LAMETTA: Could you sum up or describe some of the differences or developments that you've noticed between the last and the new record?
JOHN HERNDON: Hm, well, I don't know. It's hard to say. We worked on the whole record with with the newest member, Jeff Parker, who's been with the group for a little over a year. I think him as an addition shaped the music differently than the last two, because obviously we didn't have him for the last two. And the record was recorded in a longer period of time, whereas the last record was recorded and mixed in about two weeks. Our first record was recorded and mixed in about eight or nine days. This one we started about twelve months ago and finished a couple of months ago. It wasn't worked on constantly. There would be a couple of weeks that we would work, then we would take a couple of weeks off, and then we would work for a few weeks, and then we would take a few weeks off... So we spent a lot more time and we tried to not compromise on the amount of time spent. We were doing the record at the house we were living in Chicago, so we had the luxury of being able to spend the amount of time to make the record we wanted to make without having to think about the amount of money that we would be spending if we were wasting time at a studio for 500 Dollars a day.
LAMETTA: So this long period of time was needed to produce exactly the kind of album that you all wanted to produce, or was it a matter of getting together various members of the band, of technical problems or something like that?
JOHN: There were some times that we had to break because other people had things scheduled. We didn't mean for it to take so long. Actually, about half way through, we almost decided to shelve about half the material and make a record only half as long. But in the end we thought that this would be a compromise and we had all of this material, basic tracks anyway, done and with the exception of one song that didn't make it on the record we made sure to finish and follow all the way through.
LAMETTA: How do you usually write songs? Can you describe your working process?
JOHN: I could describe it for this record, it's been different for all of the records. With this record, someone would come in with a sketch of a song. Like Doug McCombs wrote a lot of the songs, of the initial sketches of the songs. On his four-track, he spent a long time. We had a long break after the last tour until we started recording for this record. So he just wrote a lot of songs, kind of sketched out these loose frameworks on a four-track in his room with a base. He would come to us with a tape and he would have this idea and we would listen to that, figure out the best way to start. Sometimes it happened where we would program a drum machine or something and then have him play along with it for four or five minutes. You know, if he would have two or three parts of a song, he would just repeat these things, and then it would be a process of layering on top of that. We recorded on a computer this time rather than on a traditional tape deck. We used a program that allowed us to take regions of sound and cut and paste them, like you might do with a program like photo shop or something with visuals. There would be these basic blocks of sound, basic frameworks, just layers and layers on top of each other, and then afterwards we went and edited and arranged the songs using protools.
LAMETTA: How would this look like during live sessions? Would you use any computers this time?
JOHN: No, no computers. We won't be playing with any sequencers or anything like that. We'll be playing all the instruments live.
LAMETTA: Are there any other changes in the live performance? Will you use any videos or stuff like that, any show elements?
JOHN: At this point that all kind of equals money and we're kind of trying to figure out whether we can afford to do something like that right now. I think we'd like to, but we're not sure exactly what. We want to be sure that we can afford to do that before we decide to really look deeper. But I hope so. I don't know if it'd be videos, or if it would just be sort of a lighting arrangement and have someone doing some lighting that would be more geared and specified beforehand.
LAMETTA: Especially with your last record you seemed to found something like the postrock school, especially in Europe. How do you think about this term and the developments it seemed to bring about in pop music?
JOHN: Well, I don't really know what this term means. Can you tell me what it means? LAMETTA: We don't know!!
JOHN: Yeah, you see, we didn't do that. That was sort of rock journalists, music journalists, trying to describe something that I think they didn't find easily describable. And I think that the bands that are lumped into that category don't really have much in common other than maybe an ideological way of thinking. I think that there are groups of musicians that may have grown up in one school, whether it's rock or jazz or what have you, electronic music, and they're trying to broaden their own knowledge by diving into areas of music that they may not be so comfortable with.
LAMETTA: Would you call your music "American Music" or "European"? What traditions is your music based on? Is it typical American music?
JOHN: Well, you know, we're all American. Everybody in the group is from the US So, if that's what you mean, but you see, it's that: We're playing human music - for aliens.
LAMETTA: Would you call it music for the future?
JOHN: I think it's very much in the present because nobody knows the future. But, you know, what is time really other than a way to measure our existence on the planet. I mean, I don't know - future music - I don't know much about time. I don't agree with the measurements of time.
LAMETTA: But that's what we do, we try to find categories, for music, for example. We need these categories to be able to better cope with it.
JOHN: But what does it say about us, you know. Why can't we just deal with it on its own terms? We do we have to put it in its own category?
LAMETTA: I think that especially your music often rings a bell in one's own musical development or social development. You think of things or elements that you heard before, something that sounds common. Even in Europe, the reaction to Tortoise was enormous. Do you think there's a difference between America and Europe in dealing with your music?
JOHN: A bit. We do pretty well in the States, but I think there's maybe a little more enthusiasm about what we do in parts of Europe. But there are parts of the US that we do pretty well in, too. We do really well in Chicago, in parts of the East Coast, parts of the West Coast. There's such a huge area of land between the major metropolitan areas and there aren't as many magazines that deal with alternative music as there are, I think, here. And whereas the US is dealing with itself like one country, in Europe there are many. So everybody has their thing together, whereas in the US there are regions where we do well, but there are also huge areas where I don't think many people know about us.
LAMETTA: Were you really surprised when you noticed that there was this hype about you, that every music magazine wanted to write about you and described you as the best and most interesting band?
JOHN: Yes, it was a surprise. And it's really flattering, but at the same time I try not to pay that much attention to it. I think if I did, it would be detrimental to what I'm trying to do, which is to pay attention to making music.
LAMETTA: Are there any other projects of any members of the band apart from the band itself?
JOHN: Yes, actually, Jeff Parker, Dan Bitney and myself are involved with a group called Isotope 217, and actually, Isotope is going to support Tortoise on the European tour in April, so that's happening. Doug McCombs has put out a couple of singles on Petriozaky label under the name of Brokeback, and he's been playing some shows in Chicago, Bruck Beck is just him solo. I think John McIntire is working on a record right now with Jim O'Rourke. Yes, there's a lot of other stuff happening.
LAMETTA: We read that there was some kind of project of filming your music. Are you going to do any film projects?
JOHN: Actually, we're having friends of ours from the Subterrane Design Group in London make a video for us. They do computer graphics and they're going to do a computer animation video for us. So that's happening. Maybe you saw that there's a video for a glass museum That was just a short film that a student at the university of North Carolina sent to us and requested the use of that song for a school project that he was doing. And in exchange for letting him use the music for his project we asked if we could use the film as a video. So, he has done something for the new record as well, which is really nice, and it kind of more filmy. But in terms of anything more than that, there's nothing, but we're open to suggestion. In terms of scoring a film, that's something we'd be interested in. John MC.. just did a film score for a film that will probably never see the light of day. But it was a full-length, 2-hour film, and he did the full score. The soundtrack is coming out, but I don't know if the film will ever come out. It's hard to say.
LAMETTA: Are you going to put out a single from the new album?
JOHN: I think there's going to be a remix of - This fellow Derrick Carter, who's Chicago house producer, who's put out some stuff under his own name, he's put out some stuff under the name "Sound Patrol", is going to do a mix of "In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Bethoven there were women and men". So that will be coming soon, I hope, he hasn't delivered the goods yet, but we're waiting.