I think it just became clear that we all have had our various struggles; that’s not anything unique to one of us. Just basic self-preservation. People need to get themselves together and get their lives in order. It’s not like totally strange to imagine people who have a bias towards creativity or a bias for rejecting mainstream values. It’s not that strange that those are the same people that occasionally feel crazy. You don’t have the whole support of the entire matrix or romantic comedies and banking to affirm you all the time, you know what I mean. It’s not like none of us stopped playing years ago or something. It was like during the Cap’n Jazz shows we realized that there is definitely an awareness of playing the songs, especially playing the songs we wrote as teenagers. There was an awareness of like, ‘Oh, we’re grown men now and we’re still all weirdos and we still all like each other. This is really interesting.” We we’re drawn to it enough and we we were ready to pull the plug at any point. We went into it with zero expectations and I’ve still never heard the first record since we recorded it. It’s not like there is some idea that we need to live up to something. At some point we did throw the record away and start over a couple times, because it wasn’t sounding good to us. There was definitely a point where tensions reached a level that I just thought, “Ok, this isn’t worth it to me” and we stepped away from it for a couple months at a time. Then it would be like, “We invested this much work, let’s just see it through”. There never was one big commitment that we had to stick to, it was always like we can do this next thing and let’s see if the little things all accrue.
Does this Owls reunion feel different that the Cap’n Jazz reunion a few years ago?
That was when the first Cap’n Jazz reunion happened, so I mean in a way. I was really pushing for naming this record a Cap’n Jazz record. Like it’s pretty indistinguishable in my mind, but the legal issues with Jade Tree just became…It would’ve been a whole different thing if we were making a Cap’n Jazz record than if we were making an Owls record legally. But I guarantee we could’ve named it Cap’n Jazz and it would be the exact same 10 songs.
Once everyone got back together to start writing, did everyone fall back into the same roles as before?
To some degree. Another aspect of being grown up weirdos is it takes work. It takes a certain amount of work at self-awareness and developing your ideas of how you want your community to be and your investment in it. Between the 4 of us, we have some very conscious people that have worked very hard at being themselves. It’s beautiful when the 4 of us are together. Because we don’t spend much time together at all as a foursome now, the inside jokes are still 20 years old, because we haven’t developed new inside jokes, you know what I mean. So it’s weird. It’s a little bit like visiting your family or something. You know how like everyone has their parallel intimacies where there is someone who has been your best friend for 20 years, but you only see them once a month, and then you’ll be dating someone and see them everyday for a year and it’s like you can’t say you’re closer to one person than the other, but it just functions differently. We’re definitely like the first model of that kind of intimacy, like we don’t see each other much.
The conflicts between you and your brother Mike have been discussed before, do those conflicts only come up when you two are working together on music or do they carry over to everyday life?
Just when we try to collaborate. I actually ran into him last night, ran into him at bar last night and it went fine. I went to his kid’s birthday party the day before. When we didn’t play together at all for 5 years, it was like the closet we’ve ever been. It really just happens when I try to collaborate with such different sensibilities. We live very, very different lives and so I think we are exposed to very different things, so we’re just bringing totally different sensibilities to the collaboration. Does that make sense? It’s entirely different standards of judgement.
Before Owls originally broke up in 2002, you had already started writing a new record, was any of that material revisited as you began writing together again for this new album?
No. There was 2 new songs we would play live on tour. I don’t know if any of us would even….It’s weird you know, because we probably played them live 30 times or something. There is no sense of what they might of sounded like. One was on a compilation. After that, we had demos, but it was so long ago.
You were saying about this current Owls outing, that there were a lot of false starts and you actually scrapped a whole record and started over. Why did you scrap that whole album?
It’s all just methodology. It was like the four of us would stand in a room and Victor would play a part over and over and it would just have this level of complexity that everyone would be like, “Oh man, I only got 2 hours and I gotta be somewhere else” and “Why does this have to be so complicated?” I wasn’t playing second guitar and we had to learn how to communicate and how to respond to each other again. We would get to a certain point and if you were to ask Mike or Sam, they would be like, “Oh we threw a couple songs away”, but I would sit with Victor and chart out the whole song. The two of us would write everything on guitar and I would put vocals to them and then we’d give them to Sam and Mike to write their stuff too. It was definitely getting to where you don’t have a sense and it suddenly sounds like this weird genre of hard rock that was like, “How did we end up in this corner? Scrap it and start over. What is this a Lenny Kravitz song?” It just didn’t work.
