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Meghan: Before we start off, can I get you to pick a song that you want to talk about?
Travis: One of our songs or can it be a Fleetwood Mac song?
Meghan: I mean, it could be if you wanted to, but I was hoping for an Okkervil River song.
Travis: Do you want to pick an Okkervil River song for me to talk about?
Meghan: I don't feel fully prepared to do that. It's better when the band does it because that way it's something that's personal to you.
Meghan: Do you have a favorite, a special child that you're really fond of?
Travis: Yeah, there is, there's a song called 'Just Give Me Time.' It's not actually on any record.
Meghan: Let's talk about that. That's interesting. Why isn't it on a record?
Travis: I don't know. Maybe Will is not... you realize you're just talking to the drummer, here, so... I don't interview Will too much about his lyrics or anything like that, but I think that maybe in his mind the song maybe just isn't finished. A lot of our records have themes to them and so maybe it just hasn't fit into the theme of a certain record. But I think he's going to start playing it on this tour and it's absolutely my favorite song of his and for me, one of the reasons it might be my favorite is because...
Meghan: Is it particularly percussive?
Travis: No, he plays it by himself. He plays it solo. So I get to sit and watch him and it's like, it's hard to work on a record to go back and listen to your songs and be like 'We're great, that's a great song,' because you spent a lot of time working on it and also it seems kind of egotistical to talk about your stuff that way. But for a song that I don't play on, it's like a completely different band for me. That, hands down, is my favorite song that Will has ever written. Hopefully it'll be on a record some day.
Meghan: Fingers crossed. Okkervil River as a group has been together almost a full decade, right? Have you been with them for that entirety?
Travis: I've been in the band for about seven years. I think besides Will, I'm the longest running member, now that Jonathan, who has his band Shearwater, is too busy pursuing that. He doesn't tour with us anymore. But yeah, I joined the band seven years ago. I actually was the band's first booking agent. Will and I, I think a local band I was playing with played with Okkervil and I hated them. I thought they were absolutely terrible. They were a three-piece band back then.
Meghan: Because you didn't like their music or because you didn't like them?
Travis: I didn't know them at all. They were just extremely sloppy and Will was just a terrible singer, absolutely horrible to the ears. When a mutual friend that Will and I knew, a really good friend of each of ours, even though we'd never met, he called me up one day and said 'My friend in Okkervil River just got signed to JagJaguwar, they need a booking agent, I know you have a booking agency, are you interested.' I was like, 'Those guys suck. There's no way.' And he said 'You gotta hear the new record, it's really good.' He gave me Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See, which is technically our first one. I was blown away. I couldn't even believe it was the same band.
So I met with Will and booked them a two-week tour of the Midwest. The first night was in Austin at this club called Stubs. I'd met Will but I hadn't met anyone else in the band at that time so I went down to check it out, see what was going on, and they were fuckin' awful. At that point I was finally getting my ins in the booking agency world where a band that had never toured before I could still make a phone call and be like 'These guys will draw fifteen people.' Which for certain small clubs that's all you really need for the first band out of three. I was like 'Oh my god, all these promoters who never even listened to the record, or did listen to the record, are going to see this act and they're never going to let me book any bands ever again.' And then funny enough actually that was the only tour I booked for them because I folded my booking agency because it was quite unsuccessful.
Meghan: I'm sorry to hear that.
Travis: It's alright, I'd rather play drums. Then I met Will at a party maybe three months after that and I was playing in a band with my brother and he didn't even know I played drums and at that time their drummer was leaving the band and he asked me to play with them at South by Southwest. And I turned him down for two weeks. I remember I was dating this girl at the time and I kept listening to their second record and I was like 'Do I want to do this?' and she like 'What's the worst thing that's gonna happen?' 'Well, I'll get to do a Europe tour,' and 'What's the best thing that's gonna happen?' 'I dunno, it's not like we're ever going to make any money off this or be successful in any way.'
Meghan: And now you're eating your words.
Travis: Moderately successful.
Meghan: No you guys are doing really well, ten years running is pretty good.
Travis: I still haven't paid my mortgage that was due September first.
Meghan: So are you guys doing anything special to celebrate the ten year mark? Is Will going to party by himself? How's that going to work out?
Travis: I don't think we'll do that. It's my birthday in two days and we play L.A. I know we'll have a celebration for that. I don't think we'll celebrate a ten year anniversary, but we do have an Okkervil River Christmas party every year so everybody like...
Meghan: What's that like? Is it chaos?
Travis: We keep it limited to the band members and their wives or girlfriends. Now we have a female guitar player, so her boyfriend.
