Random Rules: Kurt Wagner of Lambchop

Random Rules: Kurt Wagner of Lambchop

The shuffler: Kurt Wagner, leader since 1986 of the cultishly adored Nashville collective Lambchop. Originally a trio called Posterchild, Lambchop shifted through a bunch of names before settling into a rotating, lavish cast of musicians, often recording with up to 16 band members at a time. Their unclassifiable music blends countrypolitan with pallid variants of soul, blues, avant-garde concepts, and whatever else is sitting around. The band's latest, OH (ohio), is a typically inscrutable mixture of warm music and vaguely impenetrable lyrics.

Cat Power, "Willie"

Kurt Wagner: I think [The Greatest]'s a great record for her just in general. I'm kind of blanking out on "Willie" right now. I remember her as this pretty introverted person. She used to come to Nashville and stuff, and play shows that were pretty cool. It was back when she would just play straight through, she wouldn't stop. Early days, we had a party at the house and she came by. She locked herself in the bathroom the whole time and wouldn't come out. We had to pee in the yard. That's my Cat Power story. But I think when that record came out there was something really striking about it, that I could get beyond the fact that it was just such a major step, and I was really happy for her.

Bettie Serveert, "This Thing Nowhere"

KW: It's a record [Palomine] my wife was obsessed about, before we got married and stuff. So I sort of keep it on my thing to sort of remember that time.I think she's got a great voice. All that. I just keep it on there. Sentimental record, whatever.

Sourpuss, "Came Home Late"

KW: Oh, wow, now we're straying into a weird area. This is an early Lambchop thing; we used to make cassettes. This one cassette was in like a furry pouch. Secret Secret Sourpuss. Pretty weird shit. [Laughs.]

The A.V. Club: I looked it up recently to refresh my memory. I found "I Fucked Your Sister."

KW: Oh, "I'm Fucking Your Daughter." That was one of those records—I don't think it was from Secret Secret Sourpuss. Secret Secret Sourpuss was like this weird new idea of doing that, but I actually wasn't playing guitar or anything in it. I would just do stuff like sing while holding my tongue, to inflect my voice. Or play the fuckin' flute or whatever.

AVC: Do you still listen to the Sourpuss stuff?

KW: It was weird. I hadn't heard it in forever and then a friend of mine put 'em on a CD so I could actually hear 'em. Threw 'em on here just to check it out. It's still, to me, pretty cool sounding. It's definitely not what you'd think of when you think of Lambchop. It's the really fun early days when we were doin' shit.

Sourpuss, "All Around Man"

KW: See now, Sourpuss again. Can we skip it? [Laughs.]

Mark Eitzel, "Homeland Pastoral"

KW: I like Mark. I like his thing. I think he's great.

AVC: Did you follow him back when he was in American Music Club?

KW: I actually was not a big American Music Club fan when they first came out. I'm always late to shit; I'm just retarded or something. Like The Smiths, when they came out I didn't get it. Two years later I got it. I was a little slow, so by the time I got it they were already done, and Mark was kinda doin' his own thing. I saw him once in Nashville, he came through all by himself. Played in some church and got pissed off at the soundman and sat in the middle of everybody and played. I was like, "Whoa, this is great. This is beautiful." I run into him from time to time in Europe, and it's always good to see him.

Lambchop, "Please Rise"

KW: [Makes a buzzer noise.] It's just a Lambchop song, new record. See, this is a problem. I'm not a narcissist.

Buell Kazee, "A Short Life Of Trouble"

KW: This guy gave me an anthology of folk music. He's compiling a couple more volumes of it, this crazy European dude named Max Dax. I've been really into checking out stuff from that period in time, folk music and stuff. For some reason Europeans have this weird perspective on what we do, and they're much more into archival stuff than you would think. And everything on this collection, I'd never heard any of it. It's great. I really don't even know what I'm listening to when I'm listening to it, I don't look at the thing to see what it is.

AVC: What's it from, though?

KW: A lot of the same sources, I guess, of the initial anthology of American folk songs. [The Smithsonian Anthology Of American Folk Music]. He's just found other stuff. He's really into research. This guy's really crazy, he did a collection of Mafia folk songs. He went down to Sicily and talked to the mob, and talked them into letting him record these traditional songs about the Mafia. It's a really amazing, beautiful record. And really scary too, because all the lyrics are about killing each other and blood and revenge.

The Jam, "Man In The Corner Shop"

KW: Sound Affects is a great record. I wasn't a huge Jam fan, but I thought Sound Affects was a pretty cool record. [Skips ahead.] More fucking Lambchop. [Skips again.]

M. Ward, "Requiem"

KW: I really like that record [Post-War]. "Requiem" is a pretty cool song too. He's a good writer, a good artist. That's a good sounding record.

AVC: He seems really obsessive about tweaking everything.

KW: In the first few records, he definitely was into not letting it get too good sounding, or at least had a quality to it that was unique and not gussied up. Sometimes I find that annoying. Sometimes I find it really inspiring because it creates its own space for whatever the particular song is, and I appreciate that, but sometimes I go, "Make a record that sounds good," and I think he did that with Post-War more than he did his other records. So I'm not distracted by that, but that's just my perspective as a listener. I get a little funny. I don't want to be distracted. I just want to be able to listen to a song.

The Jesus And Mary Chain, "Just like Honey"

KW: Great record [Psychocandy]. When it came out, I just thought it was so scary and almost unlistenable, and I really like that about it. There was a case where it seemed as much about, maybe even more about the sound, but now it just seems really tame.

AVC: Do you follow the rest of the bands, all that shoegazer stuff that came out after?

KW: A little bit, but I never really knew it was called shoegazer stuff. It was just certain bands that I thought were cool that ended up being there. I didn't know My Bloody Valentine was shoegazer.I just thought it was My Bloody Valentine.

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