A Steak Dinner with The Long Winters' John Roderick and Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson
It isn't very often that two friends and former bandmates (twice over, John was in Harvey Danger, Sean was in the Long Winters) have separate releases hitting stores the same day: The Long Winters' Putting the Days to Bed on Barsuk Records and Harvey Danger's Little by Little... on Kill Rock Stars. It also isn't very often you get veggie-types like igDana and igLiz dining in a steakhouse dining with two rockstars.
But that isn't what makes a night significant. It is the fact that all of this revolves around a dinner with Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger) and John Roderick (The Long Winters) in which they discuss their upcoming releases, the evolution of their touring habits and their elusive fame at the place where it all began... Morton's Steakhouse. In an attempt to recapture the magic of the night Sean and John agreed to Long Winters it up so many years ago.
In an effort to let the guys do what they do best - talk amongst themselves. As hard as it was for them, igLiz and igDana were there just to listen and make sure there were no technical difficulties with the recorder. Except for when they interrupted and asked questions or needed directions on how to order dinner.
More Long Winters / Harvey Danger info:
- Read the review of The Long Winter's new release Putting the Days to Bed
- Read the review of Harvey Danger's new release Little by Little...
- See Harvey Danger at their album release show on Friday, August 4, 2006 with Mercir, The Soft Drugs, and The Trucks at Neumo's
Sean: So, how are the launch preparations (for the release of the new album)?
John: Oh, they are keeping me busy. Today I was at the mastering studio and I was simultaneously talking to a company that's making the little sticker for the rental car in the "Fire Island" video that says "Fire Island Police Department" and on the other line I was bitching out Barsuk Records for having already dropped the ball. The records not even out yet (group laugh) and I just feel certain that they've dropped the ball somehow but...
Sean: Kind of like a pre-emptive strike.
John: Pre-emptive bitching and complaining so that when it's time to be really bitching and complaining, they're primed. It's like injecting saline solution into a ham, it just sort of ...
Sean: Pre-brining, yeah pre-brining.
John: Salty that becomes its own saltiness.
Sean: But you're starting off with Heather and Forest (Barsuk employees)?
John: Yeah, no, they're already terrified. I go right to the heart of the animal, right to the master control programmer.
Sean: End of line.
John: So, how 'bout you? How's the preparation for the big Kill Rock Stars release?
Sean: There is none. You're looking at it.
(Laughs all around)
Sean: I know they did some but we're not. I mean, we're not really doing anything. We're doing a little bit of touring. I know its classic self-defeating, but my feeling about putting the record out on Kill Rock Stars is that someone is making sure it exists, you know? We don't have to sort of, "tend the garden" anymore. We don't have to pretend to be a label. The amount of work that Jeff (Lin) alone did, to make the, our mini release of that record happen was, he was really working like 23 ½ hours everyday.
Sean: It's kind of terrifying.
John: Well, it's Jeff, he did a great job.
Sean:He really did. Previously it was distributed to maybe forty, fifty stores total in the country. Kill Rock Stars is through ADA so it's going to be distributed, it's going to exist. Given our history of having records not exist except in our minds, that to me is sort of like, I'm fine with it.
John: Well, riddle me this: How much is having come out on Kill Rock Stars the fulfillment of Harvey Danger's now decade long indie dreams?
Sean: Well, it's funny to me.
(Waiter arrives to take order)
Sean: What's happening? Oh, I was going to say...
Waiter: So, you've dined here before?
Sean: We have certainly dined here.
Waiter: Well, uh, I'll bring by the menu cart. The ladies say this is their first visit.
John: Give them the full treatment... and we'll keep conversing.
igDana: What's the menu cart?
John: You know what? You'll just put yourself in his capable hands, he'll give you the Morton's treatment and we'll just babble in low voices.
Sean: The dog looks like a steak
(laughs all around)
Sean: The pony however, you'll know it's a pony.
(Menu cart arrives)
igDana: Oh my God.
John: Ok, so here's your friends.
igLiz: Oh my God.
(Dana squirmy giggles. Waiter takes the order.)
Sean: The thing I think is great. Re-writing and totally overwriting history of Harvey Danger with like, putting out a little record on a little label, then that record getting really big and then making a second record that was supposed to be big and it not be big and then going from arena rock to Kill Rock Stars is a great narrative of art. I am like, they put out a lot of records and many of those records are some of my favorite Northwest records ever. So that's great but it's not like, it doesn't make me feel anymore punk. In a sense we are literally an independent band, we have nobody helping us but now we have Kill Rock Stars helping us a degree and they are really good and one thing I know about them is that they'll do whatever you want. I mean, if your onboard and you have an idea, they'll do it that way which is great except it's also like, what if you don't have the idea...it's one step up from putting it out yourself - but that's a crucial step. Anyhow. So, speaking of indie dreams, yours...
