We downed everything in the house. The good beer, the shitty beer, the airplane mini bottles of whiskey, and even something called Skinny Girl Margarita — something I will certainly not be keeping in my stomach for much longer.
Now it's 2:30 in the morning and Richard and I are trying to decide whether or not to split this lemon [quaalude] that somehow made it to this moment from the 1970s. What if it's the last one in the world? What if it got way stronger and we freak out? Worse yet, what if it doesn't work at all?
Actually, maybe it's 3:30 a.m.
I'm wondering if Richard likes the new haircut I talked him into. He certainly looks less like Howard Hughes than he did a few hours ago. Richard is wondering if he should erase the entire new Margot and the Nuclear So and So's record that he's worked on for months. I can't tell if he's serious in the long haul, but at this bloodshot moment, he means it. We need to talk about this record in case no one hears it.
Goddamn, I hope the recorder works, because I cannot write.
Like a lot of things with Richard, the interview did not start out this dark. Seven hours ago, the day was chilly but beautiful. The Edwards house was bright, thanks to the early spring sun. It was filled with the smell of flowers thanks to his stunning wife Megan, muse and florist. I brought a notebook filled with questions and a crew: the impeccable Brady Laughlin to chop off Richard's hair and Greg "The Mayor" Andrews to take photos of his discomfort with this process.
I had a vague idea of wanting some visual symbolism – Margot's starting over with a new record – and thought the frillnessesh haircut would do the trick. Yeah, yeah, super literal. Mainly, however, I was hoping to get Richard Edwards, Margot's main songwriter, to let me hear a bit of the new recordings and have him explain why they are making another full-length almost immediately after the release of last year's Sling Shot to Heaven and the accompanying movie recorded completely on 16 mm film, Tell Me More About Evil (which also has a soundtrack release).
Before those releases, Margot made two gritty, raw rock and roll records, Buzzard (2010), and the even more unhinged Rot Gut, Domestic (2012). This departure was a brave move for a musician whose fans would like him to continue making the records they fell in love with, like The Dust of Retreat (2006) and their major label debut Not Animal (2008). The recent rock and roll records might have confused some critics and alienated the fan base, but they show Richard's desire and ability to create diverse work and resist pigeonholing.
But on Sling Shot and the new one, he's refocused on writing beautiful songs. That's why, not even a year after the band's last release, they are finishing up another full-length, The Devil Is A Dog. He thinks this may be the best batch of songs he's ever written.
So why does he want to delete the record?
It's much earlier in the evening.Sling Shot to Heaven plays as we settle in to talk about Margot records past and present.
Jilly Weiss: This is all recorded on two-inch tape, right?
Richard Edwards: Yeah.
JillY: All analog? No computers in the room?
Richard: No computers 'til it got mixed ... We were trying to not have that happen –
Jilly: Not to have it even in the mixing process?
Richard: Yeah, we wanted to just have it that way too, but, besides feeling that that was just being too fussy, we were missing a part or two from Heidi [Gluck] that she had to do in Kansas, so we had to bounce them anyways for some vocals.
Jilly: So comparing this to, say, Rot Gut, Domestic, which is kind of a rock and roll record, is this an intentional return to a more singer-songwriter approach?
Richard: No, it was real loud and rowdy when I started. ... I think I sat down with Kenny [Childers] a few times ... maybe his favorite side of my thing is that side, so that maybe got dragged out, which isn't a bad thing. But no, I wanted to make it rowdier than the last one, if I'd had my way ...
[Kenny] made me feel less self-conscious about the pretty ones. I think for a few years I was kind of over anything that felt dreamy or overly pretty. It bothered me. We think we gunked up this record a lot, but he made me feel ... I dunno. He was into that stuff so I started to feel less defensive about it maybe.
Jilly: How did you choose to go with Kenny? Do you consider him the producer?
Richard: No, we all did more or less. But he was a big part of the record's DNA. He and I worked on the arrangements a lot. I've known him as long as anybody. Probably like after you and Tyler [Watkins]. And we made music right when I started.
When I first started I tried to break up [Margot] a bunch of times and make records with Kenny. We had a thing called Panic Attacks and we played a couple little shows. Made a record kind of at Queensize, but Andy [Fry, former member of Margot] lost the hard drive or the hard drive blew up or something.
