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When Will Oldham sings a Lungfish song, the mystery deepens

To keep this digital world from spiraling into oblivion at an accelerating pace, the promise of instant gratification must be maintained – even if the sensation feels smaller and weaker the faster we go. Where does Longvis fit in? The enigmatic Baltimore band stopped making fractal punk music nearly two decades ago, but the albums the group has left behind continue to feel regenerative and increasingly profound. For Lungfish’s most devoted followers, that slo-mo satisfaction has a lot to do with singer Daniel Higgs, who ranks as one of the most extraordinary lyricists in the larger punk tradition, eternally growling in the margins of science, esotericism and reality in all its forms. forms. His bandmates, however, remained earthy, with guitarist Asa Osborne often settling for a single circular riff and then rolling it like a boulder from the beginning of the song to the end.

If you’ve never listened to Lungfish, now seems like a good time to ask yourself what you’re planning for the next 30 years. That’s a rough average of how long three notable Kentucky musicians spent listening: acoustic guitarist Nathan Salsburg, multi-instrumentalist Tyler Trotter of the band Watter and singer-songwriter Will Oldham, whose songs as Bonnie “Prince” Billy are both revered in the United States. underground and covered by Johnny Cash, among others.

Together the trio has created ‘Hear the Children Sing the Evidence’, a new album of Lungfish covers. Two Lungfish covers, to be precise. The story goes that Salsburg had been singing a Lungfish song – “The Evidence,” an astonishing kind of Appalachian raga from the 1994 album “Pass and Stow” – to his little daughter before bed, when he found himself fascinated by its flexibility of it. He started wondering if friends from the Louisville scene might be interested in helping him push some Lungfish songs toward the 20-minute mark, and after enlisting Trotter and Oldham, they chose “Hear the Children Sing.” from Lungfish’s 2003 album ‘Love is Love’.’ as the album’s flip side, with Salsburg and Oldham inviting their own children to sing on the track.

That symmetry is a nice wink – a song sung to a child; a song sung by children, but this trio’s fundamental understanding of Lungfish music runs deep. By expanding these songs, they somehow get to their essence. In three separate telephone interviews, Salsburg, Trotter and Oldham spoke to me about that paradox, as well as the band’s live sound, its durability and its significance in relation to the legacy of Steve Albini, the late recording engineer with whom Oldham had worked closely . over the years.

In the spirit of Lungfish ambiguity and brevity, the Qs have been removed from the following Q&A and the A’s have been lightly edited for clarity.

Nathan Salsburg: I taught myself “The Evidence” in 1995 at a summer camp, and in late 2021 I sang it as a lullaby to my daughter Talya. I could play it on the guitar with one hand and hold her with the other, or rock her in her crib. And of course, Lungfish songs can be sung over and over again. Maybe her Are sung forever, somewhere in the universe. Anyway, it just kept happening until I went to Chicago to make another record, but I recorded maybe five minutes of “The Evidence” in case my wife needed to use it while I was away. A few months later I found that tape and thought, “It would be cool to have a recording of this.” I think literally.

Will Oldham: When Nathan invited me in, I was cheerful. I couldn’t wait to sit in these songs in the way he described – pulling them far apart, in time, so there’s a lot of room to explore. Each recording would allow for multiple iterations of each text, where you can walk around the text and observe. “Oh, this passage leads here. These stairs lead here. When I pull back this curtain and blow the dust off this word, I can access a whole new level of meaning.”

Tyler Trotter: How I got involved and how I ended up at Lungfish are closely related. I bought my first Lungfish record, ‘Sound in Time’, at a record store where Nathan worked.

Salsburg: Oh yeah, me and some friends had a record store in the back of a skate shop in ’95, ’96. I don’t remember Tyler buying that record, but I’m glad he did!

Oldham: I’m not 100 percent sure where I first heard Lungfish, but when I’m compelled by a piece of music or an artistic entity, it’s usually because there’s a sense that there’s a potential for years of reward and unpacking. Lungfish is a good example of that kind of experience. You immediately know that you are circling something that is wonderful, byzantine, complicated and resonant.

Trotter: I saw them on that tour for “Sound in Time,” and then a few times with Fugazi. They were repetitive, almost atmospheric, and it put you in a certain situation.

Salsburg: I love (Lungfish guitarist Osborne’s) restraint, and actually the restraint of the entire band. As a guitarist, I was allergic to the idea of ​​making repetitive music for a while, so I always put elaborate things into my songs. But Asa’s guitar parts are exactly what’s needed, and the bed he lays down for those lyrics is just Goldilocks stuff: not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. Higgs’ lyrics remain as they are because they are drilled into our brains through these incredible mechanisms, these riffs.

Oldham: When he toured after Lungfish, Higgs stayed at my house, and those times were very special. Sitting with him was an extension of his work. I hesitate to use the word “integrity” because it sounds like a choice, and I don’t think it is a choice. It’s a consistency. They’re very different people, but people like Ian MacKaye, or Dan Higgs, or Steve Albini, or even in my experiences with Johnny Cash – they’re not different in their different manifestations. Knowing Higgs (personally) is all the more satisfying because it comes not from a superhuman, but from a superhuman.

Trotter: So Nathan had been singing “The Evidence” as a lullaby to Talya, and we just thought, “Let’s play out that repetition, slowly build it up and take it away, and go into more of a trance-like, put-to-sleep-type thing.” .”

Salsburg: On a Lungfish record, nothing really lasts longer than five minutes, but the songs feel so much longer. And they resonate so much longer in space and time.

Oldham: Amazingly, (the meaning of these songs) is not quantifiable at all. It is there to behold and participate in. It’s like that classic Magic Eye metaphor where you’re looking at something that doesn’t look like anything, but you keep looking and it starts to take shape. But it’s still trapped in what it is.

Trotter: “Hear the Children Sing” started with programming the beat into a LinnDrum (drum machine), but when we all got together to play, it sounded weird. So we tuned everything to the LinnDrum, and it sounded weirder, but we thought, “We could groove to this.”

Salsburg: I can’t remember if involving our children was Will’s idea or mine. His daughter Poppy Jo is 5½. Talya will be 3 soon. So Talya loves Poppy Jo, and Will said, “Let’s set up these microphones and see if we can get them to sing together.”

Oldham: This is a really strange record. There are artists right now writing songs that are the minimum length for streaming services, people writing these 30 second songs, and here we are, idiotically, doing the exact opposite. I know I keep coming back to Steve Albini, but he made people feel like if we stood by him, he was doing a job for us. And now we have to do that work. Part of that work is saying, “Let’s put out these 20-minute songs and double down on the things that we understand have value.”

Trotter: We originally met in the studio for two days, and then we sat through what we’d recorded and figured out ways to add things and take things away. Of course I want to add all kinds of little melodies to it, but that’s not what this music is about.

Oldham: It doesn’t push out all its rewards at once. No matter what you do, it oozes out like a honeysuckle. “I’m going to pull off the blossom, gently pluck the end off, pull it out and take that less than a drop of honey – and it’ll be satisfying enough for the sense of wonder I have with the world.” Listening to Lungfish is like this .A little each time.

Trotter: I think Lungfish has something for everyone. You may have to be patient with it at first, but stick with it. Give it time.

Salsburg: I feel like all the music I make is in some way an act of reverence – for the spirit that moves us to make music, and for the possibilities of exchange and community. But I’m already so excited about the response to this from old friends, new friends, non-friends, people for whom Lungfish has played a crucial role. I knew people felt this way, but I didn’t expect this spectrum. It feels like we are building a community out of our mutual respect. So it’s a way of saying thank you to them and for them.

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