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Monsters of Folk

Averting Disaster

Oct 02, 2009 Issue #28 Fall 2009 - Monsters of Folk Photography by Jayme Thornton Bookmark and Share

It’s one of the most ill-used words in the rock and roll lexicon, but 20 years ago, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne brought new meaning to the word “supergroup” when they formed The Traveling Wilburys. Two decades later, it still seems just as unlikely that such a grouping could ever result in a coherent album. Just how would the most revered singer/songwriter in history, a former Beatle, an original rock legend, an American rock icon, and a British über-producer get together and actually share the messy work of the creative process? These were five recording giants who were collectively responsible for a significant portion of the popular music canon and whose creative voices were unquestionably and singularly theirs—and they had earned the right to never have to cede to someone else’s ego. Was Dylan really going to take lyrical advice? Would Harrison take suggestions for writing a good pop hook? Would Lynne take production pointers? This was going to be a train wreck.

In 2004, Conor Oberst set in motion a series of steps that would lead to a similarly bad idea. He assembled My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, producer and Bright Eyes bandmate Mike Mogis, and singer/songwriter M. Ward for an unconventional tour, one where each night, each artist (aside from Mogis, who would provide instrumental backing) would perform his material with the others backing him up in various combinations. No opening acts, no headliners, just four musicians performing unique arrangements of their songs. Partly because they played acoustic instruments, and partly because they like to make fun of themselves, the tour became known as The Monsters of Folk, their name announced every night with ominous echo in a satirical parody of the “Monsters of Rock” festivals that once were the domain of spandex-clad hair metal bands. And like The Traveling Wilburys, they decided to ignore the potential collision course of competing egos and said, “Hey, we’re friends, we’re good musicians, and we’re having fun. Let’s make an album.” More than simply providing backing instrumentation and moral support, however, they would collaborate, three songwriters with several decades of accumulated experience and creative biases between them trying to defer to each other. This was going to be train wreck.

And, yet, just like the Wilburys, it wasn’t. Somehow, these artists of distinct visions and unique voices found that when they were in the studio together, they worked without territorial disputes or the overwhelming desire to personally make sure the train wasn’t sliding off the tracks. They would contribute all of the songwriting material, play every instrument on the album, and produce it themselves. Artists who were used to calling the shots and making the big decisions on their albums would essentially become sidemen for each other, and songwriters who were used to wielding unquestioned authority on their own songs would allow other artists to dismantle and reassemble their creations. They would actually collaborate, and they would do the unlikely, making an album that both echoed their individual bodies of work and created something uniquely belonging to them collectively. They became an actual band.

“We had a weekend in New York and talked to a lot of journalists, and everyone had their own ideas of what they wanted to compare the record to, The Traveling Wilburys, etcetera, etcetera,” says Ward from a hotel room in Utrecht, The Netherlands. “And we ended up stumped. Not in any egotistical way, but we just feel that it’s its own thing. I’m really surprised by how smoothly the record came together, but on the other side, I really trust these guys’ musical ideas, so I knew it was going to be good. It really seems on paper that if you put four producers in a room, it’s going to be a train wreck,” he laughs. “But maybe some magic was involved.”

The Monster Rears Its Head

The exact point of origin for the magic that would become Monsters of Folk can likely be traced to the moment that a man named Ted Stevens introduced a teenaged Conor Oberst to his Lullaby for the Working Class bandmate Mike Mogis. Then looking for someone to help him realize his goals in the studio, Oberst found Mogis to be the missing element in the emerging Bright Eyes sound, an experienced hand for recording and arranging and a multi-instrumentalist who could fill out the empty sonic spaces. Now, more than 10 years later, Oberst thinks of Mogis as so essential to the Bright Eyes aesthetic that he has refused to record under that moniker without him, instead issuing a series of titles under his own name. And though they own no larger share in the Monsters of Folk dynamic than the other members, the project’s roots largely rest in the ARC Studios that sit between the backyards of Mogis and Oberst’s Omaha homes.

Jim James’ first contact with Oberst and Mogis came during a brief encounter in London that allowed time for little more than the exchange of pleasantries. As James had known of Bright Eyes but hadn’t heard much of their music, it was his first opportunity to witness the power of Oberst’s charisma.