I think that’s just the difference in we don’t start out with some sense of….it’s all exploratory. It’s not like we start out with a genre in mind like, “Oh, we’re going to sound like this” and then we can determine our success or failure according to how closely we resembled that. Every single new song, we don’t know where it’s going to go. There are limitations in the practical sense to make a continuity between the songs to make a body, to make an album a unified whole. It’s pretty clear it wasn’t going to be like a synthesizer lead or a cello on any of these songs. Every song is it’s own point of departure and we don’t know where it will end up. It’s perfectly reasonable to throw something away when you end up in some direction that is just like, “That’s where that took us, ok”. You still learn from that and it contributes to the next song. My job as a creative writing teacher, I teach novel workshops at the university here, and my standard rule of thumb for my students is, “You should probably assume you are going to throw away 98% of everything you write.” That was the huge difference in Owls. They thought every song we write, we should use. It sounds funny, because I’ve made a lot of records, but no one would ever believe that I actually throw away 98% of everything I write. Where as these guys were like, “No, but we made it, this is what it is.” That was definitely part of the tension.
A lot of people hold the Owls self-titled album to such a high regard, and early on in the process of your new album, you all accepted that you wouldn’t be able to live up to your former selves. Having accepted that faith of failure early on, did it make it easier to write whatever came naturally instead of putting pressure on yourselves to please everybody?
Yeah of course. My friends don’t hold that album in high regard. I’m not surrounded by people who ask me about time signatures or something, so I don’t think about the regard that it’s held in. It was only the pressure of writing new songs. It was only when we started writing new songs, that we had to become aware. This isn’t something we suffered over, this is like a 15 second conversation where we pretend to be ourselves 15 years ago and do we make the choices that we would’ve made 15 years ago, no, because the truer thing is 15 years ago we made the choices that felt right to us at the time. That’s the real value in our band is that we’re going to do what we want at that moment.
You’ve said some things about this new album being less clever lyric wise that the previous album. Was making the song titles the first few words of each song and changing the album’s title from I Keep Putting Books Where The Pussy Is Supposed To Be, to Two a conscious effort to separate yourselves from the cleverness of the self-titled album?
I was excited about that title for the record, but not everyone felt like they wanted the album to be themed to that filter, and I totally respect that. Did you ever see that Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm? I really wanted to make the Owls record as a Joan of Arc record and make it the wildest, weirdest one, so that it would satisfy what people want, but not doing it in a way anyone expects. That’s not like me be difficult or something, it’s just like…(long pause)
Ok, I think I’m going back a couple steps here. Everything is entertainment, right? They teach popular culture at the city college here and it’s insane. People expect church to be entertaining, people expect going to the doctor to be entertaining, people expect for the bank to be entertaining. That’s a totally warped culture that expects that everything needs to entertain you. I don’t think a band, it’s value isn’t necessarily in “entertainment”, you know what I mean? It’s not like a relevant standard to me. I realized that me saying I want to make the record this way sounds like people have some idea that I’m difficult or something, but it’s playful, you know. What’s life affirming about doing this and having any investment in these creative pursuits to me, there is no money to be won or lost. It’s not a big deal. Like it really doesn’t matter. So if we can play with it, this is a form of play and that’s where invention happens. I can’t remember the question, but my point is because everything is assumed that it should have some element of entertainment to it, which is usually entantalizing the entire population in which is how corrupt, unjust social orders remain in place. Because everyone is entantalized into being entertained all the time. But my point is just that if you….(long pause)….How should I say this….This all goes back the question of cleverness with the song titles. Being difficult is never a relevant standard of success or failure to me. It’s like, this is better or worse because it’s accessible or not. Accessibility is not the relevant standard, but is the thing itself? Is it the best version of itself? Expressing a thing that only it can express and that it can’t express in a different way. That’s the standard in my mind. Then it becomes a matter of how do we frame it. The sort of invisible song titles are just to sort of put grasps around the things instead of to make them be seen through any sort of filter. Does that make sense?
You guys recorded 14 songs during the Two sessions, 10 made it on to the US release with 2 more for the Japanese import, do you have plans for the other 2 songs you recorded?
