U.S. CHRISTMAS

22 Oct

“YOU BETTER RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (IF YOU CAN)”

It was a moment in a Sam Peckinpah film that gave the name of U.S. Christmas to a family of distortion obsessed, astral-planing, inner-and-outer-space-exploring musical astronauts hailing from the otherworldly beauty that is Appalachia. But their latest album – a massive, autumn-gloom and and sonic boom masterpiece called “Run Thick In the Night” – reminds the listener perhaps more of a moment in a film by another American master of the form, Terrence Malick.

“This great evil. Where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doin’ this? Who’s killed us? Robbin’ us of life and light. Mockin’ us with the sight of what we might have known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?” (The Thin Red Line)

Guitarist and vocalist Nate Hall fills in some details on the thick, black line drawn by their silver machine.

Can you recall the first time you saw the film “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”? Is it fair to assume that the film means a lot to you personally? Can you remember the first time you heard Neil Young? Is it fair to assume that the artist means a lot to you personally?

I can’t remember exactly, I was just out of college. It is a great film, but I can’t say it is more meaningful to me than any others that I enjoy. I was interested in it because Bob Dylan has an acting role and also scored the film. The name thing was just spur of the moment, and that was a long time ago. And I guess I have heard Neil Young songs on the radio ever since I was little. He does mean a lot to me; he is one of my favorite guitar players as well as one of my favorite overall musicians. I love his approach to electric guitar; he is really inventive and uncompromising. One of the heaviest players of all time, and one of the best guitar tones of all time.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Theodore Roosevelt appointed Pat Garrett the customs collector for El Paso, TX, in 1901. Later, Garrett had Roosevelt pose for a picture with a friend – a friend who not only happened to be disputable miscreant with a gambling addiction, but was also known for beating his own father into a coma. This duality between darkness and light, honor and vice, seems to have a voice in the music of U.S. Christmas. Would you agree?

I didn’t know that, but yes – dualities of all kinds are present in the music we make. Contrasts, whether actual or symbolic, are an integral part of human thought. It is an interesting theme to explore, and it also seems to work its way into things on its own.

From where does the title “Run Thick In the Night” spring? What does it mean to you? Are aware or unaware of the existence of a song entitled “Run Through the Night” by Accept?

The title came into me head pretty early one in the writing process, it was a line that I kept repeating. This album and its title have a lot of meaning to me, but mostly in an abstract sense. It is a very dark album, but it deals with natural darkness. “Eat the Low Dogs” dealt with a lot of depravity and intentional evil that I saw in the world at that time. “Run Thick In the Night” is more about the darkness inherent in earthly things. Never heard that Accept song, but I like the band.

“Fire Is Sleeping” stands out even among a collection of standout songs on “Run Thick In the Night.” What can you tell us about this song?

That one is a counter to “The Moon in Flesh and Bone.” I like albums to go in a circle and to have symmetry. Each end of “Run Thick In the Night” is marked with a reflection of the other end. “Eat the Low Dogs” is the same way. I can’t really explain it any better. There is a symbolic structure to “Run Thick In the Night” and I honestly thought it was pretty obvious when we worked it out. The numbers, the names, the repeated themes – all lead to the ideas I wanted to express. I am amazed that some people who get paid to write about music don’t see it. So I appreciate it when people are curious enough to ask me about the album rather than just blather on. And I agree, there is something about the way that one song together. All of the acoustic songs were done on the first take; it was very natural. I think Meg’s violin gives it special energy.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

What difference is there for you – if any – between the process of recording and the act of performing live? Which do you prefer? There is a palatable sense of intense emotional energy in the songs of U.S. Christmas – is it ever difficult for you to generate the … hold on, let me wrap this tie-dyed bandana a little more tightly across my forehead … is it ever difficult for you to generate the psychic capital necessary to give these songs the energy they deserve when playing live?

Live and studio performances each have their own advantages. Live is more in the moment, and cool things tend to happen when you go for it. Studio recording allows us to build and shape things, like a sonic sculpture. I love both of those situations. And no, it isn’t hard to get that energy live. We are all suited for it. It is second nature at this point. We all look forward to playing live, even if we feel terrible.

Alfred Whitehead said, “Give up illusions about ideas of order, accept nothing of inherited norm. Spread joy and revolution. It is the business of the future to be dangerous.” What does this quote mean to you? When did you first become aware of Hawkwind?

I think it means to just go for it without any preconceived ideas about the outcome. Maybe even to disregard any possible consequences and live in the moment. So I guess we do that to some degree. It can also mean to question standard forms of belief and to live in a way that might reveal new truths. As for Hawkwind, Matt and I first heard them 6 or 7 years ago, after we started getting compared to them.

Is it tiresome to read articles about U.S. Christmas that often have the undertone that says, “You’re not going to believe this – this great band is from North Carolina!”? Haven’t these people ever heard of C.O.C.? Is it outlandish to think that more music should come from remote locations, and not less? The band Grave – formed in 1986, pioneers of Swedish death metal – were from Visby, on the island of Gotland, perhaps the best-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia.

No, I never get tired of hearing from people who are interested in USX. There are many thoughtful writers, musicians, and fans who have believed in us for many years and we won’t ever forget that. But it is strange for a band like us to come from such a rural town. We never had any kind of local following, we literally played to nobody on several occasions. We knew from the start that this band would be a lot of work and that we faced many obstacles, but I can think of many bands who also faced that reality and were able to make it work. Those that you mentioned are great examples. I can think of other bands that some from similar situations and were able to make it work. The C.O.C. guys still love doing their thing after all these years, and that was great to see when we played with them a while back.

Random CD's of the Apes ...

See the above photo of a random stack of CD’s. Which album would be most likely to listen to, and why?

“Nashville Skyline” because it makes me feel good. I love that album – it showed that Dylan could sing just fine if he wanted to. I could listen to that one every day.

One more Teddy Roosevelt item: in the recent book “The War Lovers” by Evan Thomas, there emerges a picture of Roosevelt as a blood-thirsty dandy, who viewed war as necessary and noble. Agree, or always pump for peace when possible?

It might have been noble in some contexts; some things are worth fighting for. I admire tribal warriors like Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse – people who defend their people. But I hate it now, just poor kids dying and getting mutilated. I would love to see all that go away for good. “Eat The Low Dogs” explored similar ideas about war, and that was brought on by my exposure to Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian. I can’t say I like the idea that men are the perfect practitioners of war, but that does seem to be true. I think it is good for people to consider these things, but I would also say it is then our responsibility to use this information to prevent what violence we can.

What’s next for U.S. Christmas?

We have a new album ready to go, “The Valley Path.” Watch for it next year on Neurot. And we just confirmed two shows with Neurosis in San Francisco, January 15 and 16, 2011.

U.S. Christmas

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