The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

No Reconciliation Necessary: Doug McCombs' Favourite LPs
Nick Hutchings , July 16th, 2015 13:36

With the prolific bassist and guitarist and Tortoise and Brokeback founder about to release a new album, Works For Tomorrow, with Eleventh Dream Day, he gives Nick Hutchings a tour of his most seminal records

When I reminded Doug McCombs of Eleventh Dream Day, Tortoise and Brokeback that the first time I met him was for a fanzine interview backstage prior to a gig with Stereolab, circa the Tortoise album Millions Now Living Will Never Die, his response was, "Oh wow. Our only comprehensive UK tour…"

That day, bandmate John McEntire mentioned that, as well as playing gigs with people who were friends, "there's something to be said for certain tensions between bands too - if we played with The Fabulous Thunderbirds that would be cool". I Half-jokingly, I tell Doug I was surprised not to see them on his Baker's Dozen list.

"Well, I like some Thunderbirds, but I don't know if it would go over that great for Tortoise to play a show with a boogie band like that. Maybe Eleventh Dream Day. There are things I love about every era and aspect of American rock & roll. ZZ Top is my favorite Texas boogie band and one of my favourite bands in general. They should have made my list, but I imagined I would squeeze a mention of them in much like I am doing now. Many decisions being made in Brokeback these days reflect my interest in ZZ Top. Tortoise has done tours where we've put together fairly diverse bills; a memorable one featured us with Beans, a solo hip-hop performer, and Ex Models, an aggro-punk band. The response was slightly mixed. It was almost as if the complainants would've preferred to see another band that sounded like Tortoise."

Compared to the experimental Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day feel like a more traditional rock & roll band, and both of these musical inclinations appear to be reflected in his list, which ranges from Neil Young to Stereolab. How does he reconcile the two?

"Eleventh Dream Day is practically the definition of a traditional rock & roll band, but unless you're the most cynical person on earth - which I guess I am sometimes - you begin to realize that every band is unique unto itself. Each band that I play in works within certain unspoken parameters and do the most interesting music that they can muster. Things happen in Eleventh Dream Day that could never happen in Tortoise and vice versa. There is no reconciliation necessary."

There are influences in the new Eleventh Dream Day record Works For Tomorrow that I thought I could hear, but which didn't surface in the list. In the song 'Go Tell It', for instance, there sounds to be a mixture of The Rolling Stones' 'Gimme Shelter' and The Staple Singers' 'Respect Yourself'. "It was probably unconscious, but I know Janet [Beveridge Bean] was thinking of both of those references when she decided to belt those choruses the way she did. Imagine trying to belt like that while you're playing the drums. She's working on it. Somebody mentioned Creedence in reference to this song also."

Meanwhile I was way off the mark with my Primal Scream reference for song 'Cheap Gasoline' - "I'm not sure I've heard Primal Scream. I gather they're pretty psychedelic, Stones-y-sounding which makes sense. I think 'Cheap Gasoline' is a reminiscence of drug-fuelled teenage road trips to see bands" - though slightly closer to the target with Mission Of Burma and Pegboy comparisons on 'The People's History': "Burma is a big band for all of us and Pegboy are our homies, but I doubt if Pegboy has had much influence on us."

With Doug choosing records featuring a couple of his former colleagues in Brokeback, James McNew and the sadly departed Mary Hansen, but no Freakwater or any Chris Brokaw, I wondered how hard it was to choose for a man with so many musical friends and allegiances.

"Well, Yo La Tengo, Stereolab, Freakwater, Codeine and Come, as well as myriad others, occupy a different space in my record collection; bands that you see more often than you listen to their records," he says. "In my experience there was a point when we started playing shows outside of Chicago and even doing tours. Our world view and circle of friends expanded. Mutual friends that thought we had something in common introduced Eleventh Dream Day to Yo La Tengo. We ended up touring together many times and remain friends. A similar thing happened with Tortoise and Stereolab a decade later. Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin played together before Eleventh Dream Day even started, but their first shows were on west coast EDD trips that Catherine came along as guitar tech. We'd be playing in New Mexico to five people with no opener so Freakwater would play. They are one of the only bands that make me cry every time I see them. These friendships are one of the most important things that I've gained from playing in a band."

Eleventh Dream Day's Works For Tomorrow is out on July 24 on Thrill Jockey Records. The band play The Hideout in Chicago, IL on the release date, before a run of US tour dates in August; head here for full details. Click on his image below to begin scrolling through Doug's choices, which run in no particular order