Magpie-like songwriter and guitarist of Austin psych-rock crew Okkervil River, who backed Roky Erickson at the Austin Music Awards during SXSW and who’ll make for a formidable opening act on the New Pornographers bill at the Phoenix Wednesday (April 9).
How did you hook up with Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators?
A writer for the Austin Chronicle, Margaret Moser, recently discovered our music and had the idea of pairing us up for the show. When you’re dealing with someone who has such a legendary reputation as a “troubled artist,” there’s cause for concern. We didn’t get to meet Roky until the day we played – we only ran through the songs once at sound check – but he turned out to be very pleasant and friendly, a very gentle spirit.
Okkervil River has never been shy about knocking out obscure covers. What gives?
As a songwriter, doing covers is a good way to keep my interpretive skills sharp while focusing on the performance aspect of what I do. There’s also just the dumb pleasure of being a cover band for a while. Most of the songs on the Golden Opportunities mixtape were chosen deliberately because they have something thematically in common with material from our Stage Names album or had parts that I, um, referenced.
Where’s the best place to swipe song ideas?
I take stuff from literature, movies, bad television shows. If something is shiny and looks nice, I’ll take it and put it in a song. I’ve taken whole conversations I’ve had with people and used the dialogue as lyrics. Once I overheard a woman venting her problems to a friend in a pizza place. I wrote down everything she said on the spot, and that went straight into a song with almost no editing at all.
Writer Tatyana Tolstaya, who wrote the short story Okkervil River, co-hosts a TV chat show called The School For Scandal on Russian TV. Why haven’t you been on yet?
I’ve heard her program and I’d love to do that, but we haven’t been invited. I never actually met or corresponded with her. Kinda crazy, isn’t it?
How do you feel about the way Okkervil River’s music has been used in TV shows?
When we found out that one of our songs was going to be used in an episode of Cold Case, we were very excited. They told us the date it was going to air, so my whole family came over to watch the show, which turned out to be about a sex criminal who buries teen male prostitutes alive. So we’re all there waiting to hear the song, and just as a kid is about to be killed, they play it. I felt kind of sad and embarrassed that my grandmother had to sit through that, but, hey, we got paid.