What are you trying to do musically?
"I think some people tend to gravitate towards music in order to exorcise their personal demons or find meaning in their lives or get in touch with their emotions or what have you. It’s possible but I don’t know that that is the case with what I do. Mostly I’m trying to make something that is beautiful to me. Perhaps a better question would be “Why do you make music?” Man, that’s a tough one. You have no idea how long I’ve agonized over this simple question. I think for me it comes down to the fact that I don’t feel I had a choice. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and was like “I’m going to be a musician henceforth.” I didn’t even particularly care for music until well into my teens. In the end, it was just something I fell into. It suits my temperament. I like the quiet, alternating moments of ecstatic joy and mounting frustration."
The title of your record is Nothing Personal but it seems very personal, is this so?
"Why that title? Actually, the original title I wanted was “Right There Is Fine.” Quotes and everything. I kept picturing someone saying it in a dismissive, breezy way and I became obsessed with knowing whether I was the person saying it or if I was the addressee. Like, was I Joan Crawford saying it over my shoulder as I ascended my palatial staircase, or was I the mover at the foot of the stairs clutching a cardboard box? Of course, this idea is incredibly stupid, so I shelved it. I eventually decided upon Nothing Personal because I liked the vagueness implicit in it, and of course the embarrassingly obvious double-meaning."
What are your influences musically?
"When I was a kid my mother owned exactly three records. Handel’s Messiah, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and that one Lionel Richie record with the song about the blind girl. (I think it was called “Hello” but I’m not sure). The first song I learned all the way through by heart was the Chicago Bear’s “Superbowl Shuffle.” Me and the kids I used to hang out with all had our different parts. Because I was the white guy, I had to do Jim McMahon’s lines, although, to be honest, I secretly felt that he was kind of a dork, especially with those horrible sunglasses he always wore. I was always partial to Walter Payton’s verse. So simple. So elegant. In that respect, I think it’s safe to say I tend to favor single songs over entire genres and catalogs. I’m incredibly picky. I can like one song by an artist and then completely despise everything else by that same artist.
I remember sitting on a bench at Chase Park when I was maybe 10, 11. They started playing “Everybody wants to rule the world” over the field loudspeakers and I fell in love with the guitar solo that comes in towards the end. I mean, literally, in love. I loved the way it felt, like it was unfolding itself, always climbing. It was the first time in my life that I consciously took note of music, as before it had always been a chaotic mess that I either ignored or avoided entirely."
How is this record different from your last record?
"Well, it’s better. It’s certainly more of a makeout record than the last one. Sonically, it’s a little more polished, due in large part to the fact that I was able to spend a lot of time on it. Anyone who was around me during the recording process will tell you that I am a chronic re-writer. The extra days and weeks helped me refine the various parts. My favorite moments of the record are those that we arrived at by process of careful tinkering and elimination. For me, my first instinct is not always the best one. Another thing was that this was the first record where I began to consider the studio a bonafide musician. My goal was to make a record that combined dubby, narcotic beats with intricate guitar, a hybrid between Portishead’s Dummy and Nicholas Drake’s Pink Moon. Having access to a digital environment helped bring that out, as well as suggest some new directions. I still think if a song doesn’t work in 4 tracks, it won’t work in 16, but I have to admit it was nice to be able to play with the extra space. As for comparing the two, I’m probably the least informed person to ask. I like both records but for wildly different reasons. I can say that this is the first record I’ve made that I have listened to more than 5 times after it was done. I’m really weird about that, or so I gather. I’ve probably listened to this one over a hundred times, which for me is bordering on the ridiculous. It’s dense. It’s sometimes lush. I like that. I keep hearing new things. It has its moments."
Interview conducted by Joe Ferguson.