Post Rock Podcast: David Berman of Silver Jews, Part 1


In 1984, he was hospitalized for approaching perfection.

Today is an exciting day for music lovers. That's because the greatest band in the world, Silver Jews, releases its new album, "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea." (The whole thing is streaming on their MySpace page.) The greatest band in the world? Yes, absolutely. I won't even try to feign objectivity when talking about Silver Jews. I'll simply try to keep the hyperbole to a minimum. [A vow already broken--Ed.] But I make no promises except that I'll keep it short because nobody wants me ramble on for 5,000 words about the Silver Jews.[Or 1,230 words--Ed.] It's happened before, and it doesn't need to happen again.

So I'll just say this: David Berman, the leader of Silver Jews, exudes the qualities that make for the best music - honesty and truthfulness. His lyrics get you in the head, in the heart, but most importantly, in the gut. Lots of music can be cerebral or can tug at your heartstrings, but only the best will resonate in your gut. He does things the way he thinks things should be done, the way that best serves his art. And he's uncompromising about that.

"When I was 22, 23, some friends of mine, the people I lived with, all of a sudden were in a very big, popular band called Pavement," he said. "Over the years of watching, over the first couple years, just jokingly, Steve (Malkmus) would always say, 'Well, we're doing this for the kids. Gotta do that for the kids.' And I never heard anyone talk like that before, up until this point in the early 90s when Sonic Youth was trying to appeal to the kids. This whole idea of 'the kids' was a real turn off to me."

He's someone who doesn't get swept up in trends or the latest craze. He's simply extremely devoted to his craft. There will never be a Silver Jews iTunes-only EP. Every three years or so he will reemerge with a new album of 10 or so songs that will be hilarious, heartbreaking, pretty, ugly and everything in between.

"When it's done I want there to be something for the listener to interpret. When I write I want there to be more than one level of meaning. I want just a few words to be able to carry lots of different thoughts and ideas," he said.

This interview was taped nearly four months ago when Berman was in town for a special appearance at the Corcoran, paying tribute to his late friend Jeremy Blake. It featured an exceedingly rare solo performance of tracks from "Lookout Mountain" (it took 15 years for the Silver Jews to go on tour for the first time) and some reflections on Blake's life. This is just the first part of the series - all week, baby - and in this edition we talk about how Berman got comfortable playing live, the problems with current indie rock and his writing process. Even if you're not a Silver Jews fan - which you should really rectify, ASAP - this one is worth a listen because Berman's entirely unique and honest take on things.

A few morsels to get you in the mood:

"It's very common for bands today to use a lot of harmony and reverb and cloud up the words. They sound beautiful but I don't think people are saying anything that people necessarily need to hear. So you have a lot of pretty music, and I feel a place for me now. I don't feel like I make pretty music."

"Music that I grew up listening to, let's say music on labels like SST or Shimmydisc, the music was made, written and recorded without considering the possibility of commercial success. It wasn't an option and when that option is added, when it's a real possibility as it is for any band really today, well, I think the quality of the material suffers."

"I think that what you see is a lot of pretty people, a lot of good looking people, making music today. And I think you could start there and say, 'What is that all about?' In hardcore and post-hardcore music when you would go to live shows you would never, ever think you were going to see a good looking woman at one of these shows. People were outsiders. If you had the looks and the social standing, you were not going to cut yourself off from society to be a punk rocker. And when I look at the bands I say, 'But these people could all be in the sororities and fraternities and getting MBAs.' It's a viable career path to make noisy rock and roll. And so I think the candidates we get to choose from have already been filtered on the level of forming a band. I think people are saying, 'Well we gotta get four good looking guys, we gotta look sharp. All those British bands, they don't have any fat, bald bass players, and we can't afford to have them either.' I'm not sure that the voices we're hearing are the voices we would hear if there was nothing to be gained by being in one of these bands except artistic exploration."

You can download the podcast here or stream it below. And below that is a quasi-video for "Suffering Jukebox," a highlight of the new album that ranks as one of the band's best.

David Berman Interview, Part 1 - washingtonpost.com - Post Rock


By David Malitz |  June 17, 2008; 2:33 PM ET Interviews
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thanks, been waiting for this!

Posted by: hackmuth | June 17, 2008 3:09 PM

so, wait - he says, "It's very common for bands today to use a lot of harmony and reverb and cloud up the words. They sound beautiful but I don't think people are saying anything that people necessarily need to hear. So you have a lot of pretty music, and I feel a place for me now. I don't feel like I make pretty music."

and then the song on the bottom has guitars drenched in reverb and tons of harmonies clouding up the words. what?

Posted by: bv | June 17, 2008 3:27 PM

Berman doesn't mince words there at the end. Wasn't Malkmus in a Gap ad a few years back?

Thanks for this!
Paula

Posted by: robotslingshot | June 19, 2008 10:10 AM

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