"We strive to play the music we need to make to be satisfied with ourselves."
Here is a conversation with about Oxbow, music, books, inspirations, monogamy, Hydra Head and future plans. He also promised, managed and collect for us, some answers from Niko Wenner and Dan Adams as well.
Hello there. Where are you now?
Eugene: In a dressing room in Creil, France.
Dan: In a dressing room in Milan, Italy
Niko: In an excellent, secret, hidden cocktail bar that has no sign, upstairs from an Ethiopian restaurant, somewhere in west Philadelphia, USA. Recovering from a week of both moving here from San Francisco and returning from this recent Oxbow and Sumac tour. At this point the post-tour blues is common knowledge and moving-home is somewhere in the the top five life traumas so, you know, re-balancing.
Your new album is very good. You were talking about it since 2008 at least. Why so long? What happened all these years? Did you raise money from the fund you asked?
Eugene: Well the world will not be better or worse if we were to yield to the false construct of time and do it sooner rather than later. Which is to say: did anyone care that it didn't come out 5 years ago? Or is this just a journalistic device to mark time in a way that calls into focus the fact that it's not infinite? I don't know.
But I do know that we both did not spend the entire time working on it, that we had to raise money by working, usually, to work on it and then all of the things that life involves. Births, deaths, divorces and so on. What constitutes adult living.
And we didn't raise anywhere close to what we spent... about $55,000. BUT we were shocked to get what we got... almost $10,000. This meant much more than people will ever know. It touched us deeply and we thank and have thanked these kind souls from the bottom of our hearts.
Niko: Thank you, and glad to hear you like the album. Part of making an album is talking about it, early and often. As far as the time it took, firstly thank you for noticing. I think more artists, bands, creative folks, would do well to take the time they need to finish their work as best possible. Economic considerations often affect, and sometimes confuse, decisions on this issue of course. Anyway, taking the necessary time is what we did. Of the multitude of reasons why, a very important one is simply that we all, every one of us, need good record, and I thought we could deliver that. No one wants a less than absolutely great album. So, we took the time we needed to make the finest Oxbow album we could.
Is Hydra Head Records, back in business or "Thin Black Duke" is just an exception?
Eugene: They appear to be back in business. But only 4 records a year. And these will be special deals.
Niko: Back in business and happily so!
Your style as a vocalist is very confrontational. Your vocals are like crying and struggling! Is there a connection between singing and boxing?
Eugene: No. Outside of them both requiring effort, breathe and timing.
Are you still interested in martial arts? Are you still fighting?
Eugene: Of course. I am still interested in and I am still fighting. I do like it a lot.
Is "Ecce Homo" from the Nietzsche’s book? Is there a story about this song?
Eugene: From Nietzsche's book. From Pontius Pilate. And Niko will tell the story about this (and all of our) songs
Niko: The title, yes, is is from Nietzsche. The story of the music begins with me as I often write Oxbow songs, sitting in my dining room (the same great acoustic space you see and hear in the 2013 video of Oxbow playing 3:00 O'Clock) one night in early January, 2009. This is the way ninety-five percent of all Oxbow songs begin. The song came quickly, starting with the beginning, and going to end. And the beginning provided the moto, the glue, the kernel idea that ties all the music for the entire album together. An auspicious beginning for the album. Then, life happened. And, then, the album was done. Simple.
Your style of playing music seems a bit more acoustic on the last record. Your sound is mature and experimental at the same time. How you would describe it?
Dan: We strive to play the music we need to make to be satisfied with ourselves. As we have changed, our music changes. Matured in this case probably means we have lived through new phases of life and therefore approach things like different people. But, ultimately, we did what we have always done: work hard to develop music we feel we need to record and share.
Niko: An astute observation. I would firstly credit any change in our ensemble, in the way we play together, to the fact that since 2009 we have spent a great deal of time playing acoustically, no amps, no electricity, no mics. Playing this way has allowed us to understand, within ourselves and to better project externally, the essential basic elements of our old songs. Playing this way has improved our ability to balance our individual parts, to listen to each other, and to play as a unit. For Oxbow playing acoustically is no-bullshit, no individual monitors, just the way humans have always made music for the entirety of history, until, let's say 1946 and electrical amplification. The lingering exceptions to amplification of course are most classical music, Jazz Manouche, Bluegrass music, etc.
Regarding the sound, when making "Thin Black Duke" I considered greatly who we wanted to talk to with this record. For example, did we want to make a recording for our 24/26 years old selves as we did for our first record "Fuckfest"? Or, did we want to please ourselves now, first? (Only in popular music / rock-and-roll would you have to answer this question!) So, having always made records we wanted to hear at the various previous eras of ourselves, of course we made the record firstly that we wanted to hear right now. And after that the goal was to hopefully create an album that will speak to many people beyond just us.
Which is the main inspiration of yours?
Eugene: Great films, great literature, great music. Anything great, great, great!
Dan: Being thankful for being able to be alive in this strange, freakishly wonderful planet in what seems to be a universe which is otherwise quite hostile to life, let alone sentient beings. (Though, it seems we are closer to realizing it is unlikely we are alone.) I find our music has great room for extremely broad inspiration.
Niko: After Beethoven and Bach: Nature, and visual art.
Do you have any new book published these years? Do you have any books in the works?
Eugene: Well there is the THIN BLACK BOOK that limited edition monograph on the “Thin Black Duke.” But no new books. My published work as a journalist is taking up huge chunks of my time. And books don't pay the bills nearly well enough. But I am planning to write another for sure.
Do you have any plans on hitting the road anytime soon?
Eugene: Back on the road in July this year, to NYC, Boston, and Philadelphia! And other US and Canada dates to follow!
You’ve done a lot of guest appearances. Do you seek these things out, or do people come looking for you? Which one you turned down?
Eugene: People seek me out. And I agree if it's cool. And I think I can help. If it's not cool…or so cool that me on it won't make a difference then I decline.
Niko: Not long ago I was approached by and recorded with an excellent band from France called L'Effondras. So fun! (This year they have a great new record “Les Flavescences” that has been quite well reviewed.) I'm always happy to collaborate with and arrange instruments for like minds. I do turn down things, usually for reasons such as for example when people seem to want some sort of "Oxbow result." In fact, Oxbow records are the result of a copious amount of intense focus, an unbelievable amount of soul-searching, and difficult labor. That's what it takes from me anyway, writing, arranging, and producing Oxbow records. Eugene on the other hand is able to record his vocals very, very quickly and so for him it's fast (if not truly "easy") to get an Oxbow-result. So where I think the entirety of Eugene's presence in the studio making “Thin Black Duke” was somewhere between nine hours and fifteen hours, I spent several hundred hours on-the-clock in expensive studios, working on the recording. This doesn't include all the out of studio work that we all do of course, literally more than a thousand hours for me. So, with that in mind, it's not simple to do an "Oxbow thing" with someone else. But I'm very happy to simply play guitar, piano, or arrange instruments, or collaborate or help in some other way.
Is there a possibility to listen something from Black Face, or any other project of yours?
Eugene: I am afraid not. Black Face, sadly, is dead.
What is your point of view about love and sex. Are humans monogamic?
Eugene: Probably not. But monogamy has to be a place that reason and your soul carries you to. Otherwise you're lying to yourself and everyone else.
The last years you’ve been making tons of songs. Are there more Oxbow albums in process?
Eugene: I believe so.
Niko: Yes οf course. Come to Supersonic festival in Birmingham July 16-18 to hear the future of Oxbow.
Thank you very much.
Eugene: Thank you a lot!