Smog’s Bill Callahan Bares His ‘Whaleheart’
When Texas transplant Bill Callahan came to Austin’s KUT to promote his latest album, 2007’s Woke on a Whaleheart, he brought the whole gang. An artist known for his tenderly sparse arrangements, Callahan flexed his muscles with a full band, which included violinist Elizabeth Warren. His touring band for the album is an all-star cast, which featured Thor Harris (percussion) and Jonathan Meiburg (piano, guitar) from Shearwater. Callahan’s performance in our studio was as impressive as the album itself: hopeful, big and explicitly in touch with his influences.
Missing from the performance was the album’s second guitarist and arrangement guru, Neil Michael Hagerty of Howling Hex and Royal Trux. Hagerty’s contributions to the record – both in his angular, atonal guitar work and his neat string arrangements – were significant, and seem to indicate a shift in Callahan’s songwriting process. Where Callahan has typically been known to keep things simple in an effort to obscure his influences, Woke on a Whaleheart celebrates both his studio musicians and his idols of the past. In an interview with KUT’s David Brown, he intimated that this shift represented a big part of the reason he left the Smog moniker behind. Callahan did, however, tease us a bit with an old favorite Smog tune, “Cold Discovery.”
Throughout the discussion, Callahan’s deadpan wit and devious sense of humor rose to the surface. When asked about his move to Austin from Chicago, he cited Texas’ people as the most alluring force beckoning him here, and noted that he had lived in Chicago for five years, but grew sick of it after one. Later, when asked if he was influenced by Bob Dylan, he flatly responded, “Well, I don’t like Bob Dylan.”