Bill Callahan: Post-Apocalypse Dreams

The guarded singer-songwriter sheds a little light on his latest…
Bill Callahan: Post-Apocalypse Dreams

Twenty-three years into a career that has never been anything other than single-minded, Bill Callahan has released his best record to date.

Evolving rather naturally from the sound of its predecessor, 2011’s ‘Apocalypse’, ‘Dream River’ (Clash review) is a curiously hypnotic listen. It’s clear that Callahan has paid more attention to his vocals than he might have in the past, his distinctive baritone flexing in rather affecting fashion on several occasions.

Never one to gush about his work, Clash nevertheless thought it was worth probing his current view of the world.

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The title ʻDream Riverʼ seems a pretty distinct contrast from ʻApocalypseʼ and the songs therein seem to capture a certain ease with the world. Where did the title come from and how much importance do you attach to your album titles in general?

A lot of importance. It has to be the perfect thing. With ‘Dream River’ I realised those words, while very common in titles, haven’t really been put together in the past – but it feels like they have. It seems familiar, but it’s not; like a dream.

There seems to be a lot of movement on the record – a plane, seagull and javelin. Does this set of songs come from a change in your feelings about the world since ʻApocalypseʼ, where you seemed to be scrutinising modern America?

I wouldn’t say I was scrutinising modern America. I was more just describing it. To me it seems like a natural progression: after apocalypse, the dream river. An attitude towards the world is all within. Not much has really changed in the last 800 years.

Is songwriting harder for you than it used to be, or has it got easier over time? Are you someone who needs to write?

It’s pretty easy. You’ve got to be more selective over time, though. No need to repeat yourself, so that takes a bit more time. The basketball court gets longer, but the basket stays the same height. I probably do need to write but I don’t ever stop, so I don’t feel a need.

Is ʻDream River’ your 15th album in your eyes, or do you consider the 11 Smog albums as a different part of your career? Presumably you feel vindicated about the decision to record under your own name?

I feel like Smog was a different time; I was different people. And who can feel tethered to a line that long and old? It’s more natural to me to think in the form of trilogies. That’s about as far back as I can go in my catalogue and still have an inkling of who I was then and what I was doing. Anything further back than that becomes awkward teenage photos.

What have you been listening to recently? Does the current music scene excite you?

Loving the new Urban Cone (Swedish indie-pop band). I don’t really like the way R&B is going. It’s very euro disco these days. Hip-hop is almost always interesting. I like Future and Lil Boosie. Nothing is really music anymore these days, though. It’s just computer washes of sound. Which is fine for hip-hop, but not other stuff.

For someone not especially fond of talking about his work, I find it interesting that there’s been both a tour film and book of photographs recently. Are you happy to give part of yourself to your audience, you’d just rather not have to explain it afterwards?

If people want it, truly want it, then I am happy to give it to them. If people are just pretending to want it to be polite, then I don’t want to give it to them, and it’s a matter of only wanting to give something to people that is worthwhile. There’s no sense in giving something, anything, just for the sake of it, in my book. It has to be the right time and place.

After the warm response to 2010’s ‘Letters to Emma Bowlcut’, are there any plans for another novel?

I am working on it. I think Emma just went into its fourth printing, which is pretty cool. It was translated into Spanish and German. Pretty wild. Maybe the publishers are just being polite in doing that, I don’t know.

What are you currently reading? Is it any good?

I don’t read anymore. TV is too good.

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‘Dream River’ is out now on Drag City and is reviewed here.  Find more information online here

Words: Gareth James

Photo: Hanly Banks

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