Leave it to a folk singer to conjure a folksy-funny name like Monsters of Folk. It's knowing, it's smart, it's self-deprecating — exactly what you'd expect from the four low-key indie-rock luminaries who compose this most retiring of supergroups.
But are they really all that? New Times had a sit-down chat with the four collaborators — Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, and singer-songwriter M. Ward — at an Outback Steakhouse (suggested by Oberst, who acquired a fondness for "Australian cuisine" while touring Down Under).
New Times: Was there a single definable moment when the idea for the band took flight? Or did it just sort of evolve over time?
Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, October 21.
Mike Mogis: Oh, yeah, there was a "moment." I think we were wasted.
Jim James: Probably! (flashes devil sign) Woo!
Mogis: Yeah. As I recall, we were just tearing it up in this sick, $10,000-a-night-suite at the Mandalay Bay, with Hagar and the CEO of Red Bull . . .
Conor Oberst: Rock Star, dingus.
Mogis: Right, the Rock Star guy. And his whole entourage. So we take some girls over to the hot tub and Oberst is like: "Fellas, we have done some epic shit in our day, and now it's time to immortalize that shit through song." And — bam! — here we are.
NT: So your new, self-titled album is based on shared experiences?
Mogis: Definitely, definitely. You know the song "Map of the World"? That's about this tattoo parlor in Louisville that Ward smashed up after they misspelled "Zooey" on his lower back.
NT: Wow. Really, Ward?
M. Ward: (dragging off cigarette; texting furiously on BlackBerry) Yeah. Left 'em a few Franklins. No big deal.
(For the duration of the interview, Ward will not look up from his BlackBerry. Later, one of the other MOFers confides that Ward's She & Him collaborator, actress Zooey Deschanel, is going "Yoko on his ass.")
NT: What about "Say Please"? That one strikes me as a wry, Dylan-esque ballad about the pitfalls of fame.
Oberst: Naw. It's about a hooker we threw into a shark tank in Tokyo. As a joke.
NT: Oh. Awesome. And "Dear God"? Is that . . .
(The guys snicker loudly and exchange conspiratorial looks.)
Mogis: That one's about Oberst's "O face."
NT: Yeah? What's that?
Mogis: (punches Oberst playfully on the arm) You know. When he makes a woman go "oh, oh" and then she bursts. She O-bursts! My man!
James: (swaying to and fro, Stevie Wonder-style) Hahahahahahaha! Wooo!
NT: Jim, a question for you: "Wordless Chorus" is such a beautiful, exalting piece of songwriting. It was actually the "first dance" song at my wedding. Can I ask what inspired you to write it?
James: Llamas. Hahahahahaha!
(Later, I ask Mogis about James' euphoria and near-incoherency. He confides that the angel-voiced My Morning Jacket frontman had been hanging out with Juliette Lewis and "probably hasn't slept in four or five days.")
NT: Do you approve of the term "supergroup"?
Oberst: When it's true.
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NT: Well, you seem to avoid the trap of self-seriousness that a lot of so-called supergroups set for themselves. I mean, even your name — Monsters of Folk — comes with a big dose of irony, doesn't it?
Mogis: Yeah, total irony. Because even though we're famous and have platinum-selling albums and shit, we're still just dudes. We're not monsters. Prick us: We bleed. Bank on it.
Oberst: Not me, man. Prick me, and I'll fuckin' waste your ass. That's the Code of Hammurabi. It's Sumerian.
Mogis: (putting bandmate in friendly headlock) Can you believe this guy? Fuckin' Oberst!