Friday, September 30, 2011

Rock Candy Interview: Phil Cook of Megafaun

They're pals (and former bandmates) of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Rolling Stone named them one of its "bands to watch" and their latest album is taking praise from everyone, including Pitchfork and Spin.

Many think Megafaun is going to break out (though Phil Cook explained to me how that it's impossible to predict) and I think they just might with the self-titled album, "Megafaun," released on Hometapes.

I was pleasantly delighted by the album, which sits somewhere between a regular folk record and an super-indie-sounding folk/pop album like Bon Iver's recent self-titled effort.

On its current tour, the band stops at The Waiting Room Lounge on Saturday ($10). While they were on the road, Cook subjected himself to my questions.

KC: What’s different about “Megafaun” compared to your past releases? A lot of people have said this album is a “reinvention.”

PC: We feel that way as well. We see it as a shedding of old skin in that we basically found a momentum in our process of writing and recording that we never had before. It yielded a work that was much truer, inspired and focused than our last records. We really flew in the studio and gave one another a lot of space to lead and grow with as well as quickly unified group decision making. It was incredibly rewarding.

KC: Do you think you’ve grown with this record?

PC: The way our band has always operated is by measured growth. If we're not growing with each record, show or rehearsal then we'd fall apart. It's that jazz mentality we grew up with: always striving toward mastery but never reaching it. Endlessly indebted and devoted to the process.

KC: The album feels a little more straightforward and very organic, including the songwriting. Is that something you were going for this time out?

PC: The intuitions and tenancies never change. What changes with us is the clarity with which we convey and unfold those intuitions. We've collectively written 40-some songs, ever. It's not that many but it shows you a scope of our arc. Completing any single idea leads you to the next one and along the way, you already know what you will do differently and better next time as soon as you put the cap on the last one.

KC: You recorded the album in Justin Vernon’s studio. What was that like?

PC: It's was Bon-tastic and falsetto-y! No, all joking aside, it was three weeks of laughing and grinning with my brothers, eating supper with our parents every night and trying to use our time wisely.

KC: Eau Claire’s getting some attention since you guys and Justin Vernon are from there. Is that cool for you?

PC: Eau Claire has always has the potential there. All it took was a general awareness to be heightened amongst the community itself. People realizing they not only wanted the same things from their community, but that many were already working on the pieces separately. Now they're working together. I credit Volume One, the local free weekly that started back in 2002. Great folks.

KC: The band’s gotten a bigger and bigger over the past several years and the praise seems to keep coming for “Megafaun?” Do you think the band’s on the verge of something big? Or is that something you don’t even think about?

PC: Well that's a silly question, admit it. (Editor's note: Yeah, OK.) When has the congruency of critical and mass praise ever been a predictable channel? It's one huge gamble and the odds have never been anything but ludicrously daunting. The only way to make any sort of sure bet is to try to follow your principals and keep yourselves in check. We play for anywhere between 12 and 600 folks a night. What does THAT fantasy football spread leave you with?

If you're in it to get big, you're well on your way to becoming a full fledged asshole. If you're in it to get by, well then welcome to America.

Listen to "Get Right" from "Megafaun:"

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