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Bill Callahan - Interview

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 28 / 7 / 2009

Bill Callahan - Interview


Bill Callahan recently abandoned his Smog moniker to start releasing albums under his own name. He talks to Chris O' Toole about the change of name and also his music

A midcareer epiphany – leading to the retirement of the macabre Smog moniker – has seen Bill Callahan morph into a lighter, breezier version of himself. Despite anticipating a decline in his fortunes following the change the reborn Callahan has seen his critical stock rise to an all time high. Now mixing the black humour and graceful song-writing of his earlier work with a new glossier version of his updated persona, Callahan is courting a new audience, while still revelling in the adoration of the old. Here he talks Pennyblackmusic through the change, explaining the impact his art has on his life and offers a glimpse into what the future holds. PB: The name change from Smog to Bill Callahan appears to have indicated a change in direction in your work; away from the wry, abrasive work of your earlier years to the accessible, almost traditional work of 'Woke on a Whaleheart' and your latest alabum 'Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle'. How did this come about? Does it reflect a change in your personal circumstances? BC: Smog was about an essence in the world -forces, fields, entities, lores, persona. Bill Callahan is about being a man in the world. I am going to tell you what it is like to be a man. PB: How have your fans who are a loyal bunch reacted to this? Is it viewed as a positive change for you, or do they still pine for older material when you perform live? BC: There has been no lopping off of the old material. It's all game. I may be gently approaching it in a new manner, but it's still in the set and still in my heart. I will never tire of playing those old songs. PB: Personally, do you feel the loss of the Smog persona has affected you? Is it harder performing as yourself without the latent protection? Did you ever consider dropping the name before? Will you be going back to it? BC: In the words of Fleetwood Mac, I'm never going back. I stopped thinking about the name, unconsciously. Then I sort of woke up and realized I still had the name and that's what people were receiving me as and I didn't like it, so I changed it. PB: This change has also coincided with an upsurge in interest in your music. Has that surprised you? BC: It surprised me. I was expecting to sink from view and exist underwater for a few years. PB: Your earlier work was dissonant and 'poorly' recorded, but your most recent output has a sheen and performance to it. Was that a deliberate choice or a reflection of your financial constraints? BC: I was learning how to make records. I took it into my own hands at first until I could get a firm grasp of the process, or, as much as you can grasp this mystery birthing. I was extremely naive at first. My goals were not goals that most people have. PB: How does it work with your long-term label Drag City? You have been quite prolific, but is it just down to you to put out what you want when you want,or do they have a schedule for you? BC: I just tell them when I'm ready to make a record. They may prod me from time to time, but it really does no good. I mean, it's nice to hear they still care after all these years. I wonder what they're going to get me for our 20th Anniversary. Probably nothing. I work on music daily and give them a finished product as soon as I can. PB: Did you have any role with Joanna Newsom's signing to Drag City? She seemed to come out of nowhere and is now all over television. There is a huge amount of expectation on her third album. Do you have any insider information on that? BC: I had nothing to do with it. We toured together before she was on the label, but it was imminent that they would ask her. I think info on her next album is up to her to disperse as she chooses, not me. Just enjoy the anticipation... PB: Who is in the band for your forthcoming tour? Is Thor Harris of Shearwater still involved? They have been getting a great deal of deserved exposure recently. BC: It's Luis Martinez on drums and Jaime Zuverza on guitar and Kris Youmans on cello nwho played on my record, and Andra Kulans playing a home made violin. There will also be a cheetah on stage for the first night, for a few seconds at least. I can't control him after that. PB: Thank you.

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Bill Callahan - Interview

Bill Callahan - Interview

Bill Callahan - Interview

Bill Callahan - Interview

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live reviews

Union Chapel, London, 20/8/2009
Bill Callahan - Union Chapel, London, 20/8/2009
Chris O'Toole finds former Smog star, Bill Callahan, despite a new found buoyancy, aloof and rigid with his audience at a show at the Union Chapel in London
Brixton Academy, London, 21/7/2009


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