Are Monsters of Folk Really a Supergroup?
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?
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.
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!
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