Wednesday, July 29, 2020

INTERVIEW: Art Alexakis (October 2019)

I can’t seem to help myself, to be honest – I always want to be cool in these situations, but never seem to manage it. Upon being introduced to Art Alexakis, the longtime frontman of Portland alt-rockers Everclear, I ’fess up to him almost immediately that I’ve been a fan of his for well over 25 years now. “Boy, that is a long time!”, he laughs - perhaps pondering both the lengthy commitment and his own chequered career within the music business. With hindsight though, the admission serves a dual purpose – it immediately seems to put him at ease as he realises he’s chatting to someone who’s on his side, rather than another jobbing journo keen to stitch him up with gossip.

Every great band needs one killer trick up its sleeve, and in the 1990s alternative universe they didn’t come much more potent than Everclear’s marriage of crunching rock tunes to wry observations of damaged individuals (it didn’t hurt that they also had a signature vocal tic in the form of their frontman’s memorable cry of “Uuuuuuppp… Ohhhhhh!”). Following the acrimonious dissolution of the band’s original line-up in 2003, Alexakis soldiered on heroically, weathering further personnel changes, relationship breakdowns and bankruptcy to bring a revitalised Everclear roaring back to life with 2016’s Black Is The New Black. He’s currently out on the road with his first solo album, Sun Songs - a true individual effort on which Alexakis plays every instrument and strikes a resolutely more personal tone than his parent band.

Even in slightly subdued form, Alexakis projects an undeniable charisma. Ahead of being introduced to him, I was told that he was feeling under the weather and that I’d likely get 20 minutes max, but he ends up chatting warmly with me for the best part of 45. A lot gets said during that time, both on and off-mic. At the end of our interview, he tells me an amusing story about a German reporter who insisted on giving a lengthy existential analysis of the back cover photo on So Much For the Afterglow, only to be told that it was basically just a shot of the three band-members looking really cool. I proceed to tell him that no fucking Beatles record ever had a run of tracks as consistently good as the entire sequence of that album (he counters with Abbey Road, which I’m willing to cop to). What I don’t tell him is that songs like ‘Santa Monica’, ‘Heartspark Dollarsign’, ‘Everything to Everyone’ and ‘Amphetamine’ are essentially the sound of my beating heart – formative loves and mainstays from my teenage years right through to the present day. I think he somehow gets it, though. In concert that night, he introduces an audience request slot as the “surly jukebox interlude”, before answering the crowd’s questions with a sort of wry, feigned weariness which belies the fact that he knows we’re hanging on his every word. Certainly, the raucous singalong which seems to greet every Everclear classic – and god, there are a lot of them – suggests that I’m not the only one in attendance who still feels as passionately about these songs as their author admits to.

So, I read somewhere recently that Learning How to Smile was originally mooted as your first solo album – was that the case?

Yeah, it was – but it was a totally another thing at the time. It was called Song For An American Movie. And, uh, it was…. I had gotten tired of… it was like, a “being the writer in the band” job. Just really dumb stuff, and I’m like: “You know what? I’m going to do my own record – you guys go do something; we’ll catch up in a year or two”. And, um, I did most of the record – and the record wasn’t as rock as the record is now, as it became; it was much more R&B and Pop. It was kind of weird – weird sounds… It was never finished, but it was three-quarters of the way there. I hadn’t mixed it yet. I played it for my A&R guy and my manager, and they’re like: you gotta play this for the band. And, like, they all… all these people showed up at my house without telling me, and were just like: “We’re begging you to make this an Everclear record; it’s the right thing to do for everybody”. I’m like: [shrugging in submission] “Okay…”. And I hadn’t even written ‘Wonderful’ yet – I wrote ‘Wonderful’ after that, because I was going through a divorce with my daughter’s mom. And, um, yeah – so it became an Everclear record.

And you were happy to do that?

No, not really…!

No…? That’s interesting.

…I acquiesced.

So the second part, that was intended as “the Everclear record”.

That was… I wanted to make a rock record. I wanted to make a pop record and a rock record, but originally to make a double record that was: soft song, heavy song; heavy song, soft song – that basically went back and forth, and told two stories like this; you could separate them and let go of the heavy song. I just wanted to do something conceptual and different, and just do a double record – but my manager convinced me to do it this way, because ultimately it made more money to do it as the two different records. And I feel like the second record’s very dire – I feel like the first record, Volume One, is a pretty good record. It’s one of my favourite records.

That is very interesting to hear.

It’s the most successful record here [in the UK], for sure. So that’s the one we’re gonna play next year. We’re coming on tour and we’ll be here probably in April – we’ll do the whole album; we’ll do a few songs from Volume Two, and we’ll do all the hits from Afterglow, and fan favourites… we’ll put on a long show; an hour and a half, which is long!

It’s always perhaps the obvious question to ask in these situations, but – particularly coming off the back of an absolutely killer Everclear album in Black is the New Black, why now for this solo album? Why this group of songs?

Well, I started writing… like, I don’t decide to write, I just feel like: hey, man – I’ll pick this guitar up, I feel like I got an idea, and I’ll write down ideas and come up with melodies. And I’ll know when my soul and my body’s ready to start – I know it sounds kind of hippy-ish, and I’m not very hippy, but I just kind of let my spirit and everything tell me when it’s time to write, you know? And I was writing; I was already writing songs and coming up with ideas, but I just did not want to make another Everclear record. I didn’t want to make another big rock record right now, it just didn’t… I mean, I felt like Black is the New Black was one of our best records.

…It was fucking awesome.

It’s a good rock record, you know? And I just… I don’t know if I can better that. So I just wanted to do something different and, uh… yeah. I always… when I did the solo record that turned into Songs From An American Movie, it was different - but it wasn’t that different, because it was still me calling all the shots just like I do in Everclear with a bunch of guys, right? And it was different, but it wasn’t really different – I wanted to do something different. I’m like, as with most singers who aren’t really good singers – you know, “vocalists” – I wanted to put my voice out front, because I’d never done that before. And I knew with an acoustic background, that would be the right time to do it. And I wanted to do a record where it was truly a solo record: I played all the instruments, I figured out everything – all the harmonies, all the backgrounds… everything. I was just going to work with me and an engineer; an engineer/co-producer who helped me do the whole record, Stuart Schenk, who had worked on Invisible Stars and had been a friend for years. So we did that, and it was no set timetable – just like: let’s try to work two-to-three days a week, minimum two days a week if we can, and he had others things going on, and I had the band going on, family and all sorts of stuff… But it took us about a year to get it done, and that was fine – I told my label I was going to do it, I was like: I’ll probably just put it out on an indie, but they were like: no, we’ll put it out – we’ll give you some money. And I was like: okay! I can pay my guys with that, that’s fine. Not a lot of money, but I didn’t need it – I have my own studio right down the street from my house, like a mile down the street; my daughter’s school’s a mile the other way on the same street, so I got a good situation where I live. And now my wife’s got a space right near mine – she’s doing, like, yoga and hippy stuff!

