I wouldn’t call the music weird, but it is definitely different. The focus of his work is not the sound, but the lyrics, and that is obvious when you listen to him play. His album Poison Packets is available on Spotify, and I want you to listen to it. Pay no attention to the genre, because I am not sure I can tell you the genre. But listen to the lyrics. Hear and feel what he felt when he wrote these songs. “Bonfire Blues” and “Mexico” are a great way to start things off, and then tracks like “Whiskey Eggs” and “Murrey Knows” help you truly understand who this man is. Imaging sitting down and having coffee with this guy. Oh, and he has a parrot named Chico that sings along with him on some tracks. The interview was fun, and it was a pleasure getting to know him. He is also one of the most passionate people I have ever met. He’s on the road right now with Katie Schecter, and plans to release another album later this year. This interview was a lot of fun, and it is my pleasure to introduce you to Saul Conrad.
Chico sings on the new single. Who is Chico?
Chico is the man of the house. He is a parrot. He’s actually thirty-two years old. My girlfriend and I adopted him about a year ago. I was the super awkward misfit kid growing up, and I would go to a parrot store after school. I really wanted to get an African Grey Parrot, but they are a crazy amount of responsibility. Parents are terrified their kids will go off to college, and these birds that can live 50 or 60 years, they would be stuck with the bird.
This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. They are incredible. Chico can sing totally on key. They are incredible musicians. He’s also a total tyrant and a terror and takes over my life.
It’s really rewarding. It’s funny to look at this tiny ball of feathers that weights 300 grams; he’s got everything going. He’s like a person. He’s like a man.
Speaking of the new single, you have a tour coming up this month to promote that release. What can fans expect from you on this tour?
They can expect, which I will try to deliver, the whole idea of how we are going to play, the record has a lot of other instruments on it. We are also going to play some songs off the new record, which will be coming out sometime this year.
The tour is just Katie and me touring, with Katie singing and me playing. Finger picking and I have reworked a lot of the songs so I can do all of the songs with just an acoustic guitar. Like the way Townes Van Zandt used to play, or Earle Travis. I’ve been trying to learn a lot from him. I have been trying to grasp the idea of everything with one hand being reduced and how to play in a more simple way.
You need to come to Arizona. I want to see this.
I would love to come to Arizona. Hopefully we will get there sometime this year, just not on this one.
Katie Schecter joins you on some of these dates. How do you know Katie?
Katie was the first girl that stepped on my friend’s chest with high heels. It was his first love. I met her when he was dating her in high school. She came to Boston for college, and we started some various bands together back in the day long before this. I heard her at a party once singing in a major seventh harmony. I was like, “Who can do that?” She is a really good close harmony singer, and has a special way of layering harmonies. I record something, call Katie, and see what we can do about it.
Tell me about your relationship with Mountain of Leopards.
It’s weird music,. The new record is a lot more intense and strange and dramatic musically. The hooks and choruses don’t repeat, and the chord progression doesn’t repeat. It’s all about the lyrics. It’s about really intense poetry that melds with the songs. The there are a few different musicians on the label. There is this one guy, Kevin. His work is just filled with Robert Frost style poems that produce this imagery through his songs. There is one guy that plays in every genre from hip-hop to punk and beyond.
Most record labels wouldn’t be into this stuff, but Mountain of Leopards is trying to get behind this stuff. God bless them, and I hope they don’t run out of money!
You said the music is different. It is. That’s not a bad thing. Where do you find inspiration for a new song?
I get really obsessed with records that I’ve been listening to. I have one or two artists that I listen to relentlessly. I find someone that has a strange and different approach, someone that I can study and admire. I spend a lot of time listening to Elliot Smith and Townes Van Zandt, even classical music like Mahler who was doing really wild and insane things with melody. The point of this, rather than what you can do with a basic song, expressing basic ideas like missing someone of being on the road, I am stuck in between where my feeling are conflicting. The more complicated the mashup of emotions is, the more I feel you need to find a way to be different in a song to capture all of the conflict there.
You are one of the most well spoken interviews I have done in a while. Thank you for that.
Well, I am glad you feel that way. Thanks a lot!
