Interview: James Jackson Toth

James Jackson Toth is an insanely prolific indie folk songwriter and musician who has recorded most frequently under the name Wooden Wand. His latest album, Death Seat, was produced by The Swans’ Michael Gira, and has been receiving a lot of great press from the likes of The New York Times, Interview Magazine, and Crawdaddy. It’s definitely worth checking out!

Here is an interview with Toth done by email, with questions sent and responses received on 12/29/10.

Jeff Moehlis: Your latest album – which is very cool, by the way – was produced by Michael Gira. How did that come about?

James Jackson Toth: Thanks Jeff. Michael and I have been friends for a few years, but we were unable to work together before because of time and / or contractual restraints. When I was finally free of that bullshit, I jumped at the chance to work with one of my heroes.

JM: Could you characterize Michael’s contributions to and influence on this album?

JJT: He was a producer in the strict, old school sense. He guided and goaded. He laughed and criticized and yelled and swore and sang. His vision is absolute.

JM: You also had an album produced by Lee Renaldo. How did that come about, and how was that experience different from working with Michael Gira?

JJT: Same deal as above. I’ve known the Sonic Youth guys for some time (Thurston and I met in the mid nineties and he’s been a friend and supporter ever since) and when the opportunity to work with Lee came up, I was ecstatic to work with him, having been a fan of his for literally over half my life. Working with Lee was also an amazing, unforgettable experience, but in a much different way. Lee is more forgiving, for starters.

JM: Your album Waiting In Vain was on Rykodisk, and things apparently didn’t work out as expected. What happened?

JJT: What happened was everything Maximum Rock N Roll and HeartattaCk and Steve Albini and thousands of xeroxed fanzines and older, wiser musician friends told me would happen, but I didn’t listen, so the catastrophe was entirely my fault. I ignored my instincts and deferred to the wrong people. Lesson learned.

JM: How would you describe the evolution of your music over the years?

JJT: Natural. I’ve learned to cultivate the things I am good at, and learned not to overreach. A man has got to know his limitations.

JM: What genre do you perceive your music as fitting in? And do genre labels

JJT: I’m not sure they matter, but I consider myself part of an American songwriting tradition that encompasses everything from Woody Guthrie to Destroyer.

JJT: Which of your albums would you recommend for newcomers to your music?

The latest one.

JM: Do you have a personal favorite album?

JJT: Of my own? Of my own, no. They’re all different and all hard to listen to. I imagine albums as time capsules, and once they’re released, they’re buried for someone else to find. If you’re asking about albums by other bands, my favorite albums of all time are Thank You by Royal Trux, Decoration Day by Drive By Truckers, My War by Black Flag, and a little over half of the entire Neil Young discography.

JM: Who have been your major musical influences?

JJT: See above, but add the obvious ones (Dylan, Prine, Willie, Leonard Cohen, Westerberg, Lou Reed), also punk rock in general

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter and/or musician?

JJT: “Be great or be gone.” – David Briggs. Also, learn a trade.

JM: What is the songwriting process typically like for you, or is there a typical?

JJT: I’m pretty passive in the process. Songs occur to me more than they are written. I’m superstitious about the muse. It’s a pest but I’m thankful for it.

JM: Do you have any crazy tour stories you’d be willing to share?

JJT: Nothing crazy ‘good,’ only crazy ‘bad,’ and it’d only bum you out, Jeff. Touring is mostly a mundane experience.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

JJT: More recording, more touring, lots of collaborations. Gonna continue working on a book of short stories.

JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about your music or career?

JJT: I sorta wish press people would quit confusing my first wife with my current wife.

JM: Where are you responding from?

JJT: Right now I’m in the guest room of my good friend Duquette Johnston, in Alabama. We just got done recording a split 7″ for release on the Communicating Vessels label. His band – the Gum Creek Killers, plus Jody Nelson of Through The Sparks – were kind and generous enough to back me up on my side of the split. I’m excited about it – sounds great!


One comment for “Interview: James Jackson Toth”

  1. Great quote, LOL. Did he marry his first wife’s twin?

    Posted by Shazam! | January 2, 2011, 5:06 pm

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