I don’t want to linger too much on the MS diagnosis, as I know you’ve addressed it at length elsewhere – not least on ‘The Hot Water Test’, which is a really beautiful song that’s a major highlight of this record. It sounds very much like you saw it as a defining moment which presented a challenge as to how you choose to view the world and live your life from this point on. Did it help to put everything into perspective for you?

What, the diagnosis? Yeah, absolutely – I mean, you know… it’s scary. Like in the song, the doctors kind of like… What happened, I got into a car accident, and no-one got really hurt, but like a week or two later, things happen – like, when you hit something, even if there’s airbags and everything, you’ll get a pinched nerve. And I called my doctors – they’re like: “Yeah, I’ll just give you a shot in your neck, but do this MRI so I can see where it’s at”. I’m like: okay – and I’d done MRIs before, so I went and got the MRI, showed up at his office, this little examination room, and there was like six doctors in there – in a room not even as big as that stage. Six men, and they just kind of turned around and looked at me – I’m just like: “Oh, fuck…”

Well - either they’re all huge Everclear fans, or…!

[Laughs] Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen! These were like old guys with stethoscopes. So they told me what they thought, and I talked to a couple more neurologists, and they both had looked at it and they were pretty sure of what it was, but I had to go to my own neurologist and get my own opinion. But they told me “Multiple Sclerosis” and it scared the hell out of me – I had no idea what that is; most people don’t. I know it’s bad – I thought you died from it, you know? It scared the hell out of me. I told my wife, and by the time I got home after calling her, she’s got like two or three computers up, she looked like she was hacking into the government! She’s like: “Oh no, we got this. We can do this”. And, um… yeah! It’s been a humbling thing, but it’s also… we’ve been really grateful for good things, and for what I have. Every glass is half-full.

I wanted to ask you – it’s maybe a bit of an asinine question to ask a lot of people, but are you a happy person, given everything that’s gone on in your life? You seem like a really settled family man nowadays.

I am now… When I was younger, I was never satisfied. I was always trying to… I was trying to sleep with everything that moved, eating everything… I didn’t do drugs, but I acted like a drug addict: it’s what we call a “dry-drunk”. [Begins fiddling with a box of toothpicks] I’ve been clean and sober for thirty years, but I really exhibited a lot of addictive behaviour. Now, my addictive behaviour is down to this. [Starts chewing on one] Four months ago, I stopped eating all meat products, all sugar, all nicotine… everything, just 100% vegan, clean, and I feel really good.

So you just put a toothpick in there instead now. Well… why not?!

’Cos no, that’s the thing: that’s what people are doing - you chomp on the toothpicks. I was going through a pack of these every couple of days – now, it’s like: I’ve had this one for two weeks, so… I’m slowing down! When I get that kind of addictive… like, have you ever smoked…?

No, but I have kind of an addictive personality myself, so I know what you’re talking about: it’s either one thing or another. You’ve got to have that one specific thing at any one time that you sort of fixate on and do to death – and then you move onto whatever the next thing is.

- Sugar! Sugar was like, for most junkies who are clean, or even drunks… sugar. It hits the same brain synapses as cocaine – it looks the same way on an MRI. So to answer your question, yeah – I’m grateful and I’m happy, and not complacent in a bad way, I’m… not complacent, but content. I still want to do things, I still have an edge to me – I’ll never be Mr Sweetness and Light, but I do experience joy now. And I can find joy in places where I didn’t see it before. I can see joy in just about everywhere.

Given the times, it’s kind of obligatory to ask any American artist what they make of the current domestic situation, particularly if they’re politically active or outspoken as you’ve been in the past. So, I was going to do that – but then I heard the song ‘White People Scare Me’, which kind of answered it for me! As an active liberal campaigner, do the kind of things you’re singing about there help to strengthen your resolve, or is the overall feeling actually closer to what you’re articulating in that song?

I always felt that – it used to be a joke, me and my friends were like: white people are horrible, man! Every bad thing in this world came from white people, pretty much…

White men, specifically.

…White men. Definitely white men. Yeah, you can’t really blame the women! I agree. White people just kind of… I mean, the thing about white women too is that they’ve been complicit. They’ve been complicit.

Women For Trump – they’ve got a lot to answer for.

You see some of those pictures, and…

Oh, they’re grim. But they are the ‘Volvo Driving Soccer Moms’ that you used to sing about, are they not…?!

…No… maybe. Maybe! Maybe the older, M.I.L.F. or G.I.L.F. – the G.I.L.F. version! Maybe. I don’t know: there’s Republicans, there’s conservatives - and then there’s Trump people. That’s a different thing!

…Right! Well, we’ve got our own version over here with the Brexiteers, of course…

Oh, fuckin’, worse than… yeah, I know. It’s grim, man.

But is that something that keeps you motivated? Or does it kind of make you go: “…Urgh. I don’t know how I deal with this”…?

Yeah, a bit of both. At first, I think I’m like: “Really? What the fuck are you…” – then I’m like: “Fuck you guys. No. This isn’t happening”. That’s usually how it is – I get frustrated, then I get angry, then I get vocal about whatever it is, so. And you probably know me well enough through my music to know that I’m not a guy who sits on the sidelines.

Well, I’m certainly anticipating the next Everclear record…

Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens - hopefully! But there’s several political songs on this record – ‘A Seat at the Table’… ‘Line in the Sand’ is more of just a personal socio thing, but…

‘House With a Pool’…?

‘House With a Pool’, definitely. A lot of people don’t pick up on that – it’s like: “I don’t really like that song, because I don’t really want a house with a pool”. Oh yes, you do…!

…You’re told that you do, and you just don’t know it!

Yes, you do. It might not be a house with a pool, but it’s… you get it, though.

It’s an iPhone.

It’s that shiny fucking thing. [Whispers] You can almost get it! It’s right here…! What’s funny is, I’m building a pool in my back yard right now! [Laughs] Because… because…

…Because you want it!

