A Conversation With Sparks

The hammering glam pop of 1974’s Kimono My House, the lush arpeggiating disco of 1979’s No. 1 In Heaven, the spiky new wave of 1982’s Angst In My Pants, the edgy synth-house of 1994’s Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, the wily art-baroque of its newest album, Hippopotamus (BMG): Only the sonic wallpaper changes when it comes to the Mael brothers of Sparks. Russell sings their songs in a high, quavering voice, while Ron plays and writes them in gorgeously complex fashion. Along with Hippopotamus, the Maels are involved with the long-awaited Annette, their filmic, musical script about a stand-up comedian whose opera singer wife dies and he finds himself alone with a two-year-old daughter with a surprising gift. Sounds like a Sparks song to me.

It’s 46 years since your debut as Halfnelson. When did you think to yourselves, “No, Sparks is better”?
Russell: That moment arrived as a result of Albert Grossman, the owner of Bearsville Records. He loved our first album but was disappointed that it didn’t sell as much as he’d hoped—that it deserved to sell more. He thought the name Halfnelson was holding it back, that it was so obscure as to cause a problem. We didn’t see that, but we didn’t own the label. He said that we were humorous people, that we reminded him of the Marx Brothers, and why didn’t we call ourselves the Sparks Brothers, but we didn’t like that idea.
Ron: We said, “Perhaps we’ll meet you halfway,” and that’s where Sparks came in.

How has the art of Sparks most changed since your start, beyond stylistic changes?
Ron: I think there’s still this certain sensibility running through everything we do, despite all the stylistic changes and external trappings. Whether we’re working with a band, orchestras or just each other, we have faith in three- , four-minute songs. We believe there are still roads we haven’t taken. I think that we can do an album like Hippopotamus now that still surprises people. That’s what we seek to do. It’s not as if we’ve changed. It’s the fact that we’ve continued and are able to do this that’s amazing.

Seeing as your songs seem so ordered, despite the chaos within, are the two of you almost always of the same mind? And if not, where do you two differ, and how are these differences resolved?
Russell: Generally, we’re of the same mind; you’re right. When we’re not, they’re about lesser issues. Nothing grand. If so, we get on a similar path and go for it.
Ron: Amen.

Smaller squabbles. Like what?
Ron: Marital issues. Song choices for an album. Sounds. Nothing much. It’s not as if we’re frustrated by having the same POV or that we could be doing something outside of Sparks.

Ron has almost always written all the lyrics.
Russell: With the exception of the classics “Pineapple” and “Gone With The Wind.” Mine only ever come around every 10 years.
Ron: They’re generational.

Yes, but why did that come to pass? Why does Ron seek to complicate your life as a singer with tongue twisters like “Life With The Macbeths” or “Scandinavian Design” on the new album?
Ron: I don’t want to be limited by the thought of how a singer might sing my songs. That’s not my problem.
Russell: Yes, they’re challenging, but in retrospect, I think I’ve distanced myself in that I look at what else is going on in pop music and find it better to have such complexity. That makes those songs more special. They stick out from the crowd. That and having a key that goes all over the map is why Sparks sound like we sound. I embrace it.

On the song “Hippopotamus,” there’s a Volkswagen microbus, Titus Andronicus and a woman with an abacus. That’s such a silly rhyme scheme. I don’t have a question. I just wanted to repeat those lyrics to you because I’m trying to picture that session.
It’s not as much fun as you’re picturing.

Last time we spoke for MAGNET, I asked about this movie musical you were working on. You couldn’t say much then, but now … you’re laughing.
I’m laughing because we can’t tell you much more now.
Russell: It’s called Annette now, and we’re collaborating with Leos Carax, who last did Holy Motors.

How did the relationship start with Carax? You must like him a lot because he’s the topic of your new tune “When You’re A French Director.”
He used our song “How Are You Getting Home?” on Holy Motors, and as a result of that, we met him in Cannes after just finishing what would’ve been our next record, this highly narrative album, Annette. He asked to hear it and loved it so much. He said he wanted to direct it as his next film, so Annette suddenly took a different course—it no longer became Sparks’ next album. We recorded Hippopotamus for release in its stead, and now, we’re far along in preproduction having written a script and cast Adam Driver and Michelle Williams. It’s shaping up nicely.

So Williams, and not Rihanna, who was rumored at first? Are you enjoying the longer-than-a-pop-song process?
Russell: Oh yes, the dialogue, the acting, everything. The more Leos gets involved, he wants certain rewrites, so we’re in that process.
Ron: Then again, we’ve been in that process for the last 45 years. It’s a great challenge for us to work in such a long narrative way because we’re used to four-minute songs, where the starts and ends are so contained. A script like this shifts your way of thinking, to have to make something that needs to continue to make sense over a two-hour period.
Russell: We’re just delighted that it’s finally going to start filming at the beginning of next year.
Ron: When your lead actor is the evilest villain of all time in the Star Wars universe, some things just take time.

A.D. Amorosi

Best Of 2017: Q&A With Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield

We caught up with Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., during some downtime between tour legs for Out In The Storm. Here’s what she had to say about the making of MAGNET’s album of the year.

It’s no secret that Out In The Storm is about weathering a rocky relationship. And yet there’s not a lot of weakness and self-pity expressed in these songs.
I had the urge to write fresh off the breakup, but every time I sat down to do it, I had to stop myself. It was too earnest, too over-the-top. I needed to wait. By the time I actually sat down to write the songs on the record, the relationship I’m describing had been over for a year and a half. I was right at the end of processing it.

And the album is sequenced that way, especially with “Fade” as the last track.
I actually wanted to put that at the beginning of the album, and (producer) John (Agnello) was like, “No, it doesn’t belong there.” And he was right. I kind of look at the record like a long breakup conversation, and “Fade” is that last breath.

You definitely hear anger on this album, but there’s also a sense of empowerment and even hope.
The relationship I’m describing on the album is something that a lot of people have been through, where there’s this uneven power dynamic. The record was a response to really feeling like I didn’t have a voice in the relationship. So I’m saying all the things I felt like I really didn’t get to say in the moment. I wanted that combative energy to be a force to be reckoned with. I wanted it to sound strong.

What was it like working with producer John Agnello?
He’s really nurturing in the studio. Some artists like to be verbally abused [laughs], and some artists need to be coddled. I definitely fall into the latter category. He knew when to push me, and when to retreat and let me win the battle. Every song has its own atmosphere, and that’s kind of a new thing for me. There’s less space on this record. Daniel Shea, who did the artwork on the record, described it as claustrophobic, and he meant it as a compliment.

So you’re getting ready to relocate.
I’ve lived in Philly for about six years now, and I’m in the process of moving back home to Alabama, buying a house and settling here. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with my relationships in Philly; my closest person there was my sister, Allison, and she moved to L.A. I really had to do some self-reflection and ask myself where I really wanted to be. Birmingham just feels like the place. For years, I’ve really missed the South. It feels like home.

—Hobart Rowland; photo by Gene Smirnov

A Conversation With Randy Newman

Maybe Randy Newman hasn’t released a conventional pop album (ever, to be frank) since 2008, instead focusing on composing and conducting film scores (2010’s Toy Story 3, 2013’s Monsters University, this year’s Cars 3), or dropping volumes of favorites and rarities such as The Randy Newman Songbook. So when a caustically comic LP with an odd wealth of family members, political figureheads (Putin, JFK, scientists debating climate change) and a new multivoiced sense of narrative—all steeped in moody jazz, gospel and carnival sounds—comes along via Dark Matter (Nonesuch), it’s cause for celebration. Yet, as with everything else at present, it all starts with Trump.

So I wake up to my usual diet of Breitbart and Huffington Post, and the first thing I see is lyrics to a song of yours: “My dick’s bigger than your dick/It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true/My dick’s bigger than your dick/I can prove it, too/There it is, there’s my dick/Isn’t that a wonderful sight?/Run to the village, to town, to the countryside/Tell the people what you’ve seen here tonight.” Now you’re part of the news cycle.
Yup. Because of my big mouth.

