By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The press release I got makes general allusions to some sort of overarching theme on Summer Teeth.
Well, I don't know -- I think it's kind of a record-making criteria. I'm just really used to it. I have had varying degrees of success with trying to make a record that feels like a record, and maybe never have. But starting with March 16, the Uncle Tupelo record, which obviously had a theme, not just sonically -- the songs just sort of fit together -- I just have never really stopped thinking about records like that. I always try and go through the songs that I have -- and it's not even that conscious -- you get in a frame of mind where this is the kind of stuff you want to sing about. And I think more than anything the themes on this record -- I just knew that I didn't want to write any more songs about music. That was my main concern. After Being There, that was just something I didn't want to talk about. It was a really long, long year on the road. It was just a really strange period of disconnection with everybody in the band.
From the outside, it seems like an amazing year.
Well musically and -- whatever you want to call it -- career-wise -- it couldn't be better. A lot of things happened that were total surprises -- the Woody Guthrie thing, and the Mermaid record being received so well.
Playing with Roger McGuinn.
It was amazing. Being There. The way it all turned out, I was really happy with that -- and, you know, becoming a dad. So I guess the theme, if there is one, and we've really resisted pointing it out in the press release or the bio thing -- it's really kind of vague: varying perspectives, or attitudes, or angles on heartache. It's nothing really new to the pop world.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems to me that one of the themes of the record concerns the struggles with being in a long-term relationship. Like the song "I'm Always in Love": I think it's inevitable that you're going to have crushes, and it doesn't have anything to do with the relationship you're in.
Ideally, it's ... I think you've read something pretty accurate into it. Ideally, I really didn't want the songs to -- they are being taken as being autobiographical. But I just really don't think that they'd work if it wasn't a little more universal. They sound a little more personal or direct than maybe the way other people present those same things.
It seems to me the more personal, the more honest you are, just in general, the more you reveal about yourself, the more universal it is.
Yeah, I totally agree, but at the same time it's not you, it's not all you. And it's a hard line to walk. And it always has been for me. That whole notion that writing in the third person will hide your identity is wrong, just as wrong as people thinking that writing solely in the first person reveals themselves. It seems as though, on this record, even more than on Being There, you seem to have let your words loose a little bit, that your approach to writing lyrics has changed. Did you have some sort of epiphany about writing, and was it tied to examining all those Woody Guthrie songs?
No, actually, I'd written all the songs before we did Mermaid Avenue. And, backtracking for a minute, as far as what you were saying about the reading into it. I'm more interested in that than in what I have to say about it, to be honest. But back to the subject at hand: On Being There, a couple songs towards the end of it I improvised a lot of lyrics live in the studio, like "Misunderstood" and "Sunken Treasure." Things like that were really satisfying to me, more satisfying to me than anything I've ever written. Then, touring so much and having a baby around the house, I didn't get to listen to music or play music in the house as much as I had in the past, so I wrote. I started writing, and I've never written lyrics down. I've always relied upon simple songs, and it was always like, "Well, fuck it, if I can't remember, then it's not worth remembering." And it just kind of backed me into a corner. Everything started sounding really conversational but very simple and not as satisfying. In the long run, emotional depth stopped unfolding every time I sang it or listened to it -- on A.M., especially. I really can't listen to many songs on that. So for whatever reason I just started writing stuff down. On this record I think I paid more attention than ever to writing words and just being excited about writing words.
You have to make a leap to that it's something that you can do; then it's something you can take seriously.
Right. You have to give yourself some latitude to be fucking pretentious, you know. And I think that's a beautiful thing. Like, you know you never can really completely get the response you want anyway, so why not just allow yourself to believe all the greatest things? I don't even really pay attention anymore to what people are going to think about it. I just kind of throw it out there. I guess that's one of the good things that comes with age or maturity. I like that we did a lot of free-writing -- you know, automatic writing -- on tour with the typewriter -- just type and type and not worry about grammar or if it made any sense. And then we'd go in the studio and I'd take all these sheets of typewritten crap and highlight phrases out of it that I liked. And songs like "Via Chicago," I only had two verses, so it was the same kind of process with playing it live, and I'm picking phrases off these pages. It's kind of like having some idea of, emotionally, where you want it to go, so there's still some decision-making process going on, but it's a lot more exciting than letting it be completely cerebral or fully realized. It ends up being a lot more exciting.