[Note: This interview was to be in the first issue of the Baton Rouge zine Intergalactic
FuckBunny. The existence (and name) of this zine was meant to parody both the fluff content
(by providing articulate, in-depth coverage of local bands) of National Jetbunny along with the
fact that the editors of Jetbunny refused to print the word "Fuck" on the cover of their magazine.
Unfortunately, yet another good idea (and strong start, given the two articles I laid eyes on) was
eventually abandoned in favor of other projects.]
BLACK FOLK ARKANSAS, er... Louisiana
One would never expect a quaint late 60's/early 70's neighborhood on the south side of
the LSU campus to be the birthplace of what could possibly be considered the most
bleak and depressing record of the year. Yet it was there that Fred Weaver recorded and
mixed most of his latest record, Present Dusk. For the most part... Present Dusk is a
combination of noisy, aggressive 12 string acoustic guitar and over-the-top vocals
pushed to extremes (but not quite to the point of tunelessness). The lyrics tell sad
stories, but not always in the traditional songwriter style... instead the stories are
fragmented into terse bits and bitter pieces of conversation (Weaver often uses to term
"imagistic") that leave it up to the listener to fill in the narrative. The most striking
thing about the record might be the fact that it is intensely rhythmic, yet features no
rhythm section. Weaver himself readily admits that the record isn't for the faint of
heart, but there are hooks that pay off for the adventurous listener.
We caught up with Weaver in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, the town he considers his
"home", though he was born and lived his first 15 years in Baton Rouge. He was
halfway through an 11 week trip around the East Coast and found him happy to sit
down and talk about Present Dusk, his past, his future and just what it feels like to
spearhead what his friends refer to as the "one man Black Folk" movement.
Hey Fred, How is it going?
Hey. Uhh... is that really the first question?
Well, not really, but why... is that a bad one?
Well, I mean, in general, no, but recently things haven't been the greatest. Kinda dealing with
some weird stuff, I guess. Let's just say that one of the worst feelings that exists is the
disappointment of wanting to be a huge part of someone's life and they say "No". I guess it's
the cliché of unrequited love or whatever, but as many times as that story has been played out
(even in my life) the feelings are still just as painful and real. I don't know... I've bounced back
in the past 2 years from being completely paranoid about sharing with other people to being back
to the point where there are more people I'll open up to. In general this is a good development in
me, but things haven't worked out the way I've wanted in this relationship. It feels good, though,
to think that I might actually be capable of trusting someone again. (laughter) God... what a way
to start an interview... Here let me just quote Dostoevsky in the first five minutes... "Suffering is
the sole origin of consciousness." There, I feel better... (laughter) Anyway... other than all this
stuff... things are pretty great, I mean, I've got this record just coming out and I'm working on
new stuff and playing shows with Cole in a few weeks. I've been spending a lot of time with my
Mom and helping out around the house, watching a lot of movies. I don't know...
So the record is out?
Yeah, I guess it's "officially" out or something. The review copies got sent out the other day and
I've been giving out copies to all my friends over the last month or so. I think it's going to be
such a limited distribution deal that there isn't anything really official about it. I think there is just
going to be mail order and selling them at the shows. I'm planning to tour in the fall and try to
start playing shows around the South in late summer.
So... the new record seems pretty dark. The title, Present Dusk, and the cover art pretty
accurately capture the mood, too. How would you describe what your new record is
about and where exactly did the "Black Folk" tag come from.
(Laughter) Well, my friend Jerry listens to a lot of Norwegian Black Metal and I sent him a tape
of rough mixes at one point and he said that he thought it was just extremely dark folk music. It
just became this elaborate in-joke that I was going to start the American Black Folk scene and the
followers of this scene would become as fanatical as these crazy Norwegian Black Metal kids
are... worshipping Norse gods... burning churches... murdering other members of the scene. Of
course, this is all a joke... but anyway, well... I think the title was pretty much always Present
Dusk. I think at one point I entertained thoughts of calling it "The Last Heartbreak of Young
America", but it seemed, after a while, like a silly title and you know goddamnit, I'm never silly.
