Sufjan Stevens on the MVIMS! – 11/03/2010

good afternoon,

This week, the Mich Vish Interracial Morning Show! is pleased to welcome Sufjan Stevens back to the program at 8:05 AM EST.

Sufjan Stevens

This interview was conducted a couple of weeks ago for a piece in the new issue of Exclaim! Magazine. The conversation covered a range of topics and here are some brief excerpts from our chat:

On hip-hop culture and his recent use of Auto-Tune:
“I don’t listen to hip-hop. I’m aware of it peripherally; it’s such a massive part of popular culture with such a huge influence. So, I’m obviously aware of it. I think there’s massive collaboration now between all kinds of artists and hip-hop is especially known for its malleability and accommodation for all other kinds of music. So, I feel it’s kind of normal to bring in dance, vocoders, and Auto-Tune; it’s just part of today’s musical culture.”

On calling his own new music “crazy” on-stage:
“It’s the kind of music for psychological discursion. I’m really focused on instinct and impulse on this record and the psychology of my interior life and dealing with basic primal needs, like touch, feel, or sensation. Because of that, there’s a kind of madness that’s induced in the process of working through this material. With the sound as well, I’m utilizing less banjo, piano, and guitar, and more synthesizers, pedals, and drum machines. The sonic quality has this hysterical, frenetic madness to it.”

On taking his music in a surprisingly electronic, new direction:
“Hopefully people can understand that decision because I feel like I’ve earned it in some ways. I’ve just grown to perceive a lot of my previous work as being really fussy and studious and that the safety of the pretension of scholarship, history, or geography—the veneer of all that started to feel really fake. I felt like, through the process of conceptual songwriting, I’d lost sense of my self. So, this record is extremely self-centred, almost to the point where it’s kind of grotesque; some of it’s a little bit embarrassing. But I feel like it’s, in some ways warranted, and also completely necessary for me personally.”

On his new songs and whether they intertwine woes from his personal life and recent illness:
“Oh certainly. I mean the fact that the songwriting process over the past year has been like a therapy session, explains my approach where I use music as a psychological language to work out personal problems. The song is a vernacular, a language in itself that creates its own symbols that ordinary conversations can’t manage. I’ve seen therapists and gone to doctors and there’s a limit to what I can communicate in that context. But the song allows for a real deepening and broadening of language and it allows me to work through this love sickness that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

So yes, you’ll hear Sufjan discuss all of this and more on this week’s show. To learn more about listening live or downloading/streaming this show later, please visit this link or perhaps even this link to hear this and/or other recent episodes.

thanks a lot,


Sufjan Stevens on MVIMS – 10/28/2009

good morning,

Next week the Mich Vish Interracial Morning Show! is pleased to welcome Sufjan Stevens to the program at 8:00 AM EST.

Sufjan Stevens

This interview was ostensibly conducted for a large piece on Sufjan and Asthmatic Kitty that will appear in the next issue of Signal to Noise. A full transcription will soon appear at as well, but you can obviously hear it firsthand on our show next week.

To learn more about listening live or downloading this show for up to 45 days, please visit this link or perhaps even this link.


p.s. Here’s another excerpt:

…[w]ith the hula hoops and superhero costumes of the Hooper Heroes [in the BQE], you’ve again reflected a fantastical comic book world within the context of your music; what is it about this medium that appeals to you as a visual artist?

You might have a better perspective in assessing my motivation in all that, in creating a fabulous, fabricated environment. I’m not really sure where it comes from. It’s probably just the fact that I believe what I do is artificial—that art is artifice and a fabrication. It’s not real; it’s a reflection or representation of reality but it isn’t reality. So, the colours are much more saturated y’know, in the art work and the sounds are much more dramatized. There’s a kinda melodrama inherent in almost everything I do, whereas myself as an ordinary, every day human being, I’m extremely normal, ordinary, level-headed, phlegmatic, and I don’t have dramatic outbursts. Whereas my music is always clamouring for attention and so I think it’s like an alter-ego. It’s true for a lot of artists but my work is really animated; it’s the work of the imagination. It’s the language that I use to represent very real, true, ordinary, and tragic events in every day life. For me, the BQE is a tragic object because of how it’s displaced people, the way it’s an obstacle, the pollution and noise, and the constant upkeep and the traffic and all that. It’s a very real, practical problem in my life every day and my way of rendering that through art is to transform it into a fabulous object. Into a transcendent, phenomenal experience that’s completely unreal, completely artificial. The Hooper Heroes come to represent all these issues—environmentalism, urban planning, and the plight of the pedestrian versus the monstrosity of the city. The Hooper Heroes represent that as these artificial comic book characters.

It is fascinating to me that your route to escapism is often rooted in real places and things. They’re not phenomena, they’re states, they’re places people can visit. I guess you’re just re-imagining them in a weird way.

