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Thursday, October 21, 2021

An Interview with Megafaun’s Joe Westerlund

On tour promoting Megafaun’s most recent album, Gather, Form and Fly, drummer Joe Westerlund took some time off from doing laundry in Omaha, Nebraska to do an interview with The Aggie. The band is heading to the West coast after a successful tour so far, and they’re making a stop in Davis at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen next Monday, Apr. 19. Tickets are $5 dollars for ages 21 and up. For more information about the show, visit sophiasthaikitchen.com.

Is it hard to recreate the sound of your albums onstage, or do you try to make the live performance a completely different experience?

In the beginning, we started to intentionally make our records so that we could play them live. Mainly, we recorded more instruments than we could play at the same time, so we definitely recreated things on the record that we couldn’t produce live. But it forced us to be more creative with how we present those songs in a live setting. I think from doing that, the songs become their own pieces that separate from the recordings. So we really have to adapt our recordings to a live setting – which is something about our band that we really enjoy.

If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have one album in your iPod, what would it be?

Oh man … In this instance right now, I’d take Cumbia and Jazz Fusion by Charles Mingus. That’s a record that just turned me on. The three of us all met at a jazz camp, and this was one of the first jazz recordings that I listened to. It also didn’t just sound like jazz, it was this whole world of music opening up to me. It just spoke to me on many different levels, emotionally. So if I took that record on a desert island, I’d have a good spread of emotions to have access. I’d also probably need something to lift my spirits, and this would definitely do it.

What’s the meaning behind Gather, Form and Fly – how is it different from your first album?

It’s sort of in the title. With our first album (Bury the Square), we’d worked with Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) who led us through most of the recording process. That record was more about us learning about the studio techniques and what we could create with it. Gather, Form and Fly is the first run of us really recording by ourselves. It was a time for us to focus on songwriting a little bit more as well; this became a priority. We were gathering all the materials we had set out in Bury the Square and sort of reshaping them into something that is more accessible to people.

How often do you play shows in college towns? What do you expect from the audience next week here in Davis?

All the time! We all went to college, so the experience is familiar. We’ve played big campuses, but also small little strange ones as well. And there’s always a very different vibe whenever we play in college towns; people come ready for an experience – and not just a club. They’re ready to let go and release the stress of studying and academics. We always have a lot of fun because there’s much more energy.

What kind of musical background did you come from, and how has it influenced Megafaun’s sound?

Our background is all pretty similar since we’ve been playing together since we were all 16. We always had a band that was our own where we wrote our own songs and music. This was the number one thing in our lives. Even though we all attended jazz camp, and were all really informed about it, we realized at an early stage that we wouldn’t be playing in a symphony or anything. We’ve studied a lot of different things from African music to experimental music. And there’s so much variety to the types of music we listen to – which is why our music sounds the way it does. Our goal is to take our influences and expose and express them in our own kind of demented way.

What are the best and worse things about touring?

Once, we were in Toronto and had a banjo and guitar stolen from our car. It made us take more precaution and now we have these huge hockey puck locks on our van. The toll booth would always give us trouble, and it’s just like how crossing a border can get pretty nerve wrecking. The best thing? So many good things have happened lately. I’ll just stick to this tour specifically, and say that the people opening for us have been absolutely overwhelming. It’s been hyper-emotional for us. To be in a position where we have talented folks come play a set of music for us is just incredible.

Who are some of your favorites so far?

Some of our influences include Sharon Van Etten. All three of us were completely floored by her presence and performances. Charlie Parr has done three of the last shows with us – and he’s definitely someone we’ve been influenced by. It’s a very humbling experience to have people we’ve looked up to for a long time come to open for us. Breathe Owl Breathe, who we’re playing with in Davis, is just amazing. They’re going to push us in a direction that we haven’t visited in a while. This is a positive band that is just very spiritual and inclusive of the audience.

What does the future hold for Megafaun?

There’s so much on the horizon. This is the first year that we’ve have everything pretty much planned out. We’re releasing a new record soon, and we’re playing most of these songs at shows. We’re trying to get all the record stuff done by the time we get to California. We just recorded a six-song mini album. The sixth song is a really long track that we’ve layered instruments over. We’ll try to release that over the summer so that people will start learning the songs and can sing along. We’re also in this other side project called GAYNGS – it’s with a friend of ours from Minnesota who is just a brilliant producer. And then we’re heading to Europe in August. This is our busiest year yet, and we’re all really excited.

To receive updates on Megafaun as they tour, visit Megafaun.com – or follow them via twitter at twitter.com/Megafaun.

VANNA LE can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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