Patterson Hood / Will Johnson :: The AD Interview

It’s been a minute, but with both Patterson Hood and Will Johnson having solo records out this week (Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance and Scorpion, respectively), it seemed like a good time to bring back Longshots — an AD feature in which we step back and let artists interview one another. I kick things off with the first question, before stepping back and letting the guys get into it.

Aquarium Drunkard: What are you presently enjoying, music-wise?

Patterson Hood: Father John Misty’s Fear Fun album has been my feel-good hit of the summer. The War on Drugs is as great a band and album as it is terrible idea for political policy. I’ve been really digging this new album by this kid named Will Johnson. It’s called Scorpion and I can’t quit listening to it.

Will Johnson: Transparent Music 2 by BJ Cole, Madlib’s Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2, My good friend Patterson’s tremendous new LP, The Lijadu Sisters’ Danger, and the new Bonnie “Prince” Billy EP.

WJ: Alright, just real quick, would you rather:

A. Have to go back in time and, from the control room, endure the entire vocal tracking session (including all backing vocals) for Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It“, or

B. As quick as you wish, stab and remove a 2-inch sewing needle through the web of skin between your forefinger and thumb on the hand of your choice? No ice would be allowed before the lancing, but you’d be given a cloth and the ice, and would be offered immediate counsel thereafter for either experience.

PH: I think that Billy Joel song came out after I installed my ACME Sonic Bullshit Filter and therefore I don’t think I have ever head it, but I’m imagining you would have to be talking a song that was on or beyond the “Uptown Girl” level of horridness or else you wouldn’t ask (“Uptown Girl” was pre-installation and therefore I heard it a LOT and really hated it). That said, I really hate any form of physical pain and especially when it involves my hands and fingers, so in this case I’m going to have to chance the Billy Joel song. (On a side note, I saw my piano player, Jay Gonzalez, play Billy Joel one Halloween and knock out a totally badass version of “Pressure” while in character and it was pretty great. I’ve also always given BJ credit for being the first mainstream artist that I know of to use the work “masturbate” in a song and not try to hide behind some semi-clever (or not) innuendo like “Whip It” or “Blinded By The Light”. [In “Captain Jack,” 1973, a full eleven years before Prince sang of “Darlin’ Nikki“.] Correct answer: A.

WJ: Let’s say Springsteen is voted in for the presidency. You are invited to come play two songs of yours at his inauguration. He’s gonna join you and back you up. What songs would you play?

PH: I’d have to play “The Living Bubba” because it’s my best piece of writing and I’d want to show off my A game to The Boss. I might throw in the title cut from my new album [Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance] because I’m very proud of it and it’s new. I’d also really want to play our cover of “State Trooper” because it kicks total ass and I can’t imagine Bruce hearing it and not thinking it was fucking awesome! And he knows that one.

WJ: Was there ever a point where you got into the music of Rush?

PH: I take it you are referring to that long lost album Mr. Rush Limbaugh made while strung out on Viagra, Oxycontin and anally-inserted vodka tampons. No, I have not listened to that and hope I never have to. I’d way prefer to listen to Billy Joel cover and slaughter the entire Phil Collins Face Value album.

WJ: If you got to take full credit for making any movie in history, which one would it be?

PH: I’d love to be involved in making a movie as kick ass as Chinatown, Dog Day Afternoon or Network (which coincidently came out in the consecutive years of ’74 to ‘76) but I can’t imagine trying to take credit for someone else’s genius. Right now I’m a little obsessed with Beasts of the Southern Wild. What an incredible movie.

WJ: If you had to let music go today and were given appropriate time, funding, and any necessary schooling or training to immerse yourself in another profession, what would it be?

PH: Filmmaking. Writing and directing. Someday.

WJ: I can’t believe I’ve never asked you this one in our years of friendship — have you ever been in an all-out fistfight? If so, how did it go down?

