bill callahan: the chickfactor interview

we are thrilled to have an interview with the phenomenal american singer songwriter… (originally appeared on paper in chickfactor 17, which came out in december 2012)

interview by connie lovatt and gail o’hara // photograph by kirstie shanley

chickfactor: what’s some of the best advice you’ve been given by a man about being a man?
bill callahan: I don’t think I’ve been given much advice man to man. I wish I had. I think it’s mostly women that have taught me about being a man anyway. a healthy woman wants you to be a man. I grew up with two sisters and they wanted me to be a man right from the start. they were so happy I was a little boyman – I could sense it from their faces. as soon as I could walk my sisters begged me to put on a tutu. this ballerina tutu we had lying around. maybe it was left over from when one or both of my sisters went through their little princess phases. seeing their reaction to me in the tutu was the first time I felt like a man. and I never looked back.


cf: what’s the best insurance against your own shenanigans?

bill: there isn’t any really. things always come back to haunt. and if they don’t, the looming spectre of threat is worse. if we let the shenanigans win….

cf: what were you like as a teenager?

bill: dumb. I was just in receiving mode, programming mode and I was kind of inoperable in that state. just taking things in or waiting for an opening in the race. it helps to have a soundtrack to such times and I listened to music 7 or 8 hours per day. classic rock radio, which I found some worth in but after awhile it started to feel like some drunk guy waking you up every time you fall asleep and just laughing at you and not saying anything. I realized a lot of classic rock is not classic at all. I had been taking their word for it at first. I was always counting the days until school ended, for years and years. and when it did it was even better than I dreamed.

cf: what was the first song you wrote and why and what was it called?

bill: when I was really little I wrote a song called, “peanut butter shoe.” the lyrics were, “it’s new, it’s blue, it’s a peanut butter shoe!” I think I wrote it, since you ask why, to mirror the life impulse inside a human.

cf: tell us about your songwriting process/ space/rituals.

bill: I’m not a ritualist and space is not something I really notice either. well, I guess I like electric light, no natural light and no window. I don’t like to know what time of day it is and I don’t like to see natural events happening. writing and music are human concepts—like electric light, so it helps to block out anything from the unadorned natural world. there is a pen I like, I buy by the carton. I just bought a carton yesterday. I couldn’t find black. It has to be black because of the primal black and white thing, primitive brain sight and film noir. I always turn down help from those big store employees because they never know anything but this time I said yes, where’s the black. he found it. It was in a newly designed box because now the pens are “made from recycled electronics.” I guess this is good but I don’t want to get cellular microbes in my notebooks.

cf: have you ever had to stop listening to a song or band because of a certain person or memory?

bill: maybe, but I wouldn’t think it was a struggle. if a memory or event was that strong then the song probably should go where that person or memory went anyway.

cf: does it bother you when your lyrics are misinterpreted?

bill: I think it happens all the time. I think I also misinterpret other people’s lyrics, other people’s everything. that is the lair of the audience, that is where you make your connection – from yourself. listening to music is not a passive act. when you’re a teenager and your parents wonder how you can just sit and listen listen listen. you’re making all your connections then. your head is dancing with it. so I think “misinterpreted” is the same as “interpreted” really. who can put the “mis-” on there? only the creator and half the time the creator can’t even concretize an interpretation. if someone has an interpretation of my lyrics that feels to me to be way off base, I just think that is the level that person is on at that time. that is where they are finding a connection to the song. but don’t get angry if I or someone else has a different interpretation of the song. I’ve often been told I am lying, when someone asks me what a line I wrote means. because songs become part of the body, part of the psyche, part of the filter of the way a person sees the world. when you tell them something else, they feel as if their essence is being negated. this is why people are so fiercely passionate about the music they love. the music is them.

cf: on most days would you prefer an elaborate breakfast or an elaborate dinner?

bill: oh man. an elaborate breakfast usually says, “I’m going to fuck off today” or “damn, life is good, ain’t it?” both of which are good sentiments. but mostly I like a simple breakfast cos I’m in no mood, you know? I think I like a simply elaborate breakfast. just toss a couple basil leaves in my eggs and I’ll be like, “damn!” breakfast should be simple but with a tiny zing. like raspberries in your oatmeal. food can’t stand on its own though, for me. I can’t have an elaborate dinner and think, “what a great day this is or was based on this meal!” it’s more of a bonus thing, like, “I had a great day of work and now look at this delicious hot pocket before me. it has basil on it.”

