A Conversation With The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt

Composer, multi-instrumentalist and bass/baritone vocalist Stephin Merritt may get tagged as maudlin, moody and miserable in his writings, but no one has ever accused him of being unambitious. Far from it; as a psychic sister to his epic and classic 69 Love Songs (1999), Merritt spent 2016 preparing his 50th birthday project for the Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir. Along with longtime Fields partner Claudia Gonson, Merritt played 100-plus instruments and wrote one highly personal song for each of his 50 years, with scenes blossoming forth like shaken Polaroids. Oddly enough, he was as happily crabby as a kid (“’74 No”) as he was as a teen (“’86 How I Failed Ethics”) and so on. Go figure.

When did you decide that the entirety of your life was so damned fascinating that it was worth this magnification—that yours was a better life to examine than those around you? Or was it just turning 50?
It wasn’t my idea. It was Robert Hurwitz, the one-time president of Nonesuch, who took me to the Grand Central Oyster Bar and told me he had an idea for a Magnetic Fields record. Actually, he said “a Stephin Merritt record,” but I wanted it to be otherwise. I don’t pretend to think that my life is particularly interesting. Musicians’ lives are about the same whether it’s the Rolling Stones or Alien Sex Fiend. We record, tour, record. I just happen to have these 50 things to say about my life.

How did he come up with that good idea? That’s certainly not the modern record label boss’ mien.
He’s a pretty creative person. I even gave him a co-producer credit. But no royalties.

How did autobiography and honesty work as a writing option?
My first objection to the idea of writing about myself was that there were good reasons not to, many at that. I had just come off doing a This American Life episode, talking about a man disentangling himself from the Mormons, and I wrote about him, thinking only truthful thoughts, writing truthful things and enjoying the results. So Bob suggested that I apply that truth to my own life and that it might be easier and quicker than paraphrasing someone else’s life. It didn’t hurt to write about myself—as long as I could still rhyme without saying trivial things. I liked the challenge.

I do think that honesty is overrated. Did you have to dig deeper—not that you hadn’t before—or differently to write so exclusively personally?
I wrote this, physically, the same I write everything: I sat around in gay bars with a notebook in one hand and a drink in the other. I often write things that I agree with. I just needed to make them specific and stick to that specificity. And that album isn’t entirely about just me but things that happened—to me. It’s how things affected me, but not in a way that, say, Vietnam was terrifying to me. I think my only self-reference to anything Vietnam was that I saw a Jefferson Airplane concert as a kid. My only reference to the AIDS epidemic was that it came along at an inconvenient time for me as a teenager.

You say Hurwitz wanted this to be a Stephin Merritt record. So why make it a Magnetic Fields project as opposed to a Future Bible Heroes or a Gothic Archies project—other than, say, commercial considerations?
Well, commercial considerations were paramount. I didn’t want to do a great amount of work and not sell a great amount of records. Who knows if this will sell any records anyway, but I wanted it to have at least that fighting chance. If I had made it one of those other bands, it wouldn’t be all my singing and that was the point of it, that it needed me singing. You couldn’t have someone else singing 10 songs in a row about me without sounding random.

Owing to the fact that you’ve known Claudia Gonson forever, do you think she registered surprise as to how you portrayed yourself throughout 50 Song Memoir or that that was how you felt about something?
Claudia did register surprise at one song she thought I should take off the record: “Life Ain’t All Bad.” She thought that song was too angry and that I shouldn’t be presenting myself that way. Claudia is currently the mother of a five-year-old child, and I think that she occasionally looks at the world as it might appear to a five-year-old child. To a five-year-old child, yes, it is angry. To a 50-year-old-man, it sounds just fine. I don’t want to seem as if I’m criticizing Claudia.

Not at all, but you know you sound like a five-year-old child saying all that. I recall much of my childhood through the lens of my father’s home movies of me, so much so that I wonder if I’m not just living the movie—that the movie was my life. Do you have things to remind you of your life, totems such as old photos, or did you just work from memory?
I have very few photos of myself outside of publicity stills. I say as much in “I Wish I Had Pictures.” A series of accidents and misfortunes caused me to lose those photographs of my childhood and teen years. I had to ask my mother and Claudia what they remembered about me because I don’t always remember what happened when, to the point of me asking them each to write out their own timelines for me—of what they knew about. My mom has one half of the album’s timeline and Claudia the other.

I think that’s fabulous, that you involved your mother. Do you mind if I ask what your mom thinks of 50 Song Memoir?
She would have been happier if I had not mentioned her. I did let her listen to the songs that she appeared on. I wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t all make her burst into tears or want to sue me, for that matter. She was the only person I did that with. I was careful to not be cruel. Wait, we did send one other song out: “John Foxx.” I sent that to John Foxx of Ultravox.

And what did he say?
Flattered and delighted. Why not?

—A.D. Amorosi

A Conversation With The Black Watch’s John Andrew Fredrick

As Henry David Thoreau so eloquently observed in Walden, the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Other men’s lives are considerably louder in their desperation, which they set to a jangly baroque pop/psych/folk/rock soundtrack and deliver to the barest sliver of an audience that cultishly lauds and loves both message and messenger, massage and masseuse, master and masturbator. One such desperate man is John Andrew Fredrick, who has spent the last three decades as the sole constant in one of music’s most perfect and unheralded rock outfits, the black watch. Using the Beatles as a tracing template, Fredrick has applied a kitchen-sink approach to the album at hand since his 1988 debut, St. Valentine, the opening volley in a catalog that would ultimately encompass 15 albums and five EPs, all of which inspired varying levels of critical halleleujahs and a deafening chorus of crickets at the nation’s cash registers.

And yet, through a dozen or more lineup changes, nine record labels and 30 years of glowing reviews and commercial neglect that borders on criminality, Fredrick has soldiered on, tilting at music industry windmills and churning out pop/rock masterpieces and a quartet of novels at a fairly dizzying pace. Although the Fab Four is Frederick’s beacon on the hill, he’s never been afraid to color outside the lines he’s established for himself, but that still doesn’t explain why filmmakers at every level haven’t flocked to include the black watch’s rich imagery in their movie music arsenals. Perhaps they are much like Fredrick himself, who once noted in “The Wrong People,” “I wouldn’t know love if it fucked me in the eye.” Which is likely why that wasn’t the single from The King Of Good Intentions.

At any rate, Fredrick doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about the industry blockade that’s been constructed around the black watch, and it looks like he’ll be sending exquisite missives out to the wider world well into the foreseeable future regardless of how they will be received by the mass of men. Maybe, just maybe, Fredrick’s turn as MAGNET’s guest editor will change his fortunes. While we hold our collective breath for that eventuality, Fredrick was kind enough to take a little time for the following email exchange to offer a peak into one of music’s most tenaciously creative minds.

I’ve loved everything that I’ve ever heard by you over the years but, like Tommy Keene, you seem to be trapped in the industry amber of critical acclaim/cultish commercial appeal. Do you accept that as your place in the musical food chain, or does hope spring eternal for you, that whenever you release an album it might be “the one”?
“Industry amber” is very good. Plus sad because true. Speaking of Tommy Keene—swell fellow—we did a gig with him in San Francisco three or so years ago at this great club (The Velvet Singing Door or Red Plush Reverb Hall, can’t recall its vaguely synaesthetic name) that was dying, just like Tommy’s and our respective hopes for breakthroughs? Isn’t that just too professorly, to make that into something analytical-critical? Yeah, we give up and go on. The people who are into us are into us, keeping their terrible tragic secrets. Now even the same writers write about us, almost! You’re one of the new ones. Bienvenidos a este banda-even though, as you say, you’ve heard all our stuff. Why so quiet, Brian, knight-in-arms and palely loitering at the keyboard and pitch-making place? Hahaha [bittersweet laughing]. Thank you for loving us, wheezed the band on its twilit deathbed.

