In December you self-released a tape called I See the River that you only made 84 copies of, which has already sold out. What were your reasons for releasing a short-run tape like that? Why only 84 copies?
Early on I wanted to release only 33 copies, but when I started recording it became clear that I should make more. I made 84 copies somewhat randomly, but later I found they corresponded with the 84 mahasiddhas in the north Indian spiritual tradition, people who practiced rituals in charnel grounds or in their houses, but were outside of mainstream spirituality. They had a wide range of occupations– pimps, prostitutes, gamblers, pastry cooks, royalty, slaves, fishermen, bootmakers, wastrels. Fundamentally they devoted themselves to exploring what it means to be human through meditation and living and work. They each had their own obstacles and addictions that they saw through, and it became their strength, in words. So, each numbered tape corresponds to a number on an old Sanskrit list. Most people don’t really like their assigned mahasiddha, but that’s kind of the point.
Do you have plans to release something digitally or on vinyl this year?
I’m interested in being a part of a roster on a record label. I like the idea of having colleagues or associates, teammates, a gang. But I’m also an outsider, so I’d have to see the inside out and the outside in. As far as digital and vinyl goes, I think that’s a good idea, yes! I’ve got new material, and maybe I See The River will breach the surface again.
You’ve also fronted a band called The Black for 13 years now. How would you explain the difference between The Black and your solo stuff?
The Black is a band, so it’s a particular combination of energy with a group. It’s louder, more wild, about dancing. The solo thing is more intimate and of a quieter emotion. They’re similar in many ways too, two leaves from the same branch.
In 2013, a poetry book of yours called Cow River was released by Abandon Press. Is there a firm distinction for you between poetry and songwriting? Does any piece of writing you’re working on have the potential to become a song?
I believe my poems may be songs and vice versa. The distinction is soft. I think everything can be sung, and I have a broad definition of poetry.
You play regularly at Patsy’s Cafe in Southeast Austin, which for a lot of folks in Austin is off the beaten path. What are those shows like? Why do you enjoy playing there so much and so often?
It is off the beaten path and all those show are fun. Most are weird too. It’s an off-the-highway kind of place that serves strong drinks. I do those because Amy from The Black used to book us. That’s almost another act apart from the solo thing or The Black. It’s extra money too.
I saw you play in a cave last spring and then you played on a ranch out in Blanco, Texas a few months ago. How would you describe the music scene you’re a part of in Austin these days?
The cave and ranch shows were truly magical. It’s wonderful to be a part of this scene in Austin. I’m grateful. It’s a welcoming scene but with a good eye. It seems interested in exploration, and they all have a good scent too. I like the scented oils.
Your solo music seems influenced by old blues and folk music and early country. What draws you to that?
Old blues and country is just the end of the recorded line, so I kind of fell asleep on the train and got off on the last stop. I’m walking back. I’m part of a lineage of guitar pickers. I love the guitar and all the 78 records that I’ve been able to listen to. I’m kind of blown away when I play, but It’s all been handed down. I just take it to heart and give it back in my own way.
“Crazy Son” is a song of yours that sprawls out over 11 minutes. Was that song born out of improvisation?
I think every song I’ve ever written was born out of improvisation. “Crazy Son” is not really much different, I just let it play a little longer.
Thai food or BBQ?
I’ve been eating BBQ since I was a tiny tot, and Thai food I’ve only been eating for the last 10 or 15 years. Thai has more vegetarian options, so I’ll go with Thai food way more, BBQ on occasion. Brisket, ribs, potato salad.
Robert Johnson or Hank Williams?
I love them both. I wouldn’t want one to do the other’s job.