Well… yes and no! But really, let’s be honest about it: the reason my wife’s letting me spend $85,000 to build this pool is the fact that with the MS, I can swim and not get overheated every day. And she loves watching me swim; I’m a good swimmer. She likes watching me swim, and I love to swim. Seriously - I will use it every day.

That’s your reason; you’re sticking with it…!

Yeah! That’s why I’m spend a shitload of money on it – it’s got a hot-tub; I’ll go in the hot-tub in the morning, swim for about twenty, thirty minutes… and then at night, go out and swim for about ten; get in the hot-tub, go to bed. Sleep like a baby, I guarantee it – I know what’s going to happen. So that’s ironic, but there’s… I think that ‘Orange’ is political. Orange is like: I don’t know if you know, but there’s Orange County, which is this southern…

…Yeah, a real melting-pot. I’ve got family who used to live near there.

In Orange County, California…? Wow! Well, for years it’s been a sort of conservative bastion – and it is slowly, not-so-slowly anymore, turning blue. That’s kinda the whole thing – and it’s also like: you stare at something long enough, it’s gonna change its shape from what you think is orange. It’s gonna turn blue; or what you think is blue might turn orange, you know what I mean…? It’s also that thing of, like: this guy get in this relationship, and he thinks it’s all this and that – and he doesn’t grow, she grows, and he’s lost. I think there’s a lot of that that goes on in our society.

Looking at your body of work in its entirety, it strikes me that there are two overriding themes – and I was wondering if you would agree with me if I identified them as the following….


The first is: a sometimes almost David Lynch-esque glimpse behind the white picket fences of America to explore the broken individuals and forgotten communities which lurk within. Do you agree with that?

To a certain extent, yeah – I’m definitely… Well, you gotta understand, I grew up very poor. I grew up in a housing project, which is government housing – long rows of buildings with poor people living there. So, “middle-class” is what I’ve always wanted to attain. The white picket fence is what I’ve always wanted: Mom, Dad, kids… security, yard… pool. House with a pool! You know, that thing – that’s all I wanted. I’ve never wanted to be rich; I still don’t. If I won, like, five or six million dollars, like in a lottery, that’d be great. If I won, like, forty…? I’d be bummed – because your life’s gonna change. My life’s great right now. Would I like to have a little bit more financial security, like everyone? Yeah – especially since if this thing ever progresses, I’m not gonna be able to work. I’ve got life insurance if I die; I don’t have life insurance if I can’t work. So there’s that fear – so yeah, I would like some money, but I’m just not… I’m not a money guy, you know.

Obviously growing up being poor is one contributing factor, but do you think that theme might also be a product of the 70s divorce culture in America? It strikes me that a lot of people who were affected by that started to come of age in the 1990s and ended up forming successful bands which ended up resonating with a lot of people – yours being one of them.

Yeah - but, like, Kurt, and Billy [Corgan] and a lot of the 90s people, they’re all fucking broken. Kurt was broken; he ended up putting a gun in his mouth. Billy’s broken – all those people who grew up, and all of us that made music in the 90s grew up in the 70s, and it’s very aptly said: a divorce culture. In my case, my dad refused to pay bills, so my mother was not… a lot of these women came out of this divorce culture – men didn’t help subsidise them, so they had no idea how to support a family; that wasn’t their “job”. They weren’t raised to do that, and so we ended up living in government housing. It broke my mom’s heart, but she did it; she did it for her kids. And you know what, I’m glad, for a lot of reasons: because it really made me appreciate things, and it made me very open-minded racially, you know? I’m colour-blind in many, many ways.

I’ve always wanted to ask you, actually – I’m not sure if it’s something that’s been covered in interviews previously, as it’s quite difficult to get old American press over here - ‘Heartspark Dollarsign’ has such an emotional message, articulated in a really heartfelt way; was that a true story?

Yeah. When I was, um… you know, I grew up in a housing project, man, I was just a horny boy, just like every teenage boy…! And driven, and over-sexualised younger – I was abused and raped when I was a kid, and instead of turning it into abuse, I just became overly and overtly sexualised. And addictive – I think that really opened up the door for addictive behaviour. An, um, I liked all… I never had a type; I liked all types of women. I like all types of women that are my wife now! [Laughs] Because that just seems to work better. But yeah, I dated girls and would bring them to meet my mom after I’d been dating them for a while. My mom was from the Deep South, and consciously she didn’t think that she was racist – I never heard her use the ‘n’ word, not once in her life. And if others used it, she’d chastise them – she’d smack ’em for that, so. But seeing her boy with a black woman…? [Grimaces] It was worse with a Jewish girl! She just… didn’t like it. But I loved my mom, she was wonderful – she died about twelve years ago. She had a lot of love in her heart; she just… she was abused.

- Another product of her environment.

I mean, she came up with a household of kids - they were all fucking everything that moved, you know, up in the mountains, the Smoky Mountains… abuse was rampant, it was just everywhere. Ask Dolly Parton, she’ll tell ya! That’s what happens growing up poor with a big family. You know, you gotta look out for yourself! [Laughs] Dolly Parton’s awesome. I love Dolly!

We all love Dolly…

How can you not like Dolly Parton? She writes phenomenal songs.

It’s true. We have a huge poster of her hanging on our wall at home.

Oh, really…?

Yeah. Because she’s… well, she’s fucking Dolly, man…!

She can play any instrument better than most people. Definitely better than me. And she’s, what – a hundred and forty years old…?! I went and saw her with my wife, and I think we were the only straight couple there! [Laughs] It was all gay people, and just… man, she was so good! Anyways, back to your question. What was your question…?!

…Was ‘Heartspark Dollarsign’ a true story? You’ve kind of already answered it.

Yeah, so then in my twenties I dated this girl - and boy, we just fell for each other really hard, but her parents… actually, she had a half-white mom and a black dad, and her dad was cool with it, but her mom was not cool with it. And my mom wasn’t cool with it, so… we tried, but it was hard to do it with people against it. Anyway – she ended up marrying a couple of white guys and had babies with them and stuff. I see her… I haven’t seen for a for a few years, but she used to come to shows with her kids. But yeah, it was one of those things.

So the second recurring theme is: a refusal to let the trauma of the past encroach onto or inform the present. This is particularly evident in ‘Father of Mine’, which I personally think is probably your finest song – I’ve always found it very moving that you speak so openly about your desire not to make the same mistakes with your own children.