The longest time you’ve taken between releases is three years. Is there an internal alarm that sounds for you telling you it’s time to start recording?
Well, obviously I love the studio, so it’s more of an itch to get back to my perennial sexy place. It has to do with whatever philanthropist comes along fundamentally (sorry) and the magnanimous attitudes and availability of the revolving cast of producer friends whom we amuse and reward with musical creation and glee and artistic conception and beer. Rob Campanella, Scott Campbell, Tim Boland—they’re so very much in our corners and in our pockets that it’s remarkable. We owe them so much, love them so much. I mean, they’ve practically been in tbw all these years, just not had to turn up for every rehearsal.

Are you writing all the time and then pick out the songs that will make up your next album, or do you write specifically at the point you begin the new album process?
Well, I just start writing one song and then I must think—if you must pry me open—”No sense in orphaning this one; better make some siblings.” And when I get 10 or 12 I’m happy with (all bpm’s different, keys sorted and varied, feels distinct and themes ricocheting off one another, lyrically), then we look around, make calls, prepare to starve for a spell, and go in and have the greatest and most challenging time in our favorite place, the studio.

What kind of influences guided you when you first started making music, and have they expanded over the years?
Influences? I have none of those. Haha. Brian Kehew, old friend and now Pete Townshend’s ace techie and another of those “tbw believer” producers, has this tape of some wretched muso braggart going, “We are mostly influenced by ourselves.” You gotta laugh at that one. The Beatles, of course. The first time I heard “I Want To Hold Your I Saw Her Standing There,” I, at five, in the back seat of my dad’s big bulbous Buick, started jumping up and down. I was five. I am now not five, and still jumping to the Fabs, and now need Glucossamine and Chondroitin for those poor old joints. Of course my influences expanded with the times. But my tastes have been called “brutally narrow,” and I’m not offended. Chuffed, rather. I can name you 12 very, very obscure artists I am crazy about as well as way huge loves like Radiohead and early U2.

Highs And Lows came out two years ago, so presumably you’re starting to get the new album itch. Anything on the horizon in that regard?
Goddammit, I’ve just started writing three new songs. Why, for christsakes, why?

Are you still on Pop Culture Press Records?
We put The Gospel According To John out on our own imprint, the eskimo record label. We might work with Pop Culture Press again; we’re still in love. Just taking a break.

Who’s in the band currently?
Me, Andy Creighton (of the shockingly underappreciated the World Record); Chris Rackard (bass), Rick Woodard (drums); Peter Gabriel (flute, just joined up); Kevin Shields (noises, just quit after two rehearsals; said he wanted to go solo).

Do you have a favorite album in your catalog? Is there one that baffled you in its inability to connect with a wider audience?
I can’t say I do have a favorite. I have always maintained that J’Anna Jacoby’s guitaring is my favorite of all the guitars, however. She formed the weirdest chords. Without all the odd alternate tunings I employ as a kind of crutch. I think Lime Green Girl was quite ill-favored, in terms of exposure. Old Jack Rabid bangs on about Jiggery-Pokery (which was done with a drum machine, which to this day doesn’t make me wax sentimental about it); and my kid Chandler (who is quite the dab hand at songwriting and guitar and piano and who’s contributed on a number of the LPs) thinks we peaked at The King Of Good Intentions in 1999, and that’s his favorite, probably because of the lo-fi element of that record; I mean, it was recorded in five days, a non-eternity. Plus he is way into a song called “Your Mary Janes,” which I don’t rate all that highly. Who knows why certain songs connect with people? Or records. I took a year off, just before Highs And Lows, from listening to indie pop and only had KUSC on all the time, brushing up on classical and all. It was great. George Martin bitched about there not being long melodies in current bands’ songs. Too true. I have gone back to obsessing on Talk Talk and Echo & The Bunnymen. Early Bunnymen reminds me I don’t want to write too many slow songs anymore; gotta pump it up and keep it pumped.

Let’s get in the hot tub time machine and go all the way back to the late ’80s. You’ve just graduated from University of California at Santa Barbara with a PhD in English and you embark on a music career. Was that your plan, to spend an inordinate amount of money on a degree and then pursue a path where you would make less money than a teacher?
I didn’t spend any money on my education. I got TAships and nice parents. The whole of my education, AA to BA to MA to PhD didn’t cost what one year and a top “public ivy” costs now. It’s a sham and utterly scandalous, the cost of higher education now; and going to be the undoing of this poor sad philistine country. I got out of teaching for the first 10 years after I left UCSB and concentrated on my art and poverty.

Given that you’re not moving platinum units and building trophy cases for your Grammy collection (and to be clear, neither one is a measurement for good music), what motivates you to keep writing and recording after 30 years?
No-hope hopelessness motivates. I still love the sound of my own … guitars.

You’ve also written two novels and I’m so jealous; I can barely find time to get a chapter done. Is there a third book in the bottom drawer?
Published four novels now, Brian. Get it straight. Hahaha. There is a part three to The King Of Good Intentions, loitering at the publisher. And a novel-length Nabokovian horror story (I don’t know why; the only scary tales I’ve ever read are Poe’s stuff and Henry James’s!) that’s also very funny, I think. I wrote a musical about Dr. Johnson, my hobby horse, that also takes place in contemporary times (very Stoppardian); but I don’t know any theater people so that’ll prolly be a posthumous thingy. Would love to produce the songs from that thing, though. Musical-style the black watch. A new genre?

From your personal perspective, what is both right and wrong with the music industry as it stands today?
Please don’t ask me about that moribund-reanimated thing, the record industry.

Have you written a song or several songs addressing the current sociopolitical situation?
I hate political writing, unless it’s Christopher Hitchens or Hannah Arendt. In music? Please. Old Vlad said in Speak, Memory or Strong Opinions or something, something to the effect that all political art just turns to tawdry sloganeering. You reckon the Clash changed anything, anything at all? Dylan? He shifted things in people, sure, but no towers toppled or armaments manufacturers ceased production. George Harrison had a few laughs with Gerald Ford one photo-op day. That’s all.

The whole lower case device … e.e. cummings homage or broken shift key?
e.e. cummings all the way. Though you can only read him well into spring and at no other time. Say, from Mayday to the 15th. It’s coming up, cummingsdays. Get your poems out, kids. Dust ’em off. Let those jumbled, beautiful words set you dreaming.

—Brian Baker

A Conversation With Rick Wakeman

Move past his time as the most grandiose member of prog-rock avatar Yes—the act with whom he’s anointed into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame this spring—and pianist Rick Wakeman is the soul of subtle sensuality and improvisational classicism who loves deep abiding melody and digs it most when it moves him to complexity. That’s the point of his new solo album, Piano Portraits, a beautiful still-life epic that finds him alone looking back lovingly at his most famous session gigs (David Bowie, Cat Stevens) as well as a hailstorm of traditional British hymns with fire and brimstone. Yeah, he was nearly part of Black Sabbath, and he knows where most of his garish outfits from his wooly mammoth Journey To The Centre Of The Earth solo tour reside.

I know you were wearing a cape during 2016’s Anderson, Wakeman And Rabin tour. What did you do with all of the flowy robes from the whole Journey/Henry VII period? They seemed so heavy.
There are six classic capes, and I have almost all of them, five really, save for the Journey cape. When you’ve been married four times with three divorces, things just disappear. The cape I dragged out for the AWR tour was one I had made in, oh, 1976, for the No Earthly Connection shows. Then there was a dark blue cape that was pretty new, just 10 years old.

So you just have an eye for capes.
I do. But they’re hard to take out with you. First off, they’re heavy. You put them in a flight case and no one wants to lift it.

Did you just re-record Journey and King Arthur?
I did. One of my good friends was Jon Lord (Deep Purple). We were about to record an album together when he was diagnosed with cancer, and within six months, he passed and it never transpired. One thing we discussed before the diagnosis was that he had much music to sort out before it was too late. “When we shuffle off this mortal coil, what we leave is what we’re meant to leave,” he’d say. “So get it right. Tweak them and make them whole.” Two things for me were Journey—recorded live because I didn’t have the money to do it in studio, and King Arthur, which had its original orchestrations missing. With Journey, there were loads of mistakes but the energy was so great—that’s something you never want to correct. Those were the days of vinyl, too, when you could only put so much music on. Journey was nearly twice the length it wound up being when I composed it. Jon told me to make it right, so I did. I heard him saying as much when I did his eulogy. With King Arthur, it was the opposite—I had only 45 minutes of music, but for the 02 2014 Fest, the promoter needed 90 minutes, so I had to pen more music. I have a fest for Arthur coming up in 2018 in the west of England with jousting events and all. It will be mad.

