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You're known for tinkering with some of your songs, even while performing. From your perspective as a songwriter, is a song ever finished?
No, I hope not. I've just resisted the idea that a record is some definitive kind of thing. You know, the practical thing: You've gotta play the song almost every night for two years - well, you don't have to but you're out there. That's the industry cycle, you know. You gotta play these songs. And I'm just not the kind of musician that's content to do it like the record. I would be unhappy with that. I keep trying to change it up to find that moment of inception and make the song precarious again, to get that feeling of slight embarrassment, like you're playing it for the first time.
Do you think nervousness makes you better, or is it just more interesting to you that way? Or is it just that you like the spontaneity of it?
I think it's the spontaneity, and I think it makes the rest of the set more musical, I think, if it's a little bit more precarious. I don't like, at other shows, for it to feel scripted. Even between songs, if I say the same thing I did the night before, I feel like a chump. I can't get around it, and there's a certain amount that you can't help. The muscle memory will want to take over from night to night. But I always feel let down when a show goes as planned.
You've said that as you have gotten older, you have come to understand more what it is to create space in your music. Does that mean that you have a greater appreciation for simplicity or that you have just become more patient?
I definitely have noticed that I can appreciate certain bands that I would have found incredibly boring when I was younger.
I just did not like pop music when I was younger. Of course, I liked the Beatles' White Album, but otherwise I was kind of in my own universe. I just didn't understand pop songs from the '80s where the chorus would just beat you down over and over and over again. Making loops has forced me to be a little more cyclical, but it's almost entirely linear. I don't really go back and repeat anything. I missed the Band earlier on. I think I would have found that kinda dull when I was younger. Or bands like Kraftwerk — I would definitely not have been into that when I was younger, but I dig it now.
This past December, you collaborated with Ian Schneller on a sound installation at the MCA in Chicago. What was that experience like for you? Are you interested in more types of work like that in the future?
Yeah, it's this whole other facet of thinking about performing and creating. We just haven't figured out a way to create any revenue out of it, but we're hoping it'll get picked up by museums as an installation, maybe as public art eventually. What's cool for me is not just the visual aspect of it, which is 96 flowerlike speakers set up in a field, but the idea that I can get up in the morning and get my coffee and ride my bike to some open space and compose for three hours and be done. Instead of being all tweaked out all day and getting onstage where everyone's focused on you. I found it amazingly gratifying, like no one's looking at me, and it's nice.
It seems like those performances were pretty intense.
It's hard not to feel pressure onstage to be something, rather than just playing and being satisfied with it.
"Danse Caribe" really sticks out on Break It Yourself. How long have you been working on that song?