PH: Yes. I actually nearly got into a fistfight back in June in DC. Some jar-headed son of a bitch actually shoved me on a sightseeing bus while I was holding my two-year-old son in my arms (and he was screaming the whole time) and we ended up outside the bus screaming obscenities at each other while my kids screamed. Fortunately he walked away because he would have killed me and I was so fucking mad I would have given him that opportunity. I punched a former guitar player at a bar in New York City one night and nearly punched another guitar player in Brooklyn a few years later. My last actual fight was in 6th grade and I had my ass beat.

WJ: Two weeks from tonight I have you booked at the 40 Watt to play an hour-long tribute show. You get to assemble the band of your choice, living or dead. Who’d be in the band, and who would you pay tribute to?

PH: That one actually already happened in my charmed fucking life. I assembled a smoking band to pay tribute to REM for a fundraiser and they all ended up getting up there with us. Peter Buck even wrote about it in his liner notes to REM’s Live at The Olympia. I still geek out thinking about that one.

WJ: Other than the obvious talents of guitar playing and songwriting, what ability does Mike Cooley have that would considered be closest thing to a superpower?

PH: It pains me to say this, but probably his ability to be right just about all of the time. He would probably take exception to me sayin’ something about it and he’s probably right there, but as I say…pain. Especially when what he’s right about involves me being wrong and then he proves it and makes me admit it. It’s terrible. When we first met, he was almost never right, but now he’s never wrong. For at least ten years, maybe well longer, he’s been right every single time that I can think of. Goddamn him.

WJ: If you got to be the frontperson for any band in history for one show, which band would you choose to front?

PH: One week I got to be the frontperson for Drive-By Truckers. It was kind of overrated.

WJ: Just real quick, this one: If you could have any car from any era in pristine condition with a lifetime supply of fuel, what kind of car would it be? The one stipulation is that every time you get in to drive it, Sting is sitting shotgun. You have to drive everywhere with Sting. You are always the driver/listener. He is the talker. Now that I think about it you might not need the fuel, since with him riding shotgun the car might run on arrogance. But anyway, it’s a really, really cool car. Would you still take the car? Do you think you could find any way to make this scenario work for you?

PH: Only if it was a DeLorean connected to that time machine and could take him back to Regatta de Blanc and leave him there.

WJ: Jay Gonzales is obviously an otherworldly wizard. He is immeasurably talented and almost intimidatingly kind. I kind of can’t believe it sometimes. This part…well, this shit isn’t a question.

PH: Nothing smartass to say there. I couldn’t agree more. I hope to be playing with him for as long as I live.

WJ: You used to run sound some. What was your favorite show to run sound for?

PH: When I worked at The High Hat, we had this band play every Tuesday night called Hot Burritos and they would play a few originals and a few Americana covers. They were great musicians and they would bring out a guest to back them up. They would work up the show that afternoon and it was almost always incredible. That’s how I met the lovely miss Kelly Hogan and she was unbelievably great. I also mixed Smoke (with Cat Power opening), Gregory Dean Smalley (who inspired my song “The Living Bubba“) and did monitors for Flaming Lips on The Soft Bulletin tour, which was amazing.

WJ: Sometimes house sound people are cranky. When you ran sound was there ever a time when you went into work feeling cranky, but then one band in particular just came out of nowhere, blew your mind, and made you feel happy again? If so, who?

PH: That’s how I met the band Slobberbone. They were playing a Wednesday night and I didn’t want to work but couldn’t find anyone to take my shift. I thought there was no way a band called Slobberbone could be any good, [but] it was love at first sight. We became great friends, toured together extensively, I sang on one of their albums, and that’s how I met Scott Danbom and Will Johnson.

WJ: I need you to drive from Athens to El Paso in a Smart Car to get some cool-ass boots for you and me. An in-character Gilbert Gottfried is standing on my left, and the singer guy from Creed is standing on my right. One of them has to go with you. Who you gonna choose?

PH: It would have to be the comedian. This brings back up what I was talking about earlier. One afternoon, I was doing something at someone else’s house and they had a radio on and I heard the most apocalyptically terrible shit I’d ever heard in my life and was told that it was Creed. I immediately ran down to the store and purchased an ACME Sonic Bullshit Filter and had it installed in my brain. Unfortunately, I turned it up to 11 (in fear of somehow having more Creed seep through it) and completely missed out on 8 years of recording history. It might have been worth it.

