[Continued from Part 2]
GT: Your work, if it’s anything, is complicated and it’s something I love about your work. I get bored very easily with much of what’s created by most people.
JH: Yeah, me too.
GT: You hear it and you know what it’s doing before it’s even started.
JH: I know. I’m super interested in structure and there’s definitely some structural experimentation that I did on that record. Ghostly Girl is a really weird song.
GT: And you did some weird things with the piano beats. You’ll hit a note and allow the piano just to be at times and you can hear the dust rattling.
JH: Totally. I love that piano.
GT: Letting it die off and you can hear the sound going through it is just incredible.
JH: Right and also another element that I enjoyed on that record was the way that the amplifier decay would work with the piano decay, the natural decay versus the electric decay. That was something that I super enjoyed on that record. Like, Marc Ribot, I love his playing so much and love his musical sensibility so much. One of those compliments that I’ll still be smiling about on my death bed was he is very respectful of the way that I structure songs and he said some super nice things and especially as someone who never had any musical education, all I have are compliments. That is my musical education. So, for somebody whose work I love so much to say something that incisive and to give me a compliment on that level means so much to me and it’s so supportive.
GT: It makes you feel like you’re on the right track once in a while.
JH: You know a lot of people hated that record. A lot of people hated Springtime Can Kill You.
JH: Yeah. My booker told me he thought it was bad timing. He didn’t really put it into words but thought it was bad timing for my career. I don’t even know what he was talking about.
GT: Do you feel like any of that’s changed over the years?
JH: I am always so busy with the next thing that I don’t get to talk to people that like the music that much. I know a lot of professional musicians who never read press and actually pick on me for reading press. Like, my friend Kyp Malone, you know that band TV on the Radio?
GT: Yeah. I love their sound.
GT: I remember the time I heard their first record. I had never heard anything like it.
JH: Yeah. They’re brilliant. They are wonderful.
GT: And every time I hear a new record I don’t know what they’re doing.
JH: They’re really, really brilliant. But Kyp has given me lectures: You know if they say something mean or bad or wrong or negative it’s just going to upset you and if they say something really positive then you shouldn’t let that get to you either. So I don’t have a sense of it. But I’ve heard people say that they thought it was my best record, but that was before Pint of Blood came out. So what they were saying was they liked it better than the first couple records.
GT: I know a lot of people liked Pint of Blood.
JH: Oh good, I’m glad to hear that. I really like it. I put a lot of good work in there.
GT: It’s a great record. I read an interview where you were talking about how reviewers praised how structured it was and you were laughing because it was probably the loosest record you’d made.
JH: No, no, no. You got it backwards.
GT: Did I? Oh, that’s right.
JH: People said that it was really loose. That’s a really good example of how low music journalism is right now because the first sentence on the bio for the record that my friend wrote, it goes “this album is loosely inspired by Neil Young’s Zuma.” So it’s not about the record being loose at all, it’s about the album being loosely inspired by Neil Young’s Zuma. And they take the word loose and say, “This record is really loose, isn’t it?” And it’s like, no, actually we used a click track so the drummer could hear the click. No one else could hear the click, but the drummer could hear the click. So it is the record most tied to metronomic timing that I’ve ever made. But, also, the other thing that maybe people are talking about is if the time is more structured maybe my vocal phrasing sounded looser. I have no idea. The level of public discussion is really low right now.
GT: I’d agree with you. And the level of what we, as a society, expect and accept as a result, especially with music, I am boggled at. I’m constantly looking for things I haven’t heard and yet that’s the last thing anyone wants to put out there as a general rule because it’s scary and you don’t know how it’s going to be. But that’s exactly what’s interesting about it and I imagine, at least from my perspective and what I get from the process of work and how much I focus on that to be valuable, anything that you don’t know what it is going to do creates the most interesting process.
JH: This is so interesting. My friend, he’s a writer and journalist in Houston, his name is John Nova Lomax. He’s a really great writer and his family, you know, is really famous. He grew up with Townes Van Zandt as like an uncle of sorts. He’s best friends with one of Townes’ sons. He said that listening to music is almost like doing drugs to him. It’s emotionally devastating and crazy. It’s a really intense thing for him to do. And I think music effects people a lot more than we talk about in general. So the idea of going for more extreme or intense music they avoid because it’s too much for them. And I respect that. I understand it. Like the guy who played drums on Springtime Can Kill You, David Mihaly, he’s a beautiful musician and he loves to listen to super intense music. He loves to listen to, like, really chaotic experimental music. And I can’t deal. It’s generally too much for me. He would be driving the car in crazy traffic on tour listening to Cecil Taylor bang on the piano and I’m like, “Dave, I’m sorry, but can we listen to something else? This is just too much for me right now.”
GT: It’s a strange world. I’m constantly going towards those things that unsettle me, that shift the foundation a bit, and it doesn’t have to be shocking or experimental, but something either through its honesty or the organics of its construction. Like, one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard is Charley Patton.
JH: Yeah, he’s so great. I love Charley Patton.
GT: The grip that his voice has on me is not dissimilar to the grip your record has on me. It’s something untenable. I can’t tell you what it is. I can just feel it when I put it on.
JH: Well, it probably centers you in some way.
GT: Yeah, it absolutely does. It feels right. That seems like a really inadequate word for it.
JH: Being centered means that you’re feeling the present moment, so it’s a quality of experience, but you cannot say one thing about it. Like, when I saw Marc Ribot play, the set that he did changed my life. And I walked out of there and felt amazing and called my best friend in Texas and he’s old enough to be my dad. He’s a super interesting character. He’s a doctor of divinity from Harvard, he helped build Electric Ladyland, he was friends with Townes Van Zandt, he was like teenage hippies with Townes, and he was friends with Jimi Hendrix and all these characters. He was just on the scene in the day.
What he said blew my mind. Only a couple of times in my life have I felt like having kids, some moment of romantic insanity or when I watched this because, like we were saying, I just don’t like how my family raises kids. They’re really manipulative. I’ve always wanted to stay away from that because the way I grew up and there was the scary religious stuff too. But, anyway, when I was watching Marc Ribot, it was so crazy, this feeling came up in me where I was like, “I could have kids.” It was so weird and I was telling my friend about that and he goes, “Well, that makes perfect sense because real good music and children come from the same place. They come from the center of your being.” If it wasn’t for him saying stuff like that a lot of things would be mysterious. But he’s so eloquent about really simple metaphysical mechanics. So I think things that bring you back to your experience, like your reaction to Charley Patton’s voice or your reaction to some of the things that I do, that’s what it is. It’s inspiring you to be centered. That’s my metaphysical take.
GT: That’s a good take. I like that.