“THIS IDEA that I’m not into doing interviews, it’s a weird lie that won’t die,” Cass McCombs says over the phone. “I’ve never said that, and I’ve done hundreds of interviews.” It’s an interesting assertion, given that in 2014 McCombs told the Washington Post, “I don’t really like doing interviews. I think it’s actually the destroyer of music.”
But contradictions like these define much of McCombs’ work, particularly on last month’s Mangy Love. This same discrepant tone flows throughout the record, with hippie mysticism that’s homespun from McCombs’ fiercely intelligent and incisive poetry. Always the style chameleon, Mangy Love is still rooted in his acoustic songwriting, but this time with elements of “Dreamweaver”-esque ’70s soft rock, jazz flute, horn and string arrangements, and the occasional reggae backbeat.
“A lot of the music that’s in me naturally has been in there a long time,” McCombs explains. “I think a lot of the things I return to are very, very similar to the things that moved me when I was just learning.”
Much of what spills out of McCombs begs to be analyzed and parsed—on album closer “I’m a Shoe” he gently sings, “Lower down than the roots of a pine tree/Don’t waste your prayers on me/I’m a shoe/and so are you.” Surreal lyrics like these generate the kind of fascination that inspires critics to call someone the greatest songwriter of their generation. Is it true? Not unless last night’s fever dream could be called reality.
Yet Mangy Love requires deep listening beyond the context of good or bad, success or failure, much like the outsider nature of McCombs’ entire career. His is the work of a prolific and intensely creative voice.
“I wouldn’t communicate something unless I was sure it was going to be communicated,” he says. “I don’t understand what that would even look like.” But, ever difficult to pin down, McCombs diverts this attention, saying that when it comes to making music, he doesn’t believe in leadership roles.
“There’s no ‘they.’ I am ‘they.’ They are ‘me.’ We are ‘we,’” he says. “There’s not me and the band. I’m not interested in exploiting my individuality... These are people with blood running through their veins. As soon as they get on that shit, they make it their shit, and that’s what’s amazing. That’s magic. Real magic.”