Monday, June 25, 2012
(published at Heave Media)
As I hopped off my bike in front of the Gingerman, I noticed Dan Bejar sauntering towards the side alley of the Metro. His unkempt hair and beard are unmistakable, especially contrasted against his frocky white shirt. "Dan Bejar!" I yelled instinctively, "Have a good show tonight." He managed a smirk and acknowledged my remark with a slight hand gesture. He didn't say anything, and continued on his way.
Bejar is a rare persona in indie rock. His lazy demeanor (vocally and aesthetically) is somehow a supplement to his rock star aura. If the young Bob Dylan always kept his mouth shut, until a bottle of liquor approached his lips, it would be something close to what Bejar's mystique accomplishes. Of course, the only other time he opens his mouth is to sing his songs. And thank God for that.
Before Destroyer took stage, Sandro Perri opened the night with what was a hybrid of late 80s' SAIC avant garde pop and Evanston Space approved soft rock for your uncle. Playing originals from their excellent album, Impossible Spaces, and closing with a John Martyn cover, it was the perfect opening act for the band that would soon play tracks off of 2011's yacht-pop masterpiece, Kaputt.
I'm beginning to think that Sandro Perri might have released the most underrated album of 2011, especially now that I've heard what he's capable of doing with his compositions in a live context. He is a critic's dream in that he is both artist and musician, and not one more than the other. Slow and steady works to his benefit, not obligating listeners to get too riled up for his clanky guitar solos or grating synth lines. Jazzy drum fills and meandering flute licks keep Steely Dan fans happy, and the odd time signatures bring out the Dirty Projectors kids. He will almost certainly gain new fans after this stint with Destroyer, maybe even a headlining tour before the end of the year.
Destroyer's lineup was eight men strong, Bejar in the middle of a phenomenal backing band. A trumpet player with noise effect pedals and an electric clarinet were two things I had never seen before. I wasn't surprised to see either of these things at a Destroyer show, but unfortunately I couldn't say the same for a couple of people in the audience. After a droning noise solo by the trumpeter, some jerk in the balcony yelled, "what was that?!" And a moment later, a girl shouted up to the stage, "you look so fucking bored!" At the time I wanted to find these audience members, and show them the door. But to be fair, I didn't "get" Destroyer for years either. For the first five years I just couldn't understand how it wasn't a metal band. We can have a little patience for art's sake.
But for the most part, Destroyer's Chicago crowd was polite. I only noticed a couple camera phones taking pictures. I actually can't remember the last time I saw so many people enjoying the moment of a concert so unabashedly. This is how it should be though, because Dan Bejar is one captivating individual.
Bejar kept his mic stand waist high, perfect for either leaning on like a cane, and even better as a halfway meeting point between his mouth and drinks lined on the stage floor. Every moment he wasn't singing was spent crouching near his alcohol. He had bottles of beer, and cups of other stuff. He appeared drunk, but it's also difficult to say for sure. He might just have that drowsy look going all the time. Either way, it is the perfect visual for a guy talk-singing, "You've been wasted from the day, and now you know, oh. Suffering idiots all of your life and this is what you get."
Playing a balanced mix of new and old songs, everything sounded rowdier with the huge band. Trumpet and sax blare-outs raised the treble level painfully high at times, but then brought it right back down. Bejar kept the vibes chill, again, whether it was intentional or not is unclear. But isn't that what the best artists always do? Creativity and ambiguity in tango, personified in dreary Dan Bejar. It's the poetry so many artists seek but never find, Bejar appears to be so comfortable penning it that it could kill him. He even holds his skinny mic with his fingertips like it's a writer's pen. That or cigarette. Is music his muse or his vice? Possibly both.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Moonface's Spencer Krug
by Dylan Peterson June 14, 2012
(originally published at AV Club Chicago)
The A.V. Club: Heartbreaking Bravery sounds so much bigger and dynamic compared to your previous Moonface material. Is that because of Siinai?
Spencer Krug: The bigger, more dynamic sound of this record as compared to the first two Moonface releases is mostly due to the fact that I was working with a full band in a large studio, instead of working at home by myself, using mostly digital percussion and key-based instruments. And yes, Siinai has a huge, sort of lush and melodramatic sound. It was what I was drawn to initially and one of the main reasons I wanted to work with them. We tried to embrace those elements on this album. And the producers were very much into creating a huge sound with a lot of ambiance and space, so they helped a lot to exploit the dynamics of the giant room in which we recorded. Everyone was on the same page.
AVC: Did you write the music with Siinai or just add lyrics to their compositions?
