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Published: 2013/10/11
by Mike Greenhaus

Megafaun’s Phil Cook: From Blind Boys to the Blues and Back Again

Speaking of gospel and the blues, you have spent time on the road with The Shouting Matches, the band you put together with Justin and Brian Moen (of Peter Wolf Crier). Though you played a few hometown club gigs over the past seven years, your first real show was at Coachella in April, which is not exactly a low-pressure gig. How has the tour been since then?

They’ve gone well. And you know, we’re still bringing it together. We’re old friends and it’s just fun to play together on stage. And every time we have a show it just feels a little bit more in place than what it was the last time. So, on this last run of shows, it really felt like we were a band. It had some really great moments happening or we’d let loose and as the song is blowing up we’d just play.

I had never played Coachella before but I used to go to festivals growing up. Justin and I would make an almost annual pilgrimage to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I remember being blown away by Jon Clearly. We are trying to do everything possible to get Shouting Matches to play there next year.

The Shouting Matches recently released their first album Grownass Man, but in actuality the project pre-dates both Bon Iver and Megafaun. How did you originally come together and what made you decide to revive the band.

We played together once about seven years ago. We just drank some beer and decided to play some blues music for fun. It was a total “let’s see how much beer we can drink and hang out” thing when we were home in Wisconsin. We recorded some stuff [for an early EP] and put it out on our MySpace page but it was just a hang. Justin and Brian would play some shows together, occasionally, but then Justin had some free time and we decided to make an album [The Shouting Machines’ early recordings were made at Vernon’s parents’ house.] So there has actually been at least three incarnations of The Shouting Matches already. It is a total no-pressure project. We are going to play a show with the Blind Boys in Austin in October, which should be really cool.

Meagafaun has been pretty quiet this year while you all work on solo projects and spend time with your families. Do you have any upcoming plans to record?

We got together and scored a feature film this year, which is really exciting. And [Megafaun drummer] Joe Westerlund came out from California and we got to spend a week of recording, making a full-length film using all Megafaun music. So it’s using songs that were previously recorded in the film, and it’s also using all these original compositions and things that we wrote for the film itself. That was something we’ve wanted to do since we were young so that was a really big dream come true. Steve Earle is in the film along with a bunch of other folks. It takes place in North Carolina and it’s written by a North Carolina author and North Carolina director so they wanted to get a North Carolina band, and they picked us.

We are also going to record with Justin and [The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner] on their Grateful Dead tribute. We are going to record out stuff at Justin’s studio which is going to be a trip.

I know the members of Megafaun have deep roots in the Phish world, but were the Grateful Dead an influence on you as well?

Not as much growing up but it has been a more recent thing. My dad was a big Deadhead and he’d take us all to Phish shows to kind of see where the scene was going. So I got into them through him but Phish was one of the bands that my brother and I grew up listening to at jazz camp. Growing up in a kind of removed area, camp and that music opened up our eyes to so many things.

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kalie October 13, 2013, 21:47:28

Great interview! The Blind Boys of Alabama have an incredible history and it was a cool idea to bring Justin Vernon in for the new album. This EPK has some great footage of Justin working with the group: http://smarturl.it/BBofAJVernon

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