(Laughter) Like you said... Present Dusk kinda captures the tone of the entire thing. The cover is
a polaroid I took of the Pacific Ocean in Oregon two years ago. Originally, I planned on a photo
of the Sunshine Bridge at dusk, but the photos didn't really turn out as somber looking as I
wanted them, so it was a last minute decision to switch to the Pacific Ocean photo. I'm happy
with how it turned out and I owe a huge thanks my friend Lee, who is an actual graphic designer,
for letting me yank the mouse out of his hand and take over the whole thing while he sat
Lyrically, you explore a lot of darker themes. I guess you could say that you've got love
songs, but not necessarily the good kind. (Laughter) How does this writing come
I guess most of the lyrics are about bad situations. Often, I have a very pessimistic view of the
world... it seems that everywhere I look, things are going wrong. Not necessarily in my life...
lately I've kinda felt like I live in the center of a circle of bad luck. Everywhere around me I see
sad things happening to people I know and I just sit here and nothing happens to me. Perhaps
that means I'm charmed or something, but, I mean, it's stressful to see all this stuff. As far as the
narrative aspect of the lyrics, on some songs I'd like to think that you could easily connect the
dots and decide what's going on. On others, I'm a little more vague and leave it up to the listener
to guess what might be happening or come up with their own answers. Ultimately, I guess
they're all bad relationship songs or something, except for "Trace", which is about Meriwether
Lewis. Even that song meditates on the idea of hopelessness, though, and I guess a few of them
touch on that. Maybe that is the worst feeling there is. I don't know. I guess the songs could
mean anything to anyone, though.
Do you have specific goals in music? At the end of your musical career, what would you
like to have said?
I guess I'd like to feel that I've created work of quality. I realize that doesn't necessarily mean
commercial success and most of the bands and people I really respect have had very little
commercial success. I'd like to think that perhaps one of my songs could move someone as
much as other bands songs have affected my life. I guess songs have a huge advantage over plain
writing in that respect... the music can really amplify your emotional response. Something that
might not mean anything to you when written out can suddenly become the most devastating
thing you've ever heard. (Laughter) Or at least to me.
I thought it would be interesting if I went through the record song by song and you
could briefly describe what each of the songs means to you. OK?
Maybe it'd be more interesting for me to go through them and you tell me what they mean to
you (Laughter).... Sure..
Let's see... Half Swear At Least:
I guess I put this one on first, instead of "Two People", because it is pretty noisy and is more or
less a statement of purpose. I didn't want people hearing this poppy song and then have track
two be all this shrieking. As far as lyrics... I guess we all learn that highly manipulative people
can and will control your life and happiness in it... if you let them.
Two People's Thoughts:
I guess that this would be a set of observations on a strange childhood and a bad relationship a
friend had. I think the first half of this song took several months to write and the second took 15
minutes. I don't know... I remember thinking that that was weird at the time. I really like this
King Cotton: I'm wondering what King Cotton's all about. Where did that title come
from? Is it a reference to the south?
It's funny, ëcause this one was written a long time ago, but then something similar happened with
people I knew and I always think my friends think that this one is about that situation. Anyway, I
guess this is about getting the fuck out of a bad situation. The title was just something I wrote
down on a Juicy Fruit wrapper while driving between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the fall
of ë97. Most of the song was written in the spring of ë97, when I was still living in New York. I
guess it is a reference to the south. I don't really have any idea what I meant by it other than I
thought it was a funny nickname for someone to have. The song was actually going to be the first
on the record, but Mike talked me out of it because it wasn't as catchy as the others. Perhaps it's
not A+ material as my friend Andrew would say.
Fifty Miles Away:
Oh... if only all my songs could be set in Ohio. (Laughter) Maybe this is about being so
confused about what you want that you are ultimately unable to accept what could be the best
thing in yout life. I hope I never end up like the narrator here.
At The Center Of Night:
I don't know... A bad trip from New York to Florida? Next! (Laughter... Nervous Laughter)
When I was living in New York, I was talking to a friend of mine in Louisiana and she was
telling me about some town that people supposedly went to when they died. I thought it was
pronounced "Shar lay", and I guess I went with a guess at the French spelling. I didn't write it
down ëtil days after the conversation, so I might have gotten it completely wrong. When I moved
to New Orleans, I thought for about 10 seconds that she might've been talking about Chalmette,
but... no... it couldn't be. It just struck me that the title for "At The Center of Night" was from a
phone conversation with the same person. Maybe we should talk more often and I'll get more
songtitles. This was actually a Reddy Kilowatt song, but I like it so much that I decided to do a
version with a bunch of guitars.
Well, I lived on the West Side in Clearfield, Pennsylvania and that was where the song was
recorded, so I basically had no title and just settled for that. I guess this is sad-sounding at
points. People think I'm joking when I say that that is the only song I've ever written on piano.
After I wrote it, I did another little piano thing for a record my brother and I did [Ceramic
Torment's Trip], but it wasn't near as fully-realized as this. I can come up with parts fine, but I
don't have any real skill at the piano so I can't transpose parts to make them fit together...
something that is quite easy on the guitar.
