Rewild Your Friends: A Conversation with Andrew Weathers, Part I

The parasitic goon at the top of Spotify says artists need to release music more often if they want to eat, but there’s no shortage of brilliant musicians who are blessing us with capital-A Art at least once a month, and still their penny fractions add up to less than the cost of a single healthy meal. There’s no reason for these musicians to be as generous with their imaginations as they are, especially under the exploitative system we have now.

But people like Andrew Weathers aren’t just noble because they give us so much good music. By their example, they’re demonstrating that there’s nothing inevitable about this present. We do not have to become alienated by our art, obsess over narrow definitions of success, put ourselves in terrible positions to seek fulfilment, and stay silent when people in power try to destroy our well-being. We can build alternatives together, listen to one another, organise, and make art that expands the possibilities of our lives. This affirmation might be the biggest gift of Andrew’s music.

The line between Andrew’s artistic practice and his approach to life is thin and getting thinner. For years he’s played shows and released recordings as the Andrew Weathers Ensemble, drawing a cross-country constellation of musicians together in community. These recordings are probably the ones he’s best known for. I talked with him to mark the release of The Thousand Birds in the Earth, The Thousand Birds in the Sky, which Andrew emphasizes is the final Ensemble record. But this kind of artistic gathering is giving way to others. In addition to co-running the label Full Spectrum—which now has an imprint dedicated to artists on the Llano Estacado in Texas, where he lives with his partner Gretchen Korsmo—he’s now helping run the CO-OPt Research + Projects space in Lubbock, and he’s part of a new collective called the Llano Estacado Monad Band. The music itself engages with local and regional history at an unusually detailed level. It asks listeners to rethink and reshape their relationships with everything around them.

In that spirit of connection, I presented Andrew with fifteen nouns—five places, five people, five things—and our resulting two-hour conversation tied all fifteen back to Andrew’s music. The transcript, edited for clarity, doubles as a partial map of the ideas you can find in Andrew’s work, even when it doesn’t seem like we’re discussing music directly. And to be clear, there’s a lot of music to discuss. In addition to The Thousand Birds in the Earth, this year he’s released a tape of meditations on the Llano Estacado, a CDr featuring a weightless half-hour piece recorded in an empty grain silo, a digital album where he recounts his dreams from the past five years and drinks beer in his back yard (and even as someone who’s not really into drinking beer, it’s very soothing), a solo album entitled AW Solo Album, and a cassette that plays with the limits of guitar music. He also has an eco-anarchist black metal band, as well as many other projects involving ever-expanding groups of co-conspirators and varying degrees of mystery.

This interview has been split into three parts. Andrew said it reminded him of Wire magazine’s Invisible Jukebox feature, in which musicians are played recordings without being told what they are beforehand. “Derek Bailey’s one is really good,” he told me, “because he just says, ‘I have no idea what this is,’ even when they play him his own music.”

THING #1: DRYWALL
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U_: You mention drywall in the new album. It’s something that comes up a lot for you, especially because for the last several years you and Gretchen have been working on the building in Littlefield, Texas where you’re living now. So it’s the first thing I wanted to talk about.

AW: I was hoping that it would be drywall. Because drywall is what we live in. Essentially our entire lived environment is drywall. And it’s not something that many of us treat as a malleable object. It’s just a fixed thing. It is the wall. It separates you in space or whatever the function of a wall is. Working on this building, I didn’t really have any experience doing any kind of renovation work before we started this, and so getting familiar with building materials and construction techniques has been a really crazy learning process. Just in terms of learning how to do it, but also in what I and Gretchen are capable of. For me, drywall encapsulates all of that because it’s the finish in a lot of places.

“I tried to lift a sheet of drywall on my own… Don’t do that.”
– Andrew Weathers

And also, it’s rock. It’s sheetrock. It’s literally gypsum sand compressed. It’s horrific and impressive at the same time that people were like, “What is the best wall? What should we put on the wall?” And they decided on rock—like, “Rock is what we should use for our walls.” It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. You spend enough time doing something, you end up thinking about it a lot.

Multiple times I’ve hurt my back trying to lift a sheet of drywall on my own, which is a dumb thing to do. Don’t do that. You can’t lift it on your own; it’s fine. It’s just one of those things that suddenly was around me all the time. This past weekend we did the last big wall that needed to get done, and I was kind of sad. I’m sure that I will do drywall again in my life, but that was the last one for the foreseeable future, and that bummed me out.

You’ll just have to buy another building in town.

I’m already thinking about it.

