Chris Simpson Interview

Chris Simpson has been releasing music now for almost 15 years. He started with the band Mineral (1994-1998, two LPs), then the Gloria Record (1998-2004, two EPs and one LP), and now Zookeeper (2005-present, one EP and one LP). He is the lead singer/songwriter/lyricist/guitarist for all three bands. Recently Chris sent me four mp3s from an upcoming Zookeeper album and we did this interview to go alongside them. You will find these four brand-new Zookeeper songs on his Myspace site, but here for FREE (downloadable) at the bottom of this page.

AP: So these four songs are apparently from a new upcoming Zookeeper album, when can we expect its release? What label are you working with this time, if any?

CS: We aren't currently working with any label. We're trying to finish this record on our own budget/time scale, which is not necessarily the ideal way to work. The record should be expected as soon as it's finished.

AP: These new songs seem much slicker, more produced and with more intentional arrangements than first two Zookeeper releases, the EP and “Becoming All Things.” Was this intentional? Or is this just my perception?

CS: This is just sort of how things have been turning out. Originally, we wanted to record live but were in a small environment and were forced to multi-track. This leaves open the possibility of more focused production of each track.

AP: How has the songwriting process for you changed over the last 15 years, moving from Mineral to the Gloria Record and now to Zookeeper?

CS: It doesn't really feel like much has changed. Just trying to keep yourself interested sometimes necessitates moving through different eras and moments and possible inspirations. Basically, it feels just as difficult as always.

AP: You have always written what seem to be very personal lyrics, from GJS to I Was Born in Omaha to On Madison Way. Are your songs truly autobiographical? Would you mind explaining the lyrics or meaning behind one of the new songs? (My personal favorite of the new tracks is Mama Jean.)

CS: Interestingly, Mama Jean is one of the few non-autobiographical songs I've written, but I don't really know a whole lot about who it is about. I remember writing it and having a realization of the song, seeing it come very quickly, and knowing I'd need to clear my calendar for the night to deal with the documentation of the song. But it seems to be about dreams.
As for writing autobiographically -- in the Mineral and Gloria Record days, to some degree, it seemed to be the only way I could write. It's exciting to be able to experience some kind of freedom from that, although I think it still may be a very valuable way to write. It's hard to fault the honest approach -- writing what you know about -- but there's a point at which that seems uninteresting. And even if a little guesswork is involved, it seems more interesting to write about characters.

AP: Recently on MySpace you announced that a Japanese label is putting out a Mineral 7” compilation. Do you have any more info regarding this? How did this come about more than a decade after the breakup of the band? I have to admit that I think MD and February were two of the best songs Mineral ever released and it will be nice to be able to listen to them on CD for the first time.

CS: To clarify, this is not a collection of 7-inches, but both full-lengths and the 7-inches and a few covers -- a comprehensive release. Which is only supposed to be available for sale in Japan, but I'd think you'd be able to find it online once it's released. It happened because someone expressed interest in it happening. There seems to be an assumption that offers are turned down on a regular basis -- but an offer every 15 years or so is probably more realistic. February/MD is probably my favorite Mineral work -- I love that 7-inch and that period of time.

AP: After being in two rock bands, what is it like to play folk music? Do you see yourself playing in a rock band again?

CS: Yeah, that's funny. To me, Zookeeper is a rock band, but I definitely understand what I think is meant by the idea that it's folk as compared to rock... if, say, Mineral or The Gloria Record were rock. But it all feels the same to me; particularly this newer stuff. Zookeeper has rock songs and then sort of more atmospheric songs. It doesn't seem like Zookeeper is folk, per se -- but maybe it is and I just can't see that. I saw a DJ Shadow in-store where he said that someone asked him how he referred to his music, and he said something about how he grew up listening to hip-hop and loving hip-hop, so it would always be hip-hop to him, the same way whatever Eric Clapton did would probably always feel like blues to him. So maybe whatever I make will always be rock to me.

AP: Turn Off the Radio just named The Gloria Record’s Start Here the album of the decade for 2000-2009. What are your thoughts on this and the perception of the Gloria Record’s legacy?

CS: I think that's great. I don't know that I have a perception of people's perception of the legacy of The Gloria Record. I'd bet Start Here sold fewer copies than any other potential album of the decade. Ever. But it is awesome to make your list.

AP: What are your favorite albums of the decade?

CS: Favorite albums of the decade -- Well, I really like the Broadcast records, particularly HaHa Sound. I continue to enjoy the records that The Innocence Mission puts out. I really loved the first Beirut record and the EP that followed. DJ Shadow's Private Press. Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The Radiohead records this decade have all been very good. I feel like I'm missing things that would be obvious if it was five years ago.

AP: What are your top 5 albums this decade released by friends or former band-mates?

CS: I would have to say (in no particular order):
Zykos - Keep It Light EP (Good friends with all of them from way back. Various members have played Zookeeper shows and played on recordings.)
Brazos - Phosphorescent Blues (Friends -- Martin is a great songwriter.)
Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band - Los Meridanzas (Alex Dupree -- Zookeeper clan. Alex regularly plays and records with Zookeeper and is a very gifted songwriter. Some of his bandmates play on Zookeeper stuff as well.)
Sad Accordions - Bad Year for the Sharons (Zookeeper clan. Seth Woods and Ben Lance regularly play and record with Zookeeper, and their other musical projects [including SA, Whiskey Priest, and Booher & the Turkeyz] are all fantastic. )
The Frames - For the Birds (Odd connection there. Was always a fan of their music. My then-girlfriend/now wife used to edit a music magazine and befriended their then-manager. Put us all in touch and found out Glen was a fan of Mineral. The Gloria Record played shows with Glen and one with The Frames on a midwest tour back in the day. Glen is still one of my favorite performers.)

New Zookeeper songs:
MP3: Mama Jean