story and leftover quotes
Haven’t done this in a while. Haven’t done much blogging of any sort in quite a while. Why? Dunno. Doesn’t matter. Right now, what I’ve got is a link to a Journal News feature on Crooked Fingers and some leftover quotes from my interview with Eric Bachmann, the guy behind Crooked Fingers. Before I get into the disjointed Q&A bit, though, lemme tell you that if you’re digging the new Crooked Fingers disc, Dignity & Shame as much as I am you should try to get out to see the band live. Bachmann’s out with six pieces right now. It’s everyone from the record except, unfortunately, Lara Meyerratken, who’s vocals on the disc are so awesome. Eric assures me, though, that those female vocal parts are well covered in the live sets, so it’s not that huge a deal.
Actually, Eric and I started our interview, which took place about an hour before the band’s first live show in support of Dignity & Shame, talking about the live band and their sets. We got to chatting about arranging some old songs, originally written for Bachmann to play solo on the early Crooked Fingers records, for the new band and I asked him if he found he liked certain songs better in their full band permutations.
I like ‘em the same. I mean, it’s just a song, man and it’s different every time. You have to change it up. I like to do things where you record them one way and you take them out differently every time you can. I don’t believe there’s the perfect version of a song. I believe if a song works with any arrangement, you’ve written a good song. At least that’s my attitude.
Have you always operated that way? I mean, I ask that assuming the answer is no. Like, it sort of sounds to me like you used to believe there was a perfect way to perform or record a song.
Yeah, I used to do it that way and it didn’t work for me. I would spend five years on a record. And I just took on a belief through that painful process that you’ve just got to let it go; it’s not that important. It’s important, but it isn’t important. It’s important to me, but it ain’t important to anybody else.
So now you look at it as … um, well, how do you look at it?
You’ve gotta just take it as a document of where you are at that time.
That sounds like a pretty major change in approach. Do you feel like it’s made you better? I mean, I suppose at the least it has to have made it easier to get your work done.
It was huge, man, it was really huge, because it’s like it makes your ego smaller. It’s a … I just realized that I wasn’t getting anything done. I would go back and fix something that I thought was broken and it wouldn’t be better. It wouldn’t be better at all. It would just be different.
And does it then open things up for you when you go back to revisit a song, like when you do a new arrangement?
That’s a great question, because, yeah … I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t wanna know what I’m doing. And the only time I figure out what a song is about is after the fact. I like to think that if I’m writing a song it’s not up to me. I like to feel like I’m just sort of putting it out there, but it’s not me. It’s like that whole idea that you just get working and whatever comes out of you comes out of you. It’s, again, essentially reducing your ego. If you think of it that way, that you don’t have to know what it means until later then you can look back and … it also keeps things from being too rigid, because if a song means one thing and that’s it, then how many times are you going to listen to that over and over again, you know?
So you’re obviously someone who writes when he’s inspired, right? I mean, you’re not one of these guys who sets aside two hours a day to write and just pumps out song after song.
No, no, it’s inspiration.
Is that scary in a way? Are there times when that inspiration hasn’t come along in a while and you’re wondering when it will, or are you pretty much always getting something, or is it … you know, something else? Did that question make sense?
Yeah. The key is to be ready for it to hit you 24-7. You can have months go by when nothing hits you and then you can write a song in an hour. Like on the new record, “Sleep All Summer” took like three years and “You Must Build a Fire” took like an hour and a half.
How does that work — when a song takes three years to write and it’s a matter of inspiration? Is the inspiration just sort of coming and going?
For me, it happens in chunks. Like, I’ll write different parts, like a first line and I’ll think, that’s a good first line, I’ll keep that. And I’ll work on it, because I like the line, but I’m not gonna force it if it doesn’t work. So I’ll set it aside. I’ll work on other stuff and I’ll come back to it months later. Ah, nothing’s coming again, I’ll leave it alone. Then, all of a sudden three months later, you’ll be asleep and you’ll wake up, oh, yeah, that’s what it is. And you have another part of the song written. Then you put it away for another six months. But that song, oddly enough, was pieced together. For years it was just pieces and then when I was writing for Dignity & Shame it just fell out and was finished in an hour.
[Took a good chunk of stuff from here for the Journal News piece. We'll come back in toward the tail end of the interview, with me asking Eric about whether he thinks he'll stick with the approach he took in making Dignity & Shame (full band in the studio; songs written by EB, arranged by all; 11 days making the record -- six tracking, five mixing).]
I guess the results sort of speak for themselves, but I’ll ask anyhow: Are you happy with how this record turned out? Do you think you’ll keep making records this way?
I know the next one, I’ll work this way, because I’ve already written a lot of songs for that record. But the thing is, you always wanna throw curveballs to yourself. Like, I did the first two Crooked Fingers records pretty much by myself, and I had to do that because I’d just spent eight years collaborating with a band and I had to change that formula. … So for me, if I’m doing this collaborative thing now, maybe two, three records from now I might want to do it by myself again, or just do something completely different, whatever it might be. You’ve just got to listen to the voices in your head and whatever they tell you to do, you do. Trust it.
Is that belief in change something you’ve always had, or did you have to grow into it?
I’m sure it’s something I’ve grown into. I mean, I never thought about it, man. And I don’t even think about it now when I’m writing. But I do think that I’ve always had that in the back of my head, because I knew when I was making the first records I was making that I didn’t want to repeat myself. I didn’t call it what I just called it, but I knew.