Ritual Dance: David Berman, Silver Jews

As told to: Alexis Swerdloff

Indie rock poet laureate David Berman has been tickling devoted eardrums since starting the Silver Jews in 1990. In the wake of his 2005 comeback record, Tanglewood Numbers, following struggles with depression and substance abuse, Berman's sixth studio album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, out in June, confirms that Berman is officially a lot happier. Our new favorite song line -- "Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie" -- appears on the seventh track, "San Francisco B.C."

This album was weird because the ritual was all done out on colored note cards. In college, I would always notice people, especially women, who had it together as students were using note cards and writing things down on them, especially if they were writing an essay. And at that age I wouldn't do that kind of prep work for anything, so I never really even thought about how logistically it would help in terms of organizing ideas, until I decided to do it for this album. And I wrote these song ideas I had on certain color cards and then sections of music on certain other color cards, divided by a certain characterization, like with a little description next to each -- 'the Chinese Fables of Reconstruction' for one, or 'the one that reminds me of Eurythmics,' or something. Just something on the card so I could move them around and be like, 'OK, let me take that Eurythmics thing and put it up here with that vulgar state motto and see how those go together.' And really, your mind can't hold more than one or two ideas at once, not simultaneously. So I realized if I just treat these ideas as cards, I can move them around and try them in different pairs... in ways my mind could never work.

Photograph by Brent Stewart


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