SK: We wrote the music together—at least the broader strokes. The details within the parts—the general riffs, beats, and stuff—was mostly Siinai, as far as their own instruments were concerned. They started working on that end of things before I got to Helsinki, sending me MP3s while I was still in Montreal. I listened to these and started thinking about lyrics, and how to structure the riffs into songs that would work with the vocals. When I got to Helsinki, we started putting it all together, talking as a group about how the songs should be structured, which details needed to be changed, and what I would be adding with my playing and vocals, basically just taking a bunch of loose ideas we had come up with on two separate continents and sculpting together once we were all finally in the same room. In the studio, further changes were made, group decisions made in the sauna, as well the writing of entire new songs that were born out of late night jam sessions.
None of us let any of our ideas be too set in stone before I got to Helsinki. We wanted things to stay open right up until they were recorded. And nobody had any expectations about what kind of record we would be making, as in what genre, if any at all. I think in those ways the album was allowed to become what it “wanted” without a struggle. In the end, I'd say the album was very much created by a group working as one toward a single goal. It was not just a layering of one person's ideas over top those of another.
AVC: When Moonface plays live, are all Spencer Krug projects fair game, or would playing a Sunset Rubdown song be taboo?
SK: My first impulse is this: There are no rules! It's all just tunes! But that can't always be true.
Anything is fair game, sure, but playing a Sunset Rubdown or Wolf Parade song with Siinai would feel like a step backward. I guess it would be a “cover,” because any Sunset or Wolf Parade songs worth playing are ones I wrote with other people. I couldn't call them Spencer Krug songs, let alone Moonface songs. But I have no desire to do anything like that right now, and I doubt Siinai would have any desire to learn any of that stuff. In fact most of Siinai have never even heard Sunset Rubdown, which I think is pretty cool. Right now we're still just interested in how this latest album can sound on stage. Then, after these tours in 2012, we might make another record together. Maybe add some new people.
AVC: Would you play a Siinai song with a different band on stage?
SK: No, I wouldn't play a Siinai song with another band. That would feel weird. Musically there's too much Siinai in these songs for me to take any license with them. But speaking lyrically, I'd feel fine setting the words to different music, if a situation called for it which will almost for sure never happen.
AVC: If you could have a Spencer Krug clone, would he go back to working on Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, or would he help you with Moonface? Does a part of you want to keep up the old creative projects, or are you totally devoted to what you’re doing now?
SK: If I could have a Spencer Krug clone, I'd ask him to go get a real job and secure some sort of future for the two of us while I continue chasing every musical pipe dream I have. Maybe he could buy us some land. I keep hearing that's a smart thing to do.
I don't need any help with Moonface and Moonface definitely doesn't need any more of me. I have no desire at all to resurrect Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown. Those bands have both run their course, and were, I believe, creatively spent by the end. I am much more excited about the future than I am about anything from the past, and Moonface is the only thing I have on the horizon. It feels simple and right and it's the only way I want to be on stage right now.
AVC: Is Moonface a culmination up to this point where you’re utilizing all that you’ve learned for this sole project, or is it more like a totally blank slate?
SK: I'm much more comfortable on stage nowadays than I used to be and in the studio as well. That comfort translates into confidence. I care much less now about what other people think than I used to. I think that sort of candor, that disregard for anything except the song itself, helps to make music that is absolutely sincere, which is the best kind of music—more rewarding for both myself and anyone listening.
But more than anything else, what I've taken away from past projects is the knowing of what I don’t want to do: I don't want to form a "band," in the shitty sense of the word.
I want to avoid getting stuck in a musical rut, where I am expected by my bandmates or record label or listening audience to maintain a certain kind of sound. So, more than Moonface itself being a blank slate—which it hopefully is—I'm trying to make each album a blank slate—though that might be impossible. I would love for each album I make to be listened to and loved or hated objectively for what it is and not be compared to other things I've made in the past. But it hasn't happened yet. Maybe one day. For now, allowing myself the freedom to change things up keeps me interested in making music. Like everyone else, I am always changing. My inspirations and tastes always fluctuate, and so naturally I want to go in different directions. I think it's absurd to expect myself, or any sort of artist, to stay on one path. It's lazy and boring, for both the artist and the critic.
AVC: In an interview you did with Under The Radar, you mentioned interest in writing fiction. Do you have any plans for a book?
SK: I have an interest in writing fiction, yes, but that's not to say I'm any good at it. I used to write more often just for myself, for the joy of it, but now it's only something I poke at every few months or so. I haven't had any real time yet to figure out if it's something I'm truly capable of. So, no, I have no plans for a book. I do hope that one day, maybe in another five or 10 years, I'll be able to sit down and properly try my hand. Once I do that I'll better know if publishing fiction is an aspiration.