Yeah – well, it’s a conscious thing: I think you can’t avoid it doing that. But you can be aware, and conscious, and woke and present about it, and make a decision like in that song: refuse to let it as much as possible. But it’s still going to affect it, you know what I mean? I don’t think you can get away from trauma – you just have to be aware of it, and aware that it’s happening, like: why am I doing this? Why am I thinking this? Why am I reacting like this? Okay, it’s because of this, and this, and this. “Let me walk that back” – you know what I mean? You have to be conscious of it, because I think it’s a sort of programming; we’re all programmed by agreements we make, and agreements that we disagree with.

But yeah, those are themes – I think escape is a theme, too: like, getting out of this situation and making something better; finding something better. I think that comes up a lot.

I follow the band on social media, and you’ve got what I think is quite an interesting promotional strategy – I saw one tour advert that said “Hey, we’re Everclear – remember us, from the 90s…?”

[Pulls a face]

Ah, okay – not something you authorised…!

[Laughs] I didn’t see that…

When you do things like the Summerland tour though, are you happy to position yourselves as riding a bit of a nostalgia wave, or do you just see it as a way of acquainting people with the present incarnation of Everclear?

Well, okay – to answer your question: if there’s nostalgia: god bless. I mean, what is it? I don’t care. That’s fine, if it brings people out. What I’m doing is: I love these bands; I love the music from the era that I came up in. It wasn’t nostalgia at the time[indicating to me] when you were twelve years old, it was relevant and present. It still is to me as well. It’s rock and roll! It’s just good rock and roll. And I think there’s really good bands that are still trying to work – and if they’re working, I wanna work with them.

It’s kind of the paradox when it comes to bands who were big at any one time – some of them never actually split up, and they stay really great; the mainstream just moves in a different direction.

Well, it happened to us – we can’t all be the Foo Fighters, you know, or Radiohead. It’s just – for the most part, a lot of those bands are just not doing what they used to do. They’re not playing arenas – we used to play arenas, we’re not playing arenas anymore. And… that’s fine! I’m not… like, someone asked me if I’m bitter. I’m like: “What…?!” I make a pretty good living, and I get to play music. And I’m very grateful.

Now, you’re quite notable in the history of rock as far as I’m concerned for being someone who wrote a song about their child which wasn’t complete rubbish! To that end, I’ve always wanted to know what your daughter thinks of ‘Annabella’s Song’.

Um… I haven’t talked to her about it in many, many years. You know, when she was little, she loved it. It started as a lullaby - like, she’d be crying, I’d go into her room at night, lay her down and rub her head and just: [singing softly] “Anna… Anna… tell me what you want… baby, tell me what you need… Anna… you are never alone”. And that was it, right? And then I wrote the song from there. And I wrote it for, I think, Sparkle and Fade – a more “rock” version of it that you can still hear online – but it didn’t really fit the record. Which pissed off the label - they wanted it on the record, and I’m like: “Creative control, you gave it to me – fuckers…!”

…Yeah, you get ‘Heroin Girl’ instead!

‘Heroin Girl’s a good song. They wanted ‘Heroin Girl’. I love ‘Heroin Girl’! Um… But then I had the idea to record it with the big band like a Sinatra song. And I actually recorded it in the same room where Sinatra did all those Capitol records: Studio A of Capitol Studios, underneath the Capitol building, the round Capitol building. So that was pretty cool – I sung the vocal in that vocal room where he did that.

So she likes it, then? Because I suppose she could be like: “Aw, Dad…!”

Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s a song on my new record for my new daughter – “my new daughter!” – my twelve-year-old. She loves it.

Is that ‘Arizona Star’…?

Arizona, yeah.

That’s a great song. I presume you’re going to be doing that later so that we can all do a bit of “Ayyy, ayyy, ay!”…?

No, actually! I’m just… I’m still working into the new songs and getting comfortable with them.

So, here’s another one that I’ve always wanted to ask you: in ‘Everything to Everyone’, what is the instrument that does the siren hookline at the beginning of the track?

That… So, we had recorded the record in the fall of ’96, and it was called Pure White Evil. And there were a bunch of songs that are not on it now – it was missing a few songs. It had ‘Everything to Everyone’, but it didn’t have the intro – it just came in with the “Dum-dum-dum… dum-dum, duh-duh, dum-dum-dum…” with me singing, and then the drums came in. And we mixed the record, and we played it for my A&R guy at the label and he’s just like… I knew it wasn’t as good as my last record; I knew it. I knew there were some really great songs on it, but I knew it wasn’t ready. And he’s like: “It’s good, but it’s not great. It isn’t going to do what you want it to do”. He goes: “But there’s a lot of great songs on here; it just does not sound like a record yet”. He was right, but I was kind of devastated.

I spent two weeks in New York by myself, just walking around and sitting in my hotel room – I went and saw this movie called Jerry Maguire like, five times, and that’s where I got ‘Song From An American Movie’, ’cos there’s a Bruce Springsteen song in there called ‘Secret Garden’. And I would go back to my room and write and write… I went to the drug store and bought of notebooks, and one notebook was just how to make every song on that record better to fit these new songs. And if I couldn’t figure out a way to do it, the song would be left off the record. I spent, like, two or three weeks doing this, and then I called my A&R guy, my manager, the guys in the band – I’m like: “I know what we’re gonna do; we’re gonna do this, and this, and this, and this – we’re gonna go to this studio and do this, we’re gonna do this…” and they’re like: “Whoah!”. And I’m like: “And I want Andy Wallace to mix it”, and Perry’s like: “I’ll take care of that; I will make it happen”. Perry’s my A&R guy – he’s a Brit. Perry Watts-Russell. Landed gentry! Stuffy. So we went in and finished it in, like, June, and it came out great!

So what is it, then? Some kind of synth, I presume…?

No. You asked! So, it’s four vintage keyboards – electric keyboards called, uh… I don’t know! And it’s me playing it and doing harmonies and stuff, and putting it through a distortion pedal, and through different effects. I’m like: “Try this – bring it back a little bit… pan this over here…”, because I had this sound I wanted to get, and finally I got it – I’m like: “Phew!” And Perry’s like: “I don’t know how you did that, dude, that is amazing”.

Honestly, for years now I’ve wanted to know that, because it’s such a great sound…!

Four keyboards, and a bunch of effects! My guitar player now plays it with just a guitar, but nothing sounds like it. You can never recreate it!

So, finally: what are your Top 5 favourite songs that you’ve written, or what are the five that you’d most like to be remembered for?

