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Monday, September 18

Dinner and an Interview with Shearwater

Last week, I went to see Shearwater in concert (read review here) but I also got the chance to sit down with them before the show and have a casual interview/conversation with the band. We went to one of my favorite deli's in the area called Potbelly and talked about things like tour experiences, SXSW, Arrested Development, caterpillars, the future of the band, Lou Reed, and the infamous AMG review. Click here to read the whole interview.

Here's the band members listed from left to right in accordance to the picture above (taken by me at the U of Ill. Courtyard):
Howard (keyboard, guitar)
Thor (drummer)
Jonathon (vocals, guitar)
Kim (upright bass)

What music is in heavy rotation for you right now?

J: Ali Farka Roure’s new record is amazing. African guitarist, He actually died a couple of months ago.
T: Anni Rossi, she plays viola and sings these strange sort of fragile songs, beautiful and a really good instrumentalist, she actually plays in Carla Bozulich’s band, the chick from the Geraldine Fibbers. We just recorded with that band Smog, we like them.
K: We started the tour with Charlotte Gainsbourg, we love her.
H: There’s this guy named Larry Mullins
Me: You mean the drummer from U2?
J: That’s Larry Mullen
H: I think this Larry Mullins is cooler because he played for Iggy Pop for like nine years.
T: Iggy Pop is cooler than U2.
J: I like U2 though.
T: Me too, but Iggy Pop is cooler

Have any interesting tour stories?

H: The stampede of cheerleaders that almost ran us over. There was an all metal bathroom in the club we were at last night because after 20 years all the punk shows there had been destroying it… that was weird.
K: I have a personal story, we got to a club in Toronto, and the headstock snapped off the top of my bass, so it was basically broken in half. I had never played the electric bass in my life, so I ran into the Green Room for 45 minutes and learned how to play it.
Me: I think I read a review where it said you were playing an electric bass, was that in Chicago?
K: it happened in Toronto, but then we were touring with The Mountain Goats so I toured with the electric all year.
T: We borrowed one in Chicago

Shearwater’s obviously gone through some major changes in line-up and focus since it’s beginning. How do you think the music progressed from when you first started to right now?

J: When we first started we were a little egg, then we hatched out of that egg and we were this little larva kindof wandering around and knawing on things. Then we became a caterpillar and we got some decoration, but we were still earthbound and chewing on stuff. About the time Thieves EP came out we built this chrysalis around ourselves and then while we were in there we made this new record and we came out and flew away.

How does your biology background and bird watching affect the music?

J: Looking at birds makes you look real closely at a world that you otherwise don’t pay attention to. That focus is very similar to the focus that you have when you’re making music or when your writing music. But also I just love the natural world and it’s nice to watch something that doesn’t really care at all about you.

What was that like touring with the Mountain Goats? They’re one of my favorite bands.

T: Awesome, Totally Great.
K: They were great guys.
H: I thought it was really interesting to be in the middle of the set and Jonathon was giving everything and I looked over to the side and there’s kindof this window and I could see into Darnielle’s dressing room. And he’s in there twirling, his arms were up and he’s mouthing the exact same lyrics, belting them out.
Me: I saw him at Pitchfork Fest and I noticed him backstage watching a few of the other bands playing.
T: He’s really well-versed in his death metal.
K: They’re also really good about picking out cool bands and taking them on tour with them.

So, I read a review that was attached to your album on emusic…

J: Was it by All Music Guide
(I answer yes)
J: Hate that review.
Me: It said pretty blatantly that you got the inspiration from Jeff Buckley, and a commenter mentioned that you that you made response against it the on your website.
J: I just don’t feel like our music resembles him other than I sing high notes some time, but he didn’t patent that
H: That’s the tragic thing the guy made a call, he made an information-based call that I think you like this.
J: Even if he compared me to Jeff Buckley that would of annoyed me but it wouldn’t have gotten me worked up. He said that my inspiration was clearly Jeff Buckley, and I’ve never listened to an entire Jeff Buckley record.
H: I actually grew up liking Jeff Buckley, but it’s completely different.
J: It was a lazy review
T: Dude where does he live, let’s go kick his ass. Just write that Thor the drummer is so ready to kick that guy’s ass and say we know where he lives... even though we don’t even know what city.
(Everyone laughs)

What is the relationship now does Will Sheff have with Shearwater and similarly how involved are you with Okervill River.

