On Nashville, songwriting, and that little ol’
band called Lambchop.
BY MICHAEL D. AYERS
With Lambchop’s 10th album, OH (ohio), due next week from
Merge, we sat down with frontman and songwriter Kurt Wagner a few feet away
from the famous arch that anchors down the north side of Washington
in New York City. His disposition is exactly like what you’d
come to expect from one of the mellower guys from the alt-country/country-soul
scene: he’s polite, unassuming, and soft-spoken, as his fans have come to know
him as. It could be argued that his laid-back
nature has been a consistent factor in why Lambchop’s flown under the radar for
so long. Or, on the flipside, why Lambchop
BLURT: You’ve been in
I grew up there. I’ve
been there since the early 60’s. I moved
away from there for about ten years, but other than that, I’ve been there most
of my life.
BLURT: Nashville has been looked
at over the years, as such a wide open place for one to turn to country
music. What over the years, about Nashville, have you found
I think part of what we found interesting – when Lambchop
started doing stuff – we were basically all from Nashville.
Grew up there, lived there. We
weren’t from somewhere else. So, we sort
of reflected what it would be like to be a native Nashvillian, playing music,
as opposed to someone who grew up somewhere else, and coming there and doing
it. We were just sort of reacting to
that. There was this sort of context
that was unique in a way – you didn’t hear that. Most of the stuff that was going on in Nashville – there were very few artists that were from Nashville. White Stripes say they’re from Nashville, but hey, they
just moved there, you know? Kings of
Leon, they’re from a little town outside of Nashville, and I don’t know how long they’ve
been there. They could be from somewhere
else. But we are actually are, and in a
way, I thought that was interesting.
From that notion, we kind of went from that to, “Well, what
is about Nashville?” We were fascinated with the concept of
country music, and the facilities in which they used to record it. As I learned more and more about Nashville through other people in the band, there’s a lot
of other things that people don’t associate with Nashville.
Like, the fact that it was one of the fermenting places of the civil
rights movements. The lunch counter sit-ins. The guys from Fisk University,
and how they would come over, and would do this lunch counter thing, and they
became good organizers, and became major forces of the civil rights
movement. Guys from Nashville, kids from college. The fact that they have the WLAC there – they
had broadcasts of great, R&B and soul music, coming out of Hillbillytown, U.S.A. So, I guess, we were being really goofy, and
this was just country music- at least conceptually. Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but, then it
just got taken seriously.
BLURT: The more I
talk to people that live there, its much more diverse than the general
Well, it’s become more and more so. Certainly, in the ‘60s it was not very
diverse, pretty much as you’d expect.
Southern town, very narrow.
BLURT: One of the
things that’s drawn me to your music: the vocal delivery, and the music sounds
so serious. Except there is so much
absurdity – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. For example, on the new record, “Of Raymond”
and “National Talk Like A Pirate Day.” It seems like you’ve always liked to
dive into the absurdities of modern American culture.
Well, you know, I have this way of writing that ends up being
kind of confusing. In that lies the absurdity
I think you’re picking up on. I have
these sort of weird ways of writing, that are logical to me, but are weird in
that I include factual information from experience – that makes sense to me,
but maybe not makes sense to everyone else.
Or, a lot of times, I go “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about
there, but it felt right.” Either way,
it ends up cloaking a lot of these sadder, deeper ideas, which I think the
music reinforces as much as anything.
I think that’s a decision the various members of Lambchop
[make] – they hear a song, and they try to figure out from their
perspective. It’s always funny; they’ll
have completely different notions about what the songs are about. Or they’ll think it’s about them (laughs).
I think in a way, that’s kind of cool.
I look at other people’s work, too, and it doesn’t make sense to
me. So, I’m like, “why is mine anymore
ridiculous than that?” I take the
endeavor seriously, it’s just not that important if you get it.
BLURT: I don’t think
anyone can accuse you of being disingenuous.
I really love the act of writing, and I think it’s a really
great way, this great form of expression – it has a lot of possibilities. It’s just how open you are to trying other
things. For me, it’s still fun.