Bill Baird: Interview
“If you go super-local, and you’re just all about your local scene… I’ve seen that as a way to prop up mediocrity.”
Well, in any event, I’ll go into that a little bit. Going into Spring Break for the Soul. A lot of what you’re talking about, even though it’s called Spring Break for the Soul, there’s this element of long voyage to it, externally and internally. I could be wrong on this, of course. If that is the case, what is driving it?
I was thinking about a lot of things when I was writing the lyrics. I was thinking about the existential idiot: The notion that maybe true wisdom is to be as dumb as possible. It sounds pretty cynical, but I don’t know. I thought a lot about that. It was originally a script that I wrote, and I wrote it down in Big Sur, where you see a lot of these people who I would call “spiritual tourists.” They’re all smiles, perfectly-tanned yoga people. Which is awesome, we could all use yoga, we could all smile and be tan and it’s great. But I feel like it has a big empty spot in the middle of it. So I was thinking about that a lot and those kind of people.
You bring up a good point about emptiness, which I’ll bring up in a moment. One thing I did notice was, listening to “Bow Down To The Brain,” it sounded to me like you were making fun of not necessarily being intellectual, just general intellect in a way.
I think the rational mind is useful, but is also one of the biggest problems with our world. I’m more interested in creativity, and creativity doesn’t necessarily stem from rationality. You need both, but it’s definitely missed.
Rationality can’t explain everything. Take for example walking over here. Along the street, everything smelled like cupcakes. …Okay, that’s not the greatest example of rationality vs. creativity, but…
Well, you need both. I really like that quote, “There’s no mysteries, only undiscovered principles.” There’s probably some scientific way to explain ghosts or whatever. In the script, there’s also a brain that’s pulsing in a jar, sort of like in Dune. It’s sort of the cliche of the brain in a jar. With dry ice. So that piece in the script would be the brain just dancing. You know, it’s just slap over the top of the head with its “symbolism.”
But yeah, ask me whatever about that record. I worked on that album forever. I recorded “Lost at Sea” so many ways. I’m interested in the idea of suites. I’ve done that in the past a bunch, and I’m just continuing to explore that here.
I was with this collective briefly, and one of the first things they said to me is, “When you go out the door onto the street, go right, don’t go left. If you go left, you run into crackheads and prostitutes.”
Well, let’s talk about that suite aspect for a minute. “Lost At Sea” was part of a three-part suite, if I’m not mistaken, with “Big Sur Reverie” and “Marooned.”
Yeah, and that chord progression occurs in at least three other places.
There’s a leitmotif going on in that respect. But first on the suite, obvious there’s this vibe of being out at sea. Was there a general mentality or feel involved?
No. I was thinking about Samuel Beckett. Except, it would be Samuel Beckett on a boat. All the characters are all waiting. I was also thinking about Moby Dick, and the search for truth. It never arrives, it’s never there. It’s only wherever you impose it, wherever you want to find it. So yeah, this idea of man searching around for meaning, waiting for it to arrive, but it’s not going to arrive. You find it, and you project it.
So yeah, I was thinking about Samuel Beckett, and these characters are sitting on a boat, and their boat is stuck in the middle of nowhere. They’re waiting for wind, and the wind never comes. And they’re just sitting there. Eventually, they all kill each other, because that’s what humans do. We’re very good at it. It was definitely, just for myself, describing my own search. I’m not a philosopher. I just know that when I’ve waited around for things, nothing happens. I only find meaning wherever I want to find it. If you’re waiting for wind, it never arrives.
Then one day, you’re walking down the street, and a massive gust of wind hits you against a wall, and you’re all “where’d you come from?”
“And I didn’t realize I was wearing wings!” “Fly away, young man!”
But going into the “Lost At Sea” leitmotif (if you don’t mind me calling it that). What kept you at that? Was it because you were just trying to tie everything in?
Originally, it happened because I’m a pretty easily distracted person. I would try a song a different way, and I would like both of them. I would try to link them together. In this case, it was done on purpose, and I recorded the song, like, 20 times. So I had these different versions of it, and like the third part of the suite, it’s moving between four or five different versions of the song, but in a way that’s not drawing attention to that fact.
Why the interest? Context is everything. I used to play that song as a surf-rock song, really loud, with a band. I like seeing what shifting the context does to the melodic information. But I guess the origin of it is I’m a very easily distracted person.
Going into some of the more spoken word aspects of it… Before I begin, let me just say your narrative voice sounds amazing.
Thanks. When I played the record, people seemed to like that part. For me personally, it always feels weird putting that in the middle of a record because I feel like my favorite parts of music are the parts that communicate without words. So to make it all about the words is just accessing a different part of the brain for me. I’d rather have it be all one thing or the other. But people seem to like it. Sometimes you feel like you’re tipping your hand, you’re showing too much. It’s more fun to be mysterious about it. But it just felt right to do it.
Would you say it’s something that helps with progressing with overall album?
