By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
If I can find someone who's going to make me look as good as Mavis Staples, yeah, I think I'll probably do it again.
As a musician, what sorts of things did you take away from the experience? Can you see it affecting any of the music you make, personally, in the future?
Yeah, I'm sure it will, I just don't know exactly how. I do know that as a listener, I really like being able to experience making music with somebody when I've listened to their records a lot. To be able to stand in the room with someone that you have listened to a lot coming through your stereo speakers, I think helps you as a listener, which helps you as a musician to be able to hear deeper into records. It's easier for me to picture what actually happened in the studio, what actually is a part of the recording artifice, when you get to experience something in person. I've been fortunate enough to see some of that with other heroes of mine, and it always adds to your ability to hear deeper into records. That's really the only way I can put it. That's one of my great passions my whole life, is wanting to be deeper inside of records [laughs] and loving them. I feel very fortunate to get to spend time with someone like that.
That's good the mystique isn't broken once you hear about it. There are certain musicians I admire where I'm like, "I never want to meet them and I never want to interview them," because if they don't live up to expectations, I'd be disappointed.
Even if the mystique is broken a little bit, to me that's all a part of it. It's still beautiful. I think everybody — even the most brilliant person on Earth that's ever made records — I don't know, even Bob Dylan, I think it's really good for you to realize that there is a mystique. And to see what the difference is, what the separation is between the magic of it and just being a person. To me, that makes you closer than...it allows you to feel closer to that power, that ability to make something magic. At least for myself, as a person who makes records too, I like knowing that there's flaws there, that it isn't all, they wake up in the morning and they shit out a fucking masterpiece. [laughs] I want to know that they work for it, and that there's also parts of it that are out of their hands. That's what I'm talking about — that's beautiful.
That's humanity; that's awesome. I was really excited when you worked with Neil Finn on the 7 Worlds Collide project, because I'm such a huge Crowded House fan. I can't imagine going to New Zealand and working with him — it just blows my mind, because I love their music so much.
And he's not going to blow your mystique in any negative way — he's just the nicest guy in the world and a really sweet person. But he cracks a few notes here and there, just like everybody else. That's actually one of the things that I've learned separates people that make good records from people that have trouble making good records. People that make good records are always going for it in a way that they're more likely to crack a note, they're more likely to fail. I mean, Woody Guthrie...I got to work with Nora [Guthrie, Woody's daughter] and the archives on the Mermaid Avenue records. He wrote the stupidest stuff in the world down, because he wasn't inhibited by a really fascistic, overseeing ego. He was able to transcend that part of himself that was telling him he's saying something stupid. [laughs] At the end of the day, he ended up with things that most people can't get to.
I have that trouble as a writer. If I write something and I'm like, "This is dumb," I'm like, "Okay, I'm just not going to come back to it." It takes courage to do something like that, as an artist.
It takes courage, and to be reminded that no one was ever hurt by a bad sentence. [laughs] A bad record's not going to kill anybody. It's really all going to be just so unlikely for it to have any kind of impact like that. It's all just so much straw, as they say.
When you play those [Guthrie] songs live solo, have they taken on any different meanings for you, the more and more you perform them?
I mean, I feel very connected to them. Every song evolves as you evolve, as you become older, as you become more experienced. I don't know, everything kind of transfers...I have trouble remembering that I didn't write those songs, the lyrics, sometimes, because they've become such a deep part of me and what I've been able to express. I don't know; they just seem like they've always been there at this point.
After you guys tour in September, what are your plans for the rest of the year?