(photo by Lindsay Metivier)
Where are you living these days? Did you grow up in New England?
In Kittery, Maine. I started in Kittery and stayed til I was 12, then moved right across the river to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Aside from a brief stint in New York City I’ve always lived in New England.
You studied with acclaimed jazz musician Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University. How did that come about? What were those classes like?
I went to school nearby in Hartford and made some friends at Wesleyan, started spending lots of time there and playing in bands, all the while becoming more and more obsessed with his music and so eventually I dropped out of my school and moved to Middletown, where Wesleyan is, and just immersed myself in the music community there, trying to hang around Braxton as much as possible. I was never an official student there, but he kindly let me sit in on his classes, which were pretty mesmerizing, to say the least.
Your 6th album, In the Hollows, came out last year on Western Vinyl, your third release with that label. How did your relationship with Western Vinyl begin?
Dirty Projectors put out a few early albums with Western Vinyl when it was just Dave Longstreth making recordings on his 4-track or 8-track or something, before I was even in the band. So once I came on board I met Brian, the man behind Western Vinyl, and after I had a few solo recordings under my belt he offered to put out my album People Changes, and we went from there. Definitely a label I am proud to be a part of.
Your music is mostly your voice accompanied by upright bass, often bowed. Have you written songs or performed sets where you’ve played other instruments?
Right before I started writing songs on upright I had a brief period where I wrote some more aggressive music on electric bass, and put together a band with guitar and drums. I screamed indecipherable nonsense. It was 2003 and I was 23. I was obsessed with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA and other early 80s no-wave bands, as well as US Maple, who are still currently my favorite band of all time. That was the first time I wrote actual songs and sang, although it was obviously quite different from what I’m doing now.
You also play electric bass in Dirty Projectors, a band known for its acrobatic and technical music, and you’ve also played and toured with Viking Moses and Tiger Saw, right? Has playing music with other songwriters influenced the way you approach your own songs?
Yeah, probably. I think all musicians are a little part of everything they’ve experienced in some way, so I think it’s just as much the bands and people I’ve played with as it is my obsession with Anthony Braxton and The Band and Morton Feldman and Sam Cooke, etc. As a player with Dirty Projectors I get my acrobatic fix, so maybe it is natural that I have a much more minimal approach with my own work. But I think a lot of factors are probably involved.
You’ve contributed to two pretty high-profile albums in recent years– Vampire Weekend’s Contra and Grizzly Bear’s Shields. How did you end up playing on those records?
I’ve been friends with all the people in those bands for years. We were all getting things going around the same time. Ezra from Vampire Weekend, actually played in Dirty Projectors on the first tour I ever did with the band back in 2005. Vampire Weekend actually didn’t exist then, but started soon after. Grizzly Bear was just starting off around then too and we played some shows together, the first time to about 20 people in a small club in Hamilton, Ontario in 2006. We just all happened to be doing things around the same time and shared some aesthetic musical values, and we all got along really well. I love everyone in those bands. I miss seeing them. When Dirty Projectors were touring all the time we’d often run into them at crazy festivals somewhere far away. It got to the point where it was much more likely to see them in Norway or Australia than the city we all lived in. Both those records you mentioned are freaking great and I’m honored to be a part of them.
Do you consider yourself a sports fan? A lot of musicians I’ve met seem to distance themselves from sports. Do you sometimes feel like you exist in two different worlds?
I’m definitely a sports fan. More specifically, I’m a basketball fan. I also love running. I love obsession. I love sweating. As someone who grew up playing sports and then switched to music, I just love all the parallels between the two. There are plenty of obvious differences between, too, but I think the similarities are way more interesting. Being on a team and being in a band are exactly the same thing. Everyone has their roles, the way they operate individually, or in relation to others and also everyone has a common goal, and the preparation to achieve that goal is similar, takes practice, patience, determination, will, trust, etc. And aside from the team aspects and goals, the approach to improving one’s individual skills is quite similar, too. The way I used to practice basketball, all the super fine-detailed technique, the hours spent in parking lots alone or my parents’ basement, doing dribbling drills, defensive slides, lunges, sweat pouring on pavement, blood ripping through knee skin, is so similar to the way I started out practicing the bass.
You recently started offering music lessons via a website called Lessonface. What’s that like?
It’s great! I teach a 50-year-old in Vancouver and an 11-year-old in Colorado. It’s weird to do over the computer, but computers are still weird in general to me.
You get asked about Anthony Braxton and Dirty Projectors a lot. Is there something people don’t ask you about that you wish they did?
No one has ever asked me when that collaboration is happening. I don’t know the answer, but that would be awesome.
Fiction or non-fiction?
Dawn or dusk?