Imaginary Interview: Jason Webley
On July 3rd, Jason Webley will mark his eleventh anniversary as one of Seattle’s most committed troubadours. From his beginnings as a local street performer known for his playful, theatrical, participatory performances to touring the world, becoming a minor celebrity in Russia and playing with big name artists like The Dresden Dolls, Regina Spektor and DeVotchKa, Webley has forged a singular path as a musician, remaining fiercely independent and taking on challenges and opportunities that more standard bands might scoff at.
To celebrate, he is throwing a blow out show at Town Hall featuring a jaw-dropping cornucopia of the various performers he has ever collaborated with, from the Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer to Rev. Peyton (of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band) to poet Jay Thompson to local music luminary Jerek Bischoff to Balkan-inspired brass and drum band Orkestar Zirkonium.
Three Imaginary Girls writer Bill Bullock sat down with Webley recently to talk about how he got started, how he got to where he’s at, why his eleventh anniversary is so important to him, the joys of musical collaboration and a whole host of other subjects.
The number eleven is kind of a repeating motif that has showed up in your music, can you explain a little bit about your fascination with that number? Was it just something that happened and you realized that eleven was showing up everywhere or was it on purpose?
Well, it started out the first and became the latter. It was a series of coincidences and serendipities in my private life that, at times, were kind of overwhelming and so at some point I decided to make a sort of public thing about it and have my record label be Eleven Records. … It’s pretty complicated and personal … The first time that I became aware of the number eleven .. . and see, the problem with the number eleven is that there are people out there, there are thousands and thousands of people out there, who are kind of part of this cult of the number eleven, who believe that it’s part of, like, some, spiritual evolution process or whatever, and so I’m worried about getting taken for a lunatic if I talk about the number eleven too much. Not that believing in spiritual transformation and evolution makes you a lunatic, it’s just usually if you use those words you are a lunatic. But … dammit, it’s hard. It’s all pretty personal lot’s of …
Coincidences in your personal life?
Yeah, in my love life and in other aspects of my personal life it’s been this kind of recurring and sometimes overwhelming or annoying thing, but ever since I named my record label Eleven Records it hasn’t been happening as much. When it comes and says hello it does it with purpose and force still but it visits way less often and I think we have a better relationship now.
It seems like almost any number, there’s going to be some kind of numerological significance that people can get attached to …
Yeah, if you pick a number and start looming for it, you’ll see it.
So where were you at eleven years ago, before you started doing all of this? Give us some background on where you were before you became “Jason Webley.”
I was still a guy named Jason Webley, but … eleven years ago, right now, I was working at a little recording studio on Capitol Hill, which was about as un-glamorous as that can sound. Do you know AEI Music, it’s kind of the competitor of Muzak? I worked for a company that AEI would outsource things from, we recorded little voices that would get played when you got put on hold on the telephone, we would record the little announcements that would play when you’re inside Marshal’s, when you’re in Puerto Rico in a Marshall’s and the announcement says “You’re not really buying enough here today are you? Did you know that this is on sale?” I recorded those things, I also recorded instrumental versions of popular songs. We did a version of … something off of Achtung Baby, it was really horrible, “Mysterious Ways!” For the most part, I’ve never been in a grocery store and heard any muzak that I was responsible for, accept for this one weird, surreal day in the airport in Sydney, Australia, where, for some reason, they played two things that I had been responsible for back to back.
Which songs were they?
I don’t remember which songs. But I was like, “Why is this bothering me more than normal?”
Were you just playing it on a Casio or something? Just the totally synth version of all the instruments?
I was just the engineer, we would hire somebody that would make, like. synth bed backgrounds, and then bring in the guy on the saxophone and the guy on guitar and … yeah. I probably have them somewhere, I should dig those out. So that’s where I was eleven years ago. But you know, I had ... I had graduated from the University of Washington, I studied music and theater, I thought that was what I was going to go into, was writing music for theater, I did a bunch of that in college and a bit of it after, I had a little house in Wallingford that I had lived in for about five or six years at that point, and … when I was in high school I was more of a kind of fiery, creative force and college had kind of wrung that out of me, I didn’t really … it’s not that I didn’t find a spot within college, I did all these musicals wrote all the music, I just always felt over my head. I didn’t feel in control anymore, I felt kind of like an imposter in most situations, whereas in high school I felt very powerful and kind of, you know, an expert on all these things. By then end of college I kind of just wanted to, you know, quietly crawl into a little hole and exist there, I didn’t perform publicly, all the music I had been writing had been for other people to perform, I still would write songs a little bit here and there, but not … before there hadn’t really been an outlet for that. I’ve written songs all my life, but, you know, I had a punk band in high school and little things that I would do, but never a big outlet for that, and, at this point, there really, really wasn’t any outlet. I didn’t perform at all.
