Posts in Indie Rock
Adam Turla, Murder By Death (2011)

If you go back to the first interview on this site back in June 2010, it was with Adam Turla of Murder By Death.  We talked backstage at Lincoln Hall in Chicago as he lay on a couch in the green room, the victim of a pinched nerve in his back (though you never would have known it a couple hours later watching him play).

I am an unabashed Murder By Death fan.  Turla writes some of the best lyrics around, and the band's music sounds like no one else (Turla describes them as "a rock and roll band with a little bit of country.  There’s a cello, a guy with a low voice, and some piano.  It’s music that can exist at any time. And we tell great stories.”).  I have enormous respect for the reverence with which he treats his creative process. Here's a look into that process after the video as he talks about writing for the upcoming album.

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Kurt Vile

In his own words, Kurt Vile runs around like a "headless chicken" when he's on tour, so it's hard for him to write.  Given that he needs a clutter-free environment ("Open space and open air in my head," he says) this is hardly surprising.  Vile works best when he's away from all of his comfort zones, which explains why a trip to the countryside can often be a salve for any songwriting rut he might be in. Vile's new EP So Outta Reach comes out November 8.  The EP contains five songs recorded during the sessions for his latest LP Smoke Ring for My Halo.  

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Eric Bachmann, Crooked Fingers and Archers of Loaf

Sure, Eric Bachmann is strong: he benches 240 lbs, according to his bio on the Merge Records site. But what I'm more impressed with is his mental strength.  The Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers frontman has been known to exist on a torrid two-week writing schedule, aided by lots of coffee and easy-to-prepare food: 40 hours of writing followed by 6 hours of sleep, then repeating this cycle for up to 14 days. And it's not like he's looking over a wonderful vista while he's writing, since his ideal writing environment is a small room with confining walls painted in a dark color.  But this desire for confinement is at odds with how Bachmann lives his life: he never stays in the same place for more than six months, always moving from place to place in his van. So while he's in Athens, Georgia now, he'll be gone by spring. This nomadic lifestyle is reflected in his creative process as well, because Bachmann never likes to stay too comfortable with the same method of creating songs.

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Matt Iwanusa, Caveman

Back in February, I got an email from Dylan Von Wagner of Linfinity.  I interviewed Von Wagner for this site a while ago and reviewed the band's album Martian's Bloom for the Washington Post.  His email carried a sense of urgency: You've gotta check out this new band Caveman, he wrote.  He told me how talented they were and that Matt Iwanusa, their songwriter, would be a good interview for this site.  I liked what I heard and filed that thought away.

The music blogosphere is littered with failed "the next big thing" or "these guys are gonna be huge" tags.  Most of these promises never pan out, of course, which is why I'll never say that.  But I will say this: Caveman are good.  Really good.  Their debut album CoCo Beware comes out September 13, and they are on tour now with The War on Drugs.  Read my interview with Matt Iwanusa after the video, where he talks about how both walking the streets of New York City and the video game Galaga influence his songwriting process.  Naturally, he talked to me while walking those streets. 

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Craig Finn, The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady will begin writing material for their sixth album over the next few months. But Craig Finn, the band's lyricist, has probably been writing that material for a long time.  As any good writer knows, the key to become a good writer is daily practice, just like the key to being good at anything is practice.  So Finn makes a point to write every day in his journals.  Though he tries to write a song each day, a lot of what he writes is reflection: what he did that day, his thoughts on the movie he saw, or what he thinks about the book he just read. When he does write a song, he does what good writers do: he lets it sit for a while, untouched, then comes back to it later when he has a new perspective.

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Jeremy Messersmith

Quick: what do cooking, Dungeons and Dragons, bike riding, Jerry Seinfeld, art galleries, and Jeremy Messersmith's wife all have in common?  Answer: they are all an important part of Jeremy Messersmith's creative process. No one can accuse Messersmith of passively participating in the creation of his songs.  In some manner, he's always at work at crafting them.

