Gold Record

Gold Record

In the months leading up to his first tour date supporting 2019’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, Bill Callahan was struck by what he describes to Apple Music as “the perfect inspiration for the perfect goal”: Before he left home, he’d try to write and record another album. “I'm the type of person that can only do one thing at a time,” he says. “I just knew that if I didn't finish it before the tour, then it would be a year before I could even think about working on these songs. And I knew that if I did finish it, I would feel like a million bucks.” So Callahan drew up some deadlines for himself and began finishing and fleshing out songs he had lying around, work he hadn’t been able to find a home for previously. Gold Record is the short story collection to his other LPs' novels—a set of self-contained worlds and character studies every bit as detailed and disarming as anything the 54-year-old singer-songwriter has released to date. It also includes an update to 1999’s “Let’s Move to the Country”, a song (originally under his Smog pseudonym) that was calling out for some added perspective. “I have a natural inclination to try to make a narrative out of a whole record,” he says. “But this time, it’s really just a bunch of songs that stand on their own, not really connected to the others. That's why I called it Gold Record—it’s kind of like a greatest hits record, though singles record is maybe more accurate.” Here, he takes us inside every song on the album. Pigeons “I noticed when I got married that I finally understood this word ‘community’. I was always hearing it, but it never really meant anything to me. But then when I got married—and especially when I had a kid—that word became my favourite word. It meant so much. This song is just about the feeling of marriage, how it connects you to life processes, to birth and death and your neighbours. I think if you have a partner, you can't be the selfish person you used to be, because there's actually someone listening to you when you're being that way, so it kind of steers you into being more considerate and a more generous person. Because when someone is hearing what you're saying, then you are hearing what you're saying for the first time. That leads to being married to the world, I think.” Another Song “I actually wrote that song for a producer who contacted me. They were making a covers record with Emmylou Harris, and so I wrote that for her. The record never happened, so I just used it for myself. I think that one has a different feel because I got [guitarist] Matt Kinsey to play bass on that one song, and he has a pretty distinct and melodic kind of up-front way of playing bass.” 35 “It's definitely an experience that I had, where I felt like I’d read all the great books and would just be disappointed or feel alienated from any new authors that I would try to read. In your late teens and early twenties is when you read great books and you kind of take them on as if they are books about you, or books that reflect your inner world perfectly. But whenever I try to go back to those, I'm just not interested. I look at it as a good thing: You are kind of unformed in your twenties, and then hopefully, by the time you hit 30, you are somewhat formed. I think that it's like you're getting your wings to fly. When you're unformed, when you're a fledgling person, you can't really express a lot. I think it's a good thing to have that feeling of not connecting necessarily with art, because it prompts you to work on your own.” Protest Song “That song is probably the oldest new song on the record. I started it ten years ago, got the idea and just never finished it. But I considered putting it on Shepherd, just as I considered putting it on [2013’s] Dream River. It didn't seem to fit either of those. It was kind of a revenge song. At the time I used to watch a lot of late-night shows, just because I was curious about what kind of music gets on there. At least at the time, it was almost invariably the worst people out there, in my opinion. So it was just kind of like a revenge fantasy, on the musicians that are performing. That accent I use is just a film noir that lives inside me.” The Mackenzies “When I bought my first car 30 years ago, the couple who was selling it invited me into their house and made me a cocktail. I just kind of hung out with them for a while, which was just a very pleasant and unusual thing. It was a used Dodge minivan, and he was a Dodge mechanic. I figured it was probably the safest person to buy a car from, a mechanic. They were maternal and paternal, to a complete stranger, me just coming out to their house. They also had one of those very homey houses that some people have. Some people master the art of comfort—they have the best couches and chairs and shag carpet and stuff. That's what stuck with me—their warmth, their instant warmth. But maybe that's because I was giving them a check for five grand. The song is fairly new, but those people had been in my head for a long time. I guess I always believe that if it's something you always think about, then that means it's very important—it's a good way to find out about what you should be writing about, if you have recurring thoughts.” Let’s Move to the Country “I always like playing it live, but I kind of stopped and then resurrected it a couple of years ago on tour. It seemed like there was something missing, and because of developments in my personal life, it just seemed like I should write a new chapter to the song. The original is from the perspective of someone who can't even say the words ‘baby’ or ‘family’. The updated version is someone that can. It's sort of a mystery, and deciding if you're going to have a second one or not is kind of almost as big a decision as having one kid, because it could be looked at as whether or not you're happy having kids. I'm totally not saying that people that only have one kid aren't happy having kids, but by having this second kid, you're definitely making some kind of deeper commitment, I think. You're saying, ‘Okay, I'm willing to get deeper into this.’” Breakfast “I think it just started from an image I had of a woman making breakfast for her man—doing that kind of affectionate thing, but not having affection for the person. What are the dynamics of that? What's going on in that type of relationship? Why is she still feeding him and feeding the relationship when she's not happy? I was trying to explore that kind of dynamic that relationships can get into sometimes. I also find it interesting with couples: who gets up first and the way that changes sometimes, depending on what's going on. Who's getting out of bed first, and who's laying in bed longer?” Cowboy “It’s kind of nostalgic for the way TV used to be. There would be a later movie, and then later there was a late, late movie. If you were staying up to watch that, it would usually be after The Tonight Show. That meant something. It meant you're up pretty late, for whatever reason. You might be being irresponsible, or you might just be indulging yourself. Now that TV is on demand, I don't think anyone really watches late-night shows at night anymore—they just watch the highlights the next day. So on one level, it's about that loss of sense of place that TV used to give you, because it was a much more fixed thing. And that kind of correlates to watching a Western, because that's about a time that is also gone. I was just thinking about that, the time of your life when you can just watch a movie at two in the morning.” Ry Cooder “He's someone that I've been familiar with maybe since his [1984] Paris, Texas soundtrack, but I hadn't really explored his records very much. Maybe three or four years ago I started digging into all of them and was really being blown away by how great so many of his records are and how different each one is and how he really uplifts and kind of puts a spotlight on international musicians. Unlike [1986’s] Graceland—where people think that Paul Simon kind of was just using those people—Ry Cooder really seems to want people to know about all this other kind of music. If you watch or read an interview with him from now, he's totally stoked about music and not at all jaded or bored or anything. I just thought that he deserved a ballad, a tribute. Because I think he's great.” As I Wander “I tried to make it a song about everything that I possibly could. I was trying to sum up human existence and sum up the record, even though it wasn't written with that intent necessarily. All the perspectives on the record are very distinct, and limited to just that narrative. But with ‘As I Wander’, I tried to hold all narratives at the same time. Just like a great big spaghetti junction where all the highways meet up and swirl around.”

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