Where did you go to high school? Where did you grow up …?
I grew up very close to where I live now, I grew up in Mukilteo and went to school in Everett, I graduated and immediately went to the University of Washington.
What year did you graduate from the UW? How big was the gap between graduating and actively coming back to performing?
I graduated from high school in 1993, and from college three years after that, and then there was a two year gap before I started doing this, when I was working for that little studio. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, like, “I’m going to become a performer again now,” I’d always felt like that to make music I needed to have a band, I needed to have the right people with me and that never really happened and I kind of lost interest in the idea, but there were sort of other forces conspiring in my life, my job was going away, my girlfriend of many, many years was moving to Michigan for graduate school, and I was kind of debating whether I was going to go with her or not, and I kind of started having … I thought I was going crazy, actually, there was, ummm … I took hallucinogenic drugs for the first time, I took a bunch of mushrooms that fall and didn’t really fully come back. For about, depending on how I look at it, six to twelve months, I would hallucinate and, more so, my whole sense of who I am and what I was doing in life kind of seemed suspect. And so somewhere at the end of that, I was losing the job, my girlfriend was moving away and I had been doing this little side project, she traveled a lot back then and so I’d stay late at work and I had this weird idea that I was going to record every song that I’d ever written, like, songs that I could remember songs that I had written when I was five? And so I’d been recording CD upon CD of crap, like, these crappy, crappy songs that I had written in my adolescence and stuff and also went through any old recordings that I’d done and mastered them and I had this stack of 20 discs, all the music I’d written for theater projects, music I wrote for these computer games for this company I used to work for, I mean crap, just crap, but it was coming to an end, I was completing the project, every weird little thing that I’d ever wrote had been recorded and there was this sort of … mongrel set of songs that existed after … they weren’t done and they were kind of recent, I’d kind of fallen out of writing songs in the past three or four years [before that], but in that time there were all these little scraps and they really didn’t resemble any of the other songs. Most of the stuff that I was recording I’d laid, out, kind of like the muzak, I’d use a synthesizer to make drums and bass and I’d record electric guitar over it, and then I’d drown my voice out in reverb, it was kind of, you know, punkish, a lot of the more recent stuff, but crappy. And there were all these little fragments of songs left over and none of them would work that way, and I’d also been doing a little bit of travelling and I’d bought some weird instruments in different countries, a guitarron(?) in Mexico and a bunch of weird little percussion instruments and things. So I decided to borrow this little eight-track recorder from a friend of mine and set it up in my kitchen for a week and sort of fleshed out these songs and recorded them all, no effects, no editing, really, very differently from how I was thinking about recording up until then, and when it was all done the songs all really seemed to sit well together and kind of surprised me because they sort of had a voice and so I decided to print up a thousand copies of it as a little CD, which was Viaje, which was the first album.
Do you think that when you are someone who writes songs for a long time throughout your life and you have all those bits that have never actually been put into a physical form that you can hold in your hand and go listen to, do you think that doing that, just sort of spewing all of that out onto CD, no matter how insignificant, no matter crappy it was, at the time, did that sort of uncork the rest of it to come out?
That’s a way of looking at it, I definitely think that, yeah, it was part of a purging that kind of needed to happen. I wasn’t doing it with that intention, it was just this sort of bizarre project that I had, for some reason, felt compelled to do. I think that those are good things to do, when you have bizarre, weird impulses that are in the form of “Let’s make this irrational thing!” or do this really time consuming but impossible task. That’s kind of what’s amazing about humans is when we actually do these really irrational, weird things that don’t have an immediate objective purpose. Unfortunately, mainly most of the stuff I do I know exactly what I’m doing it for.
