Okkervil River: Being on Stage Is Like a Sacrament
Six LPs into a decade-long career led by frontman Will Sheff, few bands have produced such consistently excellent output as Okkervil River; to deviate from what's made them so well-loved (soaring, literate pop, heavy on theatrics and startlingly affecting vocals) for the riskier waters of confessional, first-person songwriting this far in is a step few bands might make.
But Okkervil just might've produced the best record of their career.
The Silver Gymnasium, Okkervil's seventh, is set in the 1986 version of Sheff's hometown of Meriden, NH, a tiny place of about 500 residents. For now, though, Meriden is on the map. "I don't even know why I did this," Sheff explains. "I know emotionally why I did it, which is because I love my fucking town a lot, like a little kid loves his mom."
But he admits to some trepidation about Meriden becoming a focus: "One of the things that's amazing about my town is that it's locked in time, isolated. Nobody's cell phone works, and it's beautiful, and it's natural. And if even one fan was like, 'I'm gonna check out Meriden because I love Okkervil River,' and then moved there, in the process of buying that house cut down one tree, I would regret it. I want Meriden to stay exactly the same."
Even if The Silver Gymnasium sounds markedly different from the band's past efforts--it's breezier, for one, and more likely to find a wider audience--it's still very much an Okkervil album, working through themes the band has grappled with before. When asked about the lighter tone, Sheff explained, "I've always wanted to make pop or rock music that is adult. That was the way I interpreted things like the Velvet Underground--Lou Reed talking about sex and drugs and death. One of the things you learn when you get older, though, is that not everything is sex and death and darkness. In fact, that's a kind of version of an adult that a kid envisions.