Can you joust?
I highly doubt it because I’ve only ever been on a horse once, and that was for eight seconds. Then I fell off.

Roger Dean still does much of your album art. How do you see his work in your ears, and how does he see your work in his eyes?
Ever since I started playing at age five, I had teachers who told me I paint pictures with my playing. Roger has this absolute knack of getting inside your head and finding those pictures. And he won’t ever do it for the money, no matter how much you offer him. He has to see it and feel as passionately as you do.

Beyond the notion of selecting tracks, what’s the consideration behind finding songs for a solo piano record such as Piano Portraits? It’s as naked as they come.
You’re absolutely right, Number one on my list, a must, is melody. Any variations on music come from strong melodies from the start that you can maneuver around. That’s going back centuries, that, a lovely thing to do—no matter what the length, if you could take a melody and float away in a manner than wasn’t detrimental to the author’s original intent. My style—how I feel and think—then acts as a catalyst for that melody.

We’re talking a year to the day that Bowie passed, and you played Mellotron on his Space Oddity album. What was so great about the Mellotron?
It had the best, windiest sound, but it was a pig of an instrument—forever breaking down. The tapes would snap, hard to keep it in tune. What I use live is a Memotron, a German instrument that sounds just like a Mellotron, which is desperately important for all of the old Yes tracks that I still do—say, “And You And I.”

You do “Life On Mars?” here, and I know its ascending melody on piano has a glorious complexity. Was that rough on you originally?
It’s actually quite simple, but David has this knack, like “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” and “Life On Mars?” You’d be going along comfortably with a series of chords, then suddenly when you’ve settled back into your comfy chair, he would do something wild that would make you sit up—totally tangential. He was brilliant at that. Very clever.

Are you particularly Christian or patriotic? I ask because your “I Vow To Thee, My Country” is a British hymn with a poem attached to it by Sir Cecil Spring Rice that discusses loyalties to homeland and the kingdom of heaven.
I am a Christian with a strong faith, but I can’t stand religion. I find religion has nothing to do with faith these days. Melody again got me. It makes me feel warm by the end of it. At its start, it feels as if you’re taking a deep breath, one you can’t exhale until its end.

—A.D. Amorosi

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Guided By Voices Interviewed By Mike Watt

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 Mike Watt

Photo by Gene Smirnov

With first-ever Guided By Voices double LP August By Cake, Robert Pollard has released his 100th studio album. And given he’s the most prolific musician in the history of rock, he’s already finished number 101. MAGNET asked punk-rock legend and massive GBV fan Mike Watt to interview Pollard to get the backstory.

I first got into Bob Pollard’s music when a friend played me a seven-inch that had a few tunes on it. I dug it right from then; it spoke to me. I’ve always wanted him on my Watt From Pedro radio show to ask him about his musical journey. What a mindblow that now I get the chance … —Mike Watt

What is your earliest music memory?
As far as rock ’n’ roll is concerned, because that’s all I remember anyway, it might seem pretty clichéd for someone at my age, but it actually was seeing the Beatles perform for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. My entire family watched it. It was a huge event for everyone except my dad. He wasn’t so impressed. He told me a few years after that that the Beatles were good songwriters, but they couldn’t sing. He thought you had to croon to be a real singer. He also despised Elvis.

What was the first record you bought?
I remember my dad buying me a 45 at a department store called Ontario’s. It was “Count Me In” by Gary Lewis And The Playboys. I’ll never tire of that song because it was my first record. I was hooked and wanted more, but I didn’t have any money. So a friend of mine named Billy Perkins would steal 45s for me from the department store. I’d give him a list, and he’d stick five or six 45s down the front of his pants, stick his dick through the center holes. I know because he showed me how he did it. Then he’d just walk out of the store. You know, “Nothing for me today. Thank you.”

When did you first pick up a musical instrument?
I used to bang around on cheap guitars and chord organs when I was a little kid. I didn’t know how to play, but I could make a noise and sometimes record it on this small, cheap reel-to-reel machine that I had. I actually bought a guitar with my high-school graduation money and taught myself how to play it in college—at least well enough to become a better songwriter. It was an imitation of an Ovation acoustic guitar called Applause. It looked just like it with the hard-shell, round back, but the strings were really high off of the neck and difficult to depress. It really fucked up my fingers and ultimately made it much easier for me to play when I was later able to afford a good guitar, a 330 model Rickenbacker.

Did you have music in school?
Yeah, it was just general music class in elementary and junior high. I had Mr. Cox at John H. Morrison Elementary. We call it Jim Morrison Elementary. He cast me in the big school musical production of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs as one of the dwarves. I shit you not, I was Dopey. I had Mr. Rudolph in junior high, and he was a real prick but a pretty good music teacher. I remember him saying that music is like eating olives: At first you don’t really like the taste, but later it grows on you, and I remember thinking, “Man, he’s totally right.” This was in sixth grade. 1968 or something. I was just beginning to hear more challenging music on the radio, and at first I didn’t really like a lot of it. It was bubblegum up to that point.

When did you first start playing with people?
We tried to form a band in sixth grade. We were going to be called Jello. My best friend, Scott Sears, could play drums, and I could sing a little, and girls actually thought both of us were cute—so we had the foundation. We couldn’t find anyone who could play guitar, so he would play drums and I would sing along with records. We performed “Proud Mary” at the school talent show and at the parent/teacher conference later that night. We got out of synch with the record, but it still went over really well. The mothers and little girls thought we were adorable.

What was the first band you were in?
It was the next time I performed before a crowd, and it wasn’t until seven years later. We called ourselves Anacrusis. It was a musical term I found in a book, which means to start a song on the upbeat. It had a symbol with an upside-down U and a period at the bottom center. We were an arena-rock cover band, so I put a lightning bolt through the upside-down U, and it became our logo. Beneath it I wrote, “Power In The Ultimate Form.” I was a freshman in college, but the rest of the band were in high school, at Northridge, where I graduated. One of them was Mitch Mitchell, who formed Guided By Voices with me. Anyway, the Northridge high-school kids thought we were great until we started doing originals. Then Mitch and I got into punk and new wave and cut our hair really short and were asked to leave the band. That was the beginning of Guided By Voices, even though we didn’t take the name officially until about 1982.

Do you remember your first gig? When was it, and what was it like?
It was with Anacrusis in 1976 at a venue called Brookwood Hall. It was on a Friday night, and I had classes during the day at Wright State University. I couldn’t concentrate to the point of being nauseated because I was so nervous. We had only practiced three times and only once as a full band, so I thought we would, in all likelihood, humiliate ourselves, and I’d heard that there were going to be 300 kids at the show, and it did end up being a full house. So anyway, the opening band was called Arrival, and their motto was “Rock ’N’ Roll.” Their lead singer was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Tits And Wieners.” Their lead guitar player was so fucked up on quaaludes that he couldn’t play. They tried to play “Johnny B. Goode” and couldn’t do it, so I got a huge surge of confidence because we knew about 25 songs—stuff like “Be My Lover” and “Seasons Of Wither,” and I knew we were going to kick ass. And we did. They booed Arrival off the stage and went nuts for us. I was a jock, and after the show, freaks were coming up to me going, “Dude, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

How old were you when you wrote your first song? What was it about?
I was maybe eight or nine years old. It was called “Corn Country.” I sang it for Superchunk once in the dressing room at a show, and they thought I was nuts. It was a nostalgic song about growing up in the Midwest in the middle of fucking nowhere. In the lyrics, I pretended that I’d moved away and then came back home to “Corn Country.” The title says it all.

