Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview: Shawn Rosenblatt of Netherfriends

Posted by Andrew

photo: Jules Ameel

I’m pretty sure the word ‘stagnation’ doesn’t find its way into Shawn Rosenblatt’s vocabulary. Attempting to even explain the concept of idleness to the driving force and one constant behind Netherfriends seems futile to the most absurd extremes. It’s not about taking the high road or the low road for Shawn. It’s about taking whatever road available. The trope of road as freedom has been long documented, and Netherfriends’ current 50 Songs/50 Sates project is a continuation of that tradition. But for now, fellow Chicagoans, we’re in luck. Shawn’s dedicating November to our city before hitting the road again in December. Catch him while you can at one of these dates:

Monday, Nov. 8th at Empty Bottle (FREE, Barry and Sherry vinyl release show)
Tuesday, Nov. 16th at the Whistler (FREE)
Saturday, Nov. 20th Saki Records In Store Performance (FREE)
Friday, Nov. 26th Schubas w/ Bear Hands

I was able to meet up with Shawn in a rare state of R&R at the Mustache Café in Logan Square. Read about Shawn’s take on travel, Sufjan Stevens and his enlightened political perspective after the jump.

WCR: Explain Netherfriends.

Shawn: It started out as most bands do...a solo thing, and then it went into “I’ll find musicians to play with and then we’ll collaborate.” But it just kind of went back into…it’s hard to rely on people when you’re touring. You’re trying to really go full force. I just have a hard time relying on other people for that. Everyone’s got their own agenda, their own lives. So it’s tough when it’s your songs and you’re trying to get people on board. So I started Netherfriends in 2007, it was just something to do in the summer, and I just kept touring and playing shows. 

So on record then, is that all you?

On the Barry and Sherry album, most of the drums are me. I had a bunch of people that usually play with me on drums help me out. If I can find someone to play drums, they’ll do it; if not, I’ll play myself. I’m not the best drummer, but the power of recording is that you can layer it 20 times and make it sound a lot cooler, overdubbed...add things and patch things in.

Explain the 50 songs/50 states project.

Starting in April, I gave up my apartment and I just wanted to do something creative with touring. Instead of just playing shows, I wanted to also record at the same time and kind of...kill two birds with one stone and write and record a song and perform in all 50 states. Touring is pretty shitty. It’s fun, but it’s also like the worst thing you could do. It’s like anything in life. There’s down sides to everything. I don’t know, it keeps me sane to be able to know that if I play a shitty show in Wyoming or Minnesota or something, that I still have to record here and it still matters, you know, that I’m here in this state. So it’s a nice thing. Because when you’re first starting out and touring, a lot of the shows are not really like playing in your hometown or playing packed events, it’s all a gamble. So it’s a nice project. I don’t think that many people care about which is the best part. I’m looking forward to finishing it. I think a lot of people think it’s a joke. Not a lot, but a handful. So I’m excited just to be able to finish it up and to be like, “Yeah, I wrote and recorded and performed in all 50 states in one year.” How many people get to say they did that? And maybe do it again next year if I want to. It’s just fun. 

So how far along are you?

I’m at 34 states so far. I started April 14th. I’m releasing the first five songs from the project in January, so I have to finish it this month. Kind of like why I’m relaxing in Chicago, not touring as frequently this month, because I really have to sit down and start editing and adding and mixing everything. 

Do you work with musicians from those states?

Sometimes. There’s no real guidelines. The only rules I have, it has to be more than two minutes long -  the song has to be a bit longer - and I can’t start writing the song until I get into the state so its not like I can rewrite something and then show up, record it. I have to start writing when I get to the state. 

How would you counter or combat anyone that says the project would be derivative of Sufjan Stevens?

Umm, I’m actually going to do it [laughs]. It’s not a gimmick. It's songs, not albums, so it’s actually feasible. And I’m not getting any press because of it, I mean as much as he did. He was on fucking MTV because of that shit. 

And then two albums later it's…

Yeah, then he’s like, “It was just a joke.” 

Do you have any doubts you won’t be able to follow through with all 50?

I’m still a little worried about Hawaii. I did Alaska already, so Hawaii’s definitely going to be challenging. I’m having a bunch of people help me out with that right now. But everything else seems like it’s going to happen. I’m not signed to any booking agent right now, but I’m having some people help me out which is really great because they believe in the project or believe in the music, which is nice.

What’s the best that’s going on in other cities? Favorite venues, record shops, bands you think should be getting more press out there?

There’s this band called Tungs in Richmond, Virginia. Super way out there, but has really incredible song structures and a pretty crazy live show. They’re probably gonna start touring pretty soon. The one thing about touring for me, and it’s weird to think but you always have in the back of your mind, is “If I had the money or if I got to a certain level, I would love to bring this band on tour with me.” But it’s not physically possible right now. But yeah, I love seeing new music because I think that a big theme in my life right now is to not be jaded, because everyone’s guilty of it because of our age, you know? When you get in your’re not 15 anymore and you’re not excited by everything. When you’re a kid, you get excited about every single band you see, even if it’s the worst music you’ve ever heard in your life, but you’re still like, “I can get down with this, this is cool.” But it kind of changes as you get older. You’ve seen it all.

Did you vote today?

No. [laughs] 

Plan on it?

I don’t even have a home. What am I gonna…I don’t have any opinions on anything. I don’t even know what their platform is [laughs] and how it affects me as a homeless musician, you know?

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