And it's a process that has served him well:  Messersmith's latest release The Reluctant Graveyard received universal praise, including a spot on NPR's "Top Ten Albums of 2010" list. And it is a great album. 

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Laura Stevenson, Laura Stevenson and the Cans

After close to 100 interviews for this site, artists have given me a variety of answers as to why they write songs.  Some just enjoy playing music, a pleasurable experience as an end in itself.  For others, it was probably rooted in those Suzuki method piano lessons that their parents made them take.  And, of course, for still others music is an emotional outlet, as it is for Laura Stevenson, of Laura Stevenson and the Cans.  Music has helped Stevenson through some dark times, times so dark that she did nothing: her phone went unanswered, her bills went unpaid. But songwriting is a cathartic process for her; she expresses topics that she hasn't even told her therapist. I don't think writer's block will ever be an issue for Stevenson, since, in her words, she has "decades" of material from which to draw.

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Ivan Howard, The Rosebuds

Here's the secret to the success of Ivan Howard's songwriting: television, physical activity, and great literature. Sure, at first blush they seem disparate: the vacuous life of the couch potato, the discipline of the athlete, and the intellectual curiosity of the bookworm.  But they all legitimately contribute to Howard's creative process and the crafting of those wonderful Rosebuds' songs: the TV (it can't be a show he actually pays attention to) distracts him from the subject matter he's writing about, running and basketball are his periods of creative meditation, and the books are the source of the band's natural imagery. 

Much has been made of the story behind the making of The Rosebuds' latest release Loud Planes Fly Low.  Howard and Kelly Crisp make up The Rosebuds.  They divorced after the release of their fourth album Life Like.  But they continue today as a songwriting duo, now just as bandmates and friends.  Loud Planes Fly Low is the product of the emotional output and coming to grips with the breakdown of their relationship.  It's been covered enough in the press, so I'm not going to do it here. Besides, there's enough wonderfully original responses in this interview to sustain a fresh narrative.

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David Kilgour (The Clean, and David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights)

In the late 1970s, David Kilgour formed The Clean, one of the most popular bands in New Zealand and responsible for the development of the punk scene there.  The Clean were pioneers of the Dunedin Sound and one of the original signees to Flying Nun Records. Kilgour has long been recognized as one of the biggest (and most respected) songwriters and guitarists to come from New Zealand.  But did you know he's also a pretty good painter, a creative outlet that also serves him well as a songwriter?

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Max Bloom, Yuck

After talking to guitarist and songwriter Max Bloom of Yuck on the phone recently, I have an image in my mind: Bloom and his bandmates jamming loudly in his parents' house, so loudly that they wake the neighbors, who come out and shout up at the bedroom window, "Turn that f***ing music down!"  Typical young kids, I guess.  It's almost a stereotype.

Only it's true.  Bloom and co-songwriter Daniel Blumberg write and demo all the Yuck music in Bloom's parents' house.  And when they play, the neighbors get angry. This house is also where they recorded the album.  According to Bloom, it's the only place he feels comfortable enough to write; it's clearly where he gets his best writing done. So while Bloom is at the age when most young adults (at least here in the US) would do anything to get out of their parents' house, Bloom wants to get back in.  Though he still has some trepidation about the neighbors' reaction when the band starts recording new material...

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Thao Nguyen, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

Earlier this week I posted my interview with Mirah, and today it's Thao's turn (of Thao and Mirah, as well as Thao and the Get Down Stay Down). Thao and Mirah begin touring in May to support their album that comes out April 26 on killrockstars. I've interviewed over 80 songwriters for this site, and few (probably enough to count on one hand) mention exercise as an aid and a regular part of their writing process.  But both Thao and Mirah exercise regularly and use it as a way to boost creativity.  Which makes me think that if they haven't already, the should run together if they decide to write and record again.  Maybe train for a 10k together.

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