Bill MacKay’s gorgeous, rambling album “Fountain Fire” is out today on Drag City. Before his show in Cincinnati at Torn Light Records, Bill and I exchanged a few questions about some of the influences that were drawn into this new album and where and under what conditions one should listen to it.
1. On this tour you’ll – presumably – be playing new work from “Fountain Fire”. “Pre-California” is quite beautiful, it’s also a bit more hard-driving than a lot of what was on “Esker”. What were some musical inspirations that went into making your new album?
Thanks Ryan and yes, I sure will be playing songs from it. Yea, I wanted this record to reflect new sides of life. There’s been a lot of urgency and intensity to things, and I feel that comes through on Fountain Fire. Besides that electricity in the air, I had been drawing on sources dear to me: Laurie Anderson, Henry Flynt, Alice Coltrane, Yoko Ono, Jimi Hendrix, Body/Head, Ali Akbar Khan, Robbie Basho & so on.
2. Your work circles through quite a few modes of American folk music. Are there any movements – or time periods – of this genre that particularly move you or that you find yourself coming back to?
I don’t identify with the specific eras so much, as folk music from everywhere are like the seeds of giant trees: so much spreads out from folk music, and it has so many potent time periods you could mention. That said, when I think of it as an idea, I might think of Victor Jara, Leadbelly, Pentangle, Davey Graham, Sandy Denny, Meg Baird…I have never been a purist, but more of a hybridist, and I’m always intrigued with the bridges between the traditional and the avant-garde. The electric guitar and jazz, experimental rock, indian and western classical music has been at least of equal importance to me.
3. As someone who is immersed in the Chicago’s experimental music community, what are the places and who are the people that helped shape this album’s sound?
Oh yes, well I must primarly mention the two great engineers who recorded it along with me: Nick Broste from Shape Shoppe, and Cooper Crain from Labranza USA. Nick is a musician-composer with a long list of accomplishments, and same with Cooper. They both had very natural responses to my vision of the songs, while also having a great feel for when to leave something be, when a take had reached its best self. That feedback was immensely valuable. They have a real openness to experimenting. That went with into the mixing as well, which Nick did.
4. You’ve stated that there is a certain intensity that drives a lot of artists making experimental music in the Midwest. What do you think is behind that intensity? Do geography or socio-economic history have much to do with it?
Yes, I think it is a mix of those forces. It’s another of the great regions, like the coasts. Regions with inherent or built-up power & ambitions tend to draw a lot out of people. The vaunted work-ethic is probably a factor. The mix of people from all directions make it very American in the old sense of a hybrid culture. There is also a certain stability that allows arts to flourish, but it doesn’t really come with complancy. The interest in new forms & development drives it onward.
5. If you could think of an ideal listening setting to take in “Fountain Fire” what would that be?
Oh what an interesting thought. I tend to think of my records as working especially well on vinyl, on turntables, but as to places & times: on trains and long drives, and also in the late night hours when the daytime mind has receded & lets itself open other doors.