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NEWS : WED, NOV 11, 2015 at 6:55 AM

Michael Azerrad vs. Jonathan Meiburg on ‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’

Jonathanmeiburginterviewmm 2

Recently, Michael Azerrad (editor-in-chief of The Talkhouse and author of Our Band Could Be Your Life) spoke with Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg to discuss forthcoming album Jet Plane and Oxbow.  We think the ensuing conversation is pretty special, and so might you: 

Michael Azerrad vs. Jonathan Meiburg on Jet Plane and Oxbow



MA: You know, I have to admit I miss not knowing who was calling when the phone rang.  I like clinging to the fiction that I don’t know who it is.

JM: It’s true.  “Hello” really used to be a question.  It’s strange to remember that time so clearly, since it already seems so far away!  The other day, I saw a list of New Year’s resolutions David Bowie published in 1980—one, by the way, was his intention to be 67 years old by 1990.

MA: I happen to be pretty good at arithmetic and I could have told him that wasn’t going to happen.

JM:—but the one that really struck me was “to own a print of Eraserhead.”  Not so much because it’s Eraserhead, but because the idea of owning a personal copy of a cult film, that you could watch anytime you wanted, still seemed extravagant then.  Even for someone who liked being ahead of his time.

MA: He was on Broadway back then, wasn’t he, playing the Elephant Man?  That would have been about the time Scary Monsters came out, I guess.

JM: You were living in New York then?

MA: Yes.  It was a hairier place then, but it was also a great time for New York music.  I’m not saying that out of nostalgia, by the way—I think now’s a great time for New York music too.  But it was just different then.  Now there’s this idea that punk was the only ‘real’ thing happening then, the CBGB thing, or No Wave—and that was exciting, it was great—but there were all kinds of other musical avenues opening up too, around then.  I’m thinking about how in the summers there were these great, sort of viral hits you’d hear all over the place, booming out of cars and boomboxes and bodegas, and some of them were really rough and ready, homemade things. Like Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus”—you ever hear that one?

JM: “Gimme a HOOOO if you got your funky bus fare!”

MA: Yeah! There was a wonderfully oddball, slapdash feeling to a lot of it, even some big records.  I think I still have one of the straw hillbilly hats they used in the video for Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” buried in my closet.  I wore it home on the subway and I heard this one older gentleman say to his friend, “Now that’s a real homeboy hat.”

JM: Speaking of “Buffalo Gals” and double dutch—I was listening to McLaren’s “Double Dutch” the other day and was blown away by what a wild mashup that song is.  The Mahotella Queens, the disco strings, the handclaps, the rope-whooshing sounds, and Malcolm sort of awkwardly sing-talking his way over the top of it with total, oblivious confidence.

MA: Confidence will get you everywhere.

JM: It’s got a great video, too. I like it better than Graceland

MA: Me too.  Hey, aren’t we supposed to be talking about your record?

JM: Ha, yes! But I think the early 1980s are a good place to start from, in a way.  When I was writing the songs I was listening to a lot of records from around that time—like Scary Monsters, which you mentioned, or My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, or Big Science, or Peter Gabriel’s Melt record, or PiL’s Metal Box.

MA: I definitely heard all those in this record—also Remain in Light and Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring.  But no offense, I don’t actually hear any Metal Box.

JM: Danny wasn’t going to let me go there, which is probably a good thing.  That’s such a mesmerizing album though. I snuck in a lyrical nod to it in one of the songs. 

MA: Maybe that’s part of what I like about your record. It’s certainly not a period re-creation, but it has a resonance, for me, with that time.  It looks back, but it also looks forward.  

JM: You ever see that performance PiL did on American Bandstand?  Where they barely even pretended to play “Poptones” and started running around the studio, and Dick Clark was like, “who’s this asshole?”

MA: When it was broadcast!  Back then you had to be paying attention or you missed everything.  But why that time?  Why those records?  It’s not like nostalgia for your teenage years. More like nostalgia for my teenage years.