But it wasn't like this song ["Lazy" is playing] or the slower songs on this record. I had wanted to make music with him for a long time, but for one reason or another we would both get busy.
Jilly: Who mixed this?
Richard: Paul [Mahern] did a great job mixing. He did this song first, actually ["Long Legged Blonde Memphis" is playing]. He really wanted to mix the record, which was nice and flattering and he kept asking Kenny about it. And he just did this one on his own, like a tryout I guess ... not that he needed to try out, and it sounded good to me. I thought he did a good job.
Jilly: You've always had a lot of religious undertones to your lyrics. Is that something that you're still exploring or battling? Is it Christian guilt?
Richard: I don't think that much, but it comes up. I get emails every now and then that have questions like that from Christians, from kids that are.
Jilly: Fan emails?
Richard: Yeah. Like kids that are hoping they can help convert me or something, or like Darth-Vader-me back to the light side of the force. Like people that say they can hear in the songs like, "You're struggling with Jesus and come back to Him, He'll always be there for you" kinda emails. So maybe that gives off the impression that it troubles me or something. But I have it in my brain, probably, from growing up around it.
Jilly: So, if you don't feel like these religious themes are anything that you're still struggling with, then how come they keep coming back into the lyrics?
Richard: Because I think that if I make a diagram of what [people said about Margot] which I have, around the time of the Animal records, when I was reading stuff about us, as you do at that age, I was starting to notice people say that one of the differentiating factors of this band is the lyrics. A consistent theme, for good or ill, is people saying that's one of the things that's different from other bands.
So I was thinking, "OK, well, why is that?" And maybe try and hone those things that were different about it, and what I ended up realizing was that a lot of those things were from being a kid. Mice show up all the time and that's from when I was a kid ... Jesus and the Devil show up, and that's from when I was a kid ...
Jilly: You mentioned that one of the things you've been noted for critically is the lyrics, so that implies that you do read your reviews.
Richard: I don't anymore. I haven't since Animal!, because it drove me nuts. All it takes is one good shellacking to pretty much to stop reading.
Jilly: What's the one that sticks in your craw?
Richard: There wasn't anything specific, it's just that we got so piled on with those Animal records, and I think it was too much.
Jilly: Because you were on a major label?
[Editor's note: In 2008, after disagreements between the band and their label, Sony's Epic Records, Margot and The Nuclear So and So's released two records on the same day: Animal! and Not Animal. The two records shared some songs. Epic preferred Not Animal. The band preferred Animal!]
Richard: I think that was a big part of it. That's not to say there weren't legitimate musical reasons that someone wouldn't like it, but I do think that that was a big part. I think I talked to you about this last time you were over here, when we were talking about doing this. But that was a formative experience of dealing with the general response to those records.
Jilly: Well, you were also getting reviewed by Entertainment Weekly and shit.
Richard: But those people kind of liked it the best. The people that I expected to get it [didn't]. What I thought was that we were making this masterpiece, and of course I thought that because I was 22 and whatever. I thought that what we were doing was stealing a major label's money who was too dumb to, you know, not give it to us. And we were taking it and making it ...
I wanted to make this film music, like a soundtrack. So I thought we're taking this [deal], we're doing what we're supposed to do — which is taking a company's money — and you make what you want to make. You don't make something to appease them, or to appeal to or win a bunch of fans. I thought that even if people hated the record – I thought naively [because] it's a stupid thing to think – that we'd get credit for that. I thought people are gonna hear this and be like, "Oh my god, these little punk kids totally took Epic's money and made this batshit record." 'Cause it's nutty.
Jilly: You definitely didn't get credit at the time. Also because reviewers aren't musicians you got some dumb ass at Pitchfork – I mean, that was probably the review that did it because it was like, "This is all bullshit."
Richard: I think they still gave it a six or something.
Jilly: Yeah, and they pointed out all the songs they liked off it.