That’s up to each listener. For me, it was enjoyable to do, and it seemed to break up the album in an interesting way. But whether it works or not, that’s up to each person.
I had a guy pull a knife on me, and was like, ‘You wanna buy this knife?!’ And I thought, ‘Are you robbing me? Or are you actually trying to sell me a knife?’
Talking a little bit about “The Blob,” in that respect. In Big Sur, were you seeing that aspect of the blob? Or was there something else?
Big Sur is Paradise. No, that’s just something we are all born into in America. The world, largely. But you could interpret that a million ways.
In that respect then, I’m assuming you’re referring to the monoculture of America. Would you say the best way to subvert that would be to create or be part of a localized culture?
Yeah. Local is preferable to Walmart. I’m not sure how to combat it, though. If you go super-local, and you’re just all about your local scene… I’ve seen that as a way to prop up mediocrity. I love my friends’ music and stuff, but when you’re just all about your friends, stuff gets propped up that’s not that great, because your friend’s a nice guy. It forms a different kind of blob, a mini-blob.
I definitely don’t have any answers. It’s almost inescapable, like we’re all in a giant treadmill, and any way you run, you’re still going to be on it. Or on a giant sinking ship. You can run towards the highest part of the ship, but you’re still on a sinking ship.
So, you have to avoid the notion of being part of the scene for the sake of the scene itself. Otherwise, it becomes a scene that loves itself.
That’s what I mean. When I was in Austin, I tend to be uncomfortable in scenes and big crowds. Most of the people I can relate to are outsiders: Just people who are individuals who are unique in and of themselves. You get them together, they all don’t start copying each other, but they can be inspired by each other.
Going back to “spiritual tourists:” Would you say that the best answer to the notion is to simply write up your own spiritual understanding?
Yeah, start your own church. A lot of it is the illusion of control. You think that, because you’re doing some breathing exercises and reading a book by a holy man that you’re really doing something. But you’re not in control at all. So that’s the biggest problem with that.
In any case, I think it’s just important to ground yourself where you are. If you try on a bunch of different costumes and travel all around, but you haven’t changed inside, then you’re wasting your time. The main way forward is to go inside you, not to follow a group or join a church. Maybe if that’s what you feel compelled to do, but I always got bored in church and fell asleep. To me, a church would be a beautiful landscape or a crazy garbage or post-industrial wasteland: Just some place where I actually can feel something. I don’t feel anything in church. There’s this weird part of church culture where it’s all about the giant box of glazed donuts in the center of the table, and everyone shows up and everyone’s chewing and nobody’s really listening to the guy. Maybe it gets on the guy’s tie, and now you’re laughing at the guy.
If you’re going through a really hard time, all that stuff is very helpful and comforting. I guess my thing was, I just don’t understand how you can get so rich and also be a Christian. I’m all about each person finding their own thing. It’s just when people get convinced that their thing is the absolute thing and you have to believe that or else the world’s gonna go to hell, then that’s when things get problematic. But of course, me saying that is assuming a position of superiority. So it’s just best to fly over all that mess if you can.
Something I notice with your work of late is that there is this sea- or water-based motif: Recording in the Gulf of Alaska, this whole thing with Spring Break for the Soul, the artwork being this coast with a TV submerged in the water, the “Lost At Sea” suite. What’s appealing to you about water?
Water is the first sound that humans hear when inside the womb. I think we’re just drawn to that. It reminds you of being safe inside your mother before you’re born. To me, I have maintained that even if my house were being flooded, I’d probably be marveling at the sound of it. Water does something to me, it puts me into a special place.
I’ve thought about that, and it has to do with your sense of hearing developing in the last three months before coming out of the womb. In that time, you’re submerged in liquid.
Anyway, what could you tell us about what you have been recording lately?
I’ve gone through a lot of changes the past few years. A big part of the creative process for me is just honoring wherever I am, and creating from that place, not from where I want to be. So the style of music has changed dramatically over the past three years. So I’ve got piles of music of all different types, from heavy-head instrumental music to absolutely absurd Residents-style chanting.
I kind of resolved not to self-release things again, though. For me, personally, it was taking a lot out of me. Self-releasing makes you aware of how hard it is to actually get stuff into people’s hands. It just kind of made me depressed. It’s more fun to not do that.
So I’ve got all this stuff, and whenever people want to put it out, it’ll come out. If not, it’ll just stick around for a while.
So, would you say that releasing something on Bandcamp would not be ideal?
Like a lot of music people, I like the physical object. I understand the physical object is passe at this point. You could release an album as a ham sandwich.
Huh… reminds me of this composition my friend made back in high school, called the “Ham Sandwich of Dissonance.” Involved some impossible-to-play music.
Oh, I’ve done something weird like that recently.
Did you use ham sandwiches?
Oh, no, I was using bananas. I gave some bananas to these players, and they drew cards. One of the cards was, “Use the banana.” So some people ground it into their guitar and did permanent damage to their guitar, and other people ate the banana. …Some people were hungry.