Wow. Let me just answer this: I really don’t care what I’m remembered for. I know what I did; I know what I like. So I think that’s a better question, is like: what do I think represents me… represents me in the way I want to be represented. What people remember…? I can’t control that, and I don’t really care.

Um… ‘Learning How to Smile’… I’m really proud of ‘The Hot Water Test’ and ‘Line in the Sand’ off the new record… ‘Summerland’… there’s a song on just about every record. ‘You’, the song ‘You’ that’s on Black is the New Black… I think there’s a song on just about every record that is like that. That’s five. I mean, I could go on – there’s about ten songs that, like, I’m really proud of. I can’t say… I’m proud of all my songs. I mean, there’s some songs I don’t like as much as others – I can tell you what those are…!

Well, then! Which ones do you hate which you can’t escape…?!

Well, I don’t hate, but… ‘Unemployed Boyfriend’…

…I love that song. I LOVE that song!

You’re such a sap! Such a sap…!

But you’ve done that one a couple of times – you recorded it, then you re-recorded it as well!

No, I did it because they paid me money…! I did that fucking stupid “re-record” record so that I got enough time to record - in the same studio time - Invisible Stars.

Ah, right. Still, I really do love that song. It’s funny, isn’t it, how there’s always going to be someone who likes the songs you hate!

Don’t like that song very much… ‘Good Witch of the North’…

So it’s none of the big ones – it’s not like: [resentfully] “We could live beside the fucking ocean...”

No, I love that song – that’s a great song. No, I like my hits; I love my hits, they’ve been good friends to me. They’ve got me through hard times.

Sun Songs is available now on The End Records/BMG.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

INTERVIEW: Bob Mould (January 2019)

Three decades on from the dissolution of US punk trailblazers Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould’s subsequent career has been fascinating to observe - a brief commercial breakthrough in the early 1990s with Sugar (whose awesome debut album, Copper Blue, waded into the so-called ‘Alternative Explosion’ taking place at the time as if to say: “Guess who’s back to show you how it’s done?!”) soon gave way to a famed ‘wilderness period’ in which he wrote commentary for World Championship Wrestling and worked as a DJ in New York’s club scene, before his eventual resurrection as indie-rock cult icon in the Noughties.

Mould confounds expectations once again with his latest release, Sunshine Rock, whose cheery title signals a defiant and resolute shift in tone after his previous two solo LPs grappled with personal bereavement.

More than just a song, ‘Sunshine Rock’ feels like kind of an overarching concept and blueprint for this album. It seems like you made a very deliberate attempt to switch the focus around after the last couple of records dealt with such heavy themes - was that the case?

That is absolutely the case. I started writing for this album in December of ’16, and was gathering a bunch of good musical ideas and some lyrical ideas, and took a look at some of the lyrical ideas and said: “You know, I really gotta shake… [laughs] shake some of this darkness off a little bit, try to lighten things up” – especially, like you mentioned, after the last two records, some of the incidents that… some of the personal losses that led to the themes on those records. So when a song like ‘Sunshine Rock’ appears, that’s a really good anchor: a really catchy idea and a good, positive feeling – and that was sort of the genesis. Once I had that in place as sort of the compass for the rest of the record, the writing went pretty quickly.

The highlights of the album for me are undoubtedly the tracks with the big string and instrumental arrangements.

Oh, cool!

It’s particularly effective on the title track, and also on ‘Lost Faith’. Is that something you’ve had up your sleeve or wanted to try out for a while now?

Well, I mean, in 1989 with my first solo album Workbook, I had a cellist come in and do some sparser strings than what we’re hearing now – so it’s not without precedent. But I think in this instance, with Sunshine Rock the album, that it’s a much more realised version of those ideas. Over the past three records, which have been really fun, really energetic rock - well, you know… really energetic rock records! – there’s one thing that people will say to me, and I can appreciate what they’re saying, is: we love the density, we love all the sound and the noise, but sometimes the melodies get a little bit lost. And, you know, a couple of weeks before going in to record this record, it sort of hit me: like, what can I do to add more melodic content? I had sketches for melodies in my home demos, and just decided at the last minute to try to construct those as orchestral arrangements. And the next two weeks was a frantic scramble to get all those parts mapped out with a friend of mine in Chicago, then getting a hold of the orchestra in Prague, and aiming to incorporate that into the recording. And it worked out great – and I guess that’s the long answer for the shorter question about why so many strings now! [Laughs]

You’ve been living in Berlin recently, is that right?

Yeah, I still… I’m in San Francisco currently, which is where I’ve been for most of the decade. But about three years ago, I started visiting Berlin, reconnecting with friends, spending more time, and eventually got my resident’s permit two years ago. And, uh, started spending a lot of time there over the past two years, so it’s been quite a change for me – not leaving San Francisco behind, but making the effort to spend a lot more time in Berlin. It’s really just been a great experience – and I think, as with any kind of location, you know, location has a lot to do with work: daily routines and rituals. Berlin was another fresh start for me, and it’s been pretty great so far.

I visited Berlin in the late 90s – it’s a wonderful city; my abiding memory of it is that it’s just so wide open and clean. How much did life there feed into the vibe and feel of this album?

Well, I think it’s just a whole new culture for me – unfortunately I’m not so good with the speaking of the German…! [Laughs] I can listen and pick up some, I can read and pick up some… But I think that there’s cultural differences: looking at their education system and the way that shapes the dynamic of how people interact in a social setting, I think how they look at their country and their culture… it’s very different from a place like San Francisco, where everything is very free-range and individualistic. I think sometimes the German system is a little more communal, maybe…? So I think that’s… maybe there’s a little bit more of an emphasis on community there – I don’t if that’s the right word, but… I don’t know if I’m describing my perceptions clearly.

But what you were saying about the wide-open vistas - yeah, there are still some of those wide-open vistas… I think a lot of them are getting filled in rather quickly by development; it seems to be a place that a lot of people are going right now, and in the three years I’ve been there, I’ve seen a fair amount of changes. But you know, I think some of that social responsibility leads to freedom to do what you want; that’s something I pick up from living in Berlin. There’s a great art scene there, there’s great culture; there’s obviously a lot of history there… It’s been a pretty cool place to spend time there - to spend time with old friends there and get a view of how life is for people in Berlin who’ve been there their whole lives, and how it is for me as a visitor right now.

Berlin also seems to have done something which America is still kind of struggling with, which is really come to terms with its own past and build that into a positive base for the future. Although this isn’t a political album, it feels suspiciously like a political statement of sorts – to come out with something so upbeat in defiance of everything that’s going on right now. Do you see it that way, or is it just happenstance that it’s arriving at this point?

