In our second installment of “Andy & Rob Talk…”, Cinema Spartan editor Rob Patrick and assistant editor Andy Ferguson dive into the oeuvre of celebrated musician, Sufjan Stevens. Here is the transcript.
Andy: I know he has already admitted that it was a promotional gimmick, but do you think about/hope Sufjan was still in the midst of the once gargantuan “50 States” project? If so, where do you think he would be by now?
Rob: I feel like he probably worked on the California record but that it was ultimately too overwhelming for him. Still, fifteen years from now songs from the unreleased album like “Richard Nixon, This Little House in Yorba Linda”, “The Whiskey Bars of Los Ahhhh-ngeles” and “The Silver Siren of San Bernardino” will show up on Spotify. What I really want to know is if his other record, “Seven Swans”, is an allusion to six other swan records that he may release.
Andy: What’s your favorite from the many insanely long song titles in his catalog?
Rob: I really like the song title “The Dress Looks Nice on You” because it’s straight to the point. It sounds like a Jeff Buckley lyric or something. I sort of hate a lot of the weird, super long names that were popular in the early 2000s. I blame Of Montreal. And Andrew Bird. I’m not sure if I can actually pin anything on Andrew Bird but it really feels right to roll him out in front of a bus on this one. I think Sufjan eventually learned that you can tone it down a little. He probably saw The Decemberists do similar things and got grossed out.
Andy: What do you make of the “Typography Scuffle” between Sufjan and Savages? He had some critical words to say about their font usage on the cover of their debut LP three years ago, and somehow we’re still hearing about it ruffling some feathers of the band to this day.
Rob: Helvetica Narrow is pretty awkward, but I use Microsoft Paint so who am I to say. It was sort of a weird thing to point out to another artist, though. If I was Savages I’d be like “I’ll RT this but I dont know what the fuck is going on.” At this point in his career, as good as an artist as Sufjan is, I don’t think anyone would mistake him as cool — so he can kind of tone it down when it comes to articulating his thoughts on the style choices of other bands.
Andy: What are your thoughts on his semi-funk, semi-electro, semi-rap project, Sisyphus? Do you think it was a one-off album, or will we eventually hear from these guys again?
Rob: I love Sisyphus. They brought me intense joy after a grueling breakup. I think it will be a one-off, but I hope they will give it another go, sort of how Monsters of Folk decided to make another album. Like you said, it’s sort of a who’s who of genres. It’s half-clunky, half-sublime. I think the deliberate juxtaposition of funk and discord speaks to the confusing reality we are all suffering through.
Andy: He has released records with massive reach across orchestrations (Illinois, The Age of Adz) and meditative, minimal focus (Seven Swans, Carrie & Lowell), as well as a slew of other directions (symphony, song cycle based around the animals of the Chinese Zodiac) over the last 15+ years. Where do you think we will see him go next? Is it fair to say that he has been one of the most unique artists during this span of time?
Rob: I really enjoy the way he plays with lyrics. He went from sardonic, daffy punchlines to these thoughtful, caring compositions about love and loss. He has always deconstructed the past and reassembled it with his own glamour-sadness. If he goes anywhere different in the future, I think I could see him releasing something minimalist to the point of Rufus Wainwright’s All Days Are Nights. But then again he could go super theatrical and release thirty more songs like “Chicago”. By the way, that song is 12 years old. We’re dying slowly, Andy.
Andy: The most important and pressing question: is 5 million Christmas songs enough, or will he released another trillion more in his lifetime?
Rob: I love Christmas songs. Keep them rolling in. I think there’s a level of insanity in composing a seasonal-themed album. I’m obsessed with Cassie Ramone’s Christmas in Reno, and Bearcats recently covered a Ramones Christmas song that I adored. But, yeah, Sufjan should release a Christmas album based on each state and just combine projects. Speaking of holidays and dressing up. Sufjan either wears outfits like Tyler the Creator or The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. Once he put on angel wings and I can never forgive him. What sort of fashion is he going to be getting into in the next five years?
