MC: You started your career as a teenage wunderkind. But now that youre 27 and on your seventh studio album, how do you find undiscovered territory to write about?
CO: Well, life is always surprising to me. When you think its going to get dull, it never really does. Even when it seems to settle down for a bit, it can be inspiring. I find that if I try to premeditate anything too much, it ends up not coming out that great. You have to experience the whatever, the magic, along with everyone else.
MC: On your simultaneously released previous efforts, Im Wide Awake, Its Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, you display different musical sides: the classic-folk side and the more modern, plugged-in one. On your new album, Cassadaga, they seem to come together. Was that a conscious effort?
CO: It kind of just happened. With the other two records, there was more of an effort to make a homogeneous-sounding, old folk record, then a more trippy rock record. For this one, we recorded about 30 different songs, took the ones we liked, and tried not to pay too much attention to whether theyd make a whole lot of sense together.
MC: How do you make sense of your genre? Ive heard your music described as folk, avant folk, alt-country, indie rockand, of course, theres that whole emo thing . . .
CO: Honestly, I answer that question differently every time. Sometimes I say folk music; sometimes I say rock music. All those categories seem to change so quickly, and I cant keep track of whats what. I guess I usually say Im rock n roll. I dont really know what that means, but it seems close to what we do. Theres loud drums.
MC: Do you have a favorite track on Cassadaga?
CO: Probably Lime Tree. Im really proud of how that one came out, especially the string sections. Nate [Walcott] and I talked through a lot of those parts. We wanted it to be soothing in places and uncomfortable and nauseating in other places, and really accentuate what the words were about. We used a 20-piece string section. I just think it really came together.
MC: How about Make a Plan to Love Meit sounds so different from everything else. How did you come up with that arrangement?
CO: I was really interested in having a girl choir in that call-and-response phrasingthat and the harmonies were the basisand Nate did a great job with the orchestral arrangements. We wanted something that sounded classic, just like the coolest kind of soul music that we could get. Which isnt that close [laugh]. But we gave it our best shot.
MC: "Hot Knives" will probably be one that people will talk about, especially the line where you say, "Ive made love/Yeah, Ive been fucked/So what."
CO: Well, people love the curse words.
CO: [laugh] Yeah, people love, love the F word.
MC: Which doesnt appear in I Must Belong Somewhere. That song pairs up all kinds of seemingly incongruous situations, making them sound as if they go together. Was it difficult to write?
CO: That song was actually written pretty quickly. The sentiment isnt, Im exactly where I should be, in the sense that Im content and everythings great. Its more like, Im right where I belong, but not in an ideal sense. Obviously, you look around and see a lot of things that seem wrong or that youd want to change, and you cant. Thats just the realization that everyone comes to at some point. When I was younger, I was somewhat of an idealist. I guess Im a little bit more of a realist now. I think theres a lot that can be done to make the world a better place, but its more about choosing your battles.
MC: Is that why there are no blatant protest songs on this album?
CO: I think its in there inside the layers of some of those songs. Theres that undercurrent of whats happening with our country, which I think is just crazya lot crazier than ever. I guess Im just getting a little bit desensitized to it. It still affects me. I still think about it. But maybe some of those more visceral songs I wrote a few years agoa little bit of that has died away, because how long can you stay that freaked out? Its definitely not anything Im afraid to explore more, but I wasnt going to force myself to carry some torch.
MC: It keeps your songs fresher, Id imagine.
CO: Yeah, I think my job is to write what Im inspired by.
MC: Do you look at songwriting as a job?
CO: When I fill out my landing cards at airports, I have to write something down. I was writing entertainer for awhile, which I thought was funny. Now I write musicianwhich is also not that true, 'cause Im not that good of a musician, either. But songwriter seems a little weird on a landing card.
MC: I read somewhere that you were having scripts sent to you. Would you consider acting or, on a slightly different topic, writing?
CO: Yeah, Im very interested in writingit just takes so much discipline, whether its short stories or novels. Ive tried really half-assed things in the past, and its all kind of fallen apart. As for the acting thing, I was reading scripts for awhile. People sent them to us, which I thought was sort of strange, since I dont know how to act at all. But it was fun to think about for a minute, and I actually read some and considered them. I really like movies, and they would be cool to work on and know more about, but I dont think its my calling.
MC: Youre often compared to Bob Dylan. First off, does he influence you? And second, do you get tired of that question?
CO: [laugh] The answer is yes, he has influenced me, and I like his music a lot. Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, no doubt about it. Obviously anytime it comes up, its flattering, but I dont think it makes a lot of sense as a comparison. And its not necessarily been such a great thing, 'cause immediately, when people read that, they assume youre saying that about yourself. And its frustrating, because people feel like they need to attack me. Like, Youre shit compared to him and all this. And, well, I tend to agree with them. So its kind of an unfair position to be in. But, you know, whateverthere are a lot bigger problems to have in your life.