Uh… well, I think my personal journey of loss and gain, and trying to sort of get to the next chapter of my life, I think that’s what at the core informs all the work. You know, the external forces – American politics and all the confusion, and Brexit of course – I think that all of those external forces work on all of us every day. For me, if I were to dwell solely on that, and feel like that was the thing that needed to motivate the work…? I think, like, I’d be feeding into it a little bit – like, I don’t necessarily want to pay great service to the force that’s trying to destroy America [laughs]… and they won’t succeed, but I think trying to dwell too hard on that is not good for my soul. And I think we could talk a little bit about personal responsibility and artists’ responsibility to use their voice – I think people are pretty aware of who I am and what I stand for. If one goes all the way back to the 1980s with Hüsker Dü, for instance, some of the songs that I wrote for that band are awfully political, and some of the songs that I still carry in my songbook and play are incredibly political, and still incredibly timely [laughs] in terms of sort of pointing out when a government tries to get you to conform, or the media tries to steer you in certain ways – I was writing songs about all of this thirty-five years ago. And I feel like when I was younger I could lift a lot more as far as political awareness goes…?

It seems to me like there’s that strange kind of dichotomy where – because you’re classed as a “godfather” of whatever type of music – whether you want the mantle or not, sooner or later you inevitably get tagged with the “elder statesman” moniker. With that comes a certain set of expectations – one of them being that you’ll “lead the charge” in dark times. Do you feel that pressure at all?

Uh, I don’t feel that pressure in the work – I mean, I try to address it in simpler ways. I guess an example would be two years ago when I wrapped up sort of the active campaign for Patch the Sky, the previous album: I went back out in the fall of ’17, I was doing some electric shows, and besides recorded music I would only offer one thing for sale - it was sort of a political poster, and all the proceeds from that poster would go to Planned Parenthood, which is sort of a concern in America that deals with health rights. And the response to the poster was great – the amount of money we raised was great… I mean, I didn’t raise any money, the people who bought the poster raised the money! But it’s things like that – I think when people come to a show and they go to the merch booth and they see that I’m trying to raise awareness on that level, I think that’s as effective for my core audience as it would be for me to write a pointed political song about someone who’s trying to wreck America. I trust that everybody knows this is happening already. It’s hard to miss! [Laughs]

I don’t know if you saw this recently, but Pearl Jam had this thing where they put out a poster which had a cartoon on there of Donald Trump being killed, and you get this constant stream of fans on their Facebook page going: “LEAVE YOUR POLITICS OUT OF THE BAND!” – and you just think, this band have been doing this for twenty, thirty years now! Have you had anything like that yourself?

Yep! Yeah, there’s that “Just shut up and play” thing – I’m like: well, I’ve been playing, my whole life… How in good conscience can you criticise me, a gay white man who sort of survived a rough patch in my own history in the 1980s with Reagan and the AIDS crisis – and wasn’t this very clear in my work, that you’ve loved and listened to for so many years…?! Now that you feel sort of threatened by the fact that I’m calling out evangelicals and fundamentalists as being the… once again telling me that I’m less than…? Yet, you would like me to not remind you of that which you have listened to for most of your life? You see that there’s like a pretty big chasm there, you know…?! [Laughs] It’s like: sorry! Sorry that I have a personal stake in this.

At the same time though, don’t you feel like going: “Sorry - but fuck off”…?!

Uh, well, typically what happens is that my audience is a very thoughtful, educated audience. And when there’s divergence of views and opinions, I think my audience self-corrects! [Laughs] Especially online, there’s not a lot I need to do – I think that once one person says something ridiculous, they’re usually at the bottom of a pile-on that’s taking care of itself! I’m grateful that people come to my defence and I don’t have to drag myself and others into that kind of thing. I think it’s just best for me to remind people, like: “Hey – I went through this once already”. And it’s weird: I had this conversation right before I left Berlin – I was at a dinner party with some people, trying to have this discussion about art and artists, and responsibility… You know, things like the R. Kelly stuff which is very current right this moment, and other people in the business who maybe do amazing work but maybe aren’t the most upright people…? [Laughs] Like, how do you… this sort of conversation about how do you address this? I think my response to that is to say: “This person made some incredible work… and they’re a complete fuck!” And I think it’s okay to say both at the same time – you know, I’m always evolving on any subject or idea, but I think that basic construct is… I think it’s okay to acknowledge the work – you know, what work might mean to you – and I think it’s also okay in the same breath to acknowledge that the person is rather disgusting or unseemly. I think they can co-exist. I don’t know – I mean, ultimately, being a bad person is pretty bad. It eclipses good work!

Well, ultimately, if we deleted all the lousy people from music history, we’d probably be left with a lot of fairly asinine and crappy songs by really nice people, wouldn’t we?

Yeah, so that sort raises the next conundrum, which is: what’s worse? What else is there left aside from amazing artists who make bad decisions? …Really nice people who make bad work! [Laughs] You know, the older I get, the less time I have to sweat those kind of details – I just sort of try to do my work the best I can.

You were obviously exposed to a whole new audience with your appearance on the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light album and in the accompanying documentary. Have you seen a bit of a bump from that in terms of your audience size, or perhaps the age-range of the people coming to see you?

Um, it was really nice of Dave and the guys to shine a little bit of their light in my direction… You know, it’s sort of hard to quantify something like that. I think what it’s done is, it was very nice of Dave to acknowledge work I’ve done and how he sees it – maybe how it’s showed up in the way he looks at music…? I don’t know if there was a huge sort of transfer on some kind of ledger-sheet somewhere – it’s hard to measure something like that. But I feel like it’s very kind to sort of elevate the work that I do, and it maybe has like, I dunno, a cumulative effect, or a long-term effect…? Maybe it’s created a perception, or an awareness in a different audience that maybe wasn’t aware of my previous work, so… I mean, it’s really great! It’s nice when your friends like what you do – and it’s fun when they call up and say: “Hey, come out and do some stuff for a week if you’re not working on anything else”. It’s really great!

I had this story I wanted to tell you, because I wanted to hear your reaction to it. I saw the Foo Fighters on that tour at Milton Keynes Bowl, where you were doing a DJ set between bands, right…?

- Oh, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I don’t know if you’ll find this funny or not, because I almost challenged this guy on it, but he was bigger than me and I thought I didn’t really need to get into a fight with a stranger! I overheard a guy while I was walking around – he was watching you DJ and he said: “Who’s this old weirdo?!”

