MusicTAP recently had an opportunity to catch up with our friend Django Haskins, the Chapel Hill-based singer-songwriter. It’s been a while since his last album, Shadowlawn, so it’s been a joy to find out what he’s been up to, especially in light of the pandemic and the amount of time that’s now gone by. We’re happy to tell you he has a brand-new E.P., Beforetimes 1, coming out in a few weeks. Here’s part of our conversation to see where this incredible talent is at…
It’s been a while since you released a collection of songs. Now you have 2 E.P.’s coming out. What was the genesis of these new tracks – especially since they were both recorded pre-pandemic? Is there a linking theme between both sets?
I finished these recordings in January 2020, with no idea that it’d take this long to get them out. When I made the record (I initially thought of it as one LP, but later decided that it would be fun to put it out as two episodes instead), I was going through a bunch of new songs and some really old ones that for one reason or another never made it on to an album. Some of them are highlights of live shows, so this was a chance to really correct some omissions in my recorded catalog. Several themes emerged once I whittled the songs down and thought of them as a whole. A big one was the problem of being a man – the Trump- era had begun, and we were seeing this grotesque version of masculinity everywhere; meanwhile we are raising a young boy and wondering how he’s going to be affected by all of this. That was the explicit subject of “Cutting Onions,” but in other ways, “Tomorrowland,” a song about the life of Walt Disney and “Trim the Sails” both hit on the push and pull of cultural change and the desire to pull back from the brink of chaos. On the second E.P., which will be out at the end of April, there’s a song about Robert Moses, called “I Pull the Strings” that is reminiscent of a certain tangerine buffoon, albeit much smarter.
Some of the people who appear on this 1st E.P., Beforetimes 1 are well-known to me and have worked with you previously. How did their contributions come about and what do you feel they brought to each of the songs?
At this point, I’m not sure I ever want to put out a record without Skylar Gudasz singing on it, so that was a no-brainer. My friend Syd Straw – a legend in her own right – has such personality and feeling to her singing that I thought she’d be perfect for the very direct, emotional “Cutting Onions.” Phil Cook is a wonderful guy and a multi-instrumental powerhouse, so I was really happy that he contributed slide work to “You Never Know,” a song about a guy who wins the lottery and then loses everything. Matt Douglas made some incredible tracks, elevating everything he played on (there’s a lot more in the second E.P. as well) with sax, clarinet and flute. He’s known for his work as a sideman in the Mountain Goats, but he’s also a beautiful songwriter and singer. Some guys can do it all. Once I looked back this year and saw everything that these folks added, it made me miss how easy it used to be for us to play music together (hence “Beforetimes”), even though – ironically – most of the tracks they did were done at their own studios and sent to me. It seemed like a cool futuristic way to do things. Little did we know we’d be doing everything like that for the next couple of years and counting!
The last two years have been exceedingly hard, especially for musicians. How have you been able to cope and weather the storm?
My saving grace has been writing songs. I have a group of a dozen or so songwriter friends who meets every week on Zoom and we each bring a new song for feedback. So we’ve all written 80-some songs at this point. Having a deadline and a built-in audience for feedback has kept me productive and excited. I’ve been posting 1-minute reels on my Instagram (@djangofish) every weekday morning to share some of these songs. I’ve done fifty-five or so, I think. And eventually I’ll release many of them in proper recorded form, though I’m not sure exactly what shape those will take.
Because of the situation we’ve all been living under, do you have any plans to return to performing again?
I’ve done a few outdoor solo shows, and one Big Star show in the last couple of years, and I can’t wait to get back to performing. There’s nothing like it.
Are there any plans for The Old Ceremony or Au Pair (LOVED One Armed Candy Bear, by the way – stellar!)? Will you be taking part in upcoming Big Star & Friends shows/events?
The Old Ceremony has a couple of shows booked for the summer and fall, so we are getting back into action (and learning some of these new songs I’ve piled up). Au Pair has been pretty inactive, though we do have a partially written and recorded second album which we plan on finishing. I expect we will release a single from it before long, once The Jayhawks take a break from touring. And there are rumors of a west coast Big Star show in the future, which I definitely plan to be a part of. It will be such a pleasure to get back to playing with my friends again.
Beforetimes 1 will be available for download as of Monday, February 28th, 2022.