Interview - JD McPherson
6/5/2013 by Cathy Wagner
Leading up to the Bonnaroo Music Festival, Suburban Roads is interviewing artists who will be appearing at the fest. Our next interview in the series is with JD McPherson, who will be performing on 6/13. Check out our other Bonnaroo artist interviews here.
Cathy: You’re performing on the first day of Bonnaroo in That Tent. Being one of the first artists to perform, do you feel like you’re setting the stage/vibe for the weekend’s festivities? What are you looking most forward to for your first ‘Roo performance?
JD: This is our first time at Bonnaroo, so I’m looking forward to checking things out. I am very proud of my band’s stage act, and I feel that we are capable of providing a good, energetic start to the festivities.
C: If you could have any fellow Bonnaroo artist join you on stage for a song, who would it be and why?
JD: There are literally dozens of bands and artists at Bonnaroo that I’d give somebody’s left arm to work with, but if I have to pick one: I’m a huge admirer of David Byrne, for his work in music, literature, and visual art… And Annie Clark (St. Vincent) is one of the hippest folks on the bill (plus she’s a fellow Okie), so I’d jump to do some kind of New Orleans Second Line thing with those two and their huge brass section. Believe it or not, our band soundchecks with Talking Heads songs frequently.
C: Your sound is straight up rock n’ roll/rhythm & blues and very reminiscent of music of the 50s, however you clearly add your own modern twist to everything you touch. Do you find offense in being called “retro” or “throwback,” or is it something you embrace?
JD: The responses we have received in judgment of our music have been almost suspiciously positive, and I’ve learned that people sometimes use adjectives that are not entirely accurate within historical and musical context to describe something they like. “As long as they’re talkin’…” I am the first to admit our wheelhouse is mid-50s R&B.
C: A lot of thought clearly went into the arrangements of your songs, in order to mix and match sounds and bring the music to life with flavors old and new. How long does it take you to write a song, on average? Do you typically write the music and then the lyrics come, or vice versa?
JD: It’s different every. single. time. “If I only had a reliable songwriting process” might have been the original line for the Scarecrow.
C: Your debut album, Signs & Signifiers, came out in 2010 and was re-released on Rounder Records a little over a year ago. Are there any differences between the recordings on the first iteration vs. the second?
JD: They are consistent, except that the vinyl version on Rounder was mastered by the geniuses at Concord. The vinyl master on Rounder is literally as good as the album can sound… Another reason to buy vinyl, kids!
C: You initially met Jimmy Sutton back in the days of MySpace. Is it safe to say social media has had a significant impact on who you are as a musician?
JD: The digital coin has two sides. Since the advent of digital music and the dawn of social media, there’s plenty to raise eyebrows about. But I can’t find a single complaint about the impact social media can have on a band’s career, except maybe negative YouTube comments. No one is more powerful and hateful than a music enthusiast who comments on YouTube.
C: Do you feel like your heavy background in the arts contributes to your overall persona as a musician? I know you made the video for “North Side Girl,” but have you had much other input on the artistic direction of music videos, promo shots, album covers, website design, etc.? How important is your visual representation to you/your music?
JD: All that stuff is incredibly important to me. The visual side of pop music is so incredibly important. How many people bought Aladdin Sane because of the cover? I love the album-making process, and that carries through to packaging and video making. It’s incredibly rewarding to have a project become “complete”.
C: If you could change any one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?
JD: I have this idea to make produce a 1920’s-style country blues 78rpm record with Iggy Pop singing. I want to make a looping black and white film that goes with it. I keep trying to tell people that it’s a good idea, even as a Record Store Day release, but it never happens. This is what I would change.
C: Unrealistic hypothetical time: If you were stranded on a deserted island and had the opportunity to bring 3 things with you, what would they be and why? (For the sake of argument, basic food and water is provided. Also, no transportation devices or ways to get off the island are allowed, that’s obviously cheating.)
JD: I like this game, I’m happy to play along:
A. A clear, heavy plastic tarp (shelter, water procurement [condensation], also functions as a carrying bag)
B. A military knife with blade, serrated edge for sawing, and a hollow handle
C. A solar radio that picks up Jamaican radio
C: Closing statements?
JD: Twitter just sent me an email about my most popular tweet (most retweets, most favorites), so I’ll repost it here:
JD McPherson @jdmcphersonjr
Life is so much better since I realized I liked all of the music. Alllllll the music
(Photo Credit - Samantha Franklin)