Q: A big part of your identity is wrapped up in making music. How do you let go of that?
A: It’s so confusing. It is and was such a huge part of my life. I feel really good about not performing. I feel really happy about it. I just have to be doing something creative to feel good, and I am. And I don’t need to do it in front of an audience anymore.
Q: Does the urge to make art feel different or the same as the urge to make music?
A: I think it comes from the same place but is very different in execution. With music there’s more of a physical release. Not a release, really, because I was always really tightly wound. There was hardly any of that catharsis you hear about. But there is that physical part. It’s like doing a sport when you’re performing. You’re sweating. You’re using all these different parts of your body, singing and playing guitar, coordinating them. And I think painting is more about using different parts of my mind, maybe. It feels a little more intellectual. I’m just learning how to talk about it. It’s a whole other language. They’re both kind of forms of meditation, but painting is more interior, and obviously it’s more isolated. It suits me more. I’m a person that really likes to be alone a lot. But it’s harder on my mind to paint. It hurts my brain somehow, in a good way. Do you paint or draw?
Q: I have no talent whatsoever in that area.
A: Have you tried?
Q: Trust me. I’m no good.
A: But what’s good?
Q: What’s good is something that looks real or interesting or pleasing. I can’t draw a straight line. But it sounds like you were an artist long before you started doing music.
A: You know what’s so cool? My mother, who is thinking of selling the house I grew up in and is slowly cleaning out the house, she has this stash of paintings I did as a child. She showed them to me, a stack of things I did from the age of, like, four to nine, and I was really blown away. A lot of it I had no memory of doing, but I was painting a lot. I compared it to some of the stuff I’m doing now and there’s a lot of the same stuff.
Q: Like what?
A: There’s this one drawing of a turtle. The whole shell is this grid I did with colored pencils. I’m working on some screen prints with the same grid pattern. There’s this connection. Are you still writing songs?
Q: I am.
A: Are you liking it?
Q: More than anything. It’s like gas in my tank.
A: That’s so great. To have something that’s so exciting in the second half of life, I wish everyone could have that. I was really feeling stuck. Somehow I was trapped in this life. To be able to get out is such a great thing.
Q: I have to say your whole aura is different. There’s a lightness.
A: I feel happier.
Q: You’re actually sort of glowing.
A: I was talking with an old friend on the phone and he told me that I’m laughing more than I ever have. And I am. I’ll be watching a rerun of Seinfeld and I’ll be guffawing. I’m laughing really hard at stuff like that. I know I’m doing the right thing. Regardless of whether anyone thinks I have any artistic talent.
Q: I was looking at your website and saw a drawing of two chimps having sex and watching TV.
A: That was for a class at school.
Q: It’s a pretty striking image, and I think it’s really hard to combine humor and commentary. Can you say something about that piece of art since it’s already public on your website?
A: How you just described it is kind of what I was trying to say earlier about art being more intellectual than music. I want humor and I want social commentary and I want pathos and I want whatever else I want, and how do you express that without words? That’s the challenge. And maybe I’m not even thinking consciously that, oh, these are the things I want to express. You’re trying to translate feelings into visuals. The assignment was to construct a narrative around a found photograph. For years I’ve had this little photo of these two chimps having sex that I cut out of a magazine on my refrigerator. I took it and drew the chimps much bigger, did all the shading, and then for the narrative part I drew a naked lady and it wasn’t working and I erased it. And then I drew a TV and that really worked. People are like monkeys.
Q: Do you have any sense of what direction you’re going to take as an artist?
A: That’s part of what my goal is for this year. I’m trying to figure out where I want to focus. There are two main areas I keeping going to. One is this really abstract direction, and then there’s this figurative stuff with parts of bodies and self-portraits and plastic surgery stuff. It’s all over the place right now.