A conversation with Christopher Slusarenko

 

    We spoke with Christopher Slusarenko (Eyelids, ex-Guided by Voices and Boston Spaceships) about sweater-and-collar combinations, sorrow versus elation, meeting in other peoples’ dreams and whether or not a perfect power pop song can save the world.

    Pain is pain no matter what age you are.

    1

    Morgan Enos

    Whether in Guided by Voices, Boston Spaceships, or elsewhere, you’ve worked extensively with Robert Pollard, who’s one of our most prolific and inspirational songwriters. Yet, from my brief interactions with Pollard, he struck me less as a chaotic creative than a low-key, set-in-his-ways guy with an amazing work ethic. Have you felt similarly while working with Pollard?

    Christopher Slusarenko

    I think it’s true that he’s not a whirling dervish kind of creator. Whether it’s lyrics, music, or making collages, he’s really great at being a lightning rod to what should be his focus on any given day. One thing that gets overlooked, I think, is that he is one of the greatest lyricists ever. When we were on tour he would just fill notebooks full of lyrics and I’m always blown away by the way his lyrics just keep vibrating off the page after all these years. His ability to work fast definitely had an influence on Eyelids – nine different vinyl records in at least three years’ time.

    2

    Your new Eyelids record, Or, reminds me so much of early Big Star. I think they were one of America’s most emotionally complex rock bands. I think it was Scott Miller, in his book Music: What Happened?, who brought up a single chord choice in “Back of a Car” and compared it to the darkest 1920s blues music. Do you take inspiration from Big Star?

    I’ll be honest – I was a late bloomer to Big Star. It was a case of feeling like I missed out on it on its second wave of influence and just walked underneath it. I had no older brother or cool cousin to turn me onto them I guess.

    But at the same time there were so many bands I loved that were direct descendants of them that by the time I got into them it was such a feast. But I think those other bands – Teenage Fanclub, Game Theory, R.E.M. – were much more in my DNA, through their love of Big Star. So, their music ended up a much more sideways influence on me. Of course I love them.

       

    3

    What was going on in your life as you wrote the songs for Or with John Moen? Any anecdotes you can share with us? How did they relate to the songs?

    It’s pretty lovely to have a writing partner after all these years. Our personalities and styles of playing are so different – I’m way more guttural and John is more folky. But we push and pull each other in such a great way that in the end we accidentally create the sound of Eyelids.

    There’s been a general pressure getting older and some of that seeped into the record for sure. But some songs were directly about what was going on in Portland for some people I know who are well under twenty years younger than me. Pain is pain no matter what age you are.

    It was always something that seemed forbidden to me – to play beautiful music.

    4

    You’ve been a video store owner for twenty-one years. Iove great movies, but I’ve never had a massive knowledge of film. However, I recently watched Miloš Forman’s Amadeus for the first time in a decade, and felt powerful waves of awe and nostalgia in a very subconscious way. What films have you watched for your whole life that have a very personal effect on you?

    Terry Gilliam’s Brazil on a big screen completely did my head in when I was a youth. It was such a powerful combination of dark humor and tragedy that I hadn’t come across yet. And the ending just haunted me–it was so beautiful and hopeless. There’s plenty of films that I still can watch any time anywhere: Wages of Fear, Out of the Past, Little Fugitive, Women Under the Influence, King of Comedy, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls… But documentaries are the ones that always get repeat viewing for me and there have been so many great new ones this year: Danny Says, Author: The J.T. Leroy Story, An Honest Liar, The Witness, City of Gold. I feel lucky that I’m still basically a video bartender here in Portland.

    5

    Peter Buck of R.E.M. produced Or, and the music really feels part of R.E.M.’s spiritual lineage. I think you can trace it back even further through the decades, right to the monumental Rickenbacker chord at the top of the Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night.” What is the philosophical purpose of power pop, to you?

    I think that power pop can seep in and never leave you, or it’s something that you have no interest in. I know plenty of people who would gladly drown a Rickenbacker in a river and just as many that only listen to power pop. But sometimes the jangle can be upsetting when it’s a bad song. Bad power pop is pretty hard to take.

    It’s funny – this is really my first “jangle” type band.  Everything I’ve been in has been pretty fist pumping and rawking. I mean, my first band was called Death Midget and I was even on Sub Pop in the 90s.  But even though I loved all the Touch & Go and SST stuff I loved all that Paisley Underground stuff even more.