“I’ve never seen it in anyone else, but he’s got this crazy thing that draws people to him,” James explains. “I think a lot of people know Bright Eyes or his early music as being pretty heavy and pretty emotional and sad. But he has this weightless sense of humor to him, and I don’t know how many people get to see that side of him. It’s funny, because when you first meet him, he seems like the sweetest, friendliest guy, and then you hear his music, and it’s like, ‘Wow! There’s a lot of weight there. There’s a lot going on. A lot of heavy emotion.’ And then you get to know him a little more, and you get to see the sense of humor side. It’s a pretty interesting puzzle.”

The first proper meeting between James and Oberst would have to wait until the 2004 Field Day Festival, the much-hyped two-day concert that was unceremoniously moved from a pleasant outdoor park in Long Island to a parking lot in New Jersey due to security concerns.

“And it rained and rained and rained,” James recalls. “So [My Morning Jacket] played right before Bright Eyes, and we all got drenched in the rain, and we bonded over that backstage. Somehow, I can’t remember how it happened; I was going to play with them again at the Bowery Ballroom the next night, just some acoustic thing. Then we were talking some more about how it would be fun to go on tour with a couple of other guys, and it was acoustic and everybody took turns and helped each other and played on each other’s songs. He said that M. [Matt Ward] would be a good choice to do this tour with us, and I had just the week before gotten the Transfiguration of Vincent record and was just loving it and was blown away. But I had never met him. So we all flew out to Omaha to rehearse in Conor’s basement before the tour and hadn’t really met or anything. From the first minute I met [Ward], he was exactly how his music sounded. He’s such a
Zen guy.”

Ward, at that point, was an old Bright Eyes associate, having met Oberst and Mogis years earlier in Portland, with their relationship culminating in his stint as a touring member of the band as a lead guitarist in 2003. And just a year later, only months after Oberst met James, the four embarked on their first tour, and Monsters of Folk were born. Just as Oberst had imagined it, each songwriter took turns playing his own material and providing support to the others. Soon, nights of backstage laughing fits and late-night conversations turned into dreams of making an actual album together.

“And it lasted in that state of limbo for literally four years,” Mogis says. “I guess it started to become serious when the planets aligned and our fucking schedules worked out. Jim, he had just finished the Evil Urges record. Conor just finished his first solo record. And I was working with Matt here in Omaha mixing Hold Time, his new record. It worked out that everybody was available right then and there, and it was the first time in years that people weren’t on tour or committed to doing pre-production or in the studio or were taking personal time. And that’s when it took on this air of seriousness. We started that recording session here in Omaha with absolutely no expectations. Even when we booked the first session and everybody allocated 10 days of their lives to making music together, we didn’t want to tell anybody.”

So Ward and James flew into a freezing Omaha in February of 2007 to meet up with Mogis and Oberst, with no one having any real idea of what to expect. Each songwriter came with a few songs in various stages of completion, ones that were set aside for this project and purposely designed with open spaces where the others could possibly inject themselves. But at that point they had little idea of exactly how these pieces would fit together, how James’ angelic croon would blend with Oberst’s wounded bleat, how a cohesive album would possibly emerge from this process.

“I tried to have pretty low expectations,” Oberst admits. “I was prepared for it not to work out, and just because I enjoy their company, it would have been fine with me. I was like, ‘Oh well, if nothing else it will be fun. Maybe we’ll start one or two songs.’ I think we had 10 days together, and basically zero songs at that point. We had very few rules. The whole thing was a big experiment. But the rules that we did have were that we were all going to play all the music with no extra people. And it’s got to be fun, all the time, at all costs. At any point, if it was stressful, we’ve all got so much stuff going on and so many obligations to our different projects and business and bullshit, it wouldn’t have lasted. Someone would have walked away. I think that’s why it took so long to do. When something would come up, it would be like, ‘No, man. Just do your thing, and we’ll get together when it works out.’ That was everyone’s attitude, and that carried into the actual recording.”

By all accounts, the creative gears turned quickly. Starting with Oberst’s “Temazcal,” a reverb-filled meditation on the transient nature of life, the songs came at a remarkable pace—country songs, retro-rock raves, garage rock eruptions—each songwriter taking a turn putting forth a song and seeing what the others had to say. Almost immediately, they had developed a comfortable working relationship, four artists sitting around with their instruments and ideas and working toward something that they all owned but that belonged to none of them. As the only man outside of the songwriting process, Mogis was in a particularly good place to observe the pulsations of the group mind of three master songwriters.

