Photo by DL Anderson
Django Haskin of North Carolina's The Old Ceremony
is a man of eclectic taste. When it came to writing the band's new album, he pulled conceptually from everything from fairy tales to The Beatles to the personal genome project. All this was combined with a healthy dash of vibraphone and thus Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide
The band's name is "The Old Ceremony" and given that name is there any connection to the Leonard Cohen album? Is he an influence on your work?
Django: Yes that seems absolutely right.
Lyrically or sonically? What cues do you take from him?
Well I mean certainly lyrically. He is one of my favorite lyricists. I dont know if musically he is exactly. [Laughs.] I don't think musically is where we overlap the most, but I do think theres a certain kind of attitude that he takes towards art and towards the world that we really appreciate.
So why pick the phrase "The Old Ceremony" -- what significance does it hold for you guys as a band that made you name yourself after that album?
Well band names are hard [laughs]. I think there's a kind of mystery to that phrase, you know it's kind of unclear what it refers to. In the case of the original, the album "New Skin for the Old Ceremony" my understand is that it refers to either coitus or circumcision and either way that seemed like a pretty good start for a band.
As far as other musicians go, who would you say are your other influences?
Um I don't know. We keep our ears pretty open, but each member of the band kind of has his own set of influences. In terms of, for me writing the songs, obviously it would be silly to say The Beatles weren't an influences, because they certainly are. But they're almost one of those influences that you don't even need to mention unless youre going to pretend that you don't like The Beatles. And you know all kind of things going back to the great American songbook, like Cole Porter and Frank Lester were big when I was a kid. And you know Bob Dylan and Tom Watts and Tom Petty and all over the place really.
Outside of music?
In terms of writing this album, it really came out of a philosophical kind of journey that I have been on, really trying to look at the ways that kind of mythologies work in shaping what we think are important. Also the ways that they can kind of get in our way. It's almost like we wear these kind of virtual reality glasses when we're dealing with something and thinking about them in terms of these kind of fairy tale type ways rather than what is actually right in front of us. That idea and a lot of different concepts formed the impetus for a lot of these songs and that's why there's that title of the album is what it is. That is kind of what ties these really different kind of songs together.
How would you say that this new record, Fairy Tales and Other Forms of Suicide, is different from your past albums?
We've always kind of taken a White Album
approach to putting together songs in an album in a sense that we dont want an album to sound like one thing all the way through. You know we want there to be a lot of variety because that's what we like to listen to. And for this record that is still the case. I think we really stripped down a lot of the sounds, because often we will go off into these dense thickets of layering of sounds in past records. I think for this record we really held ourselves back some and tried to use more space as a part of music rather than putting layers and layers of paint.
So if you had to give one or two words to characterize Fairy Tales what would you say is the sort of tagline of the album?
Man I was hoping that's what you would come up with. [laughs] Two words? I'd say "stark" and "adventurous."
Rewinding to your past album, Tender Age -- that's both the album title and a song. I was wondering which comes first in the writing process the album title or the song? Was it inspired by the track or vice versa?
Usually the title of the album is the last thing we do. And it's really only once the album is finished that we get down to trying to decide what would best represent the album as a whole. Thus far there has usually been one song that seemed to represent it best. Although we'd certainly played around with titles that aren't from songs. This one felt like a really natural decision.
So you kind of touched on this earlier, but how would you say Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide applies to the album?
I think the idea of trying to understand how mythologies shape the ways we understand our lives and the world around us. I think the cycle of songs that goes through the album- it's kind of the story of someone in the process of that and it's arranged in such a way that it starts with this very philosophical song "Star by Star" which is actually about thinking about the personal genome project, which is this mapping of a specific persons genome and what it does is it can kind of predict how they're going to die. So there's this question of how much do we want to know about things like that or how much is better to kind of just find out what happens. Throughout the course of the album this journey continues and the last track "Feet Touch Ground" is this, as the title suggests, is about sort of coming down to earth, finding your place, looking around you and seeing things how they really are.
So it sounds like you're speaking more conceptually about myths and fairytales, but still I have to ask were there any of the traditional fairy tales that inspired the album?
It was really meant more as a metaphor than actual Brothers Grimm.
Well going back to Tender Age and looking forward, foreign language played a role in shaping the album. Will we see that again for Fairytales?
Language...you mean the song in Chinese? Yeah. There's not a foreign language song on the new one, but language has always been something I'm really interested in, so there may very well be one of the next one. Sometimes live theres this Greek song from the 60s that I didn't write that we play. And it's interesting to see how people respond when most of the people don't speak that language and can just kind of hear the sounds of the song and the way the emotions of the lyrics come across even if you can't understand it. It's kind of a fun thing for a songwriter, because you realize it's not necessarily the lyrics coming across, it could just be the sounds, you know?
Right so sounds, instrumentally you guys are kind of referred to as a "mini orchestra" as far as going outside of the traditional drum-bass-guitar format. How did that affect recording, recording in general not necessarily this album in particular?
Well that has always been something that we make use of, that everybody in the band can play multiple instruments. So when we record, we really can look at a song and say should this have a vibraphone on it? Should it have a violin on it? Or should it have something completely different. You know, or just guitars or organ or anything. I think what it does is give us a palate that is pretty broad in terms of giving these songs the right treatment, the treatment that the songs asked for.
Were there any instruments that you sort of picked up and explored with this album?
We actually experimented some with people play bass on different songs. Like our violinist played bass on the record, our vibraphone player and I played baritone guitar and bass and stuff. And that was one thing that was interesting with the same instruments just to see how different people play the same song. You find the feel is very different. I did a lot of baritone on this guitar which is a new thing. The title track there's no bass actually it's just baritone guitar, which is a really low instrument which you'll hear a lot in Quentin Tarantino movies and spaghetti westerns soundtracks, but it's not a very common thing to see. And you know, some slide guitar, all kind of stuff.
How does that affect your life performance, is everyone sort of juggling instruments?
It's a pain in the ass [laughs] but we still do it. We always bring the vibraphone, violin, organs, guitar, bass, drums and we'll also bring some other instruments, banjo or upright bass or acoustic guitar, just to have the option the songs the way we did them on the recordings. But at some point the insanity has to end.