Saint Arkansas

For what reasons do you consider yourself "unsuccessful"? How do you define success?
This is REALLY simple: we don't sell any records and nobody comes to our shows. Can't get much more unsuccessful than that!
But you may say, Success can't be measured in material forms. And you would be right. Let's look at it from an artistic POV: we represent an alternative universe that never happened in which rock music matures as a cultural voice of the American people and worthy successor to Faulkner and Melville and Whitman and Hemingway and... Yeah, right! We are dinosaurs. Can't get much more unsuccessful than a dinosaur, can you?
Okay, what about judging success on a personal level like we are forced to do now with athletes, for example-- like we actually are supposed to care that the person who came in 5th had a "personal best"-- yawn-- or "did the best they could do"-- ho hum-- okay, from my personal POV-- I tell you the honest truth-- everything I do I consider to be not good enough and flawed in a hundred ways and if only I could get it right then I could quit-- and I so desperately want to be able to stop. I am so tired. So weary of it all. But, nope-- on a personal level we are unsuccessful and I must force myself onward.
Then the last criteria is whether we are successful with our audience. People profess to be moved by us in unique ways. I believe them. But now I will let you in on a Craft Secret: musicians don't trust the audience-- we know how easily they can be tricked by clever yet insincere craft techniques; we manipulate audiences, that is our job-- even the "best" of us will resort from time to time to craft technique-- so we can never really accept the love of an audience. So we are Othellos, rejecting the untainted love that is given us. Now, I'd REALLY call that unsuccessful, wouldn't you?

The inner jacket's stereo explanations also suggest an unlikely geography for the listener. Does your love of AM have to do with the fact that you can pick up AM bandwidths from across the world? In other words, AM can seem like a voice that isn't site-specific, unless they give geographic clues in the programming. FM is more explicitly regional. Or does it have to do with nostalgia for a certain era of radio that you enjoy?
Nothing I ever do comes from nostalgia. I am not a nostalgic person. I despise FM radio-- many of the hideous compression techniques that have blighted music in the last 30 years come from FM, and all those hideous, self-righteous college and NPR stations...! FM pitched itself as elitist. AM has always been the vox populi-- even today as the domain of talk radio. As a kid I preferred talk radio to music radio. In Dark I am talking about AM radio now, not in the past. I love clear channel stations reaching across the continent in the middle of the night. There is a great and liberating and deeply poetic moment to searching across the bands in the dark, homing in on one, losing another in the drift of static and distance. Encapulsated therein is the process of search and discovery that is so vital to music.

The 'Arkansas' in your album title: What were you thinking?
The title is SAINT ARKANSAS. I was thinking about the place of the highway as the soul of New World culture, about the nature of cultural geography, about how at certain place moments time will loosen its grip, about the historical conflict of Catholicism and Protestantism and how it reaches down to today in political and philosophical terms, and, mostly, I was thinking about how to recreate the sense of those aforementioned place moments. That's really what the album is "about." It's not analytical-- it's simply an attempt to express that feeling. It's not a description of what I was thinking, only what I was feeling.

You have said in some interviews at the time of the release of Surf's Up! that you didn't use eq but the sound of ST ARKANSAS is very distinctive.
Parametric EQ confuses me. It seems a very strange idea to torture sound waves in such a way. Instead we record the sound source with many different mics and then combine the tracks to get the desired composite sound. The drums, for example, were recorded live with approximately 20 mics including a number that Paul Hamann has invented and specially constructed for our purposes. We therefore achieve a range of bands similar to those on a passive filter. (The Altec passive filter has been the single most influential piece of audio equipment in the evolution of the Pere Ubu sound.) The transience from band to band becomes an effective perceptual tool. It's easier to construct the sound of the space that you envision for the words and the music when you're working with distinct bandings. The result is that I, for one, have never been on a record in which there has been a closer correlation between the sound of the song and the meaning of the song.

I have heard that the package is a "construct of misdirection." What does this mean?
The POV of ST ARKANSAS is that of the head turned to one side, of words spoken in one ear, of sights glimpsed headlong plunging. To that end John Thompson constructed the images: the sign posts, the arrows, the side of the road found "message" of the traffic cone installation, even the "A Word from the Producer" is a coded description of how to suggest the sound of a head turned to one side. As well there are examples of actual misdirections: there is, of course, no St Arkansas; going north on Highway 61 the turning on US49 to Arkansas would be the other way; the "theory" of left ear sensitivity (while possibly true) is made up out of whole cloth while the tv expose of the traffic cone message calls to mind the deliberate misdirection practiced as a matter of routine by media.

Is the route (322) you describe through Meadville impossible to navigate as written?
Actually not, no. You'll find Moose Lodge 2505 exactly where I describe though the mileage (I think I say 6 miles) might be off a mile or so one way or the other. I do remember clocking it in my car for the purpose of getting it right. I just can't remember if I ever remembered it right-- if you see what I mean...

What is the significance of the title?
Never explain art.

1. If art can be so easily described it's not worth creating nor is it worth consuming.

2. Art encrypts and/or encodes an agenda. Expose the secret and the agenda is rendered impotent.