Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

5. Neutral Milk HotelIn The Aeroplane Over The Sea

They famously reformed last year and I’ve seen them a couple of times and played on the same bill with them. One of my great regrets was that I came to this album a couple of years after it came out and my friends had all been to the show when they came through town and I missed it. It felt like a concert I should have been at. Part of it was that I hated guitar bands. In high school I was into terrible progressive rock like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes, while all my friends were into Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. I always thought I was in the right and it was them who was barking up the wrong tree, which subsequently has made me a little bit embarrassed, because it was the 90s – I should’ve been listening to Sonic Youth.

But I was firmly committed against guitar music and it was the same friends, like Ryan [Smith] – who’s in my band now playing guitar and keyboards and other stuff, and who’s been my friend since I was 11 or 12 – who was the guy in the Dinosaur Jr. T-shirt trying to get me to play organ chords in the background for his band, and I was grumbling away, "When the fuck do I get my solo?" And he introduced me to Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s kind of an obvious way in for me, because it very much has that sound – the spiritual free jazz and the horns and the power and the instruments from around the world, different bagpipe kind of instruments – for me, it has that same spirit and wildness.

It’s also one of those albums, like the Pharoah Sanders, where the songs are all essentially the same song. And I don’t mean that to diminish the achievement of this record because I think it’s amazing, but when you have a record where you listen to the first song and the melody is so elemental to me – it’s like it existed before this album was written – and then later on you hear another song and it’s the same melody but inverted. Not in a technical sense, but you get the impression that these songs all come from the same tree and I love that. That’s one of the things that the album format can do – tie things together like that. I’ve done that myself consciously on my records in the past – reprised a melody. On Our Love there are two songs that are essentially the same song revisited – ‘All I Ever Need’ and ‘Your Love Will Set You Free’. Not the melody, but the underlying riff and the harmony.

Just going back a bit – the fact you weren’t into Sonic Youth when everybody else was means that you’ve been on a very different journey and is a part of the reason why you’ve ended up making the records you’ve made. If you’d been into those bands you might have just ended up making alt-rock, but because you were listening to prog, you’re coming at it from a different angle.

For sure. I mean, at the time I was listening to Yes, I was listening to The Orb and Plastikman – I wish I had a copy of the music I was making at the time. It was me trying to blend those two things together. I think that set me up for a mode of thinking where there’s nothing taboo about mixing this or that. I think about that about people who grew up in an urban centre. If you were around when punk started, it’s wonderful – obviously that excitement around some scene generates lots of wonderful music. But it also sets up a lot of limitations and rules about what you can’t do. So I definitely didn’t have any sense of that. My small group of music friends – we were way out on the margins of what people in this little town were listening to anyway with both Yes and Sonic Youth, so there was no reason not to try mixing and matching all these ideas.

Selected in other Baker’s Dozens: John Robins, Charlotte Church
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