Thanks to Lysbeth Guillorn for this EXCLUSIVE look at the interview that spawned the SPINonline article that was featured on AOL.
How did you start writing?
I've never thought of the time when I wasn't writing little songs, and I was born somewhat of an entertainer. It really did just evolve into having an instrument. At first I was just playing keyboards, doing all electronic music when I was 14. When I was seventeen I started playing bass with a friend's band in Richmond when they soon kicked me out, and then they went on their way.
Why did they kick you out?
Because playing the stuff that I was writing they had absolutely no input on the songs. I was just giving them these parts to play. They might as well have been playing covers because they weren't writing anything themselves, and I was like ėwell, why don't you write your own parts that are good, you dumbasses.î I was a little bit more egotistical and bastardly when I was seventeen. I was quite a bastard, actually.
Do you have certain songs in mind when you record an album, or do you have a tape that you listen to in your car that you always have on? What were you listening to when you recorded Services (for the Soon to be Departed)?
That was probably recorded under the influence of Steve Gibson and the Redcaps, from Lynchburg, Virginia, from the late 40s/early 50s. He's obscure. Steve Gibson was a serious big part of what I was listening to, and a Brazilian group called Os Mutantes, who were from the late 60s. They can fit the entire Sgt. Pepper album into a song. They go from doo wop to Andes folk music to serious hard-core acid rock like Blue Cheer.
You seem to really admire them because they're able to incorporate so many styles into one song, which is something you seem to do.
I definitely see my place in music right now...expect the unexpected. Going from lineup to lineup and writing inside the group, even though I was doing much of the composition, I would write for the group. I would write the stuff we were all into, and that we were all a part of and everyone could take up their parts and enjoy them. The difference between Eccsame the Photon Band and Better Can't Make Your Life Better is the addition of more people. That record could have gone a million ways just by the twist of a knob, in the mix down, or the tracking. Usually we seriously sit and write in the studio, and we write as I teach whoever's going to be playing. I'll go in with a drummer cold and just a three-note guitar riff in mind and come out with a five- or six-minute song with tons of changes, or a three-minute song with that one riff, depending on who the drummer is, or who the bass player is or who is recording it. Each experience is unique unto itself, but now I've streamlined my staff. It's no longer me and this carousel effect of personnel. I've started to expand, and of course people can see the connection between the album and the new ep. Who knows what the future of music is? I'm here to give my fill of the recording kettle. I'll take as many ladlefuls of hot audio before I die, before my insides rot out.
Do you think you were born to play music?
There's not a lot that I would love so much that whether I could be paid or not be paid, I would do it unconditionally. Kind of like the Shakers making furnitureóbuild it as if you were going to die tomorrow, and as if you were going to live a thousand years. I think that I would like to make a record that I could seriously listen to.
Are you making the music that you want to hear?
I don't know of many bands that really like their music. I'm sure there's a rush that you get from the outside approval, and there's always, ėThis is what I did.î' Kids can shit in their hand and say, ėLook, look what I made,î and that could be just as gratifying as making a record. I can't complain about Better Can't Make Your Life Better. It's like, ėIf it didn't sound like you wanted it to sound like, why not?î Well, it is what I wanted it to sound like, obviously, I'm the one that played the guitar, I'm the one who obviously sang. Why would I do something that I didn't want to do? Whatever lame excuse I could possibly muster up would not change the fact that it's what I did, and if I did it, I must have meant it, 'cause why would I do something I didn't mean to do? That's completely pointless. That's wasting everybody's time. So, obviously I was there, I was swingin', and it gives me more ideas of how to change things, and how to make it more interesting to myself, more accessible to others.
You call Services a "blues opera for a child to be born named Tayt in six movements". How did it come about?
It came about as all of the other projects came about. I got to the studio, and was requested to complete an ep's worth of music. You know, ėKurt, whatever you're going to do, just go in there and do something that you want to listen to, that you'll be proud of,î and with the people that I was working with--Aaron on drums, Thom on bass, Mike with various elements as well as recording the project. That's what we all came up with. Everybody came together in their unique way, all adding their personal elements. I look at that ep, and some of the songs like "The Energy Channel" is just a...I think Douglas Wolk from CMJ said it was an 'almost famous riff' and that was really my intention. To have something that sounded like a hyper children's show riff, but like the new kind of kids' shows. Something from Scandinavia, where they have an acid rock ensemble as the house band for a kids' show that taught you everything from origami to unified vector geometry, herbology and hypnotism. You know, the kind of kids' show that I'd want to watch.
I don't know anything about them.
What's next for Lilys?
I'm actually going to write a record this time. I'm going to spend this summer with a piano and go back to the big picture first, and zero in on a song and a composition and come up with an arrangement as opposed to having the arrangement be priority one. Any instrument necessary to play said piece can be obtained as opposed to going in and saying we have guitar, I have two organs, and I have two people that can sing, and writing for that in a way, which all the records to a degree have been. We've been limited. Now I want to see what it will be like to sit and write. To have melodies and lyrics and all the music underneath scored and ready to go. Rehearsed and swung appropriately.
Will there be personnel changes?
Oh, personnel additions. No one's getting kicked out or anything. We've got more options now.
There's so much in each of your songs, and you don't do the straight verse-chorus-verse, like the Tennis System (and Its Stars) from Better. How does song structure come together for you?
That just seems like one of those off the top of your head type songs that just kind of gets written. Thereís not a whole lot of comparative thought. Almost all music, everything that I had heard up until that point was what resulted in that song. My particular mood, my particular perspective of music, of what I did. If writing an album full of songs as erratic as ėThe Tennis Systemî is what's going to be expected of me, I'd be hell-pressed to say that if it wasn't what I was really set on doing, and if everybody said, 'No, Kurt, you must become more and more eclectic, you must become more fringe, you must become more disassociated from pop music than you've ever been before. I'm sure I'd just start writing the most cohesive material, just to be a bastard. If I was going to be a real surly little kid.
You're that reactive to what other people would tell you?
If I couldn't decide upon what it was that I wanted to do to be fringe, I would do what at least looked best. Who knows, maybe there is an element of the formula within me. I don't know how to express any of my particular lines of thought three times in a song. I can barely get two choruses, and usually there's a couple of words different. The story's always changing, the now changes instant to instant, there is no hook in the song. It's a song for the song's sake. It's a combination of words and music, and rhythms and melodies. Sometimes lots of them, sometimes hardly any. I would seriously want to hear something both catchy and distant and elusive every time I listened to a piece of music. Maybe my contemporaries will pick up the slack and write elusive, mysterious traveling music for me to compare my work against, and maybe we can start a songwriting collective of all the people that write the songs that let you go places. And that will be just like any other great artistic movement that starts with one, as long as I don't have to be the leader.
Do you long for peers?
I don't especially long for peers, but I almost see them as inevitable, because there always seem to be temporary tribal communities that grow upon themselves due to an exchange of ideas. Since we're not all speaking the perfect language, those that feel closest to a particular language, or expression, gather to it, the way that I fell in love with Robert [Schneider] and The Apples. I heard him expressing something I could understand, and I got in contact with him and we became friends. Maybe people who hear what we do will one day stop by the studio, or at the show not just completely fall apart as they begin talking to me. Just start up as if we have something very in common, obviously we're both people, unless it's a chimp that comes up to me, and says, ėHey, I'm a primate, and you're a human being and I really like your records.î I don't really see any talking chimps these days.
A very special thanks to Lysbeth Guillorn for transcribing and typing out this interview...of of course, for doing it too!
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