cf: what singer or songwriter do you feel is solidly romantic yet gets little credit for being so?

bill: I’m not sure about credit, as I don’t always keep track of public perception of things but—van morrison is quite the romantic scamp, I think. and I don’t feel like I’ve heard people talking about that.

records bill can’t live without
> steely dan, aja
> various artists, keep the pressure down
> barrington levy, run come ya
> television, marquee moon
> marvin gaye, “what’s going on”

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CF22 and hangover lounge second london event

We are teaming up with our pals at The Hangover Lounge to have a lovely laid-back Sunday afternoon event with some quiet music upstairs and some gentle DJ action downstairs.

july 13 at the lexington!

upstairs: the catenary wires & the just joans

downstairs: DJ bob stanley & chickfactor DJs & hangover lounge DJs

the catenary wires are amelia and rob from various bands you know! cannot wait to see what they’ll play!

the just joans are a Scottish pop group we’re excited to have play!

daytime, usual hangover lounge hours.

DJ Bob Stanley is bound to make your day 100% better.

Team chickfactor & Team Hangover Lounge will also get on the tables and make your head not spin.

(Yes, this happens to be the same day as the World Cup Final, but worry not, footie fans. This thing will be well over by the time it begins!)

Photograph by Alison Wonderland

mini-interview with the clientele

we first heard the clientele when they played a chickfactor/papercuts party in london in 1999 and were dazzled for life (we interviewed them in CF13, 2000). they continue to be one of our favorite bands, even if they’ve been less than prolific the past few years (we also love alasdair’s other band, amor de días, natch). we asked alasdair a few questions in advance of their first US show in 4 years (and first with this classic lineup in 9): we cannot wait to see them! the clientele plays at chickfactor 22 with versus, barbara manning and the saturday people on march 21 (night two of two) at the wonderful bell house in brooklyn. be there!

interview & polaroid by gail o’hara

what has the clientele been up to? are you back together for good or just a few shows?
I’ve been slowly and painfully writing a novel, and playing in amor de días. mark has moved into a canal boat and is tuning pianos. james has been growing chillis and playing bass for comet gain. ¶ last year I wrote a couple of songs that sounded more clientele than amor de días and it coincided with an offer for the old lineup to play a festival in denmark, which we decided to do for fun. then merge asked us to record a song or two for their 25th-anniversary 7″ singles club so we had a chance to record together again. that’s all so far.

why was it important to reissue suburban light?
again, it was merge’s decision, as part of their 25-year anniversary reissues series. I over-listened to that record when we mixed it the first time round and I got sick of the songs. james and I were talking about how frustrating that whole time was, we kept losing drummers and we wanted those songs to be on the radio but we were in a little studio trying to cut out the hiss on the tape by sliding the faders up and down. every sound engineer we met tried to make us sound like radiohead. ¶ coming back to it was really positive though—we unearthed a lot of stuff everyone had forgotten. It was weird being in a room and hearing our younger selves bantering on tape. I think the reissue does it justice, and it seems to be a lot of people’s favourite clientele record so hopefully it will be enjoyed.

how has your songwriting process changed since you were a teen?
I learnt that songs don’t need to be symmetrical—if one verse has four lines it’s okay for the second to have three. otherwise, not in any way!

how do you keep your guitar nails from chipping?
on tour you can’t keep them from chipping but once they do chip you can replace them with estee lauder press-ons and superglue. kurt wagner showed me when we toured with lambchop and since then both have become an essential piece of tour kit.

what records are you most excited about these days?
I really enjoyed gerard love’s lightships record. the new boards of canada is interesting. I’ve been catching up on old martin newell and cleaners from venus records and also listening to a lot of virginia astley.

what’s the best pub in london?
for me the pembury tavern in hackney central is OK. also the elderfield in clapton.

who is the comedian in the band?
we are all equally amusing.

what will you do in NYC when not playing?
have lunch at angelica kitchen.

