photo from the Megafaun concert at High Noon Saloon 6.17.10
So you guys are from Wisconsin but Megafaun originated in the Carolinas. How have North Carolina and Wisconsin influenced your music respectively?
B: I would say Wisconsin is all about learning. We learned– Phil and Joe and Justin and I and we had three other friends Trevor, Kyle and Sarah that we all grew up playing together since we were like 15. Wisconsin influenced us in our work ethic– I think we all learned here in Wisconsin. After we moved to North Carolina and DeYarmond Edison had split up and Megafaun had started, I think we learned a lot more from our peers. There are so many unbelievable bands from North Carolina– bands that have taken us on tour and bands we’ve gone on tour with and recorded albums with– everybody plays on a ton of people’s records. And I think in North Carolina we just learned a lot more about what it means to work together in a community. I think we were kind of on our own in Wisconsin more. We learned a lot more about ourselves in Wisconsin. We learned a lot more about ourselves in the context of other people in North Carolina.
So you said that you did other things with other artists. Who else have you worked with?
B: I also play in the band The Rosebuds and I record with another band, The Love Language. I recorded and toured with the Bowerbirds and I think in general on our records we have members of all of those bands sing and play on our albums. We all sing and play on each other’s records. I think The Rosebuds brought us on tour, the Bowerbirds brought us on tour, and then we’re bringing out a band from North Carolina called Midtown Dickens on tour. I think there’s just kinda this… the bands– if anyone gets a foot ahead, it seems like they turn around and grab the next person they can in line. It’s like, the very North Carolina thing to do.
So you guys played a little bit with Sharon Van Etten. Could you talk about that a little bit?
B: Yea, I could talk about that for a lot of bit, man. Yea, Sharon, I can’t remember, I think the Bowerbirds found her. By ‘find her’, I mean they played a show with her and they were like, ‘Man, everyone has to check this girl out’ and she’s like floored all of us. She’s amazing. And we took her out on tour last April, or like, a couple months ago and she did like the first 10 days of our U.S. tour and every night, Phil and Joe and Martin and I would just be in tears standing front and center. We started playing with her by like the second show. We’d go out and play songs with her and we’ve just been in really good touch ever since. She just sent us the first track from her new album.
When’s that supposed to be out?
B: It’s going to be an E.P. and it’ll be out, I think, in September. I think she’s going to be a superstar. She’s so good.
How would you describe the genre of the music that you do with Megafaun?
B: I think a lot of people think of it as folk. I mean, it’s weird– it’s such a discussion that we never really have. We’re pretty comfortable in it being just whatever people feel like they want to call it- folk or experimental or rock. If I was generally talking to someone, I would call it “folk rock” just because…the newer stuff seems less folky. I guess, to me, it seems less folky–or to us–but maybe it doesn’t to somebody else.
Your new stuff as in your newer album? Or…?
B: Like the stuff that’s coming out and we’ve been touring more. When we go to Europe, we don’t bring as much acoustic stuff with us just because we can’t. And so I think we’ve been playing a lot more electric instruments in general lately, and so that feels immediately less folky to me. But I would say just, in general, “folk-rock” would be how I describe it–with experimental vision.
What instruments do you use in your live performances?
B: I play, pretty much exclusively, electric bass and acoustic guitar now. I do some laptop stuff. Joey drums, does laptop stuff, plays accordion. Phil plays any instrument you put in front of him. With Megafaun, it’s been acoustic, electric guitar and banjo.
So talking about how you said that you guys were more folk in the beginning, how do you think the band has evolved from your first record “Bury the Square”?
B: I think we’re finding our voice more. Again, I think the whole mission statement for us is just: ‘everything we do needs be better than the last thing we did- every show, every album.’ That’s our only goal so I feel like we’re getting a better grip on our song writing and kind of our own personal voice, as well as our group voice. I think our singing has gotten better. We’ve worked really hard on it. None of us sang before this band. Phil did a little bit with DeYarmond Edison. I hope that we’re writing better lyrics, and that that’s reflected. I feel like we are. I feel like we’re putting in more work and talking about that stuff more and more. But, in general, I think we’re just figuring out more and more what it means to be Megafaun for us– which is just that we’re trying harder every day to do something better than the last day.
How do you approach a song as you’re writing it? Does one person have the idea or do you kind of collaborate?
B: It’s kinda like half and half. I would say maybe on “Gather, Form, & Fly,” if you take the song “Kaufman’s Battle” or “The Fade”– those are the two songs I brought to the band as, like, finished songs. And then, its kind of like I might get to have the final producer’s ear on those and say, ‘Oh I hear it as kinda this instrumentation.” With “The Fade”, I recorded the bass and all the guitars and then Joey did the drums and Phil did the banjo. But then other songs, like “Guns”, Phil wrote the music, but then Joey wrote all the lyrics for like the first two verses and I wrote the lyrics for the second two verses and those two did all the noise outro when I was out of town. But then I came back in and edited the whole outro so that it sounded the way it sounds. So certain times it can be really collaborative and other times, some people may have more of a–if it’s their principle statement–they might curate a song more.
So I saw online that you guys have a blog that you’ve kept throughout your tour–one of those tumblrs. Why did you decide to do this, first of all?
B: Two reasons: Phil and Joe are both married and all of our parents are insanely supportive, but they just wanted to see things. And I think it helps when we’re gone so much for the wives and really good friends of ours. You know, for us, we try to put stuff up. A lot of the stuff we post feels almost “insider personal”. You know, if we’re posting something about food or a certain picture, it’s because we want, you know, our buddy, Justin, or our parents, or the people that are closest to us– the wives, especially– to just see something and know we’re thinking of them. I think it’s just kind of an added step for that. And then the other reason is our label, Hometapes, who are absolutely amazing, ride us all the time because we’re not really diligent about that. We don’t do a very good job of updating things. I think the tumblr’s something we could all get into, like, ‘okay, this is easy to keep up with’. Just let people know what we’re at so we don’t have AS much explaining to do when we get home.