“For instance, take the first track on the record, ‘Dear God,’” he says, mentioning James’ Marvin Gaye-flavored contemplation of the divine. “Jim came in with that song, but it only had one verse, so the other people wrote their own verses. The general kind of working process that we fell into was like, ‘I had this idea for a song,’ and Matt would play a little part of it, and we would talk about it, basically. And there’d be parts of the song where he’d be like, ‘I don’t really like this line, so if anybody has any better ideas…’ and Conor would say, ‘How about you do this?’ Everybody worked on things together, and some more than others. There is a sense of entitlement to the song, I suppose, for the songwriter who brought in that little seed of an idea. And some of them were bigger than a seed of an idea. When it came to mix time, for instance, whoever’s song it originally was—even though everyone has equal input—once that person was happy, the song was done. They had a little bit more of an authoritative voice for how the song ended up. But it was a very open process. Anybody can make a suggestion on lyrics, on chord changes, on structure—and we did, and we changed things. We didn’t want people to come in with their finished songs and be like, ‘OK, let’s record this! Back me up.’ That’s not really what we’re about.”

At the end of their first 10 days together as a studio band, they had nine songs more or less finished, and what could have been just a nice reunion of old friends had become a very real album. Now they just needed some time to finish it, something that would be complicated by the fact that they were all now releasing new albums and had months of touring and promotional commitments to tend to before they could even consider finishing up an album that was, at best, half-finished. When they finally did reconvene, it was a year later and in Malibu, the same locale where The Traveling Wiburys had started their album two decades earlier while sitting around in Bob Dylan’s garden.

The Monster’s Mouth

In 2005, in a nice bit of coincidence, when Jenny Lewis decided to record The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care” on her Rabbit Fur Coat, she immediately thought of Oberst and Ward (as well as Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard) to trade verses on the song that originally served as the impetus for the Wilburys project. And while he has never shown any eagerness to assume the “indie Dylan” mantle that many have been eager to hang on him, Oberst ended up singing Dylan’s part on the song, and it’s the Dylan role that he fills on the Monsters of Folk album as well, providing the album’s most unflinching philosophical moments and most epic narratives.

Including the aforementioned “Temazcal,” Oberst continues writing in the dusty, country-folk mode that has dominated his two albums with The Mystic Valley Band, with the wistful escapism “Ahead of the Curve” and the exhausted “Map of the World” providing balance to the album’s often carefree spirit. Even more harrowing is a dark cautionary tale of heroin addiction titled “Man Named Truth,” a galloping, mandolin-driven anthem that follows a doomed protagonist as he tries to stay one step ahead of his demons and desires. In the song, paradise is as threatening as purgatory. But ask him what he takes from the Monsters of Folk experience, and he’s quick to describe the workshop quality of the collaboration and how he emerged from the experience with new insights for his own work.

“I feel like I’ve been isolated, making my own songs by myself for a while now, and it was great to get back into that situation where there were multiple cooks in the kitchen,” explains Oberst, who last worked with other songwriters in the short-lived Desaparecidos, a band that went on hiatus back in 2002. “I feel like I picked up a few of their secrets, the reason that M. Ward records or Jacket records sound amazing to me. There are little things that they did or expressed along the way throughout the recording or the mixing where I was like, ‘Wow. That makes a lot of sense. Matt is completely right. You need to take a lot of the instruments out right here to have more space. Wow. That’s why

M. Ward records sound so peaceful and chill, because he lets things breathe.’ I want to apply that to my music in the future.”

Given their self-imposed limitations of keeping every instrument played by one of the four members of the band, the quartet eventually had to face the fact that none of them were particularly experienced on the drum kit. For someone who has labored in a fairly unforgiving spotlight since he was in his early 20s, Oberst was finally able to reclaim some of the unsophisticated joy that comes along with banging on a drum while someone plays power chords. Oberst got his chance on James’ power-pop paean “Losin Yo Head.”

“Since I’ve played in bands forever, I can play most of the instruments poorly, a little bit,” he says. “For me, getting behind a drum set was scary. I’ve done it. I used to play drums in a band, but it was mostly for fun. There was a little more pressure when it’s like ‘Play drums on a Jim James song.’ But it was like, ‘OK. I’ll do my best.’ But they were so supportive, and I do like that there’s a certain naiveté to the record. It sounds polished and it sounds really good, but we made a point not to smooth out all the rough patches, and you can hear there’s a little unhinged rhythm section, because that’s us playing. We didn’t want to make it all super pro.”

