Quirky yet raucous, the music of Resurrectionists is precisely what the doctor ordered if a prescription of heavy doses of punk-meets-alt-rock is what you're after.
Still, Resurrectionists hail from the Midwest – Milwaukee, Wisconsin specifically. So, if you thought you'd make it through the band's latest studio effort, Now That We Are All Ghosts, without healthy doses of Americana sprinkled throughout, that’s not what you’ll hear.
But that doesn't mean Joe Cannon and his band of maybe not-so-merry men are going full-on folk on us. And it doesn't mean they’re reinventing the wheel, either. If you've dug into what Resurrectionists have done before, you'll be right at home with Now That We Are All Ghosts. Sure, there are shiny and new touches peppered in, but what I like best is the familiar feeling this record gives me.
Resurrectionists, Now That We Are All Ghosts, album cover.
I say that knowing there are plenty of musical moments where Now That We Are All Ghosts took me into territories unknown. Moreover, there are sounds here that make the band's soundscape pretty damn striking, to be honest. And so, I suppose the best way to describe Now That We Are All Ghosts is that there’s a duality between the fresh and the familiar, in all the best ways possible.
In support of Now That We Are All Ghosts, Resurrectionists’ guitarist, banjoist and vocalist Joe Cannon beamed in with Copper to dig into the band's history, the writing and recording of their latest record, his thoughts on the ever-present “cringe factor,” and what's next as he moves ahead.
Andrew Daly: What can you tell me about Now That We Are All Ghosts?
Joe Cannon: It's great! You should listen to it! No, but seriously, I have a tough time with questions like this because the music we're playing is both a product of decades of listening, writing, and playing on my own and with lots of other people, and a reflection of a particular moment in time. It's really hard to disentangle the two.
AD: How did Resurrectionists form?
JC: I've played music for a very long time in a stupid variety of idioms. But it's all been influenced by a “punk” approach to writing and performing, which I'd define as a suspicion of rules, expected structures, and obvious gestures.
In this sense, my ideal punk bands are probably The Ex and Cheer-Accident, though the latter band would never call themselves punk. This band came out of those instincts, set to a desire to dive into my love of old weird American music because my true punk idol is Dock Boggs.
AD: How have you progressed? And what is your current approach to composing?
JC: We had a significant lineup change since the last record, swapping out a pedal steel player for a magnificent weirdo [Gian Pogliano] who plays alternatively atmospheric and noisy 12-string guitar and Mellotron.
Compositionally it has become more collaborative than our earlier incarnation. I bring less fully-formed ideas to the band than I used to, and occasionally we write as a group from scratch. I've had a long and productively contentious relationship with Resurrectionists' bassist Jeff [Brueggeman], who is both a stellar arranger and a delightfully cantankerous man.
We played in a band together before Resurrectionists named WORK. I half-jokingly say I'm the songwriter, and he's the bandleader. There's frequently a push-pull between my odd amateurish songwriting ideas and his sense for arrangement. I am frequently forced to grudgingly admit that his hassling takes my half-formed ideas and brings them to the ground.
A representative exchange: “Hey Joe, you're playing it wrong.” “Hey Jeff, I wrote it.” “Yeah, I know, but you're playing it wrong.” This contentious ferment has only increased as we've gotten tighter as writing and arranging partners.
Joe Cannon. Courtesy of TW Hansen.
AD: Are you more comfortable in the studio or live, and why?
JC: Live. For me, recording is always something I'm happy to have done. Live is where it's at for me. Other band members are more enthusiastic about recording, such as Jeff, who recorded and mixed this whole dang album.
AD: Some have said rock is dead. Where do you stand?
JC: In the words of a close friend and bandmate (a different band, an art-punk beast named Delicious Monsters), “rock and roll will never die.” When a guy who is a band named Gorilla Knifefight offers us wisdom like that, we all ought to listen.
AD: What are a few things you know now that would have been helpful in the band's earliest days?
JC: Not as much in the earliest days of this band because we're relatively young, and everyone in Resurrectionists has played in many other groups, but what I would tell my younger self is, one, calm the f*ck down, and two, be more grateful when people go out of their way for you, and be better about noticing when they do.
AD: What are some of the hardest things about making new music for a low-attention-span world?
JC: This is a tough question because it's asking two separate things: one, how do we deal with the way music is now distributed and consumed compared to the past? And two, how do we deal with the way this affects how we now experience music?
The first question is mainly a practical matter – for example, the dominance of streaming platforms makes it really difficult to work at album length anymore because things are skewed towards shorter, more frequent releases as opposed to waiting for a full set of 30 to 45 minutes of music to come together.
The second question is trickier – it's really easy to bemoan how no one has attention to anything anymore, but I don't think that's the real issue. The real issue is that all of us are constantly barraged by businesses, artists, musicians, politicians, etc., demanding our attention.
It's not that we lack an attention span; it's that we can't possibly pay attention to all of the things that are always screaming at us to pay attention to them. I can't complain about that guy when I am that guy. I have albums from friends whose music I adore, sitting unopened in front of my turntable for months. But then, when I finally dive in, I can be captivated for hours.
It's more like we live in a world where the same people are both extremely flighty and capable of deep and sustained concentration. The difficulty is figuring out how to cut through the relentless barrage of things vying for our attention to get someone to stop for a minute and listen to something.
AD: How has your overall approach evolved from your younger years? Do you have any cringe factor when listening to older work?
JC: Interestingly, one of the songs on this record is a reimagining of a song written for a solo project of mine in 1999 called The Intelligibles (“Let Me Talk You Through This One”) and another (“Break and Enter Part Two”) was written around 2004 or 2005 for another solo project.
I have actually become a bit bolder than I used to be about revisiting (and reusing) things from my past. When I listen to things I wrote 20 to 30 years ago, I alternately marvel at ideas that I don't think would occur to me now and recoil at decisions I can't believe I made.
For example, I once described one of the songs my old college band wrote as “an awesome song and a crappy one locked in a battle for supremacy, making for a song that in the end can best be described as ‘way too damn long.’”
Then there are subtler things, like how the original title of “Let Me Talk You Through This One” was “Let Me Talk You Through This One, Lover.” For some reason, that seems really arch and silly to me now, so I dropped the “Lover” bit.
AD: What's next?
JC: As I mentioned, we're trying to figure out the best way to release new music, since the album format (and album length) is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. We have a good eight or nine new songs in the works that haven't been recorded yet, five of which are in the current live set.
We're considering recording them in three to five-song groups and then asking friends of ours who are talented artists or writers to pair them with an artwork or piece of writing instead of working with the traditional media. It's a work-in-progress idea, and I'm not sure what it's going to look like yet.
Header image courtesy of TW Hansen.