Yeah, maybe I have a utopian view. Maybe I’m an idealist in that way. Because I think in regular life, I’m a bit of a pessimist. I don’t necessarily presume the best in life for me. I expect things will work out but in my work, it’s definitely a heightened idealism.

…[W]hat’s next for you in terms of your own music and that of Asthmatic Kitty?

Well, I’m trying a lot of new material on this tour and they’re kind of long-form songs—meandering, works in progress, but I’m hoping that they’ll eventually find themselves on an album. So I think that all of that negative view of the state of affairs of the music industry and the demise of the LP and all this—I feel like that’s sort of old news for me. It’s a recent crisis but one I feel that I’m getting around. I think that a lot of the new material that I’m working on is inspiring enough to get me to record it and maybe have a new record out next year.

And you’re freeing yourself of any conceptual restraints?

Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll have any success doing that because it’s how I’ve worked for so long but generally, I’m trying to dissuade any kind of conceptual framework and just write music, love songs, pop songs, and just forget all that conceptual mess…


Sufjan Stevens Interview: An Excerpt

I recently chatted with Sufjan Stevens about his new record The BQE, which will be released on October 20, 2009.  Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

For anyone, the BQE would be a lofty endeavour but, in some ways, you gravitate to this scale of artistic expression. What motivates you to take on such grand projects?

Well y’know, I don’t think I set out to make epic projects. I think the projects themselves become unmanageable in the process and I end up producing so much for a single project, that they end up taking over and becoming much bigger and grander than I’d anticipated. I never intended for this to be so drastic or extensive. In the case of the commission from [the Brooklyn Academy of Music], I was definitely working within a form. The piece itself had to exist in an opera house seating 2,000 people and fill the space visually, orally, and conceptually. So I knew I had to work within that scale and that’s why I wanted these three images, a miniature orchestra, and live hula hoopers, because I felt like that was what was required! I had the grant so I had the money to see things through. And then after the piece premiered and it came time to condense this into an album, I was really frustrated by the inability to reduce it to an LP. That’s when I started to develop more of the expository parts of the essay, and that’s when the comic book developed. So, the whole thing was unwarranted of course, but was heedlessly enraptured by this conceptual ideal or grand idea of just venturing beyond what was normal or rational to capture it, and satisfy my creative desire to have a set piece that would represent The BQE.

That speaks to The BQE but in general, you’re saying your ideas develop from basic structures ?

They’re really small. I really work on a very microscopic level. I really think in terms of the song or folk song, and I work within a very conservative frame of melody, accompaniment, and narrative. So really basic, simple forms, and they just end up becoming hybrids or amended or expanded to form greater, epic, set pieces.

In a recent interview you conducted with Shannon Stephens for’s Sidebar section, you wrote the following; “For myself, I’m starting to fear that music is far too selfish, self-absorbed, and self-interested for the ordinary life. When I’m entrenched in a project, for instance, the dishes are left undone, the bills left unpaid, the house is a mess. I become sub-human. I begin to despise all my bad habits.” Then later, you say, “I’m at a point where I no longer have a deep desire to share my music with anyone, having spent many years imparting my songs to the public. Although I have great respect for the social dynamic of music—that it should be shared with others, that it brings people together—I now feel something personal is irrevocably lost in this process.” And in your essay for The BQE project, you suggest that car culture and the expressway itself really reveal the self-destructive nature of man. So, my question here is, do you think that you or perhaps all of us stuck in this moment of our cultural trajectory, are enduring a particular kind of existential dilemma?

I can’t speak for the culture at large or anyone else. But for myself, I definitely feel a kind of claustrophobia because of the excess in our culture and the availability of so much.

It’s funny that you had this little interview and it made headlines. People seemed to think you were saying, ‘I’m retiring.’

Yeah, no, I didn’t intend to say that. I would never explicitly say something like that. But I definitely feel like ‘What is the point? What’s the point of making music anymore?’ I feel that the album no longer has a stronghold or has any real bearing anymore. The physical format itself is obsolete; the CD is obsolete and the LP is kinda nostalgic. So, I think the album is suffering and that’s how I’ve always created—I work with these conceptual albums in the long-form. And I’m wondering, what’s the value of my work once these forms are obsolete and everyone’s just downloading music? And I’m starting to get sick of my conceptual ideas. I’m tired of these grand, epic endeavours, and wanting to just make music for the joy of making music and having it be immediate and nothing to do with the industry itself, which, y’know is suffering right now of course. And I think it has to do with a creative crisis too. I’m wondering what am I doing? What is a song even? I’m questioning, what’s the point of a song? Is a song antiquated? Does it have any power any more? The format itself—a narrative song with accompaniment—is really beyond me now. Like, I feel that The BQE is not really a song, it’s not really a movie, it’s not really just a soundtrack. It’s so ambiguous and diversified, it seems to lack shape. And the expressway itself lacks shape, so I feel like it’s all related to this existential crisis: Me versus the BQE, or me versus my work, y’know? And I don’t think I can win; I feel like it’s a losing battle…