All week this week I’m running an enormous interview I conducted in May and October of 2003 with Jason Webley, who is playing his last show of the season at Town Hall in Seattle on November 1st. See you there!
This is the first of two segments from the phone interview conducted in early October.
JW: I just wanna say for the record that while we are speaking I’m using some pirated software from Russia. Russia’s a great place to go to buy pirated software.
MW: Can I get you to say “arrr” for the record Mr. Webley?
JW: Uh, what?
MW: [Laughs] So, again, you were in Russia this summer. How long were you there?
JW: 2 weeks.
MW: 2 weeks? Where all did you play at?
JW: Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Oblensk, the nuclear capitol of Russia
MW: Oblensk? can you spell that for me?
JW: Ah – beh – …
MW: [laughs] Oh man! Did you go to the Hermitage while you were in St. Petersburg?
JW: No. Oh, yes I did. I walked around it. I didn’t go in it.
MW: Does it cost a lot of money to go in these days?
JW: I don’t know, it looked really big. And time-consuming.
MW: My understanding is, it is indeed both, but I’ve never been there. So good for you.
JW: Wait, can you repeat the word in that sentence, “It is indeed. . . ” what?
MW: It is indeed both, but I’ve never been there
JW: You put a slight ell in your “both”, did you know that?
MW: Now that doesn’t surprise me. [sleepy babbling nonsense]. . .
JW: I also put a slight ell in my “both”.
JW: Yours may be a little more pronounced than mine. Because once when I was a boy [maybe “. . .was an employee”], I got made fun of for it and I tried to curtail it before I recognized that it was, you know, one of these things that makes me you know unique and and special and you should try to preserve the strange little ells that appear in words that don’t have ells in them.
MW: There you go. I think of it as more regional although I don’t recall ever having had my specific attention called to it.
JW: I think someone here is trying to use the phone.
MW: It could be, do you need to run around and see if it’s important?
JW: Yeah, hang on a minute.
[goes away, comes back to phone]
JW: Ok. Good. This will put a time limit on us.
MW: Oh yeah? How long?
JW: Fifteen minutes.
MW: Nukeland. [sleepy babble] . . .
JW: The most interesting thing that happened in St. Petersburg happened on the way back from St. Petersburg, and I was asleep during it.
MW: Is this that thing that happened on the train?
MW: Now where did I hear about that? I think I read it someplace.
JW: Probably, yeah, the promoter from St. Petersburg tried to murder the drummer by throwing him out of the window of the moving train in the middle of the night.
MW: You slept through this?
JW: It was in the other cabin. Well, I woke up in the morning and then saw that the drummer was covered in blood, and then I tried to find out what was going on.
MW: Was this before or after your last gig with the drummer?
JW: We actually – The next night we had another gig and it was very curious because everyone was present. It’s a long, long story. It’s semi-personal I imagine, for the drummer, but he was really innocent of anything, as far as I can tell.
MW: So what was the deal with the promoter?
JW: He’s crazy, I think. He’s not really a friend of mine.
MW: So that’s the last time you go to Russia then?
JW: No, no, the promoters in Moscow are great. But they hired this weird guy in St. Petersburg [laughing].
MW: So he was a subcontractor for the guys that flew you over?
MW: So what was your largest show?
JW: I don’t know. 300? Maybe more.
MW: Did you busk a lot while you were over there?
JW: I never busk any more.
MW: At all?
JW: I don’t think so. I think I played on the paths a little bit at the Oregon Country Fair, but just like half-a-set.
MW: [mumbles to self about other interview]
MW: Let’s talk about the California West Coast tours.. . . [inaccurate speculation]
JW: You can look at it all on my website. I’ve actually been almost everywhere. I think for some reason on the list my east coast shows got dropped off; I have to go and clean all that up eventually. But basically I got back from Moscow, I went down to the Oregon Country Fair, did a short tour with these other two accordian players – Oh no! After Moscow, I spent five more weeks in Europe. Doing shows every night in Germany, Netherlands, England – I played at the Glastonbury Festival –
MW: Oh yeah, I remember seeing that.
JW: – with Radiohead and REM and lots of other little bands like that. I came back here and went to the Oregon Country Fair; last year I wasn’t even given a busking pass, and this year I was on the Main Stage.
MW: Would you say that contrasts to the way that you’ve been treated at other festivals, regionally?
JW: [laughs ]No comment. I’ll be going back to the Oregon Country Fair.
MW: [laughs] OK.
But anyway, after the Oregon Country Fair I did a short tour with two other accordion players called the Monsters of Accordion, which was very lovely and very well received, a big success. The next day I started a tour of the bulk of the United States and Canada, well, not the bulk of Canada – but most of the main cities west of Toronto.
What else have I done?
I got back from that, I went down to Burning Man, I was at Burning Man, and then I flew to the East Coast, did a week of shows on the East Coast, got back here. That was pretty crazy.
On Friday night I played at CBGB‘s, on Saturday night I went to my high school reunion, and then Sunday I was in Southern Oregon, by Monday I was in Southern California. So I was in four corners of the country in four days.
MW: That’s pretty draining, I imagine.
JW: It was good!
MW: So how was the reception back east? People on the West Coast have had a couple years of opportunities to figure out who you are, has word reached the East?
JW: I was surprised, it seems to have. Not knowing a huge amount, but the first show in New York City, there were at least thirty people that came specifically to see me.
It was good, it was quite good.
The show at Bard College was quite amazing, how many people at that school already knew who I was.
MW: If I had been paying attention to your schedule, I would have let my friends in the city know that you were playing and they would have come too.
Are you still booking all your tours independently, on your own?
MW: Is that super time-consuming?
JW: Super time-consuming.
MW: Is it worth it?
JW: I think so.
MW: Are you gonna keep touring after this upcoming show?
JW: I have no specific plans after November first.
MW: Here’s where I get to ask the questions that I need to focus on for the story, and that you’re probably going to have fun with. On the website, you’re characterizing this upcoming show as “the Last Show” – is that indeed what you plan on making it be?
JW: [sigh] It’s all gotten a little bit silly, you know, Mike. [laughs]
There’s a few different games I can play, and I don’t really know what game I’m playing anymore as far as my promotion of the show, you know, how in earnest I can advertise this as being my last show ever.
Yeah, in some ways – in a way, this is my last show, and I’m not sure how exactly I want to be quoted about all that. Really I should be being vague and enigmatic.
MW: It’s too early in the morning. You cut me some slack, I’ll cut you some slack back. [Jason called me when I inadvertently slept through the initial call time – M]
JW: It’s going to be quite a show. It’s going to be the biggest show I’ve done.
MW: In what was is it going to be the biggest show?
JW: It’s in the biggest venue, and it’s going to have the largest band.
MW: What’s the capacity of Town Hall?
JW: Nine hundred plus.
MW: Have you sold out yet?
MW: Does it look like you’re gonna?
JW: I don’t know. Simon and Garfunkel are playing that night.
JW: So are the Infernal Noise Brigade. They actually do cross over with my audience. At Reed College, They Might Be Giants is giving a free concert. There’s a lot of little things conflicting with various portions of my constituency.
My crowd is not a crowd that buys heaps of advance tickets. So there’s a lot of seats available at the moment. We’ll see what happens.
MW: How many people are gonna be in the band?
JW: I think twelve?
MW: Any local players whose names people might recognize?
JW: The one that would be most recognizable is not confirmed yet. Michael McQuilken, my regular drummer, will be playing with me, new bass player, some winds.
MW: Is Jherek [Bischoff, Jason’s regular bassist] busy?
JW: He’ll be in Europe.
Part Six on Saturday!