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.

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Future Islands Interviewed By Andy Samberg

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 Andy Samberg

Photo by Gene Smirnov

The visceral, soulful synth-pop of Future Islands serves as an emotional rescue from modern life. In conversation with actor/comedian Andy Samberg, the Baltimore band sheds light on its aspirations and inspirations.

I first heard Future Islands while I was working at Saturday Night Live. They’re great, and their music makes you feel good. Even when their songs are about sad things, they still feel uplifting, which is hard to pull off, and because of that I listen to them a lot. This interview went great and is going to change the world, and the guys in the band are now my best friends. Enjoy our convo! —Andy Samberg

Andy Samberg: I’ve been listening to the new album, The Far Field, and I love it. It’s so rad. I was very excited to get it early and feel all cool and VIP. One thing I noticed about it is—and I feel like this is kind of one of your trademarks: There’s this sort of forward motion to it at all times. Even when the songs are lyrically addressing topics that could be interpreted as sad, there’s still this momentum and hope to all of it. Especially right now, when there’s so much negative energy out there, every time I put this album on, I feel inspired or happy.

William Cashion: When we’re writing songs, we don’t really talk about what we want the songs to do; it’s just what comes out. The three of us in a room, we just put a drum machine on and I think we favor the four-on-the-floor type of beat, so maybe that’s caused it to be more driving. I think, thematically, the record lends itself to the road; it’s about the road and also the good albums to listen to while you’re out on the road.

Samuel Herring: That’s actually something that’s always been a thing in music, too. The play of light and dark. I think we explore (the idea) that there are heavy times, but then there is light on the other side. There’s that hope; that hope is the thing that keeps us alive. When we were 18-year-old kids and first started writing, it was writing music to play house parties and have fun with our friends. When you’re exploring yourself as an artist, you’re also dealing with things that are in life. It was years of making this music that was really fun to dance to and compulsive but if you listen to the words, maybe there’s something weaker about it. It was years later when we were like, “Oh, we’ve been doing that, and that’s one of our strengths.” “Beauty Of The Road” was maybe the first song we wrote for this record, and that set the tone. It was that weird meta phase where you’re writing songs about your life but then your life becomes boring, being on the road, so then you’re writing songs about touring and being on the road and writing songs and you’re performing these songs.

Samberg: You’re still working your ass off. Pretty much everyone who’s trying to survive on Earth is doing that.

Cashion: And then also me and Sam grew up shopping in the husky section, and Gerrit never had to shop in the husky section. That’s also a part of our approach, I think.

Herring: Definitely part of our music.

Samberg: And so you probably give them a lot of shit for that. How long have you guys been friends?

Herring: Me and Gerrit grew up together. We’ve been hanging out all the time since we were 14. And then William was my first friend I met at college. At 18, I met William and then introduced him and Gerrit shortly after. Me and Gerrit went off to college together. So we started playing music together when William was 19 and Gerrit and I were 18. Still in the same grade, though.

Samberg: So it’s similar to my experience with the Lonely Island guys. It’s the greatest, right? Knowing someone from that far back and you go out into the world and it’s so fun because every time something cool happens, you get to look at each other like, “Holy shit, it’s us from back then, and now we’re here!” And then also when you’re dealing with things that are new and weird, you get to look at each other and be like, “This feels wrong, right?”

Cashion: The first time we toured Europe was in 2009, and that was after years of sleeping on floors and playing house parties, and we were just kind of like, “What did we do right? How did we end up here? Who did we trick to get to tour here?” It was one of those pinch-yourself moments. It’s crazy that we’re still able to be a band, you know?

Samberg: Yeah, absolutely.

Cashion: Got a question for ya. Are there tons of harps at your house?

Samberg: There are at least two harps at my house. And multiple pianos as well.

Cashion: We’re fans of yours, and we’re also fans of your wife (Joanna Newsom)’s music.

Samberg: Well, thank you. I also am actually a huge fan of her music; that’s how we met. I met her at her show.

Cashion: I was curious about the harps, sorry.

Samberg: By all means, we have a room that houses harps. And it’s kind of like a weird music fan dream come true for me that we have been so in love because I get to hear her play harp all the time.

Cashion: That’s dope.

Samberg: I’ve listened to your guys’ stuff for a while, but it felt like Singles was your breakout. Would you say that’s fair?

Herring: Yeah, that definitely garnered the much larger audience.