WJ: Were the songs that make up Heat Lightning written in a concentrated batch, or did they evolve and come together over a longer period of time?

PH: Most of it was written in a three-month period back in the spring of 2011. Probably the fastest I’ve ever written an album.

WJ: Weirdest or least expected place you ever wrote a song?

PH: I wrote “Why Henry Drinks” while mixing a bad lawyer blues band at The High Hat. I wrote “Cat Power” while doing monitors for a Cat Power show at The 40 Watt. I got yelled at for that one. (I really like Cat Power, by the way, but this was back in her terrible-live-shows-with-meltdowns phase and it was awful). I wrote “France Farmer” while breaking up with a girl. I mean mid-conversation. I wrote “Nine Bullets” on stage in front of an audience (Friday March 13, 1992 — Opelika, AL).

WJ: Just real quick, could I ask you to write a haiku involving EZB, Neff, Patricia Cornwell and a panther?

PH: Only if I can incorporate the word “Nantucket” into it.

WJ: Three of your favorite shows in Truckers’ history?

PH: Last New Years Eve with Booker T. Jones, the New Years Eve before that when we had the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus performing while we played “The Flying Wallendas,” and the last show we played with Centro-matic this spring in Charleston, SC, when you and Scott came out for “Angels and Fuselage” with us.

WJ: Someone recently told me that Cooley is the voice of the new Stone Temple Pilots TV campaign. Has this affected life within the Truckers?

PH: I think somehow Stone Temple Pilots got caught up in my ACME Sonic Bullshit Filter so I kind of missed that one, but perhaps he’s their new front man, which would be kind of bitchin’. If Cooley was in the band, I’d probably end up liking it. He’s pretty fucking awesome.

WJ: For the payment of three thousand dollars, do you think you would be able to sit in a 10ft by 10ft room for twenty-four hours with the B-52’s “Love Shack” playing on repeat at a reasonable volume? You would have a chair, a cot, and maybe even a small desk. There would be a small bathroom attached. The song would be audible in the bathroom through a small speaker. You would not have a clock in the room, and there would be no window to the outside world. There would be a small window into another room, presumably where your officiator would be. Is three thousand dollars for twenty-four hours of this way of living worth considering to you?

PH: It depends. Would I be allowed to jack off?

WJ: Of course. So long as that song keeps playing.

WJ: Somewhere down the road, do you think the Truckers and Centro-matic could realistically open our own Branson-like theater and have shows every night, but not have to travel? Ideally, where do you think it should be located? What the hell do you think we should name it?

PH: Let’s do it. You pick the place and name it. I will show up and ROCK! five nights a week until I fall off the stage and am torn apart by the audience, preferably during “People Who Died.”

PH: Do you write better songs when you are in a good place emotionally or a bad place?

WJ: Good place. The chores have got to be done, the emails caught up, and my head’s gotta be clear. The bad places have inevitably got to be visited by most of us, but I’ve never found it to be the best headspace for a full-on writing session. That’s probably because I was in the shit, living it. The muck can cloud the vision, and sometimes you don’t really know what the end result is gonna be. I may take some notes when I’m in the bad places, but if I haven’t fully lived the experience through and gotten a little distance to understand it, to see it clearer, how can I know that what I’m writing is really going to ring true? I guess there are exceptions, but mostly to me it feels knee-jerk, less informed and incomplete.

PH: How about a good or bad place geographically (a town you like versus a town or place you don’t like)?

WJ: I like a limited place if I can get it. I’ve rented cabins in Mississippi and here in Texas that are pretty far removed. It’s usually a long drive to go get some groceries or beer or what-have-you, so I’m committed to the environs with little distraction. That allows me to hear the songs in my head better. There can be a TV around, but I’d really prefer that it be shitty and only get a couple channels. At the place in Mississippi there was a VCR and one worn-out VHS tape: About Last Night, which is a really good film. Specifically if you like Demi Moore, and fucking. I do, so when I was done writing each night I’d watch and eventually fall asleep to that movie.

