Interview: Silkworm

Silkworm is reissuing their long out-of-print 1994 album Libertine. The album is note worthy as it is their third and final full-length record as a quartet. We got a chance to sit down with JR Phelps who left the band shortly after the recording of Libertine and ask him about the reissue.

You are reissuing Libertine. The album is considered by many to be your masterwork. Do you feel it is your best album?

To be honest I haven’t ever thought about it that way. My own personal take on the whole body of work is, as you might guess, compartmentalized in a unique way – as a member and as a fan. So I can’t be relied upon to say much on the matter that won’t be a bit cockeyed. Seems obvious to me that any plausible pick for the best would have to come from the post-quartet, trio catalogue.

Still, Libertine resonates strongly with folks as a high water mark for the quartet and I wouldn’t argue the point. It might have the strongest personality traits of the quartet bunch. It’s a bittersweet record, to me. But you know, mostly it’s just a neat record that we think deserves to exist in corporeal form.

What are your fondest memories from recording Libertine?

Honestly, I only remember the indoor swimming pool room and a stairway that struck me as being very Brady (Bunch) like. Plus a van ride with Vickie listening to No More Sorry on the cassette deck which made me feel weird for some reason.

I’ll apologize for my disconnect with those days. It’s a product of my own faulty memory apparatus plus I’m in a unique position amongst the participants of having been, for quite awhile, out of earshot of anyone who was there. So without a few ‘remember when’ sessions I’m pretty much left to my own sort of dreamy, oft unreliable recollections.

The phone rings. Steve answers. Maybe a prospective client at Pachyderm or someone seeking advice regarding technical aspects of studio recording. We hear only Steve’s side. (SA) Normally the commonly used placement for a microphone when recording an acoustic guitar is in a position one might take when listening to a guitar being played…yes there are several possible positions for placement at varying distances from the guitar…well it would depend on the guitarist, the guitar and what sort of sound the player was after in the context of their music…yeah…yes imagine you are in the audience listening…yeah no, not…no…we don’t usually mic the inside of the guitar…no we don’t recommend micing the interior of the guitar because that’s not how people usually listen to a guitar…from inside…of it…yes…unless a guy was very, very tiny…

I assume you re-listened to the album before reissuing it. Was there anything new you noticed while re-listening?

I was surprised at how wound up it is. There’s a lot of desire on that record, a lot of joy and a lot of fire looking for the forest. Shortly after the trio would really acquire the target, you might say. Here there’s a fair amount of tension on the wire, and while there always would be, it seems to me like the mechanism for delivery became more efficient and more at home in it’s own skin somehow. Or something like that. Any how it’s pretty neat, I think.

Do you have a favourite song on Libertine?

Nope! Fact is they all have a special place and I can recall quite clearly (for a change) playing my lil’ heart out on each one, a bunch times. Plus just LISTEN to MJD! Shoot, that’s SOMETHING right there.
So no.

How did the idea of reissuing Libertine come about?

I’ve no reason to believe it wasn’t a matter of a mutual desire shared by Jon, Tim and Andy that went from drawing board to R&D to the assembly line solely as a result of their efforts. If the trio had already kicked around the idea, that wouldn’t surprise me though Tim and Andy would have to speak to that question. If they did, I suspect they found themselves too busy making new records and playing shows to attend to such a project at the time. But here it is.

Could there be more Silkworm reissues down the line?

Don’t know why we couldn’t do In The West at some point now that it’s outta juvie and back living at home. Matador of course re-issued L’Ajre as part of the ‘Even A Blind Chicken Finds A Kernal Of Corn Now And Then’ (Silkworm 90-94) double cd. I think all the records that followed on Matador and Touch And Go and 12XU are still in print aren’t they?

With the release of Couldn’t You Wait and now the reissue of Libertine, Silkworm is experiencing something of a renaissance. Has there been discussion of a reunion?

Nope. There can never be a Silkworm reunion simply because there’s no longer a Silkworm to reunite. That’s not wordplay, it’s just the heart rending truth. But I bet you’ll hear some more noise from The Wilma Pool down the road. New Bottomless Pit rec on the horizon, same for the Downer Trio and Thine (with Michael’s older brother Stuart). Lots of really wonderful things coming. If you like that kind of thing.