Samberg: That’s a weird thing to experience. It’s like, “Hey, we’ve achieved a level of success. Holy shit. Now what do we do?” I guess I’m just sort of commiserating that that’s a hard thing to put out of your mind, but you have to in order to get out of the headspace that brought you there to begin with.

Herring: The thing was, we felt like we already had success before Singles came out. We were on the road from mid-2008 to the end of 2012. In that time, we saw the audience grow, playing 150 shows a year. Seeing that slow growth—coming back from a tour losing a hundred dollars to coming back home with a hundred dollars, then we were finally paying our bills, then I could afford a second pair of pants. We felt the success, but we were still an underdog band. I think we’re still an underdog band. So it was interesting to be in the spotlight all of a sudden because we wanted that when we were 25 or 26 and didn’t get that, you know? And to get that years later was interesting for us, because we’re just doing what we’ve always done. We’ve been here all along. We’re grown men who had been at this for a while.

Samberg: I was curious if you have a favorite or least favorite description of yourselves or the band or the music that you thought was funny that you’d care to share.

Cashion: We get called, like, dads a lot, which we think is weird because none of us are dads yet. I think we throw people off because maybe people have an idea of what a synth-pop band should look like, and maybe it’s bigger hair and makeup. We don’t have that stuff.

Samberg: Sam’s voice gets a lot of different comparisons in articles I’ve read.

Herring: I used to say things about the media, but I can’t because now I just sound like Donald Trump when I do. “Media tells lies!” We always enjoy when people write specific things about us. I get Cookie Monster a lot. That one bugs me. I think it’s more in my vocal delivery than in my voice.

Samberg: Maybe the cadence?

Herring: Yeah, I don’t really know. There was a meme going around of me next to Tim Kaine, and people were like, “That’s crazy, Sam Herring is just like a slightly younger Tim Kaine.” He’s 35 years older than me. Come on, give me a break.

Samberg: I don’t buy that one.

Cashion: Andy, I have another question. “Dick In A Box”—where’s the inspiration? Where did that come from? Did you put your dick in a box?

Samberg: The inspiration for that came from when Justin Timberlake was hosting around Christmas and Lorne Michaels told us, “You’re doing a song with Timberlake.” I realized really quickly that we all loved early ’90s R&B like R. Kelly and H-Town. [Michaels] was like, “What if we wanted it to be Christmas themed?” We started writing it, and I sent it down to Justin, who’s down on the floor rehearsing sketches, and he loved it.

Cashion: Is that the question you get asked all the time?

Samberg: Not the most, but definitely people say “dick in a box” to me as much as anything. I’m very comfortable with it. I love it. The joke is that that’s gonna be my epitaph: “Made ‘Dick In A Box.’” There’s worse epitaphs to have.

Herring: That’s also a shitty thing to put on somebody’s gravestone.

Samberg: “This guy was alive, now he’s just a dick in a box.”

Herring: Works on many levels.

Samberg: Yeah, but the joke’s gonna be on them when I get cremated. But I should also clarify that I’m not sure whether or not I want to be cremated. If something horrible happened, I don’t want them to be like, “Hey, look, in this article he said…” you know? But back to you guys, I read that you guys came up listening to hip hop. Is that true?

Herring: The first record that I really got into was Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep, so that led me to Prince Paul. When I was 13, my brother bought that record as well as (Enter The Wu-Tang) 36 Chambers. For my 14th birthday, my brother got me Digable Planets (Blowout Comb) and (Channel Live’s) Station Identification, and those two records blew my mind, exploded my world, and that’s when I started going to pawn shops and digging through racks and racks of $4 CDs. Luckily, my dad was cool enough to take me because he’s like an old rusty tool in the shed. I really found out about the beginnings of hip hop—of course Grandmaster Flash, but then KRS-One was huge, all the Native Tongues stuff. But De La Soul was my group back in the day.

Samberg: I find that as I am getting slightly older, it’s harder for me to keep tabs on the millions of different rap genres and styles that are coming through. Do you feel like you’re able to?

Herring: I honestly feel like there’s been a renaissance in hip hop, but I don’t know if kids these days want to be labeled that. I do feel like there’s a younger generation of producers and MCs that are doing really amazing, adventurous stuff and are coming at it with their own points of view. And it makes sense because kids these days have access to every type of music in the whole world at their fingertips. When I hear a 16-year-old kid from Chicago who has all these crazy flows because they’re just influenced by everything, I might think it’s like a West Coast style, and then it’s just some kid from Chicago, and I’m like, “How the hell did you figure this out? Where did you come from?” For me, I kind of lost love and understanding of what was happening in rap and hip hop. Danny Brown was the one who really opened my eyes again when I discovered him in 2011. He blew my mind and gave me hope again that there were really MCs out that were saying something. I think it’s coming back. But I also don’t know everything. What’s mainstream is a complete blank to me. I don’t even know a lot of the rappers that are really, really huge now. I know them by name, but I don’t actually know their music. Not that I’m against it, I just don’t keep up.