So what was the transition between doing that CD and then bursting out full formed into performing on the street?
Well, it’s funny, I almost released the CD with no name on it, because of all those other things going on, I felt like I was moving out of my house, maybe going to travel a bit, like, I was saying goodbye to a life that I had come to know. It was sort of a farewell gesture. It wasn’t really, like, marking a claim, like, “I want to start a music career!” I’d finished recording all this crap, and this is kind of the end of it and, here you go, I want to give this to a bunch of friends. I printed up a thousand copies of it because that’s how many you print up when you print CDs, not because I had a plan for them. And I thought, well, I’ll just give them away to all my friends and so we had a party at my house, on July 3rd, 1998, at the little house in Wallingford, and all my friends and acquaintances came over and I performed what’s now been a tradition for all my CD releases, which is that I just performed the new album, song by song. I was probably terrible, you know, it was one of my first times playing in public, since being in a punk band …
What was the band that you were in?
Oh, I was in a bunch of things, but nothing anyone would ever have heard of, I played in a band in high school called, embarrassingly, Moral Minority … 300 copies of a little cassette are floating out there somewhere.
What kind of bands were influences for you when you were doing that?
I was really into Fugazi and those bands, I was also really into the East Bay pop punk stuff, Operation Ivy, Green Day when they first started, I was really into Jawbreaker, and, for that band, I was listening to the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols and stuff, so that was a little bit earlier. If anyone has a copy of that, I will pay them to NOT put it on the internet. [laughs] So anyway, I had all these people over on July 3rd, I had the concert and I had a big dice that people could role, that would either say one dollar, two dollars, three dollars or free, and that’s how much the CD cost. And at the end of the night I still had, like, 950 CDs left and I didn’t know what to do with them. The next day was the Fourth of July and always on the Fourth of July in Wallingford there’s this massive traffic jam from people going to and from Gas Works, and on a whim I just went out and played accordion on the street and people would pull over and, I think a couple of people bought CDs, and that was the first thought I had of actually street performing, so that was the day after the CD release party and, I’m pretty sure it was the day after that, I went to the Pike Place Market for the first time and found out that I couldn’t perform there without a permit, and I couldn’t get a permit on a Sunday, and so I went across the street and played at a little park and a bunch of people were interested, I only had, like, three songs I could do on an accordion at that time, I just would scream them over and over again, and this woman came up to me and said I should open for her band, and that ended up being the singer of the group Tchkung!, so things kind of started rolling a little bit right away. I just started street performing more, I didn’t do a lot of gigs, I would mainly just go to festivals and try to leech off of the crowds that were already there. I pretty quickly didn’t like just going out and performing on the street, I liked to go someplace where there would be a good chance that people would be interested in what I did. I loved to go to a college, I would do this at the UW all the time, and just set up and when the class break happened I would just play three songs and these big crowds would form and then everyone would disperse.
So when you were in that early phase, what kind of stuff were you doing to pay the bills and support yourself, apart from music?
That was one other thing, I had saved up about ten thousand dollars from my job and because I had actually been laid off, for a short time I was collecting unemployment. So during that time there was a little bit of a buffer, and actually I thought, well I can live for a couple years off this, but right from the beginning it kind of proved profitable, as a street performer I made more in a day than I ever made working any other kind of day job and that kind of turned a little something in my head. So, I guess that’s the answer to that. As time has gone on and it’s become … it’s weird … it can be quite lucrative, it doesn’t go infinitely , but I’m trying to think of creative ways to use the money, I’d like to invite more people to be involved in what I do, like the show on the 3rd, the money will all get spent [laughs] very easily. Flying everyone in, renting the venue, paying everyone a pittance, it’ll go quickly, there are so many people involved.
How do you think that working as a street performer, as opposed to someone who does the more conventional band thing of playing venues and whatever, how do you think that shaped you as a songwriter and as a performer overall? Like, there’s a thing in stand-up where if a bit doesn’t work you kill it pretty quickly, was there something similar to that going on with you because you were throwing out your material to people who weren’t necessarily there to see you?
