Making Noise For An Audience Of One (1998)
By Jordan Williams
JW: The first thing I would like to discuss is your last band. I know what happened, but WHAT HAPPENED?
JS: I'm still not sure. I know that I didn't break the band up. Maybe no one did. I don't know. Maybe it just naturally imploded. There were tensions there for one reason or other. To be honest, I'm not a great communicator and that was probably part of it. But there were other things, disagreements on how often we'd practice, what sort of places we'd play. I didn't feel like we were working very hard there in the last couple months. And I wanted to play out much more than we were doing. I'm not proud. I'll play anywhere. But I don't want to put so much of myself into a band if everyone isn't on the same page in terms of what your goals for the band are and so on. But if it was up to me, we would've probably taken a couple weeks off to simmer down and then come back together. It would have been great with me if we were all still together. Everyone has sort of gone their separate ways now. I had a couple gigs lined up that would've been a gas to play. The Little Grill (a local music hangout in Harrisonburg - JW) called twice during the summer and practically pleaded for us to play. And another local place wanted us to play too but then they went out of business. And then some guy from up in New Haven, Connecticut called a month or so ago and wanted us to play up there in December. But, you know.
JW: What is it with you and bands?
JS: Ha ha! I don't know. I can't find people who are really focused on making something happen. You know, I have been in a lot of bands but not one of them lasted more than a year. It's sort of like the Muddy Waters syndrome. Do you know what I mean? Muddy Waters (the late great blues legend --JW) always played with these young guys who were like decades younger than he was and his band was constantly changing as the young guys would move in and out. Short attention span or something. I don't know! The older I get, the harder it is to meet new musicians. And my music is odd. Sort of stuck in other eras. But not a product of any particular time, you know? I mean, I'm influenced by stuff from the late '60s through the early 90s. But I'd love to play again live. I'm ready. But I just don't want to go beg someone to play. I mean, hell, I'm not that desperate.
JW: Would you call yourself a micro-star?
JS: What in the hell is a micro-star?
JW: It's a new concept. I came across it on the internet. It's the idea that every locality is a kind of micro-world with its own constellation of larger than life people. In other words, micro-stars.
JS: That's very interesting, but I ain't no micro-star. I'm just one more dumb white boy with a Fender guitar.
JW: What's the best band you ever played with?
JS: Oh that's hard. I can't answer that. The times I've played with Brian Temples have always been special because he's such a brilliant bassist and a really good singer too. I always felt like he and I produced a special kind of spark together. But our musical interests are probably too different in the end. I really liked the last band because at first it was very creative and willing to do all kinds of stuff. But I had to do most of the lead guitar work and I am a terrible lead guitarist. But the most fun I ever had was playing with some kids who were fresh out of the high school where I teach. I think they were all like 18 or 19 at the time. It was just a one night thing and we'd thrown together four or five songs together that afternoon because one of them had asked me to play at his band's last ever show or something. I don't remember the occasion exactly. But I'd been close to all three of them and they seemed to be so into the music. There were only maybe 40-50 people at the show but everyone of them was just really there for the band. You know what I mean? But it was special in a way I can't explain and this probably makes no sense to you or anybody who's reading this. If that group had asked me to join them I'd have said 'yes' in a heartbeat! They were called the Necromantics. Great name, I thought.
JW: Yeah, it is. Funny. Say something about your last tape, SO FAR IN EVERY DIRECTION.
JS: Well, that was supposed to be BIG BUSINESS MONKEY, VOL. 4 originally. But it turned out to be more than just a loose collection. I thought it kind of held together as an album. So I gave it a name and put it out. There are a few songs on there that I think are as good as I've ever done. Probably some clunkers too, but I like it. It's sold something like 10 copies. Another huge money maker for Ain't Records.
JW: You know, you are always telling me how frustrated you are that so few people hear your music. Why do you keep on doing it? Make music, I mean.
JS: I don't know. I don't want to do it, anymore, to be honest. But I can't stop. Isn't that the craziest thing? I think to myself how inane it is to keep making music and that it's time to grow up and forget about music but I just can't get the lyrics and music for the next song out of my head. Music's always clanging around inside my skull and it won't go away. Maybe one day the frustration will just get to be too much and I really will stop, but I wonder. Maybe it's because I'm a relatively isolated person in many ways and music's the only way I have to keep a connection open with people. That's probably it. I have thought about it a lot. But I don't know the reason I keep writing new stuff.
