Ripping duct tape and backwards playing boom boxes don’t seem like they’d be key ingredients in an extremely likable album. A file cabinet being thrown across the room even makes an appearance. Anyone planning on attending Okkervil River’s upcoming show at Vinyl Music Hall might want to bring a helmet should the band try to recreate the many sounds from their new album.
“I think that you can get something far more interesting with different sounds, new sounds,” front man Will Sheff said. “I wanted to make a record that had a sort of headphone quality to it, and I wanted every song to sound special and interesting.”
Sheff wrote and produced the band’s latest album, “I am Very Far”, while living in Plainfield, N.H. with his grandparents.
“Every place affects you in some little way,” Sheff said. “Part of this record was about early memories and the strangeness of them, and the perceptions you have as a kid, when things are vague and mysterious.”
The move from Brooklyn and Austin, the recording spots for the band’s previous albums, to New Hampshire, is fitting for the theme of early childhood perceptions; Sheff grew up there.
“I think that maybe I’m just getting some of that early stuff out of my system, not that this is a purging or a confessional album, but sometimes things roam around in your head and you just need to vomit it all out,” Sheff said, adding with a laugh, “That was a weird, vaguely disgusting metaphor.”
Aside from infiltrating the album with remembered youthful ideas and bombarding the recording studio with office equipment, Okkervil River also incorporated a plethora of additional musicians for some tricky live recordings.
“We had seven guitarists at the same time, two drums kits, several pianists—I wanted the wild, out-of-control feeling of having all these people together, like the thrill of seeing a marching band,” Sheff said. “You can hear the sounds of a bunch of people working very hard together.
Sheff and the extended band spent over 12 hours to get one song right, just playing it all together, over and over. “It sounded best when no one person was playing too uniquely, but just everyone trying to play all together,” Sheff said.
The band committed to recording the larger group for the record, but their live show will consist of only the original band. And maybe a duct tape ripper, if we’re lucky.
The band has recorded six albums, five EP’s and several split records with other artists. They’ve appeared on “The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon”, “Conan O’Brien” and “Late Show with David Letterman” twice. However, their newest album marks a first for the band, as it is the first album they have produced themselves.
“We’ve spent years and years working with a producer, and I think I’ve spent more time arguing with them than anything,” Sheff said.
Sheff recently produced Roky Erickson’s album “True Love Cast Out All Evil” and was nominated for a Grammy for his writing and production efforts.
Although Sheff didn’t win the Grammy, his work was recognized nonetheless. The New York Times even wrote in a review of the latest Okkervil album, “Will Sheff writes like a novelist”, and although shrouded in slight vagueness, should be taken as a compliment.
The comparison to a novelist isn’t so far fetched, at least superficially, seeing as the band’s name is borrowed from a short story of the same name by Russian novelist Tatyana Tolstaya.
“The story’s about an aging bachelor, a music collector who’s obsessed with a singer he thinks is dead,” Sheff said.
The bachelor comes to find out that the singer is alive and goes to visit her. He finds her surrounded by fans just like him and realizes that she’s nothing like the music he loves so much.
“There’s sort of a sadness to it,” Sheff said. “Art is beautiful, but it mocks you—it’s not like real life, which is often boring.”
Unless you bypass the mundane and try to make music out of things that aren’t music until you can no longer tell the difference, or want to.
OKKERVIL RIVER WITH WYE OAK
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox