above story was published in today's edition of The Omaha Weekly.
Now, as a Lazy-i exclusive, here is the complete e-mail Q&A
with John Darnielle:.
Where are you as you
read this? What were you doing before you read this and what're
you going to do when you're through? How do you keep yourself entertained
when on the road?
I'm standing at a computer
terminal in a hallway adjacent to Donovan's Pub at Colgate University
in Hamilton, New York. Beforehand I was catching up on other emails
since I haven't been near a computer in four days. There is something
of a backlog at this point. Entertained on the road? Books I guess;
while driving, listening to lots of music; I really enjoy reading
newspapers to an almost unhealthy degree, and reading local papers
punches all my what-if-you-lived-here buttons, so that's what I
do. I play pinball if I get a chance. The pinball machine here isn't
working so good. Damn.
Tell me about the "Alpha couple" song cycle. Who are
these people? Where are they headed? Why do you write about these
characters? All the literature says they're no longer in love, but
they sound like they're in love to me?
There a couple of people
about whom I once had something of a vision back when I wrote poetry,
except that I don't like to properly call it a vision since that
sounds awfully pretentious. But this image sort of insinuated its
way into my mind: It was a couple waltzing in a hardware store sometime
long after midnight, no lights on in the store, the moon coming
through the window. They were dancing because they once loved each
other so much, and they were trying to hang on to the physical sensation
of being in love since the feeling was right about to flare up &
They do feel a kind of
love for each other, sure. But it's really quite sick and destructive
so I would say on balance that that's not love. That's alcohol.
Have you ever been
to Northern Florida? Is this your interpretation of the Sunshine
State? I've been there and it seems pretty accurate to me?
When I started writing
about these people I hadn't ever been -- I'd just picked Florida
because it was the other end of the country from their point of
origin, and I had this idea to have them flee as far as they could
to try to escape their problems. Since they spend all their money
on booze, they couldn't fly any place, so that left them with a
car and a road Atlas. Once they get to Tallahassee they figure they've
gone as far as they need to get.
I've since been to Tallahassee
twice -- I like it a lot. So the short answer is yes: I'd been there
before I wrote this album.
What comes first:
The words or the music?
Trying not to be monosyllabic
but it's the words, the words, the words. For me music is there
to sort of help slip the words under people's doormats.
Reading your bio,
you record a lot using a boom-box. Imagine my surprise at the crisp
audio quality of Tallahassee! So what are the trade-offs
of working in a studio vs. recording in your home? Which do you
Working at home I have
absolute totalitarian control, and losing that in the studio is
a little frustrating. Working in the studio results in a lot of
synchronicitous little events, like the piano on "Have to Explode,"
that are really neat. I'd say I prefer working at home, but I'm
pretty happy with the way the new album turned out -- the two ways
are too different to compare, really.
4AD, huh? As in the
home of The Breeders, Throwing Muses, Dead Can Dance, Pixies, Cocteau
Twins? How do you like being on this rather historic indie label?
It's great! They've been
really wonderful, and I've been a Cocteau Twins fan since forever,
and when I saw the album art for Tallahassee I practically
passed out with glee. I don't think a person could ask to be on
a better label, really.
I've got a copy of
"Why You All So Thief?" -- your split single with local
(Omaha) genius Simon Joyner. How long have you known Simon and are
you still in contact with him? He seems to have a lot of musical
similarities to you, but his music is much darker...
Simon and I have been
friends since 1992 or thereabouts, and we've toured the U.S. together
twice. He also produced a handful of songs on my 1999 album The
Coroner's Gambit, which featured a bunch of other Omaha musicians
Dark? I'd say the main
difference is that I set my dark stories in major keys and he sets
his in minor ones but I hear what you're saying. I think we work
on the same side of the street, anyhow, fighting the good fight.
When was the last
time you were in Omaha and what do you think of our fair city?
It's been a couple of
years -- since recording The Coroner's Gambit, I think. I've
always liked Omaha a lot; it's not dissimilar to Claremont, California,
where I grew up: lots of people who've known each other forever
and who follow each other's work.
Your music is smart.
Most music on the radio is rather dumb. Is this disheartening to
you? Will American popular culture ever rise out of its current
depths? Should we care?
We should care, but you
can't spend too much time worrying about it. I think there are lots
of good things around, though -- it's just that radio is so centralized
and monolithic now. Internet radio has lots of exciting things going
on, as does college radio -- I don't get disheartened about the
state of music because there's really an embarrassing surplus of
great music if one's willing to do a little digging.
In this dark era of
conservative angst, have you ever thought about writing a straight-on
My one or two attempts
to write political songs haven't been very successful, though I'd
consider the first song on my last album a political song: It was
called "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" and
was about a couple of young men who get sent to reform school for
listening to Morbid Angel or Slipknot too much. I work with children
and have strong feelings about the sort of misguided parenting that
leads people to tell their children what they can and can't read/see/listen
But generally speaking,
no -- I like to tell stories better than I like to preach. Which
isn't saying anything against preaching; it's just not what I do
Are you happy? What
would make you happier?
I am pretty deliriously
happy, mostly because I am so fond of my wife. I'll be happier still
if the legendarily poor Tampa Bay Lightning keep winning hockey
games at the pace they're presently keeping, because I've got a
thing for teams that aren't expected to do much. Should the Minnesota
Wild also hold onto first place in their division, my happiness
will reach an absurdly high point.
The story (not the
Q&A) was published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 13, 2002. Copyright
© 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photos by Brooke Williams.