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The Narrator interview

| May 30, 2007 | 0 Comments

The Narrator
Bob Dylan Gospel Hour


The first thing one learns when doing research on local rock outfit The Narrator is not to believe everything you read, especially when it comes from the band themselves. According to the short bio on the back of the promo disc for their latest release, All That To The Wall, they not only have a feature-length film set for release, but also thriving stage careers as well. In addition, the closing paragraph of their press release may lead readers to believe the band might be on the verge of imploding, having inadvertently made a record “about the end of their band.”

Appearing: June 30th at Double Door in Chicago.

Meeting up with Sam Axelrod and Jesse Woghin (who share vocal and guitar duties for The Narrator) for a drink in the dark and dusty confines of the Empty Bottle one sunny Sunday afternoon, however, it seems clear any and all claims of internal strife and external distractions from Hollywood and Broadway are merely there for the amusement of themselves and their fans.

“It’s pretty much bullshit,” Woghin explains. “We just wanted to get a good chuckle out of people before they went ahead and listened to the record.”

Along with bassist James Barron and fill-in drummers Dave Turncrantz (Russian Circles) and Dan Fetherston (Oxford Collapse), the album in question is a visceral combination of post punk leanings and pre-Nirvana alt-rock spirit that, while borrowing from both, is completely independent of either. Such standouts include “Speeding Up The Gang,” an apparent stripped-down, lo-fi ode to Richard Linklater’s Slacker; the bouncy, vintage Sub Pop-ish “A Decade In Kentucky”; and the new wave/post punk-infused almost-dance number “Breaking The Turtle.”

Woghin describes All That To The Wall as “more concise” than their previous release, Such Triumph, their full-length debut.

“Overall, I’m more comfortable and confident with this record,” he begins. “There were so many moments when listening to the old one when we were like ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we going there? What’s the point of this?’ Listening to this one, though, it sounds as if everything in every song makes sense, like there’s a reason why we did this here and that there. There’s less noise and more melody. Not to say that it’s poppy or anything, but there’s definitely more of a focus. It’s more pared down, structurally, melodically, and sort of sonically. I know on the last record I could’ve picked out favorites right off the bat, but on this new one, I really love almost all the songs.

“It’s also really hard to get outside of something you’ve had a hand in making,” he continues. “And I have that problem with like, everything, even if it’s just making dinner. My girlfriend would be like, ‘Oh my God, this is so awesome; this is really, really good,’ and I’d be like ‘Is it? I can’t tell.'”

Perhaps the most concise and accurate take on any musician’s feelings about listening to his or her own work, though, is when Axelrod compares it to “listening to the last year of your life in a 42-minute time span.”

That said, there are a few tracks on All That To The Wall that need further clarification, such as “April 23rd,” which contains the head-scratching phrase “fields of Koosh.”

“Remember those really soft Koosh balls from when you were a kid?” Axelrod asks. “It’s like where they harvest them — the fields of Koosh.”

Woghin elaborates. “I just feel like, in my head, it sounds like a really, really great place. Like I want to roll around in the fields of Koosh or something. ”

Commenting on what a shame it is such an idyllic place doesn’t exist, after taking a swig of his beer, Woghin smiles. “Well, I bet if we ever get really fucking ripped we could find it.”

Then there’s the oddly titled “Surfjew,” which was supposed to be only a working title until they later realized it was the only title that actually fit.

“Elements of the lyrics are about being Jewish, but a lot of the lyrics are about thinking you know what you want, working to get it, then later asking yourself, ‘Oh man, why did I even want that? What the hell was that all about?'” Woghin relates. “I’ve lost touch with that whole world and it’s weird to think that I actually had a bah mitzvah. I mean it’s a lot of work!” Laughing, he continues, “Then I think about a lot of the other stuff I’ve worked really hard for and how much more I wanted them.

“When I first was trying to come up with a title, I didn’t want to come up with anything too heavy,” Woghin recalls, “so calling it ‘Surfjew’ — where people would probably be like, ‘Well, that’s about the dumbest song title I’ve heard all year’ — was absolutely perfect.”

And lastly, there’s the strange Bob Dylan cover, “All The Tired Horses,” originally from his 1970 album, Self Portrait.

“It’s like the most reviled album of his career,” Axelrod claims. “A lot of critics totally trash that song in particular, but man, it’s just so good!”

“Usually people cover things that are pretty iconic,” Woghin explains. “We just happened to go the other direction.”

“I mean I really couldn’t imagine us covering any other song of his,” Axelrod wonders. “He doesn’t even sing on it. Gospel singers sing on it, instead.”

“Gospel singers accompanied by strings, organ, and a little bit of acoustic guitar,” Woghin elaborates.

“That’s what’s so great about it, though. It’s the least ‘Bob Dylan’ song there is.”

Just returning from a brief East Coast jaunt, The Narrator plan on embarking on a national tour in June with their new drummer, Kevin Vlack, whom Axelrod says fits in with the group perfectly.

“Our songs tend to vary, so having drummers as different as Dave and Dan really worked out for the best on the record. Kevin, our new drummer, is sort of somewhere in the middle, which turned out to be exactly what we needed.”

Borrowing a phrase from the Steve Winwood biography Roll With It — The Steve Winwood Story, Axelrod and Woghin insist the album title is relevant and not merely a stab at quirkiness and irreverence, despite the obvious dissimilarities the band has with the adult contemporary ’80s crooner.

“Oh yeah, it absolutely applies,” Axelrod insists. “It’s kind of supposed to be about not caring what people think and not worrying about things and just going for it, really. It’s our License To Ill.”

Laughing again, Woghin jokingly adds, “Yeah, you know, License To Ill, Appetite For Destruction, Toys In The Attic, Blood Sugar Sex Magik — it’s kind of like all those put together.”

Yeah, right guys. When’s that movie coming out, again?

— Dean Ramos

Category: Features, Monthly

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