Samberg: I love talking about rap music. Is there any other kind of music that you guys are feeling, rap or otherwise? Are you bumping into stuff in the studio or while you’re traveling around or anything like that?

Cashion: We all just saw (Hans-Joachim) Roedelius (from Cluster and Harmonia) play last night, an old German krautrock pioneer. He played here in Baltimore and that was a pretty awesome set he did. He was doing sound collage for the first half, and then he switched over and became this kind of meditative piano stuff. That was really beautiful.

Samberg: Do you guys all still live in Baltimore?

Herring: Yeah.

Samberg: OK, I have a Baltimore question then. Do the people in Baltimore love the show The Wire or are they all like, “That’s fake!”

Cashion: I think people are into it.

Samberg: They’re into it: “It’s like our spot, that’s us in a good way.” Or is it like people are obsessed with that show?

Herring: I know Gerrit is watching right now. Maybe Gerrit should answer it.

Gerrit Welmers: I’m currently watching it, but I haven’t really talked about it with anyone, any local people. So I don’t know. I would say that the reality of Baltimore is probably a little bit different than The Wire, although we didn’t live here at the time.

Samberg: I always just think of the time I saw that movie Cloverfield while I was living in Manhattan, and there’s a part where they’re running through the subway to get away and they go from West Fourth Street to Midtown in three minutes, and when they came out of the subway, the whole theater went, “No way, fuck that, they could never get that far!” I just had this vision of people in Baltimore watching The Wire and being like, “They could never hide dead bodies there!”

Herring: I’ve never watched The Wire, because I didn’t want to be scared by a TV show of where I’d moved to. Am I gonna watch that thing that’s gonna make me feel unsafe in the place where I live? If I move, I might watch The Wire eventually. We do get asked about The Wire constantly on tour, in the U.S. and abroad, just everywhere. It’s a huge show; people love it.

Samberg: People are pretty obsessed with it. Would you say it’s your “Dick In A Box”?

Herring: I don’t think it’s the same thing.

Samberg: The Wire is Baltimore’s “Dick In A Box.”

Herring: Our “Dick In A Box” is probably the Letterman (performance of “Seasons” in 2014).

Samberg: Are you guys sick to death of talking about that? You must be.

Herring: Nah, it’s cool.

Samberg: There you go, ’cause it’s your “Dick In A Box.”

A Conversation With Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore

Since 1980, Depeche Mode has made the world rich with its Euro-elegant, industrialized brand of electronic post-punk, crepuscular pop-dance sensibilities and steely impres- sionistic lyrics touched by an ever-present questioning as to where we all fit socially, politically and romantically. Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andrew Fletcher—DM’s brain trust—focus more on the mess that is the planet’s political landscape at present on Spirit (Columbia) and its first single “Where’s The Revolution?” with Gore unable to look away while the world crumbles.

For better or for worse, Depeche Mode has always come with a societal message—if not directly a political one—and Spirit is no less brave for it. The bad news is, you’re sitting at home and you hear alt-right mouth- piece Richard Spencer says he’s a “lifelong fan” of yours and that DM is the “official band” of the movement. And you are … ?
Very baffled was the first thing. I couldn’t believe that he would think that we, in any way, would be affiliated with the alt-right. You’ve only got to listen to our songs—pick one at random—and you’d know we’re not about that.

Has there been any communication between the parties other than you guys issuing a statement of condemnation? Any steps such as ending his fan-club member- ship or stealing his “People Are People” 12-inch?
There’s nothing you can do to stop people from being a fan. He’s admitted that. To make claims beyond that, as if we are fans of his or his affiliations or organizations, is—to be honest—crazy.

All that you would have to do is listen; what socio-political agenda do you hold considering there’s always been some activism, labor, anti-corporate or environmental discourse in ’80s tracks like “Get The Balance Right,” “Everything Counts,” “The Landscape Is Changing” or “Monument”?
You’re no righter of wrongs, lest you turn into a superhero, but you try to always fly on the right side of history. You write what you believe in, what you trust. This time around—always, really—we want people to think when they listen to our records. This time, it was just more pointed. I really felt during the writing process for Spirit that the world was in a complete mess. Humanity had lost its way. By pointing that out, maybe you could somehow get some sort of values back. Now, I may just be imparting too much importance to music and what it can do—I don’t know if it can change the world—but even if one person is affected, then maybe I’ve achieved something.

