Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Are you a member of a band with aspirations of climbing into the hearts and minds of thousands of people, making them flutter when they hear your songs, forcing them to unconsciously want to give you their money for your sweat, your songs and your used apple cores or dirty socks?
Well, heed this advice: If your lead singer is boring, you ain't shit and you never will be. It's an overly dramatic thought, but the idea that a singer with something to give of themselves in excess of a meager, static performance with the requisite emphasis in the suggested places and the ability to get the facsimile of an exciting person anatomically and visually correct is what separates the wheat from the chaff - one an unusable waste product and the other a valuable raw material. It's money in the bank when the total package is up there on center vocals, making audiences putty with their purple auras.
The Long Winters are without a care in relation to any of this business. John Roderick, with the exquisite, multi-faceted personality of a scholar who still throws back more than his fair share of frosty mugs at parties - one assumes - heartily, is a front man to beat all other front men. He is the guy you'd drink with and philosophize with - likely all at the same time. He'd be the first person you'd call to tell you were going to be a first-time daddy or mommy because the reaction you imagine him giving to the news would be one-of-a-kind. He likes gas station coffee, with a little cream and no sugar, but if you were brewing a pot specifically for him, you'd probably be nervous that you weren't quite making it right, don't ask me why this would be, it just would be.
Should Roderick have sisters or brothers of such an age that they've already made him an uncle, here's betting that he's the jolliest and best goddamn uncle a nephew or niece could ever have. Here's also betting that some of the stories that he could tell them would make them grow up faster than their parents would like. Roderick mines dilemmas and adversity for angles that spring alive with suspicious clarity and unmistakable thought.
The easy connections that splay out and join matters at their shortest possible points are eschewed for those that are discovered with that golden, fine-tooth comb of his. His puzzlement with his own relationships with others and with the world, feel somewhat epic in their uniqueness. He uses the skin's touch, the olfactory senses, the auditory senses and the gut reactions to guide his analysis of all that happens to and around him. He finds skin to be cinnamon, not salty, on occasion. He likes his chances in a sword fight.
He's a strong personality, which is to say that he's larger than scripts or assumptions and twice as loud. He has a hundred different definitions for a kiss and can write about them tenderly or as if they're loaded weapons ("We're a kiss away from being dangerous," as he sings on "Clouds" from last year's Putting The Days To Bed). He writes as insightful and plainly as does David Sedaris, but just as Sedaris masterfully does, Roderick makes sure he still does it elliptically, giving life a chance to figure itself out for once. He's kind that way.
The Daytrotter interview:
*Can you explain to me the band's interest in the history of southern Illinois (was it Mormons or Jesuits?)?*
John Roderick: On our spring tour we all passed around Under the Banner of Heaven, the history of early Mormons and fringe Mormonism by Jon Krakauer. It was a topic of discussion in the van, so when I saw that Nauvoo, Ill., was on our way to the Daytrotter session, we just had to make a stop. We visited the jail house in nearby Carthage where Joseph Smith was killed, and then stopped by the surviving Community of Christ settlement in Nauvoo proper. It made us a little late for our Daytrotter session, but sometimes you've got to make detours to see cool things. A week later we were in Salt Lake City and we were all thinking about it. We went and had lunch in Brigham Young's old house in SLC, which I don't think anyone would have agreed to do if we hadn't been to Nauvoo the week before.
* Do you make a point of making many educational detours on tour? What have been the cream?*
JR: Yeah, it's important to do. The Interstate highways can turn into a featureless blur, and so can the clubs and hotels, but the detours always stand out. One time we started talking about the movie "Close Encounters" and by the next day we had driven five hours out of the way to see Devil's Tower. We've been to the grave of Jefferson Davis, the spot where Washington crossed the Delaware, the Tippecanoe battlefield, Little Bighorn, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, and in Europe we've driven through Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Luxembourg even when we weren't playing there, just to check them out. Stonehenge was a highlight, and so was the cathedral at Reims, but we've been to all kinds of other places that aren't really on the way to anywhere. It makes us late to soundcheck sometimes, but it improves our attitudes.
*How do you take your coffee?*
JR: A little cream, no sugar. I like gas station coffee just fine.
*How good were you at Mattel football in your younger days?*
JR: I never actually owned it, but I like to think I could hold my own. I definitely played it enough to know that sometimes it knew my thoughts.
*What are you writing about right now? Are there some new topics of interest?*
JR: That's a good question. I've been trying to think about what I'm writing about now. I need to sit down and have a long discussion with myself about where I'm at, and I've been putting it off.
*How are you at parties?*
JR: I'm pretty shitty at shitty parties and pretty great at great parties. I try to get my back to the wall. Most parties have a peak time when everyone is a little buzzed and their inhibitions are down, but before they're drunk and become loud-mouthed bores. I try to get out just before the shouting starts.
*Do you have a mantra -- life-wise or just artistically?*
JR: That might be what I'm missing: a mantra. Hmmm. I don't think boom- shak-a-lakka will be much help. Maybe if I chant, "Stop being a dick," it will channel my energy. But that's so negative sounding. Maybe "Start being not so much of a dick"? I'll work on it.
*In most of your songs, no matter the tone, you sound like a self-assured man. Is that you?*
JR: Well, it depends. In matters concerning other humans, I'm pretty confidant. I see what people are up to, and I'm not really wowed by "authority" or "credentials," nor am I freaked out by emotional outbursts. I figure everybody's about the same, about the same intelligence and capabilities, so a PhD or big biceps are just evidence of work, and a sharp tongue is too. It's meaningless to say "hard work," because all work is hard. Only the very rare people, like Robin Williams or Richard Feynman, seem to have extra-human capabilities; the rest of us are just tussling with each other, putting various colored rocks and feathers on our heads to try and distinguish ourselves. Why get worked up about it? On the other hand, when it comes to directing myself to obey my own will, I'm less successful. I lose my self-assurance when it comes time to build what I know I can build. This is a familiar paradox for most people.
*Are you a romantic at heart?*
JR: Yes, I guess, but romance has been ruined by popularization.
*What are you reading these days that's messing with your mind?*
JR: I was reading about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which if you believe, doesn't paint a very charitable portrait of my grandfathers. Proof of these new disorders seems to rely on circular reasoning fallacies, like: "If your grandfather refused to admit he was a narcissist, it's pretty good evidence he was a narcissist". Still, I'm pretty convinced both my grandfathers were narcissists. Yipes!
*Tell us something about Eric that even he doesn't know about himself.*
JR: Eric's a pretty self-aware guy. He's not haunted by a cluster of unresolved issues. When stuff comes up in his life you can see him wrestle with it for a while, but he usually cuts to the chase pretty quickly. The only thing I can think of that he might not be aware of is that he's a fag.