Less experienced than James, who also mans the drum kit for a few tracks, Oberst’s drumming is a little raw around the edges (you can even hear him say “I felt better about that one” at the end of the song), a fairly unsophisticated flurry of straightforward snare-and-kick drum hits and cymbal crashes. And yet it serves both the spirit of the song and the informal tone of the album perfectly, an instructive moment that proves that even musicians at the top of their profession can still cut loose their inner 8th grader.

“It reminded me a lot of when I was a kid and I would get together with some of my friends and maybe we’d have a four-track and we’d for fun try to make a song,” Oberst says. “We’d have the instruments in the room, and you’d pick up something and try it, and some stuff would work and some stuff wouldn’t, but the process itself was enjoyable. It was a lot of playing around. This was kind of like a 2008-2009 version of that. Obviously, we’ve been doing it a lot longer and we’re probably a lot better than we were then, and we’ve got nicer equipment and a nice studio. But it’s still the same basic idea of getting with your friends and playing around with instruments and trying to make cool sounds.”

The Monster’s Soul

In July 2009, Jim James released a tribute EP to the late George Harrison, showing his quirky Harrison-esque sense of humor by attributing the project to “Yim Yames.” And just as Harrison served as the spiritual centerpiece for The Traveling Wilburys, James is responsible for Monsters of Folk’s most spiritually searching moment, with the album’s leadoff track, “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.).” Built on top of icy looped beats and dreamy string samples, the track allows an intimate look into how three songwriters approach a topic as profound as the divine, with James’ soulful falsetto coo leading the way.

“That was a fun one, where we recorded all the music and then drove around in the car and listened to the music and talked about what we wanted to say and each came up with a verse and kept talking about those themes,” James recalls. “We came up with a chorus and knocked it around. I just feel like I’m one of those people that really believes that there is some force or some thing out there, but I don’t know what it is. I just have never been able to subscribe to any particular religious set of beliefs. I just feel like I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of crazy, magical coincidences, and I’ve been unfortunate to have had some bad things happen, too, but I think everybody does. I just feel like there’s too much going on out there for it all to be random or for us all just to be animals running around. I feel like there’s too much magic and lack of coincidence.” He takes a thoughtful pause before concluding, “I guess I just think about it a lot.”

James’ contributions are characteristically scattered, from the pedal steel-drenched “The Right Place” to the good-natured musings of “Magic Marker” to the multipart vignettes in “His Master’s Voice.” With an arresting cast of characters stretching from Muhammad and Jesus, who collaborate to rewrite the Bible, to a soldier going off to war and a fire-and-brimstone preacher, it’s a thought-provoking remake of the “be true to yourself” dictum.

“That one tries to illustrate or figure out who your master’s voice is,” James says. “I like to think that it’s trying to listen to my heart and my gut, and, again, that’s why I feel like there must be some kind of God or some kind of other force, because we have this voice inside our heart and head. Maybe some people don’t have a conscience…sometimes it seems like some people don’t have a conscience at all,” he says, laughing, “but a lot of us do. And that voice is there for a reason. Who knows where it comes from. I feel like that is the master that each of us should listen to, that voice that according to what you’ve learned over the course of your life tells you what’s right and wrong.”

Taken as whole, James’ contributions are a telling snapshot of an exceptionally active mind and restless songwriter, someone who is remarkably capable of translating himself into whatever style he chooses. For Oberst, someone who had always wondered just how James was capable of covering such a wide stylistic expanse, watching him work was like pulling back the curtain on a sonic magician.

“I was impressed with how much attention to detail Jim had in the mixing process,” Oberst says. “The things he wanted to hear different would be down to the bass drum or this instrument or that instrument. They made all those Jacket records in their barn for years, and you can tell that he’s a producer at heart. To see him and Mike interact and come to agreement with tones was fascinating to me. He’s a super easygoing guy and he’s funny as hell, but he’s also a perfectionist.”

But as valuable as he is as a songwriter, harmony partner, and backing instrumentalist, it seems that James’ most essential role might be in the area of comic relief, the man who made sure that no one felt as if he was carrying the combined expectations of the muscians’ respective audiences. As humor was the substance that ensured their creative gears stayed well oiled, James was the master mechanic, the man who kept the machine running smoothly.