The world’s going to hell in a handbasket, but at present yours is not the Euro-English viewpoint that you once had—it’s now that of someone who lives on our West Coast; Santa Barbara, yet. Were you looking at that mess as an American or as someone once part of the European Union, Brexit and such?
I’m looking at the world as a whole. We’ve had the Syrian crisis for years. That’s unbelievable to see those horrors daily, just as it is the refugee crisis. The Middle East has collapsed. America has its violence against blacks as cameras watch people doing nothing but having their hands in the air. Everywhere you look, the more the earth splinters apart, the more difficult it is to function without speaking out. You can’t ignore what goes on around you. I’ve lived most of my life as a European. I won’t be able to say that much longer. I could never have predicted that, but the writing has been on the wall for a while—so was the potential of Trump’s election. Only now it’s crazier that he’s won and implementing all the crazy ideas he said he would.

All this makes you think hard and makes you mourn for the planet. What then makes you laugh?
I laugh all the time.

Doesn’t that make you insane?
I have a one-year-old daughter who’s at that great age where everything she does is funny. She’s walking now, never stopping from the moment she wakes. I’m not a depressed person. I know that’s a thing.

No, no. Not inferring that. It’s just that you throw a dart on Spirit—“Poison Heart,” “The Worst Crime”—and you land upon a harsh reality. It’s nice that you have uplift and laughs personally, though there are a few comic moments on Spirit.
Yes, definitely, there’s dark, humorous lyrics in “Eternal,” which was written for my daughter. I had to slip in a vision of a black mushroom cloud rising and the radiation falling.

With you on the West Coast, Gahan in Manhattan and Fletch in England, how does a new DM get started? Who makes the first move?
When I finished my MG solo project in 2015, I just kept writing. When I felt as if I had enough songs like “Going Backwards,” together and Dave—who had finished his solo—had enough songs together, we met up. We talked about changing producers as we did the last three with the same man, found James Ford, and we were off.

Famously, you once held tight the reins of writing all DM songs until Gahan started in. Now your keyboardist and drummer are writing with Gahan. Soon, I’ll be writing Depeche songs. What say you?
The songs that Dave’s put forward are the best he’s written. He’s been doing it since 2005, and he’s getting better. All I can say is, “Why not?”

Do you feel as if living a cool, calm life in Santa Barbara affects how you work? It’s certainly a long way away from where you, Gahan and Fletch started off in chilly Basildon.
A very long way. You couldn’t get a more different place than where I grew up and where I am now.

—A.D. Amorosi

A Conversation With Tigers Jaw

Tigers Jaw returns with new record Spin, a glowing set of pop/rock tunes that denotes a shift in the band’s timeline. As the first release for producer Will Yip’s Atlantic Records imprint Black Cement, Spin is Tigers Jaw at its most composed and polished. But the band still builds upon its penchant for dizzying, unexpected hooks and bare, honest songwriting. Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh discuss the world around their record, from their new label to the newfound sense of hope and perseverance that really sets Spin apart from the rest of their catalog.

I wanted to start off by asking how you would describe Spin in relation to Charmer in terms of sound?
Brianna Collins: We definitely had a lot more time than we’ve ever had with previous records to really think about song structure and the keys that songs are in, so in the end it made everything feel really cohesive with there still being variation.
Ben Walsh: Yeah, we just had a lot more time. Also, writing Charmer, it was at a busy time in our lives when we weren’t really doing the band full time and we were writing on a much tighter schedule. This time around, for Spin, we’ve taken the band full-time and we’ve toured a whole bunch, and then we took some time off from touring specifically to write. It just felt really nice to have no pressure at all and just write and see what came naturally. We were very fortunate to have that time available to us. Another big change is that Brianna has written some songs for Spin, and she hasn’t been a primary songwriter for the band before. So that was a big shift, but she did an awesome job with it, and we’re really excited about how her songs came out.

You mentioned that you took some time off to write the record—about how long would you say it took to compose it?
Walsh: I wrote intensively for about two months, and then there were a couple more months where I was doing different things or I was on tour with different bands and I was writing in my spare time. So the bulk of it was probably done in like two months or so.