Richard: That one I actually remember. I was living in Chicago and having a great time and writing other songs, and I think I'd already put behind me how beat up we had got on the last record. A lot of it was, "Who do these kids think they are on Epic" kind of stuff. Of course, I can explain the reason we were there is because the president of V2 went over there and said, "Psst, come over there and I'll give you some money real quick to make a record before they know it." It wasn't this calculated thing.
That being said, I sort already had gotten past all this shit, and I think my friend Neil was like "Oh, the Pitchfork one came out." ... It was pretty much the last review that came through, and after it was brought to my attention I decided, "Well, that's enough of that." Nothing to be gained by interacting with the stuff anymore. It was a good place to stop.
After that happened, the only thing I thought about ever was doing exactly what the fuck I wanted to do in all areas of my life but especially music, and just not giving a shit whether anyone liked it, whether our fans liked it. Fans hated the record that came after that.
Jilly: Don't you think that after the Animal records, with Buzzard and Rot Gut, Domestic, you were consciously or maybe subconsciously trying to drive away some of the fair-weather fans? Do you think some of what you did on those records is being appreciated in retrospect?
Richard: I think that that seems to be happening a lot. And I think that I have a bratty side that is very real and not very attractive. The quickest way to get me not to make a record is to say you like the one that came before it. I'm like fuck that, I'll do something different.
It wasn't ever consciously to get rid of any kids that may have liked us or anything. It was just I wanna make exactly what I wanna make, and I don't have to be with these band members anymore that have opinions about this or that and I don't have to ...I mean, we fought super hard for those records on tour ...we thought those Animal records tanking was the end of us, maybe. Sony wanted to do the one after Animal, and why? I have no idea, cause it didn't make any money.
Jilly: I definitely think you do put a wall between what people want you to be and what you want. I mean, the song "Hello Vagina." You do these things on purpose. I mean people want you to make pretty songs, so you do things ... like a shitty lyric, on purpose to oppose this.
Richard: I love pop music. Love it. Unapologetically adore it. I like bad pop music, I like good pop music, but the thing I don't like about pop music is the part of it that whitewashes the personality out of it. Which is something that happens. But to me it's the thing I did like about guys like Loudon Wainwright and Robert Crumb. So, OK, growing up and you're hearing emo music or something –
Jilly: No. That was after I grew up, but go on.
Richard: The hardcore kids started playing acoustic guitars and it didn't appeal to me growing up. The thing that I still hate is that they would whitewash any of the gross stuff about yourself out of the music. Like, if you're upset about a girl, but in the song she's always a bitch, you know, she just doesn't get you. No. She does! But look at you, you're a piece of shit and she doesn't like you. Put that part in the song. Don't write music that assumes a girl you like would like you back if she just got to know you. She'd probably like you even less.
Starting with Animal!, I was very conscious of making beautiful music that also contained ... like you're unapologetically saying, "This is what is shitty about me and it's probably what's shitty about everyone if they'd say it." And hopefully not say it in a way that's constantly crass. That was always my idea: make pop records that were more, I guess, combative. Not always being the victim of some external force.
Jilly: So you didn't have a producer at all for Sling Shot?
Richard: Just the band. Whoever was in there. Pretty equally.
Jilly: Is that what you prefer?
Richard: I don't think I'd want to work with a producer anymore unless it was someone who became like a band member or something. I know exactly what I want on any record. This doesn't mean I'm capable of playing all the things myself but with the right musicians, I know what I want to wring out of whoever.
Jilly: How many songs did you write for Sling Shot before you edited it down?
Richard: We recorded 18, but wrote lots more than that, probably.
Jilly: Did you record in multiple studios?
Richard: Just Queensize. Good old Queensize.
Jilly: So –
Richard: We can talk about how much I hate this record now hearing it back. Regretting.
Jilly: Really? What don't you like about it?
Richard: Everything. There's very little I like now that we're listening.
Jilly: What don't you like about it?
Richard: It needs to be louder. I dunno.
Jilly: So do you feel like you should have stuck to your original idea, like before you got talked into making a quieter record?
Richard: No. Just right now it strikes me as shitty. If I had it on headphones, I'd probably think it was great. If I had it on really loud in the car going somewhere, or if I had a lot more alcohol, I'd probably feel better about it. The good thing about hating [an album] is that when you go in to the studio next you feel like it will be easy to top it.