JW: So are you going to eventually start another band?
JS: I don't know that either. I'd like to. I really enjoy playing live though in some ways it's nerve wracking and a hassle. I hate hauling equipment around. And before a show I'm a nervous wreck. But actually playing live and watching people get into your music is a gas. If someone were to come up to me tomorrow and say they wanted to start a new Book of Kills, I'd probably say yes.
JW: Where do you see your music heading next?
JS: Well, I have some new songs about done. A couple of them are a little more complicated than most of my stuff. More changes involved. The lyrics are real sort of stream of consciousness. I don't mean I'm turning into Yes or Genesis or something but it's a little more...um...involved. But then I've also done some real simple folky stuff. Very basic.
JW: Where do you see yourself in music? What importance do you attach to what you do?
JS: What? Importance? Oh Jesus. I am a pimple on music's ass. I have no importance as a musician...
JW: Calm yourself.
JS: I am a middle-aged teacher who puts out cassettes of his own music once or twice a year and who has a tiny tiny base of people who listen to that music. I get an occasional nice review from the magazines that cater to home tapers. What importance can you attach to that? I am making noise for an audience of one. You know what? Since April of this year I have sent a demo package to 21 different shitty little record companies.
JS: Not only did not one of them send me a rejection letter, not one of them even made the effort to reply to me. That ought to shed some light on my importance.
JW: So you define your success by whether or not a "shitty" record company accepts you?
JS: What other definition is there? Hey, even most of the people around Harrisonburg who count themselves as fans of Book of Kills don't bother to buy my tapes. If I was important musically on any level I think that people would at least locally...oh hell. I don't know. It's frustrating. Ha ha! I suppose I need to realize that my stuff just doesn't connect with most people. Maybe it sucks, I don't know. I hope not!
JW: What are your own favorite albums of yours?
JS: Oh there are 3-4 that I know are better than the others in terms of lyrics, performance and so on. THE HAUNTED LIFE, SPLENDID TRIGGER, ST. JUDAS. I like SONGS FOR A GONE WORLD just 'cause it's so strange. I think THE BEST OF tape comes off pretty good. See, I like almost all my tapes a lot. I mean, I'd be an idiot not to, wouldn't I? All those tapes are me. If you want to know who I am, the best chance you'll ever have is through my music. Even the songs that seem to be about other people are more or less about me. I look back on the last 9 or 10 years and sometimes I can't believe that I spent all that time and effort writing and recording all those songs. Gotta be around 200 songs now. But I loved every minute. It's a wonderful thing to write a song and then put it together instrument by instrument on a piece of magnetic tape. I've never been a real expert at recording and mixing and all that but I love the whole process. Home multi-track tape recorders probably saved my life.
JW: Why don't you use other musicians on a more regular basis to record?
JS: Well, it's just really hard for me to get people together in one place and coordinate the process of recording a bunch of songs. It's much much easier for me to do it myself. There are trade offs. I'm not a very good musician and have to settle for clunky musicianship but the process of recording is almost inextricable from the process of writing and building a song.
JW: How so?
JS: I tend to write while I record. And a lot of re-writing goes on at the same time. Sort of like how you hear about bands writing albums in the studio. I do that more or less.
JW: If you had to narrow it down to a handful of bands, who would you say were your greatest influences?
JS: John Lennon because of his love of sound manipulation. I don't think I show much of a Beatles influence but Lennon is by far the most important single influence. Then there'd be Bob Dylan. That period in his career from 1965 to '68 or so when he was writing these fabulous surreal lyrics influenced by the Beats, the French Imagists, Walt Whitman. No one before or since has done anything like it. Probably the third most significant influence would be Husker Du. That sort of strummed ultra-distorted guitar sound. A lot of the stuff I did up through ST. JUDAS was based in part on the Du. I'm sort of the Beatles trying to do Dylan as interpreted by Husker Du. Badly! Ha ha!
JW: Do you feel like you're still in touch with what's going on now in music?