best chickfactor party memory/story?
flying in to play one of the london chickfactor shows after a gig in berlin. we arrived backstage with several bottles of berentzen apfelkorn, which is a kind of schnapps which sends you completely bananas, god knows why we had picked them up but we did. we tried to get club 8 to drink it, a german guy personally interceded and warned them not to deal with us.

mini interview with versus by lois!

versus are one of our long-running music and people crushes. we cannot get enough! they are a chickfactor house band! anyway, we asked another CF event regular (lois maffeo) to interview them for this year’s fest. they play chickfactor 22 friday, march 21, with the clientele, barbara manning & the saturday people at bell house.

interview by lois & photograph by michael galinsky

lois: I was in the middle of a room full of indie bands sleeping on the floor of dave auchenbach’s house after a big night at the providence pop fest in 1992. versus had arrived late, after a gig in some other town. it was probably four in the morning when I woke to see figures with guitar cases moving gingerly across the bedrolls. richard baluyut was stepping over my sleeping bag when he looked down and darkly intoned, “I heard you made brownies.” that phrase (accurate, I may add) kickstarted a long friendship with richard that soon came to include his versus bandmates fontaine and ed and patrick and james. you’d think that over the past 20 years, I would have gotten around to asking richard some of these burning questions. so thanks, gail, for assigning me to interview richard in advance of versus’ appearance at chickfactor 22 on friday, march 21 at the bell house in brooklyn.

is it true that you once got a guitar lesson from roger miller of mission of burma?
richard: I never had a lesson from roger. he did sell me his guitar from mission of burma, before they got back together. when he needed it back, I sent it back to him of course! I believe I still own it, but I haven’t held it in over a decade!

can you describe the ownership timeline of the famous black rickenbacker guitar?
richard: I bought it in 1990, and used it on our early singles. traded it to tae won yu for his SG, which became the versus guitar. tae brought the rickenbacker with him to olympia and made it the classic kicking giant guitar. but he got bored of it and sold it back to me when we were passing through on tour. I sold it to jeff cashvan, who later sold it to carrie brownstein, who made it the signature sleater-kinney guitar. quite an illustrious history! I haven’t seen carrie play it in a long time though; I hope she’s passed it on…

if you could play in any band from the past, which one would it be?
richard: I wish I’d been in the who, isle of wight-era so I would be wearing a jumpsuit…

what is your favorite sci-fi novel?
richard: invisible cities by italo calvino? I was more of a fantasy guy. I only read civil war history now…

what are your top 3 favorite things about new york city?
richard: double-features at film forum. mamoun’s falafel still standing. not living there.

7 questions for amor de días

when we think of “royals” from the united kingdom, naturally we think of AMOR DE DÍAS, featuring alasdair maclean (frontman of the papillon-obsessed lite psych combo THE CLIENTELE from fleet) and lupe núñez-fernández (one half of the slapdash & adorable pop duo PIPAS). we could not be more excited about seeing them play at chickfactor 22 at the bell house on thursday, march 20, along with withered hand (whose live band will feature pam berry of black tambourine and kenny anderson of king creosote), lilys and jim ruiz set (and mc gaylord fields of wfmu)!

interview by the legendary jim ruiz & photograph by shoko ishikawa

1 distance running
2 love life
3 the live experience
4 where do you most want to live/retire?
5 your meeting gail stories
6 borrowing your name
7 gearhead question

chickfactor: considering the dominance of the UK in middle and long distance running in the past; sir roger bannister’s four-minute mile, sebastian coe and steve ovett’s amazing rivalry on the track, and the astonishing world record of paula radcliffe at the marathon, it was really not a very big surprise to see that you are specializing in the 10k. tell us a little about your training and how you feel it’s going. any tips for those of us who want to start running? what’s your PR (optional)?
alasdair: we have no expertise in running, or specialisms in the 10k. we both ran the new forest half marathon last year and counted ourselves lucky to be alive by the end. the only tip for a 10k run I could offer is don’t sprint the first 3k, the next 7k will not thank you.
lupe: it’s handy for catching the last tube back home after a gig, or the train to the next city on tour. that’s definitely our specialty distance.

charlotte and emily want to know if you are a couple. I assured them I would ask you.
lupe: buy our records and find out! there are hidden messages if you play the vinyl backwards.