Probably about the desperate acts of lonely people, I guess. (Laughter) I imagine that if you
decided to walk right into the Gulf of Mexico that you'd get stung to death by jellyfish before
you actually managed to drown yourself, but I don't know. I really think that these are some of
the best lyrics on the record.
Maybe I subconciously put the two suicide songs together for some sort of thematic reason. This
is about Meriwether Lewis. I guess I might be able to understand feelings of hopelessness, but
not in the face of such achievement. Lewis had serious mental problems, though, and was unable
to look on the proverbial bright side. I'm never like that. (Obviously sarcastic)
I'm big on talking and I think the best way to totally fuck things up is to never talk about them.
Especially when you are like me and automatically assume the worst.
Umm... When you're looking back at choices you've made in your life, I imagine it's very easy
to see the mistakes and bad decisions. I guess it sucks to have wasted time, but you should just
go back and pick up at the sidetrack. I guess it's easy to say this as I'm young, but I imagine it
could be pretty damn depressing to figure at middle age that more than half your life has been
heading in the wrong direction. But, still, you can go back.
The Enemy Calls The Enemy Out:
Man, I really think that is the greatest title. I'm really proud of this song, too. Uhh... let me
think... I started writing this at a campground on the Columbia River, east of Portland, Oregon. I
guess this is another "leaving" song or something. There's always alot of that going on in my
songs. (Laughter) Even my mom said that to me the other day. Child of divorce, maybe? I don't
A lot of the songs on Present Dusk make specific references to seasons, timespans (..took
just 2 years to learn that..), and particular travels. Either these songs are ficticious, or
they're written about particular persons, situations, events. If it's the latter, how do you
feel knowing that these folks can probably infer that you're writing about them?
(Laughter) Well... I don't know. It's mostly fictitious, but of course I do get ideas from my own
life and from people I know. I can only think of one instance where I ever told someone that part
of a song was about them and I did so in a letter. It was never mentioned by this person, but I
don't think they thought badly as they were very sympathetic lines. As far as timespans and
travel... I'm a pretty restless person by nature and I like to constanly be seeing something new.
I'm really obsessed by the concept of time, too. I keep a date book in which I write down a brief
summary of every day's events. I've done that for more or less 5 years straight. I always find
myself looking back at when something happened and then looking 2 weeks forward, 2 weeks
back, 4 weeks forward, et cetera, until I see how things have changed and when. Maybe my mind
wants to see some sort of pattern to how things happen... some sort of order. I don't know... it's
just something that really interests me. I'm big on numbers, too, which is strange for someone
who never really loved math. (Laughter) I don't know... back to what you asked about people
thinking that something is about them... I think about books I've read on writers and how a lot of
people in their lives get paranoid about what seems to be said about them in the work. I'd say
that in fiction, a character is often an amalgamation of several people, so I guess friends might
recognize something that is obviously taken from their personality and then be horrified by
something that is said later about the same character. I don't really worry about it. I'm not in the
business of settling scores in my writing. If I have a problem with someone, I'll usually deal with
it directly with them. (laughter, feigns cracking knuckles)
You're well known for your long-haul driving prowess. Are many of the record concepts
and lyrics thought of while driving? The record has a feel of that, but maybe only
because I knew you lived all over and travelled even further while writing those songs.
Lyrics about driving, cover photo from the west coast, etc...
Well... I often write stuff down wherever I am. I guess driving gives you a lot of time to think
and I'll also work on lyrics and vocals in the van with a rough cassette version of songs. I'm
prone to think alot whenever I'm doing something relatively mindless. I guess that's why I don't
mind housework here... scrubbing walls and floors gives you time to think. In Baton Rouge I
was cleaning my dad's house and working in the yard alot. I also got in the habit of taking 15
mile bike rides, which gave me even more time to think on things. Shit... with all this thinking... I
should be a goddamned philosopher! (laughter) As far as writing stuff... usually I'll have a
bunch of little stuff written on a piece of paper in my pocket and then I'll type it all up and just
elaborate from there. Sometimes I get an almost hyperactive feeling. I'll get restless and then I'll
sit down and have 1000 words in no time.
What have been the highest and lowest complements paid to Present Dusk?
Well, there haven't been any real reviews yet and that's where any negative feedback would
probably come. Mostly my friends have been pretty supportive. My friend Scott called my friend
Justin as soon as he heard it and said "Justin, I just put Fred's record on... I'm kind of scared."
(laughter) I thought that was hilarious. I don't know if that meant he was scared of me or for
me. My friend Jerry told me that listening to it really bummed him out the other day. I guess that
was some sort of compliment. I think the entire thing took some people by surprise, in that the
record is pretty over-the-top in a framework, the acoustic framework, I guess, that isn't usually
pushed so far in this direction. I guess that when you say acoustic record, most people don't
envision the noisier possibilities.