It feels like a pretty standard question to ask—in all kinds of interviews—if you look back on your life or your career, what would you do the same or differently. But to ask that question in a more specific sense: with all the things you’ve learned about working on the building for the last three years, if you could go back to the beginning of that and tell yourself what you should know about actually building a thing, what would you tell yourself?

I would tell myself to be more patient, and to take the time to get things even. You’ve seen our bathroom. That was the first drywall we did, and it’s kind of a wreck.

I mean, it looks amazing in its own way.

I don’t dislike it. But it is definitely, “You have never done this before,” and it looks like that. And even just looking at that room and then the wall we did this last week, it’s worlds apart. And that’s cool, but it would be tight to have better looking walls in certain places.

But there are a lot of things, like not being afraid to undo work or bust a hole in something. Because it is additional work but it will make the end product better, and it was worth it to do that when you saw the issue. That came up a lot, where I was kind of unwilling to undo work we had done incorrectly. Or things we wanted later on necessitated that sort of thing. It’s always worth it to do that. And I think that metaphor expands to music and life, too.

That anticipated what I was going to ask—whether you’ve seen any of those lessons apply to your art and work, or whether those two things are separate.

With me, everything is all the same thing. So the construction is the music. All the recent music is kitchen noises and stuff. Recordings of people making coffee.

PERSON #1: NELDA
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AW: Nelda is our next-door neighbour. She is seventy-five years old, grew up in Littlefield. She and her husband have a farm outside of town, and they run a boot shop next door, which is one of only a couple retail businesses in the downtown strip.

She’s become a good friend. You’re neighbours in a small town, and your relationship is by necessity pretty close because you rely on each other for things. She watches the cat when we’re out of town. She will tell us if there is a package sitting in the front because she’s afraid someone will steal it. If she needs help, I open jars for her on occasion. Her husband had a stroke and is wheelchair bound and so she needs help sometimes, and that’s just part of the thing. And that is an unfamiliar relationship to me because essentially I’ve lived in cities my whole life, and you don’t necessarily know your neighbours, and you probably don’t rely on them for anything because people can’t handle that in an urban environment. So I’ve appreciated that.

She’s conservative politically, but at the same time she’s told me things like, “All your friends come through and they’re from different places, and I ain’t never seen nobody weird.” And that’s nice of her, and I appreciate that. But we do talk about politics a lot because she recognises that I’m not a liberal. Because of the scope of the way we talk about politics in this country, it’s like you’re a liberal or a conservative. She recognises that I’m not either of those things and doesn’t know where to place me, and so she asks me a lot of questions.

Andrew Weathers' Building - Littlefield
Wind Tide, Andrew Weathers’ and Gretchen Korsmo’s building in Littlefield, TX, with Nelda’s place to the left

I wear camouflage a lot, and she asks me if I support the military. And for the most part I can be honest and I appreciate that. To that question, I was like, I support the people in the military because I think they’re victims in a lot of ways, and they’re manipulated into the situation they’re in, but as far as the military-industrial complex, I think America is an evil imperialist power, and I don’t think that is good. I don’t know if that is meaningful to her, but it’s been good to have those conversations for sure, and good for me to understand where this other part of our country that I am not familiar with—having grown up in a liberal college town—where they’re coming from and what the thought process is.

I’m not a sympathiser, but it has illuminated the ways in which the coastal “liberal” stereotype really has a lot of blind spots in understanding conservatism in America. And in a lot of ways, it’s strengthened my belief that coastal liberals are equally damaging and ignorant as conservatives, in different ways. I would elaborate on that, but I think that would derail us for a long time [laughs].

I remember you once talking about the kinds of knowledge Nelda draws on because of her deep roots in that area. What have you learned from her?

Oftentimes we have confusing communication because I don’t necessarily know what things are called and what they are. There are idiosyncratic names for things. For a little while there were some moths in the house, because that just happens sometimes, and they were hanging out on our storefront windows, and I said to Nelda, “These moths have been hanging out. I don’t know what happened. There’s like five of them in there.” And I said, “I don’t really mind, but it’s kind of interesting.” And she was like, “No. Those are cotton bugs.” She had a funny name for it, and she was upset that it was a bad year to have these moths. There’s a lot of cotton grown in this area, so on top of the drought that we already have, the moths wrecked a bunch of folks’ farms. And those are her customers and her friends.

And understanding things like how the wind moves and smells different and brings along different weather. A norther is bad because it’s cold and bad storms always come from the north, and because there’s feed lots to the north you smell cow. It’s kind of constant. She’ll show me a picture of where wild hogs dug up her sprinkler system in her yard, and it’s this total mess. And I’m just amazed because, “Wow, hogs did that.”

