Mar 12, 2012
Interviews for City Winery by Sofia Pasternack
You’re not only a songwriter, you also write prose in the form of short stories and novels. Was it an easy transition or did you have to change your writing process dramatically?
Well, you do have to keep your butt in the seat for a lot longer. Most songs get written in a day or less, but there are exceptions. It requires more discipline, I think. A lot of people who’ve written prose all their lives can’t imagine how songwriters get as much into three minutes as they do in like 50 or 60 words. But I’ve always done that, so that’s the easy thing for me. I did an event at the New York Public Library with a couple of other guys that were songwriters that had turned to writing prose, and they both felt like, when they got to writing prose, it was like a dog turned loose on the beach. But I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as really hard work. I was so used to telling a story quickly, that I had to learn to hold back. And that was really hard, and not what I was used to doing. I had to learn a different kind of writing. But I’ve written a couple of plays, too, and that’s sort of an intermediate thing. It’s longer, but they’re both one-acts (a 90-minute one-act is 50 pages). And my full-length novel took me eight years to write, although it won’t take me that long to write the next one. But it’s not my day job; I had to go out and work, too!
You came out of the northern California music scene. How do you think it is different from the NYC music scene?
I was born in Salinas, but I grew up in Sacramento. The scene there is a lot smaller, for one thing. New York is so packed, so densely populated and you have all kinds of music. And to be quite honest, when I was growing up there wasn’t much of a music scene in Sacramento. There’s a little more now, but you really had to go somewhere else. It’s growing a little more now; the city itself is growing, and when the population grows in a city the music scene grows along with it.
Last week you were with us playing Robert Johnson, now you’re here playing the Rolling Stones. Is your approach to the Stones any different?
I know the music, and it’s interesting that all of this stuff is coming around now. Because I was there even before it started! I was there probably 25 years before they started up, and then it had its arch, and now here we are and there are people coming and asking what I think of this stuff. And it’s all still with me. All the music I’ve ever heard in my life is still with me. And I don’t understand the disconnect from one generation to the next. But I just get up and do it, I’m always ready to go. I’ve never toured under 125 days in a year since 1967. No years off. I haven’t stopped playing live music.
As well as being a musician, you are an Emmy-winning, and Academy Award & Golden Globe-nominated actress. Are you a triple threat? How are your dancing skills? (or, which do you prefer?)
How is my dancing? It should be more “how’s my cavorting!” because when I’m on stage I’m firing on all cylinders. All pistons are burning. In my live shows I physicalize the drums and the rhythm, so I wouldn’t call it dancing but I would definitely call it a manifesting of drum beats. “Manifesting.” I’m a Manifester. But am I a triple threat? I’m a few threats, let’s put it that way.
What other threats are you?
Just a writer, really. I don’t want to be a filmmaker, though, oddly enough. I do not want to direct movies, it’s too hard. I do want to write movies, but I’m also going to write my next record and I cannot wait because each record is a new place in time. It’s whatever you’re digging at that moment. But I don’t think I have any more threats.
And I have to say, and I don’t mean for this to sound trite and bullshit, but I was fucking absolutely floored and honored that they included me with this level of musicianship. Lenny Kaye is a hero of mine, Rickie Lee Jones, Marianne Faithfull, and then of course Peaches! We were on the same tour cycles several years ago when she was first coming out, so I’m just over the moon to sit back and enjoy the night.
How did you pick the stage name Peaches?
It’s from a Nina Simone song called “Four Women.” At the end of the song she says that the last name of the woman is Peaches, and she sings it so passionately that I wanted her to be singing it to me. And I knew she wasn’t going to change it to Merrill, so I changed my name.
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats:
You started The Mountain Goats in Claremont, CA then moved to Durham, NC.
With a lot of stops in between! We went to Chicago, I lived in Iowa for about 10 years.
What brought you to each of those cities?
My wife to Iowa and then to Chicago, and then Durham because we liked it there.
Is Durham an up-and-coming music city?
Durham is just a great town. You don’t want to get me started; I’m the world’s number one fan of the city! I mean it’s got a lot of good music in it, and there’s so much to recommend that people can’t believe when they come visit. Its whole downtown died a decade or so ago and it’s been very slowly coming back. Right now it’s basically all privately owned businesses, my friends own half of them, it’s just amazing. It’s a little tiny jewel. It’s the best.