JS: Hell no! I mean I am, but I don't care to try to imitate say Prodigy or Nine Inch Nails or the Chemical Brothers or whatever. I do what I want and don't care too much anymore what others think. You have to do what the voices in your head tell you to do. When you start trying to be current you start making dishonest music. That's no doubt one reason why few people listen to BOK. I don't really have a sound that would appeal to your typical teenager or even those in their 20s. I'm stuck in another time frame. I realize that. Very few people can bridge the musical gap between the generations. But I always felt like if you just did what you felt, if it was honest, then in a way your music could stay outside of time.
JW: How does your job as a teacher affect your music? Or does it?
JS: My music and my job don't really intersect too much. About the only thing I can say about the two is that I wish I could stop teaching and just do music. But that's a pipe dream. I know now that it will never happen.
JW: Why not?
JS: It just won't. I just wasn't meant for a life in music. I don't know why. I was chosen to do something else. Maybe I'm paying for some heavy crap I committed in another lifetime. Sometimes I feel like music is a terrible curse, because I love it so much, it's what I am to a large extent, and I would give anything to be able to make my living through it. To be able to devote full time to it would be so wonderful. As it is, I have to sneak in an hour here and an hour there.
JW: I'd be interested in the process you go through to produce a recorded song.
JS: Well, I usually start with lyrics. That's the hardest thing for me to do. Especially after writing something like 250 songs. It's kinda difficult to keep coming up with fresh language. But, you know, I suppose there's an infinite set of combinations of words. So I tend to lean these days more towards stream of consciousness lyrics. Surreal stuff. Even pure nonsense. That's the kind of stuff I've always liked best anyway. Late Beatles Lennon, peak Dylan, Robert Pollard, Pavement, Will Oldham. Their lyrics are so left field. When I was a kid, I always liked reading the really cryptic poetry that came out in the 30s and 40s. The modernist type thing that's pretty out of fashion these days. And that mad, over the top stuff of the French Imagists. And of course the Beats will always be a huge influence on anything I write. That sort of language resonates in your brain a lot longer than most of the drivel you hear these days.
JW: After you write the lyrics, then what?
JS: Then I usually work out the chords and the melody on my acoustic guitar. Although a lot of times the melody will just be there in my head and I just have to find out what the chords are.
JW: What's the recording process?
JS: If there's going to be a drum track, that's what I do next. Figure out what sort of drum sound I want and then program it on the beat box. Then I usually put down a rhythm guitar so that I can have something to sing along with. I do vocals next. When you only have eight tracks to work with, you often have to record several vocal tracks and then dump them all onto one track so that you have enough space left to overdub instruments. Then I add solos, keyboards, and so on. Usually do the bass last for some reason. That's it. I mix everything onto a DAT through an old Yamaha 12 track mixer. I never mix listening through headphones. I have some little cheap speakers that sort of mimic the sound of a crap transistor radio. They're what I listen through when I mix. I just bought a mini-disc recorder and I've been transferring the original DAT masters to mini-disc. I'm afraid the digital tapes are going to wear out and if they do I might not be able to put together the albums in their original form again. It also gives me an opportunity to remix some albums, add a track here or there. I love the convenience of mini-disc. They beat the hell out of cassettes!
JW: Since you started making music you've gone from punk to folk to polka to industrial to rap to psychedelia and god knows what else. Why do you insist on trying out so many styles? And usually on the same album!
JS: Well, I just get bored doing the same thing over and over. I like to listen to artists who stretch out on an album. Groups like Prodigy or Green Day or Tool or whoever, they're great at what they do but they just do the same thing like 12 times an album with just minor sonic variations from track to track. Although I will say the new Green Day album is real nice. They're definitely trying not to repeat themselves. Jim Santo wrote not too long ago that the only musicians who are free to do what they please are home tapers. They have no one to answer to but themselves and I think that's a very perceptive observation on Jim's part. I'd rather listen to a good home tapers work any day over most major label groups. If you're on a label, the bottom line is you have to make the company money or they're going to drop you. So you have to play it safe. Find an audience that digs what you're doing and work the formula to death. You can't chance alienating your fan base or you might not sell enough cds. So though I don't like the anonymity of being a home taper, I do really appreciate the freedom it gives you.
JW: You've been a prolific writer. How do you keep coming up with material?