I always ask her about stuff I think is interesting, and you always get some titbits. And I try to write it all down. Like, “What is that building on Hall that doesn’t have any windows that was just for sale?” And she’s like, “Well, that was a CPA office, and the wife of the CPA who worked there was allergic to dust.” And this is an extremely dusty region, so they had to build this office to manage her allergies. It’s totally sealed, and they had a clean room to come in and that sort of thing. There’s all sorts of stuff like that that comes up.

PLACE #1: THE POST OFFICE
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If you leave the street block where you live and walk down the street for a while, eventually you get to the Post Office. You talk about the importance of the Post Office a lot—both the Littlefield Post Office and Post Offices in general.

Oh man. Something I was thinking about today, when I walked to the Post Office, is…it’s amazing, you can go to these little, tiny towns—in Texas, or in Montana, or California, or wherever—and it’ll be this nothing town of like three hundred, four hundred people. There’s not a business, there’s maybe a couple houses, an old cotton gin that isn’t

The Post Office… I have not found any fault with it yet.
– Andrew Weathers

functional anymore, and everything’s kind of busted up. But there’s a Post Office. And the Post Office there that handles that ZIP code, handles the mail for everybody, is a well-kept building that’s in good shape. A lot of the buildings around here are not in great shape, and so the Post Office being a new building and well-kept and well-managed is really notable.

America doesn’t do hardly anything right. But the Post Office is one of them. I’ve said that the only things that the US does right are the Post Office and the National Park Service. And I’m not sure I agree with the National Park Service anymore.

The history of the Park Service is…

It’s a mess. But the Post Office…I have not found any fault with it yet. It basically funds itself, except for unfair and unreasonable demands put on them by the federal government. And it’s amazing! The Post Office is just holding up all of us. Because it’s not even just USPS that they’re delivering. They move around shit for Amazon, they move around shit for FedEx, they move around shit for every commercial private logistics company. And they just do it, because it’s their responsibility.

All of these Amazon packages and whatever really fuck with people at your local Post Office. It literally specifically makes their lives more difficult. I’m not absolving myself of that, or you. We’re all part of it. But the way that it works—that this public entity is able to be totally drained by private corporations that are also simultaneously trying to destroy the Post Office—is just a very strong illustration of the wrongness of capitalism, I think.

A street in Littlefield, Texas
Andrew’s street in Littlefield, TX

Even though I’m a pain-in-the-ass customer at the Post Office because I come in with a bunch of little tiny cassette boxes that I’ve written on in my bad handwriting, and it’s all media mail, which they don’t necessarily make any money off of, everyone at every Post Office I’ve ever been to is really nice to me. It’s just a wonderful institution. I love the Post Office. The carriers are unionised; it’s just very powerful.

And I’ve always appreciated the Post Office, but being here, knowing my carrier really well—Harvey and I, we’re buds, and he’s come to shows of mine in Lubbock—that’s really cool to me. The people at the Post Office are friends, and I just can’t say enough good things about the Post Office. Knowing those people more intimately have given me even greater appreciation of the whole thing.

Sometimes I wonder about the forces that can cause a disconnect in communication between people who are making music and people who are listening to it, and sometimes I wonder if some of that has to do with understanding of the mail, and how the mail works. Does that make any sense? For people who are running a label, the issues with the Post Office are really terrifying, but I’m not sure that people who aren’t involved in that are necessarily hearing about it. [This interview took place before the crisis with the USPS became headline news in August.]

Yeah, I wonder. Because I feel like see a lot of appreciation of the Post Office, and not even people that are necessarily label runners or anything. There’s a lot of things I think people our age are understanding a little better lately because it’s easier to spread that sort of information.

But I do hear what you’re saying. When one doesn’t have any kind of concept of how something is made or something is done, it’s really easy to criticise. And if you’re used to ordering from Amazon and everything gets to you in two days for no extra money, maybe it’s easier to yell at somebody like me, running a small label, for not shipping your package within a week or whatever. I honestly don’t run into that too much; people are usually pretty nice. But I think it’s pretty unreasonable to be angry that your tape got a little smashed in the mail, like the Norelco broke off an arm in the mail. Because it travelled a thousand miles. Of course. It’s fine.

And it’s interesting how something like the acceleration of convenience might create this preemption of human understanding.

I think that’s absolutely true. We’re really used to convenience at this point, and anything that is not that really quickly feels like disrespect. Living in a small town, there are very few things that are convenient at this point. But at the same time, a lot of things are really easy. Like voting. I voted yesterday in person. It was pretty safe. People were wearing masks, and we were the only people that weren’t facilitating the thing happening in the room, at like 5:30 pm. So some things are easier.