Christopher Payne, aka Whitman, has been a consistently ambitious and excellent performer and artist around California and the Southwest for a number of years. Now he strikes out with his boldest endeavors yet.
Your style has been called folk, avant garde folk, or even anti-folk…
What I do is a means of dealing with experiences I have in my life. It’s sort of a release if you will. In a lot of ways it’s the thread that’s helped me keep it together, especially during really trying times. I self-taught myself how to play guitar and I couldn’t tell you what it is that I’m playing. It sort of figures itself out and I just know when it feels right. I don’t strive to sound like anything particular. If someone really needs to label what I’m doing something in order to be able to accept it, then I guess they can call it whatever they like.
I asked Christopher Payne a few questions about what he’s been working on lately, trying to get a feel for the direction of Whitman…
You have a big tour coming up with No Babies, where are you going and how will this differ from previous tours?
This tour will take us all over the U.S. in about five weeks. It will be the longest tour I’ve done so far.
I know you’ve toured with Jon Barba/Nicole Kidman before, will this be your first time on the road with No Babies?
I have been on twelve tours as Whitman over the past nine years, some of which were pretty short and others a more standard length. I have played with No Babies a good amount of times as there are not only good friends of mine but also one of my favorite live bands in existence. This will be our first tour together.
Will you be returning to any places you’ve played before that you are excited to see again?
We will be playing a decent amount of cities I’ve played before, though we sort of made an effort to play as many places further away from home or that neither of us had been before as much as possible. A few places I’m looking forward to going back to are: Sacramento, a place I haven’t played in years but this time we will be sharing a bill with Alak, a long time friend of mine who I haven’t seen play in some time and MOM, who puts on one of the craziest and most amazing live shows you will likely ever see. Portland, where we will be playing at my friend Teague’s house. He has a really amazing band called Foot Ox and is part of a group of my friends that migrated up north from the Southwest. And Reno, a place where I played on tour in January with Jon Barba for the first time and was blown away by their energy and excitement. I feel like this is largely based around the efforts of the people in the band Fa Fa Fa [offshoot All My Sisterz plays Pehr Sept. 26 -SC], but either way I can’t wait to go back.
What new places are you most excited about visiting?
A few places I’m playing that I’m really looking forward to are Omaha, where we will be playing with a bill made up entirely of people I hugely admire. These people are Simon Joyner, Lonnie Methe, and Ed Rooney (aka Chris Fischer, who runes the label Unread, one of my favorite labels of all time). We are also playing a show at the Zoo Zhop in Vancouver, BC that I am really excited about because I’ve never been up there. And basically all of Europe, which is a whole new thing for me.
I understand you have a new LP coming out this year, Dog Rose Gall. What is the significance of that name?
The name of that album is based on a superstition. The Dog Rose is a specific type of rose and the superstition states that it excretes a type of gall that will keep any plans you make around it from coming to pass. I’m not really superstitious but there are two major instances in my life where everything basically fell apart without any real explanation and I came to found that in both cases that rose was in very close proximity to where it happened.
How do you think this will compare against your previous full-length recordings?
Well technically this is my fifth full-length, unless you count my eleven-song EP, I’ll Be Waiting that I released last fall. However my first three full-length records were very different from what I do now and released in small quantities that were mostly self-released. My fourth album, White Sunrise, which was released in co-efforts by Shrimper and my own label Folktale, is where I feel like the turning point in my sound really started. It was also the first release to see more than 100 copies and get distribution. So in a lot of ways I view that record as my first official album. This new album is the follow up to that one and has been in the works for quite some time. I feel like this album is the darkest thing I’ve done. It’s also quite a bit mellower than my previous releases. Musically I think a lot of the album is pretty beautiful, but when the content and topic of the songs gets involved it sort of turns the music into something haunting and a bit unsettling.
How would you describe the subject matter of the songs?
The songs on this album were written between 2007-2010, but they all seem to carry the theme of loss and things falling apart.
What other musicians will be featured on it?
A lot of the songs contain strings, which are played by my frequent co-conspirator Rich Seymour (cello) and Ezra Buchla (viola) who also produced the album. I got the chance to work with a lot of musicians that I really admire while making this record, which was an incredible experience. This includes the two aforementioned players as well as Carla Bozulich of The Geraldine Fibbers, Scarnella, Evangelista, and countless other projects. She is someone I really look up to and it was an honor having her on the record. Also, Tara Tavi of Auto Da Fe, Amps For Christ, and many others played hammered dulcimer on one of the songs. I’ve worked with her a little in the past and she is a really incredible musician. Corey Fogel played drums on a couple songs. I got to know him when he was playing with Gowns and have seen him play with countless other bands as well as solo since. He’s easily one of my favorite drummers. Kyle Mabson plays upright bass on a song, which he used to do occasionally with me live. I know Kyle loves his joke bands, and if you know who he is that’s probably why, but he is actually a very talented musician who is classically trained. Teague Cullen of Foot Ox plays singing saw, Carolyn Riggs of The Finches sings on a song, and Matt O’Neill who used to play in Quem Quaeritis plays some trumpet,
I understand you do the majority of the album art yourself. Is there a story behind the artwork for this cover?
Usually when it comes to my own releases I like to ask other people to do the art for them. This is actually the first time I’ve done the art for a release of mine in years. There’s no real significance to the cover artwork, it was just a drawing I did that I really liked.
Where does your inspiration come from for your art?
Usually I just draw things that I’m interested in at the time or I’ll see something I like and decide to draw it. I really like illustrations in old books, the ones that are prints from wood blocks or other similar methods. They always have such amazing detail and I feel that they often have a sort of eerie vibe to them. I also love the work of Raymond Pettibon. He is a big inspiration for why I still hand draw and photocopy all my show flyers. It’s really sad that all most people do for show flyers these days is find an image online and throw some text over it.
What came first for you, visual art or music?
I was drawing and painting stuff before I started playing music, and even when I first started playing music it was definitely more of a performance than it was music.
Do you have any influences?
Things that happen in my life are the main inspiration behind the music I write.
The majority of your work seems to be reproduced using silk screening. Will this also be silk screened?
The packaging for my new album is all letter pressed by my friend Lee Noble.
Do you have any particular musical influences or even role models? I hear many possibilities: Daniel Johnston, John S. Hall, Lou Barlow, Elliot Smith, Stephen Steinbrink.
There are a lot of different people that I look up to and admire that do a lot of a different things or play a lot of different kinds of music. When I first started performing I was really inspired by Andy Kaufman and I think I probably identify with him the most. I love the notion of wanting your audience to react, whether they love what you’re doing or hate it. I think that if you evoke that strong of an emotion in your listener, no matter which side of the spectrum it’s on, then you’ve accomplished something.
Don’t miss the tour kickoff this Monday…
This week it’s the Sean Carnage / Kyle Mabson Monday Night Six Year Anniversary Party, pt. 5 of 6, with
Starts 9:30pm / $5 / all-ages
Pehrspace—325 Glendale Blvd., in Historic Filipinotown RSVP