I know there is one on the Joyful Noise Flexi Disc Series and that was sort of our…Joan of Arc does this thing when recording when we have a kind of dump truck song, where it’s like someone really thinks there needs to be a toy piano or a harpsichord somewhere and we never talk about it and no one ever acknowledges which one is the dump truck song. I’m always half way through the session and I can sort of identify like, “Oh, this one’s become the dump truck”. Basically it means, someone really needs to get some harpsichord off their chest that afternoon. All these ideas end up gravitating towards the same song and it leaves the other songs clear from that sort of corruption and then you just throw that song away. So the Flexi Disc song is sort of our dump truck Owls song. And I think there is a 7”, but I can’t remember what the last one was.
Those 14 songs you recorded came from a batch of about 30 that got started and I know it’s still too early to say, but does that keep you optimistic that you will all work together again in the future?
I think pretty much once things fall away, they’re gone. If we were to play together in the future, it wouldn’t be decided by, “Oh, we already have these demos that weren’t good enough a couple years ago”. We’re practicing in a couple hours and this is the first time since recording the record. It’s just totally coincidentally that happened to be the day the record’s released. I’d say it’s totally 50/50 that we’d make another record. Before, I would’ve said it’s more likely that we’d make another record than play any shows, but now we’re playing shows so I don’t know if that means we’re less likely to make the record. I don’t know.
The Owls record release show isn’t until the middle of May, have you guys decided on a set list yet and will it feature songs from both albums?
Yeah, I imagine it will be both albums. We haven’t decided on a set list yet, like I said, we haven’t even played together since July. There is the one photo of us that everyone writes about us uses and the one hour of having that photo taken is the only time the 4 of us have seen each other since July. I’ll know more tomorrow.
Having not talked in a while, I suppose you don’t know if you’ll be playing any shows after the record release show?
I know there’s about 15 shows, but they are pretty spread out apart from each other. It doesn’t feel like a touring schedule, it feels like a couple days at a time with long periods off in between.
Are you guys planning on playing some festivals like you did with the Cap’n Jazz reunion?
There was only a few festivals for Cap’n Jazz. There’s a couple we’re doing and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say them yet, but it’s not like we’re doing the giant ones. I think there’s two, but that hasn’t been a determining factor.
Having two projects that have been years in the making, the Owls album and your new novel, Let Go and Go On and On, do you take more pride in finishing one over the other?
Pride is a weird way of putting it. The novel was 8 years in the making. I take a really long time on things, which is another thing that people might find strange, since there is a lot of Joan of Arc records. The novel was definitely, when turning it in, it definitely felt like a bowling ball size tumor was removed from my heart and brain. There is something terrifying about the novel being out in the world. Obviously, there is a narrative voice, but there is still a certain vulnerability that I don’t necessarily feel with the record. I don’t feel proud of either one. I gave a friend of mine a copy of the novel the other day and I’d feel so embarrassed if anyone ever tells me that they’d read my book. I’d feel so embarrassed. A record is a much smaller commitment. You’re not asking so much of people.
I read a while back that your latest novel, Let Go and Go On and On was originally a screenplay you wrote that was being adapted into multi media opera of sorts? How did it go from a screenplay to it’s current form as a novel?
It started as a screenplay and then a few of us put a lot of effort into trying to make it happen, but just the nature of what it is, is impossibly expensive to do even in the most modest version of it. It happens in 4 different time periods and locations and none of those are contemporary, so they’re really impossible. A friend of mine, Ben Vida, read it just because he was on tour with us when I was working on it and I trust him. So I said, “Ok, this is what I’m doing.” and he read it in one afternoon and we talked about it and years later, he was like “I’ve got this thing with this technical design with artists to do a this opera, we just don’t have the libretto.” It was a very unique technical set up that they just needed a story for, but then the 2 main people that were a couple for like a decade, they broke up, so then the opera didn’t happen. My first novel, I spent about two and a half years that I didn’t do anything else, except work on that and that’s when the Cap’n Jazz shows happened, just because I needed to make some money so I could spend the last year just focusing on on that. The day after I sent in my final edit for the first book, I woke up the next morning and just felt a total sense of panic having no idea what I was supposed to do that day. I was used to writing all day. So I was like “I have this, I can shift this”. It’s much easier not depending on a bunch of other people and technical things to fall into place and money to fall in place. If you can just generate the money to allow yourself the time to sit in silence then you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission for anything.
