Do you find Baltimore a muse of sorts? Over the past number of years there seems to be a real vibrancy bound up in that city, where not only bands are originating from there, but moving there, also – can you explain a little about your relationship with Baltimore?
Everyone in the band is pretty much from Baltimore, or at least from the surrounding counties, so for us it’s what we’ve known. There are a lot of artists that have been making a mark on the music scene out of Baltimore that have moved here from somewhere else, and their experience is necessarily going to be a bit different. For me, I guess if things hadn’t started to move in the direction that they’ve been, I would have considered moving to a different city, but the world has come to us, so now there’s no need. As long as I can remember, there’s been exciting and vital music that’s been made here, and I think a combination of factors have contributed to Baltimore music becoming more widely recognised, chief among them being the proliferation of music via the internet, and the artists’ own initiative in getting their stuff out there by touring and making records.
The Talking Head always seemed an esteemed place and it seemed very sad it has gone, what was so special about it, do you think?
The sound of the room was amazing. Also it had a really small stage, which I like, because bands tends to play off of each other better when they’re not separated too much in terms of physical space. And it was a small enough room that if you had more than 10 people watching you play, it could still feel like a party. One of the most fun shows that I was part of there was also one of the last they had. It was a New Year’s Eve show that featured several bands, including one that some friends of mine and I put together for this one gig only. We were called Mouth Breather, and we played Jesus Lizard covers. People went nuts…I had to dodge draft beers and pieces of cake while we were playing.
Your voice has always one been one of the beautiful anchors in the band’s sound – do you think that it has changed over the years?
It’s gotten a bit deeper in tone maybe, but that’s to be expected. Since I quit cigarettes, I’ve noticed I still have the range I did when I was a teenager, which is definitely nice. Sometimes it’s a bummer when you hear guys that have been singing for decades and they have to re-pitch all of the songs because they can’t hit the notes anymore. Then again, I’ve only been singing for maybe two decades, so there’s still time for that, I suppose.
I love the effects on the vocal on ‘Waxing Crescents’, how did that come about?
I was trying to get this sound I’d heard in my head. I was trying to explain it to Matt Boynton, and he was like, “Well have you heard the sound on any records you could use as an example?” I thought about it, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t. We tried a few things that didn’t work, like running it through a wah pedal, and what we ended up doing was running it through an old ARP synthesizer while I manually adjusted the filter in real time as the track played, trying to get the right resonance for the vowel sounds. We also added some delay to a double of the track that wasn’t run through it.
Your cover of Jimmy Webb’s ‘The Highwayman’ is beautiful, where you are clearly reaching back to somewhere or something else. What is your relationship to that song, and had you been a fan of Jimmy Webb for some time? It is amazing how many songs he has had a hand in.
Thanks. Actually ‘The Highwayman’ was the first song I had heard from him until maybe about a year ago. Ned Oldham had showed it to me at one point when I was playing with The Anomoanon, and I think we performed it maybe once. Later, another friend of mine was raving about his work and turned me on to this album of Glen Campbell singing all songs Jimmy Webb had written, including ‘Wichita Lineman’ [Reunion, 1974′], which is also an amazing tune.
You have had such interesting collaborative experiences with Will Oldham -who seems like a really kindred spirit, it must be quite freeing to work in a different context again as a collaborative musician? With Will it seems to be about the atmosphere he can create with certain people-there seems something nurturing and pure at work there.
Absolutely. There’s a lot of purity and integrity in what he does, and there always has been. I’ve seen him play with a lot of different people over the years, it’s always influenced a lot by the people involved, and yet still retains an essential sense of personality that is unique to him. The first time I really ever went on tour was as part of his band back in 2001. I consider myself really fortunate to have had that experience, where things were changing constantly and a lot of risks were taken. He once explained it as “I want to hear the sound of striving”. That was the key- to challenge people so that they would strive toward something that was expressive and in the moment. Mistakes didn’t matter so much- it was about whatever you were reaching for.
Collaboration seems hugely important to you, whether in your solo projects or elsewhere, have you any other projects that you are working on?
There’s a band called Television Hill that I play with and we released a new EP [My Name’s Hardin] on the Baltimore-based label Friends Records. There’s also a friend of mine that’s an excellent home recordist and dub/experimental/hip hop producer, who has invited me to collaborate on some music of his soon. Other than that, who knows? But I like to keep open to whatever possibilities might come my way.