Do you remember your first recording?
Well, I mentioned the primitive reel-to-reel tapes we made, but if you’re talking about in a studio, we recorded our first record in a 24-track studio in Kentucky called Group Effort Studios, and it sounded like shit and we sucked. And no one gave a shit, so I vowed that on the next one, which became Devil Between My Toes, that since no one really cared, I could put exactly what I wanted on it, with no regard to sound quality or performance. I like that record, and I realized that that was the way to do it.

What have been your favorite collaborations?
I dig them all, but it would have to be Circus Devils, hands down. We just wrapped it up after 14 albums. That’s pretty fucking good for a collaborative side project.

When you write, does the music come first or do the words? Is it different every time?
It’s different with each project, but in recent times I like starting with lyrics. That way, you tend to form different melodies or phrasings around each line or section. I kinda work my way through from start to end, and it creates more challenging or interesting structures. It’s harder to pin down a particular style or genre that way. It’s more psychedelic or progressive in approach, but it’s still very melodic. It’s still songwriting and not just jamming. Sometimes, though, a melody or chord progression comes to me, and I start with it.

When songwriting, do you ever start with a title? I ask because that’s always the way I do it.
First of all, your titles are great. Yes, I would say about 90 percent of the time I start with a title. It becomes the inspiration for what will come next—for how it should feel and sometimes even what kind of song: Pop? Punk? Anthem? Novelty song? The title sort of dictates where I’m going to take the song. Sometimes when I start writing the song, it takes a different direction. Or when I’m finished, it’s not what I expected, and I’ll change the title.

What’s your least favorite song that you’ve written?
It was a song on Same Place The Fly Got Smashed called “Ambergris,” because it’s just completely silly and ridiculous, but now I kind of like that one. I would have to say “Hold On Hope” because it’s such a sappy-ass, commercial-radio ballad. Guided By Voices fans really like it, though, and since Glen Campbell did it on his final album, it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. It was originally supposed to be a much heavier recording. That’s the version we’ve put back into the live set recently.

Do you ever see yourself “retiring” from music?
No. Honestly, I can’t imagine it. Maybe from performing live at some point but not from making records. Not as long as I’m able.

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Grandaddy Interviewed By Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell

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 Ben Bridwell

Photo by James Elliot Bailey

Following a divorce and a move back to his hometown of Modesto, Calif., Jason Lytle got Grandaddy back together to record the band’s first album in more than a decade. Last Place is not only one of the band’s best LPs, it’s also Lytle’s most personal. MAGNET asked Band Of Horses frontman and Grandaddy fanboy Ben Bridwell to talk to Lytle about subjects ranging from nicknames and album sequencing to being nice to strangers and Grandaddy’s resurrection.

I passed a lot of my time in the ’90s in the record shops of Seattle, scouring the used CD bins and compilations sections in search of something that looked interesting, exotic or familiar by word of mouth through magazines or friends’ recommendations. I’d rush back to my tiny apartment and blaze through all the day’s spoils in hopes of discovering treasure. Even one new great song to ease the pain of another coming night in a dish pit scrubbing burnt pots and pans for minimum wage. One such rare treasure was Grandaddy via the Zum Audio Vol. 2 compilation. The song “Ghost Of 1672” instantly stood out. The pristine clarity amid the seemingly homespun innocent quality of the sounds and the intimacy of the vocal immediately captured my attention, while the lyrics activated my imagination, drawing me further in. “Who in the damn fuck is Grandaddy?” I thought—I needed to know. Well, I’d soon find right out by crate digging and special ordering any and every shred of Grandaddy music I could find. This band from Modesto, Calif., was a mysterious blend of low and high brow, low and high fidelity. Clever and simple. Sincere but with a strong dash of cheek. I followed Grandaddy relentlessly for every release, tour announcement, even new merchandise for the next decade until their apparent demise in 2006. Somehow I managed to befriend Jason Lytle, the band’s captain, just as they were disintegrating. Now almost a decade since our first handshake, I’m proud to call him a great friend and oft collaborator. This is a chat between two buddies. One of whom still happens to be a fanboy. —Ben Bridwell

