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Wednesday April 23rd 2014

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The Okkervil Enchantment

By Sarah McCartan

If you are like me and somehow managed to miss Okkervil River’s performance last fall at Vinyl Music Hall alongside Wye Oak, do not fret. You can redeem yourself. The Austin, Texas-based group is kicking off their fall tour and is set to play at the Alabama Music Box Saturday, Aug. 25, the same night as Mobile’s annual Beer Fest, a prime excuse to make your way over early.

Last fall when the IN chatted with frontman Will Sheff, Okkervil River was riding the high of their new album, “I Am Very Far.” The album is still rocking the boat for listeners, presenting something that is quite literally very far from their pre-established direction—loud and uncontained, overflowing with an orchestra of sounds.

“I just wanted the album to be free,” explained Sheff. “I didn’t want it to be tight, controlled and rehearsed. I wanted it to be sprawling and out of control.”

Sheff certainly achieved his vision and once again took some time to catch up with the IN on this latest creation. It should come as no surprise that talking to Sheff strikingly mirrors listening to the album—poetic and mysteriously charming; dark and hauntingly romantic.

IN: Now that it is said and done and the album has been out for over a year, how do you feel about what you created and your deviation from where you’d been previously?
SHEFF: I didn’t want to make a big heart-on-sleeve, group release of emotions kind of record. Instead I wanted to make a record that was very close to my heart but did not give my heart away. I wanted it to be large and sweeping, but push you back, like an explosion you can’t see because you were blown three blocks away by it. The album has exploded and opened a door to the next phase of my life in writing.

IN: Did retreating to the isolation of your hometown to write the album allow you to explore and resurrect certain things within yourself?
SHEFF: Tour cuts you off from connectivity and, most poisonously, can cut you off from creativity unless you try every second. I need to sit by myself and slowly focus my mind on something and it takes me awhile to figure out what that is. Being at home and having the time to appreciate time crawling by slowly—a minute being a minute not a second, and a week being a week and not a day—that experience lets you pay attention to things more fully.

IN: You’ve mentioned that recording allows you to work through a theme and shake whatever it is out of your system.
SHEFF: An album theme has to do with something that bothers or haunts me. I feel a sense of doom about the world right now and really wanted to express that. I think that it’s a scary thing to have to think about that stuff and I was feeling anxious during it. Now that I have created it, I have basically come to terms with the fact the world is fucked and I just want to enjoy the time I have left.

IN: You produced and arranged this album yourself. Moving forward do you plan on doing so again?
SHEFF: It was great because I finally got to do things I always heard in my mind but couldn’t express in words to tell an engineer or producer. But some of the obsessing is a little counter to what feels fun or productive. In the future I am trying to have a looser grip. I think I will continue to produce some of them but sometimes it’s nice to hand it off to another person.

IN: Last year you also released a free covers EP, “Golden Opportunities 2.” What inspired this?
SHEFF: I like to treat it like it’s my statement but in other peoples’ words—like a ransom note. I tried to do that with the first collection, “Golden Opportunities Mixtape.” I haven’t listened to it in awhile so I wouldn’t know whether I succeeded but I felt there were ways I could refine that. Plus, we just made this loud orchestrated record and I wanted to make a more humble one.

IN: Do you ever revisit your older stuff?
SHEFF: It always feels vaguely dirty, like staring at an old baby picture of yourself obsessively, or staring at yourself in your phone. It’s very odd. Sometimes it’s good to go back though because you can evaluate when you were only vaguely doing what you thought you were doing. I listen back sometimes and the things I thought were good weren’t, but what I thought was only a slight part of it was really good. It’s also a way of seeing how other people see you, which is slightly helpful but something you don’t want to obsess about.

OKKERVIL RIVER
WHAT: Okkervil River with the Mynabirds
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25
WHERE: Alabama Music Box, 455 Dauphin St., Mobile, Ala.
COST: $15 plus service fees in advance; $18 day of show
DETAILS: alabamamusicbox.net or (251) 441-8934