    I just never was around anyone who wanted to play that kind of music at the time so it was always more aggressive stuff from me instead.  So again I came to play this way late in life where John and Jim had been in The Dharma Bums in their teens playing that kind of music.  So for me it was always something that seemed forbidden to me – to play beautiful music.

    6

    Do you have recurring or lucid dreams? If either, can you describe the last one you had? Have you ever written music about what happens in your dreams?

    I have had horrible sleep patterns since I was about twenty-one. It’s not even sleep apnea or anything, but I’m up between three to ten times a night. It’s crazy that I can even function in the daytime but I’ve learned to manage it. So my dreams are often quickly forgotten, although last night there was guy with a red wooden fence contact in one of his eyes for whatever reason.

    We had a crazy dream lay the groundwork for something for the record, though. Chris Xefos of King Missile came out to one of our shows in San Francisco and shortly after posted online that he had a dream that he showed up at a Eyelids show to play keyboards live with us. He was nervous since we hadn’t planned it but we were going to figure it out on stage. And then Jonathan Segel from Camper Van Beethoven showed up in the dream to also play violin with us. And because of he posted it online Jonathan and I met and he ended up actually playing on the new record on a song called “(I Will) Leave With You.” So we met in someone else’s dream and created music together because of it.

    It’s what we try to strive for in Eyelids – music that can be sorrowful one day and elated the next.

    7

    Can a perfect song save the world, or at least heal it a little bit? Should we even look to songs to give us useful emotional tools? What do you think?

    I think we have to. I often get emotional while listening to music but especially live. This year alone I saw Deerhunter, The Specials, Teenage Fanclub and at each of those I got a little weepy at some point during it. “Everything Flows” – are you kidding me? That’s going to get me every time. It’s what we try to strive for in Eyelids – music that can be sorrowful one day and elated the next. Most of my favorite bands walk that line.

    8

    Do clothes make the man, or does the man make the clothes? Can you tell us about your favorite shirt or coat that you own and accompany it with a picture?

    Clothes make the man maybe.  I’m a sweater with collars guy. I sleep in sweaters. I wear sweaters in the summer. It’s legal. I’ve often gotten off stage and someone will marvel at the combination I wore on stage, so that’s funny. I’ve got it down to five good combos for live shows. The sweater vest/blue shirt combo I wear in our video for “Broken Continue” is a nice one…

     

    9

    Lastly, we love lists here at North of the Internet. can you send us a list of great 20th century slang terms that nobody says anymore?

    I Bound-and-hagged

    Staying home on Friday or Saturday night.

    I Cob nobbler

    Loser.

    I Fuzz

    Heavy wool sweaters.

    I Harsh realm

    Bummer.

    I Lamestain

    Uncool person.

    I Rock on

    A happy goodbye.

    I Swingin’ on the flippity-flop

    Hanging out.

    I Tom-tom club

    Uncool outsiders.

    I Wack slacks

    Old ripped jeans.

    Christopher Slusarenko Went Back To The Lake


    Christopher was a member of the long-running rock institution Guided by Voices in the early 2000s, as well as their leader Robert Pollard’s other projects. He revealed every Pollard-led band he performed in, and what he specifically played on each release.


    Guided by Voices

    Piano on “Back to the Lake” from Universal Truths and Cycles (2002).

    Bass, guitars and keyboards on Half-Smiles of the Decomposed (2004).

    Bass on Live From Austin, TX (DVD).

    Bass on The Electrifying Conclusion (DVD).


    Boston Spaceships

    I played all the instruments in this band, besides the occasional guest guitar solo and the drums – which were played by John Moen.

    Brown Submarine

    The Planets Are Blasted

    Zero to 99

    Camera Found The Raygun EP

    Our Cubehouse Still Rocks

    Let It Beard

    Out of the Universe by Sundown: The Greatest Hits of Boston Spaceships

    Licking Stamps and Drinking Shitty Coffee – Boston Spaceships Live in Atlanta


    The Takeovers

    Same configuration as Boston Spaceships. I wrote all the music for this band except “Smokestack Bellowing Stars” and “Be It Not For The Serpentine Rain Dodger.” The latter had John Moen and I laying all the instruments over a tape recording of Bob Pollard singing. He pulled some lyrics from old stuff for this band. The song “Scuffle With Nature” has elements of a song he wrote when he was eight years old, called “Eggs Make Me Sick.”

    Turn To Red

    Bad Football

    Little Green Onion Man EP


    Robert Pollard (solo)

    Piano on Motel of Fools EP.

    Bass and keys on Zoom EP.


    Carbon Whales

    Myself on all instruments. John on drums. Bob singing.

    South EP

    Thank you.


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