What I find interesting, though, is that you’re getting all this press over a song not on the new album. That’s weird marketing.
I wrote it, like, a year ago, when Trump was just talking about so much of that stuff implicitly. I didn’t think about it for a while, just sort of shuffled it away. There I was talking about my forgotten Trump tracks when somebody asked about its lyrics. I made the mistake of telling him.

Not having the Trump dick song on the album is an interesting brand of circumcision. Thinking about your Songbook series and the things you don’t include on albums, do you have a long backlog of unused songs? Or do you wait until you have to focus on a project to write?
Mainly the latter. I wait until I’m compelled or impelled to do so. I don’t have that many songs that I don’t use at that time, though some hang over. When I don’t finish a song, it’s usually for a very good reason.

I don’t want this to sound jejune, but you’ve sung through characters in thousands of your songs. What is the difference between placing yourself in the voice of a character for film music and what you’re doing on Dark Matter, where you’re creating dialogues or more than one voice?
When I’m working for a picture, there are usually many instructions to go with them. I get as many adjectives as I can. There’re the requests for fast, slow, rock, not rock, and I go from there. Plus, I want to see what’s up on the screen. With my album, I’m free to do what I want—I’m on my own—but having a narrative with two voices is new for me. You’re right there. I wasn’t sure it would work. I’m still not sure, though, if I think that it does. I mean, I‘m satisfied. I did it as well as I can do it. I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not. What did you think?

You did it quite effectively. I got that you had several distinct voices interacting with each other, including introducing or implicating yourself into the action. Why did you decide to change up your writing, go for that format or voice?
I really just wanted to push myself a bit. Do something new. Now that you mention it, I think that’s why I have the intrusion of myself in there, the mention of “Randy Newman.” That’s something that I never thought I would do. The way I work is to write myself out of things. Clearly, though, on a song like “The Great Debate,” this “me” is on the same side the audience is on. You said it—I’ve put myself in characters a thousand times before, and I’ll do it a thousand times more if I last long enough.

Is it hard to be funny and cruel at a time when everything else in the real world is funnier and crueler?
Yeah, it is harder. You can’t compare it, though, as it’s a different part of the brain. Every day, there’s something unbelievable happening.

We could look at 1974’s Good Old Boys, 2008’s “A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country” or new songs such as “Putin” or “Brothers.” You don’t do a lot of directly political songwriting, but when you do, you do. What is the line you want to cross? What grips you about the Kennedys or Putin?
What interested me about the Kennedy thing is the image of the big brother teasing the little brother. I wanted to—by exaggeration—trivialize what some of the reasons may have been that they invaded another country. Once I was in, I was in. You’re a writer—you know how that is—how one thing engenders the other, then the next. I could speak to the end of that before I write it. That happens sometimes. Fairly quickly, I knew that I was going to the White House. Mainly, it was the story of the older and the younger … making fun of each other. “Putin” I set out to write because I was trying to understand that whole shirt-off thing. I mean, he’s the most powerful man in the world, maybe the richest man in the world. It also seems as if he has to be Tom Cruise as well: the handsomest man in the world, too.

Most writers only want to discuss your lyrics, but sonically/melodically, how are you choosing your palette? What is that process like, finding the right tone?
No one does ask me about my music, so thank you for that.

A.D. Amorosi

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Belle And Sebastian Interviewed By Actress Busy Philipps

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

Interview by Busy Philipps

Photos by Gene Smirnov

It’s hard to believe that Belle And Sebastian has been creating its ever- evolving brand of pop music for more than two decades. Stuart Murdoch and Co. continue their brilliant career with How To Solve Our Human Problems, a series of three new monthly EPs premiering in December. MAGNET asked actress (and B&S superfan) Busy Philipps to speak with Murdoch about his life’s pursuit: mastering the art of modern-rock songs with his Glasgow gang of six.

I was in New York while my husband, Marc, was getting ready to shoot his movie. On a whim, we decided to go to the Panorama Music Festival on Randall’s Island. We texted our friend who works at Goldenvoice, and within the hour, we were in an Uber headed out there. I didn’t even know who was playing that Saturday, but I love seeing live music and I love a music festival. If I’m being honest, it’s the shorter sets. I want the hits! And then I want someone else’s hits!! And then I want corn on the cob!! And a matcha! I really like so many bands and kinds of music (except new/pop country—sorry), but I can count on one hand the artists who I would sit through an entire hour-and-a-half set of. As it turns out, one of the bands that I would gladly listen to until they decided to leave the stage is Belle And Sebastian, and they were playing Panorama!

I’ve been a fan since the late ’90s, when Tigermilk was released in the U.S., and I’ve seen them live over the years several times in Los Angeles. Each time, I’ve left the theater or venue just feeling so good, you know? Like genuinely happy and alive and like things are going to be OK. A renewed sense of hope and love and positivity and also like I’m probably gonna start wearing my hair in a beehive and only wear ’60s dresses and dance all the time.

Anyway, I was texting with Jenny Eliscu, who was recording her show for Sirius at the festival, and we headed over to her tent to say hi. (After my matcha, obviously.) She was just finishing up her interview with Stuart Murdoch. I tried to play it cool and sat casually on a picnic table nearby. To my surprise, they both walked over to us, and Jenny explained that Stuart had just mentioned he knew I was a fan, that he had heard I had been to some shows in the past. But in my head I was like, “Stuart Murdoch knows who I am?!?” He was so sweet, we chatted a bit, and I told him I was super excited to see them play later. After we parted, I was annoyed that I was too embarrassed to ask for a photo with him. I mean, I wanted him to think I was cool. Not a total nerd who asks famous musicians for pictures.

Later, Marc and I saw Stuart lying in the sun, on the bank of the Harlem River, having a quiet moment to himself. It was so endearing and lovely, I feel like I’ll always remember it. The show was fantastic, per usual. After their set, we went backstage to meet up with Amy Schumer (who is starring in Marc’s movie), and after I told her I was too embarrassed to take a picture with Stuart, she said, “Well, I’m not!” and called him over and the three of us took the picture. His publicist ran up to us after and pitched the MAGNET piece, asking if either of us would be interested. Look, I’m sure she was hoping Amy would be, but I screamed, “I’ll do it!” before Amy could even process what was happening.

I spoke with Stuart for MAGNET a few weeks later. He was in Chicago, the band was playing the famous Chicago Theatre that night, and he was wandering around the city while we were talking. His phone was kind of cutting in and out of range, and he kept encountering things like a full marching band and a man dressed as a vampire and a bunch of tourists. I tried to sound smart and interesting and funny and ask good questions, but I was worried for weeks after that I sounded like an idiot. But really, it was just so amazing to get to talk to someone whose music has brought me so much joy for the last 20 years and provided the soundtrack for so many of my own walks around cities I’m exploring alone.

Also, I forgot to ask if he really always cries at endings. Because I do.

—Busy Philipps

Busy Philipps: How’s it changed in terms of … you’re a dad now. Do your kids come with you or not so much?

Stuart Murdoch: Just simply because of the numbers, we don’t usually. We sometimes see our kids at specific concerts, but yeah, they don’t tour with us. It would be different if it was a solo tour and had a different bus for the kids or something.

Philipps: Or if you were Gwen Stefani. I guess it doesn’t really make sense. Do you live in Scotland still, or are you in the U.S.?

Murdoch: We’re all in Glasgow. When we come to the U.S., it’s like the Wild West for us. We’re camping out here, just living on a bus, rolling out of the bus every morning, playing our shows, trying to look respectable. But right at this minute …

Philipps: I feel like for me that would be the hardest part of bus living.

Murdoch: You leave your own family and you join your other family for a while, and then you go back to your other family.

Philipps: When we met at the festival in New York, you were saying, “Oh, I’m a huge Freaks And Geeks fan.” I have to tell you that I’ve met more band members who’ve approached me because on the bus they’ve watched … They don’t have, like, Netflix or streaming services on the bus, but they would get DVDs and watch Freaks And Geeks over and over again. I’m just curious: Do you guys do that? Do you consume media on the bus or together as a band?

