Rowboat's Sam McNitt and Danny White on how this band is different from Blue Million Miles
On your Facebook page, you list Townes Van Zandt as one of your influences. As a kind of folk, kind of country artist, he wrote haunted music. Even when he was gritty, he had a lot of atmosphere.
SM: Yeah, absolutely. Major influence. The first time I got into him, I watched that movie Be Here to Love Me. It's a great documentary. I had known about him, but I never really pursued him much. I watched that documentary, and it just blew me away what he did in his life.
Obviously he had some mental illness of his own. The way he cut ties like that is kind of tragic. The songs are so painful. They're dark and deep. He's got some lighter ones, but "Waiting Around to Die," we used to cover in Blue Million and really stuck to for a long time. I just love that song and the idea in that song.
In that movie, there's that kind of famous bit where an interview asks him, "Why are your songs depressing?" And Townes responds with something like,
"Life is sad. Don't you think?" And of course, also on his songs, "Well, many of my songs, they aren't sad; they're hopeless."
SM: Yeah, yeah. There's another part of the movie he's talking about doing all these crazy things when he was young and how his mom forced him to do electro shock therapy to try to treat him. One of those incidents that happened when he was younger, he was drunk when he was at a party, he was on this balcony a few stories up and hanging off of it. He said, "I let go because I wanted to know what it would feel like if I fall." He landed and went to the hospital. The guy was an interesting man.
Did you consciously weave together the folk sound and the space rock vibe for this album?
SM: No, not at all. We were on [Radio] 1190, and Danny described it pretty well: He was saying that some of the songs come out, and they're folky in nature, and there's this other stuff that's more progressive and heavy. There's no conscious effort to do either, which is what I like about Rowboat because I can write, and it will work. Whatever comes out is what we'll work with instead of trying to force a sound.
Did you feel that pressure in Blue Million?
At the end. It felt like we were loud, and heavier and spacey, and I had to write a song like that. Then I lost track of the fact that all those songs I had written for the band were written on an acoustic guitar and folky at the start. You lose that at times. Like Danny mentioned, I sent forty or fifty songs to him, and we only picked "Barcelona." And all these new songs just happened right away. That's what's nice about this band. There's not a lot of pressure to write. I'm more into it because it feels more natural.
Do you feel that with what you're writing now, you write natural melodies and structures that dictate what the song sounds like, and you can add things to it or change it, whereas, before, you had a weird sound and you write around that sound, say, from the way a guitar sounds through a pedal?
Definitely. Or like, "This is an aggressive riff. This might work." But with this band, I can just play simple. Playing in this song has given me the confidence to know that the simplest songs I write are the ones that end up being the best because everyone does such great texturing to it that they come to life.
By themselves, they're basic. Those songs work well live, too. "In the Pines" is so slow and minimal, but when we play it live, it's so dark and people always mention that one after the show, "Oh, 'In the Pines,' that's messed up." That's a great thing. So it's given me confidence that those songs work and audiences react to them.
DW: "Hunter/Hunted" and a new one "The Arrow" could be Blue Million songs. But the majority of the songs on the record could not be Blue Million songs. As somebody that writes songs, too, you always want to have a project where you can do three or four different things, and you want to have one thing that you hope represents all your interests and abilities as a songwriter. It's fun to go through these songs with you and try to, sonically, tie them together, so there's not two opposite things going on.
It sounds like a very cohesive collection of songs. An album rather than a hodgepodge.
SM: That's definitely what we were going for. As the songs were coming together and felt locked in, as Danny said, the music tied them together; they started coming together quickly. It takes me a long time to write. Blue Million put out an album in 2008 or something like that, and then spun our wheels for a while, and then wrote a couple of songs here and there over those years. That's kind of how I write. They come and go. It sucks when they're not there, but when they come, they come together.
With Blue Million it was Of Building Walls because it was about structures being around and building metaphorical walls around yourself and this one was Of Disappearing because they all came in one theme. I'm learning that's kind of how it is, how I write. No sense in fighting it.
DW: For me, the more I push a project to be defined in what it is, the less I'm going to write for it. If I have a definitive path, that just slaughters creativity, and the next thing you know, you can't write a song to save your life for your band because you have this pre-meditated idea of what it has to be -- which is the exact opposite of what writing should be about.