Live & Direct with Okkervil River

Austin, Texas band Okkervil River visited WYEP for a Live & Direct studio session, and Joey Spehar got to chat with them about their new album. The record is called Silver Gymnasium, and it has some fundamental differences from previous Okkervil records. Will Sheff says that this album is mostly autobiographical, whereas their previous albums have been all about characters. “For years and years I liked to write from the standpoint of a character. I felt like it was more interesting and less self indulgent, but I had been doing that for record after record and I felt like I was perceiving a sort of anemic quality.”

 

The autobiographical nature of this album specifically relates to Sheff’s experience growing up in Meriden, New Hampshire. Growing up in the 80s had a large influence on the sound of this record. “We didn’t want it to be this goofy, calling up the era. It’s more of like a nod to that,” Sheff said. “We did do production techniques that they used [in the 80s], but the whole goal was “make something that’s really fun and friendly and embracing and comforting and sweet, but also don’t stress the details, and look more at the whole.” Sheff also admitted that their last album, I Am Very Far, was a lot more fussy in production, and he specifically tried to avoid that.

One step Sheff took to avoid fussing over his recordings was to hire a new producer, rather than produce the songs himself. Silver Gymnasium was produced by John Agnello, who has produced artists such as Dinosaur Jr., Social Distortion, Cyndi Lauper, and the Hooters. “He was wonderful. I really knew that I wanted a sure hand. I had produced the last record, and that was really fun, but it was also really taxing and stressful, and I found myself having less of a good time, and when you’re not having a good time, you’re kind of sunk. I like the idea of being able to check out the view better when someone else is driving the car.” He says Okkervil River didn’t try to make a record that sounds like it was made in the 80s, but more about he spirit of what rock music was at that time.

The art for the album was composed by William Schaff, who has composed art for all the albums Okkervil River has released. When Joey asked how the art was inspired, Sheff explained their process: “It’s always really collaborative. We have a tradition that goes back three or four records now, where I go to his house in Warren, Rhode Island, and stay there for a day or two. We drink whiskey, we talk about themes, I play him all the songs, he goes, ‘Now you think the song is about this, but I’ll tell you what it’s really about. Here’s the deal.’ This kind of ‘putting-our-heads-together’ thing.” For this record, Schaff actually came down to Austin so they could put their heads together. “We try to make every record we ever do seem like this special gift.” 

To support this new album, Okkervil River actually developed a video game for their website! “It’s a promotional item that exists as a rational for trying to make a beautiful video game that punches into people’s brain and takes them back to that time…I’ve been composing music for the next chapter ever free second that I get…I am super proud of that video game.”

Check out the video game at thesilvergymnasium.com, and get the record to hear a sweet album with vibes from the past!

Set List: 

- On A Balcony

- Pink Slips

- Down Down the Deep River

- Black Nemo