Critical Questions: Cass McCombs
All before the eyes of the creators.
When his publicist told me that Cass McCombs was only going to be answering questions about his brilliant new album Wit's End (Domino Records) via snail mail, I wasn't that surprised. What surprised me most was that the notoriously press-shy singer-songwriter had agreed to answer questions at all. I mailed 10 questions from Boston to Malibu, on a sheet of paper tucked inside a letterpress greeting card from a stationery store in Harvard Square that's since gone out of business. Here's what Cass sent back. We did not edit or reword the response. Honestly, none of us here at Critical Mob are entirely certain what he's talking about, especially in the part about the Mayans playing baseball. But seriously, Wit's End is a really good album. You should listen to it.
I don't like talking about the process of songwriting, it's a sure way to jinx, as much as it is a craft, you really have to just wait around for the good ideas and heavy feelings to come, you have to wait so long to know they are simple and true. Hank Williams wrote a great little how-to book about songwriting and how to sell the songs when you get them, but he was talking about a specific publishing process, and by god he was the greatest of all time. I find it dull to hear how people write, it's like asking what kind of soap you use, the proof is in the pudding, and the gods can take it away at any time, so I'd prefer not to jinx myself. As far as recording, I try to get it done as quickly as possible and move on, leaving it in an engineer's capable hands, there's folks out there that like to work on recording, but to me it's time away from my instrument. I'd like to mention it sure would be nice if there were more women engineers out there, it's almost an entirely male field. Arrangements are decided in the moment. "Composition is improvisation in slow motion," Schoenberg, I think, because it also works the other way, improvisation is composition sped-up, performance is songwriting, and vice versa. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Yes I wanted to be a ball player when I was a kid, before my hand was comfortable around the neck of a guitar, a lot of guys who've played in my band used to play ball and it's easy to make the equation between the two, music and the game, they both require the individual to cooperate in the one-mind, the primeval horse-mind, I've heard a lot of musicians say they learned as much about music on the ball field as anywhere else. At Chichen-Itza, their creator gods were ball players, so to play ball was to walk in their footsteps, balancing and punishing a symbolic version of the cosmos, all before the eyes of the creators, with fatal consequences to the loser, the archeologists say. Music in the West has a similar relationship with the otherworld, our god loved music: Dionysus. "Iin the Dionysian dithyramb man is incited to the greatest exaltation of all his symbolic faculties," Nietzsche, I think. To play msuic is to be one of the Bacchae. No wonder I'm in a constant state of hangover.
I hope this finds you well
Rest in peace, love
|Cass McCombs- County Line|