The Heavenly States: Interview
When We Finish the Cartoon
Minnesota! The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Population of about five million.
More snow than a champagne room in Bogota. Minnesota's state bird is the Common
Loon, otherwise known as the Great Northern Diver. Minnesota!
The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes has a long history of raising populist
provocateurs. Paul Wellstone taught there. Al Franken grew up there. The
Heavenly States' singer/guitarist Ted Nesseth is another outspoken Minnesotan,
and his personal politics have fueled much of the passionate lyrics on last
year's Black Comet. Musically, Nesseth is a bit of a Great Northern Diver
(or Common Loon) as well. His quick-and-dirty riffing and scruffy rock howl
wouldn't sound out of place on a bill with Paul Westerberg and Bob Mould.
In the Heavenly States, Nesseth is ably aided and abetted by the Gagons — sister
Genevieve on violin, keyboards, and a sweeter vocal, and brother Jeremy on
You're making a tour documentary, right? Watching footage of yourselves on
the road, what has surprised you? What do you see in the footage that you don't
ordinarily see in yourselves?
Ted Nesseth: I wouldn't call Borderline a tour documentary. It's more of
a chronicling of our discovery of the organic unfolding of cultural orders. It
becomes more evident throughout the process of logging the footage that we all
have a hunger for self-transformation. I also fart a lot in the van a lot more
than I thought.
You're unafraid to address politics in your lyrics. How do you keep from
"dating yourself" (i.e. chaining certain songs to events and issues of a
specific time), or do you even worry about that?
Genevieve Gagon: Björk and the Dead Kennedys are equally political though they
may not be equally personal. It just depends where you start, the politics of
making dinner within the context of waging war, the politics of war within the
context of fucking. Trying to see around corners when your eyes are set in your
head a particular way. We like to say things that feel particular and presently
real, and we like to experiment.
Last year, you played in Libya, where Western music is officially forbidden.
Have you kept in touch with people you met there? Have there been repercussions
from your visit? Is Jeremy playing his tavla in your shows at all?
GG: We did play in Libya in February and have kept in touch with a couple of the
people we met. Communication has been strained with all the business about the
cyber arrest and internet surveillance. We can talk about folklore and pre-WWII
history without too much trouble. Jeremy's drum is a sturdy object of décor at
the moment. Relative to our current playlist, it has a soft tone that requires
amplification. It will have its day.
You've taunted Shell Oil a bit, both in the video for "My Friends" and in
those band photos where the "S" is removed in the signs. Why are you targeting
Shell in particular, or is it aimed at the oil industry in general? Have you
ever heard from Shell's lawyers?
GG: Corporations have figured out that they no longer need to respond to the
cyber-taunts of powerless people. There is no physical theater of engagement.
You can circulate information that has been unavailable or ignored. For example
the day we flew to North Africa was the day the Canadian energy company Verenex
partnered with Libyan oil. For many months after that, there was nothing but a
tiny in-house press for Verenex investors that barely touched on the subject. It
wasn't until very late in 2005 that anyone reported on the subject of the return
of foreign oil interests to Libya. Now everyone is back and they're paying more
than two billion dollars for it. Did the media respond to the fact that the
eighth largest oil reserve in the world, capable 20 years ago of producing three
million barrels a day, will now be contributing to the world supply once again?
Did the market know? Was anyone allowed to interject on the subject of
alternative energy? This isn't my job by the way, it's just a coincidence.
Speaking of "My Friends" — your first single from that first album was
considerably less rocking than your live shows. Did some people have the wrong
idea about your degree of rockingness in the wake of that single?
GG: Diversity busts people who don't know what they're talking about. A few
people we've encountered want every song to sound like a Coldplay tune. I think
the "My Friends" people might be shy because they never complain. But to answer
you more broadly, wanting all songs the same would be like wanting my parking
space at my job that I also want, wanting my special coffee mug at my wanted
desk, wanting my seat at my dinner table, wanting my space, my self-esteem, my
blowjob, my tits, my X just the way I want it.
You're signed to an Australian record label. How did that come about, and
does it complicate matters at all stateside?
GG: We were interested in Australia for some time as our friends had played
there. I remember the States were feeling claustrophobic. Ted sent our record to
a label he had heard of through another Bay Area band called the Lovemakers. The
Australian or rather the Manchesterian Eugene Bari called us wanting to do
How or why did Ted learn to play guitar upside-down and backwards?
TN: I came from a family of modest means and learned to play on my friends'
guitars. I had to flip them because I was left-handed.
How do the Gagons avoid Davies- or Gallagher-style sibling battles on the
road? And is Colin Gagon a third sibling?
GG: Everyone fights with everyone equally and every fighter has his own way of
the sword. Colin Gagon is the third man, yes, and he too is a skilled swordsman.
Are you worried that your phones are tapped?
GG: We learned long before the latest surveillance scandal broke that
surveillance isn't illegal if performed by non-humans. A local journalist helped
us to confirm this. You must practice not caring whether anyone knows what drugs
you're taking, what you said about the boss, whom you're stalking, how you like
TN: If you're worried about people listening in to your conversations, just
throw in a random conditional phrase like "When we finish the cartoon."
How did you meet Kristoffer West Johnson? Did he also do the cover for the
reissue of your debut album?
TN: Kris West Johnson is my long-time partner in crime from the land of rosemary
and thyme. We grew up together and he is an amazing talent.
www.myspace.com/kriffith - hire him! John Patterson from the Grates did the
art for our re-issue of the first album, or what I refer to as our first real
issue of our first album.