MEGAFAUN: IT’S ALL FROM THE GUT

April 22nd, 2010 | Interviews


d.l. anderson

Download: Megafaun “The Longest Day”

[audio:https://larecord.com/audio/megafaun-thelongestday.mp3]

(from Gather, Form & Fly available now from Hometapes)

North Carolina’s Megafaun is brothers Phil and Brad Cook and Joe Westerlund. All natives of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, they’re former bandmates of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and close friends of the Rosebuds, Bowerbirds, Akron/Family, and the Dodos. Since the split with Vernon and the birth of Megafaun, they’ve become an integral part of the Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Durham triangle’s musical renaissance. Their third release, a mini-album called Heretofore, is out this summer on Hometapes. They’re on their first headlining tour of the United States. This interview by Lainna Fader.

Tell me about Heretofore. What’s different about it from your last two albums?
Phil Cook (vocals/multiple instruments): We’re releasing something we’re calling a mini-album because it doesn’t quite fit into a couple categories. We recorded it thinking it’d be an EP, but it ended up being 35 minutes of material, which is totally full length—but its only six tracks. It’s cool because we got to do it in a studio, whereas Gather, Form & Fly was recorded at home. This was about 85-90% done in a studio in a very short amount of time, and you can tell the difference sonically immediately.
You’ve called the album an exercise in discipline, but it seems to me you’ve had a lot of success with improvisation. Why such a conscious effort to be disciplined?
Phil Cook: We recognize what our strengths are because we rely on them a lot. But being relatively new to songwriting for just a couple years now, that’s just something that we’re still very much growing a lot at, and we’re interested in strengthening that too. The whole reason we do this band is because it’s a growth project from 45 million angles. It’s mostly a growth project for all of us as friends and people and human beings. This is how we’re building our life experiences. When we’re out on the road meeting people and learning about successes and failures, we’re getting new perspectives. We’ve extrapolated on our improvisation skills on this record. What we did is we took that strength and brought that into the studio. Then we went back and decorated it with strings and horns and things to enhance some of the spontaneous aspects of the composition. It sounds so composed because we’ve been playing together for 15 or 16 years as friends and musicians. The album is a bigger statement about what we can pull off.
And the six-week time limitation? Was giving yourself such an extreme time limitation supposed to force creativity?
Phil Cook: I think that we are very, very thoughtful when it comes to the recording process. We appreciate thoughtful records so much. The records that we look to as examples are very thoughtful, but then, damn—look at the rest of what we listen to! It’s all from the gut. So to be honest, I think this is just another experience that’s opened up a whole new world for us.
A few years ago you relocated from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to Durham, North Carolina. How are the music scenes there different? Which is more comfortable to you?
Phil Cook: Timing is a big part of it. Man, I’ll tell you what. Eau Claire’s always had such a great potential all this time, but so does North Carolina. The potential in both is really high for what is possible in both those places, and you feel it. I think what’s kind of crazy is that after we left Wisconsin, the music scene there has been building so much momentum. It’s kind of crazy to go back there and see all the bands coming out of this tiny, tiny town of like 50,000 people. At the same time, when we moved to North Carolina, there was nothing cohesive there. Nothing was really gelling, but in the last couple years it’s been starting to gel, and it’s getting kind of crazy there. We’re so comfortable there now.
Your last album, Gather, Form & Fly, has long instrumental segments that are almost cinematic. Have you ever considered scoring a film?
Phil Cook: Dude! That would be one of the greatest life goals we could do as a band. We’ve wanted to do that since we were all young, and it would be so awesome to do that. We really pay attention to smart film scoring and that’s very much on our radar. I really hope someone asks us to do that someday. We’d totally shit our pants.
What’s your favorite film score?
Phil Cook: As far as recent films go, Jon Brion’s scores stand out to me. I love how he approaches all his films, and how agitated Punch-Drunk Love is. It really makes you nervous. Eternal Sunshine—everything about how he orchestrated that film is awesome. We’re all big Ennio Morricone fans—we love that kind of stuff, it’s totally up our alley.
What film would you like to rescore, either because the score just sucks, or you’d just love to work on it?
Phil Cook: God, let’s see. I think scoring old silent films would be really cool.
Yeah, Steven Severin of Siouxsie & The Banshees just scored a bunch of rare silent shorts at a theater in L.A. called Cinefamily. They regularly bring in bands to perform original live scores to films.
Phil Cook: That’s so cool. Because we try to inject a lot of humility and humor into our music, we’d maybe want to rescore a Marx film. I love those films. Brad, is there anything you’d want to rescore? He said he’d score a Lakers highlights reel!
Ha! That’s quite an interesting choice. I did hear that he’s a big basketball fan.
Phil Cook: Dude, you have NO idea how big of a fan he is. We played in Portland the other night and Brad took off his sweater and he had a Lakers jersey on underneath. The entire room booed! It was so funny. Last time we were in L.A. he had Lakers banter with the crowd for almost the entire show. It was SO awesome!
Can anyone keep up with his Lakers banter?
Phil Cook: No one in our band can keep up with him. He’s on a level of his own.
I heard you guys play basketball with a cast of musical superstars—members of the Rosebuds, Bon Iver, and Akron/Family. What band should I know not to challenge to a basketball game?
Phil Cook: You mean what band that no matter what would kick your ass? These guys we’re on tour with—Breathe Owl Breathe—are pretty dope on the basketball court. I wouldn’t mess with them. We have Brad on our team, which is kind of a nice little bonus because Joe and I aren’t so coordinated. Joe says, ‘Speak for yourself!’ Okay, yeah—you’re right. I will. I’m not so coordinated!

MEGAFAUN’S GATHER, FORM & FLY IS OUT NOW ON HOME TAPES. VISIT MEGAFAUN AT MEGAFAUN.COM.