Jilly: No stress!
It's pretty clear at this point that Richard is over talking about the past. Let's move on and drink on.
Jilly: Let's talk about the new record. Then we'll refill and listen to some of it, yeah?
Richard: I don't have it!
Jilly: Are you serious?!
Richard: I just have it on tapes. You can come into the studio next week.
Jilly: I'll be out of town! That's the only way to listen to it right now?
Richard: I've got like cellphone bootlegs. But you can't hardly make anything out.
Jilly: Well, it's less about me hearing it I guess and more about you reacting to it and describing the shit.
Richard: Well, I can still do that OK. It's fresh enough.
Jilly: So you recorded at Postal Recording with Alex [Kercheval] and Tyler [Watkins]. How many tracks did you record?
Richard: I think we have 12 maybe now. We sorta threw the whole first week out.
Jilly: How many did you record total?
Richard: Total? Fourteen. I cut 9 of 'em out, and then we restarted.
Jilly: So what's left?
Richard: Overdubbing. In a perfect world, we'd record another song or two. Costs a lot of money to record.
The biggest problem we have right now is that we don't have a central drummer. We've had to make accommodations for drummers coming into town. Chris [Trombley] kinda saved the whole project.
Jilly: So you've always worked in a hodgepodge kinda way, where you put people together to record and then you get different people together to tour. What's that like?
Richard: With recording there's always me and Tyler [Watkins] and more recently Ron [Kwasman]. Basically, with all the records since old Margot, I've brought in one other multi-instrumentalist and collaborator because I'm not capable of doing that. I'm capable of writing melodies and making a record but I'm not capable of like, "Oh, I'll go over to the piano —
Jilly: Or, "I'll add bells ..."
Richard: Yeah. I mean it's all just melody lines for me. Rhythmically, I'm not gonna be the right thing. We don't really have anyone else in the band right now that can do that. All I really need to make a record is a drummer that drums the way I like and then one person that can go to any weird instrument and articulate an idea. It doesn't need to be somebody with chops or anything; it just needs to be somebody that doesn't play it like an idiot like I do. This time around was different because the drummer thing was undecided and so that set us back a little bit. Normally as long as that is fine, the rest of it is not that big of a deal because once drums are tracked everything is a lot easier.
Jilly: So you pretty much wrote the record, you and Tyler and Ronnie?
Richard: I mean, I always write it . . . like with the first record, a lot of the other instrument tracks, like let's say a guitar line or a keyboard line, I did a lot more coming up with lines on my little Tascam or whatever, and then they'd come up with a counter melody or something, and then we'd change instruments, or even throw it out.
But I don't do as much of that anymore because I'd rather have people feeling and responding. And I don't feel like I really want to hear myself on the whole thing. It's more exciting if it's like, "Here's the song," and then someone is playing and interpreting and it's changing the song.
Jilly: So you're doing the bare minimum and then sharing the idea with them?
Richard: It's different with every one. With this one, pretty much all the arrangements, the melodies, and music, and lyrics were all done, but this time around I also demoed more of the harmonies than I have in the past.
Jilly: OK. So it actually sounds like you wrote more on your own than usual.
Richard: Well, for the last couple I left more space for everyone to discover it in the studio. Also, this time around I also have more notebooks full of words.
Jilly: Let's see that notebook.
Richard: I'd have to go find it.
Jilly: Have more beer. I want all the dirt.
Instead of the notebook, Richard brings out a small pill.
Richard: I have the only 'lude left in America, yes. My friend found it in his grandpa's attic a few years ago and gave it to me. But if that gets taken, there probably won't be any more of the interview.
Jilly: We'll split it in half. More interesting interview.
Richard: I'm not opposed.
I finally get Richard to play the demo of a new song that will likely end up on Devil, but it's too late to save the interview. We are toast. He plays "Management of Savagery."
Jilly: So is this the song that you feel is representative of the album or is it just the first one on here?
Richard: [long pause and deep sigh]
Jilly: Ummm ... I'm not a psychiatrist, but I asked you to play something and it took all night to get you to play this. Seems like it's an important track.
Richard: This is the second one I wrote for it that I thought, maybe I'm making a record.
