- Posted on Mar 16th 2011 2:30PM by Tara Lacey
As frontman Will Sheff promises Spinner, 'I Am Very Far,' due out May 10, will be the band's proudest project to date. Pushing his mind "to places it doesn't want to go," he found his inner audience among his greatest musings for musical and lyrical experimentation. With a Grammy nomination and serious studio time to kick off 2011, Sheff looks forward to getting back to what he considers his greatest challenge and ultimate reward as a songwriter -- winning over live audiences night after night.
Okkervil River, 'Wake and Be Fine' off 'I Am Very Far'
You were recently at the Grammy Awards for writing the liner notes to Roky Erickson's 'True Love Cast Out All Evil.' What was your favorite part of that experience?
I thought the stage set was really cool with that weird Muppets thing. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the first time I ever saw Elton John in my life on 'The Muppet Show.' I love Elton John so much.
How did being there as a nominee feel for you?
If you obsess over things like that, you taint your work and what you are trying to do -- you're either devastated if you don't win, or, if you do win, you think "I'm amazing, I can do no wrong." Both of those things are bad.
How did working as a producer for Roky Erickson help you on Okkervil River's new album?
From a production standpoint, working with Roky was really very fun. He's a wild and wooly kind of guy, and you can get away with all kinds of crazy stuff. He's also such a wild card that I had to really learn my s--- when it came to production. It was a boot camp sort of experience.
From the standpoint of songwriting, Roky was more influential. I was not trying to write songs like Roky, but I was really inspired by his overall courageousness to be completely spontaneous and intuitive with his songwriting and the broadness of the things that he writes about. The weird, beautiful, spiritual vibe to it -- not just to his writing but to him -- all rubs off on you even if you don't mean for it to.
How would you describe the overall effect you are going for with the new album's sound?
I try not to articulate what I want. I feel like if I had gone into a record with a specific idea, I would make something small that was not satisfying to me after it was done. I want it to be a whole. I want the songs to have a presence to them that is self-contained.
I will say that the lyrics on this record are my favorite that we've ever had on a record. I'm incredibly proud of the lyrics. I feel like I did something that I've been trying and failing to do previously.
How do you think the songs will translate onstage?
I'm curious about that, and I honestly don't really know. We haven't played many of these songs live and every one of the songs is incredibly challenging to play. In the studio, we had a hard enough time trying to record them so getting onstage and trying to make them work live, it's going to have to be a different approach for every single song. There are still songs I'm trying to figure out how the hell they're going to work when we are standing onstage trying to do it. As far as the effect on the audience, we'll just have to see.
For right now, I'm focused on going out and playing these songs for people. Playing in front of an audience is a blast. It's challenging -- every single audience is a challenge. It's kind of like picking somebody up at a bar, how you're trying to figure out the best way to appeal to them. You try to find the one thing that you can do to win them over to your side somehow and once you manage to get all those people caught up in the same moment that you are caught up in it's a powerful thing. It's special.
Will you be playing these songs at SXSW?
Yeah, we will definitely be doing the new stuff live at SXSW for sure. This year I think we are playing four shows, two official showcases.
How many appearances at SXSW does 2011's make for you?
Oh my God! I would be surprised if it was less than seven -- it could be eight or nine. I'm really bad at anything to do with numbers at all.
How has the festival benefited you over the years?
Well, we found our label at SXSW, Jagjaguwar. They were the only label that was interested in signing us. I had sent CDs to every label I had ever heard of and every one of them had either written a letter declining or just didn't respond at all. Jagjaguwar wanted to see us play so we played our showcase for SXSW in 2000 and they signed us, so that's probably the best thing that ever came out of SXSW for us.
We've grown up together. They were not as big of a label when they signed us, and we were a nobody band. We were all kids. They've gone on tour with us and when I call them, they pick up after one ring. If I was on a major label, that wouldn't happen. You have to be a band that the label really wants to make it work on a major label. I much prefer working with my friends.