You signed to a new label, Black Cement, for this release. Timeline-wise, did you know before you went in to record the record that you were going to a new label? Or a major label?
Collins: No, we didn’t know that we were going to be signing, especially not with a major label.
Walsh: We knew our contract with Run For Cover was up; we had done three albums with them and a bunch of other splits and EPs and stuff. And we reached a point—you know, we’ve been doing this band for more than a decade now, and we were like, “Well, maybe we can ask around and see if there’s interest in other places and try to expand a little bit.” And it felt like an appropriate time in the band’s life to try and switch things up a little bit. We were talking to a couple of different labels, and we had a really, really difficult decision. But, ultimately, we felt really comfortable moving forward with this new label called Black Cement Records. Initially, when we were first approached, we were definitely skeptical because we have no direct experience with major labels and we’ve only heard stories—some of them horror stories—from other bands. We were kind of like, “Well, we’ll hear them out and see what they’re all about and see what they’re trying to pitch to us.” The funny thing is, the record was actually recorded before we committed to any label. So the record is exactly how we wanted to do it, with no label influence and total creative freedom, so we’re really proud of that. Shortly thereafter, it came time to make a decision about who would release this, and the staff at Black Cement just kept showing us time and time again how invested they are, how motivated they are, how much they believe in what we want to do. How much they want to use their resources to bring what we do to a bigger audience, not change us to fit their mold, but change what they do to amplify what we do. Which was really exciting.

I always think of Jimmy Eat World in those situations, the Bleed American kind of story where they record without a label. That ended up being a really successful record, so let’s hope it’s a similar story.
Walsh: Fingers crossed that we can follow in their footsteps. But we feel really happy with how the record came out and really proud of it. We’re helping people feel the same.

Spin seems to take a much different route lyrically than Charmer did. This record seems a bit more positive, more self-affirmed.
Walsh: Definitely. I would say that there’s an element of hope in the lyrics that wasn’t fully there before. And I’d say that just comes with living life and going through all sorts of really difficult relationships and changes and kind of realizing, “Oh, well, I’ve gotten through this much. I can do this.” There are definitely some more morose lyrics on the record, but there is an element of hope or some sort of confidence from the ashes.
Collins: That was good, “confidence from the ashes”!

The record is quite a bit different production-wise as well—a bit more polished than ever before. Will Yip produced the last two, correct?
Walsh: Charmer and Spin, yes. I think one of the biggest differences was that Charmer was tracked in less than a week. And we did it in blocks of instruments, so we did all the drums and then we did all the bass, you know. We sort of just did it as quickly as we could because we had a limited amount of time to do it. This time around, we had a full month to record everything. So we basically implemented a song-by-song schedule where every day or every two days we would be working on a different song. And we would start on the drums and then lay down the bass and start laying down the guitars, and by the end of the night, we’d be working on vocals. It was really cool for us to get to tailor all the tones and all the performances and all the sounds specifically to each song, instead of just worrying about the five other guitar tracks to get done today. I think that that allowed us to develop a much more cohesive sound overall. And each song has its own identity but everything fits together as a whole because it takes up the appropriate amount of space on the record, I think.

I know this can sometimes be out of your hands, but I was wondering if you had a say in picking “Guardian” as the first single?
Collins: Yeah. One of the great things about working with Black Cement is that they really trust our judgment with the decisions we have to make as a band. And Ben and I both strongly believed in “Guardian” as the first single. And when we told that to them, they were like, “Yeah, of course.” It’s been great to get to work with them.
Walsh: It’s been really easy getting on the same page with them because they have so much trust in us and they’re really proving to us that we can trust them as well, so it’s a really great working relationship. They’ve really proven to us how much they believe in what we do.

That’s pretty great that you still have control over stuff like that. I always think of that as so important, thematically and sound-wise, that first thing you get to hear.
Walsh: It’s the most important. Like I said earlier, we were skeptical when this was all first brought up because we thought, “Oh, if we sign to a major, we’re gonna have to play by their rules and we’re gonna have to change a lot of things around about what we do.” So we weren’t really looking to do that. But the more meetings we had with them and the more time we spent with them, we realized that they’re not trying to mold us into something that we’re not. They’re trustful of what we do and they’re respectful of what we do. So it’s been awesome to have the same amount of creative freedom that we’d have on any other independent label.

