Cor­re­spon­dences and the truth

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - — Pa­trick Cald­well

For more than two decades — first as Smog and then un­der his own name — Bill Cal­la­han has turned his sharp, lit­er­ate writ­ing sen­si­bil­ity to­ward mu­sic. He be­gan with a se­ries of ex­per­i­men­tal, lo-fi record­ings that grad­u­ally evolved into a pow­er­ful brand of dark folk mu­sic. From dif­fi­cult de­but “Sewn to the Sky” all the way through to last year’s strik­ing “Some­times I Wish I Were An Ea­gle,” Cal­la­han has pro­duced richly emo­tional, evoca­tive songs.

Cal­la­han ex­pands his oeu­vre with the re­lease of his first nov­el­ette, “Letters to Emma Bowl­cut,” to­day. The book will be pub­lished by Cal­la­han’s usual record la­bel, the Chicago-based Drag City. An epis­to­lary story — a piece of prose fic­tion told through col­lected doc­u­ments — it col­lects 62 letters from an un­named pro­tag­o­nist to a woman he sees at a party. Austin res­i­dent Cal­la­han says the book was an on­a­gain-off-again project that started eight years ago.

“I kept for­get­ting that it ex­isted and when­ever I re­mem­bered that I had it to work on, I would just do it, kind of when­ever I felt like it, I guess,” says Cal­la­han. “And I went back and edited it a lot. It be­came like a to­tally dif­fer­ent novel ev­ery year or so and I kept think­ing I’d fin­ished, but I never had. I was re­ally glad that I didn’t sub­mit it as fin­ished a long time ago.”

Cal­la­han’s ten­dency to con­stantly re­visit and re­work his writ­ing was, he says, one way to pro­mote hon­esty in the text.

“Edit­ing is just the process of mak­ing some­thing not feel like a lie. And some­times, when you’re cre­at­ing some­thing like that, you lie to your­self a lot and say ‘Oh, that’s fine,’ but there’s a tiny lit­tle voice in the back of your head say­ing, ‘No it’s not fine,’” says Cal­la­han. “You can go through a lot of ed­its and just ig­nore that, but I think the idea is that by the fi­nal edit is you’ve bared your­self com­pletely.”

De­spite the years of oft-chal­leng­ing writ­ing and edit­ing re­quired to pro­duce the 79-page “Letters to Emma Bowl­cut,” Cal­la­han says he in­tends to con­tinue work­ing with prose when his mu­si­cal pur­suits al­low him the time.

“I to­tally want to do more. There’s some­thing about writ­ing prose that’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing,” says Cal­la­han. “I think songs are a bit more open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, but with prose, when you write a para­graph that you like, it’s just this sat­is­fy­ing feel­ing that song­writ­ing doesn’t quite have. It makes me feel re­ally good.”

Chris Tay­lor

Bill Cal­la­han didn’t rush to write ‘Letters to Emma Bowl­cut.’

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