So, speaking of blogs just more generally, as far as the music industry today goes, what role do you think they play?
B: It filters, you know. You identify with a blog like anything else you’re into- like a radio station–even a friend–someone you trust. I think that really helps because the internet has made things so level and accessible. It means that there’s an overwhelming amount of information out there and I think if you can find a blog, or a voice, or an opinion that you relate to consistently–I think blogs are really awesome for helping people navigate that information. For us, we’ve had really great support from great blogs—local like Muzzle of Bees. Ryan was right there on the Bon Iver stuff. He was there right away on Sharon Van Etten. He was there right away on us. He was there right away on tons of bands. To me, that’s a blog I read because I generally trust what Ryan’s talking about. So I just think they work as really great filters.
How do you feel about blogs like Pitchfork?
B: My roommate’s a Pitchfork writer. Knowing now what it means– I’ve met a ton of the writers– and it’s so much less interesting and exciting than people want to believe. But, what’s interesting about Pitchfork is that they’ve never changed the format and I think that that’s really awesome. If you’re talking about bigger blogs like Brooklyn Vegan or Stereogum–they enable comments and I think, for some reason, that adds a deeper sense of cynicism. I don’t know how to explain it… There’s a dialogue that exists that you can kind of discredit that information. And I think with Pitchfork, they’re set up in a way that makes them an authority. No one can question what they’re doing in a public format on their site. They just put it out there and it’s been that way since 1995 when they started it in Minneapolis. I remember reading it when it was a Minneapolis blog. For us, it’s kind of funny to see it gain such power but at the same time, you know, I can’t complain- they’ve been nothing but awesome for us. I wish there was a little bit more transparency because I think people want to know how a score happens and stuff and it’s really not that exciting.
So how long have you guys been on your tour now?
B: This is day 10.
So not all that long. Any crazy stories yet, from the road?
B: Maybe, for me, the most interesting thing was the whole crowd in Ann Arbor waiting for the Lakers game to get done before we played.
I see you’re a Lakers fan?
B: A crazy Lakers fan. And that whole audience waited patiently for the last seven minutes of the game before we went on stage, which I thought was kind of awesome. And I asked everybody there, I yelled it ‘Is everyone cool with this?’ and they were like ‘Yep!’. So this has been a really un-story tour–it’s just been really fun.
Where all have you gone?
B: We did Arlington, Hoboken, NJ, Boston–We played in Boston the day of game four of Lakers and I wore all Lakers stuff for that show. And then we played North Hampton, Buffalo, NY, Ann Arbor, MI, Milwaukee, Eau Claire…
How was the Eau Claire show going back to your, kind of, base?
B: Dude, Eau Claire is… they treat us so well there. We thought more people would be pissed off because we moved away and Justin came back and he was able to do his whole thing from Eau Claire and it kind of made more of like a ‘F-you’ to us for leaving and not coming back either in a weird way. I think it made people more decisive at first of what side are they on. But then when they realized that we’re all fine and there’s no weirdness between Justin and Joe and Phil and I, people started coming around again. We felt weird about it at first but now we absolutely love going there. You see so many old friends, and people there know us better than anyone. We can’t hide anything in Eau Claire and I think that’s kind of awesome.
Yea, Eau Claire, it seems, has such a great music scene for being a smaller city in the world. Where do you think that came from?
B: Man, I don’t know. We grew up with bands that kicked ass. I’d say one thing- the music school there is really good and the musicians in town are really really good and I think Eau Claire’s always had sort of an added premium on musicianship that I haven’t quite seen in some places– just kind of a certain work ethic. And I think just growing up around that- you know, all the bands that were older than us were just mind-blowing. And I’m sure everyone feels that way about their scene or whatever. There was just a really good standard in Eau Claire and everyone wanted to work really hard even though no one left Eau Claire until the last few years.
One more question about your tour: what kind of music do you guys listen to when you’re on the road?
Any favorites? Do you take the van around or do you fly?
B: We take the van. I mean, we do have to fly to Europe and we do a lot of flights when we’re in Europe but we do also have a van over there that we use. But, yea we listen to like– well this year’s been particularly probably 20 of our friends’ bands have put out records, or are putting out records this year, so we’ve had a lot of early mixes of stuff we’ve been listening to from various bands. It seems like this has been a really big friends’ bands year for us.
Any in particular?
B: The Menomena record was kinda mind-blowing. They sent that over and we listened to that like every day for a month on the last tour–The new Love Language record that comes out on Merge in July. We’ve had Sharon’s new stuff. We have like 50 of her demos that we like listen to constantly. There’s a band in North Carolina- Hammer No More the Fingers- their new record is like blowing our mind. It’s been a lot of that but other than that, it’s consistently a lot of jazz, and a lot of folk- the older stuff- The Band.
How do you feel about the term “Beard Folk”? I know that’s been used to describe you guys quite a few times…
B: I’m fine with that. I think it’s funny to describe something by that. It’d be like, if I’m wearing all purple- “Purple Folk”. But, you know, we’re fine with that. I’ve had a beard for 10 years. I think there’s a functionality of having a beard in the Midwest. I had one in Wisconsin because it’d be cold most of the year and then I just got lazy and just never shaved. Then I moved to North Carolina, and it’s really hot, and then I just didn’t care anymore. Although Phil just shaved his beard off… So now we’re not technically “Beard-Rock” anymore or “Beard-Folk” or whatever.