Criteria signs to Saddle Creek; Okkervil River interview

Category: Blog — @ 12:34 pm April 6, 2005

Rumors that Criteria signed to Saddle Creek were flying all over the place at Saturday night’s Tim Kasher show at O’Leaver’s. Criteria frontman Stephen Pedersen all but confirmed the rumor that night, but I still wanted to get the word from Creek itself. It came yesterday when label guy Jason Kulbel confirmed that Saddle Creek Records will indeed be releasing Criteria’s next CD, which is already in the can. No firm release date yet, though it’ll probably drop sometime in the late summer/early fall. Asked to comment, Pedersen simply said “Criteria is very very very… excited.” And why not? Pedersen had said Saturday that being the label was a dream come true. But make no mistake about it, the signing also is a coup for Saddle Creek. It’s no secret that labels have been sniffing around the band since they flew out to New York for an industry recon mission more than a year ago. Criteria fills a hard rock void created at Saddle Creek when Cursive went on what some are saying is a permanent hiatus. Rumor has it that the new Criteria album is one of the best things to come out of this town in a long time. We’ll have to wait to find out though I’m sure we’ll get a sneak preview of the tunes when the band opens for Trail of Dead at Sokol Auditorium April 26.

Now on to this week’s “cover story”: I just placed online an interview with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff (read it here). Will, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever interviewed, talked about the band’s new CD, Black Sheep Boy, and their ongoing struggle to stay financially afloat despite being critics’ darlings. Since I first interviewed Sheff in 2002 (read that one here) the band has emerged as a real force in the indie-folk world. I figured they’d become big rock stars, but in fact, Sheff says they’ve never been poorer, which is a shame.

Some details that didn’t make it into the story: Brian Beattie, the guy who produced their benchmark album, Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone you Meet, is back behind the knobs for Black Sheep Boy. Beattie charges a one-time fee for recording, which all but eliminates the clock ticking on the studio meter. “You pay up front and you can take as long as you want,” Sheff said of Beattie’s studio. “And if you don’t like it, you fix it. His studio provided a real organic environment. We had some tracks where we all played simultaneously. Some of my favorite albums, like Neil Young’s On the Beach, were all tracked live, which provides a lot of grit and humanity to the performances.”

Is Black Sheep Boy a concept album? Sheff says he guesses it probably is. “A lot of times concept records don’t work,” he said. “Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for example, really doesn’t hold together, while Lou Reed’s Berlin feels more complete and evocative, with elements that go in other directions. I didn’t want this record to tie together into a nice little package. I let it be messy and unfinished. You can be really familiar with the artistic process, but a lot of it comes from places you don’t understand. In my mind, I didn’t try to create a story or try to figure out who the Black Sheep Boy is; I thought about how the songs fit together and how the imagery could be woven throughout all the songs.”

Fair enough. This is the fourth time Okkervil River’s been through Omaha. The first two times were gigs at The Junction, which Sheff said was “crappy.” Then they played an impromptu gig at California Taco before finally landing a show at Sokol Underground. “I said to myself ‘We finally made it.'” That said, Sheff was concerned that maybe the band took a step backwards with O’Leaver’s, that is until I told him that Tim Kasher, The Silos and a host of other great bands have played there recently. “Wow, that’s good news,” he said “Now I’m psyched.” The show is this Sunday. Don’t miss it.

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