JS: I steal! Ha ha! No really. I do take a lot from other musicians. I'll hear a song I really like and just sort of re-work it into something of my own. I do that a lot really. Like I said before, lyrics are the hardest part for me. Sometimes I'll find a sentence or phrase in a magazine or poem or whatever and that'll give me the spark to write a whole song. I listen to people talk. If I hear something I know I can use in a song, I'll file it away in my memory and let it ferment for a while and eventually a song comes out. But you know it's funny. The very best songs I've ever done were always the ones where I was just hit by a bolt of inspiration and then the words just come tumbling out as easy as pie.
JW: How many albums have you released since you started?
JS: I think at last count there were 24-25. But since I bought the mini-disc recorder I've been pruning that down. Combining tapes to make one longer work, stuff like that. When I am finally done re-doing everything I'll have it down to 15 or 16 albums.
JW: When do you see the next release coming out?
JS: It's hard to predict. I think I'm going to have something done by late winter. I don't usually record much in the fall though, so I can't say for sure.
JW: Why don't you record in the fall and winter?
JS: I don't know actually. I seem to be in a sort of cycle. Put a tape or two out in the spring and summer and then let things go fallow for a while, then start up the whole process all over again. I kind of go into a shell in the winter. It's generally a depressing time for me. I'd probably record a lot more if I lived in Florida or somewhere where it was warm all year long. I guess I'm one of those people you hear about that has a hard time dealing with winter. But I mean, I do record some in the fall and winter. It's not a total washout time for me. I've written some good tunes then. I think part of it is just pretty mundane. I record in a garage with no heat and it's just no fun to record when you can't even feel your fingers! Ha ha! And I can't really move everything inside the house because there's nowhere to put everything where I'd be isolated enough to loosen up and do my best work. I can't record vocals when I know just outside the door is my family looking at each other and going, What the hell?
JW: Has having a family been a deterrent to producing music?
JS: Yeah, sort of. I usually record when no one's around just so there won't be any distractions. So I pretty much have to schedule the music around those times when my family's out or they're all asleep. I've often wondered if I'd never had a family would I have produced twice as much music? Somehow I don't think so. They're sort of a buffer for me against the outside world. I would have definitely gone totally nuts without a family. So things are probably the way they should be. I certainly don't bear any ill will towards my wife and kids 'cause they're somehow keeping me from making more music. I need that human contact they provide. Keeps me grounded.
JW: I know that you've gone through some hard times psychologically in the last ten years. Has that had any effect on your music?
JS: Well, it's not like I'm mentally ill or something you know! Ha ha! But yeah, I've had some dark periods where it was difficult to...you know...difficult to get out of bed and do anything productive. There've been some real battles. Tough times when I felt like I might not make it. But I've always fought my way out of those periods. The toughest time was probably back in '92. Almost the whole year. Things were just real messed up and I don't know how I made it through those days when I look back. Music saved me. No doubt. I put out DON'T STOP THE SCREAM and THE HAUNTED LIFE during that time so you can see where I was coming from. I mean, the titles of those two albums say it all, don't they? I wasn't a happy camper.
JW: Why was that such a difficult time for you? Or do you want to talk about it?
JS: Just a bunch of personal things. Lots of bad thoughts that kept building up in my mind. It was everything I could do to cope. I didn't really find much joy in anything. But I was determined to beat it and I did. No, I don't really want to talk about it. It's not a state of mind I would wish even on my worst enemies. You just have to realize that these periods come and go and if you can just wait it out you're going to be okay. That's the big thing. To keep telling yourself just to hang on because relief's on the way.
JW: We've talked about this some already, but where do you see your music going in the future?
JS: You can never tell. My mind is always latching onto something new. I mean, one minute I'll want to do a punk song and the next a folk song. I do know that I would absolutely love to do another FOR THE GOOD OF THE CAUSE. You know, take a bunch of old folk songs and totally deconstruct them. I don't think I ever had more fun that I did during that summer when I made the second side of CAUSE. So that's definitely in the future. What else? I don't know. It's like I said before, this is n't going to go on forever. I can see bailing out of music maybe sooner than people think. I'll miss it if and when I do, but I don't know if I could do this when I'm fifty years old. It would be very hard to justify. Maybe 2 or 3 more albums and I might call it quits. Who knows.
JW: Two or three more albums? You're not serious.
JS: Maybe. I guess we'll see when we get to the end, won't we?
JW: Without dwelling on this too much, do you find that you are able to use these difficult periods in your songwriting?
