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20 Questions: Old Canes

Stealing Kurt Vonnegut books? Getting choked up during M*A*S*H? Appleseed Cast frontman Chris Crisci talks about all of these things and more as his folk-affected side-project releases their second album.

Chris Crisci is no doubt a little bit bored with convention.

Although Crisci is best known for fronting celebrated post-rock act The Appleseed Cast, he's devoted quite a bit of time over the years to one of his favorite side-projects: the upbeat alt-country sound of Old Canes, a group who -- until recently -- had only released one album (2004's Early Morning Hymns). That disc was recorded in his home on a simple eight-track machine, yet the solid, powerful songwriting was enough to make Old Canes a legitimate side-project, crafting a home-spun sound that was assuredly different from his main band yet forceful enough to form an identity all its own.

A year after that album came out, Crisci began working on a second Old Canes album, adding bits and pieces here and there in his spare time, and -- much like the first disc -- he played a majority of the instruments all by himself. Now, with Old Canes' excellent sophomore disc Feral Harmonic having just arrived in stores, Crisci has taken some time out of his day to take part in PopMatters' ongoing 20 Questions feature, telling us how cool it would've been to build the pyramids, notes just how nice William Shatner really is, and points out that time travel is, in fact, impossible.


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I cry when I'm sick.  If I have a cold, I'll cry watching M*A*S*H, or the local news, or reading anything political that has anything to do with people losing their jobs or getting sick without health insurance, or tsunamis ... the plight of unfortunate people.  When I'm sick, I really feel for them.  I'm not sure what movie I saw or what book I read the last time I was sick.  I did get a little choked up reading Catch 22 about ten years ago ... and just the preview for Where The Wild Things Are makes me feel like bawling.  Well done, Spike.


2. The fictional character most like you?

Fictional characters have the advantage of being portrayed with a purpose.  You have a person in a story, and that person serves a function to the plot.  Most of the time, the character has a personality that helps explain his or her function in the plot.  The rest of us living people are a lot more complicated than your average character in a story.  We have to be because we're living out multiple stories at once.  We have multiple purposes ... and multiple personalities?  Or one personality that is constantly changing to adapt to the situations and environments that we find ourselves in.  All that to say, I'm having a difficult time picking out a fictional character most like myself.  Santiago Nasar?  


3. The greatest album, ever?

It's fun to be abstract and esoteric.  There are hundreds of great albums out there.  There are great albums that I have never listened to.  It's fun to be able to think of the lesser-known albums and try to elevate them to the status of greatest album ever.  The greatest album ever comes from the greatest band ever.  Led Zeppelin.  That's the band, and the album.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek is like baseball and Star Wars is like football.  One of them has hundreds of episodes that ran for a really, really long time.  The other has a handful and is way more fun to watch.  That said, I am a huge fan of Shatner's.  He used to come into my Kinko's back when I was a working man.  A much nicer fellow than most of the actors and producers I had to deal with.  The spoken word stuff kills me.  He's a genius.  There's a guy that's not just a guy, but a character as well.


5. Your ideal brain food?

Any book that reminds me that I'm a human and not just a consumer of entertainment.  Some books are so good, I feel like a better person instantly, just for reading it.  I felt this way when I read Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Because it was a great accomplishment, of course.  I'm surprised I could have pulled it off!  Many have tried.         


7. You want to be remembered for . .?

Different things by different people.  I want my family to remember me for being loving and for trying to do the right things.  I want my friends to remember me for the good times.  Other people, I want them to remember me for being kind.  Still others, possibly for saving the world from some apocalyptic future event.      

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

The peaceful ones.  It's a shame that history only pays attention to the peaceful leaders that something violent happens to.  Every one of them.  You only make it in the books if you're violent or if someone else perpetrates violence against you.            


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Are we knocking my album?  No, seriously, I don't know.  I kind of like all the signatures where they are right now.  I guess I would have liked to have built one of the pyramids in Egypt.  That seems like a pretty titanic feat.  I like the medium too.  As for books or music or films, I'd feel like a plagiarist just mentioning one.  Let's just say I wish I were Wes Anderson.


