Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Will Sheff Goes Home

Posted By on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Page 3 of 3


It’s been troubling to watch things move in a direction where people don’t even question it anymore. It feels old-fashioned, like you said, to even mention the ideals that informed the scene early on.
Well, these things go in cycles, you know? I think part of what set us up for the situation that we’re in now, culturally, and within the scene, is that at a certain point indie rock became really, really unfun. It was like eating your vegetables or doing your homework. There were great songwriters like Will Oldham or Chan Marshall or Bill Callahan who paved the way for much worse songwriters. I remember going to shows in the late 90s, and there’d just be one guy hammering on an out-of-tune guitar with only three strings, playing two chords and singing about his breakup with his girlfriend for 15 minutes, and there’d be no melody. It was pretentious, and there’d be a bunch of kids sitting cross-legged on the floor with thrift-store sweaters on, and it was the lamest scene in the universe and the least exciting thing and the least sexy thing and just not fun at all. And I think that had become so entrenched. There was a pretentiousness to it, this sense that music should be good for you. The way I think of it, the first wave of very aggressively lifestyle indie-rock bands were the dance-punk bands. When those bands came along, they just knocked all those thrift-store sweater kids to the ground, because people had forgotten what it felt like to dance, and they forgot what it felt like to have fun. That’s why Pitchfork was suddenly flipping out over dance music. People were so bored.

It’s a real balance, though, because when you start getting into the whole contingent of people who look at bands like The Lumineers or The Black Keys, or whatever bands people are talking about when they say, “That’s real music, man”—if you’re desperately searching for quote-unquote real music, and you’re locating it in white guys playing blues riffs, or you’re locating it in an instrument that’s made of wood, I think you’re

barking up the wrong tree. But at the same time, if you’re looking at a group that’s just a 21-year-old who has a laptop with the program Ableton Live loaded on it, and he’s literally just mousing a bunch of presets, and that’s all he’s doing… that’s kind of disgusting, too. It’s a fine line. We can’t forget that we’re supposed to be having fun, and that this is pop music and not a museum piece. I always try to put a lot of substance into my work, but I also try to put a lot of fun into it. You’re not supposed to get to this point where you’re wondering whether it’s weird that you’re not enjoying what you’re listening to, or where you’re just recycling old stuff because it sounds like it’s legit.

The Silver Gymnasium is driven by stories from your own childhood, so there are obviously some elements of nostalgia, which is another big part of what’s going on in music and the culture as a whole. What we see a lot, though, is people creating these sort of vaguely 90s-ish vibes and sort of vaguely remembering this time that they probably weren’t actually old enough to remember in any meaningful way. But your new songs are packed with very specific details and facts and fleshed-out stories. How important to you was that distinction?
Well, that’s a distinction I do want to make. It would be disgusting if this record was just me being like, “My childhood was so cool!” That’s not really the point. The point is I believe that if you get really personal and heartfelt with your own material, that people are going to respond to it because people are similar and people can relate. Hopefully people who grew up in the 80s can relate, but hopefully people who grew up in the 90s can relate, too, and hopefully people who grew up in the 50s can relate. Like, I relate to The Nightfly by Donald Fagen, which was about growing up in the 50s. My autobiographical material, you can just think of it as the wood that you throw into the locomotive. You’re trying to get somewhere, and it just so happens that when you use some gross old wood, the locomotive’s gonna go extra fast, because you’re putting in real stuff that’s deeply meaningful. Although a lot of it is meaningful to only me. There are things in these songs where I don’t think anyone, not even my brother or sister, would know what the hell I’m talking about. Those things are put in out of the faith that there will be a charge that comes out of it. Not necessarily where people will literally know what I’m talking about, but where they feel a crackle of electricity that comes off of it. A lot of what I’m talking about, when you break it down, is standard memory stuff—you know, looking back on your life from a later date. But because it’s very specific to me, hopefully it feels lived in and authentic, as opposed to cookie-cutter, general nostalgia, which is something that seems to be smothering the culture right now. It’s a minefield that I walked through with every single thing related to The Silver Gymnasium, trying to avoid a knee-jerk, BuzzFeed nostalgia, or a twee, ukulele nostalgia and try to go for the real stuff that sort of smells a little bit, if that makes any sense. •

Will Sheff
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Will Sheff

By Roger Kisby

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