So, let’s talk about the art work. Who is the artist?
Collins: I painted it.
Walsh: Brianna’s done all of our cover arts.
Collins: Going into it, I knew that I wanted to try doing a painting. Specifically an acrylic painting because for every record I try to use a different medium or explore something further. With that in mind, I didn’t necessarily want the album art to be representative of one line of a song or even the album title. I wanted it to be something that represented Ben and I coming together to make this thing. In art school, I took a painting class and you would walk into the room and it would be this random still-life setup of things that you would never put together on your own. So I had Ben choose a couple objects and I chose a couple and I put them together, photographed them in still-life, and then painted that. So it represents this being our record, but it doesn’t have meaning in relation to the record title or the songs.

What about the name? There’s a line in “Window,” but is there a reason that word Spin stuck out to you?
Collins: I feel like naming your record is one of the harder parts of putting it out. At least for me, I would listen to the songs and try to find something that represents a feeling or something thematic that was present throughout the record. And “spin,” especially the way it is in the lyrics of the songs that it comes from, because it’s in a couple songs, it’s just a word that represents a feeling that can be overwhelming, whether it’s good or bad. It just encompasses how you’re feeling in that moment, like if it’s crazy or overwhelming—that’s what I got out of it and that’s how I related to it. Ben, I don’t know if it’s different for you.
Walsh: Definitely, it’s just like an overwhelming feeling where you sort of lose your bearings and don’t now what’s up and what’s down. And it did kind of pop up in a few songs and the meaning that it carried, being overwhelmed and being out of your element because of something that’s happened to you.

Ben, I read recently that your favorite record is Saves The Day’s In Reverie. So, Brianna, what’s your favorite record?
Collins: Ha, well that’s my favorite Saves The Day record for sure. Is In Reverie your favorite record ever, Ben?
Walsh: Yup, In Reverie is my favorite record of all time.
Collins: I think a record that I’ve consistently listened to literally since the moment I got it, like I’ve listened to it every year since I’ve had it, is Plans by Death Cab For Cutie. I listen to that so much.
Walsh: Amazing record.
Collins: Or Brand New Eyes by Paramore. They’re probably tied.

It’s interesting because Plans and In Reverie are both the big major-label jumps for their respective bands. So it’s good timing.
Walsh: That’s true. Well, it didn’t work out the best for In Reverie, because they did get dropped. [Laughs] So hopefully that’s not gonna happen to us. We have enough people that are looking out for us.

So Charmer had some Twin Peaks references. Are you both excited for the revival?
Collins: Yeah, so excited.
Walsh: Absolutely.
Collins: I feel like I can’t stop buying Twin Peaks merchandise. I got Ben this throw rug thing … Or is it like a blanket? It was in the Showtime store, but it’s literally like the Black Lodge red with the floor pattern.
Walsh: We’re very excited. I know there are a lot of people that are skeptical about how true it’s gonna be to the feeling of the first two seasons, but as long as David Lynch is involved and working on it, I feel like he won’t let its legacy be tainted. I feel great about it, I’m gonna watch it no matter what. But it comes out while we’re on tour!
Collins: We have to get Showtime so we can watch it together.
Walsh: We have to figure out a way to watch it on the road.

I feel like it can’t get as bad as the middle of season two.
Walsh: You have to really hang on and push yourself through it. It comes back in a very big way. There are bright moments throughout the middle of the second season, but it definitely puts viewers to the test a little bit.

Do you each have a favorite song from Spin?
Collins: Well, my favorite song that Ben wrote is “Escape Plan.” I don’t know, I think all of Ben’s lyrics are really honest, but you really feel something from the song when you listen to it. I really love how we did that song, the dynamics of it are really cool to me, the way it builds. The harmonies that we did, all around I really just love that song.
Walsh: One of my favorites, and I will pick one of Brianna’s songs—I think “Same Stone” came out really awesome. I think it’s a completely different vibe for the band but in a really cool way. It really showcases her piano playing, her vocals. When it was first being written, we didn’t know exactly how it was gonna turn out dynamically and Will Yip did an amazing job engineering it. And the performances that Brianna did were awesome. It just came out really great—I think it adds this new flavor to the album that none of our previous stuff had before.

Any other thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
Walsh: I just want to give Will Yip a little bit more credit for bridging the gap between this major-label world and the scene that we’re more familiar with. He’s the one that first developed the relationship with the people at Atlantic, with Fueled By Ramen and Roadrunner. The bands that he is close with and loves, he always has their back and tries to help them out in any way, and he would never steer us in the wrong direction. He was really instrumental in starting this relationship, and he is involved with the label itself and is doing a lot to ensure that we have the creative freedom that we want and need.

—Jordan Walsh

Videos after the jump.

