Interview by Monte Holman
Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) hail from Austin and are blood relatives of folk-rock band Okkervil River. Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff share song-writing duties in both bands, though lately it seems they’ve branched off from one another. Sheff assumed more of a lead role in Okkervil, and Meiburg claimed Shearwater, enlisting the help of Travis Weller (violin), Thor Harris (drums, thunder), Kim Burke (upright bass), and Howard Draper (everything), all of whom were present on past Shearwater recordings.
“Theives” (EP—Misra), their latest recording, explores dynamics. It’s both delicately soft and surprisingly noisy, all the while haunting. Employing folksy standbys, such as banjos and lap-steels, the band attempts to build lush new backdrops for instrumental presentations listeners may expect from a Texas-based band. Meiburg’s sober vocals ring out beautifully and ghostly.
Shearwater is currently on tour with the Mountain Goats, and Jonathan Meiburg (pictured front and center) was kind enough to speak with me before the show at North Six. The man loves birds.
FREEwilliamsburg: I read on your website that you consider yourself, for the time being, “more of a musician than a scientist rather than the other way around.” So you’ve been studying a while then?
JM:(laughs) I’m nearly finished with my Master’s thesis, which I returned to with some vigor and determination a couple months ago and found that I still really loved it and was really interested in it. I’m going to finish it up in a month or two and stop there for now because while I’m interested in moving on and getting a Ph.D., it would mean six years of school and I’d have to quit music. I’m just not ready to quit music right now.
But today I went to the Natural History Museum. I spent time up in the collection there working with the guy I worked with in the Falklands, and it’s so cool to get to go back in there. Today I just spent time in the exhibits, and ah, I love that place. It’s like a maze — it’s so alive — it’s got this sort of scientific veneer but it’s really all about art. It’s all about the presentation, the beautiful and strange dioramas and the way everything is laid out—it’s very whimsical, and some of it’s almost nonsensical. There are parts of it that you get the feeling they’re almost embarrassed are still there, but they can’t get rid of them now; it’s so permanent.