Is doing cover songs is important to you as a band? They can act as little markers of sorts and can pay homage to things? I think that connects to tipping your hat to other artists you’ve admired. And I think there’s a nice almost “readymade” quality to covers. You can take five or six covers and arrange them into an order on a little EP and say something else with them, recontextualize them. One of the things I find so awe-inspiring about Nina Simone is her treatment of covers. She took the weirdest and more unlikely song choices and completely stripped them and repurposed them, changing lyrics, extending them, adding whole verses and bridges, until they weren’t really covers anymore but some odd cover-original hybrid, more in line with a folk tradition.
How did you meet Roky Erickson, you must have learned so much through the experiences you have shared? It must have also been completely exhausting, as you had to give so much of yourself over to that project [Erickson’s latest record True Love Cast Out All Evil]. In a lot of ways that record was utterly exhausting, but it was a good kind of exhausting because I knew I was doing something really good for Roky and it was a real labour of love. Everyone involved in that project just had so much love for Roky and was putting every ounce of their souls into that project, and Roky was working incredibly hard as well and really drawing on deep wells of emotion to bring those songs back from obscurity and make them real again. It was a really selfless project in a way, and I’m incredibly proud of it, but I also learned that working on someone else’s record can be incredibly polarizing to their already existing fanbase who didn’t necessarily know who we were. There’s a kind of Roky fan who I think maybe thought my hair wasn’t dirty enough or I didn’t have enough tattoos to do the record and who wanted us to present the “crazy” Roky some more on True Love Cast Out All Evil, whereas my point of view is that Roky expressed that wild scary horror-rock energy so well and so memorably on records like The Evil One that it was more important to show people a side of him they hadn’t seen before, the side of him that’s very heartfelt and mystical and spiritual, the side of him that’s a master songwriter.
Jagjaguwar seems like a perfect fit for you as a band, can you describe the relationship a little? They’re the same age as I am and we’ve been working together for years and years. I can drunkenly text them about some music trivia at 5AM and they’ll write back. They’re as much friends as people I work with. Fantastic, enthusiastic people who are fighting the good fight. I feel immense team pride for Jagjaguwar and love them as people.
John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studio is a great resource for bands, community-minded and lovingly rendered. How did you find using the studio? We actually only made one record at Tiny Telephone, Down the River of Golden Dreams, which was recorded in 2002 I believe. I haven’t been back there since, to be honest. It’s a great studio though. They have incredible gear and I love John’s tireless enthusiasm. Every time I’m making a record, I have recurring fantasies about the Neve board they have at Tiny.
You must be constantly writing, is it something you do every day? I might not get a chance to write a song every day, but I try to do some creative work every day. It gets harder when I’m traveling, which I find frustrating, but even if it’s just a dumb poem or a drawing for a t-shirt you can get something done anywhere.
What are you reading to and listening to at the moment, and what are you really looking forward to over the next few months? I’ve been revisiting Jimmie Rodgers, the famous “yodeling brakeman” who is often called “The Father of Country Music.” His stuff just holds up so well, from a songwriting and performance standpoint. I’ve been listening to Madlib and DOOM a whole lot. I went through a pretty heavy obsession with Scritti Politti a couple months back. I think Green Gartside from Scritti – really, he is Scritti Politti – is a fascinating artistic figure and a really excellent writer. His most recent record White Bread, Black Beer is really inspiring to me – if an American indie rock band had recorded it I think that record would have been a huge sensation over here. I’ve been listening to the American singer Karen Dalton a fair amount too. It’s just great music to relax to.
You did a tour with three of my favourite artists – Titus Andronicus, Julianna Barwick and Future Islands – what have some of your highlights of that tour been? Julianna travelled on our bus, and all she had was a little suitcase, with no gear besides her little table of looping pedals. It was inspiring to see her fill a whole gigantic theatre using nothing more than that and her voice. As far as Titus Andronicus and Future Islands, they’re both just so energetic and compelling that it was quite a challenge following them. Sam is a really singular frontman and it was awesome to watch the way he works onstage; as far as Titus, the energy onstage is just electrifying, unruly, a little frightening even, and that was a great thing to absorb and then have to react to every night.
Okkeril River play The Button Factory on Friday 18th November.