The Shearwater Interview
Indie veterans Shearwater recently touched down in Pittsburgh at Altar Bar, opening for St. Vincent at a sold-out show. I became familiar with the band after hearing a single from their new album, Animal Joy and was surprised to see that they’ve been around for quite some time. We had a chance to sit down with front man Jonathan Meiburg and ask him a few questions about their upcoming tour, as well as thoughts on their new album. If you happened to enjoy attend and enjoy their show, are are just a longtime fan, this one’s for you!
Kymbo Slice: Is this your first time playing in Pittsburgh?
Jonathan Meiburg: It’s not. We played here two or three years ago and then once six or seven years ago, but none of those shows were particularly big or memorable. The venue was super tiny, but we had a really fun time that night. I’ve always really liked pittsburgh. I’ve gone through with tours in other bands and have always been like, gosh I really wish we actually had time to look around here. I think one time I did go to the National Aviary and took a peek at some birds there.
KS: What are your thoughts on touring with St. Vincent?
JM: I’m really excited to be doing it. We’re about to play our first show with her in a few hours. I don’t have any experience to go on yet, but I was thrilled to find out. I really admire her music and enjoyed her for a long time, so I’m glad it finally worked out. We’ve worked with the same producer on one of our albums and he said really complimentary things about her, so I have a feeling we’ll be able to bond over that.
KS: What is your recording and songwriting process like?
JM: For this record it was actually a bit different than what I did before. I fell back in love with my electric guitar. We’ve been sort of acquaintences for a while but we got to be friends again. I went to a crummy little practice space, turned it up really loud, and played for a while. Then I had a friend of mine who’s a drummer come in and we made the demos for the record in just a few days. It was really quick. Danny recorded with me for a bit on the album ended up doing some of the vocals for the demos. In a very short period of time we had a focus of what the record was going to be like and then since, spent about two or three months recording and mixing the album. Usually I’ll get a melodic idea, then one or two lyrical phrases that go along with it. The lyrics I usually fill in last, sort of like the last piece of the puzzle.
KS: You just played SXSW. Did you have a chance to see any other bands? If so, did you see anyone worth mentioning?
JM: I went to see Lower Dens and really loved that show. SXSW is kinda weird. Everybody is there in unideal circumstances for performing, but you’re all kind of handicapped the same way. You just see other bends suffering through iffy venues and terrible PAs.
KS: What is it like to be a band from Austin?
JM: I lived in Austin for 12 years and actually just moved to New York a few months ago. In general, Austin was just a very friendly place to be. People always say that it’s laid back, and actually, it kinda is. It’s easy to find a lot of musicians around. If you want to start a band, it’s a great place to start one. And it’s not too expensive that you can’t find some place to practice. It’s just a good petrie dish for bands. We didn’t spend a lot of time playing in Austin that much, except for maybe the very first years of the band 1999-2000. The last several years, most of our shows we wouldn’t play in Austin. We’d only play there once or twice a year, and I thought it was just a place that I lived, and when I wasn’t on tour, I didn’t really want to go out to clubs and see shows that often because it feels a bit too much like going to work. We just did a tour of Europe where we played a string of 17 shows in a row without a break. When we got back from that I think we were all a little bit tried. We had about a week off, and everyone seemed to get their joy of life back. It doesn’t take too long to bounce back.
KS: What do you guys like to eat when you’re on the road?
JM: We try to avoid fast food as much as possible, though we do have a few fast food junkies in the group. In general, sort of the rules for living on tour are â€“ don’t eat garbage, don’t drink too much and get enough sleep. And all of those things are actually quite difficult to do, but for me those are three keys to actually enjoying a tour from start to finish.
KS: Do you have a relationship with any of your Sub Pop labelmates?
JM: I just went to see the Father John Misty guys play on Letterman last week, and I really liked them. I’m not super close with anyone else on Sub Pop, but I’m a great admirer of many of them. The label has been fantastic to work with. All the people there are very passionate and very organized, which can be unusual for a record label.
KS: What are your thoughts on your new record, Animal Joy?
JM: The last three records that we did, we conceived them as one big piece and we performed them all in Austin and we just did this one big show. At the end of that show, I wanted to go somewhere different. Those records are very atmospheric and spacious, sort of my concept in ways, but with this record, I just wanted to make a solid collection of songs that you could maybe dance to, or maybe just shuffle around a bit, but something with a more earthy, grounded and vital feel to it. Less heady and more body. Because of the process we went through of making the demos, like I told you, we spent a long time previously polishing at the genesis, and this was more kind of quick and dirty and I like that a lot.
KS: Major influences? What are you listening to right now?
JM: There’s a way in which listening to other bands is like reading the Wall St. Journal if you had a stock portfolio. You’re just trying to keep current with what’s going on other than really appreciating things for their own sake, which is why I think a lot of bands tend to gravitate towards music by people who are dead, or you can’t see any more. You don’t feel like you’re running in the same race with that. They’re more like the standard by which you are judged. Danny says the new Norah Jones record is amazing. And the new Sarah Jaffee record he also said is good. Also, Hospitality. I still get so stuck into listening to Nina Simone that I forget to listen to other things. She’s my favorite musician of the 20th century.