J: I don’t know Will what do you think
T: (Imitating Will) Well, Shearwater is a better band, but we’re famous, so we pay Jonathon’s bills.
J: No, Will even on this last record where you don’t hear him has definitely helped us out on the record, he sequenced the record. When Will and I started Shearwater things were very different, they were going at the same time and I was in Shearwater before I was in Okkervil.
Me: Oh really, so Okkervil for you is a side project to Shearwater.
J: Yea, but we were working on the records at the same time, there’s sortof this misconception that Shearwater is the little baby band of Okkervil River.
Me: I think your Wikipedia page, which is the source of all knowledge of course, says that Shearwater started as the softer songs of Okkervil River.
T: We can edit that
J: Will had some songs that Okkervil wasn’t playing and I was in a different band, and so he said we should do a project together and some of them were quieter in general but the idea wasn’t to make it the quiet boring version of Okkervil River.
Me: How did you feel about the Okkervil River shout-out at the VMAs
J: We knew that he liked the band, and it’s exciting, but at the same time the main excitement was that he even knew about the band had already happened a couple months back.

I’m going to ask you a question about Austin because it’s one of my favorite cities. How do you think it’s benefited your career to be from a town with such a great music atmosphere and music scene?

T: There’s so many people to work with. Good studios and so many good people to bring in to work on our records, that’s a huge great thing about making music in Austin. Like you think, who can we get to play (unrecognizable instrument), you can think of five people. You can we get to play violin, there’s 25 people we can think of.
K: In terms of playing SXSW we’ve done it every year for the last six years, and the first time we were in an outdoor restaurant on a concert stage with a moat in between us and the audience. It’s been nice to go from that to the venue to progressively better spots.
J: Each time’s been better than the last.
K: And we’ve played each one better.
J: Austin’s just a really friendly place to be.

I’ve noticed that the album has been critically acclaimed in many places as one of the best indie rock albums of 2006, but at the same time it’s also been called one of the most overlooked albums of the year by Pitchfork and some others. Why do you think that is?

H: I think you just put stuff out there and you don’t have control over some things, but you can’t really expect anything in particular.
J: We’re just going to keep on going and hope that the audience catches up with the critics.
T: It might lie in something as simple as taste, but it also lies in promotion and how much we’ve been able to tour.
J: This is a small operation, the promotion budgets we have aren’t very huge.
H: A lot of my favorite records never were sellers out of the gates, people couldn’t care less about Nick Drake when he was playing coffee shops and look at Pink Moon now.
J: But he had to die, we don’t want to die
Me: Or you have a case like Arrested Development
K: I was completely thinking that, it’s extremely critically acclaimed and it’s the smartest TV show I’ve ever seen and it keeps getting canceled and repicked up
Me: I think it’s canceled for good now (I explain how AD was going to Showtime and then Mitch backed out)
H: If I had a really good thing going and I could tell it was going to slip then I would shoot it in the head.
J: But I don’t feel like shooting you in the head?
H: Then I guess I’m not done yet.

What do you guys think of the music blog scene and how has it affected Shearwater?

J: It’s interesting how it’s grown so much over the last two years
H: It’s fun to watch people have that control away from paid promotions and media and stuff, but at the same time it’s a reflecting pool that can be dangerous, it’s inevitable you’re going to get reviews that don’t like your stuff.
T: It’s an inspiration though, that it exists now.
H: There’s an X Times article that he’s saying that blogs couldn’t have an impact and he couldn’t have been more wrong.
J: Long live the blogs.

What does the future hold for Shearwater?

J: Different from this last record, every record has been pretty different than the one before and we want to continue to do that.
Me: Do you know in what ways you want it to be different?
T: Maybe not in a way we know yet.
J: Yea, we may not know entirely, we’ve got some new ideas and it’s sortof like dragging things off the bottom of the lake and washing them off and seeing what they are.
T: And some kids don’t look like their parents.
K: In the same token though, I feel like in the last couple of tours we’ve sortof learned to play with each other as a band and I feel like that sort of community has helped each other out.
T: When the band started it was like two really good song writers with some nice instrumentation, but now it’s more like a band for better or worse, because I still think the first record is great.
J: I love the progressional organic sound of the new record. All the pieces feel really put together.
Me: And with you as the only singer, it has to feel more unified.
J: I think mostly that’s been good, I love a lot of the songs that Will wrote and put together but at the same time this record all these songs seemed right.

How’d you enjoy Potbelly?

J: We thought it was great, perfect.
T: It kicked ass.

MP3 Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five
MP3 Hail Mary

Read the rest of the interview...
posted by Taylor, 9/18/2006 09:24:00 AM | link 1 comments


Nicely done... (:

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