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Bill Callahan’s listening diary: ‘My daughter makes me listen to Harry Styles 20 times in a row’ | Bill Callahan

15 September

7.13am I listened to Alfalfa sing You Are So Beautiful to Me to Darla from the Little Rascals on YouTube. I was double-checking that the little girl’s name was Darla because I was writing a text to my sister that referenced Darla being on the shortlist for my daughter’s name. My shortlist, not my wife’s! That song popped up and I couldn’t resist. I watched the original show when I was a kid and it’s a pretty great show. I think my wife was into the remake movie, but I was too old when it came out.

I’m up at 6am every day now I have kids. My daughter is two and a lot more open to music. My son, who’s seven, just wants me to turn everything off as soon as I put it on. I was trying to slip a good song into his unconscious but that doesn’t work. If I put on those Mississippi Hill blues records he just starts moaning the blues really unconsciously. It’s so amazing. But mostly my son is into these weird chipmunk, techno covers – Hamster Dance is one of them. I actually kind of like that stuff. It’s got a lot of energy. And there’s something else – I don’t really understand what it is – but someone sampled a trumpet part from the Shrek movie and looped it. You can see like, 15 hours of it on YouTube. He would put it on to try to annoy me but actually I like it. I could listen to it for 15 hours.

10 hours of Shreksophone – video

8.30am I listened to the vinyl test pressing of my new album YTI⅃AƎЯ as it needs to be approved before getting manufactured, in the studio behind my house. That’s where my only stereo is these days because we’re remodelling our house and we’re renting another one that doesn’t have a stereo. I much prefer listening on the stereo instead of all this digital stuff, but I don’t have a lot of choice.

There’s surface noise at beginnings of sides C and D. It’ll have to be recut. Other than that, great. It could be viewed as a momentous moment. There are a few times I listen to a record after it’s done – approving the master, approving the cassette and CD tests and then the vinyl test pressing. That is usually the last time I will listen if I can help it. I hate listening to my voice – any sane person does. I mean, their own music – I don’t think any sane person necessarily would hate my music. But listening to your voice, it’s like trying to tickle yourself – it doesn’t really work on you. When I finish the record, I’m kind of done with it. I’m still interested in what’s going to happen to the songs like as I play them live. But listening back is like looking at a baby picture constantly instead of seeing how your kid progresses in actual time.

10am I listen to Mirth Unblurred by Kevin Drumm on Bandcamp while I drink my last cup of coffee. There are renovations going on in my house and the house on either side of us. It’s a circular saw symphony. Which is what this recording sounds like, but handled by a master it’s so much richer. What’s the line between real life and art or music? When does the sound become art? In my house, the noise is nice because things are getting done. But if it’s the neighbours I’m like, ‘do they have to use that saw so much?’

I met Kevin because he was briefly Jim O’Rourke’s roommate when I lived in Chicago. I think he was coming out of the kitchen for coffee and shuffled back into his room. That’s how I knew about him. He has been doing music for probably as long as I have. I do a lot of research about music. I focus in on an artist or a band and of read everything and explore their catalogue – just like random internet searches.

Do I have a Bandcamp profile? Yes, but it’s secret.

1.30pm Descansando by Fuerza Regida was a random song on the radio as I drove back to my studio after lunch. The rad brass bass line made the car speakers quake. There are a lot of Mexican music radio stations in Texas. There’s no jazz station. But there’s like five Mexican stations. I like how the music is usually pretty crazy. And no one else really uses horns for bass lines. Part of it sounds similar to things that have come in the past 20, 30 years or longer, but then they’ll put a modern element in there, a little scratching or something. That’s what’s interesting – the meeting of the traditional and contemporary.

1.45pm I wanted a song before getting back to work – I’m just practising for a tour – and listened to Story Book Children by Ernest Ranglin on my stereo. I like the way he just puts in the chorus and no other singing, kind of like a sample or dub. It’s all you need of the vocal part. It reminded me of a song I’m addicted to: Traxman’s version of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP Juked Out. He changes the lyric to “work this pussy”, but you’re not sure if you’re hallucinating that ambiguation. It’s distilled to the point of being more immediate than the original. I had to listen again, on Bandcamp. I am nothing without other music. Sometimes I wish I was a person that seemingly sprang from nothing, but I need other music to make music.

Alice Coltrane. Photograph: J Emilio Flores/Corbis/Getty Images

16 September

8.20am Alice Coltrane’s Govinda Jai Jai came on the radio while I was heading to the studio. Alice Coltrane still hasn’t clicked with me. I know that’s a sacrilegious statement. One day I expect she will. The song just sounded like an exercise to me. I don’t want the exercise, I want the race. I may come to eat these words and that’s OK. For someone who should be right up my alley like her, I’m gonna keep trying.

8.45am Driving to therapy, feeling like I have nothing to talk about this week, I put on Kevin Drumm’s Part One from the PCM 4 album on Bandcamp. His stuff is often very meditative and I thought it might help me think of what to talk about. This track was just as if there was a barely perceptible smudge on the lens I look through. Hell, I’ll probably be weeping in my therapist’s arms within the first two minutes.

17 September

9.30am I listen to Harry Styles’ As It Was for a dance party with my girl. She says “more!” when the song is over so I usually play this 20 or more times in a row. And it holds up. It was something my son started requesting. We play that and then my daughter got totally attached to it. It’s that type of lyric and phrasing that is very fluid, it doesn’t really mean a concrete thing. It’s kind of gauzy so you don’t ever really get sick of it. It’s a weird thing – you think you don’t want him to sing that again, but then he does and you’re like, yeah that’s good.

Harry Styles: As It Was – video

This was played on my wife’s Spotify account. I don’t have one. That method of listening is not nurturing for me. For me, to get through a whole song without clicking on another one is a major achievement on a streaming thing like that. It doesn’t breed good listening habits in me. Some people may be able to listen to a whole record but I can’t help but click on those colourful little buttons and different songs. It’s not a rewarding way for me to listen to music.

Otherwise it was a busy weekend of kid’s parties and adults parties. Didn’t have much time to listen to music.

18 September

7.30pm I’ve been getting ready to play a show at the end of the week so haven’t had a lot of time to listen to anything the past few days. And the house we’re staying in has no real stereo so I’ve been stuck with digital things mostly. I put on Ornette Coleman’s Garden of Souls on Bandcamp. This song sounds like a garden – Ornette always has so much life and growth in his horn. I feel like I have to turn it off halfway through because jazz disturbs my family. The type I listen to, at least. My son is just like, “turn it off”, no matter what, unless it’s Hamster Dance. I tend to listen in private now.

8.30pm I put on some music while my son and I work on building his wild west town out of cardboard and construction paper: Celestine Ukwu’s No Condition is Permanent on Bandcamp. It’s sort of like highlife African music. It’s that joyous, bubbly sound that nobody can object to, like having a sparkling water. My son didn’t even mention it. He gets focused on his projects.

YTI⅃AƎЯ is released by Drag City on 14 October

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