Ben Bridwell: It’s good to talk to you.
Jason Lytle: Yeah, what’s going on? I’m at home. I’m in my bachelor pad. Where are you?
Bridwell: I’m at home as well, in my very opposite of bachelor pad. [Laughs] Where is home for you right now?
Lytle: Oh, dude, I’m back in Modesto.
Bridwell: OK, good. So you’ve set up shop? You’ve got a place and everything?
Lytle: Yeah—I’m sure we kinda talked about this that night in San Francisco. Yeah, I came back here, just kind of temporary, not really knowing what the hell was going on but knew that I had to live somewhere. Knowing that all this Grandaddy shit was gonna fire up this year. I got a little apartment right on the outskirts of Modesto.
Bridwell: That’s awesome!
Lytle: Six months ago, if you would have told me that, I’d be like, “No fucking way.”
Bridwell: I’m glad to hear that you’re at home. That’s awesome.
Lytle: Yeah, man, it’s working. I’m making it work. I just kinda lay low. It’s like a little one-room apartment, just gear everywhere. It looks like a fucking Grandaddy factory in here. It’s like boxes and cases and pedals. Just stacks of fucking shit. Couple of bikes.
Bridwell: Like hiking shoes? Just like various hiking things.
Lytle: Big-ass Craftsman tool chest and down jackets everywhere. That actually reminds me, if they still did Cribs, my Cribs, I would have a salad bar in my living room. Like a Whole Foods salad bar in my living room.
Bridwell: Just every kind, like young lettuces, old lettuces. All kinds of shit. Can I get into asking you some shit about stuff?
Lytle: Yeah. I figured we’d be freestyling, but you’re a planner, right? I appreciate that.
Bridwell: Yeah. Oh, my god, you have no idea. This is like the third draft. I did keep it mostly just to themes—I would like it to be free flowing and not feel like a damn interview because we don’t really talk like that. I do want to get something out of the way, because I think I have a kind of resentment issue here and I want to resolve it with you. The first question: Why did you steal the sound of Band Of Horses’ new record for your new record? [Laughs]
Lytle: [Laughs] Damn it.
Bridwell: I don’t know why you guys are trying to sound like us now.
Lytle: Shit! That big stack of notes that had like three notes about the recording of the Band Of Horses record did come in handy.
Bridwell: You’re a thief with a hammer? “This is how I’m really gonna get that sound!”
Lytle: [Laughs] Good first question.
Bridwell: Thank you, man. I’m really doing a great job. Thank you. So, how about this whole thing right now; you’re trying to talk to a lot of people about the record and what you’ve been up to and all that stuff. We both know from experience that that can get a bit monotonous, and interviews can become a bit samey, like a recurring dream or something. You kind of go into automatic mode—the interview’s over and you’re like, “I’m not sure I really feel that way anymore!” You’ve been saying the same thing for so long and that recurring question. What’s it like for you right now? Are you in the midst of that, or is it still so fresh and new that you find interesting things to talk about?
Lytle: It must be fascinating for you to ask this question because it’s something that you’ve dealt with a lot. I try to explain this to the people who coordinate the interviews and they don’t care, nobody fucking cares. They’re like, “Let him get this out of his system.” Let him do those 13 interviews in a row, all on bad connections to Italy. I find myself getting taxed because I do care. As much as I want to go into auto mode and just, like, assembly line these same stupid answers coming out of my mouth to the same questions, I do feel the need—it’s a bit like a jazz improv—I do need to improvise and I do feel the need to think a little bit harder and think a little bit differently about certain questions. And it kind of wears you out. And I almost feel like it would be better if I didn’t give a shit and I could just go into “third eye blind” mode and just answer these questions. Because first off, the songs didn’t mean anything to begin with and now I’m just answering these questions about things that didn’t. But, like, everything means so much, you feel like you need to honor it by giving it a thoughtful, caring answer. And that’s the part that wears you out. It hasn’t been too terribly prolonged, but it’s getting there. And it’s only because people are talking about it—the more interest, the more momentum gets rolling and there’s more requests. But we’re really trying hard to filter out the ones that don’t … I don’t want to say don’t matter. It’s just getting the bang for your buck.
Bridwell: Easy! I’m just kidding, go ahead.
Lytle: Only because I know that’s what’s going to come out of my mouth. I really care about what I’m saying. I have to be a little bit choosy.
Bridwell: Quality over quantity. Makes sense.
Lytle: Part of why I couldn’t handle any of this stuff anymore—and if there’s a top 10 list of these reasons why I kind of had to back out of this whole part of it awhile back—is because of that. I’m just trying to be more thoughtful about all the different categories. You don’t need to do every goddamn venue between here and Vermont; don’t need to do every interview; don’t need to play every radio show; don’t need to sing happy birthday to everybody’s boyfriend, who’s been a big fan since ’97. You just have to be a little choosier now.
Bridwell: It makes sense, and that kind of goes into the next thing. On the other side of the promo aspect, the radio-station business, the radio liners and taking photos and that kind of stuff. Do you find yourself, at least at this point right now, whatever qualms you might have had about it back in the day when you were younger, maybe full of a bit more piss and/or vinegar, do you find yourself even more grateful now, like, “Hey, I’m just grateful now that someone fucking cares!” Is it still annoying? Is it as annoying? The confusion that kind of comes with the territory when you’re being paid attention to, it can make you pissed off to feel like you’re doing some sort of fool’s errand. How are you now, now that you’ve been in this life of music for a long time? How does that apply now when it comes to all these other promo things that you’ll be asked to do and you still want to show good faith by showing that you’re working hard so that they’ll work hard at the label or PR company or whoever? How does that apply now?
Lytle: I’m still working on it. I’m at the front end of it right now. I keep joking with people, I could be a month away from being like, “Oh, that was a bad idea; forget that!” It’s like, “What the hell was I thinking?” A big part of it that makes it shaky for me is that I am—and you know this—I really enjoy spending time alone. I’m not a big groups-of-people person, and the people who I do have around and I’m comfortable being around are people who I have to. I don’t feel the need to be in the middle of a bunch of stuff going on. If anything, I can’t really handle all the noise and all the clamor. That part of it is the toughest part. When I do get into these situations, it’s a big relief when you sense that there is a genuine interest. The caliber and the quality of the conversations that I have, the ratio has shifted for the better. Like 30 percent of them are just people who are asking great questions and they have all this interesting insight, and you have these meaningful conversations, and I think that’s it, too. Having a conversation means that you’re sharing something, going back and forth. I think it’s always being active; when it’s so one sided, that’s just, like, ugh. It’s just cheap and weird. It’s strange to me.
Bridwell: It seems like no one’s listening, too, they’re just like saying things at you. And you answer their questions, whether it’s a logistic issue—you know, management or label—or a series of questions in a promo day. It just seems like nobody’s listening, too, right?
Lytle: I’ve been surprised though, too. I’ve been like, “Whoa, I just did some total dingbat interviews for someone’s, like, junior-high yearbook.” And this piece comes out, and they were listening and it was wonderful! They kind of picked up and expounded in all these poignant ways, and it’s just like, “Wow!”
Bridwell: You learn things about the process. You uncover little secrets that you forgot about during the process.
Lytle: Definitely. I think a lot of what we’re doing throughout the process is, we’re kind of in this other mode and we’ve got blinders on, and that was most of what we did with you guys, the whole idea was just to kind of set aside this time and go into our own little universe for two or three weeks. And you’re doing it for a reason, and you’re not really thinking straight. It’s better that you’re not trying to make sense of what you’re doing. You’re taking skills that you’ve learned, but you’re also allowing some of this weird, mysterious stuff to flow out. You can’t be expected to be assessing that scientifically throughout the process. Because that has a threat of killing it, snuffing it out. It’s weird to finally be asked, “What were you thinking when you did all of that?” And I’m just like, “Fuck! I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Bridwell: Yeah. “Can you help me remember? Can we listen to the track?”
Lytle: They’ve picked up on things, and it does help you kind of jog your memory a little bit. That could be a cool part of it, too.
Bridwell: Damn straight, absolutely, then you had a good day. The next day might fucking suck, but at least you got one good damn day out of it. Hey, you like having your picture taken? Band photos? [Laughs] “Everyone looks cool. Relax your mouth!”
Lytle: I’m just so ugly that it’s just awesome.
Bridwell: Oh, no.
Lytle: Yeah, yeah, OK, tell me I’m not ugly. Tell me this; have you learned this? If I can give anybody advice, if the picture-taking process does not come natural to you or you’re just like, “I’m not having fun, I’m not having fun,” the one piece of advice that I will give anybody right now—and of course you have to learn the hard way, like early on at some point. So there’s this guy taking the photos and you guys got three different locations, and in the course of an hour he’s taking like 350 photos, And he’s asking you to switch it up, especially in the U.K., they’re like, “Do something wacky!”
Bridwell: Yeah, “You stand still. You look that way. You put your hands this way now.”
Lytle: But they try to make you feel guilty for not … And you’re just like, “Nope, this is what I do.” So, out of like 350 photos, there’s one—you let your guard down and do something stupid and that’s the one they use. So I’ve learned, despite what they ask, despite anything they suggest, you show up and just stand there, don’t do anything. Just do the same thing for every single fucking photo. If you deviate at all, look off to the left, look kind of quirky—that’s the one they’re gonna use, and you’re gonna look like a complete idiot.
Bridwell: MAGNET is gonna sell so many magazines for this, just for that nugget. Great advice. Thank you, that’s great advice—I’m gonna have to remember that. I’m gonna skip around, just so it doesn’t seem too static here.
Lytle: Oh wait, to expound upon that a little bit: If you’re in a band and you’re pissed off at one of your band members that day, you encourage him to do something wacky and just stand there and don’t do anything. And when that issue comes out, guess who’s gonna be the stupidest-looking one? I’m done with that one.
Bridwell: What’s your favorite nickname between “Desto,” short for “Modesto”; “J Li,” a twist of “J Lo,” with the same amount of letters; or “Lionel Richard?” And why? [Laughs]
Lytle: Oh, man. [Laughs]
Bridwell: OK, I’ll move on, sorry. Let’s talk about listening to other people’s music.
Lytle: You didn’t let me answer the question.
Bridwell: Oh, I thought you weren’t taking me seriously.
Lytle: I’ve got one, it just showed up recently. You know that Squeeze song, “Goodbye Girl”?
Bridwell: I think so.
Lytle: [Singing] Sunset on the lino … do do do do … goodbye girl.
Bridwell: I don’t know a lot of Squeeze stuff.
Lytle: And scene. OK, next?
Bridwell: What’s your nickname, though?
Lytle: Nothing, nope.

A Conversation With Steve Jones

Steve Jones has been, during his 61 years, one of the Sex Pistols and a fire starter to all that is punk rock, a session guitarist for Iggy Pop, a member of best-forgotten supergroups the Professionals and Chequered Past, an actor on Californication and, presently, a Los Angelino radio host on KLOS 95.5. Less illustriously, Jones has been a sexually abused child, a kleptomaniac, a lover to Chrissie Hynde and a multi-chemical drug addict. Recovered from all those ills, Jones is alive and well to talk about it in his new autobiography, Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol.

I don’t mean this as an insult, but I never got from you that you were any sort of a reader. Are you?
You’re right there. I never read as a kid, ever. The only two books I ever did read was William S. Burroughs’ Junky and my own new book. The Burroughs book was naturally something that I got turned onto when I was in rehab. I don’t remember it. I couldn’t tell you one word of it. I did read the whole thing, though. My own book—really, I only read it because I had to just to make sure i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

Do written reviews matter then, or even that great big coffee-table book that critic Jon Savage penned, God Save Sex Pistols?
Well, I’m a human being who gets affected by what people say about you. My advice: Stay away from comments from social media.

Before I ever had one chance to open your book, Britain’s Daily Mail hit readers over the head with your accounts of sex abuse by your stepfather. I won’t bug or bore you further—people can read Lonely Boy for the sordid details—but was that a hard thing to commit to paper, or are you that pragmatic that you just wanted the facts out?
Yeah, I mean it wasn’t news to me. I became more aware of myself during therapy, and it was no big secret. The only thing was that now the whole world could know—which is OK. Some people look at you differently when shit like that happens to you and you admit it. I got core friends who don’t care.