I can’t help but notice your Twitter background. That same painting is in your “Bonfire Blues” video. Who painted that?
My girlfriend Mackenzie painted that. She did a portrait of Chico I should put up somewhere. We have them up together at the house. She did a really wild painting for the new record. It’s a picture of Chico holding his wing out. All of these things from history like moments from the Bible and animals appearing in the feathers of his wing. It’s a testament that she things I am work some amount of time. She labors over the album covers.
You sing about Mexico. Have you been to Mexico?
I’ve never been to Mexico. I don’t know where that comes from, but maybe it’s some arrogant idea that the James Taylor song about Mexico wasn’t a good enough song about Mexico. (Laughs.) I wanted to do something better.
James Taylor is not my cup of tea.
Will Chico be going on the road with you later this month?
Chico might come with us for the first few days, but I was really torn about that. He gets really depressed when I am not around. He is really particular about his environment. I think staying in hotels every night might just push him over the edge, and give him a heart attack. He’s old, and I am really scared to bring him on the entire tour.
It might end up being a bummer, because a lot of people wanted to interview Chico, but I can’t sacrifice his well being for that.
Do you play covers when you perform, or is it strictly originals?
Yeah, I have worked out a bunch of covers I am excited about playing. It’s not like I think I am going to play the covers better than the artists that played them first, but I think of covers as a way to put my music in context of the way my music is coming. I have some early Gram Parsons songs, and some Flying Burrito Brothers songs they have released lately. I will mostly be covering stuff off the lost recordings of Graham Parsons.
I am pretty much obsessed with Spotify. Your music can be found on there. What service(s) do you use to consume your music?
I guess I live in the past. I’m a leadite. I really like to order two records a week, wait for them to come, sit I my house all day and listen to those. I also have a binder of CDs in my car. They still make those. I lose my phone and my iPod all the time, and I can’t imagine losing all my music when I do that.
I don’t lose the book of CDs. My computer will die, and my iTunes won’t be registered. It’s too stressful. Maybe I will start using Spotify. I didn’t even know my music was there! That must come from the digital distribution company.
Speaking of listening to music, who and what have you been listening to lately?
I got really obsessed with Mahler’s 10th symphony. In this symphony, you know how there is a background and one melodic idea that takes the center stage? In Mahler’s, there are like eight melodies they are all rising and falling and getting lost and reappearing. It’s almost like a conversation where people are talking, listening, and responding. It’s like a room of people listening to everyone to talk. I am trying to find a way to do that with pop music.
I have also been listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers, Graham Parsons… I’ve been listening to a lot of Merle Travis. I have been trying to learn how to finger pick, which is hard.
What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
One time I was playing a show in New York, and someone came up to me and offered me a cookie. I ate it. I wanted another one, and they looked at me all weird, but gave me another one. They were apparently hash cookies, and I wasn’t even able to walk by the time I got to the show. I completely screwed up the first few songs, and everyone left. There were two ladies there, and I explained it to them. Someone fed me drugs, and I didn’t know. They were mad I didn’t bring any for them! I guess that’s the worst show that’s ever happened.
What’s next for Saul Conrad?
Releasing the new record, after the tour, will be my focus. I call it the Fancy LP. It’s a bigger much more realized recording. This is a dive into really intense confusing emotions. We have a string quartet, French horns, and a lot of different parts I had to write out and get people to record. Hopefully we will be able to tour with that. I would also like to get an ensemble together to play it the way it was intended to play.
In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
The last word is mine… I should definitely thank you for taking the time to interview me. Maybe I should ask a question. Now you’re making me think it’s a stupid thing, but maybe I should release this new record ONLY on vinyl. It would be one of those things where people cold hear it, and other people will go on a search to get it. Do you think that would be useful in order to get people to take the whole record an experience and make the record a big deal? Or is that an audience killer?
I don’t have a record player.
Oh, that’s right. It’s dangerous.
Maybe you could do three songs that are LP only, and release the rest in a traditional manner.
Oh yeah, that’s a good idea. I cold have an extended version that you can only get on the record. I will include your name on the album!
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