Continue reading “A Conversation With Tigers Jaw”

Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Aimee Mann Interviewed By “Mad Men” Creator Matthew Weiner

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 Matthew Weiner

Photo by James Elliot Bailey

Matthew Weiner, creator of the prolific series Mad Men, has been friends with Aimee Mann for what feels like a lifetime. So it’s no surprise he happily agreed to sit down with her to discuss Mental Illness, her ninth studio album. Spoiler alert: There will be Trump.

Aimee Mann’s music has been in my life for a long time. I’ll place myself somewhere in high school when I first heard her voice, and over the years as I got older, I discovered that we were emotionally and maybe even artistically on the same path. When I was lucky enough to eventually meet her, I found that not only was she as deep as I’d hoped but funny, too. I guess you should be able to tell from her music that she’s witty, but I’m always surprised by how wry and quick she can be, especially when talking about work. When MAGNET asked me to interview her, I jumped at the opportunity because it meant both a chance to hear her brilliant new album Mental Illness before anyone else but also to ask all the dumb questions about her artistic process. And she couldn’t laugh it off this time. —Matthew Weiner

Matthew Weiner: We were talking about Marvin Hamlisch. You said you went to see him, and I’m always fascinated by, you in particular, but I think most musicians don’t have a kind of caste system. If someone can do it …

Aimee Mann: I think when you’re younger, you have that caste system. When you become a professional, you sort of realize the work that goes into it, and into writing a song and the craftsmanship, and you start to appreciate other things. I’ve gone back and listened to stuff that I kind of rejected as a younger person as not being cool.

Weiner: Is Broadway part of that? Most of us, our parents were into that at some point. I have two older sisters, so there was a lot of Funny Girl in our house, and I know a lot of Broadway stuff.

Mann: My parents every now and then would take a trip up to the big city from Richmond, Va., and go see some plays and bring back soundtracks, which I loved. I loved it, and so I didn’t have any feeling that that was uncool at all. And me and my brother were both in plays in high school and in musicals. That never seemed … I never got the idea that was uncool.

Weiner: Let’s talk about the album. I actually fell like having this conversation about the past or influences and so forth, this seems very backward-looking. Not musically in any way, though there’s a lot of folk in it—

Mann: It’s pretty folky.

Weiner: I’m gonna do the two stupidest things: generalize too much and assume you’re the subject of every song. Both of which aren’t fair. I know it’s hard, but you’re singing in the first person and I know you a little bit. But there is … It’s not nostalgic, but there’s a lot of it as a topic. The subject of it feels like it’s a lot “You never loved me,” and there’s a few of them that seem related to the past.

Mann: There’s definitely a couple of them that are, like, “Yeah, there’s literally a song called ‘Stuck In The Past,” so the idea of, like, “Here I am doing this thing, continually.” Actually, there’s a song that’s a co-write with this guy named John Roderick, and that was a song that he kinda half-finished and gave it to me to finish, but that was kinda the topic of his song, doing the same thing over again, so that kind of resonated perfectly.

Weiner: You say it in more than one song, some grammatical construction that’s kind of like, “I’m going to my default position,” which is really, and it’s always so self-critical because you’re you, self-deprecating. It’s always like, “I’m going to go back to being an idiot,” which you’re not, but we do feel like fools when we think about how we naturally behave.

Mann: Yeah.

Weiner: I just thought that there was … I would say it feels like a processing experience, the album. It feels like there’s processing going on.

Mann: Well, writing’s always like that, right? You have an idea. There’s something that resonates emotionally, you’re not really sure why; you come up with a plot and a story and images that speak to that, and suddenly you have this thing in front of you. It’s like telling somebody your dream.

Weiner: Don’t pretend like it’s not influenced by your experiences.

Mann: That moment where you suddenly realize, “Oh, this is what I’m talking about,” you know?

Weiner: Is the album still the form in which you create? You’ve had lots of hits, but you’ve been doing albums, and I always wondered if technology was gonna destroy that at some point. I loved it. I love sitting down with the album, and you, as always, have ordered everything exquisitely. I’ve actually felt like there was this ramp up to “Rollercoasters,” and then “Patient Zero” is kind of near the climax of it, and it has a sort of retrospective feeling toward the last two songs. And even musically, there’s just so much simplicity early on. I wouldn’t call it production, but other voices come in more and more and more toward the end of the album. And then, of course, you’re by yourself there.

Mann: I think I wanted to establish it as being an acoustic record, like really stripped down, so I wanted to start off with the most stripped-down sound. It is really hard to resist the temptation to load up instruments and keep painting and decorating and putting stuff on.