“There never was this measure that we had to live up to, a measure as far as looking at our bodies of work and making sure it was good or better than that,” Mogis says. “In fact, Jim would put up pictures of himself on the board just as a joke. He would tear out a picture from Rolling Stone, and it would be funny. Aside from that, there was no mention of anybody’s prior work, only pictures of them.”

The Monster’s Arms

By the time The Traveling Wilburys got around to making their second record, Roy Orbison had passed away, and the remaining superstars seemed to want to keep the mood light. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Dylan or Harrison who dominated that album, but instead Tom Petty, a jack-of-all-trades whose status was often overshadowed by the oversized personalities of his Wilbury bandmates, but who ended up writing the majority of the songs. M. Ward is the Tom Petty in the Monsters of Folk lineup.

Anyone taking a quick listen to the first two-thirds of the album could be forgiven for thinking that Ward is calling the shots, as he trades verses with the others on the swirling “Say Please,” strikes a Jerry Lee Lewis pose with “Whole Lotta Losin’,” and leads a chorus of handclaps and call-and-response vocals on “Good Way.” Unmistakably shrouded in his distinctive use of reverb, his songs are the understated gems sandwiched between James’ and Oberst’s more extroverted entries, none more affecting than the dreamily observational “The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me.”

“I think a million different things inspired it, but if I had to say one thing, I would say [it was] the beauty of those metaphors,” Ward says. “I’ve always loved the idea of letting off some steam. I think it’s a beautiful image, and the idea of the sandman is, as well. I’m inspired by those sort of ancient ideas. Letting your wheels go is a helpful way of looking at the imagination.”

The quiet and pensive one in the group, Ward speaks slowly and thoughtfully, crafting each sentence with the same sort of deliberation that marks his songs. When added to the outspoken Oberst, the jovial James, and the magnanimous Mogis, he’s the less-is-more pragmatist, the man whose creative calibration is always spot-on.

“He’s definitely the most introverted [of us], for sure,” James says. “But like a lot of people, once you get to know him, he gets past that initial wall. He’s really peaceful and mysterious but really funny and open. He’s the craziest guitar player, and he has this magic way of doing things that seems really simple but that are not. There are so many mysteries revealed when he plays a normal chord that you’ve heard a million times.”

“He’ll tell you he wants something different, but you can talk him into stuff,” Oberst suggests. “He’s pretty mellow. But I was impressed with him, because there were points where certain things in a song that I felt were central—like a guitar part or a keyboard part—and he’d be like, ‘We need to take that out of the first half of the song.’ And I’d be like, ‘Really? That’s…odd.’ And we’d try it, and it was 10 times better.”

As much as he contributed to the album from a songwriting perspective, Ward’s most important role might have been as a supporting player, as nearly every song benefits from one of his guitar lines, backing vocals, or production ideas. From his stint as a creative foil for Zooey Deschanel in She & Him to producing Jolie Holland’s The Living and the Dead, it’s a role he knows well.

“I’m really used to playing the supporting role as much as I am [working on] my own project, just with the different projects that I’ve worked on,” Ward says. “I love the perspective of working on other people’s songs and learning them. That’s how I learned to play guitar, and the way that I learn about playing music is by learning other people’s songs. Hopefully, we never feel that we don’t have anything else to learn. I think that’s when music ends.”

The Monster’s Brain

The Traveling Wilburys metaphor is imperfect, of course, because Monsters of Folk have no Roy Orbison figure, no Thurston Moore or Bob Mould filling the elder statesman role that Orbison did until his untimely death. But they do have a Jeff Lynne in Mike Mogis, with the multi-instrumentalist and producer serving the essential (if underappreciated) role of creative sounding board, studio facilitator, and supporting player. Just as he’s essential to the Bright Eyes mix, he’s foundational to the Monsters of Folk dynamic.

“I am, obviously, not one of the members that brought in any song material, so I’m the outsider on those things,” Mogis explains. “I guess I was the objective figure, and I always had it on my mind to try to keep a cohesive sound together. Granted, there is no producer on this record, but it’s hard for me to just assume a band member role, because I think in those terms. So when I give suggestions, I give suggestions in those terms. We were all putting together this record, and they have a very eclectic nature, so my role is to try and bring things together because of having a more objective position. I didn’t write any of the lyrics or chord changes. And, also, I was the ornamenter, like ‘This song needs more moments to happen. Mogis, what do you think.’ ‘Yeah, I hear this drifty, space steel thing.’ Some-times they would finish up doing a basic track and leave me with it for hours, and I would come back with a more cohesive-sounding song. I would try and tie things together and then get their opinion on it. I would try to fill them out. I guess my main role was to be an objective voice on something and help to try to tie the record together cohesively, whether it be sonically or through instrumentation, overdubs, and ornamentation. That’s my role.”