Andy: Man, he’s super into wearing those angel wings, right? I’d like to think that it was always a part of a stage act exclusively, but judging by his track record when it comes to fashion I’m going to assume he casually wears them in public. I feel like he’s on the cusp of rolling out his own line of Clarissa Explains It All-inspired neon hats with crazy bills. Be on the lookout for that in the summer of 2019.
Rob: Sufjan is super into Christianity. But maybe not as much as the Mountain Goats. If you’re booking a faith-themed concert, who do you book and why?
Andy: You’re absolutely right. When compared to John Darnielle, Sufjan looks like a straight-up atheist. (Only partially kidding) If I was going for an ultimate, ideal faith-based show, I’d ask those two gentlemen to assist in curating the event. We’d pool our thoughts together in an effort to find the best artists who tend to use religious themes as contemplative templates in some of their songs without resorting to “His Land Is Your Land” extremes. My dream headlining acts would be Lucinda Williams and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, with the rest of the day’s lineup including Bill Callahan, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Damien Jurado, and Vampire Weekend. You know, because we gotta attract some millennials as well, to help sell the chapel out. Oh, and we’ll also throw up the extra cash for a Mickey Newbury hologram.
Rob: The lead singer of your favorite band, Car Seat Headrest, wrote “I wish Carrie & Lowell felt less like a successful exercise in generating ‘Sadness’ and more like a collection of songs that the artist cared about writing.” What the hell is going on here?
Andy: What’s going on here is that this guy is further confirming why he’s my “favorite” front man of my “favorite” band. I’m not sure how anyone could perceive the songs that make up Carrie & Lowell as ones void of personal feeling from its creator. Diving deep into the lyrics or reading into anything about the creation of the record gives more than enough proof that it is far and away the most directly personal set of songs Sufjan has written to date. From the subject matter alone, I don’t see how there would be any album to follow that could ever come close to directly hitting the core of his foundation. I think maybe this guy needs to focus on his own art/upstart career instead of offering his opinion on the authenticity of the music of one of his more seasoned peers.
Rob: Did anyone ever confirm that the weird unreleased Sufjan Stevens album found in a dumpster in Brooklyn was ever legit? The album cover looked like something Adam Green would have released in 2001.
Andy: I choose to live in a reality where Stalker actually is legit, but it’s just a collection of lo-fi, french horn-only Moldy Peaches covers.
Rob: What song of Sufjan’s is the complete essence of his music? I hate the word essence, but work with me here.
Andy: I’m game with using the word essence here, but only because it perfectly sets up a reason for me to reach back and mention Lucinda Williams again as a spiritual link between the two artists. Seriously, check out her album Essence if you haven’t. Anyway, I think I would have to choose “Vesuvius”, because it seems to be the most directly intimate when it comes to his connections – or disconnections – with his faith. When you witness him play this particular song live, you can really see and feel the emotional effect it has on him. It’s a powerful, thunderous number.
Rob: Do you think Andrew Bird comparisons are unfair? Have we been too snarky? Who has the greater legacy?
Andy: Andrew Bird comparisons are probably unfair, but it is hard to resist pulling the snark trigger when is comes to AB in 2017. For me, it is absolutely Sufjan who has the greater legacy, and for a lot of reasons but for the sake of keeping this short and sweet I’ll list one: diversity. Sufjan has offered a vast scope throughout his career, both sonically and lyrically, where Bird seems to have stayed on the same steady plain since Armchair Apocrypha, at least for the most part. I will always have fond memories of finding albums like Weather Systems and The Mysterious Production of Eggs at the right time in my late teens/early twenties, helping to direct my path in musical taste, but to say I’ve lost interest in following Bird over the last several years would be an understatement. When we’re talking about Sufjan, it’s the exact opposite. My appreciation for him only endures as times moves forward.