emily and I were at an amor de días gig at the triple rock in minneapolis about 3 years ago. that gig was an introduction to your music, it made a big impression on me and I made it a goal to play with you someday. in fact, whenever we visit our friend’s house there is a poster from that gig framed on their wall. do you think that touring is worth it because you never know what impact it has, even if the audience might be small on a given night? or do you think that touring has had its day?
alasdair: what a nice thing to say! I suppose in my career the model of the small gig with a strong connection to the audience has been mostly how it’s happened, and when when that connection really works it’s amazing, nothing can beat it. opening for much bigger bands has taught me that my songs work better in a small space, chamber music rather than a nuremberg rally or a mass singalong.
lupe: touring is usually when you might get to play in front of strangers who’ve never heard your music, and see a sincere reaction. it’s probably very self-indulgent but there’s something to be said for that, whether it’s a good one or not.

living in the middle of a vast continent as we do, without any real possibility of moving anywhere exotic, we are in awe of your EU passports and your seeming ability to move anywhere you please on the continent. do you plan to stay in the UK forever? do you ever miss the sun?
alasdair: come on, minneapolis is about as exotic as it gets! prince lives there! I was born in scotland so have never known the sun. It would be nice to be an internationalist rather than stuck in the UK. I’ll have to work on it.
lupe: when we were in minneapolis a couple of years ago we talked about moving there. I’m not kidding!

tell me how you first met gail….
alasdair: outside NYU in the freezing cold. I think we had eaten polish food for the first time and were semi-comatose.
lupe: I was aware of this cool chick with retro glasses and blond braids at all the shows at fez I went to in the ’90s but I didn’t know her name (or that she’d curated the shows, and put out chickfactor). years later we met in london through our friends pam berry and mark powell—the heat broke at the place where she was staying and I told her she could squat at ours. instant family.

last year the aislers set seemed to take no offense when we changed our name to jim ruiz set. how would you feel about our recording under the name amor de ruiz `rE- ahs?
feel free. it has a classy ring to it.

the classical guitar scares the hell out of me, yet you make it sound so easy. are you self-taught players or do you have years of pumping nylon behind you at some music conservatory? who first inspired you to play classical? who do you listen to for your inspiration?
alasdair: I learnt classical guitar as a kid, my parents put me in for lessons, but I gave up around age 11, and lost a lot of my technique. the first guitarist in the clientele,innes phillips, had the same teacher as me, so we both grew up playing adagios and tangos and only came to playing pop music later—the way for instance george harrison played was a total mystery to us. ¶ my favourite guitarists: toquinho. argentinian folkloric guitarist atahualpa yupanqui. In the flamenco world, nino ricardo. rock guitarists stacey sutherland (13th floor elevators) ron morgan (west coast pop art experimental band), vini reilly (durutti column), maurice deebank (felt) and tom verlaine/richard lloyd. I also really rate ignacio aguilo (hacia dos veranos) and archer prewitt.

lupe: haha definitely self-taught and very limited in my knowledge. I bought a classical guitar for 27 pounds in hackney in 1999, with no previous musical experience or knowledge of what a chord was, etc. I really wanted a bass, or drums, but the guitar was much cheaper, portable. it’s handy as a way of noting a song down, but I definitely don’t consider myself ‘a guitarist’, I just write songs, and make it up as I go along. I think I’m actually a lot better at percussion; my dream is to tour the jazz circuit as a jazz drummer, maybe by the time I’m in my 70s. ¶ my favorite guitarists: probably alasdair, linton from the aislers set, sam prekop and my brother víctor, who taught me that crucial first bass line that started it all (it was “bela lugosi’s dead”).

an interview with barbara manning

there is no one else like barbara manning! when we met her back in the early ’90s, we were mad about her and went to see her all the time (she was on the cover of CF4 with tiger trap). we’ve seen less of her in recent years, which is why we cannot wait to see her play on march 21 at the bell house as part of our chickfactor 22 thing!

interview by douglas wolk & photograph by gail o’hara (taken at, oddly, douglas wolk’s wedding!)

