Active since 1998, the Austin-based folk-pop act Okkervil River, led by singer-songwriter Will Sheff, has lasted a lot longer than most bands, but that longevity hasn’t always come easy. Sheff’s latest album, “Away,” finds Okkervil River bouncing back from various setbacks with a completely new lineup and an altered sound. And yet this comeback’s leading track is titled “Okkervil River R.I.P.” It seemed like the perfect place to start our recent talk with Sheff.
I was wondering about the meaning of “Okkervil River R.I.P.,” if it’s a sort of symbolic death. It made me think of Tom Sawyer watching his own funeral.
Yeah, it is like that. Everybody has times in their lives when it’s time to let some version of yourself die, so that the next version of yourself can come into being. And eventually you look back on those times and think, “God, that doesn’t even really seem like me. It seems like a different version of me, played by a different actor in a different movie.” And that’s good, that’s how it should be. And a lot of “Okkervil River R.I.P.” is me saying, “Well, that’s done, and now what’s next?”
You’ve spoken in recent interviews about how “Away” deals with facing the present, in contrast to the deliberate nostalgia of your last album, “The Silver Gymnasium.” And I find the sound on “Away” much more somber and contemplative, like there’s a hesitation that comes with the uncertainty of the present, as compared with the easy confidence of some happy, fixed idea of the past.
Nostalgia is like a sickness that we have. It comes out of pain. I understand the appeal of it — I devoted two years of my life to try to explore it — but I think it’s cowardly, to be quite honest. And it’s time to not be afraid of contemplation, and facing reality, and taking stock of things. That’s the point I got to on my record. It was also taking stock of what I wanted to do, aside from my sense of what other people thought I should do. Once I tried to face that down, it was an ecstatic sense of freedom that I felt, and the freedom was not free of pain, but it was real.
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