Jeremy Enigk : Interview
“I’m starting to sing about subjects rather than being completely and totally internalized.”
After years of fronting the hugely-influential outfit Sunny Day Real Estate and later rocking with The Fire Theft, Jeremy Enigk has taken to touring solo for the past few years. Enigk's current material is not as stadium-ready as some of his previous work, but his uncanny tenor is just as thrilling in a more intimate setting. I managed to catch him while he was traversing the fair state of Wyoming to get to his next tour stop. The call dropped a few times as he was driving through the heart of a mountain, but Enigk managed to finish the interview nonetheless. Poor connections aside, we had a nice chat about his recent touring, his forthcoming record, OK Bear, and the possibility of an SDRE reunion.
After fronting the very influential Sunny Day Real Estate for years and then rocking out with the very big sounds of The Fire Theft, you're now touring as a solo artist. When you get on stage now, with only an acoustic guitar, do you still get the same adrenaline rush?
No, it's definitely mellower with just an acoustic. With a full band, it's so loud and so huge that it really raises the bar quite a bit. It's mellower, I still enjoy it -- it's playing live -- but it's different.
Is there something that replaces it, something that's more interesting instead?
I guess the intimacy replaces it. You know, that's sort of the whole point, that it is more an intimate thing. So, I guess it's just different.
Do you still play songs from your previous bands in your current live shows?
Yeah, I've been playing some Sunny Day stuff, and occasionally some Fire Theft stuff. But The Fire Theft rarely, because it's such an experimental-type sound that it's tough to pull off acoustically.
How do you feel like some of those older songs translate?
Well, "In Circles" is a Sunny Day song that I wrote on an acoustic guitar, so it's really easy to translate that, because it's the way that it originally was. Of course, once it reaches the band, it's a big heavy thing. That's one thing too -- I pick and choose which songs I play because some of them just won't sound good with one guitar. A song like "In Circles" works, among others.
What really sets your music apart, among other things, is the singularity of your voice. Are you able to focus on that aspect more in your current situation, without having a loud rock band behind you?
Yeah, sure. From a previous question, that's a part of the intimacy of playing live. The voice can really carry into the far corners of the room, as opposed to getting really absorbed in the band and in the music.
While I do really enjoy the earlier Sunny Day Real Estate recordings, it seems like you really brought your vocals to a new level a few albums in. How did you really find your voice, and are you still finding it?
In How It Feels To Be Something On, where it started to change, that was kind of my voice from the beginning. I lost my voice before the recording of Diary, and it was that same until How It Feels... when I started to strengthen it up again. Sunny Day was doing extensive touring, and I just blew out my voice and I had to sort of rebuild it. It took some time to sort of get it back to where it was when I was 17 or 18.
Speaking of your voice, you've lent guest vocals to a number of different albums at this point. How does that work exactly?
I usually do it through friends. I have been contacted by numerous people that I don't know or that I don't like their music, and I won't do it then. But if it's through a friend, or like mewithoutYou is a band that I did a vocal track for. That's because they were doing a record with Brad Wood who produced the first Sunny Day record. We're good friends, and I want to anything for him that I can. I listened to mewithoutYou and loved it. Pretty much, people contact me and ask me to, and if I like it then I'll do it.
Are there very many current bands that you're excited about these days?
Yeah. The band Animal Collective is a band I recently discovered. Their album Feels is amazing. It's really experimental, gorgeous, sweet vocals with really crazy arrangements and things underneath. They're a great band. Even though it's an older band, I recently sort of rediscovered The Replacements and, of course, Ryan Adams, who I think took a page from their book. Leonard Cohen is another guy I've been listening to. There is so much music on my iPod at this point.
You've had a chance to be part of the underground music scene for a while now; how has it changed over the past decade or two?
I don't know... I've never been too aware of the underground music scene. I think for awhile there, there was a lack of a new sound, and now I think there's a lot of new things coming.
"Sunny Day was doing extensive touring, and I just blew out my voice and I had to sort of rebuild it. It took some time to sort of get it back to where it was when I was 17 or 18."
From what I understand, you have a new album in the works for 2009 entitled OK Bear. Is that correct?
It was actually recorded near the end of 2007 in Spain; Sant Feliu, [near] Barcelona. A friend of mine asked me to come over to his studio and do a record with him, and it was an offer I couldn't refuse. It was put together by Santi Garcia and Ricky Falkner, who worked side by side as producers and played a lot of the instruments. I think we recorded around 15 songs for the album, and 13 of them are going to get used. It's been mixed; it needs to get mastered, and I'm still finishing up some of the art for it.
Are you just a big fan of wildlife in general, or does the title have a particular meaning you'd like to talk about?
It's actually not a very romantic story. A lot of the guys I played with spoke Spanish or Catalan, and I don't speak a word of it. So at one point I was joking around with a sort of Italian Opera Pavarotti voice, singing in what I thought was gibberish, but they said what I was saying was "Okay Bear." I thought that was pretty rad. So that's actually the English translation of the Spanish title, Vale, Oso. It's kind of random, but I tried a lot of other titles, and this is the only one that sounded right. I think it fits because all my other album titles were kind of serious, and they all had sort of a central theme. This one is more random, and the songs on it are more random... but it is what it is.
How will it compare to what you've put out so far?
There's no orchestra on this one, and overall it's heavier. The players on the album were actually pretty influenced by Sunny Day Real Estate, so they bring some of that to the table. It'll have some heavier moments and a few lighter moments. There'll still be some of what you would expect me to play on it. There'll be that sort of magical sounding stuff in 3/4 time on a few songs. It's a lot drier in terms of reverb. My last album had a lot of reverb and a lot of effects on it, and I really wanted to dry this one out.
Will you tour this one with a band or solo, as you're doing now?
I really want to do it with a band. I really think this record needs to be presented as it was recorded, but it's very expensive to have a band. I just don't always have the funds for hotels and food for everyone and to fly everyone out to various places. So we'll see, but I really want to.
Do you ever intend to release records other than your own on Lewis Hollow?
At some point. It's run by myself and my manager, but basically just my manager. If we get to a point where I make a bit more money off of my records and I can afford to put out other bands' records, I would really like to do that.
Lyrically speaking, how have you changed over the years? Has the subject matter changed or just your perspective?
A little bit of both. A lot of the early Sunny Day records dealt with that sort of teen angst fueled by break-ups and girlfriends. Then Sunny Day started to get into politics a little bit in a cryptic way. The Fire Theft was really heavily into the spiritual mindset of the world in politics, so it's a mixture of both. Now I'm starting to write songs about subjects that I never would've written about. For example, there's a song about the town of Sant Feliu, where I recorded this next record, and about Saint Feliu [of Girona], who was sainted at one point in their history. It's outside of myself; it really has nothing to do with myself. I'm starting to sing about subjects rather than being completely and totally internalized.
Will we ever see a return of The Fire Theft or any previous projects?
The Fire Theft I think we will do eventually. We have no agenda at this point, but we're friends and we love playing music together. If we start to play music together again, we'll do it as The Fire Theft. As far as Sunny Day Real Estate, I'd imagine that one day, and who knows when, we'd possibly do a reunion-type tour. I don't think we'd ever be a full-fledged band again, but it's exciting to think about doing a reunion, playing large shows, and bringing that back to the fans.