Transcontinental jams (Brownstein’s on the left). John Clark

Wild Flag - Romance by MergeRecords

So you're pretty busy these days. What are you going to do after the tour?

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Well, I get home in mid-November, shortly after the Seattle show, and I think... maybe I'll sleep for three days. Not straight, but I'll sleep for a couple days. I'll take a couple of days off. But then I'll likely start working on songs, or Fred [Armisen] I think is planning on coming to Portland over Thanksgiving and we're working on just some Portlandia projects and looking at the edits. I don't know, I'm not really good with downtime, so if I have an open couple of weeks I'll likely fill it with work after a few days of rest. So yeah, there's plenty to do.

How is the tour going right now? Do you have any great stories?

We have an almost-great story, which is the worst kind. When we were in Massachusetts heading to play our East Coast shows, we had a night off, and our tour manager got to the hotel we were going to stay at before we did, and there was a plushie convention, and we were literally the only room at the hotel that was booked by non–plushie conference attendees. And our tour manager, thinking he was doing us a favor, immediately kept us out of the hotel room and moved us to another hotel. And we've been living this regret ever since, because we really wanted to be flies on the wall at this convention and just witness all of the nuances, and just get an insight into this world that's so fascinating. I mean, who's to say we would not have fallen in love with somebody just because they're a squirrel or a lion.

Right, I mean, that's an unprecedented opportunity.

It's an extremely unprecedented opportunity that we missed out on. We've been touring bitterly ever since.


No, not really, but we still talk about it as the tour story that never happened. So that's my tour story. It could have been more exciting if I had told you that I had witnessed some, like, chipmunk-on-squirrel action. [Laughs]

That's all right—this one works. What are you touring in, a touring jet?

Yeah, I'm touring in my own jet, in my mind. No, we're touring in two vehicles—a 15-­passenger van and then a minivan. It is a modest tour.

What are you guys listening to in the vans?

Well, I don't know what the other van is listening to, but it's mostly hard for me to listen to music on tour because every night I'm surrounded by it, playing it and trying to embody it. So a lot of times in the van I'm listening to This American Life podcasts, and I'm listening, actually, to the Savage Love podcast, which your paper puts out, and the WNYC Radiolab podcast—just a lot of podcasts. And then reading, and just trying to kind of reset my brain during the day so that at night the music can come flooding back and feel exciting, and it feels new.

That makes sense. What do you think of betta fish?

Betta fish? Are those the fish that eat the other fish?

Yeah. They fight.

They fight?

You can't put two in the same bowl together or they'll fight.

Well, I would prefer that over dogfighting rings. That's my opinion. I would love to see a group of men sitting around a fishbowl with dollar bills in hand, making bets.

Do you have any crazy tour stories from past tours?

It's hard to say now, because of course there've been wild times but they all get conflated into one large bulk, one parcel in your past. So nothing that I'm allowed to share, actually. It's a lot like that. The wildest tour stories are the ones that never go to press unless you're Aerosmith and... write a book about it later.

Or fall in the shower.

Yes, or if I fall in the shower, you'll hear about that.

So you've got cats, right?


No? I thought I'd heard in an interview you had cats.

Years ago.

Support The Stranger

I think it was with the Portland Mercury.

Oh, okay. Well, those guys don't know how to do any kind of investigative reporting. You can't believe what they say. [Laughs]

Oh, that's funny, because the next thing I was going to say was, "Please make fun of the Portland Mercury."

Well, you can just say that they got it wrong—I don't have cats.

Perfect. Two questions answered with one answer. How did the songwriting process take place for the album?

Over a period of many months. It seemed arduous, and slower than I'm used to writing, for an album. I think because logistically, Mary was in Washington, DC, and I think when you're a band you really rely on everybody's input, so it's not as easy as you'd think to have a song feel complete until everybody's played on it. If we were singer-songwriters, we could have the whole album done before anyone else had even contributed a song at all. But the songs are very reliant upon everyone's input and creativity, so we have these semblances of songs and these incomplete songs and then we would kind of have to wait until everybody joined forces.

But for the most part, it started with an idea coming out from usually either me or Mary. Sometimes Rebecca would have a keyboard riff or a bass-line riff and then it'd really just add to it. But I think as songwriting went on, we really tried to focus on the pieces that were the most collaborative. Because those seemed to be what we wanted the band to feel like. We didn't want the band to feel like this sort of clunky amalgamation of four different people or an awkward combination of two different songwriters. We really wanted it to feel like a band. So the further along we got in the songwriting, the more we wanted to be reliant on everybody's parts.

How many times did Mary fly in before you felt that things were solidified?

Not enough, I guess. [Laughs] She came out a lot. Mary probably visited Portland once every month and a half over the course of a year. I think it was difficult, because those writing sessions were very intense instead of having a loose, organic quality of just being in and out of the practice space, or when something's not working, taking a break. We were really committed—sort of forcibly committed—to spending eight hours a day, five days in a row in a practice space. But not practicing. It's one thing to just be rehearsing for that many hours, but actually—in kind of a writing mode—it's very draining. And luckily the bumps came out of it. But when I listen to the record and think about how compact the songs are, I'm not surprised.

I was going to say, it shows through on the record.

Yeah, it has this sort of urgency, and almost a desperation, probably because we literally wanted to get out of the practice space. [Laughs]

What was the last movie you saw?


How was it? I want to see it.

Well, that's the last movie I saw in theaters, is that what you mean? I want to clarify, because I have been watching movies on Netflix. I thought it was... good. I think it's dark, very hyper-stylized, and overly saturated visually; it's very violent. But I didn't mind it; I didn't mind the violence. Yeah, I liked it. I [will] admit to being a huge Ryan Gosling fan, to the point of watching The Notebook multiple times. Which is not a movie that I would think that I would like, but I actually like that movie. And every time I'm flipping through cable and I see that The Notebook is on, it's like I stall out, like the rest of the day just recedes away. It's not usually the day, it's usually night, but the night just recedes away and hours are lost and all of a sudden I'm just sitting on the couch watching The Notebook. It's really kind of a drag.

You said when you get back you might start writing songs. What's next for Wild Flag, or is that for a different project?

Well, I suppose it would be for Wild Flag. We have a lot of tours coming up after this one and we've been playing the songs on the record for about a year. You know, we went on tour with the songs before we recorded, so for us as a band we need new material to latch on to, especially in a live setting, 'cause it just allows us to have something to work toward and to work out, and just for the energy of the shows it really helps us to be working with new material.

Is somebody singing in your office?

Yeah, it's the news editor. He does this every morning, regardless of whether or not someone's trying to conduct an interview.

Anyways, so yeah, if I do work on songwriting, it'll be for Wild Flag.

Okay, I have one last question. Last night I ate half of a jar of peanut butter. What do you think about that?

[Laughs] I hope you're not allergic to peanuts.

I'm not. I love it.

Okay. Well, like right before bed?

Kind of close to bedtime. I was researching to make questions for this.

And you ate half a thing of peanut butter? Well, I just—I hope you have a good day. [Laughs] recommended

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