Having recently released their seventh, critically acclaimed album, The Silver Gymnasium, we caught up with Will Sheff from Okkervil River to ask him about the inspiration for the album’s title, future plans for the band, and that most burning of questions – what’s more important, the music or the lyrics?
Your new album, that came out on September 30th, is titled The Silver Gymnasium. What was the inspiration behind this title?
The Silver Gymnasium was an actual gymnasium in the little town I grew up in. It was one of the many places where little kids could slip in and play. I chose that title for the specific memories I had of the Silver Gymnasium but equally – or maybe more importantly – because I think there’s something meaningful and evocative about that image.
How does the new album differ from previous Okkervil River releases?
I think it’s a lot more streamlined than I Am Very Far, our previous album. I got into this idea of a quick-moving record with not not a lot of loose ends; just something that’s very propulsive and keeps moving forward and forward and forward, with not a lot of stuff to slow it down. It touches upon some more rock stuff that we’d done earlier, but with a lot more forward movement. I wanted it to have this groovy moving-along thing that wasn’t fussy or twitchy.
You formed back in 1998. Did you even hope or dream back then that Okkervil River would still be thriving fifteen years later?
I tried not to think about it, because I wanted to not make decisions based on commercial considerations and because at the same time I was terrified of all the work I was doing adding up to nothing. I was pretty much focusing on the moment and not trying to plan anything. I still feel that way. I feel like the best way to be honest in my work is to just to hop from one thing to the other and not try to do too much planning, especially with music. Also, as happy as I am that Okkervil has been going this long I try not to get retrospective too often because I think it leads to sentimentality.
You’re been praised by critics both for your intricate instrumentation and your thoughtful lyrics. But if you absolutely had to choose, which is more important to you in a song: the music or the lyrics?
I think the music in a song has to be good or else your song isn’t good. The music has to have something to it. I personally enjoy lyrics a lot because I like words, and story, and characters. I like the song form. It’s semi-rare that I get completely obsessed with some music if there isn’t a story/narrative element to it. But sometimes that story can be musical and not lyrical. That’s just sort of my personal preference – other people don’t have the same taste as me, and that’s fine too.
What are your plans as a band for the year ahead?
Like I said, I try not to plan overmuch. We’ll tour, we’ll record, we’ll do projects. I’m working on a feature film. That should be fun.
And finally, if you could record a duet with anyone, who would it be?
I don’t know about duets…I’d like to do a collaboration with DOOM. He’s one of my all time favorite artists. That would be someone I’d be honored to work with.