The Old 97s’ bespectacled bassist, songwriter and resident yodeler takes five from us. (Originally published Sept. 10, 2008)
1.) What’s your favorite Beatles song and why?
“Tomorrow Never Knows.” I first heard it when I was six, and it was just so imaginative and other-worldly. The sounds and everything just amazed me. I got Revolver as a Christmas gift that year – my parents had asked my brother which albums to get me, so I got that and Paul McCartney’s Ram, but it was ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ that really blew me away. Even though I didn’t know or understand what they were talking about, it just sounded incredible. I played that to death. And “Yellow Submarine,” of course, because it’s a kid’s song.
2.) Who are three songwriters—living or dead—that you wish you could sit down and write a song with?
I’m gonna say Sarah Carter, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Sarah didn’t write much, but what she did was kind of those church recipe book lyrics, which I thought were great. Hank is so far up on the pedestal. Johnny’s a little more down to earth, but he was so clever. But I think of the three, Sarah would be the closest to what I do.
3.) If you had to pick one song that you’ve written that you really think sums you up as a songwriter, what would that be?
Most of the stuff is in the past, but I suppose “Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue” is the closest to being a full representation. If you can imagine—and I told the guys as we were going to record it—Patsy Cline standing up and singing in front of Oasis. It’s got the sad kind of country thing, but I also wanted it to sound like Noel Gallagher was back there. It’s very rootsy, but it also has its head in the clouds, which is very me.
4.) What’s the one song that you wish you could’ve written?
In answering that, I suppose you have to look at it like you wish you could’ve written it, but given the chance, you also could have. I suppose it would be “I Saw the Light” by Hank Williams.
5.) Is there anything you’re listening to these days that you’re particularly digging?
I’m actually going through a period where I can’t listen to anything with words in it. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Stars of the Lid, some choral music and this kind of Buddhist, new age kind of throat singing. Not that real throat singing, but stuff like David Hykes and Jim Cole. It’s the spaciest music you’ll ever hear. I’m also taking books on tape, so I’ll have the new David Sedaris with me, and probably Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics. Because I need to hear some hope about the new evangelicals, and get away from this Neo-Con stuff.