Idaho: Music To Remember Me By
You may, or may not, have heard of Idaho. The truth is you should, becausefor the last decade they have been playing some of the mostheart-stoppingly, gut-wrenchingly beautiful music around. Their last recordwas voted one of the top 5 records of the year by France's 'Liberation'newspaper, and critics have extolled the virtues of the Idaho sound,bombarding them with platitudes like "astonishing and timeless" and"awe-inspiring". So when the opportunity arose to talk to John Berry (who,along with Jeff Martin, have formed the nucleus of Idaho since theirinception) how could I possible resist...
Given that the webzine is called 'Friends of the Heroes', perhaps the first question I'd better ask is who are your heroes and (perhaps this bit is more difficult) why?
That's really not an easy question. I feel like I'm supposed to say something that shows my ideals are high and name Ghandi or Martin Luther King or something. I guess I'd have to say that I really look up to Brian Eno's career.He's worked in so many capacities and on so many great records that I'd have to call him a hero of mine.
What made you decide to become a musician? Was there a particular catalyst?
I started my first band when I was 14, it was 2 guitars and drums. We played the Hollywood Paladium. It was a charity for Actors and Others for animals .Over the next 3 years I was in 7 different bands. At 17 I started playing in a band with Jeff Martin. We've been playing music on and off since 1981. I don't know what made me want to play music. I'm not that bright and I guess it was just fun at the time.
Is there a pattern in your way of working that you adhere to, or is it just sometimes a case of drawing the shade, grabbing a pen and your guitar, and seeing what happens?
I don't have to draw the shades because I'm nocturnal. Jeff and I used to have a method of working that we used to adhere to early on. For Year after Year, one of us would come in with an idea and we'd record it, usually in a day. Whose ever song it was would play rhythm guitar and the other would play drums. As soon as we had a take we liked we would move on layering things at a very quick pace. Jeff, pretty much works solo on Pro Tools in his studio now. But we did co-write some songs last year, which are really haunting and beautiful. Hopefully they'll make it on the new IDAHO record.
Did you ever have any of the dead end jobs we all have when we are trying to make it? Was there any time when you thought "Fuck it, I'll be a lawyer"?
Oh yeah, of course. I was a barista in a coffee house for a while, but mainly I've worked on and off in film and television production. I've seen all kinds of people trying to "get in the business" while I was trying to get out. I really hated it. Mostly I worked in what is called the Art department. I've worked on all manner of crappy B movie/straight to video/boring award show you can imagine. I really wanted to start an indie label and do music. I was able to convince Jeff Martin to start Idaho Music in 2000 and we've been pulling it off for three years now. In a sense, I said "fuck it, I'm going to do what I really want to do in life" hoping that the money would follow. It's been tough, but I've become an optimist. So far. So good.
I was unfortunate enough to witness a part of the Oscars debacle on TV. The best bit, for me, was Michael Moore's acceptence speech! What's your view on art and politics? Should they mix? Is it inevitable that they do?
I LOVE Michael Moore. I'm so glad he did that! The Oscars pretty much suck. Though I was very happy to see Roman Polanski win for best director. That really shocked me. I was sure the "academy" would not give it to him because of his situation in Los Angeles county and all. I thought Chinatown should have won best picture in 1974.I think art and politics do mix and should mix. Though I haven't mixed them and Jeff Martin doesn't mix them, but that could subtly be changing for the next record. The political situation in America….well, I could almost choke on the bile.
Linked to the above question, what's your view on the current war in Iraq?
Excuse me if I'm less then verbose: It's mind numbingly depressing.I don't support war. I don't support the Bush administration. Most of all, I don't want my country to behave the way it has been.
When can we expect the new record?
2004. We are shooting for a Spring release but it could be later…
Will you be touring Europe and the UK with it?
Europe definitely. The UK I certainly hope so. I would like to spend at least 10 days there, but we need to find a good booking agent or liaison to work with our European agency WEIRDO in Switzerland to make it happen. The UK is tough for us though. It's very expensive to do any promotion there and the high pitch of the music press (and their total unwillingness to cover the band) make it difficult to operate there. Our last show in London was in the midst of a tube strike, so we were concerned that nobody would show up. To our surprise, it was a decent turn out with people coming from all over the country. One fan, Alan Kyle, came from Glasgow. Others came from Hull and Leeds. Still there is much more press interest in France, so it's easier to get shows and make the whole operation work.
I think a lot of people miss the thread of self-deprecatory humour in your work. What was the last thing that made you laugh out load? I remember once when my girlfriend was giving me hell about something or another, but I couldn't stop laughing- are there any times when you laughed when it was rather more appropriate not to?
That's a funny question… I had an unfortunate experience at my best friends mothers funeral. They were Japanese, who culturally, put a high premium on honor and respect.Well, for no particular reason, something struck me silly about the funeral. I don't know what it was but I started laughing, but I was trying to keep quiet. In doing so tears started streaming down my face and I was making this noise like I was choking. Finally, I had to pretend I was grieving loudly, which alarmed some of the Japanese folks sitting in the pews around me. It was horrible. Very awkward.
Your songs have been a part of the fabric of my life for the last decade or so. What songs do you hold to be similarly influential in your own life (apart from your own!)?
Wow, that's a real compliment to the band. Thank you.( But that just tells me you're a very sad and desperate person who should be on a plethora of mood elevators.)There is a lot of music, as well as songs, that have been staples for me over the last decade. I listen to a lot of old Jazz, as does Jeff Martin. We pretty much like the same stuff: Artie Shaw, Ellington, Miles Davis' "Ascenseur pour L'echafaud",Albinoni's Adagio, Brian Eno's The Pearl and On Land. Grandaddy Low, Dirty Three and Blonde Redheadhave been perennials for me also.
What songs do you wish you had written? Are there any you wish you hadn't?
There are a lot of songs I wish I could have written: "Everybody's been burned" by David Crosby (later covered by Sebadoh) "River Man" by Nick Drake, "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael, "Pea" by Codiene most of the last Grandaddy record. I should make myself a list someday. Really, I'd love to be able to write music like Arvo Part or Henryk Gorecki. The slower, darker, sadder the better.
Last year you released 'We Were Young and Needed the Money'- a collection of outakes and demos that spanned the last 10 years of the band. Was there a particular reason why you chose to release it last year, and dare I ask if there are any more skeletons hiding in the Idaho closet?!
Well, there might be some skeletons but there aren't any more songs.We released it last year because it was the bands tenth year anniversary. We had talked about it for a few years and decided it was appropriate to do it then. Actually, there might a song or two left, but I doubt they'll make it onto a record.We have all this video and Super 8 footage from the begging of IDAHO and before. On the last tour we brought 2 video cameras and shot our own shows. This material will eventually be made into a DVD but It will take a few years.
I have to ask this, because it's been bugging me since I first heard it- Who's the insane one in 'Social Studies'?
Jeff wrote that song about his last girlfriend, who was known to be difficult…
Finally, the question I always ask at the end is: are there any questions that you want the answers to which I haven't asked?
Yes. What are you wearing?!
And on that bombshell, I think I had better make my excuses and leave.Quickly. Very, very quickly...Ask Idaho what they are wearing at www.idahomusic.com
this interview is/was online at Friends Of The Heroes
is available here for archival purposes only