Between hipsters and God there is Sufjan Stevens
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Michigan Stories
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Oct 11th
8:25 PM

Jessica Dessner interviews Sufjan about Year of the Rabbit

  • Jessica Dessner: Describe the move in Justin’s ballet you like best.
  • Sufjan Stevens: The butt dance in Rabbit. The core members grab their knees and sashay sideways with their tails in the air. It’s slightly profane and possibly a ballet faux pas, but it’s also kinda Beyoncé.
  • JD: Of the ballets you’ve seen so far, which one would you love to dance?
  • SS: Agon. But then I would be addicted to Vicodin for the rest of my life.
  • JD: You’re becoming familiar with the dancers in NYCB. Who would you choose to dance a pas de deux with and why?
  • SS: Chase Finlay. I would drop-kick his ass into the orchestra pit so fast.
  • JD: Pointe shoes in three words.
  • SS: W-T-F.
  • JD: How is the life of your mind different from the life of your body?
  • SS: The life of the mind defies all laws of physics and pursues extraordinary metaphysical gymnastics in the body of Chase Finlay (or Peter Pan), whereas the life of the body suffers from chronic sciatica, scoliosis, dysmorphia, dizziness, acne, menopause, and insomnia. What a drag it is getting old.
  • JD: What is the indie rock equivalent of repeatedly lifting ladies up over your head?
  • SS: Posting ironic interviews on the internet. And talking ridiculous shit about people you don’t know, like Chase Finlay.
  • JD: What do you really want to wear to the ballet premiere?
  • SS: Saran Wrap. And Chase Finlay’s hairpiece.
Sep 23rd
3:13 PM
  • Rosie Thomas: Sufjan still uses an 8-track. We recorded most of the songs on his 8-track player.
  • Pure Music: Ah. A reel-to-reel, or a cassette machine?
  • RT: Cassette.
  • PM: Wow. He's got an 8-track cassette machine?
  • RT: Yeah. That's what he used for most of his records.
  • PM: Are you kidding me? I had one of those with my brother in Germany; they sound pretty fat.
  • RT: Yep, it's crazy. And then I believe he then dumps it down to Protools so he can edit it. That's what we recorded on, all those songs we did, I would say a good half of them were with that.
  • PM: So his master machine is a cassette machine.
  • RT: I'm telling you, it's his state of mind. He doesn't want to own anything. I think for the first time he owns an instrument. He used to borrow them from people.
  • PM: What?
  • RT: He's a minimalist. He does not want to own anything. Like if you went to his apartment, he just doesn't--
  • PM: What's his religious orientation, or spiritual orientation?
  • RT: He's Christian. And he has photos. He keeps his photos, he's always taking photos, that's his big thing. But he doesn't really own anything. He's very much a minimalist.
  • PM: Not into things.
  • RT: And he doesn't get into material things. So he's got an 8-track, he uses that 8-track still. And it's hilarious. If I'm not mistaken, the Michigan record was made on that 8-track, and then he just dumps it onto Protools. But that's mostly where he got all his sounds from. He has a way of capturing sounds. When we did the record we would sit on his couch, just put the microphone in the middle of the room, press record, and just sing.
  • PM: Get out of here.
  • RT: I swear to God. Most of it was--it was the laziest, most hilarious recordings I've ever done.
Jun 1st
11:13 AM
  • Q: I showed your photos to my female co-workers and they said that you're a handsome guy and that you've got a secret in your eyes. Do you have many secrets? And what kind of women are you attracted to?
  • Sufjan: I've got some secrets but I won't tell you anything more because... they would stop being secrets. [laughs] I like self-confident women who know what they want. [after some hesitation] And the ones who care about their looks.
Jan 31st
1:28 AM
  • Pitchfork: Do you ever go to any big shows at places like Madison Square Garden?
  • SS: Almost never. I wanted to see Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber because I wanted to see what the high-production thing really looks and feels like. But I think the biggest show I went to last year was Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden, and there wasn't really that much production to it. They have enough energy onstage that they don't really need all that. But my resolution this year is to really seek out these big production shows and try to get tickets.
Dec 23rd
4:12 PM
  • Magic RPM: Do you like being on stage, playing your songs in public?
  • Sufjan: I like the challenge of interpreting the album in a live environment and I like the dynamics of concerts, the social interaction. Being on stage with people. Bringing the music to light. It's an opportunity to celebrate the music in a very objective way: I don't feel like I'm playing my own songs but those of someone else. I like it, that distance with my own work when I'm on tour. Even though, with the group, we embody these songs when we play them, I feel detached. We play and then it's over: there's something immediate and ephemeral that fascinates me. Many of the things we do in life are recorded, ranked somewhere, catalogued and concerts are one of the few things that are old school. It's an experience at a given point in a given environment. And even if you save it, it really doesn't translate the experience of the people who were there. It's very exciting, very spiritual.
