October 15, 2005
JOHN DARNIELLE: Q&A
John Darnielle (right) and Peter Hughes
John Darnielle has been on the receiving end of lavish praise from many an esteemed source and he obviously knows about karma as he was, oh, so kind, about answering a few questions I sent his way.
*Sixeyes: One of your biggest fans and producer, John Vanderslice, makes a point of stating that some of the lyrics of his latest, Pixel Revolt, have been "edited, expanded, and otherwise improved upon" by you. I was wondering what John has done for you and your music?
John Darnielle: Well, John's my producer - I like to use the possessive there, I feel like the way he works with my stuff is intimate enough that there's a sort of shared responsibility for the final result. We haven't talked a whole lot about the nature of what he's doing with my stuff - we sort of work behind Chinese walls, where I have a sense of what he's doing but I don't ask a lot of questions & he tells me what to do only insofar as it can further whatever he's up to over there in the control room.
*Six: Do you pen the lyrics before the music? And do you spend as much time re-writing as some would like to believe, or do the words just fall from your hand onto the paper?
JD: I do a lot of revision, yes - I wasn't aware that there was a contingent who like to think about whether I revise or not! But I believe strongly in rewriting, revision, rethinking - every so often there'll be a song that comes out as-is, but I generally don't trust that kind of writing - I like a well-sharpened knife better that a flaked arrowhead.
*Six: In "You or Your Memory" from The Sunset Tree you sing the line, 'St. Joseph's Baby Aspirin, Bartyles and James and you, or your memory'... I wonder if you think twice about using brand names like this in a song, do you engage in an internal debate?
JD: Didn't think about it for a second - I can't imagine either of those companies wanting to use the song, and either way, I'm not really thinking about anything else besides the lyric when I'm writing - it sort of happens in a vacuum.
*Six: Are there any rules or guidelines you follow when writing lyrics?
JD: Yes: no forcing syllables to bear undue stress, i.e., no changing the way a word is pronounced to make it fit the line! I hate that sort of thing: "lovER, anGEL, all that kind of thing. Lots of other technical rules that I can't imagine would be of interest to anybody - basic rules of scansion of rhyme that are covered well in Lewis Turco's introduction to The New Book of Forms.
*Six: What's been playing lately in your iPod or cd player?
JD: Lots of Thai pop cds, Alban Berg's violin concerto, Voivod's "Nothingface," Tanita Tikaram, that new Streisand/Gibb collaboration, Silkworm's "Blueblood."
*Six: What is the strangest thing that has happened to you while on tour?
JD: I was elected president-for-life of an independent republic located in the wilds of South Carolina!
(I spend most of my time on tour either reading books, trying to find a wireless spot, or watching Law & Order reruns, so I am really not a good source for it-happened-on-tour stories. Wherefore I like the answer I give above!)
*Six: And finally, is music your saviour or your saving grace?
JD: I don't know how to answer this! As I understand "saving grace," it's a quality something has that redeems it from being otherwise worthless - the saving grace of the compact disc is its versatility, the saving grace of meat loaf is its durability, etc. I have a hard time with the concept of a "savior." Music is my basso profundo.
John Darnielle's blog
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at 9:40 AM