As promised in the December episode, Ripley Johnson from Wooden Shjips has put together a playlist of Swedish “progg” music that we festively strewed throughout episode 9, and is available in its unadulterated form below (or here). Also below, find a quick interview between Johnson and Oneida’s Kid Millions.
It’s kind of like the time in Fort Collins when the hippie jam band told my band Oneida not to worry, their set was short—they only had five songs—and proceeded to play for two hours. But there aren’t any direct correlations between that experience and the experience of listening to this Swedish mix besides duration… and perhaps this mix is shorter and stronger in almost every way.
I love the Wooden Shjips and I think you ought to as well—but I haven’t taken anyone’s advice on what to listen to in a long time. The Shjips take the basic building blocks of psychedelic rock and explode the expectations from there—and maybe you’re left confused, ecstatic, frustrated, exhilarated and wanting more at the end of one of their tremendous live shows or one of their equally tremendous albums. These tracks are exciting and emblematic and illuminating to his band’s aesthetic—and they can perhaps point in a direction of further listening if you find them as unique and compelling as I do.
This seems like the Wooden Shjips in a nutshell—the music can be strange, awkward and otherwise chaotic and not obsessed with technical considerations (thank god)—they seek a different path to those familiar feelings of dislocation, comfort and repetition—and the vehicle remains as strong as ever. I emailed the Shjips’ guitarist Ripley Johnson a few questions while he was on tour in Europe supporting their new record, Back to Land, out this month now from Thrill Jockey.
KID MILLIONS: How deeply do you care about physical manifestations of recorded music? Sometimes I walk into a record store and feel despair—mostly because it seems like in the midst of a deluge there’s no space for my own work. But when I leave the store I no longer feel this way. But after watching your Amoeba Records video I thought record stores might be inspiring to you. But God—do we have to romanticize places where the clerks are assholes?
RJ: Well, I like vinyl, but most of the vinyl I buy is old and used. So that’s part of my love for record stores. I buy new vinyl, and that’s great, but I really prefer the hunt. I carry around a list of records that I’m looking for at all times. When I go into a record store, even an Amoeba, I’m not usually overwhelmed because I have that list. I used to live just down the street from Amoeba in SF and I would go in there sometimes just to browse endlessly, to pass the time. Now I live in Portland and there are a whole bunch of smaller record stores. They’re funky and cheap. That’s key as well. I’ve shopped for records in NY and got sticker shock. I’m not paying $20 for a scratched copy of Growing Up in Public (r.i.p. Lou).
KM: Along similar lines—Neil Young, in his book Waging Heavy Peace, talks about his digital music service Pono—reattaching “soul” to the digital technology that got thrown away with overly compressed MP3s files. His argument is that MP3s remove the ineffable material that allows us to make deep emotional connections to music, but also we listened to shitty bootleg cassette copies of Neil at Massey Hall with at least twenty generations of warbles and tape decay, and we loved every minute of it.
RJ: Yeah, I listened to so many classic albums on cassette, vinyl dubs, that had skips in particular places, or were sequenced wrong because sides were dubbed in the wrong order. I still hear those imperfections in my mind when a particular song comes on the radio. Or bootlegs recorded at the wrong tape speed, so everything’s pitched up and fast. I don’t think that’s what Neil is talking about, though, and I don’t think higher quality digital is going to bring back that ineffable quality he’s after—it’s still just ones and zeros. But it’s got to be better than mp3s.
KM: Last time I saw you at the Knitting Factory you were killing it on guitar—just shredding. What’s your practice routine like?
RJ: I like to play along with records—that’s as close to practicing as I get. I like to experiment with playing wrong notes in interesting ways. Usually I’m trying to unlearn things. But mostly I just make it up as I go along.
Kid Millions is the founder and drummer of the bands Oneida, Man Forever and People of the North. He has played drums with Spiritualized, Boredoms, Yo La Tengo and Rhys Chatham. A new Man Forever album, called Ryonen, will be released in April 2014.