Murdoch: We’ve probably gone past that stage together. Because we’ve been together for 20 years. Yeah, I guess we went past the sort of honeymoon period of the group where everybody was consuming what everybody else was into. Freaks And Geeks—I can’t remember who turned me on to that, but that was my own personal thing. I was an evangelist for that show, and I was telling people about it because it only aired for one series and it wasn’t in the U.K. originally. For me, it was the perfect personification of that age, the high-school age. I don’t think it was ever done better, honestly. And I’m talking about any movies here, so it really struck a chord with me.

Philipps: I mean, music plays a big role in that series, too. It informs the time period tonally, and stuff. But weirdly, to me, in watching it now, people are just now finding it because of Netflix. But the show aired almost 20 years ago. It does sort of feel timeless to me, and I feel the same way about your music. I remember hearing the first album—is that ’97 or ’98? When was it, Stuart? You know better than me. I’m not Googling this.

Murdoch: Yeah, it was ’96, but it would have been ’97 by the time it got in America.

Philipps: And I was graduating from high school, and maybe I was a freshman in college when I first heard it. I remember when I first heard it not knowing if it was contemporary or if it was something from the ’60s or ’70s, but your references were contemporary and I feel like that sort of thing—it’s just interesting to see where pop music, and music in and of itself, had started in, like, the mid-’90s to where it is today. You guys have evolved but maintained such a timeless bond. Do you feel that way? Am I crazy?

Murdoch: Yeah, all these things are very nice and complimentary. We find our thing, and we just went with it. I think the crucial thing was by the ’90s, people kind of had to … It was when everybody started looking back. The ’80s was this amazing time for music for me personally, because people were still inventing music, people were still doing things for the first time. They were kind of looking back to the ’60s, but by the ’90s, you couldn’t ignore the classic era of rock ’n’ roll. And we were such a different band; everybody brought something to the table when we all got together. Stevie (Jackson) brought the Rolling Stones, and Richard (Colburn) brought the funk, and Sarah (Martin) and Chris (Geddes) brought the Velvet Underground and nortern-soul music, and Isobel (Campbell) brought Nancy & Lee, so this is all kind of looking back. I was a kind of an ’80s person. I was obsessed with the Smiths and these sorts of groups, so it was all there. We managed to carve our own niche, but you’re never going to reinvent music the way the Beatles did unless you go out on a completely different form and use different instruments and turn into Public Enemy or something.

Philipps: What do you listen to now?

Murdoch: I listen to a smattering of new music. I tune in to 6 Music—that’s our kind of groovy station back in Britain, and that keeps me sort of informed. Really, I just jump around the decades like everyone does these days. I fool around on Spotify, listening to all the music I used to love and augmenting it by the odd classic I dig up. I’m pretty lazy. My real music-listening days were back in the ’80s. I’m unapologetic about that. I was a DJ back in the ’80s, but you start writing music and being consumed by what you’re doing and you become the egotistical monster.

Philipps: Has it changed since you’ve become a dad? What kind of music do you want to play for your kids? My husband, (screenwriter/director) Marc (Silverstein), and I have a whole thing about this, so I’m curious to hear from a musician’s standpoint.

Murdoch: It all starts with the songs that you sing to your kids. Do you ever sing to your kid?

Philipps: I used to, but now my kids are a little bit older, and they are embarrassed by me and hate my voice, so … Your kids are a little bit younger, but just wait, it’ll get there. You’ll start to sing, and they’ll roll their eyes.

Murdoch: Your oldest one—is she 12?

Philipps: Birdie just turned nine, but she seems like she’s 12. We’ve played her Belle And Sebastian; it’s hard with the influence at school to keep them away from … I just have a problem with a lot of what popular top-40 music is now. It feels so mindless to me, and I would rather they listen to more interesting modern music. But she’s really into storytelling in songs, so she enjoys Belle And Sebastian. She really likes when she feels like she can get a hold of the lyrics and figure out what the song is about, if there’s a story being told. Joanna Newsom is good kids’ music.

Murdoch: When we started as a band, sometimes you felt like you were singing nursery rhymes for children. Some of the people you were writing for or appealing to were a little infantilized themselves. They were at the stage where they didn’t quite want to turn into adults.

Philipps: That was me for sure—are you kidding? And oh my fucking god, my fucking boyfriend would play (Tigermilk’s) “The State I Am In” and curl in a ball and cry.

Murdoch: Have you any idea the reputation we’ve been trying to shake off for the past several years? Everybody in regular media still thinks that we wet the bed. The stuff they’ve said about us in Britain is so terrible it becomes funny.

Philipps: Really? What do they say?

Murdoch: Well, we just sit around knitting each other sweaters. That’s kind of all we do, and we make yogurt.

Philipps: Well yeah, because you’re just sensitive, quiet. That’s what they think, is it? I think you’re super poppy and dancey and fun. Obviously, Tigermilk is a little different, but that’s 20-plus years ago. You know what song was in my head all day yesterday, Stuart? Because of the current events in politics and our country, I literally just had (Write About Love’s) “I Want The World To Stop” playing on repeat in my head yesterday. For real. But just that one line. I know that you do some activism in terms of climate change and you’re outspoken in that. Do you feel anything about what’s going on? I know you feel something, but do you feel a responsibility to speak out about events?

Murdoch: I feel almost my only responsibility is to go in the opposite direction, where it’s to direct people to a mind of peace. I don’t mean to sound like a hippie, but part of the problem is that we get very involved with stuff that we can’t do anything about. There’s so much anger, and anger is never a good thing. I don’t care who you’re angry about; the anger is never a good thing, and it’s just harming you, the person who gets angry. So I know that’s a little bit of a British standpoint, but I think it’s entirely more useful to do something that’s in front of you, to be kind to the person who’s next to you rather than being angry at the person who’s on a television screen. Obviously, the stuff that’s going on is horrendous; these people are so disillusioned that it’s an understatement. They’re crazy; they just don’t know what’s happening. On a lighter view, if you want me to comment on it, I think my wife—who is American—said something interesting, which is, “All these angry white men are pissed off because they’re not getting their way anymore.” It’s almost like an end-of-empire situation where they realize the end is nigh, them making the decisions for everybody. It should be, and it will be. We’re never going back. We’re not going back. We’re marching on. We’re becoming more civilized and we’re becoming more equal and more groovy, but these people are desperate. They’re like cornered rats—reacting so much.

Philipps: My husband is making this movie here in Boston, and the other day he was having a really hard time with the news, and he was, like, “What am I even doing with my life?” And I was like, “You’re making art. You’re making a comedy that’s going to bring joy into people’s lives, that sends a really positive message to women. You’re putting something beautiful into the world—you’re attempting to, anyway, and that is as noble right now as any pursuit that you can have.” I get what you’re saying, but for you guys to bring joy and a message of happiness and to try to bring light is … I don’t know, man.

Murdoch: No, you’re right. It raised the question we have on our minds, and as soon as you ask yourself, “What am I doing with my life? I want to be a positive influence. I want to be a better person,” these things aren’t naive. These things are absolutely fundamental, and if everyone was asking these questions we’d be in a much better situation. Some people aren’t in a position … We’re very lucky … We should be asking these questions. We’re lucky because the likes of you and me, we’re privileged people, we’re pretty well off. It is our responsibility to ask what are we doing to make things better. It’s very nice of you to say that to your husband, and my wife in a reassuring way often says that to me when I say, “What am I doing? What the hell is going on?” So it’s sometimes nice to hear that.

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Liam Gallagher Interviewed By Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

Interview by Taylor Hawkins

Photo by Flint Chaney

Liam Gallagher doesn’t need to introduce himself—he only requires unwavering dedication to rock ‘n’ roll. With debut solo album As You Were, the former Oasis frontman swaggers back into the spotlight for another swing. Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins sits down with Gallagher to find out what’s the story.