PH: When you wrote “Rosanky” (wonderful song, by the way) did you have a specific image in your head or was it strictly a musical inspiration?

WJ: Rosanky is a little township close to where I used to live, in Bastrop, Texas. I kept its landscape in mind when I wrote that song.

PH: Was there ever a point where you got into the music of Rush?

WJ: Yeah. I was pretty into Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves. I had a little pawnshop Rogers drum kit with some rototoms right around age 12 or so, and I’d put the headphones on and play along to those records over and over. I still love “Working Man.” I turn it up if I catch it on the radio. It’s a strange chapter that doesn’t much match the rest of my life’s musical experience, but like a distant family member, it’s untrue and unkind to ignore it.

PH: Was there ever a time when a really terrible piece of music, film or art really inspired you? I know terrible is subjective, so I mean something that you at the time (and perhaps still) just hated, but somehow inspired you?

WJ: Possibly Rush. Therein lies the duality I guess.

PH: Were the songs that make up Scorpion written in a concentrated batch, or did they evolve and come together over a longer period of time?

WJ: With the exception of a couple of songs, they were all written in the span of the five days it took to make the record. Writing in the studio doesn’t always work. It’s a little risky and sometimes I start second-guessing and things fuck up and derail, but Matt [Pence] and I managed to have a productive week at that point. I’d wake up and write something new. He’d show up around noon and we’d start recording it. By the end of each day we’d have a fully tracked version of a song that didn’t exist when the sun came up.

PH: What’s next for Will Johnson’s film career? Art happenings? Various supergroups?

WJ: We’re starting a new Centro-matic record in December. I’m making a bunch of baseball paintings during the home time for a couple of art shows next year. I made a record with my friends, Matt and Bubba Kadane and David Bazan. We’re calling that band Overseas. I’ve been running about 15 miles a week, and even thinking about getting back to racing like I used to. Something about participating in a sport where you can be as competitive or as anonymous as you like has always been attractive to me.

PH: You and _____ get to hole up in a cabin and write and record an album in 2 weeks. It could be anyone alive. Who? What about dead?

WJ: Alive: Tim from Califone. The hip-hop artist Pikhasso. A long overdue project with my friend, Patterson Hood. Sarah Jaffe. The great Texas band Monahans. Michael Hurley comes to mind. It’d be cool to record some songs with my friend Liz Durrett. Dead: The last conversation I ever had with Vic [Chesnutt] was about getting together to make a record. I still can’t help but consider how fun that might have been.

PH: I’ve said that I probably write less — but better — songs since having kids. How about you?

WJ: I feel the same there. I’m not writing as much as I did before having kids, but in turn I’m more careful with the time that I do have to write. I don’t take it for granted like I used to. I want to believe I’m nurturing it a little more, and hopefully that leads to better writing.

PH: Besides the obvious fame, fortune and amazing drunken times that will ensue, is there any secret (or not) goal or dream you have for the upcoming Will Johnson / Craig Finn / Patterson Hood UK/Europe Tour in November?

WJ: I can’t wait to play some songs together. I don’t know how it’s all gonna go down but I think it’ll make for a really cool show. But starting in Spain for me is a little like starting in Amsterdam for many others. I’m usually better off ending the tour there instead of starting there. Hopefully we make it out of Spain in good enough condition to complete the tour.

WJ: I’ve heard a lot of musicians get to a certain point in their careers and loosely throw around the sentence: “Well, I can retire now.” Was there ever a point where you said that to yourself? Did you really believe it?

PH: I can’t retire: I have two small kids and no savings. I’ll be in diapers by the time they’re in college.

WJ: First record purchased with your own money?

PH: First 45 was Jim Stafford’s “Swamp Witch.” Not long after that I began buying albums (3rd grade). Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon were really early ones, as was Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run. It was 1973 so those were all new albums at the time.

WJ: Tell me about the first time you ever played out live.

PH: My first band was Breakdown, named after the Tom Petty song. I was in 9th grade and we played at my old junior high school. I think we emptied the room in two to three songs. By the time we finished with “Stairway to Heaven” (I kid you not), no one was left in the auditorium except my grandmother and a fifth grader. Ironically, the fifth grader was later a bass player in mine and Cooley’s old band Adam’s House Cat.