…Okay… [Laughs]

Now! How do you feel about that?!

Well, I mean, I’m sure in that context, when I came out to play with them, it was sort of self-evident who I was and why I was there…!

Well, sure – but has it ever bothered you that you helped break down the doors for so many bands who went on to achieve much greater commercial success, yet you as the influencer or the core of that struggles to gain widespread recognition?

Nope! I don’t think about it at all. I’ve been pretty fortunate and pretty grateful to have gotten as far as I am getting with the tools that I have - I don’t think of myself as an incredibly gifted singer or player, but I think I have an interesting way with words, I think I tell good stories, I think I know how to weave it on top of my music… Again, I think it’s really great when other artists recognise the work that you’ve done and they hold it in high regard. I mean, that’s… peer review, that’s important!

There’s another story I once heard – and it’s possibly apocryphal – about you playing at a festival in 1991 and having all sorts of trouble with the crowd who’d turned up to see Nirvana, who were on next. Is there any truth in that, or was it a kind of a symbolic urban myth that did the rounds?

No, there was a number of those in the summer of ’91 when I was playing a lot of solo acoustic shows and did a stretch with Dinosaur Jr. in Holland – you know, their crowd can be a little tough, and I think the show that you’re referring to was a festival in Germany that was part of that package of dates. And it was probably around the time that The Year Punk Broke was being documented by Dave Markey, so these are all people that I… Dave Markey and I went way back to early SST days, Dinosaur Jr.  – god, how far back do I go with them? All that Deep Wound stuff was so much about that early Hüsker sound… and yeah, I mean, Nirvana, ha! So I think that’s really funny – to sort of be like Richie Havens at Woodstock, you know?! [Laughs] It’s like: “Who’s this person failing away on a twelve-string? …Ohhhh, yeah, he invented all that, okay!”

Dave Grohl seems to be one of those people who, when he talks about Nirvana, can never quite seem to reconcile the legend that’s sprung up with his day-to-day experience of life in the band. Do you feel the same way about Hüsker Dü, particularly now that that period has become mythologised in its own way via Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life?

Uh… I mean, again, I think it’s always those things… memory and history, they evolve over time; I don’t think there’s one fixed statement I can make about the eight and a half years of Hüsker Dü that would do it justice. I think a lot of it for me as I get older, my life gets a little more tempered just by the elements of time. So, you know, things that I thought were absolutely true about the band maybe aren’t as true as when I thought that twenty years ago, or thirty years ago. You know, I look back and I… it was a pretty crazy little band! It was three people who felt real strongly about music, and myself and Grant were really driven, and really had a… really started to get a vision pretty quickly as to what we could do. When the work got strong, we received a lot of critical acclaim, then we were in everybody’s line of sight, and that sort of coincided with the beginning of the end of the band – which I think, historically in rock music, is not a new story! [Laughs]

And, you know, decades ago, before every piece of information was instantly accessible to everyone in the world, you could be the best-kept secret for years, and you could really hone your craft, and really build a following; really get your vision clear. And then by the time you’ve done that, something else will pop up – either personal differences, or the business will wear you down. You know, there’s very few bands that… Pearl Jam’s a really good example of a band that’s been able to keep all of that in perspective, and just stay to their work and not let the business get at them too much. [Shrugging] …Eh! I don’t know – it was a great band, you know… in hindsight, now I see the influence that the band had on people, on a lot of musicians especially… and again, I’m real grateful for that; that was a great first band and a real great experience to have.

I’m not sure how you feel about being asked this, so feel free to deflect this one if it’s not something you’re comfortable taking about – but obviously with Grant Hart passing away recently, do you have any regrets about how that all played out over the years?

[Casually] Nope. Not really, no – I think both of us walked away from that band wanting to just continue making music the way that individually we saw it. Um… you know, Grant and I had pretty decent communication across the end stretch, maybe the last five, seven years…? So I think both of us sort of know the story – and it’s funny, because when you mention mythology, that’s so much of what all this is about, right? People hear stories, people inflate stories, things get amplified – and all of a sudden, they become set in stone as: THIS IS WHAT IT WAS… [Laughs] You know, I have a pretty good idea what it was…!

I think the fact that all of us were able to work together for the better part of three years to put that box-set out – that’s sort of a good way to leave it. I mean, that would not have gotten done if there was really as much acrimony as people would like to think. And it wouldn’t have turned out as good as it did if the three members of the band and the attorney in Minnesota who was coordinating everything, if we hadn’t all worked together with a vision on that, we wouldn’t have seen that. So I think that’s not the best answer for that question, but it’s a good example of the amount of cooperation that was going on in the last stretch, so.

Your career’s been quite interesting, in that it has three (or possibly even four) distinct ‘acts’ or phases. So, I’m of a certain age and came to your work through Sugar, and obviously there would be many people who did the same through Hüsker Dü. Equally though, I know people who discovered you primarily as a solo artist and think of you that way. Do you see them as separate phases with their own identity, or do you view them as part of a trajectory?

Um, I think ultimately it has to be looked at as one big trajectory – inside of that, I see definite chapters, I see definite breaks… You know, the first one being at the beginning of ’88 when Hüsker Dü ended, and having at that point both the freedom and the fear to do whatever I wanted… [laughs]. And sort of working in that direction, which continued on with Sugar: a band in name, but still sort of… it was a democracy in performance, but clearly I was writing 98% of the material, so it was my project. More solo records, then I guess the next big break would’ve been late-90s, ’99… being in New York, and the soundtrack of New York was electronic music at that time, my lifestyle was changing, and I then spent a good chunk of time chasing down more of a gay club life as a DJ, and bringing that into my recorded work… And then by the beginning of this decade, starting to revisit the guitar; revisit that motif that I was best-known for, I guess, for the first twenty years of my work.

So there have been definite breaks – to me, I try to… I guess the way that I see it right now, or how I try to describe it to people is: when you start and you’re young, you have sort of this blanket that you love, and you bring it with you – you make this work, and you may have to leave the blanket behind, but you can bring some of the threads with you, some of the colours, and some of the shapes… And you weave those in with new threads that you discover along the way – I think that’s really how I try to look at what I’ve done and what I’d like to keep doing in the future, is just bring the good thread with you, and make something new out of it. There’s always a continuity to it for me – there’s blueprints that I have designed and which I keep going back to when I make records… you know, it’s just that I have a sort of foundation that I work with – just keep forwarding the good stuff; sometimes some of the threads get frayed and they get left behind… That’s how I see it, I guess.

