Will Stratton is a gifted singer/songwriter born in Yolo County, CA. I say this because Yolo is a funny word, and when you add County to it, it sounds funnier. Anyway enough digression, Stratton’s debut release “What The Night Said” came out over two years ago when he was a wee lad back in college. His latest “No Wonder” finds the musician is similar territory but with far more growth. You will dig it.
See and hear it for yourself Saturday, Oct. 24 when he plays at Googie’s Lounge – above the Living Room on the Lower East Side in NYC. Googie is a funny, word too by the way. Anywho, I spoke with Stratton and asked him about his music and stuff. Here it goes…
How hard is it to break from the pack of talented singer/songwriters?
I wouldn’t be able to tell you. This is my second album…I just got out of college, and I haven’t spent a lot of time on the road so I’m not feeling jaded, and I’m not feeling optimistic either.
I tend not to think about other people’s current music in relation to mine, both because it’s a waste of time and because most singer/songwriter-y music does nothing for me. And I think that trying to mold your own creative impulses to react to the other music that’s out there, or trying to anticipate what’s going to be hip, rather than trying to anticipate what moves you, is desperate and foolish. However, if I were interested in pursuing moderate fame at the expense of my integrity, I would’ve renamed myself Surf Ripper or something like that six months ago, and started ripping off old Flying Nun LPs.
Describe the process of making your album…
No Wonder was made largely alone, in short bursts over the course of two and a half years, in the middle of the night, in a two room studio in Astoria, Queens. I engineered and produced most of it myself; I’ve learned that it’s often more interesting that way. After a while, working with mic placement and preamp selection and all that stuff begins to feel like working with colors on a palette, especially when it’s three in the morning, and you’re running solely on caffeine, and you’re recording 20-something overdubs of really loud electric guitars, or you’re going back to redo a vocal from six months ago, which was itself a redo of a vocal from six months before that.
Some of the songs on the record went through five or six entirely different versions, with different tempos, different lyrics, even different melodies. Other songs were finished in a half an hour. I listened to a lot of Scott Walker, among other things. A bunch of friends came in to do some overdubs here and there, most of whom probably still haven’t heard the whole record. More than anything, this album has been a learning process for me. It started off very slowly, even though I had enough songs, and each time I would come back into the studio I would listen back to the previous session and redo almost everything. Which is not to say that anything is perfect–there’s no such thing, of course. Many of the mistakes on the record are probably more interesting than the flawless elements. I have no opinion on whether it’s a good record, or a great record, or a mediocre one. I just want to start recording the third one, which I think may end up being a double LP, if everything goes to plan.
Who are your biggest inspirations – who helped shape who you are most?
I think I’m a bit of a magpie in the inspiration department. I lived in the Northwest for a year after high school, and felt pretty out of sorts there. While I was there, though, I read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One, and the way that he tells his story, as dishonest and out of order as it is, really changed the way I saw myself, and made me realize that I need to try to create things while I am still able to, and still feel the need to do so. John Fahey’s book How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life had a similar folkloric effect on me, although not quite as strong. Jim O’Rourke is one of my biggest artistic role models, both as a producer, a mixing engineer, and as a songwriter.
Watching my composer friend Nico Muhly’s brilliant career as it unfolds is really inspiring–I don’t know how he keeps up the pace that he does. Nick Drake is very important to me. So are Neil Young, Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Mark Kozelek, Mark Eitzel, and plenty of other songwriters.
There are a lot of composers who mean a lot to me too–Debussy, Reich, Ravel, Satie, Shostakovich, Barber, Ives, Feldman. I took a class my last term on the life of Igor Stravinsky, and I came out of it believing that the way that he made each work’s meaning dependent on its context within his entire life’s work is as beautiful as the music itself. Think about that! Isn’t that strange and awesome? Oh, and Prince! If I could switch places with anyone, it would be Prince. One of the only geniuses in pop music to appear in the last thirty years.
Why do people toss labels out at other artists right away – people are so quick to pigeonhole people…
Music is an ethereal medium in ways that most literature and visual art are not. So music critics, both amateur and professional, like to make themselves feel good by nailing down everything they hear–breaking it down in terms of possible influences, quotations, genre, movement, etc. I know this because I write record reviews sometimes. I’d like to flatter myself in saying that my music defies this sort of self-congratulatory tendency, but the truth is that most music does, and people go ahead and pigeonhole it anyway.
The Internet is making this whole process much, much faster, and thus both more asinine and more destructive, especially in indie rock or whatever you might call it. I am hoping that the process eventually reaches such a blinding speed that no one pays attention anymore. Even though I dabble in it myself, in my heart I know that pop music criticism is useless. I also know that until I start making records without acoustic guitars, people are probably always going to mention Nick Drake or Sufjan Stevens when they talk about me. There are worse things in this world.
Overall, how would you best describe your sound?
My last record sounded like a dark summer night, in a quiet suburb, to a wistful 16-year-old kid. This record…I just don’t know. It’s all over the place. There’s a little Big Star in there, a little early Elliott Smith, a pinch of Richard Thompson. I’m still finding out who I am, so I can’t really describe who or what I sound like any further than that.
Is it possible to write a love song about someone you hate?
I can only think of maybe three people I’ve ever known who I would say that I hated. And, honestly, I don’t think I knew any of them very well. So, no. It’s very easy to write a hate song about someone you don’t hate, though. Hate songs: underrated. And it’s very easy to write a love song, period. It’s like coughing. You can do it whenever, even when you’re not sick.
How do you think Barack is doing?
I like his Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, and Eric Holder, his Attorney General. I am disappointed by how much of the rest of his cabinet is populated by corporatists, but I’m not particularly surprised. I think that when he and Pelosi threw single-payer under the bus so early into the health-care debate, they made a big mistake from a bargaining perspective. And I think that he has been too quick to use newly expanded executive powers that Bush and Cheney basically created out of thin air. But I don’t envy the position that he is in, especially regarding Afghanistan, and it would be crass of me to think that I know of anyone who would be doing a better job under the circumstances.
How do you think I’m doing with this interview so far?
This is an interview?
What’s the most personal song you’ve ever written?
The funny thing about songs is that sometimes they become less personal the longer you play them. Other songs, which were really personal to begin with, become more personal. “For Franny Glass” was a very personal song, and it still is, but I haven’t played it recently because I can’t get the weight out of it like I used to. Maybe it will come back to me.
Can we expect you to be on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack at some point. They play a lot of good music despite being surrounded by a world of melodrama…
I’ve never seen Grey’s Anatomy, because I’m a guy. I’m just kidding. I’ve never seen it, but yes, I hear it has good music direction, and I think one of my songs almost got on once or something, and yes, it would be nice to see that happen. I assume I will live a life of obscurity, since most of us do, but whenever anything happens to challenge that perception, I do my best to enjoy it.