Just as I was getting ready to ring up Brendan Mulvihill of Norwegian Arms for our interview on Monday, a funny tweet from his account showed up. “Goodbye, obsession with Slavic literature. You’re looking fine, South American lit.” It got me wondering about this Philly songwriter’s relationship with his own time teaching in Eastern Europe and Russia, which inspired Wolf Like a Stray Dog, the album Norwegian Arms released this week which we’ve featured all week on Unlocked. Is it becoming a burden, having to continually revisit those feelings of loneliness and isolation? Is he ready to write new music about new surroundings? We talked about this, while drummer Eric Slick weighed in on the process of translating Mulvihill’s emotions to sound and evocative arranged music, and translating that even further to perform it live, like they will tomorrow at Johnny Brenda’s.
The Key: I got a kick out of that tweet you just posted. So are you saying you’re ready to move beyond Sibera?
Brendan Mulvihill: Ha, not exactly. I got to go to South America a couple times in the past two years, and as a cultural primer, I like to get into the literature. So I read a lot of stuff by Roberto Bolaño and Cesar Aira. Plus, there’s only so many depressing, super-heavy Slavic reads you want to go through before you’re ready to change gears.
TK: So, the songs on this new album – they were written while you lived in Russia, they’re a reaction to Russia. But is it a mistake to say they’re about Russia? Many of them seem universal.
BM: To me, a lot of them are more direct, very literal. But that’s because I know what specifically they’re about. I didn’t want to make it obsessively only about those things. Those experiences, emotional or whatever that I was going through, are universal experiences. So I approached it more from communicating the human experience, rather than the literal experience. It’s not so much intentionally ambiguous as much as I’d rather not have it be a narrative.
TK: The title track, “Wolf Like A Stray Dog,” is one song that’s definitely about being there, and the communication barrier. And you told me before that it’s actually about the stray dogs in Tomsk?
BM: Yes, over the year I kind of increasingly identified with them. The way they function in society was interesting – we don’t really have roaming packs of stray dogs in America, so that in itself was a new experience for me. They’re wild, for all intents and purposes they’re feral, but they’re also highly socialized. They have to socialize, they have to function within their pack, and they have to interact with humans to get food. So they’re nice, and people will be friendly to them but at the same time people kind of hate them. And myself, because I was still learning the language, I couldn’t necessarily communicate all my feelings with the people, but I still had to interact with them. Continue reading →