Meghan: Lauren, right?
Travis: Lauren, she's awesome. Then Brian Beady, who produces our records. But we keep it quite small.
Meghan: Like, fifteen people hangin' out.
Travis: Yeah. Normally it's at my house and I do all the cooking. It's like a little tiny Christmas party. Then we get to hang out and put together a photo collage. We have a DVD that we're making right now. I don't know if they've written about it, maybe I shouldn't be talking about it. It'll be out next year though, and it sort of documents the tour right before 'The Stage Names' was made and then the making of 'The Stage Names,' So last Christmas we had like a year's worth footage from all around the world and our video editor kind of put together a nice little clip of that stuff, so we watched that. But real low key. Lot of wine drinking. Lot of good food.
Meghan: Sounds mellow. So while we're talking about 'The Stage Names,' can we talk about 'The Stage Names' and 'The Stand Ins?'
Meghan: I noticed that when you put the two albums together it's one full picture. Is there a reason for that? Tell me about cover art.
Travis: Well, we have William Shaff, which sounds a lot like Will Sheff but it's not, is our artist. He's done every album cover and as far as the reasoning behind that, it's because I think originally 'The Stand Ins' was going to be an EP and it was going to be exactly what we did with our previous pair of records that we put out, 'Black Sheep Boy' and then the Appendix. It was sort of originally planned to put the pictures together and... I kinda stay out of that shit.
Meghan: Would you consider them to be sister albums, though? Meant to be consumed together?
Travis: Half of the songs of 'The Stand Ins' were actually recorded at the same time as the 'The Stage Names' and we actually debated making 'Stage Names' a double album. Except that seems like a really egotistical thing to do. It seems that you're really putting yourself out there to have people criticize you.
Meghan: Or throw a lot of money down on the album, because double albums are never cheap.
Travis: Right. Exactly. So we got kind of scared but ultimately we cut it down. We thought 'We'll save this and do another EP and we can split up the songs in this way and we'll have these two different themes and that'll work.' But we also were thinking about the Shins. The Shins put out records that are like 32 minutes long. Which is really short, but when CDs started getting made, people were making 70 minute albums and the last like five tracks on their 17 track albums are crap. Like all the records of the 90s, that happened, the last five are...
Meghan: Wait, which specific records from the 90s?
Travis: I'm not going to name any names, just go look on any record that has more than thirteen tracks on it and usually the last three are not good, you know? So, the worst thing about putting out a 42 minute record is that you listen to it again immediately. So we did that and I'm glad we did, and plus, you know, it's a profit deal for us. It's like two records... naw, just kidding about that. But 'Stand Ins' was going to be an EP but then Will writes all the time and we just kept recording songs. As a matter of fact, the song in there 'Singer-Songwriter' we recorded actually, on our last tour in April, in Bloomington, Indiana. Will had written it out. We'd never heard it. We learned it at sound check the night before. Actually recorded at the studio John Mellencamp records at, and Will was like 'It's gotta be on there.'
Meghan: So you guys are from Austin, Texas, right? And you're still based there?
Travis: Yeah, Will lives actually in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, now. But everybody else lives in Austin.
Meghan: Does that have a significant effect on your music, do you think?
Travis: Not the way that we work. The way Okkervil's always worked as long as I've been in the band is that basically Will is the 100% songwriter and he brings the songs in and we see which ones we like better. Everyone writes their own part. It really doesn't really affect the writing of the songs too much because we still just get together the same way we would if he was in town. He'd just come in with fifteen songs and we'd just learn them and decide what we want to do. The only thing that kind of sucks is that when we're about to go on tour he's gotta fly in to Austin to rehearse or just meet us in Europe or something. And the other five of us, we get together at our bass player's place and we practice regularly because we like to have beers and smoke a couple of joints and play music. But that's the only way it affects us. It's probably part of the reason we're so sloppy. Because Will's not there. Thanks, Will.
Meghan: We'll tell him you said that later.
Music from Okkervil River
- The Stand Ins [cd]
- The Stand Ins [mp3]
- The Stage Names [cd]
- The Stage Names [mp3]
- Black Sheep Boy [cd]
- Black Sheep Boy [mp3]
- Black Sheep Boy Appendix [cd]
- Black Sheep Boy Appendix [mp3]
- Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See [cd]
- Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See [mp3]
- Down the River of Golden Dreams [cd]
- Down the River of Golden Dreams [mp3]
- Overboard & Down [cd]
- Sleep and Wake Up Songs [cd]
- Sleep and Wake Up Songs [mp3]