WJ: One time I cut a real big one in Mrs. Lewis’ 2nd grade class. It was so robust and loud. So…thick. I tried to blame it on my friend Floyd ’cause he farted a lot, too. Did you ever try to pass one off on a friend? Do you think that that’s a bigger picture thing? Or just some innocent fun with farting in class?

PH: I never really tried to pass off a fart, but once, back in my much younger days, I had a date with a beautiful red headed girl I had had a crush on for years and we ate Mexican food and as I was driving her out to go parking, I just couldn’t hold it in any more and let the most foul stinking silent fart ever. It was freezing outside, but she quietly rolled down the window. Needless to say … I got me some that night. (Actually not.)

WJ: You and _____ get to hole up in a cabin and write and record an album in 2 weeks. Who? Alive? Dead?

PH: WIll Johnson for starters. Don’t we have an album planned someday? Booker T. Jones. He and I did some writing together last year and it was amazing. Alabama Shakes. They’re my favorite new band and I would love to someday get to work with them. Might have missed my chance but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather work with.

That would actually be a really fun thing to do with my ‘other’ band, The Downtown Rumblers. I say them instead of DBT, because DBT kind of has our own way of doing things that works really well for us. We collaborate incredibly well, but it’s always after the writing process, which Cooley and I almost always do separately. The Rumblers I think could actually write an album together if the right conditions happened.

Bobby Womack!!! He’s always been on my A list of artists I’d love to work with. I’d love to work with Kelly Hogan some more. I’d LOVE to produce a Bruce Springsteen album. David Barbe and I could pull another masterpiece out of him. I absolutely know it. (If you’re out there somewhere, call me.)

As for dead artists, I would have loved to work with Tammy Wynette. I wrote “Wife Beater” for her, but she died a couple of months later. She never knew me or that song but I heard her in my head singing it when I wrote it.

WJ: You grew up in an incredibly rich musical environment. Was there a specific, defining moment when you decided that music would fully guide your way? If so, what was it and who all was there?

PH: I started writing when I was eight. Before that. I’m pretty sure I had songs in my head but wasn’t sure what they were and didn’t know to write them down. That has pretty much guided my every move (except for 4 years when I went to college and didn’t play at all, but that’s a whole other story and I even wrote prolifically then, too). I always wanted to make records and movies. Still do.

WJ: Was there a show or concert that coincided with this time?

PH: That all came later, but those made for some defining moments in the directions I took. I saw AC/DC with UFO in 8th grade (Let There Be Rock Tour) and Bruce Springsteen in the 10th grade (The River Tour). My first REM show (Reckoning 1984) was a defining one also. I can still get excited to nearly teenaged levels going to a great show. I have never outgrown it. Thank God. The Flaming Lips in 2000. Tom Waits in 2006. Alabama Shakes at a record store last summer. That was life-changing. Centro-matic, every single time I see them. Gillian Welch!

WJ: What was the shittiest job you ever had?

PH: Line cook at Pasta Works in Athens, GA, is a tough one to beat. It was a shitty restaurant that lasted barely six months, I lasted a couple of weeks. It was housed in what was once a Burger King and there was a faulty grease trap that used to be backed up every morning when I would get there. I would be cooking while standing up to my ankles in the foulest smelling shit-water imaginable. I don’t know how the health department didn’t close it down. They were fucking assholes, too.

WJ: What was the shittiest or scariest drive you ever experienced on tour?

PH: The second leg of the Southern Rock Opera Tour began on Dec. 26, 2001, with a drive from Florence, AL, to Portland,OR. Non-stop. We actually ended up stopping about three hours before we got there because we hit a terrible fog and couldn’t go any further. That tour ended with a drive from Tucson, AZ, to Florence, AL. Non-stop and included a terrifying drive down a frozen Teton Pass into Jackson Hole, WY. I wrote “Hell No I Ain’t Happy on that tour while driving down a desolate highway in Utah. (On Rt. 666, no less, although they later re-numbered that road.)