As we listen, Richard starts mumbling about scrapping the entire record and getting sort of agitated.
Jilly: Why do you feel like you might scrap the whole thing?
Richard: 'Cause I don't want to fuck around with bullshit. If it's not good, I don't want to put it out.
Richard leaves the room for several moments. He returns and offers me a beer.
Jilly: So, you always feel like you're gonna scrap shit after you write it? Sorry, I'm almost done.
Richard: Yeah, I always feel like we're gonna scrap stuff.
Richard: Yeah, but more as I get older.
Jilly: Do you think maybe you've just become a better editor?
Jilly: That's probably good.
Richard: It is good, unless ...
Jilly: Unless you scrap the fucking record and can't pay your rent.
Richard: I don't care about that. It's just, if I'm not capable of making the record that I want to make, then it's a bummer.
Jilly: So what makes you want to delete?
Richard: This is gonna be the part that doesn't sound self-deprecating.
Richard: I feel like I wrote the best songs I've ever written in this batch. There are songs here and there in the past that I've written that may be better, but as a whole, I think this record is fucking good, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good record, right? People have written what they thought was their best batch of songs, and then it didn't come off right or something. That's the thing I can't deal with as I get older.
Jilly: So maybe, what you're worried about is more the execution? The recording?
Richard: Yeah. I mean, I get worried about the songwriting too, but, yeah, I mean, I'm much more worried about the execution. You could read a hundred scripts that were great and then made into shitty movies, because there are so many factors that go into interpreting that. I just get nervous about that. I don't get nervous about the scriptwriting. I get nervous about shooting the movie.
The only two records I wasn't nervous about was Buzzard and Rot Gut 'cause I just didn't give a shit. And I'll do that again some time, but this one I felt very much like I needed to get it right. That's a bad way to go into a record, you know? It's bad to be too precious about your shit. I mean, I think it's fine and I think it's good but ... I feel time running out ... getting older. And I feel like part of that was getting sick.
Richard's ongoing stomach pain issues took a turn for the worse shortly before the Sling Shot to Heaven tour. After losing more than 35 pounds on the East Coast leg, the Western portion of the tour was canceled. Shortly thereafter, MusiCares, an initiative of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences that assists musicians in need of financial or medical help, flew him to Los Angeles where doctors began the process of diagnosing and treating him. He's spent the past year recovering from a major stomach illness.
Richard: People don't make good records after a certain age, with certain exceptions, so I feel like I need to fucking make them. I need to make what they're gonna put in my obituary. I don't know if that's a healthy way to make stuff, but that's how I feel. Getting sick solidified it.
I catch up with Richard about The Devil Is A Dog several days later. He's been in the studio. We are both substantially more sober.
Jilly: Can you give me a few words about wrapping up recording?
Richard: Tyler and I went in last week and finished up a few loose ends by ourselves, which felt fitting. I had to finish maybe five vocals since I got a cold or flu or something at the OKC/Pacers game and stayed sick for three weeks, during which we had scheduled time to do them. Tyler is going to fish on a boat in Alaska for the whole month of June, but we're thinking about trying to get in to cut one last minute song before he goes, and then the album will be totally finished.
Jilly: Anything else you want to add? Any better idea of when it'll come out?
Richard: Most of this record was written in bed after the Sling Shot to Heaven tour was canceled due to the illness. The remainder was written in Los Angeles while I was seeing doctors at UCLA. It's now called The Devil Is a Dog and there's cover art and everything already. It probably won't come out until next year, unless we just put it on the shelf and forget about it.
We probably didn't need to make a record this early, or this soon after Sling Shot To Heaven, but the songs came out pretty quickly. I wanted to get them documented while the specter of the illness was still thick in the air so the album would be an accurate representation of the experience I had during the last year. Now it exists and I can move onto something else. I hope people like it when it comes out. It's pretty lively, not a slog.
Until then, a five LP rarities set will be coming out in November – one LP of B-sides, demos, alternate versions corresponding to each Margot LP – and this spring I'll be helping some of the La Blogotheque kids finish editing the feature film they shot during the Animal!/Not Animal tour.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and de-boozification.