That might be a bit of a problem with me as a songwriter, is that there has been a bit of that. Like, now, I’m at a point where I need to be taking more chances and things, but I often, in performance situations, I stick to things that are safe in a certain way. They might seem really daring to other people, but, to me, they're safe, because I know they work. So I guess in that way it's shaped the way I perform, but I don't really think it's shaped me as a songwriter at all, which is part of the problem - I write songs however I write them and then when I go to perform I kind of want everything to, you know, hit people like a hammer over the head, and so I end up shying away from a lot of the newer stuff that I've been writing when I'm performing. The thing it has really shaped though is my career. I've been very independent, there's been very little involvement from any aspect of the regular music industry, yet it's been very sucessful, I think. And I think that a big part of that is the way that I come into people's, or, the way that I initially came into people's lives was that I would be out there playing and they would see me, they would express intrest and, in one way or another they would invite me, whether it was just buying my CD and getting on my mailing list or, like if one of them goes to college and says, 'You need to come play my college," or someone sends something to somebody in Russia and the person in Russia says [come play here], all of it's been just me kind of doing my thing and people responding to that by inviting me to come to different places and me being just myself, without management of anything, I pretty much say yes, when I'm invited to do something and it almost always has gone very well.
It's different from being in your standard band situation where you are out there shoving your flier in somebody's face, like, 'Hey, come to my show!' and instead you got to actually just stand there and do your thing and then the people that were interested came to you and said 'Hey, come play my show!'
Yeah, and in a way it's, perhaps, a bit sad that I don't do that anymore, I think it's not feasible. It would be good, it could be fun, but you'd feel a little bit lame, in a way that I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe someday I'll do something on the street again, but it would be a project, I wouldn't be out there trying to make my living anymore, it would be me trying to do some ...
There'd be some larger point, or some larger concept to it?
What's something that you've always wanted to do at a live performance that you have not been able to pull off yet?
Most everything I ever want to do happens. There was one thing I wanted to do a while ago, and I'm pretty glad it didn't work out, the more I think about it. I had this idea to bury the audience alive. It wouldn't be a big audience, it would be an audience of, like, eight people, but you'd fool them into thinking that they're part of a bigger group of people. And ... well now I'm going to ruin this if I ever end up doing it, but that's okay. So, you'd be invited to come be part of some kind of thing, you show up, there's a big group of people, everyone gets on a bus, the bus goes driving out somewhere, the bus gets in a terrible accident and you die. I mean, that would all be simulated, the accident would be the bus pulls over and someone announces that there's been a terrible accident and a doctor comes on and pronounces everyone dead. It would be kind of dumb, but then it would get a little bit creepy, because everyone would be blindfolded, but not everyone, because most of the people on the bus were actually my people, but the eight actual audience members think that they're part of a bit group, you know? So the people get blindfolded and led through the woods, put in coffins, lowered into the ground and then buried for a short amount of time. And then propped up, opened up and there'd be, like, a path of light leading to a big room with a beautiful strong quartet playing and a big banquet or something. I always thought that that would be a neat thing ... but it probably wouldn't go very well. So it's probably best that it didn't happen. So that's one thing that never happened.
Most musicians you talk to them and get into the musical influences on them, but, because you have that background of theater, are there theatrical influences, schools of thought that influence you?
Sure, not in any kind of direct way because I don't feel like I've studied ... you know, I've read Artaud, but I don't feel like Artaud is actually a school of thought, he contradicts himself all over the place, he's a poet it's impossible to say ... I think it's weird to say 'I do Artaudian theater.' But ideas of his have affected me. Ideas of Grotowski’s... I like the idea of keeping the machinations of a performance very visibleto people. When things are really glossy, I find personally that that doesn't create more suspension of disbelief in me, that it makes ... when everything's supposed to look glossy, there will still be ripples, and when I see the ripples ...
You're removed from the moment.
Yeah, whereas if everything is held together by cardboard and duct tape, then, somehow, for me, for whatever reason, I'm more able to emotionally connect to it. Or, you know, if the stage is just blank and everything is invisible. So when I used to do shows, you know, we'd just throw it together with whatever we could, shows that involved a lot of props and things.
It's like it has to stand on the merits of what's being said rather than the technicalities of what's surrounding it.
Well things could be beautiful, even technically complicated, but I wasn't so much into illusion and stage craft. There's definitely a guy behind the curtain.
So are you still banned from the Seattle Center, technically?
