23 July 2007

"The sun is always setting just a little further west."

Okkervil River have steadily become one of my favorite bands with a steady stream of spectacular content, mastering the balance between quality and quantity. They put on a spirited live show where their version of folk-punk really shines largely courtesy of their charismatic front man and songwriter, Will Sheff. Aside from his howling and leg kicks in the band's most electrified songs (it's easy to mistake them for a straight up rock band when they really get going), Sheff can also write a fragile ballad in the tradition of his folk idols like Van Morrison and John Prine. Sheff is also a critic (both music and film) so I hold him on a pretty high pedestal in terms of musicians who are the total package. Last week I got to talk to Sheff on the phone and lets just say I wasn't let down. The man is articulate, intelligent and most of all humble. We got to talk a lot of the band's new record, The Stage Names, which I've loved from the start but gets better with every listen. When the record comes out on August 7th, I beg you to pick up a copy. Here's a little bit of my cover-story feature on Sheff and the band:

After completing his masterpiece, 2005's Black Sheep Boy, in rural Indiana, Okkervil River front man and songwriter Will Sheff decided he needed a change of scenery if he was going to tackle the task of a writing a worthy follow-up to the majestic and mythical LP. And where better to bunker down than Brooklyn, New York, where like-minded buzz bands The National and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah crafted their similarly anticipated, post-break out albums as fickle fans braced for a let down. But on his pilgrimage, Sheff encountered a bit of metaphysical inspiration courtesy of American poet John Berryman.

"On a whim I decided to stop in Minnesota to visit the Washington Avenue Bridge [the site of Berryman's 1972 suicide]. I had a really profound experience standing there trying to imaginatively leap, and get into Berryman's brain at the moment. There's a lot to say about standing in the last place a person stood while alive," says Sheff on the phone from a Brooklyn bar. "I love John Berryman and I was reading him a lot while I was doing Black Sheep Boy. I think Berryman influenced how I wrote that album in some sort of weird way." Read more...


Sheff provided a lot of insight about the record and his songwriting and I hope some of that came through in the piece. Also, if anyone is interested I do have our entire interview transcribed and I'd be happy to let anyone read it.

This is the last song on the album, "John Allyn Smith Sails" about John Berryman and we ended up talking a lot about this, much of which ended up in the article.


And for any huge Okkervil fans, here's a really lo-fi live recording of Will playing album opener "Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe" solo. Good for obsessives, but again, the sound quality is not the best.


Okkervil River Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe (Will Sheff solo)

and the studio version...

Okkervil River Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe

Pre-order The Stage Names and receive access to a free album download

1 comment:

Roland said...

http://www.stereogum.com/archives/video/mandy-moore-covers-rihanna.html

I'm a fan.