John: Indie dreams...
Sean: This record had a sort of arduous sort of birthing process, the actually making of it seems like it went really well when I was there.
John: Just a point of wording: the phrase "birthing process" is just too graphic for me to describe anything that I've done.
Sean: Alright. When you shit this album out, it seems like it obviously took awhile and you went through a few different sort of, self questionings during it...
Sean:Now that it's done, it's strong and it seems like the one, like the record that you described to me when you said "I want to make a record like this..." Now, how does that square with you're going out again to do the process again? Are you psychish? Cautious / optimist? Are you, like dreading it? Or are you glad?
John: No, I'm psyched because I really feel like all the, a lot of the difficulty of touring that I've had in the past is completely self-generated problems. Like I was not going with the flow on the stuff that I needed to go with the flow on and I was totally trying to go with the flow on the things that I needed to be in control of. Almost completely inverted the things I should have taken a real hand in making sure were happening, those were the things I was like (fake stoned voice) "Hey, whatever man, you know, smoke a bowl, it'll all work itself out."
Sean: (sarcastically laughing) If I had a nickel for every bowl we'd smoked together...
John: (laughing) And the stuff that I would get really worked up about, I'd carry with me day to day was all the stuff that I was powerless to do anything about. And actually this tour I just did in Europe with Centro-Matic, touring with those guys, where I had no responsibility for taking care of the daily machinations of the business, I was really relaxed and enjoyed myself the whole time. I enjoyed those guys immensely. You know, each one individually and each one as a whole. And, I came away from it reminded that, like, there's nothing about being on tour that sucks. It's just that if you suck, going on tour isn't going to make you suck less. And I have sucked over the years. I am prone to sucking. Now I am going into these tours with them with a renewed confidence that I can distinguish between what I'm able to get done...
Sean: What is the thing that you let coast that now you feel you can be more in control of?
John: For instance, I mean, I insisted, on all the years that we toured, that we never book a hotel in advance. Because all the traveling I did when I was young, it was predicated on making sure that spontaneity was maintained at the expense of everything else. Like, if we knew where we were staying at night, I felt like I was in a prison of plans from the moment we left home. The knowledge of what hotel we were staying in in Kansas was just like this pair of handcuffs on me and so I insisted that every night, no matter where we were, we would get done with the show and then we were out the van and..
Sean: Driving until you find...
John: Driving until 5 am you know? Driving, night after night looking for a hotel with everybody else asleep and me, you know, actually having fun doing that but the band wasn't getting the rest they needed...
Sean: You weren't getting the rest you needed ever.
John: I wasn't getting rest and what I learned is that after you've been on tour for a few years, spontaneity is the last thing you are looking for after a show when you want to go to bed. In a room. Those things, it's embarrassing to say that I had to learn all the things that everyone else already knew. Total re-inventing of the wheel but I'm now. I understand that those details, if I take care of them in advance, I make the arrangements a relaxation settles on the tour. Everybody knows where we are going, everybody knows the deal and it allows me to use a lot of energy on stage and then not have to get off stage and have to keep spending energy until I'm just drained.
John: So, that simple...
Sean: That's huge. A really huge thing.
John: Like now, I'm booking everything in advance and I'm doing it all now, I'm sitting at home on the computer. I'm that guy. I'm loving the business with the headset, microphone, phone-scipe apparatus... And then when we leave on tour there is just like a, it's smooth. I think what it is, it's going to, I'm not going to end up like pulling up to the venue and the band starts unloading the gear and I'm bent over the wheel sobbing.
Sean: Right. There's such a combination of everything being the same and everything being totally uncertain, everyday. That seems like, just that sort of sense of building a shelter of certainty around yourself about where you going, just having an intention is enough to remove amy ...most like, pathetic memory of the most difficult times we had on tour involve you, barely being able to stand up you know? And like, I didn't feel like we were just fucking around and swinging from ropes. We were all on board, yourself included obviously. Like you were doing all the driving by the end of it and that was killing you. I'm glad to hear that this is something that you've sort of taken on. I was not aware of it, on that level. I do remember many, many drives at like 4 in the morning...