Some people struggle with the confession of it all, yet yours is a matter-of-fact revelation.
Why bother with shame? I was 10 years old for fuck’s sake. I didn’t have any part in it.

What was funny in Lonely Boy was the discussion of your kleptomania. Do you still nick things?
No, I quit about 30 years ago now. It was part of me program: quitting all bad behavior.

Did you ever apologize to David Bowie for taking his Ziggy Stardust stage gear?
In a roundabout way, yes, and apparently he thought it was funny. I made amends to the drummer, Woody, on my radio show several months ago, and the keyboard player last week. Who I needed to apologize to was the bass player, which is a shame as he’s dead. What I stole was a bass-amp head, some cymbals and some microphones—it wasn’t like they were Bowie’s. I stole a lot more gear from less-famous bands, but I wasn’t proud of it. I couldn’t help myself.

Do you know which of your parents you are more like?
I only met my real dad once, and I spoke to him on the phone a few times, so I don’t really know about him. My mom, though, I definitely see a lot of my personality traits in her, and I definitely got the music from her as she was always dancing down at Hammersmith Palais with the teddy boys. I know she has a musical sense in her head.

Glen Matlock wrote his book. John Lydon wrote his autobiography twice. You’re not really old men, and it’s hard to fathom pulling two stories from one life, but John’s smart and verbose. What say you about him finding so much to say?
Well, I haven’t read either of them, have I? He’s a bright guy; very intelligent, good with words. Whether they’re all true is another story. He’s an intellect. I don’t think I have another book in me.

So many others have written books about you or managed to release additional music beyond Never Mind The Bollocks. What say you about having people outside the Pistols profiting from your work with Lydon?
It’s incredible, really; the fact that so much can be pulled from that one record and that short, short time. I don’t think there’s another album or story like that. Definitely, it was one of those albums and one of those times that shifted gears from the norm. I’m proud to have been a part of that for sure. It’s not every day you can be the thing that started a cultural shift or a musical one on a revolutionary level. What was the question?

I mentioned Savage’s book, not the first he has written about the Pistols. There’s an industry that has grown out of that single Sex Pistols record.
I think you’re right. The only dough that I made out of the Pistols was when we did that reunion in 1996. Back when it first happened, it was pennies and peanuts. Which was fine, even now. I live a basic lifestyle. I’m not on a park bench. I’m all right.

More than all right. So why land and live in Los Angeles?
I don’t know, man. You end up where you end up. I love the sun—not as much as I done when I came out there. I like the open space. The chicks were better, and like so many other limeys, I just got here and never left. There are a few that roam around here and can’t wait to get back to that miserable drizzle.

Throughout Lonely Boy, you don’t seem nostalgic despite how vivid the book’s recall is.
You are absolutely right. Whenever I look back at the past—any past—it bums me out. So I don’t do it. I don’t know what that means, save for that I’m just miserable all the time.

—A.D. Amorosi

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Ty Segall 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

By the time you’re done reading this interview, Ty Segall has probably made another solo album or one with the many bands in which he plays. Segall’s new, second self-titled LP shows the multi-instrumentalist is at the top of his very prolific game. MAGNET asked actor, comedian, musician and fellow studio rat Fred Armisen to go under the hood with Segall.

I was asked by MAGNET to interview Ty Segall. I said yes right away, as I’ve always loved his records (and him!). He’s built up such a solid discography. I’m really impressed by that. I felt like I knew him, just from bumping into him at different events. I saw him most recently at a video shoot for a new song. I’m always in a good mood after a conversation with Ty. He’s funny and always seems to be wanting to make more things. More art and music. A few days later, we did this interview. —Fred Armisen

Fred Armisen: What phone situation are you on? On a speaker phone? Are you at home?
Ty Segall: I have you plugged into my stereo really loud but no one is around, just so I can hear you better.
Armisen: Awwww. That’s so cool.
Segall: But you’re not on speaker phone. Just so you can hear me better.
Armisen: Yeah, I hear you great. I can hear you really clear; I’m glad I’m not in a car, and I’m glad I’m not wearing a little headset. I’m on a phone phone, and I’m definitely glad about it.
Segall: You’re definitely phone phone-ing.
Armisen: I’m phone phone-ing. Wait, should we be recording this? Is this already recording?
Segall: I don’t know. I don’t really know how to do that.
MAGNET: You guys are already being recorded.
Armisen: Oh! Who is this other voice?
MAGNET: It’s Megan from MAGNET.
Armisen: Oh, how are you?
MAGNET: I’m good. How are you?
Armisen: Good. We both really like MAGNET. I’m representing both of us with this one compliment.
Segall: I agree with that compliment.
Armisen: Well, first of all, hello, Ty, it’s good to talk to you. We’ve known each other a little while. So it’s not like we’re complete strangers to each other, and in fact, we saw each other the other day because I did a little something in your video that they’re shooting in L.A.
Segall: Yes, you did very well, by the way. That was amazing.
Armisen: Oh, thanks.
Segall: The close-up shots—I don’t know if you got to see those—were very good.
Armisen: Oh, good. And what was the concept of the whole video?
Segall: The song is just one big pun. It’s called “Break A Guitar,” so I thought I’d go extremely literal and just explode and destroy a bunch of guitars. To tie it all together, though, it’s supposed to take place in my brain. So it’s a little bit of a Lynchian zoom into my ear, through the ear canal into the brain, and that’s where you are, along with others. And that’s where the destroying takes place.
Armisen: You obviously play a lot, you tour a lot and everything—what is the state of people smashing instruments? Like is that happening a lot or not at all? Do you see it once in a while? Is it real? What is your perception of people smashing drums and guitars?
Segall: I don’t think it’s that real anymore. I think it was a lot more prevalent in the ’90s when there was a lot more money in the music industry to replace your gear. I’ve never done it with any good piece of equipment that I actually like. I’ve seen it happen maybe twice in seriousness. I don’t think it’s a very serious thing happening nowadays.
Armisen: I don’t think so, either. I don’t think I’ve really seen it.
Segall: I think I’ve only really seen an accidental destroying of gear. Or like a person loses their shit and yells at the crowd and slams their thing down. Whatever the thing is that they’re playing.
Armisen: Right. It never feels right to me to smash something, because I always feel that something could be useful. Like, “Oh, you never know, you could use this guitar or whatever.”
Segall: I think that’s a very normal and healthy way to be. I feel the same way. I’m more about giving things away instead of breaking them.
Armisen: That seems fine! Because someone could always use it; that I really like. To someone, it has value.
Segall: Yeah, instead of breaking a guitar, for instance, just give it to someone and pass it on.
Armisen: Because I would have loved it when I was a teenager like, “Oh wow, I got this guitar because they didn’t need it anymore.”
Segall: Yeah. I’ve done that a couple times at shows. Just like, “I don’t feel good about this guitar, maybe you would like it.” And it seemed like the kid liked it, so …
Armisen: Well, I’m very happy to be talking to you, and I love your new record.
Segall: Thank you.
Armisen: And last time I talked to you, one of the things we discussed was your body of work. It seems to me like you’re in a very solid place in the music world, like I have the sense that you’ve accomplished a lot. There’s a real library of work. When was it that you felt you had accomplished that—where you could look at your discography and think, “Oh, I really have a full body of work”?
Segall: You know, I don’t know. I don’t really look at myself like that. I like to just constantly be thinking about what I’m working on. I don’t look at the past records I’ve done. I think that would kind of drive me insane a little bit. I’m more about continuously trying to work on more stuff. But that’s cool! I’m a huge fan of bands that are just constantly doing different records all the time, so I would like to do that. I don’t know what that really means, but I just look at it like, “Is this thing gonna be a different kind of record than before?”
Armisen: When you’re singing or playing, especially when you’re recording, do you ever picture somebody else in your mind? Do you play the part of somebody else—do you think, like, “This is what so and so would do if they were playing this part”? Does that happen at all or is it just you?
Segall: Not playing live. Honestly, the brain tends to turn off, and it’s more like an ethereal kind of situation. Especially with the loud stuff. It’s more feeling the physicality of the music. Obviously, the brain is on and there’s intention and a thought process going on. But recording and writing, there’s lots of references and recording moves that I’ve either learned from listening to records or, like, “Oh, I love this mix that this person did of this song. I’m gonna try that.”
Armisen: Sometimes when I’m—and by the way, I’m not trying to make this about me, just as an example—there are times where we’re writing a sketch or performing a sketch, and I’ll think, like, “Well, what would Molly Shannon do? She would do it like this.” I’ll just do an impression of a comedian I like. And I suppose it’s kind of like just picking from them, but it helps me get to someplace quicker. But there might be a different goal for music, I’m guessing.
Segall: I totally understand that. I think for me it’s like recording or writing where you can take an influence. I think it’s totally fine to take a riff from a song and invert it and create a different vocal melody. It legitimately does turn it into a different song. It’s taking a cue or an influence, even just to get moving with an idea. I definitely do that stuff, for sure.
Armisen: How much do you tour? I think I don’t know how much you tour. I’m only imagining that you do it a lot, but maybe you don’t?
Segall: I used to tour a very large amount. Now, I’m probably one of the more laid-back touring people in my age group or whatever. It feels like that at least. I do maybe three tours a year now. I don’t think that’s too crazy anymore. I used to be gone like six months out of the year. But now it’s cool. We kind of make it count. Not that it didn’t count before. But for each record, we’ll do a cycle.
Armisen: When you tour, what kind of a vehicle are you in?
Segall: It’s funny, in the U.S. we get a van that my bandmate Charles and I own together, and it’s a great vehicle. And in Europe, we actually just started touring in a bus, which is kind of crazy. I’m a big fan because you can actually do things. You can travel through the night. It’s strange because the bus is cheaper. You know, we have so much gear, and our touring manager and our booking agent and our sound man come with us in Europe. In the U.S., it’s just us. In Europe, we have a few more people, so it would be more expensive to get two vans than it would be to get a tour bus.
Armisen: That’s a nice place to be, for sure. Have you ever traveled to a city and been talking to someone and they go, “You’ve met me already, why are you reintroducing yourself?” Or have you forgotten someone’s name and you’re going, “Do I know this person?” And they’re, like, “Yeah, you stayed with us.” Are you at that point in your career yet, or is it more controlled?
Segall: No, I’ve definitely forgotten people and totally made an ass out of myself many, many times. It’s always a really shitty feeling.
Armisen: You almost want to yell at yourself in your brain, like, “Yeah, of course that’s who that is!”
Segall: But you’ve gotta give yourself credit, though, that some of those people are insane—the other side of it where some people are psychopaths who will guilt trip you for not remembering meeting them for 30 seconds.
Armisen: Because that’s also a rude thing to do anyway. I don’t think I would ever do that to anyone else. If they ever forgot me, I wouldn’t give them a hard time about it. I’d be, like, “I understand, it’s OK,” I mean we’re meeting each other again anyway. I don’t think it’s ever fruitful to give someone a hard time about something.
Segall: Definitely not.
Armisen: Let’s do a quick magazine break. Hey, you’re reading MAGNET. And I’m here with Ty Segall, and we’re having a conversation. Stay tuned for the rest of the magazine! Plenty of pages coming up; we’ve got reviews. And I hope you’re enjoying it!
Segall: [Laughs]

