by Justin Tucker
Before Jeremy Enigk could take his first legal drink of alcohol, he and his bandmates in Sunny Day Real Estate broke new ground with 1994’s Diary, their debut on Sub Pop. The band’s soft-to-distortion dynamics and Enigk’s penetrating, high-toned voice separated them from their Seattle counterparts, and significantly shaped and influenced the emo genre before breaking up for the first time in 1995. While a couple of his former bandmates would join Foo Fighters, Enigk would embark on a solo career starting with 1996’s Return of the Frog Queen before resurrecting SDRE a few more times and forming The Fire Theft.
Before he was to take the stage at The Beat Kitchen during his tour of the Midwest, Enigk invited this fanboy into the green room where I asked the indie legend about his new album, what he’s been listening to and more.
UR Chicago Magazine: For your new album, you started a crowdfunding campaign via PledgeMusic. How did your campaign do, and when can fans expect the new album to be available?
Jeremy Enigk: It’s doing good. There’s still people showing up, and I’ve been working on this thing for like a year and half, and it’s still going, man. It’s taking a really long time!
UR: Oh, yeah?
JE: Yeah... I’m hoping the fans aren’t getting a little bit up upset because it’s taking so long. I expected it to take six months, maybe a year. It’s taking a little bit longer. I want to make sure the album’s all right. It’s gotta be good, you know?
I’m doing it all myself. No management, no labels. So, that’s been a challenge. It’s a learning experience just trying to figure out how to manage all this stuff on my own. It’s good.
UR: Does the album have a name?
JE: Not yet.
UR: How does it compare to your previous recordings?
JE: It’s awesome! It’s better! [We laugh.] No, it’s totally undefined. I recorded a ton of it in Virginia, and I was really aiming high [to make it] super high-fidelity and super produced, but in a clean way. Not overproduced or anything like that. It’s shaping up to be something else. At this point, now that I have a ton of songs started, I’m starting to scrap a few of them, and I want to bring it down and turn it into more of an acoustic thing...That’s what I’m working on now.
UR: What can fans expect to hear on this current tour?
JE: A little bit of everything. Return of the Frog Queen... One of the problems with having so many records from Sunny Day Real Estate, The Fire Theft and all my solo records, is that it’s really hard to figure out which songs to play. So, I’m trying to play a little bit of everything. Frog Queen. A little bit from World Waits. A little bit from OK Bear. A little bit from Sunny Day Real Estate... I’m trying to dedicate [some of the set] to new material. Probably only four or five new songs, though. Those ones take the most real estate, if you will. No pun intended! I swear. [He laughs.] I totally did not mean that!
UR: A few years back at the Pitchfork Music Festival, I saw a band that would be playing called Real Estate. Do people ever get confused?
JE: I don’t think so... I’ve gotten that question before. I think it’s weird that someone would call themselves that, with all due respect. It’s like I’m gonna start a band and we’re gonna call ourselves Zeppelin or we’re gonna be called Led... That’s cool. It doesn’t have a Sunny Day in front of it, which I think makes it cooler! No offense.
UR: Speaking of Sunny Day, “8” from that second album is one of my all-time favorite songs.
JE: Oh, sweet!
UR: What is this song about? What is the story behind this song?
JE: Wow. I think it’s all for the personal listener. It’s about love. It’s about war. It’s imagery. It’s not so much specifically about anything. “Which side you on?” I don’t know if I can answer that question.
UR: Yeah, it is one of those songs, and I think that’s probably part of the appeal to it is that it’s just…
JE: And it’s been so long! I can’t even think! I gotta think about the lyrics. The intro is “So beautiful my dear / Overcome.” You’re singing to a girl, probably. You are or I am, I guess. But really, it’s about what you make it to be about and what you get out of it. I think a lot of Sunny Day stuff was like that. Trying to use images... Michael Stipe was amazing at that. Fractured images and stuff in early REM. He’s really good at doing that.
UR: I also think that it’s using words as instruments in and of themselves as well.
JE: Yeah, Dan [Hoener, guitar and backup vocals] did a lot of lyrics for Sunny Day, and he’s amazing at it. He’s really, really fluent at it. For me, it was more just these phrases would come out. These really simple phrases and then we’d write a topic around it. “I go in circles / Running down.” That would just come out.
UR: Is there any particular artist that you’re into at the moment? Any album recommendations?
JE: Well… [thinks a moment]... today on the tour, we started off with some Kurt Vile, and then we were like, “Okay, let’s listen to The War on Drugs.” Of course. Then we backtracked and went to Echo & the Bunnymen, then we went to New Order, and a little Procol Harum. Went to the 60s for a few.
What was I listening to? Oh! Regina Spektor! I’m in love with her, but she’s married. [He chuckles.] She hasn’t put out a record since 2012.
What else was I listening to? I listen to a lot of meditation music, too. Like I go for walks and listen to 432 Hertz stuff to put me in a zen state.
UR: Those soundtracks you can come up with while you’re on tour can be pretty eclectic. Can fans expect you to compose a film anytime soon?
JE: I haven’t got any offers... That’s hard, man. That’s really hard work. The hardest thing about doing a film for me was — I’m my own boss and I always dictate what the album is gonna be — to have a director tell you basically yes or no. And Matthew [Ryan Hodge, director of The United States of Leland] is an amazing guy, but I would write something and he’d be like, “Nope.” I’d spend days on it. “Nope! Gone. Do something more like this.” It’s really hard to wrestle with that... Some people are really good at it, but I write music — that’s just what it is. It’s true to me, and it’s really hard to box what you’re doing.
UR: Speaking of movies, have you seen any good movies lately?
UR: Not a movie guy at all?
JE: No, I love movies... The last movie I went to, I walked out of it, and it was one of the Marvel — I’m just tired of the Marvel movies! I love superheroes, I do. I used to love them, but they’re really overdoing the Captain America thing and Iron Man.
UR: Fair enough. I feel that frustration as well, as someone who does movie reviews. Diary came out when you were a teenager, and you’ve been a musician your whole adult life. If you were not a musician, is there anything else you’d be doing?
JE: When I was a kid, before I joined Sunny Day Real Estate, I didn't really know what I was doing. I knew I wanted to do music, but there’s a short period of time where I didn’t really think that [there] was going to be a future, which is really rare for me because I always believed in it. But there was a really short period I was actually interested in looking into the Peace Corps... or something to do with helping people. Nowadays, being in nature… or like a nutritionist or a yoga teacher — I don’t do yoga — but getting into this health thing but not being a health guru or anything. Just that sort of life, I guess.
To contribute to Jeremy Enigk’s crowdfunding campaign, visit http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jeremyenigk.