OK. What can I say? I’ve known Liam for probably about 20 years or so. Happy to say I’ve always been on his good side. I want to keep it that way—ha. I love his voice. A perfect cross between John Lydon and John Lennon. I love the way he can stand up onstage not doing one fucking thing, just looking at people, singing, and still captivate a huge crowd. We had the pleasure of seeing him do this in Seoul, South Korea, a couple months ago, and we were due to go on after him … We were a little scared. Ummm, what else? He’s truly fucking hilarious. Really quick, sharp as a tack. In my eyes, he is truly one of the greatest frontmen of my generation. His new record, As You Were, is definitely a return to form, putting him back where he belongs: at the top. —Taylor Hawkins

Taylor Hawkins: OK, first question. Your voice is so loud and so powerful—everyone’s always like, “Oh, Liam punched this guy” or “Liam said this in the interview” or this, that and the other, you know?

Liam Gallagher: Yeah.

Hawkins: A lot of the light never gets shone on the basic fact that you have a really loud, projecting, powerful fucking rock ’n’ roll voice. Do you warm up before shows, or is it natural?

Gallagher: I don’t take care of it as much as I should do, but I try to get a fucking good night’s sleep. And I lay off the cigs on the day of the gig. I don’t do cocaine before I go on.

Hawkins: Anymore. [Both laugh]

Gallagher: I have a little warm-up, I have a little thing about half an hour before we go on. You know what? I’ve never had any real problems with it, really, man. Fingers crossed. I like to think that I’ve got … I don’t classify myself as a singer—more of a fucking human cello. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t.

Hawkins: That’s the way it draws, man. Some days it’s magic, and some days it’s tragic.

Gallagher: Fingers crossed, man. I just spend the whole day just going, “Fucking hope it’s there.” And if it’s there, good looks, and if it’s not, fuck it.

Hawkins: Exactly. Dave (Grohl)’s same thing. Dave doesn’t really warm up. He doesn’t really do anything.

Gallagher: He drinks a lot of fucking whiskey, though, doesn’t he?

Hawkins: Fuck, he does, dude. If you go to any vocal coach, they’ll tell you that’s the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do.

Gallagher: When you got onstage the other night and he screamed, the first thing he said was, “If I scream like that, I’d have to have 12 more shots.” [Hysterical laughing from both]

Hawkins: Dave’s a fucking superhero. There’s no question. He’s a fucking superhero.

Gallagher: Animal, man. And he’s got that voice, too.

Hawkins: Oh, fuck yeah. I love his voice. He’s powerful, too, and he’s loud, just like you. I have a thin, little wispy voice, and if I had to sing all set, it’d be done by the end, no question. But you guys both have these loud, projecting, lead-singer voices.

Gallagher: That allows the band a little area as well then, you know what I mean?

Hawkins: Totally. You guys were fucking great that night, dude. It was really, really … We were a little shaky before we went on after we watched you. We were like, “Fuck!”

Gallagher: You always play a bit better when there are people around you who are good, and I mean that.

Hawkins: I think so, too. I mean, for us, it seems like it can go two ways. Either that’s gonna push us up a notch, or we’re gonna get a little “in ourselves” a bit too much. I got some other questions for you. The first question that I came up with is: Is it lonely now, being a solo dude? When you’re the guy … I know you were probably the de facto leader of the band. I know it was a band, but you were probably the leader of the band. But now it’s Liam Gallagher—it’s you. You have a great band, and they play like a band. Is it lonely?

Gallagher: I prefer it being a band, I guess, with all the people I went to school with and all that, because then you know each other inside out, you know what I mean? The new band, we’re getting to know each other slowly but surely. We don’t really hang out that much; we don’t say a lot, but I don’t feel lonely. Man, I’ve got multiple fucking personalities, so there’s a lot going on inside my head. I just chat with myself inside my head, so I’m all right.

Hawkins: Got it, got it. I kinda figured. I would never think to myself, “Oh, Liam’s lonely,” ever. It’s a different thing, when you set out to do a Liam Gallagher tour. It’s a little different. It’s all you in the front and your name is on the bottom of that fucking check, you know?

Gallagher: I say what it is. I say what it is. I’m an indecisive fucking bastard. Someone comes up to me and goes, “I like that … ” I can’t just agree on it and get stuck to it. I’m kinda like, “Oh, what do you fucking think?” I kinda like sharing the bag, you know what I mean? I guess that’s the only pain in the ass. It’s all about you making decisions, which I’m not good at.

Hawkins: If you do another solo record, do you think you’ll do it the way you did this time? Do you think you’ll work with different writers and different musicians and all that?

Gallagher: Yeah, I think so. I mean, the band was put together like that, so it was me, and I called Dan—there’s a producer called Dan (Grech-Marguerat)—and then obviously I did some stuff with Greg Kurstin. At this moment in time, I’ve only got one fucking tune for the next album, so it all depends—if it goes well, people want another one, I guess I’ll do another one, but at the moment there are no fucking new songs. I definitely don’t mind making music. I like working with Greg Kurstin when I write, so definitely, man.

Hawkins: It worked out. I like the way that it’s a different kind of sonic experience you get.

Gallagher: Exactly, man. I trust myself as a singer a lot more than a songwriter, so if I write some, hopefully this time next year … I sort of believe the songs will come, and I think I want these people, I guess.

Hawkins: How important is using the studio to you? Do you get involved? Do you come in there and say, “Oh, I wanna do this, and I want my voice to have this many delays on it.”

Gallagher: I’m not a studio—I don’t really know much about studios. I was always kind of … I know where the fucking “louder button” is. I know where that is. I let the producers do it. I know how to turn me up. I know where that is.

Hawkins: “I wanna turn up my voice right here. Do something like that.” You let those guys do it.

Gallagher: I know where it needs double tracking, definitely. I always sing dry, man. I never add those effects on.

Hawkins: Same with Dave. Dave’s the same way. He likes to hear nothing but his voice.

Gallagher: ’Cause that’s the truth. I want it to sound like when I’m sitting in the room playing the guitar at home. I want it to be kinda like that. The majority of it. I like it dry ’cause you can feel it.

Hawkins: Kind of the rule of thumb I always thought of: If it sounds good just you and an acoustic guitar, then it’s gonna sound good either way. What’s your favorite studio? I don’t know if you care about studios. We love going to different studios, and we find the experience of each studio to kind of lend itself differently to the situation and the recording we pick.

Gallagher: Obviously, I’ve been going to Abbey Road, and that’s all right. The one where I recorded this album in England is called Snap!, a little shithole with one live room and where you record it, and that’s that. It was good, man. I could definitely work there again. There was a place in Richmond by this geezer who wrote, like, “(Simply) The Best” for Tina Turner. And he based it on Abbey Road, so it’s a smaller studio, and that’s got good gear. That’s a good studio. I worked there with Beady Eye. Anywhere that’s got the old gear in it, man.

Hawkins: I sometimes get into the history of studios. A lot of times when I’m in London, I’ll go over to Saint Anne’s Court down in Soho ’cause Trident Studios is there. I love Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and all that, and I just wanted to go stand by the door that he walked into. I don’t know why.

Gallagher: I used to do that. There was one called Olympic Studios where they did “Sympathy For The Devil.” And that was a good studio, but I don’t think that’s there anymore. I think it closed down. And there’s one called Konk—that’s the Kinks—that’s around the corner from my house and is a nice studio.

Hawkins: Is that still there?

Gallagher: That’s still there, yeah.

Hawkins: They did like all their ’70s shit there, didn’t they?

Gallagher: Yeah, and I think the White Stripes did something there as well, years ago. I’m not a studio guy, but I do like chalking big fat lines out on the desk.

Hawkins: Well, there you go. Gotta have a good desk. You can’t do that on a laptop.

Gallagher: Exactly! Exactly!

Hawkins: OK, this is a funny question, Liam, and this is from me to you, and you can say whatever you want. But this is a fun question, and it’s a question only I would ask you. My favorite band of all time, probably if I had to pick one, is the Beatles because they’re just like the Bible to me, you know what I mean? That’s the beginning, you know. That’s everything that came after. Anyway: Do you like Queen?

