photo by Nancy Stockdale
Neil Hagerty is truly active. In 2011, he has released an audio book version of his 1997 novel Victory Chimp, has given almost daily updates to a truly great Howling Hex website, created a site which is dedicated to daily postings up until and about the 2012 U.S. presidental election, and put the finishing touches on a new Howling Hex record, the first since 2008's amazing Earth Junk, which is to be released this December.
In addition to all of these things, what amazes me so much about Hagerty is his ability to flow with a natural change, experiment, and create a truly diverse and extremely rich back catalogue of records, novels, poetry, comic books, blogs, and much, much more. I'll be forever amazed by this 1996 electronic press kit for the Royal Trux record Thank You. Whether it be in Pussy Galore, Royal Trux, on his own, or with the Howling Hex, there is something wonderful to be found in Hagerty's music.
Check out an interview with him after the jump.
Yeah, I have tried to shift around a lot. Part of it is from trying to earn a living, doing a lot of different things. Some of it is theoretical, like snapping the timeline when I get too comfortable. Also: being restless and not wanting to get nailed down, probably from a fear of death. On the other hand, my personal life is pretty consistent, I like a routine that helps me to work.
I previously mentioned your records being varied... I am fascinated with the change you have offered in the most recent Howling Hex material, moving away from that guitar/bass/drums rock sound that seemed to be the focus of the group previously. The newer music is more focused on keyboards, and a sound that I would almost describe as having a "carnival" edge, but in a completely great way. Would you agree with the "carnival" thing? Where did this change come from?
I would agree and I can tell you that it comes exactly from living in New Mexico and really hearing norteña and conjunto music as a part of daily life. It is my main thing now.
I was always fascinated by the credit David Berman had on the Royal Trux record "Thank You" with the songs "Granny Grunt" and "(Have You Met) Horror James?" What did Berman do on those songs? I always found there to be something D.C.B.-esque about those titles...
The title 'Granny Grunt' was mine, if you say it in a guttural voice with your nose sort of scowled up it sounds funny. I used to crack the band up with it, shouting into the mic at practice. 'Horror James' did come from Dave. When we started working on the first Virgin record we asked Dave and Rian Murphy to send some pages of phrases and scraps they had around. On 'Horror James" we picked out that phrase and wrote a song as a story that fit the title. There are lines from both guys in all the songs. It worked well, they had similar senses of humor and it helped us to get out of our own egos.
I read an interview where you discussed hearing the Blues for the first time in the movie "Sounder." Have you ever had any other experiences like that with a film soundtrack? Have you ever considered composing a soundtrack for a film?
I always have liked the idea. Pink Floyd and Can did all those soundtrack LPs. It seemed like a cool job. We had that one song in "High Fidelity" that was great, other things have been in films. But I haven't done a real soundtrack yet. I think the "Sounder" experience was probably something that could only happen to a child but the soundtracks for "Tron 2" and "There Will be Blood" and "The Social Network" did feel exciting, I mean, they made me think about soundtracks again.
What is your relationship to poetry? The various prose writing on your blog is fantastic in my opinion. Are there any poets who have had a particular influence on you?
I have known a few poets, like DCB and Phil Jenks and it is always great to work with them but I think I will always feel sort of "it's not my craft." I have always read poetry for enjoyment though I think I'm pretty shallow as far as the breadth of my reading. Growing up I read what I thought was standard stuff for 1980s beatnik wannabees: Gary Snyder, Amiri Baraka, Philip Larkin, Robert Creely, John Berryman, Stephen Crane &c. They must have influenced me but it was isolated from my musical activities.
I read poetry for myself and I didn't write it. It wasn't until 92 or something when I saw a Mark Morris dance of "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato" by Handel (libretto by John Milton) that a switch got thrown and I really heard a synthesis of poetry and music that I could maybe take to the electric guitar. And that confidence unchained my interest in Chaucer and Marianne Moore's syllabic verse, it helped me write about things that I couldn't get to blend with music before in a way that was natural or at least not false.
I read an interview where you mentioned the Royal Trux going into the studio with Will Oldham and building up a song from just his vocal track. What song came out of this experience? Have you done many things like that?
I believe it was "Come In"-- an early single. As a general method, I think you have to bend the recording process to the song, to the material as it develops-- not bend things to a preconceived recording process. Although sometimes the standard recording style of the day is just the right thing for the material.
What was your best/most bizarre major label experience?
The best part was knowing that I only cared about the money. The bizarre was that almost no one in the business we encountered seemed to really believe that. They were built to prey on needy people who would do anything for approval, to be raised above the masses. It seemed like every exec was the dim-witted whelp of some historically wealthy family, like this was a job that the rich dummies did.
The exceptions were always the sociopathic, vicious lower class people who clawed their way up to the top. They were actually very cool, very tough, circumspect. So another best would be getting a little respect from them, even if we didn't really succeed in the way they needed us to. Of course this was 15 years ago, things have totally changed in the business now.