Hell No” also alludes to an earlier event when we passed a car going the wrong way on Interstate 10 in Northern Florida between Tallahassee and Pensacola. We were westbound in the right lane and he was eastbound in the westbound left lane. We were doing 70 and he was probably doing 80. It so closely mirrors what happened to The Jody Grind, I still get shaken up thinking about it. It cured my fear of dying on the road though. After that happened, I figured my time wasn’t up yet and learned to relax a little. I was writing Southern Rock Opera at the time, which of course was about dying on the road. I’ve lived a very weird life.

WJ: According to when I was about eight-years old, I was supposed to be winding down my career at wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers about now. Obviously that’s not happening. Does life for you now look close to what you imagined it when you were eight?

PH: When you are a kid, you imagine and plan for life’s peaks, but don’t plan for what happens after that. I’ve pretty much lived a scaled-down version of what I imagined, only I was a lot older when it all finally took off than in my imagination. I spent my 20’s going nowhere. I learned a lot for my craft and my art that has benefited me in the years since, but I had no real tangible success of any kind until my mid-30’s. My dad had played on dozens of million-selling records by the time he was 28. I had a real hard time with all of that at the time and I guess, considering my new album, still write about it all these years later.

WJ: Where’s your favorite place to write these days?

PH: I have a room I call my office in the back of my house. It looks out over our back yard and is just off from our kitchen. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I have and I make it work for the most part. I’ve written most everything from Brighter Than Creation’s Dark forward there. I also do some writing in the back of the tour bus, but it is very far from ideal because of the constant noise and interruption.

WJ: Was there ever a time when a really terrible piece of music, film or art really inspired you? If so, what was it?

PH: The movie Walking Tall really is kind of shitty, but it helped inspire our album The Dirty South. I always wanted to remake that movie, but from the other side of the story’s point of view, which is essentially what Cooley and I did song-wise with “Cottonseed,” “The Buford Stick,” and “The Boys From Alabama“.

WJ: What’s next on this massive path for you artistically?

PH: A massive amount of touring with The Downtown Rumblers, DBT, Will Johnson and Craig Finn.

I’m co-producing an album called The Taxicab Verses led by a friend of mine named Jim Wilson who has been going back and forth to Ghana, recording these street musicians he has met over there, bringing the tapes home and pairing them with these great Athens musicians. A sort of musical/cultural exchange between Ghana and Athens. It’s incredible stuff and I’m loving being involved with that. We hope to finish that project in the upcoming months and I’m going to try to help them get it released decently.

I’d love to do another production job. It’s been a while. I still want to write and finish a screenplay and would love to direct a movie.

There will be another DBT album at some point. I’d like to do a tour with Cooley. Maybe just the two of us or maybe with Brad also, taking turns singing and telling stories.

There’s a project I started years ago with Jim Dickinson and his sons Luther and Cody and my dad. We started it then everyone got really busy and it sat for a while. Then Jim got sick and passed away. Luther and I keep wanting to complete that project as a kind of tribute to Jim. I hope we can do that sometime next year. Any excuse to hang out with those fine Dickinsons and my dad is a great thing to get to do.

PH: First record purchased with your own money?

WJ: AC/DC – Back in Black. Summer 1981, Silvermine Records, downtown Kennett, MO.

PH: Tell me about the first time you ever played out live.

WJ: I played drums in a band called The Benjamins back in high school. This was in the town of Killeen, TX, where the pool of any alternative or independent culture was maybe four inches deep. We released a couple of cassettes and played various venues, biker bars, parties, wherever folks would let us play. Our first show, and my first time playing out live, was at the Bell County Fair, April 1989. They were paying us $500 for two shows. This was just incredible money to us. We played in a large metal barn to our parents and maybe eight or ten sympathetic friends. Fluorescent lights were on the whole time, the sound was horrible, and the stage backed up to where they had all the animal pens. The whole place smelled like shit, and the carnival-goers ignored us for the most part. Anyway, we played a mix of our own songs and some covers. I don’t remember exactly which ones but I know there was some REM, 10,000 Maniacs and Reivers stuff in the set. I’m pretty sure I was wearing a black satin vest. But at least that vest had some cash in it for some Milwaukee’s Best and Denny’s after that second night.