Gallagher: Do I like Queen? Uh, not really, no. I mean, I get Freddie Mercury has a great voice and all that, and obviously they’ve got some great songs. But I do find them a bit Queen-y. [Hawkins laughs] Listen, they’re a top band and obviously they’ve got great songs, but I dunno, man. Brian May’s guitar sound sounds like he’s got it clogged in his ass.

Hawkins: Poor Brian. I love Brian.

Gallagher: I respect him and all that, but I don’t know, man.

Hawkins: OK, that’s funny. That’s a good one. I like that. OK, next question. What about American bands? What American bands from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s?

Gallagher: Guns N’ Roses. I do like, is it Creedence Clearwater Revival? I like them. He’s got a good voice, that John Fogerty.

Hawkins: Oh fuck, dude, we played with him. He’s fucking loud—he’s like you. He’s just fucking loud.

Gallagher: He’s got a good voice. And obviously Hendrix and all that.

Hawkins: What about when all the ’90s shit was going on, and you guys were getting ready to fight your war over there?

Gallagher: I did like Nirvana, and I liked some of the tunes. Who else was out at the time? I wasn’t a big fan of Pearl Jam.

Hawkins: Right.

Gallagher: All the grunge stuff was a bit different for me, I’ll be honest with you. There’s a few bands.

Hawkins: Few songs here and there.

Gallagher: I was kind of caught up in all the old stuff. I was kind of into the Monkees and all that when all that stuff was going down.

Hawkins: Well, it’s like you guys were kind of having your same sort of thing like what was happening in Seattle, in a way. English version.

Gallagher: Exactly. And I like Guns N’ Roses. They’ve got some tunes.

Hawkins: Yeah, they do. And they’re powerful, and they still sound good on the radio today, you know? When you hear fucking “Welcome To The Jungle” or fucking “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” it’s a classic fucking song. When Oasis came out and all these other bands came out at the same time, and the critics they love to use this kind of a word to describe one genre, but there’s nothin’ like it. Do you fucking hate Britpop?

Gallagher: I fucking hate that word, mate. We weren’t fucking pop. To me, I felt it was us and the Verve. We were different scenes, were like a classic rock ’n’ roll band. Britpop to me was Pulp, Menswear, Blur, all these stupid little Camden bands that were all jolly as fuck, you know what I mean? We wanted to play, man. I personally always found that word fucking insulting.

Hawkins: I think it is, too.

Gallagher: The Verve and Oasis—we were thinking way bigger than Britpop. We were a classic rock ’n’ roll band.

Hawkins: I see that. And also, it’s the same thing with grunge. You can’t say Nirvana and Pearl Jam sound anything alike—they’re not the same kind of fucking music, really. Just ’cause of an era. They have to simplify shit.

Gallagher: It’s just fucking journalists, isn’t it? Lazy cunts. I felt like Blur and all that—they were doing like just jolly kind of weird, fucking stupid music. “Champagne Supernova” is a boss fucking tune. They were all jumping about it with their fingers in their ears.

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: The Killers Interviewed By Jimmy Kimmel

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

Interview by Jimmy Kimmel

Photo by Gene Smirnov

Viva the Killers—Las Vegas natives who return with Wonderful Wonderful, their first album in five years. To mark the occasion, MAGNET united them with fellow Sin City local Jimmy Kimmel for a conversation about growing up in the glitzy capital of American excess and experience.

I met the Killers 13 years ago. Somebody told me that one of them had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I’d had in February of that year, and so, of course, I wanted to meet them. Las Vegas is my hometown, and I always root for bands and others who share that unusual distinction, and in this case, I was a fan of their music before I knew where they were from. Singer Brandon Flowers, drummer Ronnie Vannucci and I bonded over time (not immediately, as you’ll read), and they are two of the sweetest, most thoughtful and best guys I know. We wrote a Christmas song together called “Joel The Lump Of Coal”—look it up, it’s said to be one of Jesus’ favorites. This interview was conducted by phone, and unbeknownst to those on the other end, I was naked throughout. —Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel: I’ll start by saying that I was very excited to meet you guys back in 2004 because we are both from Las Vegas, and I was a fan of your music and got it in my head that you would be equally excited about meeting me. So when you were on the show that night, I walked up to you guys and started making chit-chat about Vegas and what high schools we went to, and it seemed that you couldn’t have been less interested in any of it. Then I walked offstage and was like, “All right, I guess these guys don’t give a shit about the Vegas connection.”

Brandon Flowers: We were so nervous to play on national television in the beginning. I still get really nervous, and I think that you were probably experiencing that coming off of us firsthand. Sorry about that.

Kimmel: Fortunately, we got to know each other later on, but I thought it would be fun to relive that awkward moment today.

Flowers: I don’t think we knew how close the ties were at that point. I didn’t know you and Ronnie both had gone to the same high school.

Kimmel: Even more so than that, Ronnie—share your connection to my best friend and bandleader Cleto Escobedo (III), who I grew up directly across the street from in Vegas.

Ronnie Vannucci: I was very young when I started playing drums. My mom worked at Caesars Palace, and she would sort of brag about me to the musicians who were coming in and out. Cleto Sr. was a name that was thrown around the house; he sort of ran the Strip as far as music goes. At least I got that impression, anyway.

Kimmel: That may have been exaggerated. He is a very talented sax player who gave up life on the road to become a room-service butler at Caesars, and his son, Cleto Jr., started playing the saxophone too. It just so happened that Cleto Jr. got a job playing sax with a band called the Checkmates on a stationary boat that floats inside Caesars called Cleopatra’s Barge. Your mom also worked on the barge as a cocktail waitress. The first time I heard this anecdote, I got nervous because I don’t think Cleto left too many cocktail waitresses unplucked. I’ve investigated, and I have good news: Nothing happened.

Vannucci: My first experience was playing that song “Play That Funky Music White Boy” by Wild Cherry.

Kimmel: How old were you?

Vannucci: I think I was like eight or something. But I just remembered being part of an all-black band, which, looking back, was kinda funny.

Kimmel: And not only that, but an eight-year-old playing in a cocktail lounge shows you just how different Vegas is now.

Vannucci: It was a neighborly place then.

Kimmel: What’s the greatest Las Vegas act you guys have seen, either together or individually? And you know what I mean by Vegas acts, the classics.

Vannucci: I saw something called Metal Skool 20 years ago.

Kimmel: It was school with a “k,” right? Metal Skool with a “k”?

Vannucci: So good. They nailed everything. It was like going to see Mötley Crüe and Van Halen and Skid Row all in the same concert.

Kimmel: Where did you see them?

Vannucci: It was, like, the Suncoast or something.

Kimmel: One of those off-Strip Vegas hotels. I wonder why they decided to spell Skool with a “k.”

Flowers: That’s cool.

Vannucci: With a “k.”

Flowers: I think it’s OK for me to say Copperfield is up there. David Copperfield.

Kimmel: Really? Wow.

Flowers: I remember Danny Gans. I saw him play a few times.

Kimmel: Yeah, he’s one of those guys that not too many people outside of Vegas knows. He passed away, right?

Flowers: Yeah, he died.

Kimmel: And he did imitations of singers, right? That was his thing?

Flowers: He was supposed to be really good at it. I never saw it.

Kimmel: It’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to imitate you guys. That’s a real-life Vegas tragedy. OK, I’m not gonna dwell entirely on Las Vegas, but it is what brought us together, so what is the most “Las Vegas” thing you’ve ever seen? You can translate that in any way you like. For me, it was seeing Liberace at the Mayfair Market on the Strip. He was wearing a hairnet and buying meat.

Vannucci: You got one, Brandon?

Flowers: I was a busser at Spago when I was 18, and Carrot Top came in. It was during the day—and during the day only the cafe’s open at the Forum shops, but because he was Carrot Top, he requested to sit in the dining room so nobody would bother him. My server—I wasn’t 21 yet, so I couldn’t be a server—was not familiar with Carrot Top so he didn’t know that there was a comedy side to him. And Carrot Top assumed that everyone knew who he was, I guess, and my server, he was from Japan and he was a martial artist. Carrot Top, when he sat down, picked up his knife and made this move kinda jokingly at my server, who didn’t know who this guy was. My server did this judo chop thing, and the knife went flying across the dining room. It was this whole scene, and we had to calm the waiter down and explain to him that this was a performer on the Strip and famous comedian and he was just joking. It was crazy.

