Iris DeMent: "The show-biz thing is embarrassing to me. But it comes with what I do."


Folk singer Iris DeMent has never been a fan of touring.

"I don't have the need to be in front of people," DeMent said in a phone interview Monday from the Iowa home she shares with her husband and fellow folkie Greg Brown. "I feel the opposite of that. The show-biz thing is embarrassing to me. But it comes with what I do."

It's a necessary evil that DeMent has learned to live with in a musical career that has spanned more than two decades.

Her latest tour, in promotion of "Sing the Delta," her first album of original material in 16 years, kicks off in Tucson next Thursday.

Do you remember the last time you were in Tucson? "My mother-in-law used to live in New Mexico, and often Greg and I would fly into Tucson to get there, so I've probably come to Tucson for that sort of thing more than actually playing there.

"I usually stay at the Hotel Congress and roam the streets when I'm there. It is like a little vacation."

You and your husband are both touring musicians. Do you ever see each other? "We see a lot of each other. Greg doesn't work anywhere near as much as he used to. He keeps saying he is going to retire and I'm starting to believe him.

"He'll work a couple of weekends a month maybe, then I go out for a couple of weekends. This tour is the exception. I am going out for two weeks. I am going to have to try to remember how to sing that many nights in a row. Let's hope it comes back to me."

Do you two ever bounce ideas off of each other? "Not much. We don't really collaborate as far as songwriting. I don't collaborate with anybody and never have. That is not unique to our relationship. We do a lot of cooking and cleaning and talk about what is going on in the family and how we are going to fix problems.

"For me, writing has always been my private getaway world. I am probably going to keep it that way."

This is your first album of original material in 16 years. Why now? "I'm sure that my mom's passing (in 2011) was part of it. You are in such a heightened state of sensitivity when something that big happens to you. It stirs up a lot of things inside.

The title of the your album, "Sing the Delta," refers to the Arkansas Delta. You were born in Arkansas but your family moved to Southern California when you were 3 years old. How did the delta inspire you from so far away? "You are shaped by the people you spend the most time with. The people I spent the most time with were my folks and older siblings, of which there were many. I was the youngest of 14 kids.

"When we moved to California, I continued to be surrounded by people who had been shaped by that part of the country. If anything, my parents became more entrenched in their Southernness when we came out to California. They were threatened by their new world and clamped down on their kids more as a result of it."

This album has songs about family members and other songs of which you have no personal connection. Is one easier to write than the other? "The only kind of songs that I don't want to write are the songs that don't make me feel anything. I don't care apart from that if it is something that came from my own personal experiences or not."

if you go

• What: Iris Dement in concert.

• When: 7:30 p.m. next Thursday.

• Where: Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.

• Tickets: $27-$35 in advance and $30-$38 at the door. 740-1000.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at or 807-8430.