Photo by David Berman
There not the Fucking Periwinkle Mountains for a Reason
Interview by Domenic Maltempi
Sometime around Bastille Day on the 7th month of the Julian Calendar, a purple mountaineer agent having escaped death, then evading chase by a relentless triathlon polymath micro-electro 'foot work' producer with a wheat allergy, will shakily hand a bruised DAT Recording tape to a record company messenger. The Peoria kid sprints it to a house of music nurturing and dissemination. Ears of the world fall out of a Goldshlagger hangover into chenille readiness. The agent liberated the wrong DAT. It was a mix up. It happens. It's in the past.
The wrong tape has been delivered, but the one needed shows up in nonchalant 1st class crispness. Everyone is relieved that no such mythos-soaked story is needed. Glad Silver Jews fans from sea-to-shining-sea, need no such fantastical origin story to listen to the newest batch of songs from David Berman. The new band name is the Purple Mountains. Lace up your boots, or draw your bath, but let the good times roll, let them roll.
As the Empire becomes too molten-gooey to chew, molting its coat of Unkle Sammy pubes: the voice, touch, honesty, and artistry of DC Berman should be more than welcome from every little jagged district line of this land, and beyond.
Chicago's Drag City released Purple Mountains from its tectonic laboratory, and it is indeed out for sale or barter as you read this. For many moons, including quarter moons, David Berman has led an outfit by the name the Silver Jews, which he was relieved to hang up for all the unbeneficial confusion it courted, among other reasons.
I wanted to clear the air of some minor purple-mountain controversies, so I asked David if he would answer a few questions for the readers here. He graciously accepted, granting pressed time as the band prepares for a whole slew of shows in Summer '19. The tour dates will begin in Kingston, NY, where General George Washington definitely hung out during American revolutionary times, if the roads signs with heritage carriages superimposed over a brown rectangle can be trusted.
PSF: Was there a critical or pivotal moment in the recording, or the writing of the material for this record that made it feel like a clean or clear break from the last few Silver Jews LP's?
DCB: ...Not really. It could have come out under the old name. I just didn't want to carry that burden anymore. I think the Woods guys (Jeremy Earl, Jarvis Taveniere) were confident/humble enough to not need to make it about them.
PSF: Did the members of aforementioned band come recommended to you from a doctor or friend? How did you guys come to team up?
DCB: It couldn't have been more out of the blue. To the point that I'm not sure if I had ever heard them, or had just read about them, until after I asked.
I had been looking for a producer but couldn't find one familiar with what I do. The incitement may have been as tiny as a RIYL (recommended if you like) list that included 'Silver Jews.'
PSF: Is there any truth to the new band name being originally slated to be 'Purple Estrus,' but you pulled the plug on it because animal reproductive rights groups raised a ruckus or some other coalition?
DCB: No, but I almost called the band Trad Arr until i realized it might look like a big money grab. And would lead to dispiriting pirate jokes.
PSF: If you could play cards with one writer, two musicians/artists, and one painter or sculptor, or magician, who would these women or men be?
DCB: Nelson Algren, Johnny Paycheck, Rudy Vallee, Phillip Guston, and Agnes Martin.
PSF: What would you tell a Natural Bridge snob (an earlier Silver Jews record) if you had to--- because of some shitty bet you lost--- in 20 words or less, that might convince them that your new album was just as worthy in its own way?
DCB: They start out similarly:
"No, I dont really want to die"
"Well, I dont like talking to myself..."
PSF: Is there a song from the new record that you're particularly looking forward to performing live?
DCB: "Margaritas at the Mall"? It's nice to be grimly prophetic , when so many of your songs are so prim and pathetic.
PSF: Have you ever performed in Delaware?
DCB: I've done 100 shows. I had no time for the suggestion that shows be distributed like senate seats. The Connecticut Compromise of 1787 has been a disaster.
PSF: Is there a car, bike, or lawn mower in your life, that has ever inspired lyrics, or an important sound/passage, 'feel' in any of your music?
DCB: In "Famous Eyes," I say "I call my car 'the little struggler.'" It was my little navy blue 1982 isuza pickup (or P'up) I had from 1993-2001. I took a lot of drives from Virginia to Ohio and Kentucky in that time; it always struggled up the frontside and down the backside of W. Virginia.
PSF: In your new EP (All My Happiness is Gone)--with its excellent coterie of different versions now out in the world to hear. I can't help to hear this pale gilded underside of happiness vacated---which might amount to a dusky bruised joy, a joy to exist past the eviction of all that happiness, or just to exist. But you've managed to do more than just exist, which is damn-hard enough for many. You continue to create meaning for many---beautiful/moving music/words. You've written about writing sad songs and being paid by the tear. How else does this music pay you back, keep you operating in the world, in its verges, or on some of its stages?
DCB: On "New Orleans," from the first album, the lyric:
"I'm scared, i swear, of you" comes to mind.
The speaker swears, he's scared of the listener.
"Please don't say that my soul has died away."
My nature is to be overly frightened of judgment.
I'm terrified of what people will say
about what I say and how i say it.
When the songs are good enough,
I'm thinking 25% of them get to this point.
There's a line "the world could do without this thing" line that gets crossed
and at that point I am emphatically not scared.
I may be even a little angry for having been scared.
I am no longer worried about
because I know I hold... I've captured a rare animal,
one that everyday speech can never summon.
In that sense
all the songs are attempts to foreclose judgement on them.
To shut the listener up.
Purple Mountains' self-titled album is now out on Drag City
Also see our 2003 article on Silver Jews
Very sad to report that David Berman died on August 7, 2019
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