JM: Well—I like thinking about what the sounds of that time must have meant in context.  They definitely give me the sense of being at a crossroads, of a revolution brewing just offstage, and I think that’s at least in part because digital recording gear was just starting to hit its stride: Eventide harmonizers, Linn drums, early samplers and delays—stuff that must have seemed like the coastline of an exciting new world, inhabited by new species of music.  But MIDI hadn’t reared its head yet, or some of the other gadgets that started to make everything so crispy and mechanical-sounding a few years later. You still needed to have musicians who could play, and listen.  Is any of this actually true, by the way, or am I just projecting?

MA: It’s funny, because I was just thinking that at the time lots of people were saying that the stuff you’re talking about meant that musicians didn’t have to listen or know how to play.  Now they say that about laptop music.  Plus ça change… but I take it that the technology you’re talking about played an important role in Jet Plane and Oxbow

JM: Danny, who I mentioned, Danny Reisch, produced and engineered the record. We’ve worked together for the past couple of years—he also played drums on our tours—and we’ve gotten really dialed in to each other’s strengths and flaws, so there’s a lot we don’t need to explain to each other.  But we started this record by setting some ground rules, and one of them was to lean as much as we could on instruments and gear from that era, as long we didn’t veer off into pastiche.

MA: Such as?

JM: Rototoms!

MA: Oh, God. Possibly the most maligned percussion instrument in musical history.  Although they were somewhat redeemed by their appearance on Wazmo Nariz’s classic 1979 single “Checking Out the Checkout Girl.”

JM: Believe me, I was skeptical, too—but it turns out they can be great with the right drummer, especially if you put fiber-skin heads on them and not those plastic ones they come with.  I also mostly played a strat this time instead of the older hollow-body I used on the last few albums, and I fell in love with a beautiful little synth called a Korg Lambda; it’s the first sound you hear on the record. We also spent some time doing overdubs and treatments with Brian Reitzell in LA.  He mostly does film scores, but also he used to play drums for Air and Redd Kross.

MA: Now, that’s what I call a versatile drummer.

JM: I think he enjoyed working on something that wasn’t tracked to picture.  But he reveres that era of recording we’re talking about, and a bit further back, too; he got me into Takemitsu and that mind-bending Tangerine Dream record Zeit.  With Brian, we were trying to nudge the record toward that world, toward that kind of beauty, and menace. 

MA: ‘Menace’ is an apt word. There was certainly a lot of it in the air in 1980. Carter reinstated the draft, Reagan got elected, John Lennon got shot, and New York City was a pretty scary place.  Everybody thought Reagan was going to start World War III.  Did you know where the fallout shelter was in your school?

JM:  I did.  And thinking back, I guess Baltimore would have been vaporized along with DC if the Soviets nuked us, so the end would have been quick for my first-grade class, no matter where we cowered in the building!  But I also think of it as a time—I mean, these are really early memories, but they’re deeply embedded—I remember a feeling that technology was about to change everything about life as we knew it. Voyager was sending back pictures of Jupiter and Saturn.  The Empire Strikes Back was in the theaters, and then E.T. made all my friends want a Speak and Spell.  We were fascinated by computers, but we didn’t really know what they were, so they seemed capable of anything.  Remember Superman III, where Richard Pryor builds an evil computer that wants to destroy the world?

MA: In retrospect, that’s a visionary film about cyber-terrorism.  Now computers actually are capable of anything.

JM:  Yeah—Bowie could stick a few hi-res copies of Eraserhead on a thumb drive and toss it in his sock drawer. But maybe what appeals to me most about looking back to that era is that I feel like we’re in a parallel time now. Technology seems magical again in the way it did when I was a little kid, but it’s also scarier than ever.  People can tinker with the actual DNA of living things.  The NSA can watch drone feeds of your house on their lunch breaks.  Soldiers in the Nevada desert can kill people on the other side of the world by pressing a button.  It’s hard to tell where legitimate concern ends and paranoia begins.

