VIC Q&A WITH HUFFINGTON POST, NEW STATESMAN, AQUARIUM DRUNKARD
Vic Chesnutt – An Interview on
At The Cut and the Healthcare Debate
Mike Ragogna: It’s obvious this was a very special record for you to make, both from the quality of the songs and the packaging. What’s at the heart of At the Cut?
Vic Chesnutt: Well, I didn’t come at it thinking it would be an album about childhood or introspection or hallucinated memoirs. In fact, I wanted to make a very different album. These are the songs the band picked out of all the songs that I brought to them. It was a great exercise in democracy.
MR: You have some impressive artists that have contributed to At The Cut.
VC: This band is incredible. I’m so honored, I got Guy Picciotto from Fugazi playing on this, and he helped produce it. He’s a great icon of rock ‘n’ roll, one of the best front men who ever lived and now he’s playing on my record. He’s quite an influential individual so I’m honored. And Silver Mt. Zion is one of the most powerful acts that has ever been. It’s very powerful, very heavy, and for me to be able to play with people like this is a boost. You know, “Flirted With You All Of My Life” is almost a tribute to these guys for saving me.
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Vic Chesnutt – The AD Interview
AD: You’ve done a lot of collaborations over the past few LPs, and that’s been a staple of your career since the beginning. You’re coming up on 20 years since your debut album and, at this point, is collaborating a way that makes you feel like you’re still evolving in your own art?
VC: Well, yeah. Playing with people like these guys keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure. That alone is good. This record – I could never make this record on my own. I could never do it. There are notes on there that I wouldn’t play in a million years. Textures and things that I could never do myself that I crave for my music to have. So it’s a thrill to me to play with people who can do that. Besides the fact that just being with these people is very inspiring to me. The day we got done recording this album, I came home for a week, and then I went to record another album with Jonathan Richman. And during these sessions, those guys inspired me so much, I wrote 15 new songs. Just being around these people is inspiring.
AD: The new record obviously shares a sound with North Star Deserter, but there are times it seems to share lyrical themes as well. Was working with this particular sound inspiring to you lyrically in a way? Do you feel that the two records are linked lyrically?
VC: Yeah, the two records, lyrically, have a lot in common. They’re both kind of heavy records. Not a lot of goofing around on these – a little bit of goofing around. This is kind of like my A game. These are my most important songs that I’m putting on these records. Sometimes you record songs in a collaborative setting because it’s a great groove or something’s going on here. It’s fun to play and it’s not necessarily my lyrical A game. Maybe it’s just a crowd-pleaser or something like that. But these two records are lyrically the top of my craft.
AD: Some of the initial stuff I’ve read about the album talked about it having themes of death and memory and things along those lines. One of the songs that stuck out to me the most was “Flirted With You All My Life,” which seemed so incredibly personal in that it seems to make references to your accident when you were 18 and things like that. Heavy songs typically are more personal, but do you ever make a conscious effort for songs to be more personal?
VC: Well, this song just kind of happened. It is very personal. During run-through, when I was showing it to everyone, in the first couple of takes, I had tears in my eyes. It was very emotional to me. I’d never sung this song out – it was only on paper. But when I sing it out loud, it was very emotional for me and very personal. I wanted to write a song about a suicidal person. It’s about me – I have suicidal tendencies. So it’s about a suicide who wanted to live.
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The way I see it: Vic Chesnutt
Does art make a difference?
At the very least it makes a huge difference to the artist. But rock’n'roll changed the world – so did hip-hop.
Should politics and art mix?
Politics and art are mixed. Art developed and exists as it does today because of political patronage. From cave paintings and Stone Age Venus figurines to classical architecture, Byzantine church mosaics, Renaissance masterpieces and the entire National Portrait Gallery . . . it’s all political propaganda. Then there is art as populism: Guernica, Goya, Mark Twain, Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, M*A*S*H. In the beginning, rock’n'roll was by its very nature political, populist propaganda.
Does money corrupt an artist?
Not if they are rich already. And frankly, sometimes when money and artists mix, great things happen. Of course, a hungry artist is very different from a sated one.
Is your work for the many or for the few?
Um, have you ever heard my music? I would say 20 years of doing my thing has proven it’s for the few, no matter what be my wishes or pretensions, ha!
Which artist do you most admire?
To write it down seems strange and I tried hard for a long time, especially in the beginning, to resist his charms, but dammit, I think Basquiat is my favourite painter.
Which artist do you least admire?
Not a big fan of the King of Pop – may he rest in peace, though.
What are the rules that you live by?
The entire Newtonian gamut.
Do you love your country?
Love/hate, you know the drill. Stockholm syndrome.