Marshall: I feel like your work along with others like Will Oldham and Chan Marshall was important in introducing quietness to indie rock. Now in indie rock, that’s the big end of town with Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes … Do you have any thoughts on your influence in that area?
Callahan: In retrospect, it was a radical thing compared to what was going on. I was there but it wasn’t any kind of conscious thing. Maybe it just happened to be, like a random gathering of certain people.
Marshall: Singular voices in music and art generally are often driven to make this thing that isn’t already there and they’re looking for something that they want and they’re not finding it around themselves and therefore start to make it, which would explain the difference.
Callahan: Yeah, I think that’s actually a good explanation for what I just said was random. You have to find a hole that needs filling because filling a hole that’s already been filled is totally redundant.
Marshall: It feels like a very honourable impetus to create something.
Callahan: I do out of my own desire to hear it.
Marshall: Two last questions then. There’s a deliberate and thoughtful universalism that’s crept into your work, that I find very compelling. Is that something you value in your work?
Callahan: Yeah, I think that’s definitely what I’m after. You don’t want to alienate anybody who’s trying to figure out what you’re doing. I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about that, I guess.
Marshall: How do you feel about your increase in recognition? You’re going to fill two Joan Sutherland Theatres here, and I saw the amazing Royal Festival Hall appearances in London. It’s this wonderful moment of watching an artist get the recognition they deserve. Does it feel like there is the threads are all coming together in the way the world perceives you and the nature of your current work?
Callahan: The weird thing is like you said at the beginning that you thought I was doing the best work of my life. The way I thought about it, once I started doing good work, more people wanted to hear it. I know I’ve had to do all the work that I’ve done for 20 years to get to this point, but it really felt like wow, like after Apocalypse, I did what I really wanted to do and more people liked it. It all made sense, you know what I mean?
Marshall: Completely. The last question, I wanted to chat you about Paul Ryan, the artist for your last few records.
Callahan: I’ve never actually met him. I should meet him on this trip. Some people are making a documentary about him, and he wrote to ask if – I guess sometimes he listens to my music when he paints, and they’ve filmed some painting and there happened to be some of my music in the background, so they wrote to ask us if it was okay. That was right before Apocalypse, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have an idea for a record cover, so I was really getting desperate because the record had been recorded and everything. I said, ‘Yeah, you can use it.’ I looked at his paintings online and I said, ‘You can put my music in your movie, but you have to send me a painting for the cover.’ I wasn’t even expecting to use it.
I just glanced at his website and thought all right, it’s okay, but then I loved it and he’s done the next two albums also and I’ve loved everything he’s done. I’ve taken a bit more time and actually truly looked at his website. I don’t know what’s going on in contemporary art at all, but he seems to be the only person who blows me away with everything he does.
Marshall: It’s incredibly clear and straightforward and yet there’s a lot that’s veiled and you can still read into it, in the same way the music is direct and straightforward as it’s ever been and yet there is still so much going on when you look under the veil. There’s a wonderful parallel.
Callahan: Yeah. I think it’s that mystery again. Because I’ve asked him a little bit. One time I thought I saw something in his painting and I felt like ‘Oh this is the perfect opportunity,’ because you’ll never get to ask painters or people who do art if what you’re perceiving is real. I thought I saw something in a painting and I wrote and asked him if it was there and he was like ‘No, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.’
Marshall: Now you know how those journalists feel. Fantastic. His work is going to be incorporated in the performances, is that right?
Callahan: Yeah, they’re going to be showing some slides, backdrop.
Marshall: Beautiful. Bill, I’m really looking forward to it. Look, thank you for taking the time. I couldn’t be more thrilled you’re part of this festival.
Callahan: Great. Thank you very much. It’s very nice.
Bill Callahan will perform at four shows on 2 and 3 June at Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid LIVE.