PH: What was the shittiest job you ever had?

WJ: About twelve years ago I was working for an environmental company. There were some people I really liked at this job, but due to some in-house cutbacks and with a contract to fill, several of us trained quickly and unexpectedly to clean up radioactive- and mercury-contaminated waste for this big job up in New York state. Not long after graduating with an English degree, I had become a certified Haz-Mat technician. Over the course of a year or so, I’d make trips up to work onsite for two or three weeks at a time. I lived in this little motel, and in the mornings we’d head over to the site, get the spacesuits on, and get in this 12’x12′ tent to start “cooking” all these hazardous materials in this large machine. We would cook them at a temperature that remediated the waste and turned it all to dust. I opened a 55-gallon drum at one point and saw rodent skeletons, the spine of what looked to be a monkey, syringes, large beads of mercury chasing each other through the barrel, and lots of mud. It was shitty work and a strange job, but like I said, I liked the people and the camaraderie. I got a record out of the experience. Most of (Centro-matic’s) Distance and Clime was written at that little motel with only a pitch pipe and a dictaphone.

PH: What was the shittiest or scariest drive you ever experienced on tour?

WJ: April 2002. More weird than shitty or scary. Our band Centro-matic is traveling with Anders Parker (Varnaline) on that stretch of I-90 between Spokane and Seattle. We’re 100 miles east of the city, headed westbound up an incline with a significant drop off to our right. The van starts to rattle viciously, and finally after a minute or so of this, the drive train makes a loud pop, and snaps in two. We roll to a stop, and the whole thing’s sitting in the middle of the interstate with smoke coming off of it. If you know that area, it’s incredibly desolate, and we were approaching sundown. Luckily a state trooper saw us, stopped, and helped us by calling the nearest towing dude. The guy shows up and asks where we’d like to be towed. “Seattle,” we say. After sussing out the cost, the guy calls his wife and says he’ll be home late. He pulls the van up on the flatbed and says: “Get on in”. We’re looking at the cab of his truck, thinking there’s no way we’ll all fit in there. He says: “No, no … get in the van.” So we all crawl up into the van and he drives us to Seattle that way. We’re sitting higher than the semis we’re passing, going through blizzard conditions in the Wenatchees and the Cascades with our feet propped up, reading USA Today and such. He drops the van in front of the Sit and Spin, where we’re scheduled to play, and luck had it that there was a transmission shop right across the street. For the misfortune of the breakdown, there was a lot of strange luck in store for us that day. I also learned that nothing says “effort” quite like showing up in your van, on the back of a flatbed, right in front of your venue.

PH: Do you think you would ever write a book? If so, would it be fiction, non-fiction, or some kind of hybrid?

WJ: I’d like to one day. Probably fiction or some kind of hybrid. Lots of notes taken over the years. Have some pieces of short stories that exist on an old computer here. But it will inevitably take a good bit of time, effort, apprenticeship, failure, rejection, sitting still, and not touring to ever give it a chance to happen.

PH: I’m a voracious reader, especially lately. I just read Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power – The Years of Lyndon Johnson (fourth in a series of what will someday be five books and a fifty-year project by the author), William Styron’s Darkness Visible, David Browne’s Fire and Rain – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970, which was a fucking great read, and right now am reading The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin, Classic Crews by Harry Crews (re-reading that, as I read it 18 years ago) and Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron, which is about being raised by William Styron and his bouts with depression.

What are you reading these days?

WJ: I love Willy Vlautin’s writing. He started at such an incredible point, and in my opinion just gets better and better. I just read Ron Rash’s The Cove and the new galley for his next book of short stories, due out next year. Both are tremendous pieces of work. Rash is another writer that I didn’t think I could enjoy more after reading Chemistry And Other Stories, Serena and The World Made Straight, but I do. He’s just been on an incredible run these last seven or eight years. It’s a similar story with Michael Parker. I’ve read all of his stuff so far, and his most recent (The Watery Part of The World) is superb. I’ve also been on a Lewis Nordan kick lately.

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