JS: Yes. I think I go through these bleak times because I am a very angry person and yet I'm not able to articulate that anger very well to others. I just can't seem to let it out. I don't know why, but when I try to communicate feelings to other people usually I'm unable to do it. Neither my mother or father could either. I suppose that's where it comes from. I can't even think of a single time when my mother yelled at my dad or vice versa. Isn't that odd? I mean, it wasn't bad in a way because actually I lived in a very loving and stable house, but feelings were always sort of hidden away for the most part.
JW: You speak of being a very angry person and yet I would never think to describe you like that. But it is something that is very clear in your music. Even the poppiest songs you write always have these almost morbid lyrics. Why are you so angry?
JS: God, I don't think I ever write morbid lyrics, do I? Ha ha! Oh hell--if I knew why I was angry, I could maybe root out the problem and not be angry anymore. But I don't know why. I think a lot of it is from the stupid things that people do to one another. Over and over. Day after day. We all pull such idiotic crap on each other. And after centuries and centuries of living together we don't seem to learn from our mistakes. That's very disheartening to me and it makes me mad. I guess part of my anger goes back to not being able to communicate my feelings very well. It all stays trapped inside and when that happens your emotions can get kind of grotesquely misshapen. Ha ha!
JW: If suddenly you weren't angry anymore, could you still create music?
JS: No. I don't think I could. Maybe. I'm not sure. But all those internalised emotions sort of give me my sound. Bryan Baker of GAJOOB once described some of my music as very claustrophobic and he was right. It all is for the most part. I find it very difficult to make anything I do sound loose and free. It's all kind of jammed together and sweaty and furtive. Ha ha! I think if I weren't angry anymore I would probably at least subconsciously make bad things happen just so I could have something to write about.
JW: You have written many songs about a girl named Susan.
JS: Yes. Susan was a girl I knew who was, I think, probably schizophrenic. I don't know. I'm no psychiatrist. She was very very sad. The saddest girl I ever knew. But that melancholy really drew me to her. I mean, her sadness was incredibly alluring. She was extremely pretty, but to look in her eyes was to look into a bottomless abyss. I was very in love with her.
JW: What happened?
JS: It got to the point where I knew if I stayed with her she was eventually going to go over the edge and she would drag me over with her. I know what she felt. How you wake up in the morning and go to work and you're almost like a zombie. It's like you can feel your mind hovering just above your head. It's very strange. A feeling of total isolation. Dislocation. But I could fight those sort of feelings and beat them into submission. She couldn't. So I left her. I had to to save myself. It was like Odysseus and the sirens. It wasn't too long after that she drove her van into the back of a car. If I'd stayed with her maybe I'd been in that van. Who knows? Sometimes I think everything I write is somehow connected to her.
JW: How is that?
JS: Well, so much of what I write about is death. It's an endlessly fascinating subject for me. Not morbid at all to me. I suppose some of that fascination comes from my experiences with Susan. I couldn't help but feel guilty over her death. Maybe I'm trying to exorcise those feelings through music. It's not really something that I've ever tried to analyse too deeply. I'm afraid if I figure out what's going on in my head the songs will stop! Ha ha!
JW: You also write about relationships between men and women quite a lot.
JS: Yes. Another fascinating subject. I don't think songwriters will ever run out of things to say about that topic! You can spout off about politics or whatever but most of the songs that endure deal pretty simply with men and women trying to get along. Why they can't is beyond me, but at least it gives me something to write about!
JW: Let's talk about some of your individual songs.
JW: How about "Dark Side of Tomorrow"?
JS: That's one of the very first songs I ever wrote. And I recall very vividly the circumstances. I used to give these huge parties at my house. You know, like a hundred people. Big blowouts. Anyway, it was during one of these parties and the girl I was going with at the time had a few too many...ha ha! And anyway she started flirting around with some jerk off and I just got pissed. I went to the bedroom to cool off. Ha ha! Anyway, I figured I could kill her or write a song about her. Fortunately for both of us I decided to write a song. That was recorded with the old Roland bass and drum machines...the BD 606 and BA 303 or whatever they were called. I sold both of them later for like $100. Now you can't find one for less than $600-700! That droning organ sound was done with my son's Mickey Mouse toy organ filtered through a fuzz box and chorus.