A Conversation With Dwight Yoakam

It’s been 30 years since the release of his twangy debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., and 20 years since he first worked as a hard-assed thespian with actor/director Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade), and Dwight Yoakam is still doing very much the same thing—only twangier. Good. He’s currently finding his way through the deeply etched country sounds of rural America with his bold, bluegrass-laced new album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, which harkens back to his roots in his Kentucky youth, as well as again working with Thornton on David E. Kelley’s Amazon drama Goliath. Whether it’s the tough-and-tender tang of his guitar, the quietly contentious snarl in his vocal drawl, whether he’s loving or fighting, or a face as recognizable as his sound, it seems as if time’s stayed still—in a great way—where Yoakam’s concerned. Plus, he’s good for a mean and flaky baked good—i.e., his Bakersfield Biscuits—so Yoakam is yummy, too.

Goliath has you and Billy Bob, and all I want to know is what kind of state law makes it that you two must work together as often as you do?
Are they putting the entire series up like they do on Netflix? Who knows? It was a cool thing to do, work with David E. Kelley and Billy Bob, whom I’ve worked with many times. This time we’re adversaries in a courtroom with most of my other scenes occurring with William Hurt.

Is there a bond between you two guys so that little is spoken within the context of a scene?
We’re mainly good friends, since making Sling Blade. We share age and cultural commonalities to say nothing of music. He’s directed me as an actor and observed me in special ways. We’re different in the literal ways in what we do and how we do it. He has unique reference points to me, and yes, I do think we have shorthand, probably because we trust one another. I hope he trusts me. I would like to see us do something big together—focused on just us—at some point. You know what about him: He’s a drummer to start. I think that informs what he does, not just as a musician, but in everything he does.

Thirty-years ago I spoke to you about Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc, Etc.
Did I have a plastic guitar prop as part of the promotion? Some molded, plastic, late-’50s looking thing?

Sure, it was the goofball ’80s.
I remember those first odd interviews with that plastic thing, which by the way, was not a toy.

The reason I bring this up is that during that chat, we talked about countrypolitan Bakersfield guitar session cats such as Don Rich and Buck Owens as part of the palette of inspirations for that first record. Were there bluegrass guys in the back of your mind who influenced this album in the same massive way that Buck and Don did Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc.?
Wow, that must have been before that first album even came out. Absolutely; Bill Monroe for one. We would open our shows back then with “Hear Me Calling.” We opened for Monroe, and he heard me, and I even asked him if it was OK to do some of his songs. That was fine by him. After one of the shows, he called me backstage, up to his makeshift office, and he pitched me more of his songs. I was flattered. He was the Elvis of bluegrass while Flatt & Scruggs were the Beatles. Nah, scratch that. Bill Monroe was Bill Monroe. A big part of my DNA, too, was the Stanley Brothers, which was cool because they were right across the state line from me. Years into my career, and it was more rockabilly than guitar-slinger rock ‘n’ roll. There was adolescent, mischievous abandon about it all, but the bluegrass thing stuck, even though I was covering stuff such as Monroe in that tougher way. When I realized that I enjoyed doing bluegrass straight, we did sets of bluegrass songs during our shows in ’05 and ’06.

That was really something. Can you pinpoint the first bluegrass album in the house back home?
There was an album at my granny and grandpa’s house in the holler in Kentucky. Brocade jacket, cowboy hat pulled down. It was a Jimmy Martin album. It was a hoot, which was strange because my grandpa was a very quiet man. He loved Flatt & Scruggs, too, though … hmm. That experience never left me: hearing those songs at my grandfather’s or even the radio in the holler. Oh, and Jimmy Martin is a great story, too—ostracized, in a way. Wasn’t allowed to be a member of the Opry. Played monster bluegrass. He became the first real rock ’n’ roll answer to straight bluegrass. “Sunny Side Of The Mountain.” A real outsider.

That could be you. Did Ralph Stanley reach out to you beyond guesting on his records? I’ve spoken with him and his grandson, such a gentleman.
A very quiet gentleman, thoughtful, quiet above all else. “Dwwiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,” he would say, “Where’d you get the bluegrass?”

I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Stanley: How is it, with all the traditions of bluegrass, that you can make or write or arrange bluegrass to be uniquely your own?
For lack of a more literate way of thinking of it, I did it by nature. I had him on my covers albums, and we did a Clash song, “Train In Vain.” Good English punk. “All right, Dwiiiiiiiiiiight, you wanna do it; we’ll do this.” I tried to make accommodations chord-wise for him and for the song, but he turned to me and he said, “It ain’t the mountain way.” You can’t do anything that isn’t the mountain way. That’s the key. It’s a cultural thing. Don’t be what you are not.