10. Your hidden talents . . .?

Do not include being a great interviewee.  Or talker in general.  I start talking about something, and I'm kind of exploring in my own mind how I feel about this question I've been asked.  And as I'm thinking about it, and talking, I'm discovering different things about myself that I didn't know ... but then, I realize that I hadn't really thought it through, because there's this other aspect that I hadn't thought of ... so I stop talking.  The interviewer is waiting patiently on the other end of the phone.  I'm thinking furiously ... how do I complete this sentence?  I then will laugh nervously and say something that contradicts the first part of my sentence, forcing me to admit that I don't know what I'm talking about, and that I don't actually think about music all that much.  I just like to play it.          


11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Life is short.  Follow your dreams.    


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I stole / borrowed a Kurt Vonnegut book, Hocus Pocus, years and years ago.  I had never read Vonnegut at the time and I loved the first few pages.  I actually left a few bucks and a note.  My friend said he's glad I took it.  He was glad to have shared.  So I don't feel overwhelmingly bad about it.  In the end I gave the book back.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the book.  I then went on to read almost every other Vonnegut book.  Now there's no more Vonnegut for me to read.  It was very nice while it lasted.      


13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

Levis.  I have to admit, Armani feels nice once in a while.  But there's a kind of caged animal feel I get in a monkey suit.  I like the freedom of jeans.  If a person can do it, it can be done in jeans.  The same can't be said of Armani.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

My Dad and Mom.  They deserve it most.  I have kids now, so my eyes have been opened.  For what I put those poor people through, they get to join me at the Ritz.      


15. Time travel: where, when and why?

First of all, I don't buy it.  I know the flimsy pseudo-science arguments.  I get it: gravity bends light over millions of miles.  How does that get me back to a 1950s prom dance?  One voiceover guy took a stab at it and claimed, where it was possible to do, it would take all the power of all the suns in the galaxy to generate the time warp.  Failing to mention, the gravity involved would turn you into a string of atoms.  But whatever.  I would love to see what happens to us in about 1,000 years.  I'd like to travel to the future.        


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Spa vacation all the way.  I'm against violence and big pharma.        


17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

Right now, coffee (see above reference to kids).  I honestly don't know what I'd do without it.


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I grew up in big cities, and now I live in a small town.  There's good and bad about both.  I love small town life.  The pace is a little slower, I like running into people I know when I go downtown, and the parking tickets are cheap.


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

The biggest problem that our country faces is that we're not a democracy anymore.  Money gets our representatives elected and money dictates what they do while they're in office.  Voting has become an illusion to some degree.  If candidates' races were funded solely by public money and they were not allowed to take gifts from lobbyists for life once elected, then the will of the people would be served.  Right now, the will of the corporations and the rich are tended to.  I think the health insurance debate going on is pretty indicative of that.  Take the money being thrown into it by all sides, and I guarantee you that what we'd end up with is single payer.  It's like if you were to go out country shopping the way you go car shopping.  Over here, you have a country with all the bells and whistles, maybe it's not the fastest car in the world, but that's not what most people look for in their car, it's safe, it rides comfortably it comes with road side assistance if you break down, on star, it has good gas mileage etc... then over here we have America.  It's got a 400hp engine, but it's tires are worn, the interior is ripped up and stained, no airbags, no roadside rescue, if it rains it'll slide off the road, and the AC doesn't work ... but it does have a diamond studded stick shift.  We are very proud of this feature.  In fact, when someone mentions how it would be nice to have road side assistance, or good tires, or better gas mileage the response is usually, "Are you crazy?  Give up the diamond stick shifter?"  We're proud owners.  


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

My latest project is building a guitar.  I'm making a modified version of a Jazzmaster.  Mahogany body, maple neck, p90 pickups, Bigsby tailpiece, locking tuners, wired up with a kill switch.  It's going to be nice.

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