MA:  And legitimate concerns are routinely denounced as paranoia. You’re right about the parallels with this time—for instance, the Russians are making an encore performance as international heavies.  And as far as technology goes—have you seen the promos for that Soylent stuff? 

JM: “What if you never had to worry about food again”?

MA: I see things like that and I think: we are doomed.

JM: Me too.  And I’d be lying if I said that feeling wasn’t there in the record.  But I was also trying to look beyond it, because in the end all that dread and anxiety only gets you so far; the song “Backchannels” is sort of an attempt to meet that head-on.  Not to get too cosmic about it, but, you know, eventually the sun will expand till it’s right where you and I are sitting, no matter what we do or don’t do, and at least it’s better to be alive at the end than after the end, you know?  The guy who did the neon work for the cover said that people ask him all the time if he worries about working in a dying medium—and he said, “I’m like, well, I’m also in this dying body, in a dying city, on a dying planet...”

[both laugh]

MA: Why are we laughing…

JM: Why are we laughing about this?  I know! I guess sometimes the truth is like a hit of oxygen, or maybe nitrous, even when it’s grim.  But that’s just the backdrop to life; it’s our fantasies that show you who we really are.  I remember watching the Baltimore Aquarium being built back when I was a kid, this giant, earthbound space station of concrete and neon and glass, full of escalators and dark passageways and glowing fish, and the shining pyramid on top with a rain forest in it, and thinking this is the future!  I was so excited about growing up in that future, you know?

MA: Now it’s yesterday’s future. 

JM: Just like today’s will be tomorrow.  Did you ever see Arthur Russell perform, by the way?

MA: No. It was just as possible to miss great stuff then as it is now.    

JM: Are you saying that to make me feel better?

MA:  Maybe!  My guess is fewer people will miss this record than you might think.  Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sound so extroverted—I can see you singing these songs to stadiums full of people, with one foot up on the monitor. 

JM: Is that a good thing?

MA: In this context, yeah.  I felt like you were reaching out with this record, making something really big, in a way I hadn’t quite heard from you before.  As the kids would say, it’s “epic.” 

JM:  I think I have to make peace with that word.  As long as it means “the record offers you a sonic landscape that rewards repeat listens”, which is something I’m always striving for, I’m OK with it. This one definitely has some of my proudest recorded moments, like that solo at the end of “Filaments”.

MA: What is that, by the way?

JM: It’s a guitar. I promise!

MA: It’s very Adrian Belew.  Of all these songs, “Quiet Americans” sounds most like a hit to me, or your version of a hit, more than any other Shearwater song I’ve heard.  It’s hard for me to get it out of my head.  And I think I know what it means, but what does it mean to you?

JM: My idea for Jet Plane and Oxbow was to try to make a protest record that wasn’t dumb or preachy.  Which was sometimes hard to reconcile with how much fun it was to do!  But the more grand or triumphant the songs sounded, the more conflicted the lyrics became, which I really liked. I listened to it the other day for the first time since we mastered it and it reminded me of a breakup letter—the kind that’s furious and tender at the same time, because it’s written with love.

MA: Wow, who are you breaking up with?

JM:  Good question…the United States, I guess, though that sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud.  Maybe the idea of the United States.  Some of the things we like to tell ourselves about ourselves.  I’m as guilty of that as the next person, by the way; I’m not saying I’m the guy who sees it all clearly.  I don’t know if anybody really can.

MA [in his best Bowie]:  “I’m afraid of Americans!” But it can’t really be a breakup, can it?  Because in a breakup you walk away, and you’re not leaving… are you?

JM:  That’s the thing.  I can’t stop being an American, even when it makes my skin crawl.  I also can’t help loving it here, even though I hate it sometimes, too. And I don’t think I’m the only one here who feels like this.  So in the end, I guess, the record felt like a way for me to send out a little beacon that just says “You’re not alone.”  In the tense, polarized, tech-addled—but still very beautiful—world we’re in, I don’t think anyone can hear that enough.

