For Django Haskins, the pandemic was an opportunity to make a lot of music
You may know Django Haskins from his work fronting "The Old Ceremony" for almost 20 years now, or maybe "Au Pair," his duo with the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, or his occasional solo records.
He's been writing a song per week to mark the pandemic, but just prior to the first shutdown, Haskins finished an album that he is finally getting around to releasing in two parts. "BeforeTimes 1" is out next week.
Haskins joined WUNC recently to talk about that album and his work during the pandemic.
This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.
Can we start by talking about You Never Know? There's a little Roger Miller in there don't you think?
"Excellent! I love Roger Miller. That hadn't occurred to me, but that's actually the oldest song of the songs on the EP. I think I probably wrote it 20 years ago and never recorded it. I pulled it out when I was going through songs with this record and it just kind of fit in with the general acoustic vibe of it. And Phil Cook plays on it and just wonderful kind of funny slide part on it as well."
The only totally solo song is Trim The Sails. Is that a plea for slowing down?
"I wrote it as part of this hobby of mine, my interest in history and reading a lot about the White City, the Columbian Exposition, 1893 in Chicago, and how that seems like when things started moving really fast. The light bulb showed up and a lot of new technology that changed life overnight. I was thinking about what it would have been like for someone going there, but also thinking about it during (the) pandemic when we all have kind of trimmed the sails. I'm actually at a dead calm."
In Afternoons ends with the repeated refrain of "I forgive you, won't forget you." What are you forgiving in this song?
"It's a song about someone who had a friend who passed early, and just kind of working through some of the emotions. Being in that position, where there is sadness and there is anger and there is love. I was really trying to be as straight forward as possible with those lyrics, almost naïve."
What are you going to do with your growing collection of pandemic songs? Did you start the project thinking, like most of us did, that the pandemic would be over sooner?
"I was invited to be a part of a songwriting group with a bunch of friends of mine. We're all ex-New Yorkers, people who have at least spent some time in New York and were in similar circles. We have a meeting every Monday night on Zoom. There's 13 of us and everyone has to bring a new song. Everyone in this group has actually done this. And I'm up to 83 new songs in the pandemic. None of us expected it to continue this long. We're just going to keep doing it."
Cutting Onions — "I ain't sad, I'm just cutting onions..." We've all said that — is that a message to your son?
"It's a letter to my son. The irony of the speaker saying 'I'm not sad,' while talking about 'don't listen to all of these messages about what it is to be a man.' Even as a father I've internalized some things I didn't realize. Even as I'm trying to shield a sensitive young person from some of these messages, I'm inevitably going to be reinforcing some of them."
Django Haskins' new solo release is called "BeforeTimes 1." You can get it on Bandcamp or wherever you buy or stream music.