Live in-Studio: Bill Callahan

Interview and Performance

Friday, October 11, 2013

As a young man in 1990, Bill Callahan started making music under the post-industrial moniker Smog. Smog’s music was experimental and spartan: just Callahan’s baritone singing over minimalist guitar riffs. At the center of it was his poetic and spare lyrics, which always took priority for Callahan.

“I’m not much of a musician,” he tells Kurt Andersen. “I need to make a story, and I don’t want to use the music as any kind of crutch at any point.” After a fast writing process, he begins a slower and more labored effort to compose, imagining himself as a kind of woodcarver, and music as “a block of noise ... always just chipping away at that to find the melody.”

After 16 years, he dropped “Smog” to make albums as Bill Callahan. The sound has evolved, incorporating producers and other musicians — even the occasional string arrangement. Dream River is almost a kind of concept record. “I was trying to make a record to listen to before you go to bed, something that wasn’t too jarring or upsetting.”


Bonus Track: Bill Callahan's Leaves of Grass improvisation
Learn more about Walt Whitman's masterwork in our American Icons story.


Video: "Spring" live in Studio 360

    Music Playlist
  1. The Hard Road
    Artist: Smog
    Album: Dongs of Sevotion
    Label: Drag City
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. The Sing
    Artist: Bill Callahan
    Album: Dream River

    Live in Studio 360

  3. Spring
    Artist: Bill Callahan
    Album: Dream River

    Live in Studio 360


Bill Callahan

Produced by:

John DeLore

Comments [1]


This was a real treat. Bill Callahan is one of the last great singer-songwriters working today, and is an intense, compelling performer. I saw him perform in a tiny record store in Columbus, OH. I was standing right in front of him, and he stared at me during a couple of songs - eyes completely locked. It was kind of chilling.

I saw him again about a year later in a larger venue with a full band, and he was equally at home on the stage. He is, in a word: COOL.

This new record is incredible. His records last forever. You can revisit them countless times and find something new to love.

Oct. 12 2013 12:16 PM

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