Nov 25th
6:42 PM
  • Denison Witmer: And Sufjan.. who knows what the hell he is. I don't even think he knows. We should totally embarrass Sufjan and come up with the animal we think he is. Sufjan, forgive us in advance. I know you have it in your heart.
  • Rosie Thomas: I'm feeling something.. I'm feeling.. beaver? No. Pass.
  • Denison: A turkey.
  • Rosie: [laughs]
  • Denison: Sufjan's a turkey. This is why. We had this conversation the other day.. lately I've been kind of obsessed with bald eagles in the most non-patriotic way possible. Like, I'd never seen one in my life. I was on tour, I saw 6 on my last tour. Freaked out, right? I was explaining this to Suf on the phone the other day and he's a bit obsessed with birds right now so we're talking about these birds and he was like, "you know what, Ben Franklin didn't want the bald eagle to be the national bird cause it's actually a lazy bird. It's really pretty but it's lazy. Ben Franklin wanted it to be a turkey because the turkey is actually really smart and like an industrious bird and also with the whole native american attachment and everything like that." Sufjan's probably one of the most industrious people that I know as far as when he says he's gonna do something he does it and he's very smart about the way he does things. So I say that as a compliment Sufjan.
  • Rosie: I was going to say a bat because he hides in the night.
Oct 26th
7:23 PM
  • Sufjan: What happened is that I was very ill last year. A peculiar disorder of the nervous system that made me unable to concentrate, thus totally unable to work for a few months. I don't know what the disease was, but I had strange and disturbing symptoms. I had become unable to sleep. I felt like needles were piercing my hands and feet. I felt like I suffered anaphylactic shock or poisoning, but doctors were never able to find what it was really.
  • Inrocks: It wasn't just the symptoms of depression?
  • Sufjan: No, it was clearly something physical, or a virus. I couldn't respond to stimuli. Certain information.. normal, basic, social information was already too much for me. I couldn't sleep for days, then it came back. For several months, I had to drop work and completely stop all activity, to try to get better. It was so debilitating that I had to forget music completely to focus on my body. It took me five or six months to get out - I had seen a number of neurologists and osteopaths. It was a strange anomaly, emerged from nowhere, and I don't think it has anything to do with my work. It just happened like that, it came out of nowhere.
  • Inrocks: Were you afraid of never being able to work again.. never to return to a normal life.. to music?
  • Sufjan: I felt that for a time, yes. I remember times when I was in my studio trying to work, and I couldn't sing in tune. I couldn't sing because it was just too exhausting. I had no energy, I was alienated by the disease.
  • Inrocks: And how did you get out of it?
  • Sufjan: I stayed at my house in Brooklyn, I went to osteopaths - for some reason, many of the symptoms were a form of muscular stress. I lost my mobility and the only things that helped were massage or acupuncture. It finally went away after a while. As soon as I started to feel better, I decided to schedule the tour: I decided that the first thing I wanted to do was play on stage.
Oct 15th
12:03 AM
  • Chicago Tribune: Your fans seem very dedicated and serious. Was the new record an attempt to (purposely alienate them), like, "Let's see how you like this?"
  • Sufjan: Well, yeah. I think that some of it is a bit provocative, but most of it I think is me challenging myself and trying to inhabit a new musical environment. And I think that musicians who do that will often lose some listenership, and I think that's a risk you have to take. And I agree, I don't think this record is for everyone. And for the casual fan who likes my folk songs and my pop songs, this record might be a little bit frenetic and explicit. I don't expect everyone to kind of go along with it.
Oct 13th
1:10 PM
  • Eye Weekly: The title track is a really joyous meditation on the subject of eternal life. Do you believe in Heaven?
  • Sufjan: I don’t know… I don’t really know. I guess I believe abstractly in the eternal life after death, even though it’s about the conclusion of this world. When we’re born, there’s bacteria on our bodies that’s meant to decompose. And somehow that decomposition represents the turning over of your body to another creature, it becomes fuel for something else. And there’s a weird succession of energy that occurs. [Laughs.] It sounds really weird and gross, but I definitely think it has spiritual meaning.
Oct 12th
11:10 AM
  • Quietus: Are you going to attempt to play 'Impossible Soul', the climax of The Age of Adz, weighing in at approximately 25 minutes?
  • SS: Yeah, if we can. It’s been an Olympic event but we’ve been rehearsing it. I don’t know if that’s going to communicate or whether people are going to lose patience.