June 12, 2008

Situations get fucked up and turned around sooner or later
And I could be another fool or an exception to the rule
You tell me the morning after

André Zucca, Following Fashion, Jardin du Luxembourg, May 1942

* Prefix Magazine interviews David Berman. excerpt:

Q: Tell me something interesting about the new album.

Berman: The album exists on multiple levels. I’d say that there’s an interesting thread in the album about the year 1913. I also put together a collection of footnotes to the record that came out with the press kit. There are phrases from Emily Dickinson and Emerson that make it more outward looking than most of my other records. Cassie is also singing more on this album, so that adds another voice to the mix. I think my plan was to bring in more things from the outside and then fold them into these inward-looking songs. That’s kind of dry, isn’t it?

Q: It’s a good answer.

Berman: Can I try again? I think another interesting thing I’ve done with this record is put the chords in with the lyrics on the liner notes so that the songs are easy for almost anybody to play. I’m curious as to why musicians don’t do that more often. Why is that information separated from the listeners? It’s interesting, and it’s not common knowledge. People say most rock songs are three chords, but as a listener, my question was always which three chords I should use. As a musician that doesn’t read music, there was a gap that separated me from being able to interact with songs. I guess some people want to keep it mystifying.

Q: What will people learn from having this information?

Berman: I suppose they’ll learn that I used a limited amount of chords but went to a lot of trouble to develop the sixteen that I use on the album. I consciously tried to keep it simple. There are no bar chords or advanced techniques. What I’m doing is inviting anyone who lives with a guitar -- you know, maybe a roommate has one or something -- to play these songs.
Q: Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea was recorded mainly with members of your touring group. Is this the first record that you'd say you’ve recorded as a band?

Berman: I would say no in that I always bring the songs to the band. It’s a simple core structure, and people write their parts. However, we practiced more in preparation for this record, and we toured, so we’re definitely able to play more closely as a group. This group of musicians was gathered from the people in previous bands who payed the most attention. They’re good students of what I’ve been trying to do, and that makes the process so much easier.

As I get older, I find that I’m much less willing to put up with assholes. When you’re young, you’ll join an all-asshole band just to get out there and play music. I’m at the point now that I don’t have to do that. I’d like to keep this band together, but I won’t do that if I make another record. That would unbalance the process.

Q: How does having your partner involved in the band work?

Berman: She’s always been a musician, so it’s a natural thing for me to see her in that context. It’s been ten years and three albums, and she has had a job and not been around when I’m writing, so there’s not that much close working together. She was going to play bass on this record, which was new, but I didn’t show her the songs before any of the other guys. When we’re playing music, she’s a member of the band. It’s not an issue. On the road, the guys like to go out and Cassie and I like to do our thing, so it does make life easier that way.
Q: In addition to your music catalog, you’ve also experienced success with poetry. What is more like work for you, writing poetry or writing songs?

Berman: I guess since there’s some guitar playing involved, there’s a little more recreational aspect to writing a song. Anything I write requires five or ten days of mental commitment. It’s a matter of sitting down to write a poem or a song. The text doesn’t arrive unattached and then you assign it to a mode.

Q: Do different things inspire poems and songs?

Berman: Reading inspires all of my creative work. It could even be the dictionary. There’s that great quote that reading is like thinking with someone else’s mind. I’m a naturally curious person, so that speaks to me. I read everything. I study the Talmud and the Torah extensively. I like to read about country music and a lot of nineteenth-century essayists.

Q: Silver Jews has a long history. If someone is just getting into the band, where should they start?

Berman: I don’t know if I’d recommend that you start. I’d warn you away. If you’re persistent, though, I would say to start with the album I just wrote. I never expect someone to buy more than one.

Q: Would you license any of your songs?

Berman: No, I don’t think so. I’ve said this many, many times before. Licensing a song is wrong to the people who went out and purchased that record. They have a relationship with that song and should be able to choose how they interact with it. Having the song pushed in their face fifty extra times in incredibly unfair. If nothing else, hearing the song so many extra times will create a huge play imbalance within the album.

-- related: The evolution of the Silver Jews.

* VERY VERY exciting book news: Evan Dara, author of The Lost Scrapbook (published in 1995), has finally written a second novel The Easy Chain, published by aurora. Mine is on order.

* "Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae." -- Kurt Vonnegut


Blogger K is said...

wow! as always, great post hackmuth. but had to chime in today and say tnx in particular for the catch on evan dara's new book. just put in my own order.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Dive in! After 70 dense pages I can honestly say I really like The Easy Chain. Care about the characters, wonder what's going to happen, etc. Dara clearly relishes his skill with the language, I'm happy to be along for the ride.

8:40 AM  

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