By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
It was really hard towards the end, letting go of the record, I think partially because we had so much time, and then the time disappeared, and then the impact of a deadline just hits you a lot harder. I just got so inside making the record, it just got really hard to let go of. There was a period where I stopped hearing the music -- more than anyone else in the band, I guess because I wrote all the lyrics and wrote the songs. Now I've been away from it for a while and I don't listen to it that much, so now when I do listen to it, I'm just really excited that the music did what it was supposed to do.
Are you really happy with this record, personally?
Yeah, I'm really happy. I'm really satisfied. I think we can make a better record. I'd like to think that it opened a lot of doors, and that's all I ever really want out of a record, is to feel like it's not the end of the line. The music works to me now. When I listen to it now I feel like the music is actually pretty well designed to do what it was intended to do.
Can I ask you about Woody Guthrie? Can you describe the setting of where you were when you were first presented with the physical pages?
His archives -- his daughter, Nora, runs them in New York. The first time, we were there with Billy (Bragg), and you go and put on white gloves and they start pulling out these big boxes and huge manuscript tablets that he would paint and write in -- like huge address books. It was alphabetized like an address book, and he would write the titles; he would title songs before he wrote them; in a lot of cases you would be flipping through them and find a title that had no lyrics. It was really crazy.
It sounds kind of surreal -- being an outsider imagining it.
It was totally surreal, like here's "This Land Is Your Land." That's worth something. You're really going to let me touch this? It was hilarious because once you got over it, you are really just looking for stuff you can sing, and there's so much, and you end up almost scanning through titles to try and find stuff. If you look at the record you'll see that half the titles are A, B, or C titles, and you can tell that we skipped to the middle at some points. And then you go Xerox them and get them stamped. They have to stamp them and keep records of what goes out. And Nora is great. A lot of his later lyrics are actually really obscene. Like, "What would you do with a girl like Jackie? I'd drink that honey juice that drips down her crackie." Like, "What would you do with a girl like Mona. I'd rock her and roll her on my long leather boner." Unbelievable stuff! There was this really unbelievable one called "Pee Pee Hole" -- "Sit down on the grass and spread your legs and let me see your pee pee hole." And I was like, "Nora, I can't read these in front of you." And she was like, "Oh come on, we're all artists here." That was the highlight of it for me, just like seeing her really emotionally connected to this stuff. Obviously, I guess it's like her life but at the same time disconnected enough to look at it the way people should look at art, like anybody's art. Her dad was very real to her.
It seems to me like the only way you could creatively interpret the songs of Woody Guthrie would be to completely ignore the fact that Woody Guthrie wrote them.
Tried to do that. We wanted to keep things simple so we could record it efficiently, and the lyrics just didn't feel right to put in too bizarre a landscape, you know, like intentionally fuck with it. I think we were irreverent enough to just do it, and not worry about people being appalled.
Okay, a couple of Uncle Tupelo questions. Have you thought much about the reverence with which a lot of people treat Uncle Tupelo?
I try not to think about it. I don't. I get asked about it a lot, and I also get talked to in a way by some people, where they expect me to believe it. Like it's understood like I am totally aware of the whole mythical status of this band. I don't believe it any more now than I did when I was in the band. It's like anything you do. I'm really happy I was in the band; I like the records, we did a good job. It would be really silly to think this revised history for myself and say, well, we set out to do that, which is the way people want you to look at it. But it's flattering that people still pay attention to it. On some level that's really beyond anything we could have hoped for. You, as much as anybody, would know what a thrill it was to put out an independent record. And then the next thrill was getting a major-label record deal, and we still got to make the kind of record we wanted to make.