Musicscan: Please tell me a little bit about the process that led to the new album, which I found to be one of the most pleasant surprises of 2008 thus far, by the way.
The New Year: Thanks very much. After “The End is Near” came out in 2004 we were really just sort of aimlessly recording bits of music. The songs actually started to come together after new year’s eve 2005, when “MMV” fell into place. Exactly why that was the watershed moment I don’t know.
Musicscan: You have been involved in music for such a long time that it feels like you don’t have to proof anything to anyone anymore. Do you think that is true and do you think this attitude also reflects in your album?
The New Year: I don’t think I’ve ever felt overwhelmingly that we have had to prove anything to anyone. Our desire to make music has tended to originate from wanting to produce what we want to hear. If the world’s supply of music were comprehensive enough to satisfy what we crave hearing, we would just listen. I think it’s from this same impulse that we always want to do something we perceive as different from what else we’ve done. We’ve heard what we’ve done, and we want to make something we’re not hearing – until we make it, at which point we try to move on.
Musicscan: Do you still have any goals with the band? Is there something in particular that you would like to achieve?
The New Year: We feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when we finish a record, and that feeling in part compels us to keep recording music.
Musicscan: I believe you both have “regular” day jobs. Could you picture only doing music or do you consider it a form of creative freedom not having to rely on your music to pay the bills?
The New Year: It has been a long time since I’ve had illusions about being financially successful playing music. But I don’t know. Two guys we’re now playing with – Chris Brokaw and Will Johnson (from Centromatic) – both play music full time and seem much less stressed out than I am.
Musicscan: How do you experience the music business now when you compare it to the days when you first started out with Bedhead?
The New Year: The Internet has changed patterns of consumption. Touring has been made easier thanks to cell phones and GPS. But the continuities are just a striking. We happily play the same venues, work with the same label, and record at the same studio.
Musicscan: The new album also sounds a lot more optimistic in way than some of your previous efforts? In how far does that perhaps reflect a generally more optimistic outlook on life these days?
The New Year: I’m less overwhelmed by anxiety than I once was. Why, I don’t really know. The world is a scarier place than it was in the 1990s. In any case, maybe some of this new, inexplicable psychological stability is part of the reason you hear more optimism in this record.
Musicscan: Do you think the cultural value of music has changed over the years, also due to the availability of music on the internet and the ensuing different forms of music consumption?
The New Year: I do think the cultural meaning of music has changed, but I’m not exactly sure how to assign value to that change. The current generation expects free music almost as a civil liberty and has virtually instant access to music made across the world. I think about how twenty years ago Bubba and would occasionally wait a couple of years to get an import version of a record from Britain to our small town in Texas and I get worried that the ease of finding and consuming music will lead listeners to take it – and the people who make it – for granted. But it also seems to be the case that people are more constantly actually listening to music – on computers at home and at work, on increasingly portable electronic devices, and so on. So the ease of acquiring music hasn’t necessarily diminished its value for listeners. Not that I know what all these changes will mean for the cultural value of music – or if these trends will continue. It seems safe to say that music making is becoming more culturally diffuse. This could dilute its quality or make listeners more sophisticated, more appreciative of subtlety, and therefore more aware of what makes great music great and by nature rare.
Musicscan: Do you think there is a difference between art and entertainment?
The New Year: Yes, but all I would offer in response to this huge question is my workaday notion that entertainment is in general a less subtle, less transformative, and less morally challenging mode of art.
Musicscan: What are you looking for in a song? What is the perfect song to you and would you say you have achieved something close to it?
The New Year: In a pop or rock song I always want to feel both the power that those genres have a special ability to convey and some sense of surprise. I hope we occasionally achieve this but I don’t know.
Musicscan: In how far has your personal relationship to music changed over the years? Can you still remember what it felt like when you finished your first song and what it feels like now?
The New Year: I have always felt elation and then something like emptiness on finishing a song.
Musicscan: You have toured the US and Europe many times. Would you say there is a difference in how music is received in a live setting or appreciated in general?
The New Year: US audiences are, on the whole, a little more indifferent and less respectful than European audiences. I think the best audiences we’ve had are in Southern Europe, although we did just play in LA in front of an audience of people with incredibly morale-boosting whistles. I’m a big fan of our whistling fans.
Musicscan: What would you like people to take away from a New Year show?
The New Year: A sense that we conveyed something that we’re singularly able to convey.
Musicscan: What are some of your personal aspirations for the future, not necessarily related to music?
The New Year: I have a lot of questions I want to answer, and I want to live in a sunnier climate.
Musicscan: What can we expect from The New Year in the near future?
The New Year: I honestly don’t know. I would never pretend that a band should last forever.