The Skype tone rings.
[Gregory] Hello, Alex?
Good! I’ve been home for a few days now having being away for a couple of months playing some shows. It is nice to be back and just stare out of the window for a few days.
Yea, I went to high school on the East Coast where we travelled around a lot, but in terms of South Africa I don’t have much more than little-kid memories. I remember our driveway being a couple of miles long and then going back and realising it was 5 feet or something - things like that. It was a crazy place to be a kid because it is the most beautiful country, where you could run outside and pick mangos and avocadoes, but then there was the political climate, which provided a sense of real warning. There were always warnings over certain places.
It came together pretty quickly. I wrote a lot of pro’s as part of a series of short stories and one of the stories was about a weatherman. The story involves a woman in New Mexico who’s crazy and talks to herself. She has conversations with a weatherman on TV, and he tells her what was going to happen. It got me thinking. It is am amazing thing that we know what is going to happen with the weather tomorrow, but nobody gives a shit! The record is about finding mundane miracles.
It felt scary, like a drastic tangent. I’d been writing lo-fi rock and roll songs before that. Then all of a sudden this dreamy folk record came along. If I am really honest, I don’t know if my writing has gotten better, or whether it has been evolutionary, but we are always trying to find something new in our work. In that sense releasing work is always a risk.
I was in The UK in October last year and we had a great time. I had a limited view on the place, though. Travelling as a musician can be tough when all you see is green rooms. Musically I feel like the bar is higher in the UK and people will give more time and attention to art. The songs that people ask to hear are so different to what I usually get and they are usually some of my favorites, that are a bit more subtle.
I use a turntable and I get into playing a whole side for a week, then I’ll flip it over and listen to the other side for a week. When I’ve completely finished with it then I will change. Right now it is our buddy Sanders Bohlke. He opened in a run for us in the mid-west. He is a great human being and musician. The last one was Leonard Cohen ‘Songs’. It is one of my favourite records ever. I don’t think I could even name the songs on it, I’ve listened to it so many times that I don’t even know whether I’m listening to it anymore. It just makes me feel like I’m at home.
That is a really interesting point. The songs have a mind of their own and they’re often a product of the taking in of your environment. I tend to travel around, eat a bunch of experiences, read some poems, see things and then throw it up in a song. That said, I can pick out the travelling songs really easily, and I almost shy away from it now because there is only so much of a travelling experience that a listener can identify with. Love songs are similar in the way that they are almost put in a box – categorised.
When I think of folk music I think of Elizabeth Cotton, not Nick Drake, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. When I think about how people categorise folk, bearing in mind the heritage the music has, I am reminded of a time when I listened to a radio show about folk music and people got really up in arms about what the hosts were describing as folk, as they didn’t think it fitted their interpretation. I was like “Oh, this really matters!”
Messy! There are amps everywhere. Some tumbleweed I’ve been saving. A table with a lamp on, and a couple of books that I’m reading. One is Billy Collins’ new book, which I love. The other is ‘How to grow More Vegetables’.
I went to school for horticulture, but I like reading reference material, more so than literature. I’ve got a few tools lying around, but that is about it. We just had a big flood in Colorado, which was crazy. We lost a lot of stuff. I can almost fit everything I own into the van, which feels amazing. I’ve been freed. People are weirdly sentimental about things. Do you really need this felt pinecone that your friend made in elementary school, or that camera that worked for a little while, but doesn’t now?
Oh, like, um, I mean… today! It is funny, Jamie Mefford and I were working on a record for a year and a half, and there were a lot of heavy distorted songs and fast tempo rock and roll songs. Then we tried to track The Weatherman Stuff. When we compared the takes we did for The Weatherman to the ones that we had slaved over for months to try to get the perfect sound we were shocked by how well the rough takes came across in The Weatherman. We would go with something that felt good over a more perfect take. I feel like I may have fooled my listeners a little bit, because the chilled stuff is definitely not the full gambit of what I produce.
Maybe not that, but I think I have a mad scientist energy. I am pretty mellow person. I can’t remember the last angry blow up!
I’ve got some time off, and then I’m out on tour with Josh Ritter. We’re doing like 30 shows.
It doesn’t sound like that many to me now, but it is a lot! I suppose it is like 5 weeks.
It is both. I have probably played over a thousand shows, but I still feel completely scared shitless every time, just like it is the first time. I am way more comfortable with the feeling now, meaning I don’t resist it. Once it starts it is always great. I let go, and become consumed. It is funny, I make my records for one person. I imagine performing them to a single person on a train, or driving a car, and then on stage there I am playing them to a whole crowd, which is a whole different medium. I feel like some things are then lost in the songs, but that they also take on a lot from that atmosphere.
I don’t know about that, but there are times when I turn into another listener and the songs I’m playing will feel like covers. It is an odd feeling. The coolest thing about writing music is the idea that you are going to help someone feel something. You will get into their lives - provide a mood or a soundtrack. I love the idea of my music becoming theirs. Once I write something then I feel like a very much give it away, for other people to make their own.
The first one I can think of is when I’m 19, just starting out. I got the chance to support one of my hero’s - his name is Kelly Joe Phelps. It was the most surreal experience. We travelled up the southeast and went al the way up. I didn’t say a word on stage, or open my eyes once. He is not a big talker either, but we got on like a house on fire. We’d hang out in the green room, share a bottle of wine, not speak and then he would say: “Alright kid, your turn”. I’d always watch him play from the back of the room. He is a master, one of those people whose music makes you want to either drink a lot or find a church.