AVC: Have you gleaned much from Dan Bejar from your time together in Swan Lake?
SK: Dan is a sort of role model for me. Sometimes I think of him when I'm recording. He's one of those few people about whom I wonder if they'd approve. I think everyone has a few people like that in their lives: quiet mentors they keep in the back of their head.
AVC: Would you like to be regarded as a great lyricist like Dan?
SK: His is a standard that I'll probably never meet. Bejar writes poetry, and then somehow sings the stuff. I write lyrics designed to be sung. And whereas I would probably, on some juvenile level, like to be regarded as a great lyricist, I know that I am not. Bejar, on the other hand, is already a great lyricist, and probably couldn't care less about whether or not he is regarded as such. It's a telling difference, I think. Hopefully, I'll bend more in his direction as I get older.
AVC: What do you hope is the legacy of Spencer Krug?
SK: When I think of the projects I've been in and the assortment of songs I've put out, I see an image of myself standing on a big pile of random objects. These objects are piled up to make a sort of half-disgusting pedestal. Some of the objects are nice, like shiny toy cars and candle holders and maybe even a pearl or two, some of the objects are neutral, like a kitchen faucet or a half-full bottle of whisky, and some are gross, like fish heads and apple cores and cigar butts. Part of me would love to take away all the apple cores and fish heads, but it's too late. They're there for good. All I can do now is try to think that they are charming. Hopefully others can do the same. That's about the best I could hope for in terms of a legacy.
AVC: Do you feel prolific? Is music a lot of hard work, or does it come naturally for you?
SK: I don't feel prolific, no. I've been in a lot of bands, yes, but for the most part they only ever existed in a meaningful way one project at a time. I don't think I work any harder than any other musician, especially us lazy rock musicians.
And no, I don't find music to be hard work. It's complete enjoyment, and the thing that comes to me most naturally. It's my favorite pastime. In that way I don't think of it as hard or easy, or measured in any way. It's just a thing that I like doing, like going swimming.
AVC: This question came from Wikipedia, so it might not be totally accurate, but for the page on Swan Lake, it reads, “The band originally wanted to call the album Before The Law, a parable by Franz Kafka, however they changed it to Enemy Mine out of fear of furthering their reputation as 'literary.'” And in The A.V. Club review for that album, you were referred to as “lit-rockers.” What’s wrong with being literary?
SK: I don't remember wanting to call the album Before The Law. If that's true, then it was more of a Mercer/Bejar idea. But I myself wouldn't call anything I've done “lit-rock.” I am not well read enough for it to be true. I don't think there's anything wrong with being literary, as long as it doesn't make the music completely inaccessible. If you're putting music into the world then there is little point in putting out things that only English majors can relate to. I think it's fair for music to be challenging, but even challenging music should be able to be understood simply through repeated listening, without the need for reference material. I think music should speak for itself.
AVC: Would you rather challenge yourself or your audience?
SK: I think if I challenge myself then it will automatically challenge some other people. And I can't challenge anyone who is musically beyond the things that I find challenging. Really, I make music for myself first, with the knowledge that if I get something out of it, then probably some others will as well.
The value in challenging music is the same for both musician and audience—to not become bored or stagnant, to continue moving forward. I believe in trying to make modern music, without being completely inaccessible, and sometimes nodding to the past in hopefully relevant ways. But this also means taking risks, sometimes failing in other people's eyes, and living by the notion that if you've made something that pleases everyone then you've probably made something stupid.
AVC:What is the difference between what you’ve been doing compared to chameleonic artists like Bob Dylan or Damon Albarn? Do you feel pretty comfortable in your own skin regardless of whatever project you happen to be working on?
SK: There's not a lot of difference between me and someone who has worked only under his or her own name. If I had, until now, been working under the name Spencer Krug then absolutely I would just continue to work under that name in anything and everything I'm involved in. But that hasn't been the case. I've been in bands with band names, names that represented not just me but a set group of people. Can you imagine if Marimba and Shit-Drums was released as a Wolf Parade record? Anytime I've ever changed the moniker for music I'm working on it has been because the group of people I was working with has changed. Maybe I could have called Moonface “Sunset Rubdown,” but I think it would have been unfair to the members of that band that helped me build it up, and confusing for Sunset Rubdown fans. On top of that, I wanted to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a name that had no particular sound attached to it.
That said, I would really like to just stick with Moonface from now until the end. To me, it's not a band name, but an alter-ego, allowing me to work as Moonface even if I'm invited to the next “We are the World” recording session.