On the off-chance that you haven’t tired of the rarely neglected term, “supergroup,” you have a brand new one to break down and rank member by member this summer, one with a wealth of local ties. It’s called, Overseas, a band of four famously brooding men: Will Johnson, of Centro-matic; David Bazan, of Pedro the Lion and Headphones; and finally, Matt Kadane and Bubba Kadane, of Bedhead and the New Year.
The dour multiinstrumentalists convened with producer Matt Barnhart at Argyle’s Echo Lab studio last year, and for his trouble, Barnhart has been referred to as “really the fifth member of Overseas” by David Bazan in the group’s bio. Barnhart is a former Denton resident who now resides in Chicago, doing mastering work for Chicago Mastering Service, a company started by Bob Weston, who is a well-regarded yet semiretired recording engineer himself. He is also a member of both Mission of Burma and Shellac.
I’ve been sitting on this brief in-person interview conducted with David Bazan regarding Overseas since February of last year. Since the group is releasing their self-titled debut album next month, it seemed like a good time to finally unearth this. Rolling Stone offered a free download from the album yesterday, and you can acquire that here. The track is unsurprising in its utilization of this gang’s individual talents; it’s midtempo, unhappy rock music that is still somehow melodic and catchy through the monotonous songbird complain-singing. If you’re into the majority of what this crowd does on their own, you won’t be disappointed, though I do wish the Kadanes would share some of the vocal duties. In the history of Dallas singers, their collective whisper is one of our city’s signature exports. The group’s first video was directed by former Dallas resident, Keven McAlester, late of the Adventure Club, and also the documentarian responsible for You’re Gonna Miss Me and The Dungeon Masters.
The conversation followed a show at Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden’s house, immediately after Bazan concluded a performance to a living room full of quiet admirers. When the microphone was off, Bazan told me about how much Pedro the Lion owed to Bedhead, which settles a bet I had sometime in 1999. Somewhere, somebody owes me a Josta.
FrontRow: I wanted to ask you about the project with the Kadane Brothers and Will Johnson. Who does what in the band? Or is it everyone sharing everything?
David Bazan: Everyone kind of does everything. You know, generally speaking, live, when we would play shows, I play bass. It seems like Matt (Kadane) and Will (Johnson) alternate on drum duties. Then they play guitar if they’re not playing drums. Bubba (Kadane) plays guitar generally. Then in the studio, we all did a lot of everything. The writing is very like … somebody comes up with this little bit, somebody adds this little bit. The lyrics are a real hybrid of everybody’s thing. It will just say who’s in the band. It won’t really differentiate between who did what.
FR: What’s it like being around that interplay that the [Kadane] brothers have? It’s legendary here, and in the world they are kind of one of the biggest Dallas bands…
DB: It’s really cool, because there seems to be this basic trust that we all have, where we all like each other’s taste. Over the first couple of days of working together — it takes time to know where the Venn diagram of all our taste overlaps. Once we get a sense of that, we stay in that zone and inevitably it will push out into your own tastes. Then the Venn diagram gets a little bit bigger, that area of overlap.
But it’s just cool. Matt and Bubba and Will — and Matt Barnhart — are just genuinely hilarious dudes who are always f*cking around and joking. Now, I’m a very serious guy — no, I’m not.
FR: I was going to say, through the course of this show, I didn’t necessarily think you were all that serious.
DB: [Laughter] No, no, so it’s a lot of joking around, and that makes it really fun. No one takes himself too seriously in the group and that makes for a really good creative flow.
FR: I hate to keep asking about Dallas-related stuff, but what did you think about the New Year, compared to what you thought of Bedhead? They’re almost polarizing to some people.
DB: I like it very much. My impression from them was that if it kept on being called Bedhead, the record would still sound the same as the New Year record does, to a certain degree.
FR: That’s probably true.
DB: To me, it sounds like a natural progression. I like the New Year records very, very much. The End is Near is one of my favorite records of all time.
FR: It’s great.
DB: Even just the Bedhead records from one to the other can be pretty polarizing. Beheaded was my jam, and other people are like, “No, WhatFunLifeWas is the best one, man!” Then other people are like, “No, Transaction [De Novo] was the best one.”
Even just those three records are so different from one another. Maybe The End is Near hangs more with the Bedhead records than Newness Ends. But some of my favorite K-Bro* songs are on Newness Ends. I don’t know, there is a desperation on that record that is different than the way they expressed it on the other records.
FR: Since your last record—versus what you’re doing now with this group—what do you think has changed at all for you?
DB: With Overseas?
FR: Yeah. Do you feel like it’s a continuation of what you do as solo person? And you just happen to be with these other musicians. Or is the thinking completely different?
DB: It’s a real collaboration in Overseas. With my stuff, I’m continuing to make my own records, and my stuff is more; it’s a very personal expression that doesn’t take into account what anybody else’s taste is. The Overseas thing, for all of us, it seems like we’re throwing our lot in together and kind of seeing what happens. It’s a much more communal, kind of collaborative project.
FR: Do you have any plans, solo-wise, right now?
DB: I’m making a record right now, and I’ll put out a record this year, and tour it with a band. The Overseas stuff is going to be in there somewhere.
FR: You mentioned Jonathan Richman during your performance, and obviously he’s an engaging solo performer. The way he conducts himself, is that an inspiration?
DB: To the degree that he really seems like he’s fully himself at shows, that’s inspiring. I certainly wouldn’t want to adopt his…
FR: You’re not going to dance? You’re not going to put your guitar down and dance around?
DB: No, just his vibe in general is so genuinely, “Jonathan Richman.” To me, that’s the thing that is so inspiring. He figured out a way to fully be himself onstage in a very unapologetic way. He apparently doesn’t deal with any kind of self-loathing. He’s just really comfortable and really likes what he’s presenting, and to me that’s really inspiring.
*Yes, he really said “K-Bro.” It was awesome. Overseas’ debut local performance will be at Dan’s Silver Leaf on August, 1st, 2013.