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Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Joe Westerlund, am: 06.10.2011 ]

Natürlich ist es von Vorteil, wenn ein ehemaliges Bandmitglied Justin Vernon heißt. Doch hier hören die Vergleiche auch schon auf. Denn Megafaun haben nur wenig mit der falsettgetränkten Melancholie von Bon Iver gemeinsam. Im Gegensatz zu den eher schrillen und verspielten Vorgängern ist das neue Werk angenehm geradlinig ausgefallen. Die Band hat alles Unnötige über Bord geworfen und lässt die einzelnen Ideen der Songs im Mittelpunkt stehen. Das Ergebnis ist nichts weniger als eines der besten Alt-Country-Folk Alben des Jahres. Wir sprachen mit Joe Westerlund über den Midwesten, Bandkonflikte und Bedauern.


Musicscan: First of all, congratulations to a splendid album. I was wondering if you could talk about when you first started working on the album and how you would describe the writing and recording process in retrospect.

Megafaun: Thank You! We're really feeling extremely confident in every aspect of our band right now, and this record is the largest catalyst for these feelings. It’s been an intense climb over the last few years for us from the first record and the first shows, the first songs, etc. Not that we've felt bad about everything before this record, but we've definitely felt like we were pushing through in the past, maybe against the grain at times, to get our name out there, to get our song writing chops together, to get the sound of our records right, and understanding what our live show is to us and our audience. This record felt more effortless than any of the others. It was our second time recording in a studio that wasn't our bedrooms with an engineer, the amazing BJ Burton. So we better understood the options available to us. In the past, we've had our songs pretty well figured out before we entered the studio to cut costs, but I live in Los Angeles now, so that made it impossible to rehearse beforehand. We rented our friend Justin Vernon's studio in Wisconsin for two weeks and just worked the songs out right there in the studio, usually in the mornings, and then we would actually lay down the tracks in the afternoons or evenings. It made things more immediate, which was nice, especially since we had all these extra instruments such as Bon Iver live gear, and Justin also has a full arsenal of studio gear just laying around ready to use. We had a wider palette available to us, which can be good and bad. Luckily we were often saved from going too many rabbit holes because we were working so fast with simultaneously writing and arranging the songs. It forced us to work more instinctually than we might have worked with more time to just arrange the songs.

Musicscan: Did you have a particular aesthetic goal in mind when you started working on the album?

Megafaun: Originally, I was really pushing for us to make something that had less silent gaps between songs, and had more connecting musical passages, and recurring themes and things like that. We arrived to the studio with like 30 possibilities and 15 days to work each of them out. At first, we thought it might be doable, but by the fifth day or so we realized that what we had so far were songs that really demanded their own undivided attention. The more we spent on them, the more we realized, everything we needed to say was in the 17 or so tracks that eventually became 14. We decided it would better serve the songs to let them stand together as individual thoughts.

Musicscan: The songs are again stylistically quite diverse. What connects the different songs on the album nonetheless for you personally?

Megafaun: The subjects we write about lyrically are almost always the heaviest connectors for me. We 're really close, and we talk to each other a lot about heavy life experiences, some of which we experience together as best friends, brothers and collaborators, some of which we just relate to as young men in relationships or other personal contexts. For this album, there's the added aspect of our singing. Our voices have gained more individual personality over the last year or so, and we're showcasing that more, but there's a very uniform approach to every song on this record. We sang everything much quieter. Singing at lower volumes allowed our voices to blend into the music in a much smoother way. I think it gives the whole record a solemn quality. It added some more weight to our more straight-forward lyrics this time.

Musicscan: What music did you listen to growing up and what are some of the artists that left the biggest impressions on you?

Megafaun: There's so many. We've admired some from afar and some who are considered friends or colleagues. We were all big school band nerds in high school, which actually wasn't so nerdy where we went to school. It was a very serious and competitive commitment that involved extra time outside of school. We also started our own band that was influenced by a lot of jam bands and jazz music, and folky songwriters. Those people left impressions in deep ways, but also the people we've met as a result of playing music, the people we now work with, share bills with, work on special projects with, those are our biggest influences.

Musicscan: How do you usually resolve creative conflicts within the band?

Megafaun: It’s different every time and expends on the conflict, but lately we've been allowing more ownership over the songs that we each bring in. More of the final say is left to that person. This way, we've learned to trust each other more, and everybody gets a chance to be the boss, so to speak. It’s working pretty well at the moment.

Musicscan: How did the “Sounds of the South” project come about and what was it like working with Fight the Big Bull? What did you take from the project personally?

Megafaun: Too much! This project has sparked a million ideas about music to be made how to make it and present it to people. We all felt a leap in our musicality working on this project. It’s an ideal situation that I hope we get to explore more often in the future. Everyone in that group can go just about anywhere you ask them to, which is what I've always felt was our strength, too. We have the willingness to try just about anything, most of the skills to pull it off, and the drive to reach for things that aren't right at our fingertips. Fight the Big Bull are our mirror in that way, only in the form of a jazz band, which is exciting for us to be able to access that part of our musicality again. The project came about because we met those guys on our first tour with Akron/Family and became instant best friends. It was really just a matter of time before “Sounds of the South” or something like it happened. Megafaun was offered the funding and encouragement to do something big for Duke University, and we jumped on it.

