Caught by the River

Records of the Year cont'd

18th December 2009

Andrew & Jeff choose ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’ by Bill Callahan as their favourite record of 2009.

Our pal Simon Aldred feels the same way and took time out from making a new Cherry Ghost record to ask Bill some questions;

SA. Raymond Carver once said that he couldn’t bear writers ‘turning tricks’. In much the same way that he always managed to steer clear of pretence in his writing, you seem to have a gift of conveying a great deal with very few words often dramatically spaced within the music. Are there songwriters or writers that have inspired you in this approach or turn of phrase you admire ?

BC. A structure that speaks to me can come from anywhere, I don’t think it’s from a specific writer or writers. It can be a building or a suit –– same structure. It’s syntactical. The syntax of a skyscraper or a wagon wheel imprints itself in your brain just like words. They both make patterns. I can write endless songs using the same few words, just like all buildings and men’s suits are made up of the same few angles slightly varied.

I shall make a conscious effort to remain as tight lipped as possible with regards my opinions on your latest record as i fear my gushing would only serve to embarrass (myself at least) needless to say, i think it is a wonderful piece of music. Over the years, despite their differences, your albums seem to have maintained a certain rather impressive standard. Do you ever listen back to any of them? are there ever periods you struggle to write ? if so, how do you deal with it ?

I don’t listen back to them. They are things that are finished for me. I had writer’s block from May 17th, 2002 to May 22nd 2002. I write when I write. I write a little every day. It’s easy. Writing isn’t hard. Try being a construction worker or a nurse five days a week, that’s hard.

Many of your songs seem to have a sense of movement , do you write on the road? Outside the U.S, are there countries you visit that you identify with more than others or do they all blur into one after a while ?

I’m all American. I find it harder and harder to relate to foreign countries as places I could live as I travel through them. I’ve kind of seen a lot of the world –– the touring world, and I’m content to stay in the USA most of the time. I don’t write on the road much as I’m usually flanked on either side 24 hours per. I can’t write while thinking someone’s looking at what I’m writing. The movement is just life. Life is all some sort of movement. Be it feet or blood or tongues or molecules. A story is movement.

I write songs of sorts and my band and I were fortunate enough to support you in Manchester a couple of years back. It was an education.vWe had a whole heap of shit in a van (samplers, spare guitars, spare amps etc..)and you just pulled a guitar out of a bag and sounded great. You seem to be very low maintenance and able to draw a crowd most places in the world with very little fuss. In the current climate,this must be enormously comforting given the decline of the music industry and record sales generally ? Do you see any good coming from the impending doom that surrounds most labels ?

I’ve resolved not to talk about this in public anymore. I’ve said my piece several times and things are changing so fast that no one really knows what’s going to happen. There is too much speculation in this world. Listen to the news, it’s ninety percent speculation. Tell me about something that has happened as best you can, don’t tell me about something that might happen. That’s just fear-casting. I’m not comforted by the fact that I can perform just with a guitar. There are so many bands touring these days that it takes 5 or 6 months advance to set up a tour. It used to take 1 or 2 months. And with supply up, the demand is down. I know that I am wiley enough to get by in this life no matter what, so I don’t worry.

You seem to have a reputation for being a little solemn and serious although I have always found ample levity in your lyrics. what/who makes you laugh ?

I always feel regret when I answer this question.

Do you think there was a golden age for songwriting or is the evolution of music and it’s current trends something that still interests you ? are there any ‘pop stars’ that are saying anything of note or as with politics (certainly in the UK) are we all just too indifferent and apathetic to give a shit and consequently require less of our artists?

With the autotune used on every song in the charts these days, I think we are being prepped to being sung to by robots. That and the fact that dance music is becoming less and less danceable. Bands will be replaced with computers that generate our music for us.

Are there any remaining frontiers that you have yet to tackle regards your music that you would like to, does the sound of each album emerge during recording or do you go in with a vague notion of what you are trying to achieve ?

I start with the untackled frontier shimmering before me in the distance and I work towards that. It remains a possible mirage all the way until I approve the master. But really it is just play. Going into the studio is playtime.

Is the song ‘A man needs a woman or a man to be a man’ the only country song in existence that embraces the gay community ?

There must be more, I’m no originator.

Mr Callahan, it simply remains for me to thank you for a tireless and unswerving commitment to your art, much respect !

Who me? Thanks!