John: Well, and some of those were the greatest...
Sean: They absolutely were. The most laughs happened, because you're punch drunk...
John: Right, and that was my impulse. I was driven by three things. One, is the healing road...
Sean: Two: Grief. Three: Hunger for blood.
John: Those moments on the road at four o'clock in the morning are the most inspired moments in life. That is one thing that motivates me to flog us into the darkness. The second thing is that hair shirt tendency that I have. Which is, I can actually feel the vitamins coming out of my skin in terror. You can hear them screaming, but I'm going to press on because I'm intrepid or whatever. And also, I think for a long time, the fear that learning bookkeeping and making travel reservations or doing taxes, or any of those Office Max-style small-business owner behaviors. The more I was good at those things, the less I was going to be an artist and that I was going to become a bureaucrat, which I have spent my life trying to avoid being. And now I'm like "You know what? Let's get the hotel and make sure that it had two queen size beds" and the rest will take care of itself.
Sean: There is that thing at four in the morning and you don't know what's happening and you find the place and you're the hero and it's so much better.
John: And it is for everyone in the van. I hate to go too far down the psycho, ritualistic and psychotic life that I have forced the Long Winters into living, but that every night at 5am I got to wake everybody up and be the liberator. Everyone got to wake up and be liberated, because I had found us a Motel 6 that smelled like piss somewhere in rural Iowa. I feel like I am grateful to put all of that behind me. And you know, I have to credit Nabil with introducing a business attitude that he brings to everything that he does. He's not tortured by the fact that he has to get his business done. He just gets it done as fast as he can so that he can get on with it.
Sean: He is one of the only two really successful business people, with Josh being the other one and Josh obviously lets business totally define his entire existence...
John: There was a time when he was totally doing the same thing I was. He wasn't on tour but he was sitting in the offices at Barsuk getting three hours of sleep a night, surrounded by people who wanted to help him but he couldn't accept the help. He was going to run this record label with his last ounce of strength. I think watching him cede control and the conversations he and I had about like, "We're doing the same thing, neither of us can live this way..."
Sean: He still works too much.
John: He does, but he is able to delegate in a way that he wasn't able to before.
Sean: He seems so "no-nonsense" and "why would you not do things the smart way."
John: That's absolutely his attitude.
Sean: You know that when you were talking about Nabil coming into the band, at first I was like "Gee, really? Are you sure?"
John: (imitating) "The nicest guy in Seattle rock? Why would you want him in your band? He's gonna upset the balance."
Sean: Right. Exactly and Nabil is such a great drummer. I'm glad to hear that.
John: It's precisely the attitude of "You can filet yourself alive to get that done or you can just go play some Frisbee."
Sean: So, these tours that you're going on, are they booked?
John: Yeah. Well, now Barsuk is sending us on promo tours. Much like our, your and mine, promo tour of Europe.
Sean: Which was almost three years ago, two weeks from now. It's really coming up, August 2003.
John: We're playing from place to place. Setting up and playing. Three surprise shows for journalists across America. The idea is that we'll return and play the Bowery at the end of October... back to the Harvey Danger, Sean Nelson continuum. As Harvey Danger sticks their feet in the ground and refuses to tour as they have made it clear. Are you guys doing a West Coast tour?
Sean:We're doing a West Coast, Mid-West to East Coast, we're doing Texas, and we're doing the deep South.
John: No shit.
John: You guys aren't refusing to tour.
Sean:No, we're refusing not to tour.
Sean:Well, we're doing it in chunks. We're doing basically long weekends. In August, August 10, 11, 12, and 13, we are doing San Francisco, two shows in L.A. and San Diego, and then some are driving back and some are flying back. We're doing that and from September 27-October 9th we're doing Minneapolis, Champagne Irvana, Chicago.
John: We are in the same place at the same time.
Sean: You coming the other way.
John: Yeah, we're going back as you're...
Sean: Going the other way.
John: Oh, that's going to be interesting.
Sean: We'll like, we'll be a day ahead of you in some places and you'll be ahead of us by a day in some places.
John: Hilarious. What are the pudgy, myopic kids of the Niagara Falls area going to do with their one $15 that they have to spend all year? (squeaky kid voice) "I can see Harvey Danger or I can see the Long Winters."
Sean:But there's always the threat with us that we'll never do it again.
John: That's right.
Sean: That's our best marketing tactic.
John: You're like Cher, you're on your third farewell tour. That's exciting.
Sean: I'm definitely excited.