Musicscan: What does an average day of yours look like when you are not on the road?

Megafaun: Days at home are getting increasingly free as we forge ahead making a better living each year. There is definitely a learning curve involved in how to use that kind of free time. Musically, I've had some side projects I've been working on from home this year. I also drive my wife to school every morning and pick her up in the afternoons. It’s such a long commute that it’s an effective way to spend more time together while I'm home. I live less than 2 miles from the beach, so some days I'll walk my dog to the Venice Boardwalk and observe the LA street people displaying all their weirdness. It’s indescribably entertaining. My wife is a yoga instructor, so I find myself in yoga classes often when I'm home, which is good for the road-weary body, and keeps my often cluttered mind a bit clearer. We also cook a lot at home, and share grocery duties with our housemates, so most dinners become pretty social with friends coming over and everything. There's also always a lot of emailing and phone calls to make during the day, especially when we're about to release a record, but Brad takes care of most of that stuff. He could probably write a book about managing our day-to-day band chores.

Musicscan: What impact did BJ Burton have on the record and what was it like working with him?

Megafaun: We love BJ. He's our brother. We started working with him on our last record, which had this experiment on it that turned into a pretty lengthy piece called Comprovisation for Conner Pass. There were lots of hesitations and redirections on that piece, and BJ just rolled with it in this really natural and positive way. I think that's when we all knew we would be working with him again. For this record, he had a bit more input since he was there for the creation of all the songs, and not just the arrangements. We felt more comfortable including him in on discussions about the direction for each song, and he offered opinions at some crucial times. He was able to mix things closer to how they sound on the final product as we went, which really helped us understand what else needed to be added to each arrangement. I was with BJ working on the final mix and really had a huge epiphany about working in the studio. I get intimidated by stacking tons of tracks in a session and having endless plug-ins available and all that. Working with BJ in a one-on-one situation boldly emphasized the importance letting your instincts guide a mix. This is a real life lesson I'll have with me for the rest of my career. His contributions to this record are essential.

Musicscan: Did you have certain aesthetic goals when you first started the band and how have they perhaps changed over the years?

Megafaun: I'm not even sure it’s an aesthetic change as much as an improvement, but our songs used to be much longer with many more instrumental passages. We've learned to say what we need to say in shorter amounts of time now.

Musicscan: What makes for the perfect song in your opinion? Have you ever achieved something like a perfect song in your opinion? How would you define a perfect song?

Megafaun: Honestly, I don't really know what that means to me. Songs have different degrees of perfection in different ways. Sometimes they make the best sense sitting together on an album, sometimes they stand alone just as well. A lot of times I'll hear an imperfection in the performance of a song, and that becomes my favorite part of a song…but is that really part of the song? I can tell you that bad lyrics easily ruin a song for me, or a melody that feels incomplete, but I don't really listen to music and suddenly think, "Oh, that is a perfect song!" The best music honestly conveys the reality of the situation it was made in, and the intentions of the people that wrote it. That's been our goal from the beginning.

Musicscan: What are some of the things you would have done differently in terms of your musical career in retrospect?

Megafaun: I'm pretty happy with how things are going and have gone in the past. When you're climbing as gradually as we are, there are very few missed steps. Every step forward has demanded a ton of care and patience. Out biggest fault as a band has always been our lack of self promotion. We're humble Midwesterners that generally feel uncomfortable pushing ourselves on people. We'd rather just draw people in with the music itself, but that's not always how it works.

Musicscan: What do you hope people to take away from a Megafaun show?

Megafaun: Our hope is always that people come out to the shows excited to see how we've evolved from the record, or from the last time they saw us, and also to walk away feeling like they shared an experience with us as people, not just a band on a stage playing our songs.

Musicscan: What can we expect from you guys in the near future?

Megafaun: We've got more US and EU tour plans in the works right now. We're also sitting on some great live recordings of “Sounds of the South.” There's no date set, but there is a definite plan to release this at some point in the next year or so. We've also got some wheels in motion on some side projects. We'll definitely be staying busy as usual.

Musicscan: Current favorite record, book, and film?

Megafaun: I had a big time with Paul McCartney's Ram record over the last year. Phil showed it to me while we were recording, and it’s been a permanent fixture on my turntable, iPod and in the car. I just absolutely love how he uses a different voice for every song. They become theses characters, but all sung by the same actor. It’s really inspired me to keep pushing myself to find new ways to use my voice. I've had a few strike outs with books I'm reading lately, but the last really good one I read was Phil Lesh's autobiography. I've also been a bit more on a comedy kick lately, and watching movies less. I'm really blown away by Louis C.K. His "Chewed Up" DVD is blowing my mind right now. Everything about his delivery is absolute genius, and he kind of reminds me of my uncle.

  Megafaun @ Myspace