what are your active or semi-active musical projects these days?
the musical projects that I have been working with for years, such as glands of external secretion, butte county free music society, and others continue to release limited releases. the newest release on which I contribute guitar and singing is from the group, this is yvonne lovejoy; a 45 on psychic encumbrance records called wolverine, an ode to one of the X-men heroes.

locally in long beach, I have been playing bass with a collective of friends and we call ourselves celebration of bad news. we improvise while recording the session so that we can hone in on the best parts for our song structures. my favorite element of celebration of bad news is our singer who reminds me of a female blend of both can singers, a bit of pauline oliveros, and a good splash of fearless punk rock. to have a group that faces in: we are all so eager to play and we look at each other as we play, music makes itself easily. I enjoy being a background singer or to not sing at all while I play. for me, playing this way is both relaxing and an adrenaline rush. however, as you say “semi-active” project, we only seem to be able to get together once a month. last week we had the cops called on us by a suburban neighbor which wrecked the session. now that I am a working stiff, I sure see how valuable time is. if I looked at a pie chart of my time spent being creative versus time working, I’d see why I feel creatively out of balance.

a very bright side to this creative conundrum is my husband, dan. he is always encouraging me to write songs or pick up my guitar. he is a producer from the early L.A. punk rock days. some of his best known work includes legal weapon and alice bag’s cambridge apostles and las tres. dan works on his music at home all the time. I feel that if I could just catch up with my work and sleep better hours, I would pick up my guitar to write again. and when that happens, dan is ready to record me.

what’s a record that means something very different to you now than it did 20 years ago? what changed?
when was 20 years ago? 1994??? good god. that doesn’t seem that long ago; does it to you? let me go back to that year in my head again. I was 29 years old, working at reckless records on haight street in san francisco. I was working on truth walks In sleepy shadows and nowhere had just come out. I felt like I finally had a productive, fun working band with melanie clarin, brently pusser, margaret murray as the sf seals. I got to travel to holland to record with james mcnew that year. I felt like musical success was around the corner….

okay I know! oasis’ first record!!! I used to love the first and second records because the music had a swagger and sound that made me feel confident and easy going. I was quite obsessed with noel gallagher during those couple of years. but, just the other week as I was driving along on highway 405, I put on oasis and the music just did nothing for me. I craved that old feeling you usually get from a well-loved song, but I did not feel it. so I put on television’s first record instead.

you’re an exceptional interpreter of other people’s songs. what’s a song you wish you could perform but can’t, for whatever reason?
thank you for your compliment! that means a lot to me, douglas! a song I continue to try to cover but never seem to get down is “stardust” by hoagy carmichael and mitchell parish. since 1927 it has become the most recorded song in the world. it happens to be my favorite song; this “song about a song about love.” I found out that it also was my grandfather, big rip’s favorite song and was played at my grandparent’s wedding.  It’s a “bucket list” wish of mine to record it. but I just never seem to play it smoothly enough for my liking.

you wrote “better by bounds” with george jones in mind. what other performer, past or present, would you like to write a song for, and why?
douglas, your questions are excellent and I am finding them interesting to think about and not difficult to answer.  thank you for taking your time to organize this interview.

I would really like to write a song for kendra smith to sing and record. she has been an enduring hero of mine since she influenced my singing style back in the early ’80s. especially I would like to sing behind her someday; another “bucket list” wish, but I know that she is very private and elusive. I doubt sincerely that she is aware of my existence and I don’t have any desire to disturb her.

what kinds of collaborations are you best at?
I like spontaneous collaborations, but those are impossible to plan. my mind says that I must feel comfortable with my other collaborators in order to create, but I know in my heart that isn’t necessarily an obstacle to making good music.

the album I recorded in new zealand was full of fairly spontaneous collaborations and I was not always comfortable with my collaborators. every song was recorded the day it was written, except for one I had ready to go. recording those songs was utterly terrifying because I had so much fan-admiration for the artists I worked with (graeme downes, chris knox, denise roughan and david mitchell, robert scott, david kilgour) that I was determined to make good use of their time. I did my best to connect to my musical muse so that what I contributed was open-minded and high quality. I can still listen to the songs on the album, in new zealand, and feel proud of our results.