Sadly, no. [ laughs] No, the rumor was that I was banned from the Seattle Center, the actual fact ... I mean, I was, but it was for a year. I gave a performance at Bumbershoot late one evening and announced that it was going to be my last performance ever at Bumbershoot as a street performer and told the audience that before I left I wanted to go and play in the fountain like I used to when I was a little kid and I invited them to join me. It was a big crowd, maybe 300 people or so, and we all ran to the foutain, and the fountain was off, which was very anti-climactic, and I just kind of stood there in awe of the off-ness of that fountain and felt my body kind of rest up against it, there was a gentle cascade of cool water still coming down it, and just felt that hit me, it was very baptismal, and then all these hands grabbed me and started pushing me up the fountain. My intention wasn't to climb the fountain, but it happened that I ended up on top of the fountain and, as a result of that, got arrested and asked to leave the Seattle Center grounds for a year. Interestingly, I got a long, admiring, lovely letter from One Reel and Bumbershoot inviting me to come and do a big theatrical show and lead a parade at Bumbershoot this year. Which I will be doing. I always kind of felt that to go back to Bumbershoot it would have to be something awesome like that, but yeah, it's going to be in the Bagely-Wright Theater, which is a beautiful, beautiful room, so I'm excited about that.
I'll let you keep the details under your hat so that it's a surprise when it happens. Changing gears a bit, when did you play in Russia for the first time?
I should know the answer to that, but I forget, it was ... probably 2001? Late spring of 2001. And I've gone there at least once a year since, sometimes twice a year. It's interesting, it was just these kids, well ... I got an email one day; 'Hello, we are Bad Taste Productions, we want bring Jason Webley to Russia. Please send ..." and they had all these instructions of how they wanted me to send a video and a bunch of stuff. And it sounded like a bunch of crap, becauase I relaly wasn't very well known at all at that time, and so I put together the stuff and I took it to the post office and I asked them how much it would cost to send it to Russia using the wat that they told me to send it, and it was, like, going to be 300 dollars or something, and I said, 'Well, is there another way to send it?' And they said, "Well, you can send it this way for 18 dollars.' 'Let's send it that way.' It ended up making it and they wrote back and said, 'Okay, we want to bring you to Russia.' and they put out a Jason Webley Greatest Hits CD and they bought me a plane ticket ...
This was three years after you had been putting out music and playing ...?
Yeah, yeah. I had two and a half albums at the time, it was just before Counterpoint came out. So ... I'm worried. I think that either they have ill intention, or that they're insane. Because it doesn't really make sense to bring me to Russia, you know? Either they have no idea what they're doing or they are planning something terrible. Most of my friends were excited, a few people really .. because not many people went and performed in Russia back in 2001, so I go there and it's actually these really sweet kids, by kids, they're younger than me, like, four or five years younger than I am, and they were big fans of the Tigerlillies and decided to bring the Tigerlillies to Russia and it became a success and they actually kind of blew up there and they decided to start trying to work on some other things and they just would scour the internet looking for stuff they liked and somehow stumbled upon me and it's gone really well. I'm not, like, a mega-mega-star over there, but I'm definitely better known than I am anywhere else. Last year I did these crazy shows in this town in the north of Siberia, this town Norilsk, which is above the arctic circle, only accessible by airplane, big city, like 250,000 people, but very cut off from the world, and probably one of the most successful, ridiculous concerts I've ever given in my life.
You seem to have managed to hold onto that kind of sense of adventure of being an artist. You get bands who, even if they do well are just kind of 'Sigh ... OKay we're going to put this album out and do this tour and play these venues and play the same set every night ..." You seem to have managed to make it something more interesting than that in a way that seems to allude a lot of people. There's this mythological archetype of the "refusal of the call," it's that moment in the story where Hercules or whoever has the choice to go off and do this crazy thing and have this adventure or to just do the normal everyday thing and refuse the call to adventure, did you ever have a moment like that as far as your music? Or did you ever have a moment of 'Screw this, this isn't going to work' as far as playing music and having that be what you do?
