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 last of two segments from the phone interview conducted in early October.
MW: What sort of spectacular special effects do you have planned? Teleportation?
MW: Puppets! Giant puppets? Small puppets?
JW: Eh, puppets!
JW: [jokingly] Don’t ask so many questions.
MW: “Don’t ask so many questions,” [thinks: These are not the droids you’re looking for] he says. Uh – are the puppets all built?
JW: Ahh – I don’t know. What do I mean by puppets. Puppets will be a thing.
MW: “Puppets will be a thing.” Well, now you’re getting vague on me.
JW: Yes. There’ll be something about puppets.
MW: Uh – uh – um. . . Marionettes?
JW: See that – that – [sighs] that’s not very interesting.
JW: You could talk about what happened at the last show. If you’ll recall, there was a puppet.
MW: Um, there was a puppet that flew in, or um, was born from a tree and flew out, that’s what it was, in fact. We’re gonna see that puppet again?
JW: It’s possible.
MW: “It’s possible,” I see. Do you have any after-show plans in mind, or will that occur spontaneously to you as you regale us?
JW: [snorts] Oh, well, I plan everything out about three years in advance these days. [chuckles]
MW: “I plan. . .” [chuckles] You’re saying some silly things!
. . .
MW: You’ve been doing the seasonal appearance and disappearance of Jason Webley the performer for four years now, this is your fourth season. In that time you’ve used a number of elemental images in the beginning – in the spring and the fall concerts that you do. That’s meant the there’s been speculation by some [modest cough] concerning the possibility that you might choose to change your performance practice because of the number four, and this being the fourth time…
JW: There’s also four seasons, you know.
MW: Does that underlie some of the “last show” stuff that you’re thinking about on this?
JW: If that was the case, if I had some big big plan in mind that I had been planning for four years. . .
MW: Well, three years out, you said.
JW: Would I tell you that right now? [laughs]
MW: [laughs] Well, I don’t know. It’s not clear to me, that four years ago, when you cut off all your hair and were carted off in a coffin that you were planning on that becoming an annual ritual that you were gonna do every year – I don’t know – I’ve never talked to you [about it]. . .
Were you thinking four years ahead four years ago?
JW: [long pause] No.
MW: And in the past, you’ve told me that you, you shape stuff organically, ya know, and uh, I suspect you discovered the elemental and four-part themes that are present in your performance practice organically, is that also true?
JW: [pause] See, the way that I look at things and the way that other people look at things are always gonna be different, and in a way, the more that I talk about them the more tarnished they become.
MW: That’s fair.
JW: Um, yeah. It’s gonna be a good show. I think. [laughs]
MW: Is it just gonna be you, or is somebody opening?
JW: Oh, yeah, a very special opening act. No, it’s all mine.
The venue is really nice. It’s comfortable, there’s places for people to sit. Over the years there’s been like a shift in my audience. I think it used to be a more diverse audience, and I think over time the vast numbers of young kids have slowly scared away the older audience. And also just the lack of comfort, the fact that there are just a bunch of kids crammed into a theater.
MW: Or a ferry.
JW: I’ve rented this venue with the hope of bringing in a bit more of the Simon and Garfunkel crowd. Um, unfortunately. . . [chuckles]
MW: [laughs] I’ll pass that along to my cronies in the over-35 division there, all three or four of ’em.
. . .
MW: Some of those kids . . . Seemed to latch on to your reflections on identity as a part of their growing-up experience; they will have gone from being freshmen in high school to having graduated now.
JW: Oh yeah, a lot of them are in colleges all over the country now. I see them when I travel. They help set up shows in various places, they are as far afield as Europe.
MW: How does that feel for you, to have had such an important emotional part in, really, so many peoples’ adolescence?
JW: [sounding satisfied] I like my job a lot.
MW: That’s great. Was it something you were hoping would happen when you picked up the accordion, I guess?
JW: I don’t think that’s a specific thing you could hope – you should hope – to have happen, at all. I mean yeah, of course, I want my work to resonate with people. But ultimately, there was a time in my life when I was really hungry for that kind of attention, and that hunger, I feel, was beat out of me. I’m not so hungry anymore.
I do things that resonate with me. It’s not like I don’t have these people in mind, I have them in mind in a way, I sorta do what I need to do and I take it around and I do it in front of these people and a sort of conversation happens. And then they take home the CDs and at that point it’s out of my hands. The songs go on to have their little lives inside of people’s heads, which is a really beautiful thing that I don’t have a lot to do with.
MW: In the past, as a part of our friendship, we’ve talked about this sort of art-and-life confusion that is part of the material you’re working with and in your art and creation. Is that something that you sort of feel that you’ve gained a better handle on how to manage the way in which people respond to your music so personally and then bring that personal involvement to you? Is that something that you feel like you’ve gained a better degree of. . . I don’t know. Is that not as big a puzzlement as it once was?
JW: Things come in phases, and we basically get what we need to get at any given time. If you’ve got a bunch of puzzling stuff hitting you all the time, it’s because there’s something in that puzzle that you need to deal with. Right now, things in that arena don’t feel very puzzling to me.
MW: Is that something that you feel happy about, or do you miss it?
JW: I’m happy. I’m about as happy as I have been.
MW: Well, looks like that fifteen minutes is winding down. . .
JW: [show details] The shows have historically sold out, the last three years, so if people are planning to come, it’d be wise to come a bit early.
. . .
MW: Did you ever wear Underoos, Jason?
JW: I don’t think so. I think I once had a pair of Spider-Man Underoos given to me, but I’ve always had trouble putting on clothes that aren’t mine. Like even when I was a little boy, it took me months and months to like even feel comfortable in a new shirt. And so a whole package like that, to wear around the room, would be pretty difficult. I think maybe I tried them on once and felt really awkward and strange.
MW: Oh, I remember the other thing, are you going to do any new songs?
JW: There will definitely be at least one brand new song for the November 1st concert.
MW: Any plans to record in the near future? Or have you been recording?
JW: I have lots of new material, but I don’t know what my plans are, not what to do with it. I think at the spring concert I think there were about a dozen songs all of which were new, if I recall.
MW: And you’ve been building on that over the road?
JW: Mmm. . . I’ve been using those, and then there’ll be at least one new one.
MW: Will we see the taser again? The personal shock device?
JW: I don’t know about the taser.
MW: You know nothing about the taser. No-one can prove anything.
JW: There was a lovely moment, did I tell you, in Oakland, where the other – my accordion-playing friend Aaron, who had sort of inspired the whole taser kind of idea with his cattle-prodding experiments, like, he had is cattle prod and his accordion and I had the taser and my accordion and we kind of – fenced. It was a very strange sort of – Star Wars – thing.
MW: Star Wars / Survival Research Laboratories type thing. No hands were blown off, I hope.
JW: My accordion repair guy [Kimric Smythe] is one of the SRL people.
MW: Kimrick is SRL? I didn’t know that. Does he have all his fingers?
MW: That’s good. I hope he stays that way.
JW: He’s also one of the original pyrotechnicians for Burning Man.
MW: Really? Wow, so you had an in this year. I was gonna ask if you bought a ticket to Burning Man but then I decided not to.
JW: He actually wasn’t my in.
MW: You know, one of things I thought when I heard you were at Burning Man was, damn, his accordion is gonna get full of dust. Did that happen?
JW: Um, who knows. [laugh] I brought a spare. I didn’t end up using the spare, though.
MW: Did you have fun there?
JW: Mmmmm. . . I’ll go back.
MW: Did you stay with people from this region, or other regions?
JW: I stayed with people from this region.
Part Seven on Sunday!