You ran and operated an artspace in Austin called The Owl for 2 years. What were your initial reasons for wanting to do that?
The gist is that I started the venue (actually took over the already-rad Baby Blue when Bill Baird moved to Oakland) with the “noble” intentions of hosting a haven for experimental music and art. And so many amazing people got involved and made the place come alive. It began as a fulfilling, positive project, but over the course of two years it sorta decayed into an all-night den of debauchery. Alongside that artistic “deterioration” was our own personal unraveling (mine and the friends that helped me run the place) where close relationships were falling apart and the authorities were showing up for a variety of bizarre reasons. It’d be a cop-out to say the place was haunted, but it definitely attracted some demons and veered into a Bermuda Triangle-like suspension of the laws of physics now and then. It was also the only period in my life when I wasn’t keeping a journal, like a kind of emotional Dark Ages that you hope you don’t remember later. And somehow amazing at the same time. But now I’m reflecting on it and finding a wealth of imagery and cultural parallels between The Owl and Austin’s art/music scene as a whole, or the way our generation conducts itself emotionally, artistically, etc. So I think the project was a success, just not the one I envisioned.
You moved from Austin to New York a few months ago. What decisions led to that move?
Toward the end of my second year at The Owl, I woke up one morning to find a letter on the pillow next to me. It said:
If you don’t make some serious changes soon, I’m going to leave you. Don’t test me on this. I’m serious.
And then there was a postscript from “Your Sanity” but that was mostly just a bunch of drawings of chickens. Oh, and I’d been seeing a lot of ghosts at The Owl when nobody else was there. So yeah, it was time to go.
Are you focusing mostly on film and writing these days? Have you played any shows since moving to New York?
I’ll be performing at Brooklyn Academy of Music in May in their opera house as part of this ongoing Arthur Russell tribute that we’re doing here. Very excited about that. And I’ve started pitching the non-fiction story (which is called The Loyal Order of The Owl) of the two years I ran The Owl to publishers here in New York, cuz it’s crazy and interesting and sorta timely as far as DIY venues disappearing and stuff.
You released your second book “Her Bermuda Triangle-Crazed Compass” in December. Is your fiction related to your songwriting? Are these characters that appear in your songs as well?
Actually, this is a whole different world. It’s a lot of characters from Austin though, and their grandparents and their hypothetical evil twins and just random stuff that sorta connects, like one of the stories is about that cliché kiss photo from the end of World War II. It turns out that the guy was actually caught in an inter-dimensional vortex. He didn’t even realize that we had been at war until that morning. And the nurse he kissed, she punched him out right after the photo was taken.
I think a lot of people associate you and your music with magical nights and non-traditional venues. You curated a series called Order of the Owl about 10 years ago. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, I co-curated that series with the amazing Clemens Poole (who I’m happy to say is my neighbor again in NYC after his adventures as a freedom fighter in the Ukraine) and a bunch of other kids. It was just some word-of-mouth-only shows in various illegal locations, graveyards, a highway overpass still under construction, apartment complexes that were only partially built. I guess the tradition continues in Austin with the Secret Show group, which for some strange reason bothered me initially, as if I was the goddamn patent-holder or something, various insecurities of youth and identity, I suppose. My bad, if anyone even remembers. Haha. God, I feel like Marc Maron right now.
You’ve mostly self-released your music via Whiskey & Apples. Have you been approached by other labels interested in releasing your music? In this age, do you see any benefits of being on a label?
Yeah, I’ve been pretty skeptical of “the biz” ever since the label that put out Lightness in 2006 got all shady on me and we narrowly avoided going to court. I’ve spoken with dozens of labels since then, but I never saw a deal that I thought was better than just running my own show. But now my new manager is a trusted friend and I guess that’s what I’ve been holding out for. It was really fun when he got on board because we got to fire the previous manager, who was so atrociously incompetent. And that manager was me.
It’s hard to not romanticize a certain era and music scene, but I remember finding out about you and Brothers and Sisters through Myspace back in 2004, even though we all lived in the same town. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that era?
I wonder if that’s just how it feels to be young, like everything happening around you seems super important. Yeah, it was awesome. But I think that might just be because youth is awesome.
What are your goals with songwriting these days? Do you have plans to record and release a new album this year?
The double-album tentatively titled The Recovered Years is in the works in New York. That’s what I’m doing here next month. We’ll be re-releasing everything I’ve ever done under the name Redding Hunter online this year too, since I had so many monikers over the years (Peter and the Wolf, Traffique, Gender Infinity, Mellow Owl, etc). It’s hard to keep track. Thanks for asking.
Favorite borough in NYC?
Ridgewood is quiet and good for writing and there’s an awesome new bookstore here called Topos. So let’s say, “Queens for today.”
NYC at dawn or dusk?
Post all-nighter dawn. Everything turns neon pink.
BBQ or Thai food?
Now that I don’t live in Austin anymore under the constant fear of accidentally blowing up this spot, I will tell you that the answer is Freedmen’s.
Jackson C. Frank or Harry Nilsson?
Which one of them was in the Incredible String Band again? Just kidding. But seriously, my answer is Jackson Browne.