—A.D. Amorosi

Best Of 2016: Q&A With Lucy Dacus


We caught up with Lucy Dacus just after she had returned from a short U.K. tour and almost exactly a year after her single “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” came out and started catching people’s attention. Back then, she was working a seasonal job in a photo lab. “This is kind of the first major break we’ve had since March, so I’m excited to sit around on my couch and not have anything to do,” she says, although she’s already looking forward to working on demos for her next album. She took some time away from her couch to talk to MAGNET about her surprising year.

Congratulations. No Burden is MAGNET’s number-one record of the year!
That’s so awesome. I didn’t know that. That’s so cool! It’s such an honor.

What were you expecting your year to be like when you were getting ready to put out the album?
It’s only been recently that I realized that I don’t have to go back to the photo lab anymore. I try to put myself back a year ago, because the single wasn’t even out yet, and I would never have been able to imagine what this year would be. It’s a huge change, to start a career. When most people start a career, they plan for it. For us, it just kind of happened and we realized after the fact that this is our job now. It’s been a lot of adjusting. It’s been weird, but it’s the best job in the world, so no complaints.

Was there a moment when it changed from people coming to shows and not knowing who you were to when it was apparent to you that they were there to see you?
I don’t think it was a moment, but there were small realizations that led me to believe that the music had reached people in ways I didn’t expect. At first, it was seeing people know the words to the songs. That’s always the biggest compliment that people can ever give because it shows that your music has taken up their time and their thoughts when you weren’t around; they had chosen to listen to you. It’s such a gift. A more recent response is that in response to Trump’s election, people have posted some of the lyrics of my songs as encouraging and as a way of finding comfort. I had never thought of the music manifesting itself that way, but that’s ideal. I’d want people to find comfort and solace in something that I’ve said. That kind of recently crystalized what this job is to me.

What were the lyrics they posted?
There’s a lyric in the song ‘Trust,’ which is just me and an acoustic guitar, that is “Beauty is the only way to make the nightmares go away/I’ll plant the garden in your brain and let the roots absorb the pain.” Seeing that line through someone else’s eyes, in their context, taught me what the song is about, even though I wrote it.

What were some highlights for you this year?
I guess it began with our album release and our tour. Going to SXSW felt like a touchstone moment; we’d never played a festival like that. Touring with Car Seat Headrest, another Matador band, was awesome in September, just because I love their record that came out this year. Playing with the Decemberists was really cool, because we’re all big fans of them. Playing Lollapalooza was awesome. I’m just talking about music highlights. Maybe our hometown show at the National here in Richmond where I’ve seen all my favorite bands like St. Vincent, Pixies, Neutral Milk Hotel. We played a headlining show there, and that maybe was the biggest deal of this year so far, because everyone in the crowd was someone from my life or someone I cared about; some people I didn’t even know who went to my high school but knew all the words; people who knew me when I was seven and singing at our church. It felt like a real surreal day.

What were some of your favorite records of 2016?
My most listened to records of this year, for sure: Big Thief’s Masterpiece—I love that record and that band. Andy Shauf’s The Party, Car Seat Headrest’s Teens Of Denial, Julia Jacklin’s album Don’t Let The Kids Win. Solange’s album is awesome. Chance The Rapper’s album: so good. Beyoncé’s album: really, really good. What am I missing? Oh, Y La Bamba put out an album this year, and it’s maybe the most underrated album of the year in my opinion. It’s so, so good.

Enjoy your time off!
It’s so nice just to lay around!

—Steve Klinge

A Conversation With Bob Weir


Not since 1978 has singer/songwriter/guitarist Bob Weir released a solo album with his name alone above the title. That’s until the new, country-ish Blue Mountain. Yet no one could fault him for laziness, as this founding member of the Grateful Dead has—since that psychedelic San Francisco treat disbanded in 1995 after Jerry Garcia’s death—worked and recorded as Bobby And The Midnites, Kingfish, RatDog, Furthur and in duo settings with Rob Wasserman. Famously in reunion with the surviving Dead, he played 2015’s Fare Thee Well goodbyes and continued to tour (yeah, we know) with John Mayer as Dead & Company in 2016. Starting with this year’s release of multi-artist tribute Day Of The Dead, Weir has thrown in his lot with the National, whose membership curated that boxed set and play all over Blue Mountain with other cats like Craig Finn, Josh Kaufman and Josh Ritter. Then there’s that beard …

Your last 12-16 months have been auspicious and relatively unceasing. Are you someone who needs to be moving nonstop because you’re easily bored, because there’s so much music in you that you must get it out, or do you owe somebody money?
Actually, it’s a combination of all of them. I’m not positive how much I do owe, but at this point, I’m doing OK. A lot of great stuff comes my way in terms of making music, and it’s hard to say no. That’s what I’m here for. Yeah, I’m easily bored, but I’m also as lazy as the next guy. For some reason, I’m staying busy.

Are you a man who compartmentalizes things, ideas and sounds, or do they intermingle among projects?
You know, that’s a good question. I have to wonder about that. This record for instance—I don’t think it sounds much like what I’ve done in the past, and you can put that down to people I was working and writing with. Then again, I did some of the writing myself. It’s not like other stuff, that it presented itself as an entity without a border or past connection. It wasn’t meant to be a part of what has come before for me.

You say entity without past, and there’s Josh Kaufman, Josh Ritter, Craig Finn and the guys from the National. Did they bring this to you, this country ragtime thing—did they have a mindset? What do you mean this came to you?
It came to me, and it came to us. Kaufman and Ritter had talked amongst themselves and brought the piece to me. Then it revealed itself to us more as we were writing it.

Got it. It was this arranged organic process that took off once you all got together.
Yeah, we had no idea what we were looking at or looking for. It all revealed itself through the sessions.

This question is not meant to sound vampiric: The two Joshes, the National, doing the Dead with John Mayer and Trey Anastasio. Are you purposely playing with cats outside your usual circle or younger players because you’re looking for a fresh coat of paint? Or are they great players, and age be damned?
Definitely the latter. If I’m working with younger guys, there’s always a certain amount of stuff I can impart after having played for a long time. Overall, though, I’m just looking to interact and to live it. To work with what they have to offer. It’s the back and forth.

Let’s look at how and what the National did in curating Day Of The Dead with alternative bands—and you—as part of the bigger Grateful Dead picture. What was your take on how they viewed your legacy?
It became real apparent to me—quickly—that what they hear is what I’m hoping people will hear. The National, for instance—I can hear in their playing what they heard in me; the roots thing that I’m working from, the heritage of country or whatever. Insofar as we revere the same traditions, we speak the same language, and that means we can converse easily.

There’s a fantastic photo of you, your daughter and your wife at the San Francisco Debutante Ball with you in dashing white tie and tails. What are you thinking?
It wasn’t my first Debutante Ball. I attended one in my youth, and we certainly played them. There’s a tradition. I had separated myself from that world for years—not renounced—but it creeps back in, especially where my older daughter is concerned. I was kind of tickled about that. I was born and raised within that dynamic.

You were forever the clean-shaven pretty one in the Dead. Not that you’re not still pretty, but what’s with the General Burnside beard? It’s gorgeous. Why grow it?
I was just on the road and missed a few shaves. Those several days turned into a week and a half, and the next thing you know I looked like a Civil War cavalry man. It just kind of happened.

On the new album, lyrically, you’re working with Ritter. It hit me—you’ve collaborated with other wordsmiths in the past. What level of trust must you have in someone to let them tell your story?
There’s a lot of back and forth, and rather than trust, I would say we share vision. That’s openness toward those involved, and Ritter’s one truly open individual.

Do you recall what song came first during the Blue Mountain sessions and how that guided the rest of its vibe?
I do. The title song—it’s like a cowboy tune, a place to hang our hat and to let the other songs circle around. It was a bunk house in Wyoming where I began that.

It’s not as if you haven’t worked on other projects since 1978, but Blue Mountain is the first to have your name out front, in lights, all by its lonesome. Why is that?
The other albums—they’re all me. This is just a little more me.

—A.D. Amorosi