Kimmel: He actually chopped the knife out of his hand?

Flowers: He was one of those guys who was just prepared, I guess.

Kimmel: The move will hereafter be known as the Carrot Chop. Can I tell you something? Carrot Top emailed me this morning. I’m not kidding. So you see how strong my Vegas ties are? I won’t reveal the contents of the email, but just know that he did contact me and I will get to the bottom of this story. Ronnie, did you want to answer that question? The Top is hard to top.

Vannucci: I can’t top that. Or chop that.

Kimmel: Do people ever give you ideas or lyrics for songs? I’m not talking about people like Elton John. I’m talking about people in your life. And if so, do you ever take them?

Vannucci: In the early days, there may have been a couple attempts from family members to chime in. I would politely listen to what they say, but I don’t think anything ever made its way into a Killers song.

Kimmel: Have the four of you guys ever shared a room?

Flowers: Yeah, when we were recording in Berkeley, we were all in the same room.

Kimmel: And how did you split that up, bedwise?

Flowers: There was a couch in the room, so I think I went on the couch because I was younger than them. I sort of got last dibs.

Kimmel: And then who had to pair up? Were there multiple beds?

Flowers: I think it was one of those two-room deals or, like, a kitchenette, where there was, like, a double-bed-and-a-couch scenario, and then we got a rollaway or something.

Vannucci: This is, like, before everybody had access to cellphones, otherwise we would’ve taken pictures.

Kimmel: This is not necessarily a music-related question. I want you to go back into your lives and think about this. What’s the first award you ever won?

Vannucci: I actually won the school talent show in fifth grade.

Kimmel: For playing the drums?

Vannucci: Yeah.

Kimmel: And what did that feel like? Were you instantly a celebrity at school?

Vannucci: Yeah, I went from nobody to being a drummer. The runner-up was this girl who made French toast.

Kimmel: Did you get to try the French toast?

Vannucci: Yeah, it was good. It just goes to show the level of my talent if French toast is the runner-up.

Kimmel: I know you’re being sarcastic, but I think if you asked a thousand people, “What would you rather have right now, a drum solo or some nice French toast?” 900-something of them would say French toast. So I think that’s fairly impressive.

Vannucci: You’re right. It was good, and then my family moved away, like, two days later so there was sort of this legend. I left a legend.

A Conversation With Little Steven Van Zandt

Little Steven Van Zandt is taking a respite from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band with the release of Soulfire, his first solo effort in 18 years. Not a total break, mind you: Soulfire includes one song co-written with Springsteen, “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town,” along with others Van Zandt penned and produced for pals Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, such as “I Don’t Want To Go Home.” Still, we’re used to seeing and hearing Van Zandt not being Boss-ed around. Over the past 14 years, he’s hosted his Sirius XM radio channel Underground Garage and played Silvio Dante in HBO’s The Sopranos and Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano in Netflix’s Lilyhammer. What the jazzy, bluesy, brassy, blaxploitative, doo-woppy Soulfire does is return Van Zandt to the singing/sneering/writing role he led on solo albums such as the furiously and politically charged 1982’s Men Without Women and 1984’s Voice Of America, both precursors to his 1985 creation of music-industry activist group Artists United Against Apartheid.

Audiences love you as an actor, a musician, a radio host. You’re an adorable guy. What are they connecting with?
That’s true. I’m a helluva guy. What can I say? I basically mind my own business. I go to work every day. I’m a working-class celebrity. It’s a job that I do, which is nothing more special than any other job anyone else does. I even go to an office.

What is it with you and Norway? You filmed Lilyhammer there. You’re starting your Disciples Of Soul tour there.
It’s a place I adopted, or that adopted me. It didn’t used to be on the rock touring circuit, and when I started my solo stuff, I told my agent then, “I want to go everywhere.” He included Norway and I fell in love with it. It’s unique, quiet, five million people spread across a large expanse. Plus, a Norwegian husband-and-wife team offered me Lilyhammer, so I spent six years there on and off. I got to know the place pretty good, you know? Hey, they named a blues school after me in Norway. It’s the blues capital of the world.

Before Soulfire, your solo stuff was deeply political and incendiary. What’s your take on the whole mad Trump thing?
That’s a big question. I think our problems have more to do with the system than Trump. He’s a distraction, more often than not, from the bigger issues, especially within the Republican Party. Especially those regarding climate change, equality and money. These are greater issues than just one guy. At the end of the ’80s, when I was doing nothing but politics, I came to the conclusion it all comes down to one issue: financial inequality. Until that’s changed, there will be no economic justice, at least nothing like our founders envisioned. I appreciate Bernie Sanders and his whole Citizens United thing, but that wasn’t the right way to a solution.

So on this new record, there’s nothing at all political?
My mind regarding my music right now isn’t political but, rather, the hope that old great rock ‘n’ roll—the renaissance period of 1952 to 1972—gets heard. That’s the greatest generation.

How very Tom Brokaw.
Well, all that is distinctly rock ‘n’ roll, at this point, is an endangered species. I want to make sure that the stuff that motivated us—or at least me—in the first place stays alive. That means James Brown, the blues, street-corner doo-wop.

And that whole Jersey Shore/Asbury Park, horn-based R&B/rock thing—all the Southside Johnny stuff, your first solo album.
Well, that sound suits me again now. That’s what I wanted to do with this album: do me. I usually write with some larger theme. This time out, I became my theme. That’s why I covered my old songs. It’s the best way to reintroduce myself to me, as well as an audience. Plus, I wrote a few new songs along the way for whoever is interested.

Since you’re talking to yourself or about yourself in the third person, how do you reconcile the romantic behind Soulfire with the guy who wrote “I Am A Patriot,” which proposed that dissent was not disloyalty à la Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden?
I got about a dozen guys living inside me … that’s two of them. There’s a bunch I haven’t met, and deep down they’re all integrated. Once Chuck Berry started talking about real life in his teenage operas, then Bob Dylan took it further with the socially impacted political fare, all of it is fair game.

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra talking to Rita Hayworth in Pal Joey, 18 years is a long time between drinks. What gives?
Pal Joey. You’re good. That’s a great question to which there is no answer or excuse. Suffice to say, I got busy with other work—especially acting and producing—and the whole craft. That craft, gifted to me first by David Chase, gave way to other crafts like writing the soundtrack to Lilyhammer and directing the last episode. Then Bruce decides to put the band together again, so there’s that—and touring it quite regularly, too, all of a sudden. Before you know it, 20 years go by.

Well, that’s everything, though. You blink and a year passes. So what do you do now—hopefully more music?
Well, I’m not a guy to hold back material. I don’t stockpile. I tend to write with purpose, so there’s that. Some of my music in the last 10 years went to Lilyhammer. My past solo albums are all out of print, so that’s another thing to be done: get them remastered and re-released. Know what else? I never had a manager before this year, so I did that. There’s gonna be more music, too. Ever since I got this request to do a blues fest in London last year and revisit songs I did with Southside Johnny—songs I never played live—I actually felt guilty that I had those songs and that I put my soul, you know, music aside for so long. No more, though.

—A.D. Amorosi

Q&A With Tommy Stinson

MAGNET recently caught up with Tommy Stinson to discuss the Friday Night Is Killing Me reissue (out today on Omnivore) and the revitalization of Bash & Pop, which, earlier this year, released a belated follow-up, Anything Can Happen. A revamped version of the band (drummer Steve Foley and his bassist brother, Kevin, have both passed away) is on tour with the Psychedelic Furs this fall.

How did this reissue come about?
Here’s the goofy bit: It was supposed to come out in tandem with the vinyl version (in January), but my manager wanted to get that out soon-ish, so he had Warner Bros. jump. Having Omnivore put out the expanded version now was kind of a boner move, to be frank. People are kind of pissed off about it.