Weiner: Now, when you do that, are you fixing something or are you just saying, “I want it to be fuller”?

Mann: No, it’s just fun.

Weiner: It’s gotta make it better somewhere, right? Better’s the enemy of good. I don’t mean that.

Mann: Sometimes I think it takes a certain leap of faith to say, “This song is going to be good as it is without a bunch of background vocals, without a bunch of guitar, without drums, without bass, without a big string section.” Just like, “Here it is; here’s the song,” and folk music of my era had such an impact because—

Weiner: It’s really before your era.

Mann: Yeah, a little before my era. Because it’s like a guy talking to you and there’s something very powerful about that. You do start to distance yourself from the listener when you have a lot of padding and sonic candy on top.

Weiner: It feels very confident to me, and what I was saying about, it’s almost like a taking stock, but I feel like you could only … like, who does that? Teenagers and wise people. Teenagers are talking about, “I remember last summer, and this is the last summer we’ll ever have,” and then all of a sudden you get to a certain point. A friend of mine wrote a movie about this great painter who was being sought by the Pope, and the Pope would basically make you paint an audition painting. And this guy was such a master that all he did with one hand was he painted a perfect circle in one motion, with one brush stroke, and he handed this circle and said, “Take that to the Pope,” and he got the job. I don’t know if that’s true or if my friend invented it, but in my mind it’s always been, “That’s what you’re looking for.”

Mann: Put that in your Pope and smoke it!

Weiner: I also feel like as an artist, a little bit of it is like, “Hey, guess what? I don’t work for free.” There’s something about the simplicity, the confidence of … you want it, because, and I assume that you write this way, you’ve gotta be starting with the simplest part. I always imagined you, because I have this romantic vision anyway of you alone with your guitar, or you humming something in your head or you writing stuff in your phone, and it’s a solidarity sort of beginning expression, then you start elaborating on it. And you always jokingly said to me, “It’s a trick. I could teach you how to write a song.”

Mann: I feel like I could.

Weiner: A lot of people can’t do it, so whatever the trick is, don’t share it!

Mann: For me, the trick to writing a song is if I … If you can randomly fool around with chords, and eventually the chords will feel like a piece of music that makes you feel something, and then what does that feeling feel like? What are some words that come with that feeling? I guess it’s more like a word association, but you start with music.

Weiner: You’re completely diminishing the muscle memory of knowing what things go together, what chords go together, what feels like anything. And also, I remember we ended up doing 92 hours of Mad Men, and after the first season, everything sort of worked out as much as it did, especially considering we didn’t think we’d make it beyond the pilot. There was this really underdog feeling that never went away. I don’t think I knew people liked the show until it was over. I believed it, in some way. I remember writing this down: that I keep going places and ending up someplace I’ve already been. I had Don say that in the start of the second season, ’cause I’d used everything. I had nothing. I used to always laugh at the studios asking for a Bible. I didn’t know one thing that was in the second season, you know? But anyway. There’s something about listening to … This is probably the third album that’s come out since I’ve known you that I’ve gotten to hear early, and I’m just kind of marveling at the consistency of the expression and the fact that it changes as well as what you have to say. Honestly, we can’t have this conversation, but I wanna know, “How can you work?” We’re both political people, but it’s usually just for bitching. This is in the forefront of my existence right now. Was the album done before all this shit happened?

Mann: Yeah, it was done a little while ago, and I just delayed putting it out because I needed a break because I’d put out my last solo record and that record with Ted (Leo) for the Both.

Weiner: So, it’s four actually.

Mann: Yeah. God. I feel like we’ve just met.

Weiner: I know, but it’s been like … Mad Men went on the air, like, 10 years ago.

Mann: I think if this record wasn’t so … A lot of it is about mental illness, which I do think fits in with the tenor of the times. I feel like our present administration is in the grip of a serious mental illness that is almost like a folie a deux except there’s more the deux. I think people—there’s kind of a mob mentality, like a looter mentality, where you feel people setting aside their principles in the excitement of looting.

Weiner: I read this great article that was talking about how capitalism’s saving grace is apparently that people will always act in their own self-interest. But what we’re discovering is what we already knew: that people are animals and would love to have their dominance and passions ignited, even at the expenses of food and shelter, if they’re angry enough.

Mann: It’s amazing. I do actually really think Donald Trump is mentally ill. I think he’s mentally ill and/or also has some kind of dementia situation.

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.