Bill Callahan :: Cowboy

Busy man, Bill Callahan. Never one to rest on his laurels, the Texas troubadour has remained super active over these past twelve months, both with his own music, and via collaboration (Will Oldham, Bill MacKay, Ty Segall). For the track “Cowboy”, off last year’s Gold lp, Callahan tagged up with filmmakers Anthony Gasparro and Mikey Kampmann to bring the song to visual life.

Below, we flip the script as Callahan catches up with the pair to discuss their working relationship, storytelling, synchronicity, rippling kindness and the power of the tuna melt as edible nostalgia.

Bill Callahan: How do you two know each other? Any professional history or is this the first time you’ve worked together?

Anthony Gasparro: We spoke on the phone in 2016. In anticipation of working on an upcoming Kelly Reichardt film. Mikey was a must hire. It became clear we were also going to become good friends.

Mikey Kampmann: Tony was given no choice. Tony has one of my favorite sense of humors of any person I’ve met. Humor always saves us. In May 2020 we shot a super DIY no budget video for Little Wings “No Suicide”.

You were incredibly trustworthy (we had never met) and gracious with your approach to the music video. Are you always so? Do you think your standards have lowered?

Bill Callahan: I think I have a pretty good nose for people that I could work with, when they come sniffing around. My standards have only risen over the years, thank you! You had a sturdy plan and your joie de vie was palpable, a trait I love — plus I had just seen Mikey as the Pitzman’s Mustard Man when Tim and Eric came to Austin — I’d have been a fool to not give myself up to the whims of Pitzman’s Mustard Man.

Mikey Kampmann: What was going through your head when we asked you to show up to a dingy motel an hour outside of Austin?

Bill Callahan: When someone was waiting for me with a clipboard as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew I was in good hands. I also felt good that I just had to contribute a small part to something that would be much larger. What happens when music and film work together?

Anthony Gasparro: It’s magical. The opening sequence of “The New World” is a great example in film. Or when driving long distances through a sublime landscape and the music you are listening to becomes harmonious.

Mikey Kampmann: If they match, it’s like in real life when you hear the right song at the right time for what you’re doing. It doesn’t always make sense why it works together but you know it when it does.

Bill Callahan: Life reveals its dream.

Anthony Gasparro: Are you a vivid dreamer?

Bill Callahan: I messed around with it a few years ago using the Tibetan method. It worked. But it’s a lot of mental work when I am tired. Before bed I prefer to watch TV and then let whatever comes to me in the arena of dreams come to me. But now that you brought it up I feel like I should try it again. Because I think dreams get short shrift in our culture. Politicians should just describe their dreams instead of those speeches they give. And that’s how we’ll pick who to vote for.

Mikey Kampmann: In the song you reference the late, late movie. Is there a specific movie you’re referencing ?

Bill Callahan: No. But back in the 80s when we had only a few TV channels there would be one movie on late at night, the Late Movie, and then another Late Late Movie, after that. For an insomniac high schooler it was a real place of half dreamy, half awake self-actualization. A lot of John Ford westerns. Robert Mitchum, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda — they presented role models, or moral options to consider. And at that hour, there was a real sense of being able to FEEL the other people watching the movie — the sleepless, the lonely, the lost. Or just people that loved life and didn’t want to go to sleep!

Bill Callahan: What’s your philosophy of kindness? How did it apply to the making of this video?

Mikey Kampmann: Sometime during the editorial process I asked you, Bill, and you can see your response. What is the graceful punk thing to do in this moment? I reckon it always comes back to storytelling.

Bill Callahan: Language is our strongest, unbreakable suit. Communication. Stories. And rippling kindness as far as you can.

Mikey Kampmann: Rippling Kindness. That struck a chord with me. For the video, kindness applied like this. Tony and I wanted to make something intentionally beautiful and sincere. The video felt like a chance to pay you back. Imagine if we had half-assed this. What kind of schmucks would we be? We got very lucky to assemble an entire crew of over-qualified Bill Callahan fans who were willing to take this on as a passion project. It created an authentic excitement and generosity for the shoot. I believe love and kindness (kindness returned to You Bill) translated into the making of the video. I want to specifically thank our producer Shane Greb and his mom Barbara who welcomed us in Galveston and fed the crew. You could argue it was Greb family kindness that made the video possible.

Anthony Gasparro: I really like that question and completely agree with what Mikey said. Only to add that your kindness in giving a couple of Sardine-sandwich-eating jocks a chance to direct something for you while the world seemed like it was hitting the skids.

Bill Callahan: Have you ever had sardine salad sandwich, like tuna salad sandwich? It’s surprisingly delightful.

Anthony Gasparro: I have dabbled in sardine recipes but not like a tuna salad and I love a good tuna salad. Have you had a nice piece of provolone with sardines on a cracker?

Bill Callahan: I always thought cheese and fish shouldn’t meet but I will try it.

Anthony Gasparro: Maybe that’s why people scoff at the Tuna Melt?

Bill Callahan: Tuna Melt is edible nostalgia. Is the film industry too bloated? Do you work on big projects you aren’t invested in and smaller projects that you are so you can sleep at night? Or have you had good experiences on big budget projects?

Anthony Gasparro: I definitely prefer the smaller ones and definitely sleep better. I have been fortunate to travel all over on the larger budgeted projects and there are usually very comfortable beds to sleep in. So I guess it’s a toss up.

Bill Callahan: The bigger budget movies offer comfier beds because they have to!

Mikey Kampmann: I agree with Tony. Ultimately, it’s about the people you are surrounded by and the nature of the work itself. On our biggest shoot day for this video we were 10 people. That felt like a sweet spot of professionalism, creative responsibility and spirit.

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