- - - - -

Listen to single “Quiet Americans,” and preorder Shearwater’s upcoming Jet Plane and Oxbow right over here.

Posted by Rachel White

NEWS : TUE, OCT 20, 2015 at 7:00 AM

Shearwater Shares ‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’ Release Details + 2016 Tour Dates via Pitchfork

On January 22nd, Shearwater will release Jet Plane and Oxbow, their new full-length studio album.  Featuring highlights “Quiet Americans” and “Only Child”, the album was produced by Danny Reisch at studios in Austin and Los Angeles, and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound (see Pitchfork news story October 20th).

This is definitely Shearwater’s biggest and loudest record—it’s easy to imagine these songs roaring from the stage—but it’s also their most detailed and intricate one. Front man Jonathan Meiburg and producer/engineer Reisch (who also recorded 2012’s Animal Joyand the off-the-cuff collaborations of 2014’s Fellow Travelers) spent two years crafting Jet Plane and Oxbow with help from drummer Cully Symington, longtime Shearwater associates Howard Draper and Lucas Oswald, and tourmates Jesca Hoop, Abram Shook, and Jenn Wasner.
But their secret weapon this time is film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, whose soundtracks include The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring, and 30 Days of Night.  Reitzell’s arsenal of strange instruments emphasizes Jet Plane and Oxbow’s cinematic depth and scope, and reflects the band’s choice to anchor the record in the era when digital technology was just beginning to transform the world of recorded music. In Shearwater’s hands this doesn’t feel like nostalgia; the racing synths and hammered dulcimers of heart-pounding opener “Prime” or the addled motorik of “Radio Silence” sound more like a metaphor for our own bewildering moment. (For a full bio, along with a conversation between famed music journalist Michael Azerrad & Shearwater frontman Meiburg, read here).

Shearwater will begin their 2016 tour in February with three warm-up dates in Texas and New York before heading to Europe for the rest of the month. (Full schedule below). A further North American tour will also be announced soon.

Jet Plane and Oxbow is now available for preorder through Sub Pop Mega Mart, iTunes, and Amazon. LP preorders through will receive the limited “Loser” edition on blue colored vinyl while supplies last.
Additionally, when you preorder Jet Plane and Oxbow you’ll get access to stream the album before its street date, and provide access to an exclusive Shearwater podcast, “Headwaters,” which features demos and outtakes from the new record and a conversation between Meiburg and WNYC’s John Schaefer (host of “New Sounds”).
“It’s like joining us on an expedition,”  Meiburg says of the podcast, only half in jest.  Along the way, he and Schaefer listen to field recordings of howler monkeys, musician wrens, and other strange creatures from remote parts of Guyana and Brazil, and they talk about everything from the ideas and influences that fed the new album to David Bowie’s idea of “social protest music”, the fearsome teeth of the vampire fish, and the last days of Lawrence of Arabia.  Shearwater’s longtime fans won’t be surprised by Meiburg’s wide-ranging interests, but new listeners will enjoy meeting an unlikely front man who seems to be part rock star, part David Attenborough.  

Tour Dates

Feb. 03 - Austin, TX - North Door
Feb. 04 - Dallas, TX - Club Dada
Feb. 06 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge
Feb. 10 - Berlin, DE - Frannz Club
Feb. 11 - Copenhagen, DK - Loppen
Feb. 12 - Hamburg, DE -  Molotow
Feb. 13 - Amsterdam, NL - Paradiso Noord
Feb. 14 - Brussels. BE - Botanique
Feb. 16 - Lille, FR - Aeronef
Feb. 17 - London, UK - Islington Assembly Hall
Feb. 18 - Bristol, UK -  The Fleece
Feb. 19 - Leeds, UK - The Brudenell Social Club
Feb. 20 - Glasgow, UK - King Tuts
Feb. 21 - Newcastle, UK - The Cluny
Feb. 23 - Dublin, IE -  Button Factory
Feb. 24 - Manchester , UK - Night & Day
Feb. 25 - Brighton, UK - The Haunt
Feb. 26 - Paris FR, -  Point Ephémère
Feb. 27 - Zurich, CH - Bogen F
Feb. 28 - Fribourg, CH - Nouveau Monde

