Devotchka Interview! Tom Hagerman talks Music & Balloon Animals!

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Tom Asks Jonathan

TH: After 9/11 happened here in the states, I realized I had no
practical life saving skills.  I took a CPR class once for a job, but
I seriously doubt I could save anyone’s life in that capacity if called
upon at this point in my life.  Do you ever feel that you should be doing
something completely on the other end of the spectrum from writing?

 JD: I can’t imagine my life without writing but something I always wanted to do is to drive one of those demolition cranes with the big ball swinging into old derelict buildings – that’s the lunatic inside me. My tranquil alter-ego, however, would like to be a clock-maker.
 
TH: What sort of stuff do you yourself read?

JD: I read anything that doesn’t influence (or contaminate) my writing. At the moment I’m reading Pickwick Papers. I listen to audiobooks these days because I find it’s the only thing that will give me time. Audiobooks are perfect for a walk or working around the house etc. After the day, and by the time the kids sleep, I’m not fit for much and there’s nothing better than switching off the light and see the characters come alive in the darkness. It’s not technically reading but the story is still going in. When things quieten down I will pick up my Kindle again. To be honest, I don’t read an awful lot compared to others, what I write on paper comes from somewhere inside and is completely original. If anything, cinema inspires me (and Dickens).
 
TH: How much of your own personal life do you write about in your novels?

JD: An element of my own life does seep into my writing. Sometimes, it will be the seed of a bigger idea. For example, the idea for my book Balloon Animals came when my little girl let go her helium balloon one day and it soared high over town and up into the clouds. My daughter bawled her eyes out and I felt completely useless. But I did tell her that her granny was up there somewhere to catch the balloon. My mom died in 2009. Sometimes, I like to think that it was her parting gift – that image of the balloon sailing away. Maybe I try to make up for things or invent alternative endings in my fiction rather than reality.
 
TH:  Have you spent much time in Iowa? 

JD: I’ve never been to the United States. All my research on Iowa was Googled plus I have a good friend, Jeffrey Fink, who is a detective in Iowa City and he helped fill in the blanks. Some of my readers were astounded to learn that Balloon Animals is completely fiction. They thought that it was an autobiography.

 TH:  What are your favorite film soundtracks?

JD: Obviously, Little Miss Sunshine (you can pay me that 50$ later) because of that great tragic-comic element that Devotchka have. I think Last of the Mohicans is beautiful. Everything is Illuminated has some interesting Easter European gypsy stuff going on. I mostly listen to soundtracks when I write because they are mostly instrumental and lyrics won’t jar with the writing process. Harold and Maude is one of my favourite films and I do like Cat Stevens’ repertoire on this film.

TH: If you had to pick famous actors to play characters in your book,
who would they be?

JD: I think Michael Cera has that honesty that suits Jonny Rowe’s character. Philip Seymour Hoffman would be great because he’s so pliable. Zach Galifiankis is a possibility. Daniel Day Lewis is one of my favourite actors but wouldn’t suit this role. A reader from Texas told me recently that Simon Pegg would be her choice and I can see why. An Irish actor Chris O’Dowd would also fit nicely and he has tweeted me that he likes the idea. Now all I need is a few million to film Balloon Animals for him to do it.
 
TH:  If you had to pick a famous actor to play you in a movie– who would it be?

JD: I don’t think I’m interesting enough to be played by anyone. Obviously Brad Pitt to capture my look but other than that…  
 
Jonathan asks Tom

JD:  I listen to mainly instrumental music (DeVotchKa, film soundtracks, and Beethoven – Ludwig would be chuffed if he were around to read this). Tom, what do you listen to when you’re looking for inspiration or do you need silence or does the song come through jamming around?
 
TH: I can’t listen to anything when I’m actually trying to write.  I
actually can’t listen to music and do anything involving any amount of
concentration.  Reading, writing that sort of thing.  I find myself
picking apart the pieces involved.
 
JD: Did people know who DeVotchKa was before Little Miss Sunshine
 
TH: Devotchka certainly had a smaller listenership before Little Miss
Sunshine
.  We did well in certain areas, but it was all do to playing
live in those towns.  Mostly the 4 corners states.
 
JD:  Do you read and what do you like to read?
 
TH: Well, I’m reading Balloon Animals…

JD: Here’s your 50$ back… 

TH: I also tend to read a lot of non-fiction about the end of the world. Climate Change stuff.  James Lovelock, James Hansen.  Also, “Collapse” by Jared Diamond.  Lately I have been reading a collection of Alex Ross’s articles from the New Yorker.  I love the way he writes about
music.  Also Dan Savage columns.  They’re fantastic.
 
JD: What do you listen to in your free time?
 
TH: I tend to listen to a lot of Children’s music.  I’ve got a house full
of kids so I do whatever it takes to keep them happy.  The baby really
likes Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” though.
 

JD: What was the strangest experience you’ve had while on tour/playing a gig?

TH: One of the strangest moment I ever experienced was in London.  Shawn
(Devotchka drummer)  and I found ourselves walking home from a pub
while the rest of the band cabbed it.  We were staying at the Heathrow
Travelodge off of the highway near the airport.  It couldn’t have been
that far of a walk maybe 2 miles or so, but we ended up getting a bit
turned around and found ourselves in the parking lot of an abandoned
hotel.  There was a sign there that said “THIS IS NOT THE HEATHROW
TRAVELODGE”  It even gave directions on how to get there.  Well, we
knew that the hotel was off of the highway so we figured we could cut
through the parking lot, get to the highway and follow it up to the
Heathrow Travellodge.  We start walking across the parking lot when a
light pops on in the abandoned hotel.  We keep walking and soon enough
some silhouetted figure pops out and stares at us.  We can’t make out
any features because this guy is totally backlit.  Then another guy
runs out the door and runs at us full speed.  I swear to god it was
like the zombies from 28 days later.  It was damp and we couldn’t see
these guys very well so Shawn and I bolt across the parking lot.
Shawn runs across a bridge and I jump over the guard rail and slide
all the way down the embankment to the highway below.  Somehow Shawn
caught up with me and we ran all the way back to the Heathrow
Travelodge in swampy grass.
 
JD: Your new album is recorded with the Colorado symphony orchestra. What’s the response been?
 
TH: It’s been great.  A lot of the music was designed with a ton of
strings in mind.  We always overdubbed me to get a thicker string
sound in the past, but it never sounds quite like getting a bunch of
people to do it at the same time.  As our recording budget increased
we were able to hire out more folks to play together.  This record in
my mind represents everything I had ever hoped this band to achieve.
I did the orchestrations on everything other than the first track, so
I was able to put everything in there that I thought had been missing
due to lack of recording budgets.

JD: Any New Year’s wishes?

TH: I don’t know.  Peace on Earth.  I hope humanity doesn’t wind up in a
Mad Max beyond Thunderdome situation in the future, what with water
shortages and global warming.  I’m afraid we will all be ruled by
sodomizing Master Blaster type characters.

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