JW: "The Night John Lennon Died."
JS: Umm...originally that was a poem I wrote a long time ago. I was totally entranced with Live Skull and early Sonic Youth at the time. So that was sort of based on their sound though it doesn't sound like either. The little tinkly sample at the end of the song was something from one of Sonic Youth's albums played backwards. I always thought that would be a good song to play live. I think I tuned the guitar to an open Am to play it.
JW: Okay, what about "Abandoned"?
JS: Well, as you know that's one of my favorites. I love to play it live. I was listening to Ministry's LAND OF RAPE AND HONEY a lot at the time. Did the vocals through a fuzz box. The samples were from a documentary on Da Da-ism and from the Richard Burton version of the film 1984. The last verse was about my grandfather who at the time was wasting away in a retirement home. He died shortly after I finished the song.
JW: A couple or three more..."Waiting on a Friend"?
JS: To be honest, I don't remember much about this song. On the chorus part where I sing "I'm just waiting on a friend," I wanted it to sound like John Lennon. The rest of the song, the words were just nonsense really. I made them up on the spot in a couple minutes. I wanted to do something with a bunch of changes in it but I didn't want it to sound pretentious. I really like that song a lot. But Brock Beatty and Brian Temples (former BOK drummer and bassist respectively--JW) are the only persons who's ever told me they liked it.
JS: Oh that was a big Nirvana rip-off. I loved their song "School" and just sort of did a little different version of their riff. Every band I'm in has a different take on song. I really look forward to doing that one live because everyone goes nuts when we play it. It just has this elemental chord progression to it that explodes on you when it's played live. And it's pretty easy to remember the words! Ha ha! That's probably the reason I like it so much. What! It's got like fifteen words to it or something. I think that's why I always get so nervous before a gig. You play like 20 or so songs and sometimes it's hard to remember the lyrics to all of them! Ha ha! I'm pretty good at faking it when i forget lyrics though. Sometimes I pretend like the mic has gone out. Then everybody starts looking all worried. Ha ha! Hey...I just forgot the words again!
JW: What about "Stanley the Steamer"? That's an odd song.
JS: Well, I wanted to write a kind of classic rock song but twist it around enough to make it interesting. The lyrics are about Syd Barrett who was the founder of Pink Floyd. Now I don't care much for Pink Floyd but I do like Barrett's solo albums and the first Pink Floyd album which was pretty much a Barrett solo album itself. There's a lot of madness on those records and I'm all for mixing madness with music. Ha ha! The solo on that song was supposed to be a parody of David Gilmour's style. I didn't quite pull it off I suppose.
JS: Interesting. "Because Because." I don't mind telling you I think that song seriously kicks ass.
JW: Oh yes. It does kick ass. That's got kind of a strange chord structure. I mean it's all common chords but they're put together all wrong. Ha ha! At first you listen to it and you go, What? But after you get used to it it really packs a punch. The song itself is partly about a guy who gets off on setting fires. He sees burning things down as the only way he can stand apart from the crowd. Kind of a twisted song.
JW: One more. "If I Went Mad." You weren't actually worried about going mad when you wrote that, were you?
JS: Ummm...I don't know. Maybe! No...I wasn't worried about going crazy. But at the time I could certainly feel where...I was feeling pretty down at the time and I think I just decided to write a song about what I was feeling but try to poke some fun at myself. I kind get a little too self-absorbed, you know, so I wrote the lyrics to that one very tongue in cheek and then set it to a polka beat!
JW: Where do you see pop music heading in the future?
JS: I think people who try to predict future trends usually reveal themselves to be short-sighted or just plain foolish, but I'll play the game. But I--I don't know. I think as people become more and more isolated you'll find that music will begin to reflect many of the attributes of the schizophrenic. Very basic. Very repetitive. Rather distant. I think you'll hear jazz being more and more incorporated into pop music. I think women will continue to play a bigger role in future pop. It seems to me that men are relinquishing their hold on the reins. Not just in music. It's an imperceptible thing but I think it's happening. Of course, there'll always be the balls out rockers. God bless 'em! Ha ha! Don't be surprised to see a resurgence soon in metal. I don't mean the little mini-thing we had not too long ago with Metallica and Megadeth and so on. But it'll be different somehow. Personally I look forward to the Next Big Thing. Time is speeding up. Saviors and martyrs will dart across our television screens faster and faster.
