November 8, 2011

When you were young
You were the king of carrot flowers

Dion Johnson, Accelerator, 2011

* More from David Malitz's March 2008 interview of David Berman:

Malitz: Do you think that today’s -- you were saying “for the kids” -- last night you said you thought rock-and-roll appealed to teens back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and again today. And one of the common themes I’ve talked about with people over the past couple years, the whole idea of indie rock -- which you were talking about with Mudhoney and SST bands, people making music for the sake of making music -- but now there does seem to be a more commercial aspect to it now. Is that...

Berman: What you see is a lot of pretty people, a lot of good looking people making music today. And I think you could start there and say, “What is that all about?” Because, for instance, in hardcore and post-hardcore music, when you would go to live shows you would never, ever think you were going to see a good looking woman at one of these shows. People were outsiders. If you had the looks and the social standing, you were not going to cut yourself off from society to be a punk rocker. And I think what I feel, when I look at the bands I say, “But these people could all be in the sororities and fraternities and getting MBAs.” It’s a viable career path to make noisy rock-and-roll. So I think the candidates that we get to choose from have already filtered on the level of forming a band. I think people are saying, “Well, we gotta get four good looking guys. We gotta look sharp.” All those British bands, they don’t have any fat bald bass players and we can’t afford to have them either. So I’m not sure the voices we’re hearing are the voices we would hear if there was nothing to be gained by being in one of these bands except artistic exploration. And, so, I suspect sometimes that … I suspect that the peopel who have something to say have a harder route, a harder road to hoe than ever before because of the need for appearance to be impeccable and fashionable. On one of those new songs I have this Emerson quote … well he says in his essay on manners -- about manners, about fashion -- that it’s akin to virtue gone to seed. That that kind of overripeness is what I see when I see … there’s something corrupt. I will say that. There is something corrupt about rock-and-roll depending on good looks. I even have, in my band, one of the guys that always plays with us says, “You’re gonna get someone younger! I know you want someone younger!” This is a theme I keep coming back to.

Malitz: Another thing, you talk about people with something to say. With a lot of newer bands -- to me, music is as much about communication. It doesn’t have to be just lyrics, but it has to be communicating a feeling, and a lot of the bands today aren’t really communicating. It might be very pretty, like you say, but it doesn’t necessarily communicate anything. Whereas with your songs, they really express -- lyrically a lot of where that communication comes from. It goes from very funny to heartbreakingly sad and that’s how life is, really. You talked last night about how you have notebooks full of poems and I guess lyrics, too. What is that process like.

Berman: To me, when it’s done, I want there to be something for the listener to interpret. When I write I want there to be more than one level of meaning, I want just a few words to be able to carry a lot of different thoughts and ideas. So when I’m composing, when I’m writing, basically it’s a process of first of all getting a foundation -- what is this song about? And then writing towards that. So I might start out with a title and basically it’s almost a process of coming up with solutions -- the problem is how to finish this song. Once I start it with a title or an overarching idea, how do I fill in the rest? That is a process of coming up with candidates for the lyrics but way more than I need. Way more solutions than I need. So I can pare away back at them and get the answer I need. Searching for a single solution never works for me. I always have to come up with more than I need and pare back. It’s the best way for me to get the most quality. So I will overwrite as much as I can and go and try and discover the song. I’m rejecting, rejecting, rejecting ideas. Cassie is around the house when I’m doing this stuff and I’m often giving her many, many choices -- is this better, is this better, is this better? The amount of writing that gets -- through the rewrites there’s good writing that gets set aside because it’s not good for the song. Good writing that is bad for the song. And a lot of that gets discarded. Sometimes, you know, whole verses and stanzas get discarded. And I hope that maybe as a unit that verse can be helpful for me in a different song or that it can become the seed of a new song. When I’m rewriting and I realize I have to roll back everything, which means I’ve written a whole song but it’s not working. I know it’s a good song, but I want it to be a great song so I have to do something very, very hard, which is give up the good song. Get rid of it and start over again with my foundational materials, like a riff and a title, and rewrite. It’s hard to do that because you’ve gotten there, you’ve gotten something that’s better than nothing and maybe even better than anything you’ve ever written but you know you need to roll it back and start over.


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