gail tells me you’re teaching chemistry in high school these days. what are you like as a teacher? how does teaching relate to performing for you (or does it)?
wow, douglas. you are very perceptive because teaching certainly is performing and there is no worse audience than 36 bored teenagers. as a teacher I am loud, funny, informative, compassionate, caring, annoyed, fierce and sometimes inappropriate. I have a lot to learn to get where I want to be as a teacher.  one important thing I have learned within the past months is that teaching requires putting on a show, a new one, every day; and if that show bombs there is no way to close the curtain and ask the ushers to see the audience out for their refund.

what’s the most fruitful piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
to view everyone as though they are wearing a shirt that says, “please help me feel good about myself.”

barbara will play night two of chickfactor 22 at the bell house, brooklyn, on march 21.

chickfactor 22: festival of pop!

chickfactor is super-excited to announce two shows featuring 8 of its favorite bands at the bell house in brooklyn!

Thursday, March 20: 

Withered Hand
Jim Ruiz Set
Lilys
Amor de Días

Friday, March 21: 

The Clientele
Versus
Barbara Manning
The Saturday People

Doors 7pm, showtime 8pm. $20 advance; $25 at the door; advance two-day pass $40.
Tickets on sale at noon EST Monday, Feb 3!
Also will be available at Other Music.

Thursday, March 20

WITHERED HAND From Edinburgh and led by Dan Willson, the ace band has a brand-new second album, New Gods, coming out March 25 on Slumberland Records. It was produced by Tony Doogan (Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, The Pastels) and features a stellar array of guests including members of Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, Black Tambourine and The Vaselines. New Gods also features CF cofounder Pam Berry and a song called “Black Tambourine”! New single.

JIM RUIZ SET Hailing from Minneapolis, the legendary Jim Ruiz & Co. often play at CF parties. They released Mount Curve Avenue, their third LP, in 2012 and on vinyl in 2013 on Shelflife Records. Their jazzy Max Eider-influenced pop has always made us swoon. Tonight’s lineup is Jim Ruiz, Emily Ruiz on drums, Allison Labonne on bass, and Kim Serene on marimba and accordian. (Interview in CF9)

LILYS / KURT HEASLEY Super-talented East Coast (mostly DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania) songwriter Kurt Heasley has been putting out records as Lilys since 1991 that feature a noisy brand of pop we love. He has been working on some new material and will play some of that tonight.

AMOR DE DÍAS The London-based duo featuring Lupe Núñez-Fernández (Pipas) and Alasdair Maclean (see The Clientele) hasn’t toured in the US since 2011. They released a brilliant second album called The House at Sea on Merge Records in January 2013. The combination of Spanish guitar, English melancholy, the spirit of Gal Costa and a touch of cinematic magic makes them one of the most intriguing songwriting pairs working today. They’re currently making their third album. Recent track!

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Friday, March 21

THE CLIENTELE Originally from Hampshire and now London, the Clientele is one of our fave pop acts of all time. This lineup featuring Alasdair Maclean, James Hornsey on bass and Mark Keen on drums hasn’t played together since 2005. The group hasn’t played in the US since 2010. These three got back in the studio for the first time since 2010 to record a new 7″ single for the Merge Records Thousands of Prizes thing, which is their first new material in 4 years. (interviewed in CF13)

VERSUS Many associate this band with ’90s indie rock but they put out a pretty bad-ass LP on Merge Records in 2010 titled On the Ones and Threes. Another “chickfactor house band,” Versus has switched off members over the years but this year will be the handsome Baluyut brothers Richard and Ed and foxy Fontaine Toups (CF Cover Girl issue 6).

BARBARA MANNING Barbara Manning used to be the poster girl for San Francisco, and has participated in some of the best pop music ever (with 28th Day, World of Pooh, SF Seals) and especially as a solo artist. She’s currently living in Long Beach and is a high-school chemistry teacher! We are very happy to have her on the lineup. CF Cover Girl issue 4.

THE SATURDAY PEOPLE This fab DC pop group hasn’t played in a while! Featuring the original lineup, which was Terry Banks (Dot Dash, Tree Fort Angst, glo-worm); Dan Searing (glo-worm); Greg Pavlovcak (Ropers); and Ara Hacopian. Interviewed in CF15.

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chickfactor fanzine was started in 1992 by pam berry and gail o’hara in d.c./nyc.