How did you write songs back then?
Just like I make records now. Over the years, I collected thoughts and stuff, and when I was ready to record, I went, “OK, which songs work best together.” Some—like “First Steps”—are as old as Don’t Tell A Soul. I had a good batch of songs to record.

“Tiny Pieces” is such a great pop tune. How did that one come about?
Oh, man, I had that thing sitting around for a while. I remember writing the lyrics to that back in Minneapolis in the middle of the night. I got up, grabbed the brandy, went into the living room, sat down in my jams and penned out the words. Then I came up with that crazy riff, which doesn’t make any sense to play—but it’s there.

Why didn’t Bash & Pop last longer?
The record company didn’t do shit. We put the album out and toured behind it a little bit, and then our bass player, Kevin, got into some trouble and he couldn’t tour. I moved to California and tried to continue on with just Steve. But I finally got to the point where I wanted to I switch it up, and I asked Warner Bros. to let me go. Then I started Perfect. You can only beat your head against the wall so many times before you realize you’re fuckin’ going crazy.

Why do you think Warner Bros. dropped the ball?
If you think about it in terms of where music was heading at the time, grunge was just getting its legs on. So rock-based pop music like I was making wasn’t happening.

You’re living in Hudson, N.Y., these days. Anything you miss about your old hometown of Minneapolis?
It was such a vibrant musical community back then. We all hung out; we all were friends; we were inspired by each other. I miss that.

So you’re touring with the Furs.
Yeah, Richard Butler lives around here, and he and I have become buds. We played this house party in St. Louis, and he and his wife showed up and we had a fuckin’ hoot together. He came to my 50th birthday party. The Replacements always loved the Furs; their first record was huge on my playlist. It was a mind-blower to me.

What’s it been like revisiting the old Bash & Pop songs?
It’s been fun. We play about half the record, and I think I’m gonna have to switch some stuff up in the future. People love that record—not a lot of them, but it meant a lot to the people who bought it. You gotta respect that.

—Hobart Rowland

A Conversation With Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore has been the eternal New Yorker for so long that talking to this citizen of Stoke Newington, England—a pleasant London hamlet where he’s lived since 2013—still feels odd. Maybe it’s also due to his beginnings as a dedicated follower of the late ’70s no wave movement and its reinvigoration via Sonic Youth and the noisiest aspects of Moore’s early solo efforts. Forward motion is his thing. He’s also embraced the language of enlightenment and political rhetoric on his new album, Rock N Roll Consciousness, as well as several purposely non-LP singles. To go with all this, Moore is the subject of a new book, We Sing A New Language: The Oral Discography Of Thurston Moore. —A.D. Amorosi

We spoke when you first moved to England. How does it feel now that you’re firmly ensconced? Got favorite restaurants and haunts?
Totally. London is a massive sprawl of a city. Coming from NYC, London is quite another universe. When I first got here, I heard that London reveals itself very slowly and personally. That’s certainly been the case. I definitely have my favorite bookstore, record store, charity shops. Those are the places I like to go to—I find meditation in secondhand bins. I like that world. The food is also better than when Sonic Youth toured here in the ’80s. England was devoid of a cookbook then.

I lived in Bayswater throughout the entirety of 1982, and all I had was the only 24-hour KFC in Europe. Homey Indian restaurants and tiny fish-and-chip shops were my salvation.
Definitely. That said, I’m still a U.S. citizen. I like that. Being here in London, I am an outsider—an other—while still being welcome in my neighborhood. It’s so entirely provincial with its little villages interconnected, each with their own personality.

So all this love of your new land, but what might you feel going forward with Brexit?
I don’t think it affects me, and far from me commenting on the minutiae of English politics. It was, however, sold to the public with the patina of racism. That’s disturbing, reprehensible and psychically damaging to people in London in particular, because it’s such a progressive bubble. The surprise was that so many left-leaning people here actually entertained Brexit. As always, I am about the further eradication of borders, imposing divisions and being exclusionary. I disregard nationalism of all stripes. I like cultures with their own languages, existing with their own vocabularies and traditions.

Well, you’re not missing much not being in the U.S., if that’s how you feel.
It’s impossible to see what’s going on in the crystal ball because there are so many smoke screens. I’m American. I did not renounce citizenship. Still, it’s hard to watch my country being poisoned by racist, sexist inanity. I have a 23-year-old daughter who lives in the States, and for her to be represented by a president who uses the language of rape culture and the manifestation of hate speech is disturbing.

Speaking of the motherland, old friends such as Richard Hell and Lydia Lunch appear in Nick Soulsby’s We Sing A New Language.
I’m just a cipher in that book. I hardly have any verbiage. The author is cool. Just like his book on Nirvana where he contacted artists around them—headliners when Nirvana was the bottom of the bill, men who made their posters—this ties together the threads of my solo career with arcane label proprietors and such from the time when I was just getting interested in experimental music.

You mentioned your daughter, Coco. Now, it’s not as if you spent a lifetime doing beer, car and lifestyle music. Yet your poetic sensibilities on new songs “Cease Fire” and “Chelsea’s Kiss” have become more pointed and political than in your past.
Any person working in any creative discipline gets changed having children in terms of activism as an artist. I think it’s my age. At near-60, I’m motivated by wanting to be in opposition to an ideology that borders on fascism. To articulate it as a writer means more than just saying it to myself. Now, the whole of my new record stepped away from such direct commentary. I wanted the sound of beauty, something beatific here—but with genuine melancholy, which is always part of the human condition. Yes, there is honor in opposition.

But Consciousness is positivist and aware and un-angry about it.
This just made sense. Yoko Ono once told me something about activism in music. She thinks that you go out and you talk about people with the energy of goodwill in terms of humanitarian concerns and you don’t name the enemy. Once you name the enemy, you become the enemy. I took that to heart. That’s a curious, yet constructive, way of thinking.

You may have worked with another lyricist on some of Consciousness (poet Radieux Radio, a pseudonym for someone Moore is keeping anonymous), but the focus is singular: good energy. Why so?
I had some words, some lyrics unfinished, and as the clock was ticking I turned to Radio. Radio finished many songs I started, which is something that would happen a lot within Sonic Youth, where someone else would pick up what another of us was saying. On this album, we came up with just the right, most sensitive words on feminism, and the energy and power of oracles. And, of course, Mother Earth. Why? Because it was right. There was no thought toward the current political climate, either, as these songs were written and recorded over a year ago, yet they held great portent. Plus, they are beautiful to sing, which is the most important thing.

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Phoenix Interviewed By Fred Armisen

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

Interview by Fred Armisen

Photo by James Elliot Bailey

With the vibrant, neon-lit synth pop of Ti Amo, Phoenix scores the summer with an album destined to rule outdoor festivals and Italian discos alike

The narrative I made up in my head for Phoenix’s new album, Ti Amo, is that, aside from a celebration of Italian nightlife, it’s a reply to the Style Council’s debut mini-LP, Introducing The Style Council. That record may have been my first experience with an idealized location as a concept. In their case, it was Paris. Track nine on Phoenix’s album, “Via Veneto,” feels like part two of “Long Hot Summer.”

I didn’t bring any of this up during my interview with Thomas Mars, because none of it is a question. It would just have been me saying, “This is what I think.” I did mention Kraftwerk, though. Trans-Europe Express has a similar theme.

I’ve always loved Phoenix. As soon as I heard them, I thought they were great. It was a nicer surprise to find out, too, that they are from France. To me, their scene went like this: first Téléphone, then Les Thugs and then (although they aren’t technically 100 percent French) Stereolab. Then Daft Punk, and now (I realize that “now” has been going for a long time) Phoenix. This is just my version of it; I hope that’s OK.

The following setups aren’t true, but you can pretend:

I spoke to Thomas while we were shopping for cars in Kyoto.
I spoke to Thomas via passing notes during a play.
I spoke to Thomas 20 years ago, in line at Disneyland.
I called Thomas at home and got his machine, and then he called me back and got mine. So these are all left messages.

Thank you!

