How was last night's show in Buffalo?
Last night was a nightmare
actually. The club was really seedy, and I think we collectively have vowed to
never go back there.
What exactly was wrong with it?
site anything specific. It was an accumulation of things. The sound guy had fangs.
He had actually sawed his teeth into fangs. It was impressive, convincing. He
looked like he had plastic fangs like a kid would wear on Halloween.
it some sort of goth club?
You would think it was a goth club. I got
a feeling there's a serious goth thing going on in the Buffalo punk scene. But
it wasn't a goth club. There are a lot of moments while touring as a rock band
where your dignity gets put into question, what you're doing gets assaulted and
you get rocked and have to remind yourself that what you're doing is important
and that you love what you do.
I hope last night wasn't indicative of
how the tour has gone so far.
The tour has been totally wonderful. The
night before we played at Cornell and that was perfect; and the night before that
we played in Boston and the shows have been going really well. Last night was
an anomaly. You try to laugh through it. Right now everything internally with
the band is great; we're all getting along terrifically. These are the times when
you grow closer. It's probably similar to what I imagine happens in the military
in times of stress -- you gather closer.
That works well into what I
planned on asking you next: Has the band settled down after going through some
line-up changes over the past few years?
I understand why it appears
that way, but really this group has been together for quite a while. I work at
a studio and Beauty Pill had not been a big focus in my life, it really wasn't
a group. For the first time it feels like a real band and not an imaginary band.
Well, the liner notes on your new CD discusses the personnel changes
and how the CD was recorded over the last couple years.
The CD actually
was recorded fairly quickly, but it started at a time of transition when it was
just me and Ryan (Nelson). We weren't sure what we were doing. I had a collection
of songs and a set of ideas and set out pursuing them, and a real band emerged
around that. It was recorded in a valley between the two ensembles. Part of the
reason I put information in the CD's liner notes is that there's a perception
we worked for a long time on this record, but there were really a lot of gaps
between when we were working.
Didn't recording for short periods divided
by long spans of time impact the consistency of the recording?
I always wanted to make a really colorful, mosaic-type record like The White
Album or Sandinista! or Fleetwood Mac's Tusk -- really sprawling,
large records with a lot of different colors and a lot of different moods. It
suits me, because I'm restless creatively. It's not a question of consistency.
When Rachel (Burke) came into the band, she had a good view of the shape of the
songs, and that was enlightening. Had I tried to make a record without Rachel,
I wouldn't have had her insight to draw upon. So there were some advantages in
taking so much time. But it was a drag. I wish I could have devoted more focus
There are a couple themes that turn up throughout all the songs.
One is empathy and considering other people's experiences -- putting yourself
in someone else's shoes -- and also finite resources. Those themes kept coming
back, and once I realized that, it helped shape the record. I wanted to make a
record concerned with the idea of compassion. People presume I'm being sarcastic,
biting or ironic, and that's disheartening to me. I wanted this CD to be sincere
I think part of the preconceived notions come from the
baggage you carry after being in Smart Went Crazy -- that band had a reputation
for being cynical and ironic.
I once did a show in Portland with Stephen
Malkmus of Pavement. Through his music I had an idea of what he'd be like and
what his intentions were. I was moved and astonished with what I witnessed at
the show and back stage. He's a very different person than I thought he'd be.
He was just much more kind and sincere, almost somewhat childlike and genuine.
He's probably closer to what people perceived Elliot Smith would be like.
to his music you, I could see where you'd expect him to be kind of snarky.
is exactly the word I was looking for. But he wasn't snarky at all. He played
the guitar so soulful and with such passion and verve. And I really loved it.
I realized I had always presumed him to be much more of a 'clever-guy' type person
than he means to be.
It's so weird. I friend of mine came by the studio
to hear some early mixes of the Beauty Pill record, and I said, 'All the songs
are about compassion.' And he said, 'Whoa, that's a switch for you.' I said, 'What
are you talking about?'
Beauty Pill has the distinction of having lyrics
that are clearly discernable -- you hear every word that comes out of yours and
Rachel's mouths. It's almost like a gimmick compared to the unintelligible singing
of most indie bands. So are you making a conscious effort to enunciate?
it's part of what I'm interested in doing. I may be trying to get an idea across
that's too abstract or too difficulty to communicate clearly, but at least I'm
always trying to be understood and be clear and confident expressing those ideas.
When we play shows, Rachel is sort of like a laser pointer on the text. She's
very presentational in how she performs.
What do you mean 'presentational'?
hard to describe. You know those angels at the front of old ships? She's sort
of like that -- provocatively clear and confrontational. It's a way of singing,
a desire to be understood. Indie rock is often lazy. There's a retreat in mealy-mouth
imprecision. I come from the deep deep, punk scene. Even though we don't sound
like other Dischord music, I'm interested in being provocative and stirring things
I love The Clash. I like substance. I like elements of style, and certainly
there's a strong aspect of design to Beauty Pill. I always want to be as elegant
as possible, but at the end of the day I want to give something of substance for
people to get their heads around. If it's not cool, I don't give a fuck.