It comes up every once in a while. There's not been specific moments, but there are times when the whole business doesn't seem quite as exciting and adventurous. I don't necessarily feel like I did any ind of heroic answering of a call, or that there was this moment in this book, Ithink a lot of things in our lives, you put one step in front of the other and after a while you end up in some weird ass place and that's kind of been what's been happening. I hope that my life still is interesting and adventurous, I know, like, last year there was a bunch of very cool and adventurous stuff that came up and happened, this year so far has been a little less adventurous. Again, it's things that rise up and offer themselves and whether I say yes to them. There's also kind of a bigger thing, there is some kind of other call in me waking up to maybe spend some time and energy devoted to things that are a little bit less self-centered and I'm not quite sure of the shape of that yet and what my role within that would be, but it's something I've been feeling for a while now.
What kind of things? Your personal life?
That's one thing. Spending some time on other disciplines, but also there's ... I've got a weird mix of optimism and pessimism in me and for a long time I've sincerely felt that my best use of my energy in life is to go from room to room and tell a bunch of strangers to put their arms around each other and sing for a while, you know, that given my skills, that that's the best thing I can be doing with my energy. I've been calling that into question a little more lately. Not whether that's a good thing or not, just whether there's maybe something that might have more positive effect, both in my own life and in the world than that ... One big thing about that whole, you know, whether you choose to do the adventure or not, ont thing I find is that if you just book a ticket, then it's no longer an adventure ... Like, the moment of going on the adventure, usually it doesn't feel like this bold, 'I'm about to do this..." usually the decision was made quietly, back months before. And that moment is usually done when you're thinking about forty other things. It's hard to look at going to Russia as being this crazy, bold adventure when I was managing twenty different things and said, 'Oh, yeah, I'll do that.' That's kind of how my brain looks at it. It's true I get excited about those things though.
Where do you kind of see yourself in relation to the rest of Seattle's music scene, or community, depending on how you look at it?
I've done badly being part of any kind of scene. And maybe that's a good thing, it's also kind of a bad thing. I've got a very small, tight group of friends that I have worked with and continue to work with for many years, a lot of whom are based here, but as far as the scene goes, I'm pretty out of the loop, I don't know who's hip right now, I don't have good relationships with the rock clubs or anything, I play weird places like Town Hall ... I've got some friends in a few groups but I don't even know what the Seattle scene is, really.
Was that ever sort of frustrating that you can go to the middle of nowhere in Siberia and pull in this gigantic crowd and then here, you're known, but you're not well known?
Eh, it's frustrating in a way, it's also my own fault. I'm doing weird ass music and I'm not hanging out in the scene, and for me to expect a big red carpet in my direction is kind of ridiculous, I mean I have achieved great things in Seattle, and in Siberia, and I think being part of a scene isn't really related to that, to what you achieve. I have my own scene, which is just kind of a little international circle or friends that I meet with and work with, but it's just a few people scattered all over the world, it's not a bunch of people in a bar every night.
In terms of that circle of friends, could you maybe say a little about the people you are going to be playing with on July 3rd?
This could go on forever, I'll try to be brief. I mean, first of all, I've done five collaborative records with different musicians, four of whom are coming out for the show, the fifth one, Sxip Shirey from New York, the guitar player from Luminescent Orchestrii, I just had him out a couple of months ago so it didn't make sense to bring him out again. Jay Thompson is an old friend and an amazing poet and a bit of a songwriter that kind of jumpstarted the project, we just wrote a bunch of songs together and one of them, this song, "Eleven Saints," kind of became a small YouTube thing when Neil Gaiman saw it and posted about it on his blog. It's gotten like, 150,000 views, whcih isn't a lot in the big scheme, but, for me, it's quite a bit, anyway, he's flying in for the show. Andru Bemis is a folk singer from Michigan, a beautiful voice, beautiful songwriter, good friend of mine, we did the second record together, he's coming out. This fellow Reverend Peyton, with Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, one of the best ... I don't know what to call it, it's kind of old country / blues / garage stuff, but he writes all original songs and it's got this sort of ferocious punkish energy, they've been touring with Flogging Molly a ton and the audience just eats them up, their new record is out on Side One Dummy. He and I did a record a couple years ago called Two Bottles of Wine, and I just found out that he's able to fly out for the show as well. Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls is one of the people that I've worked with and collaborated with most of anyone in the last couple of years. We see each other a bunch of times a year and from the beginning she was good enough to work her schedule so she'd be able to be out here for the show. As far as other people, my actual original band, well, anyone who ever actually played in my band I invited and only a few of them can't be there, Jherek Bischoff, Michael McQuilken and Alex Guy are the main three people that I play with now, Jherek's a bass player, an amazing songwriter / composer, Michael McQuilken plays drums, he's a theater composer and director as well. He and I are probably going to work together less just because he's so involved in school out on the east coast now, he's going to Yale and I was just really grateful that he was able to come out and do this show. I also just found out that my friend Oliver Orion, who is part of this silly side band I do called Big Little Dipper Dipper, he's going to be in town, which means he's flying back from Morocco early, it's actually really touching, there's going to be so many there that my head's going to explode. I'm pretty excited about it. All the old theater people and dancers who used to be involved in my elaborate shows where I would stage my death every year, they're all going to be there. Hopefully they're not going to kill me this time.
