lovett said. "I'm only an actor when somebody thinks of me and calls me."
Biederman's youngest daughter, Olivia, appeared in a recent "Blue Bloods" episode with Lovett and gave him a parting gift — a Lego cowboy, which he handed to his twins.
Ella and Will are never far from Lovett's thoughts.
"I Facetimed them this morning," he said. "They were sitting in the back of the SUV having Chick-fil-A."
Well, Ella was, and Will, the little "Pig Meat Man," was munching on a bun.
Lyle Lovett & His Large Band
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $56.60-$89, ticketmaster.com