Posted by Rachel White

NEWS : WED, MAR 19, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Wonderfully Weird Jonathan Meiburg Interview & Shearwater/Death Vessel Tour Info

Sub Pop’s own Charlie Rose, a very curious woman by the name of Maureen, recently sat down with Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg for a candid one on one that continues her interview series wherein she puts Sub Pop artists on the at times very weird spot (see Maureen’s previous interviews with J Mascis and Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler). If you have about 15 minutes, it’s well worth sitting through all three. 

Shearwater are set to embark on a long tour, and many of those dates are with their labelmates Death Vessel (who have a brand new record out now!). Biases aside, that promises to be one of the more memorable lineups of the year–do you a solid and go see them!

Shearwater & Death Vessel
North American Tour Dates
Mar. 19 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl*
Mar. 20 - Carrboro, NC - Cat’s Cradle*
Mar. 21 - Washington, DC - Rock and Roll Hotel*
Mar. 22 - Brooklyn, NY - Bell House*
Mar. 25 - Allston, MA - Brighton Music Hall*
Mar. 26 - Montreal, QC - Le Divan Orange*
Mar. 27 - Toronto, ON - Horseshoe Tavern*
Mar. 28 - Grand Rapids, MI - Pyramid Scheme*
Mar. 29 - Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle*
* w/ Jesca Hoop

European Tour Dates
Apr. 23 - Vienna, AT -  Szene
Apr. 24 - Dresden, DE - Beatpol
Apr. 25 - Berlin, DE - Privatclub
Apr. 26 - Copenhagen, DK - Loppen
Apr. 27 - Hamburg, DE - Indra
Apr. 28 - Amsterdam, NL - Bitterzoet
Apr. 29 - Brussel, BE - Botanique
Apr. 30- London, UK - XOYO
May 01 - Manchester, UK - Deaf Institute
May 02 -  Bristol, UK - The Fleece  
May 03 - Brighton, UK -  The Haunt
May 04 - Gent, BE - Democrazy
May 06 - Paris, FR - La Flèche d’Or
May 07 - Fribourg, CH - Fri-Son 
May 08 - Milan, IT - Circolo Magnolia 
May 09 - Zurich, CH - Bogen F 

Death Vessel
European & U.S. Tour Dates

Apr. 20 - Bristol, UK - The Cube**
Apr. 21 -  Halifax, UK - Square Chapel**
Apr. 22 - Brighton, UK - Komedia Studio Bar **
Apr. 23 - London, UK - Cafe Oto **
Apr. 24 - Paris, FR - Le Point FMR **
Apr. 25 - Utrecht, NL - Tivoli (Spiegelbar) **
Apr. 26 - Brussels, BE - Botanique **
Apr. 27 - Hamburg, DE - Aalhaus **
Apr. 28 - Berlin, DE - Roter Salon **
Apr. 29 - Prague, CZ - Pilot Klub **
May 03 - Baden, CH - Royal 
May 04 - Antwerpen, BE - Trix
May 07 - Hertogenbosch, NL - W2 Poppodium’s
May 08 - Amsterdam, NL - London Calling @ Tolhuistuinzaal
May 10 - Copenhagen, DK - Loppen
Jun. 07 - Peterborough, NH - The Thing in the Spring
Jul. 25 - Newport, RI - Newport Folk Fest
** w/ Marissa Nadler

Posted by Sam Sawyer

NEWS : WED, FEB 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Shearwater Are On Tour! Download a new track now!

