Lambchop brings “Mr. M” to Boulder’s Fox Theater (interview)By John Wenzel | April 27th, 2012 | No Comments »
And part of the reason is because it’s not exactly indie rock. First misclassified as an alt-country outfit, the quasi-orchestral Nashville collective — led by the gentle, poetic croak of Kurt Wagner — has pleasantly confounded fans and critics with its trips through jazz, folk, soul-funk, chamber-pop and more.
We caught up with Wagner via phone from his home in Nashville before the band’s rare string of tour dates, which will bring it to Boulder’s Fox Theatre on Saturday, April 28.
Your new album, “Mr. M,” is another tribute to the American songbook — not literally, but in the sense that it’s packed with different arrangements and nods to different genres. How did it come together?
Really slowly. After we finished touring for (2008′s) “Ohio,” I took a little break and started to focus on painting a lot, something I’d set aside for about eight years, so I was mainly painting every day and working on that in a dedicated fashion. The notion of songwriting really wasn’t part of my thinking. A painting can take a year to create, so things developed slowly. Eventually it got to the point where it was suggested by (producer) Mark Nevers that we work with him. He had this sort of sonic notion in mind from watching some Frank Sinatra YouTube stuff about using strings in an abstract way to counter the melodies.
And I know the album’s booklet contains paintings you did that correspond to each song.
The idea was that I paired each song with a little painting from a series I was working on simultaneously with the music over the years. But it’s not the literal painting of a dog with a song about a dog, it’s that notion of how we appreciate and understand abstract art. What are we responding to? This series is a debutante society of these guys posing for their class pictures. I can’t tell you why one song fits a painting better than the other painting.
Lambchop seems like a fragile arrangement for a band, but you’ve been playing music with some of these guys since 1986.
I do think that the nature of the way we are has allowed us to stick around as long as we have, because we have that sort of flexibility that’s ever-evolving and changing in whatever way I’m guiding it. I have friends that have been in bands a long time — at least as long as us — and they’re much more defined as an entity. But as a creation, we’re a collective of people going out and making music on our own terms.
I know you also used to be uncomfortable being thought of as the group’s leader.
I didn’t want to fall into being the focus of the group, because I felt that people would miss the point of what we’re trying to do. But hanging around long enough and doing the things we have, it just happened. I had this absurd fantasy with somehow being accepted in the mainstream country world when we started, and if that was the case then I would embrace that. But that world sort of sees through that, because when they listen to our music there’s truly nothing they can identify with country music.
So you guys are playing Boulder’s Fox Theatre. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you there before. Is this your first time in Boulder?
I don’t think we’ve ever played in Colorado. That’s the idea with what we’re trying to do this time (on tour). We’ve always been limited by what we can do in the U.S., mostly the coasts but never anywhere in between. I just kind of felt like maybe we should try to do some different cities. And that’s part of it too: we’ve never really played in the West or Northwest.
Why is that?
Time constraints. Early on Lambchop functioned as a band that basically would tour on its vacation time from work and we went to where I guess there was the most demand. And that happened to be Europe at the time, so there wasn’t a lot left over to give to the U.S., but we tried the best we could. A lot of it was economic as well, but mostly time constraints. Also due to the nature of the way Lambchop was as a band. We had so many people that would be part of it on the road, and we toured with 14 people or something. In Europe it got even larger.
I’ve read that the album is dedicated to Vic Chestnutt. What would he think of this album if he could hear it?
I think he’d like it. He may not be too fond of the dedication, that sort of drawing attention to him. But for me it was something that was definitely in the air, and he’s such a sort of feature in Lambchop’s existence, and me and Mark as well, personally. The notion of him not being around anymore to hear something like this was something new for us to go through. I’ve never made a record without having him around to hear it. He was pretty instrumental with getting me involved in music, period. It was his encouragement and support that really gave me the confidence to even consider this notion of making music (in the mid-to-late ’80s). I hadn’t even started this notion of Posterchild yet making cassettes, and I ran into him early on. He was a visual artist as well, and I was a painter and he was really fascinated by that side of what I was doing as much as anything.