Because you collaborate a lot, who is one artist that maybe not everyone in the world would know about that you would just completely geek out to work with? In addition, who is someone really well known that you'd like to collaborate with?
Well a more obscure artist that I'd wanted to work with for a long time is this Czech accordion player, Jana Vébrová, she's a friend of mine and we've toured together. I proposed the idea of doing a record together, but we haven't ... we just don't have a songwriting chemistry, she's kind of reserved and shy and I'm shy in a different kind of way, but I've been emailing her and it looks like we're finally going to go ahead and do something where it'll just be ... She's a phenomenal vocalist and songwriter, she just happens to play accordion, and I mean her songs are just so beautiful, I've done English translations of a couple of them, and so I want to put out a record that's half her and half my versions or her songs, so I guess ... I don't know if that quite answers the question since that's something that's going to happen actually. And then as far as someone more well known ... I just, for my birthday present for myself, flew out to Boston ro go and see Leonard Cohen perform. I guess ... I'm not someone that, like, dreams of hanging out with stars and famous people ... he, what he's achieved lyrically in his life and also just wathcing him as a performer, the gracousness with whish he carries himself on stage is just ... actually, in a way, watching him live cured me of wanting to work with him. I really, really am not worthy. [laughs] But he is such an amazing force and the only towering figure like that that I've ever kind of though, 'Oh man, it would be awesome to write songs with that guy.' I mean, also, it would be fun to force him to, all of his last, God knows how man records,have been so drowned in synthesizers, but still awesome in their own way, I've learned to love them, but you need to, like ...
Here's a real guitar, Leonard! Let somebody play it!
Yeah, or just sit and record a couple of songs, yeah, with guitars and violins and replace the saxophones with strings.
What do you want from being a musican that has changed since you started doing this eleven years ago? What do you get that has changed?
I mean, eleven years ago, I had very little expectation and I was ... I think I was a better person back then. I think that any kind of life you have where you get lots of attention all the time and where you're surounded by, you know for the most part, once or twice I've gone and played in places where people wanted to beat me up, but for the most part, I go to places where people adore me. So, in a way, my job is to go and be adored by people, whcih is kind of a weird job and not necessarily the best thing for your health. I think that, in a way, the things that I want on the surface level have kind of deteriorated. I don't know what I was exactly looking for back then at the beginning, but I was kind of trying to bust through the eggshell of conscousness and trying to erect an antenna to get lightning bolts from God and get as many people as I could to hold my hand while I did it, you know? And now, there's a trace of that left, but it's not the same. I'm less innocent, I'm more aware of numbers coming out to my show, pretty girls that come talk to me afterwards, much more superficial rewards than the smiting bolt of lightning from God. I'd like to think, on a bigger, deeper level, that's still what I'm hungry for and working towards, but it occupies a different place in my consciousness.
So what's one question that you've always wanted to be asked in an interview, but never have?
I mean, usually, when I think, 'Why didn't they ask me this?', it's usually like, a dumb thing, like they're interviewing me about a certina tour and then they ask me about everything else besides the tour, but in a bigger sense of what I wish people would ask ... I don't know, there's a lot thigns that I wish they wouldn't ask. One of the best interview questions I ever got was this Norwegian guy, was asking all these questions and in the middle was, like, 'What would you consider to be your greatest failure?' [laughs] Wow. I don't remember what I said then, and I don't really have an answer, but it's a hell of a question.