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Okkervil River - Interview

  by Darrell Angus

published: 15 / 2 / 2003

Okkervil River - Interview


Okkervil River's debut album 'Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See' was one of the best indie folk releases of last year. Darrell Angus speaks to group leader Will Robinson Sheff about the band's rise and rapidly increasing profile

There is a reason I put Okkervil River's 'Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See' as Number 1 on my Top Ten of 2002, and that is that's its a damn fine record. One that I will listen to for years to come. High and lonesome? You bet. Down and dirty? Absolutely. I recently had the chance to talk to frontman, Will Robinson Sheff, about his artistic endeavours. PB : Tell me how Okkervil River came together. WRS : Seth Warren (the drummer-Ed) and I both grew up in the same tiny 500-person town of Meriden, New Hampshire.  My parents taught at a local prep. school that Seth went to as a "townie" day student and Zach Thomas (Okkervil River's bassist-Ed) attended as a boarder.  We became friends and formed a lot of bands, always talking about how great it would be to have a "real" band.  Years later, when we were all getting ready to leave our respective colleges and weren't sure what the hell we were going to do with our lives (myself especially), Seth and I came up with the harebrained scheme of relocating to Austin (where Zach was living), living together, and playing music.  That's what we did, struggling from shitty gig to shitty gig as a three-piece band (acoustic guitar, bass/mandolin, and drums).  Later on, we met Jonathan Meiburg- who played electric guitar in a band that opened for us once - and asked him to join the band as the accordion player.  Soon he sort of became the catch-all "keyboardist", playing Wurlitzer, organ, and piano as well. PB : For me, your songs are very lyric-driven. The imagery you evoke is quite clear. How do you go about writing songs? WRS : It's hard to say, and the process often varies quite a bit.  Usually, though, I come up with lyrics and melody (and chords) at about the same time and then shape it a bit after the fact.  If I'm lucky, a lyric will just sort of pop into my head and suggest a melody and then the song will sort of write itself from there. PB : Pick three records that inspire you. What made you pick up a guitar in the first place? WRS : I guess that what made me pick up a guitar in the first place is that there's not a hell of a lot to do in a small town.  Playing music is fun and a great way to keep from expiring of sheer boredom. Plus, I suspect that things that might seem trivial to a more jaded city-dwelling teenager can occasionally assume massive, all-encompassing importance to a kid from a small town.  The world of music sort of sucked me in when I was in high school; I probably would have been willing to lay down my life to defend the validity of some record by, say, the Incredible String Band.  That stuff was more important to me than the Bible, and because I was from a small town I thought nobody in the world had ever heard of it before and it existed just for me.  I miss that feeling. I guess that three records that continually inspire me are the Incredible Sting Band's 'Wee Tam', Neil Young's 'Tonight's the Night', and Lou Reed's 'Berlin'.  They're all really adventurous and emotionally direct. PB : The scene in Austin, Texas, where you were until recently based, seems abundant with talent. I hear you've now headed West to San Francisco...Any reason in particular? WRS : We just thought it would be fun to go somewhere different.  Plus, we're friends of John Vanderslice and admired the work he'd done at Tiny Telephone with Scott Solter.  It seemed like it might be neat to get a change of scenery and work under totally different conditions - and it is. PB : Tell me about your other project, Shearwater WRS : Shearwater is a band I formed with Jonathan, in which we share singing and songwriting duties (whereas Okkervil River songs are written and sung by me).  Jonathan's wife Kim plays upright bass and our friend Thor (from the Swans/Angels of Light) plays drums and vibraphone.  In general it's a quieter band with shorter songs in more of a Tim Hardin/Nick Drake vein.  Stuff to listen to before you go to bed or after you wake up.  We have two records - one's on Grey Flat and the other's on Misra.  Album three will be produced by Mike Mogis and probably have a few surprises - it's coming out after the next Okkervil River LP. PB : Whats next? new record? tour? WRS : In May we're releasing a split album we just finished with Julie Doiron.  It'll be released on the Spanish label Acuarela in Europe.  Later in the year we'll be releasing Okkervil River album three.  And we'll be doing a bit of touring, too, both in Europe and the states.  It should be a pretty busy year for both bands. PB : Thank you

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Okkervil River - Interview

Okkervil River - Interview

Okkervil River - Interview

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