Shearwater have been a prolific bunch while on Sub Pop. Their label debut, Animal Joy, was followed quickly with the wonderful covers record, Fellow Travelers, a couple of 7” singles thrown in for good measure, and here we are today offering you a FREE download of the track ”Black Is The Color”, which was recorded at WNYC for the “Colors” episode for the truly enlightening radio show, Radiolab (if you’re not already into this show, do your brain a favor and get into them here).

In other Shearwater news, the band will be offering an exclusive, special limited release album throughout their current tour: Missing Islands is a 20-track collection of demos and outtakes from the sessions for RookThe Golden Archipelago, and Animal Joy, spanning the years from 2007 to 2012. Most of these recordings, which range from solo acoustic home recordings to full-band explorations, have never been released in any form, and they catch the songs halfway between sleeping and waking. It also features some songs that never made it out of the incubator, some memorable studio moments, and the sound of Thor fighting a mighty (but deceased) oak tree (he won). You can read some liner notes JM wrote about the release right now.

Shearwater Tour Dates

Posted by Sam Sawyer

NEWS : MON, NOV 25, 2013 at 3:22 AM

A Special Double-Release Monday from Sub Pop!


Thanks to the short holiday week, the typical North American record release day, Tuesday, November 26th was officially moved up to Monday, November 25th (that’s today!), and bringing with it two Sub Pop releases! Today marks the release of Shearwater’s Fellow Travelers and the long-overdue re-release of Soundgarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp.

Listen to Soundgarden’s classic “Nothing to Say” and Shearwater’s cover of The Baptist Generals’ “Fucked Up Life” with the embedded players, both of those tracks are available on their respective Monday, November 25th, 2013 releases.

Order Screaming Life/Fopp by Soundgarden and Fellow Travelers by Shearwater.

Posted by Sam Sawyer

COMMERCE : TUE, OCT 22, 2013 at 2:48 AM

Sub Pop, Black Friday, and You


Sub Pop’s Small Bounty of Record Store Day Treasure

We are, once again, participating in the frenzied, let’s-get-our-economy-back-on-track holiday tradition known among vinyl collectors, music fanatics, and eBay flippers as Record Store Day’s Black Friday, for which we (and other record labels and artists) come up with very cool and very limited releases to be sold exclusively at independent record retailers.

On November 29th, Sub Pop (hey, that’s us) will release two limited-edition Black Friday exclusives: Josh Tillman’s score to the forthcoming short film The History of Caves, and a split 7” featuring Low’s popular rendition of Rihanna’s megahit “Stay” and Shearwater’s take on Frank Ocean’s “Novacane.” Please find track listing details for both releases below.

The History of Caves is the directorial debut of photographer and filmmaker Emma Elizabeth Tillman, and it will premiere later this year on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. Josh Tillman’s (spoiler alert: he is Father John Misty!) haunting, spare instrumental score spans 10 tracks, all of which are featured on this limited-edition LP. The album is limited to 2,000 copies.

Labelmates Low and Shearwater each contribute what might be considered, in some circles, improbable covers of popular songs for this split 7” single. After performing a crowd-favorite live version of Rihanna’s “Stay” at the Pitchfork Music Festival this past July, Low recorded a studio version at Sacred Heart in Duluth, MN. Low’s version of the pop ballad has been available digitally since mid-September and follows in the wake of the band’s March 2013, Jeff Tweedy-produced album The Invisible Way. Shearwater’s new album Fellow Travelers is out November 26, 2013, and on it the band performs re-imagined songs by bands they have toured with over the years, including Folk Implosion, St. Vincent, Wye Oak, Xiu Xiu, and Coldplay among others. Unfettered by the operating principle of Fellow Travelers (and inviting future tour dates together) Shearwater recorded their own gauze-wrapped, undulating version of Frank Ocean’s “Novacane” for this single. Low’s proceeds will benefit Rock for Kids (, while Shearwater’s will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center ( This 7” is limited to 3,500 copies.

Both releases will also be available digitally, so you MP3 purists can have yours, too.

Posted by Sam Sawyer