Ultimately, though, Mogis’ position outside of the songwriting triumvirate is arguably the strongest of all, as he had an even greater share in shaping the album after his bandmates left him to oversee the polishing of the tracks into a finished album. Emails were sent back and forth between the members to ensure that they all agreed they were creating a piece of sonic pottery that could hold water, but Mogis was the man with the clay under his fingernails at the end of the day.

“He’s got fantastic ears and fantastic gear, and the whole thing started coming together,” James says. “We listened to it, and it made us feel like we were a band making a record, instead of some dudes making a side-project thing, like a throw-off thing where you do something real quick. We took a lot of time and put a lot of detail into it, and it felt like we were a new band making a record. I feel like I relate a lot to Mike on the technical side of things and I tried to learn from him.”

Of course, with the burden of making sense of such a potentially difficult project, it’s possible that Mogis shouldered a disproportionate amount of the stress that accompanied those responsibilities. They might have worked on the album as a team of producers, but it was his responsibility to make sure it all resulted in an album and not a collection of songs.

“As an engineer, I was like, ‘How the fuck do we do this?’” he admits. “Because there are three voices, and not only writing style-wise are they unique. We tried with the first song to do vocals sitting around one mic, which I didn’t think would work out, and it didn’t. One guy sings really softly, one guy sings really loudly, and one guy has a voice that is really mid-rangey. We ended up doing vocals live with three different mics. I thought it was going to be hard to make them balance in a song so that it didn’t sound lopsided and jerky, but some people, when they’ve listened to it say, ‘Is that Conor? Or is that Matt?’ They can’t tell. And that’s a good thing,” he says with satisfaction. “But I hope they can tell the difference, because one of the things that’s special about the record is these unique voices coming together. The fact that we were all in it making group decisions on everything, it worked out well. It sounds like, ‘How the fuck did that work? That sounds terrible.’ But it wasn’t terrible, it was easy.”

The Monster with No Pride

Ultimately, Monsters of Folk might have maintained the delicate balancing act of having four artists splashing paint all over on the same canvas, but all the harmony and goodwill in the world means little if the resulting tableau fails to mean anything to its audience. Like The Traveling Wilburys, their most amazing accomplishment isn’t that they managed to avoid making a bad album, it’s that they managed to do what nearly every supergroup before them could not: They made a good one. Where prodigious talent and good vibes have failed to result in something that was worth more than a curious listen in the past, they have done the unthinkable and have emerged from the process not only with 15 solid songs but also with their friendships intact.

“To me, the exciting thing was to see what they brought to the music,” Oberst says. “Having made so many records on my own that were my ideas and my visions, I guess I get the final say with my other bands. To not have that be the dynamic, to have this new experience of completely equal partners as songwriters and people that I admire so much, to see what they would bring to it, it turned out so much different than what I was expecting. Not that I was expecting something,” he says with a stop, “but it surprised me, the final product.”

And when you strip away all the supergroup hyperbole, the one fact that sets them apart from their peers is their steadfast commitment to the band concept, their willingness to subvert their egos for the sake of pouring themselves into something that belonged to a specific moment and a special collision of personalities. Ultimately, they became something for which there is no obvious equivalent.

“People throw in supergroups like The Traveling Wilburys, but I don’t think of this as that sort of thing, because that never really had a ‘band’-type feel at all,” Mogis says. “This one, to me, does. It’s shitty of me to say this, but I feel like if you take a band like The Beatles—not that we have any sort of style like The Beatles—there are three distinct singer/ songwriters. It didn’t feel like a collection of singer/songwriters making a record; it felt like a band-very prominent singer/songwriters in a band. It always had this air of ‘we’re a fucking band.’ There wasn’t a frontman or sidemen. Even Ringo was up there, and I’d be the Ringo of the band,” he laughs. “It was always all-for-one, and there was more camaraderie in this group than I think they were used to having. Well…I can’t say that, because I’m putting words in people’s mouths,” he says. “Nevermind. I don’t want to compare us to The Beatles, either. ‘It’s like we’re The Beatles…’” he says, quoting himself self-effacingly. “What an


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May 22nd 2011

Best Monsters of Folk interview ever, brilliant!

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