You’re always talked about nowadays as a kind of living legend – obviously your music has been hugely influential in certain circles, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but your press bio states that your “face belongs on the Mount Rushmore of alternative rock”.

…I saw that. [Laughs]

Yeah, I didn’t imagine you’d be nuts about it! So, here’s my question: do you feel like a legend…?!

Um… Noooo…! I mean, it’s like… a word like ‘legend’, I start thinking about people much greater than I! I used to have an old saying: “I’d rather be everything to a few people than very little to everyone”. So I think in terms of how my work resonates… you know, I think it resonates really strongly with a select group of people. You know, I hear ‘legend’, I think of Johnny Cash. I don’t think of Bob Mould!

Well, not yet, though…

Well, you know, I guess… it’d be something to aspire to, right? I mean, he was… he definitely carried himself through his life and his work in a pretty amazing way. But just things like that – the real masters of the craft… No, I don’t feel like I’m in that… I feel like I work real hard. [Laughs]

I mean, I appreciate that it’s sort of a pointless question – you can’t really say: yes, I wake up every morning, look in the mirror and think, “What an absolute legend”…

Oh my god, yes! No, I know that’s not really a good idea… [Laughs]

There’s a track on the new Death Cab for Cutie album called ‘60 and Punk’, which of course is something that you’ll now soon be! I’m interested to know: what does the term “punk” mean to you nowadays?

Uh… it’s not being afraid to go against the system, whatever the system might be at the time… You know, for me the original beauty of the original first wave of punk was, it was just so elemental and achievable. Especially a group like the Ramones: in American in the mid-70s, for a group like the Ramones to come up in the face of all of the excess that was American pop music at the time – whether it was Aerosmith and their private jets, or Fleetwood Mac and their… you know, everything that they were! – I love those bands, but that lifestyle in the 70s was so glorified, as a kid I looked at that lifestyle and thought there was no way I could be part of it. And then a group like the Ramones, or The Buzzcocks – whoever shows up, and you say: “Oh my god, they’re like… they appear to be somewhat normal people!” This music is… I can actually learn this, I can identify with it, and I can see myself in it somehow – that barrier to entry got broken down for me, and so that’s where I sort of look for my definition of punk.

I don’t see it in terms of fashion or politics, or a specific guitar sound or something - I think those were all basic elements of punk, but to me, the next iteration of punk was rave culture. It was the idea of somebody telling you about this, like, factory out on the edge of town - this abandoned warehouse on the edge of town where a hundred people are going to get together and play this amazing music. And we’re gonna tell you, but you’ve gotta keep it secret because the cops’ll bust it, so come to the gig. Then you go to the rave, and you’re blown away, and you find out about the next rave because you get a poster handed to you on the way out of the warehouse. I mean, that music was challenging all the norms of the time – I think a lot of hip-hop came up that way. It’s really that not being afraid to be contrary to what is popular - and just saying what you feel, stand behind your work… You know, always sign your homework as clearly as possible – show up and be accountable for your work, and try to believe in it; try to be part of a community that sees it that way.

It’s, um… those were great times back then – I’m sure there’s some subreddit group that gives young kids the same feeling, but… [laughs] It’s not quite as tactile for me as it used to be: the world is very fragmented, everybody gets super-served, and everybody gets micro-served… All these ideas, that everybody’s unique… It’s just different times. It’s great to be around to see ’em – I’m not sure I would know exactly where to find the same group of misfits and outcasts as I did when I was seventeen; I don’t know, maybe there’s some place where they’re all congregating that I don’t know about that’s not that theoretical heaven or something! [Laughs]

It’s funny though – it’s kind of ironic to hear you say that, because you helped to democratise the form for a lot of people. That’s part of the legacy you see now: the great thing about the internet is that anyone can do it. Of course, the bad thing is that anyone can do it, so there’s total saturation...

Yes, it’s the Open Mic nights… [laughs]. Well, I can remember back in the punk days when we shared information with other people – we rarely shared it with cheesy cover bands that played at bowling alleys; we mostly shared that information with people who we thought would handle it with care and respect the structure, so… Of that kind of chain, with the internet it’s really hard to do that unless it’s behind closed doors. The internet is the great leveller of everything… [Laughs] Mostly though it’s just different times and different media - different forms of getting information. It’s always gonna change.

So finally, then: what are your five favourite songs that you’ve written, or what are the five which you’d most like to be remembered for?

[Sighs] Gosh! Five songs? ‘See a Little Light’… ‘Hoover Dam’… uh… ‘The Descent’… gosh, what else? ‘In a Free Land’… I mean, there’s a lotta – I’m just thinking of songs off the top of my head that are sort of the songs that appear most often on my setlists, you know…? Um, what else… ‘Wishing Well’, because I started every solo show for twenty-five years with it – stuff like that. Those are the ones that are like my most familiar…like, when all else might fail, those will never fail me…! [Laughs] Yeah, it’s just the ones that are like, as soon as you hear them, as soon as I play the beginning of a song, I can feel it – for everybody, I can feel the whole room lushed up, and everybody’s like: “Oh my god – that’s the song I met my wife to”, or “That’s the song I buried my Dad to”… whatever, you know? It’s those kinds of things. Like, my personal favourites - again, my opinions are always subject to change, but I guess the ones that have that effect on other people, those are probably the ones I should choose, I suppose…?

I have to say, it’s maybe too soon to call this, and I’m always a bit reticent to go here so soon after something comes out  – but I think the title track of this new record might just be the finest thing you’ve ever done.

Well, thank you, I appreciate that! That one just sorta fell out of the sky, and when I got a hold of it, I was like: stay as childlike as possible with this – do not try to dissect this. Let it be! [Laughs] Because sometimes with the really good ones, you just get it done and get away from it; don’t kill it with curiosity, just let it be what it is. So thanks for the kind words – this record really turned out great; I think the last-minute strings, the very immediate, visceral vocal approach that I took to this record - really just going for it and not trying to stack everything up perfectly in piles around the mix – it just… Yeah, maybe part of that was I had to go back to the beginning there for a couple of years, to look at that box-set that was coming. Sometimes when you go back and you look at just these skeletal ideas that you’d made when you were eighteen or nineteen, sometimes you’re like: “Oh, yeah, that’s what it was – okay!”

It’s definitely a real banger, as we say here in the UK….

Yes, it is a banger! I appreciate the kind words, and that’s very nice of you to say.

Sunshine Rock is available now via Merge Records.