You’re performing these vulnerable and honest and personal songs. How do you have a frame of mind to perform them and take them on tour and perform them every night?
I had fucking no idea at first, to be honest. There was as certain amount of hubris that was afforded me with the last album. So much of the vibe of that whole thing was subversion and antagonizing the idea of being a performer, antagonizing the audience for being an audience [laughs]. This weird inverse thinking about the whole thing. That’s sort of how I was giving myself permission to be a performer, to be loathing of the whole enterprise.
In that song ‘”Now I’m Learning to Love the War,” it’s asking this existential question of, “What am I going to do? I’m taking up these limited resources, I’m taking these peoples’ time. What am I going to do with it? Is it just glorified navel gazing?” Asking questions about questions and running everything in circles. I’m fucking sick of it. In terms of a performance, I have to come to a place where it’s like, “Look, asshole. This is where you are. This is your reality. You can either do something with it or you can just keep jerking off.” I guess a song like “Holy Shit” is the closest I’ve gotten, that’s my best bid for being like, “OK, I’m going to make a statement now!” [laughs] “Gather around, everyone!”
There’s something about being in the source material, I am so vulnerable and exposed. The jig is up. There’s no mask. I think going into the performance, going into the first couple of shows, I was like, “I guess I’m supposed to sing these songs for Emma every night?” And I tried that, and it was horrible, because there’s a lot of angst in these songs that I’m fairly loathed to revisit. And also because Emma and I have moved on. We want to keep moving on, and I want to keep moving. I don’t want to turn these shows into some kind of tomb wherein the bones of the years 2011-2014 reside and I charge admission to come check them out. It has to be a living, breathing thing that has vitality.
For some reason, and I can’t quite articulate, my instinct just became to sing these songs to the audience, like some kind of demented… [laughs] There’s something about creating this psychodrama between me and the audience that gives the thing vitality. “I may as well be singing this tune to you people.” I don’t know why that makes sense, and I think a lot of people leave the show feeling like they’ve been riding the bus with a pervert.
The flipside of that is to completely detach and just recite from a songbook without any sort of investment whatsoever, which is the opposite of what anyone would want from a concert.
Right. I think there’s some interior reality that you can conjure up with a live show, where the lyrics of the song become an incantation, like a spell. Even your movements begin to take on this added layer of context. If done correctly, this intangible spirit or whatever is allowed to emerge. This “thing” that has nothing to do with the lyrics and nothing to do with the music, it’s all there to conjure this “thing,” this untamed, un-nameable “thing” — which is why people should not watch shows through their cell phones.
The thing that’s happening is not really happening on stage. It’s not happening in the songs. It’s this other thing you have to be present to experience. Your rational mind tells you, “Oh, there’s this guy singing this song onstage that I can capture. That’s the thing I’m here to see.” There’s this whole third dimension that I’m in service to that I want the audience to be in service to, it’s what makes this whole thing exciting. You’re waiting to see if this fucking monster, if you’re successfully able to conjure this “thing.” But still getting very black magic-y.