JW: What will the next big thing be?
JS: Oh, no one can know that. If I did I'd be the next big thing.
JW: What are you listening to these days?
JS: I listen to Guided by Voices an awful lot. I didn't think much of their last album, MAG EARWHIG, but most of their stuff I find really appealing. Very melodic with great nonsense throwaway lyrics. And Bob Pollard who pretty much is Guided by Voices is about my age, so that appeals to me. I love Tobin Sprout's two solo albums. Beck some. His folk album is a gas. Can't remember the title. Will Oldham. He can't sing worth a damn but I just find his music appealing. I'm in awe of John Coltrane. I never get tired of LOVE SUPREME. I listen to the local classical station some. But I like the really twisted classical stuff like Stockhausen and they don't play those sort of things. I like this home taper guy named Greg Mathieson. He makes beautiful synthetic music that's real fresh. Very hard to describe. I still listen to Bob Dylan after all these years. His new one is very strong, but so melancholy. I can't imagine anyone under 30 understanding what he's saying on that album. The Beatles, of course.
JW: Do you think anyone under 30 understands what you're saying on your albums?
JS: No. Maybe one or two people. But some of them try. I appreciate that.
JW: What would be the perfect band for you to be in?
JS: It would be a group of people who could play the hardest goddamned rock and roll one song and then the next pull off the prettiest little acoustic thing you could ever want to hear. I'd like to have a keyboardist. A good keyboardist adds so much texture to your sound. It seems like every band I get into all we end up playing is my hard rock stuff. I like to pace a set more. It's too easy to just bludgeon an audience with a lot of distortion and fast playing. I'd like to make them have to pay more attention.
JW: Do you consider yourself a good musician?
JS: No, I'm not a good musician. I'm basically a competent rhythm guitarist and that's it. I can play a decent bass. And I think I can really help drive a band, but I'm really more of a good recordist than I am a good musician. I think I'm a much better lyricist. I've always been proud that I could write lyrics that usually rose above the level of mediocrity. that's why I so admire people like Lennon, Dylan, Pollard, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith. People who could say the same old thing in a fresh way. There's nothing new to say, but there are always fresh ways to say it.
JW: What regrets do you have about music?
JS: Jeez, Jordy. You're grasping now, aren't you? I suppose I regret not trying harder to communicate my feelings about where I wanted a band to go. Maybe not being more positive with what people were trying to do. I should have been more appreciative of what Dave accomplished in such a short time on guitar. I mean, Jesus, the guy had barely ever picked up a guitar before I asked him to be in the band and in six months he came so far. I have regrets about that. I regret that I didn't just pick up a long time ago and go to New York, but I didn't so there's no use in lamenting lost opportunities. I regret having to dump my old friend Mike Johnson from an early version of Book of Kills and then losing his friendship. We were pretty close and let a goddamned band come between us. That's almost tragic. There are people who wanted to form bands with me and for one egotistical reason or another I didn't take them up on their offers. I regret that. I mourn the things that I should have done and didn't. But I don't dwell on them. You can't go back so you just keep moving forward. It's all you can do.
JW: What good things have you gotten out of music?
JS: You know, I complain so much about what I haven't gotten out of music that sometimes I forget just how much it has given me. I think, without trying to sound to sappy about it, that music has enriched my life immeasurably. It has allowed me to make friends and acquaintances with many many great people I'd never have met normally. People like Jim Santo, Bryan Baker, Brian Temples, Dusty and Gary Bugg, Andrew Neckowitz, Bruce Benedict, Mike Johnson, Kevin Bachman, Travis Hunter, Melissa Livaudais, you, and the list goes on and on. And music has given me so many moments that are simply priceless. The shows I've played have almost all been ecstatic and just positive in every way. I wouldn't trade away one of them. And just the satisfaction of knowing that I really have worked hard to make good songs and that people actually listened to them and liked them is so important. People make music, in part at least, as an act of reaching out, as a way of touching others in a positive way. And when you do that, you change things for the better. I really believe that. Music works on a spiritual, communal level that I don't think anyone can fully comprehend. I thank God that I was given a gift to do what I've done, in my own clumsy way.
JW: And one last question. Do you have the secret to the universe?