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A Brief and Weird Interview with a Brief and Weird Guy Named Bill Callahan

We caught up with the notoriously recluse songwriter and talked about the color of the sky (blue, duh).
August 24, 2016, 3:36pm

I first found out about Bill Callahan 12 years ago, as a sophomore at boarding school. I had a crush on the baker who worked at a soup shop called Loaf & Ladle. As he poured me my lunch and cut a slice of fresh bread, I made an effort to converse. I was extremely homely through middle school so I had to charm him with how interesting I thought I was. “My last band was called Smog and The Sixty,” I explained as though he would be curious about a band made up of 14-year-old girls that wrote songs about friendship and covered the Pixies. “Did you name it after Smog?” I ate my soup, confused, then longboarded back to my dorm (I am not ashamed of my Sector 9 days) and listened to Knock Knock on repeat in addition to other Smog albums for months. Smog was the name Bill Callahan recorded under until releasing albums under his own name, beginning in 2007.

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Bill Callahan’s singing voice is like a calm river. Not like an ocean, ranging wide with raging seas. Not like a creek, meandering and irregular. His voice is patient and steady on recordings, live, and in conversation. He walked into Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn at the exact time we were supposed to meet with just an acoustic guitar on his back. Like a serial killer, I said, “You’re the person I’ve been waiting for.” He looked confused but put his guitar in the green room then came back to talk to me.

What do you like to do when you’re not playing shows?
While I’m traveling?

Are you always on the road? You must be at home sometimes.
I’m at home a lot. I live in Austin, Texas. I just work a lot, play guitar a lot, sing, listen to music.

Do you have any dogs or cats?
I have a dog, Patsy.

After Patsy Cline?
Yeah, my wife named her.

You’re doing two shows each night. Do you enjoy doing two shows in one night?
It’s something I haven’t done a lot of. I used to always say no to it.

Why do you wear your wedding ring on your right hand instead of your left hand?
I used to wear it here [point to his left ring finger] but this finger’s gone numb.

Why?
I don’t know.

How do you play with a numb finger?
You can play with a numb finger. You just can’t feel. And also it was hard to get used to playing guitar with [a ring] on. When I’m playing guitar I’m married to my guitar so I’d switch it. I had to face the facts that I was losing feeling in this finger. I never wear jewelry so I think maybe I’m just not made for jewelry.

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Where are you staying while you’re here?
In Brooklyn at a friend’s house who is out of town.

Where do you go next?
I’m just doing this… as an experiment. I’d always said no to two shows in a night but then lately I’ve been wondering why I say no. Sometimes I say yes to things I always say no to just to see what happens.

It’s a really good exercise.
Yeah. You can’t say no to the same stuff your entire life. You have to set boundaries in your young life, at least I did, and then when you get older you cannot worry so much about it once you have your footing. You can do things you don’t necessarily think are a good idea. [Laughs.] And they usually turn out okay.

I also usually don’t even like to play two nights in the same club in a row. I guess I’m trying to get over that phobia. You have a good show and then the next day you go back to the same club… you want to move on and that’s the great thing about touring, really. No matter what happens in a town, you’re going someplace else so you’re like a new person, a new band, a new crowd, new city. But having to go back is sort of like you’re facing yourself. Actually, when I was walking here I was thinking you can’t be… you have to come back three nights and it is the same employees and stuff. You have to behave yourself and you have to be good, you know, because they’re going to see you tomorrow.

Are you superstitious about it?
I’m not. I really don’t believe in superstition. I think it fucks people up.

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I think it’s mostly a neurosis. Are you religious?
Depends what you mean, I guess.

I think it’s wholly interpreted by the individual.
Then yes. [Laughs]

If you didn’t live in Austin, would you want to live anywhere else?
That’s phrased strangely. You mean would I rather be dead?

Would you rather be dead or live in Austin?
If I didn’t live in Austin…

Are there any other locations in this dimension?
I’ve lived a lot of places and it suits me there. I’m actually moving to Santa Barbara for seven months in a few months. My wife is going to school out there. It’s this weird therapy school. Very small. So I went out to visit and to make sure I could handle it and I liked it.

What’s your favorite color?
I think sky blue.

Emily Diamond waited a long time for this moment. Follow her on Twitter.