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From his first recordings of found sounds at high school in Maryland, through homemade cassettes, and onto the unknowable canon of Smog, Callahan has obscured as much as he has revealed, creating music for endings, epiphanies and quiet revolutions. The songs should stand on their own.” Usually, Callahan eschews face-to-face interviews. Since there is something so uncluttered about Callahan’s songs, one assumes that austerity spills into his personal life. My guess is because I don’t dress like a pseudo-hippy.
His records are always more like collections of short stories than albums of songs; compressed, minimal, with a sharp sense of isolation and space. But I usually have a very positive feeling when my home is neat as a pin.
It’s the last place Stevie Ray Vaughan called home before he started living out of hotels and storage lockers, and it’s where you can spot local resident Robert Plant – whom the locals call “Bob” – and his inamorata Patty Griffin walking their two fluffy dogs through the meandrous streets after sundown.The kitchen cupboards reveal a preponderance of tea and organic ephemera, but not enough dishes to have a small dinner party. Those are for you to think about.” Eventually, he concedes, “OK, yeah, I’m in a good relationship,” he admits. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Callahan says, uncertainly, as he settles his bare feet under him and sinks into the curve of a Victorian tufted couch, all carved wood pieces and overstuffed pillows.On the refrigerator there is a take-out menu, a schedule for cutting the brush and, oddly, a bill stuck on with a teddy-bear magnet. “Emergencies.” Further into the spotless kitchen, there is a set of knives on a magnetic strip. “Emergencies.” Over 11 fine albums as Smog, and four more exceptional ones under his own name, Bill Callahan has established himself as a determinedly mysterious singer-songwriter. “I just try to keep my personal life out of things. It’s the sort of thing you might find expect to find in Stevie Nicks’ spare bedroom. And so is the house,” Callahan says, a little defensively.Local legend has it that when Callahan moved to Austin right after a particularly satisfying SXSW festival, he slept in his car in the parking lot of a La Quinta hotel, before finding a house in South Austin.
As it was for the city’s infamous bats, Austin was somewhere Callahan could hide in plain sight – something the determinedly mysterious singer-songwriter is well-versed in.
The characters in his lyrics are men’s men, the kind you might find in a Hemingway novella or Raymond Carver poem — solemn, stoic types who use few words yet impart great wisdom as they try to make their way through the daunting landscape and even more daunting relationships. You don’t picture God with barbecue sauce stains on his shirt. A lot of neat freaks are really ungodly, unhappy people.” Callahan’s T-shirt is spotless, albeit a little stretched-out at the neck, his hair is pushed neatly behind his ears, and the wooden floor is freshly swept.