—Fred Armisen

Fred Armisen: I’m glad I’m getting to interview you because I’ve known you for a while and I’ve always enjoyed watching your success. You guys—the whole band—seem like such a strong unit together.

Thomas Mars: Yeah, we’re friends from school, which is a unique chance because I think when it’s your second band, you know too much. It can’t be as genuine when you’ve had those experiences before. When it’s the first time, it’s more naive and genuine, I guess. I can’t really compare it to anything else.

Armisen: When you were a kid or a teenager and you imagined what it would be like to be in a band that makes a living being a band, what came out to be true and what are some unexpected things?

Mars: That’s a good question. No one’s asked me this question before, but I feel like that’s the question. When we started, the first feeling that was really strong was that there was something with friendship and music. The two things together were really strong and the fact that you hear sounds that are amplified, just a kick drum that’s amplified. To me, when I would go to a show, even when you would hear a band soundcheck, this was so strong because it was already out there. It had way more power, and that was a big thing for me. When we started the band, we thought the day the record would come out, the world would change. That’s something that didn’t happen. The day the record comes out, everything’s pretty much the same. Our success was really, really slow. Sometimes, a song would be big in one country so we would go there and experience these, like, Italian TV shows. We had one song big in Italy and lived this adventure which was really part music, part comedy, because you end up in one of those TV shows where they mix music and soccer, and you have a nun that’s introducing you. Just far-out experiences. When we started music, we didn’t want to be responsible. We didn’t want to have a job, and the fact that this is our job and doesn’t feel like one—I think we treat it like a job. We make a point that we have office hours. When we started, we were even wearing ties and suits because it was such a miracle that this was our job. It made it even more special. I’ve seen other bands do that, treat their job like it’s a factory. I know the Beastie Boys have these outfits and they bring this factory business, because it’s such a special thing that this is what we do.

Armisen: That’s kind of the answer I was hoping for. My hope is always that if someone is in a band that they’re appreciating it. It’s a rare thing to be able to make a living at it; it’s even more rare to stay together. It’s a real feat, and that description, down to the kick drum through a PA, it’s so funny because it is such a different sound, the kick drum you hear in the soundcheck and what a kick drum really sounds like. It’s like the bridge between practicing and doing it for a living.

Mars: I remember watching a video of you just going through Stockholm and inventing your own stories, am I right? Is that a video?

Armisen: Yeah, I did that. I was promoting Portlandia there and so there was a camera crew, and they just wanted to do something. And it was that feeling of, “If I get to be in another country and then do some kind of creative work, there’s nothing better.”

Mars: That I could really relate to, because you’re not passive. You’re creating something, not just promoting. I grew up in Versailles, which is a city that’s like a museum, so everything great already happened and you can’t really change anything. Just making music is disturbing the peace and is not considered being respectful. So to me, to create those stories, even to invent and bring back those places to life or create this world of possibilities—that’s the thing I think about quite often. You know, when we go to Buenos Aires, we pass Jorge Luis Borges’ house and you don’t want to be totally passive. You have to create those stories.

Armisen: Every time you guys put out a record, I feel like there’s a theme around it. Phoenix reminds me of the way that Kraftwerk put out records. They have a vague idea for what the graphics are gonna be and it gets sharper and sharper, and then I see the video for “J Boy” mentions Kraftwerk and I’m not ahead of the game in thinking that you guys are like them. In Düsseldorf, Kraftwerk has Kling Klang Studio and they clearly have some kind of a work ethic. Listening to Ti Amo, I have no idea how you come up with sounds. It’s easy to say, “Oh, they use sequencers or synths.” What’s a simple version of what you guys use to put everything together?

Mars: Kraftwerk is the best compliment for us, because that’s the band I can relate to the most. Not musically—I love that music, too—but the work ethic and how pure the message is and how the aesthetic is more than music. It’s an entire concept, and that’s such a strong thing, and rare. I remember seeing a documentary where the English bands were saying, “We saw Kraftwerk in Manchester and it opened things up. We started a band because of them.” I think when we write songs—the four of us, I know they do the same thing—I try to impress my friends. I try to come up with sounds and with ideas that they might not be able to tell what it is. With technology now, I can become bored with my voice, I can change it. If I play drums, I do a weird hybrid mix of samples, drum machines and real sounds that get a little confused. I think we create this color palette that has to be unique. The only decision we make is to create this environment that has all these unique sounds that we like. And then it’s mostly luck; we record forever. Our brain wants to do something familiar and we have to fight against this, we have to find what the next familiar thing could be—that’s the goal. We just record a lot of things and then we try to put these together, but we never thought about instruments separately. Now the guitars, the keyboards, even the vocals, they can pretty much imitate each other. Chris Mazzalai in the band has this guitar pedal that imitates a Japanese voice. You play the guitar through that pedal and it’s like a Japanese woman that’s talking.

Armisen: What!? What’s it called and who makes it?

Mars: I don’t know the name of it.

Armisen: What does it look like?

Mars: It doesn’t look like much. It’s the size of a Boss pedal and it’s white and has a drawing of this Japanese girl on the side and a Celtic font, almost like those wedding invitations. You play through it and it has a wah-wah thing to it, and then it shapes the notes. It doesn’t create real words, but it imitates the sound of a Japanese person talking.

Armisen: Does it hold a note?

Mars: Yes, but it it’s like [imitates noises].

Armisen: What is your relationship with your drummer and keyboard player? Where do they enter into your daily life or your touring life? What is that relationship like?

Mars: The keyboard player, Robin Coudert, we’ve known since our teenage years. He was in another band and we grew up together. I think he was on the same label as us for one song. He recorded one song on this compilation that the label did and then we stayed in touch, and he now scores movies. But when we go on tour, we love each other so he comes along, and he’s a friend since, what, 16? And our drummer, Thomas Hedlund, we met while touring in Scandinavia 10 years ago. He has a few bands. He has a band where he’s a full-time member, which is called the Deportees, as a band where he plays various styles. He has a death-metal band where they have two drummers. He’s so good that I stopped playing drums. I used to play drums sometimes even in the studio, but because he’s so good I just can’t. I don’t want to play drums anymore. Sometimes with technology, we totally don’t need a drummer in the studio, but he comes to record additional drumming for what we’ve done, or sometimes he has ideas to make it more elaborate. That part of our band, they are with us six months … when we tour, we are together all the time. We sleep in tour buses next to each other, so we know each other pretty well.

Armisen: It’s so nice that it’s been the same people so it’s not always some session person you haven’t met. That’s kind of cool that it’s part of the band.

Mars: Unless you’re a bit of a dictator onstage, unless you’re James Brown and you say, “No, you do it like this.” But that’s not our personality. It would be a struggle. It would be horrible to work with session musicians, I think.

Armisen: Do you have one recording studio, or do you guys bounce around?

Mars: We bounce around. Each record, we have a different studio because I feel like if you have your own, it’d be too comfortable. It would feel like Groundhog Day even more. Also, I know that my favorite Prince record—well, before he had Paisley Park—I feel like it’s good to have something new each record. Do you have a studio?

Armisen: No. We shoot on location everywhere, so it’s even further of an extreme of not having comfort. We have an office that changes every couple years, and every day we have to go to some location. It’s really nice to hear you say that, because I firmly believe in not having the most comfortable situation always, exactly for that reason. As soon as people get their own TV studios or recording studios, the more comfortable it is, you can feel it. You can tell that they slept in and came in late, and I don’t know what it is. One time—and I mean no disrespect for any TV shows—but one time I went to a studio at NBC where they filmed the old Tonight Show, the Jay Leno one. Everyone’s great, he’s a funny comedian, but they had a big painting of him up against the wall at his actual studio and it was so permanent. Something about that, I was like, “As soon as you get settled into some permanent ‘This is my home, this is where I’m gonna make my music from,’ I think it’s trouble.” It should always seem a little shaky just so you work a little harder.

Mars: When it becomes a museum, it’s the same idea. It becomes intimidating and forces you to replicate some recipe or something. It doesn’t invite novelty, for sure.