About the new novel, what was it about Laurie Bird that interested you in writing a novel about her?
I think I had seen Two Lane Blacktop so many times over the years. Do you know Rob Lowe, he does Lichens? Me and him and this guy who is now a producer at Vice TV and Jonathan, who plays in the band The Superiors, and this women, Rosie, who works on the Tim and Eric show, we all had this….Rob and Jason owned this video store that specialized in experimental films and underground films. We would just watch these movies over and over and then one time, a few years passed and I hadn’t seen Two Lane Blacktop and I watched it and I was like, “Who is that woman, she’s so mysterious.” I Googled searched her and there is one paragraph and that one paragraph was just like the most basic thing. There was nothing about her. I was just like, “Wow, what actress can be in a movie this important and still remain that much of a mystery?” It drew me in and I started researching her and it became clear that no one knew anything. Like I’ve mail-ordered out-of-print books from England that I spent $50 on because there is a mention of her in the index and then it’ll be like two sentences about her. Something like, “Oh, the release party at this thing and he was there with his new girlfriend, Laurie Bird” and I was like “Goddammit, I just spent $50 bucks and that’s the only reference”. (laughs) It’s like she is totally unknown, so I decided to make up her biography.
Do you go through the same rituals when writing music as you do writing for novels and do you find yourself writing at different times of day for each?
They’re very different. I can only write prose in the morning. I need to get started early in the morning. Sometimes when I have a lot of momentum, if I’m sitting and writing by 8-8:30 in the morning, I can just remain uninterrupted all day. If I even look at my email or have a conversation with someone over breakfast, then I can’t even start. So it needs to be before I even speak out loud or think about anything. Music, it’s definitely a communal thing, afternoon and night time thing. And the rituals are very important for me. I don’t feel inspired very often in the sort of romantic notion of inspiration where it’s like, “I’m spontaneously overwhelmed with expressing this feeling”. It’s more like I get inspired to complete a project according to it’s certain parameters. Like I said about each song starting at a point of departure not knowing where it will lead you. Sitting in the same cubicle at the library for the same few hours each day, the discipline become it’s own inspiration. It’s like you return the the mind you left that space in, if it’s a dedicated space.
What particularly interests you about writing long form material?
I’m definitely more invested in writing these days than music. I’ve been playing a lot with a couple of my friends. It’s fun and exciting and a totally different kind of music that I’ve ever been a part of, but it definitely feels like our hangout, play-time and it’s a couple times a week. The ratio of time I spend reading and writing to the ratio of time I spend working on music is like 500 to 1. Music is very, very, very small in practice.
Having recently started working for a small independent press at a university, do you see yourself touring less now?
Yeah, I see myself touring less anyways, which is why I was excited to take on this position. Part of it is just the energy. I’m not interested in closing a bar every night of the year and part of it is feeling like I’m wasting time. I had an amazing time on tour last year, seeing places, but the meaning totally changed. It wasn’t like when we were younger and we would tour thinking it was like we were doing something for our band, this is like a good necessary career thing. Now it’s like, “Oh, this is such an amazing afternoon that the 4 of us get to drive across Wyoming together. Isn’t this beautiful?.” So it feels very enriching in that way, but it feels like I’m not doing my job. I’m not doing what feels natural to me. When I say my job, I just mean creating these things gives me a sense purpose or at least continuity or organizes my life in some way and touring doesn’t do that for me.
Now that the Owls album and book have been released, what are you working on now?
Featherproof is a big thing and I have a job editing this film for an artist and that is very exciting to me. With both the publisher and the editing job, it’s helping people facilitate creative works and it’s creative work in itself, but it’s not my name or something. It’s like helping get someone else’s vision birthed into the world, so I feel really good about that, because these are smart and inspiring people I’m working with. My third novel, it’s a 160,000 words and it’s just like this giant mess, but I’m in no hurry. I spend a couple of hours each day looking at it, but I don’t care if it takes me 10 years to finish. And like I said, I’ve been playing music with a couple of my friends. It’s also like I don’t care how long it takes, we’re just enjoying playing it.
is now available through Polyvinyl Records
.Tim’s new novel, Let Go and Go On and On,
is now available through Curbside Splendor