How have Sacco & Vanzetti influenced Present Dusk? They were sentenced up here
[Boston], you know...
(laughter) Well... I don't know, Sacco & Vanzetti didn't really play much of a role in this record.
I'm not an anarchist, or a bank robber. Uhh... I don't really plan on being executed, though I
probably do make myself out to be a martyr from time to time.
In the past, haircuts and band t-shirts have made you the target of homophobic
heckling. How do you think the cover art for Present Dusk with go over with the
homophobic community? (In particular, the purplish picture...)
This line of questioning makes it obvious that you've been living with Nat Butler too long.
Can you forsee Present Dusk songs being re-recorded with an electric band, like the
Reddy Kilowatt song that made it onto Present Dusk? Do you have songs written that
you withheld from Present Dusk because you meant for them to be electric?
Uhh... the only one I think I would play in a full band context would be "Searchlights"...
probably because it started out as an electric song and became an acoustic one. "Charlet" will be
on the next record as a full band song. Everything else was written on the 12-string and I can't
really picture them played on electric. I've got some new electric songs... though mostly I've
written acoustic songs over the past year or so. The next record will be about half old Reddy
Kilowatt songs finally recorded, one quarter new electric songs and one quarter new acoustic
So.. what's your plan for touring?
Well... I guess I'm just going to start making calls and describe what I do and try to find the
venue that would be most tolerable. I'm definitely too "punk rock" for coffeehouses. My friend
Jack was telling me that there is a guy from Gainesville, Florida that also does the acoustic deal
on a DIY level. I've thought about writing him to find out how he's been around. His stuff is
much more "Elliot Smith" than mine, so he's a little more audience friendly, maybe. (Laughter)
I've also been working on the set. The problem is that half of Present Dusk is in a D-modal
tuning and the other half is in standard. Retuning a 12-string guitar is bad enough without having
to do it quickly and have it still be in tune at the end the first verse of the next song. So... I've
been writing all my new songs in standard tuning and I think that's the material I'll play until I
get the cash for another 12-string. I've also thought about doing half acoustic, half electric sets.
That might be interesting, too. Maybe I'd do 5 songs on acoustic, then a longer electric thing.
I've got a new epic that works well on both acoustic and electric, so that'd be cool. It's a very
meandering song that slowly builds up into a noise-fest.
I know you read often... how much do you read? Have you always read a lot?
Well, as a kid I didn't read as much as I probably should have. I was too interested in
skateboarding, maybe. Music always meant much more to me than books. I remember that the
first book that really moved me was Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano. I remember thinking at the
time that that was the most amazing thing I'd ever read. As I got a little older, I started reading
more and when I moved to New York to join Vineland, I met Jon [Fine, ex-Vineland, ex-Bitch
Magnet, and current Don Caballero guitarist] and he was very passionate about books and really
introduced me to some great books. In the past 5 years, I've read pretty regularly. A lot of short
stories, but lately I've been reading novels. I also read Newsweek, so I'm usually caught up on
world events on Wednesdays if you want to talk about what's going on. (laughter) I very rarely
watch television, so I'm kinda behind sometimes. I also read Smithsonian, The Atlantic, Harper's
and some other magazines. Some recording magazines also.
What are some of your favorite books?
Hmm... there are four books of short stories I always recommend to people and those are Denis
Johnson's Jesus' Son, Rick Bass' The Watch, Barry Hannah's Airships and Raymond
Carver's Cathedral. I think those all hold up pretty well, even though it was over a year ago that I
read the Rick Bass book and added it to that list. This year I think the best novel I've read is
Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach. Last year, I guess it was Rick Moody's Purple America. A
few months ago I read Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and it was breathtaking until he threw in
this ridiculously cliched paperback romance style ending. I was pretty bummed. It was funny...
there was some blurb on the back that said something like "Oh.. Cold Montain was such and
amazing story throughout... this magnificent journey and then, oh, the ending.." It suddenly
struck me the other day that that quote could have been edited to make it seem like the ending
was something so incredible, when really that person could have had the same criticism I had...
that Charles Frazier had just plain blown it on the last 20 pages. (laughter)
Would you say that you think reading makes you a better writer? If so... how?
I guess it might. I don't know. I really like the idea of being self-taught. I taught myself how to
engineer records. Before that... I taught myself how to play guitar. How did I do it? Well, I tried
to learn songs off of records, but I couldn't. So I just started making up little riffs and eventually
they got more and more sophisticated. I'm still pretty bad at figuring stuff out off of records and
I'd be hard pressed to tell you what scale or mode I'm playing in, but I think that I've written
some very sophisticated music. I guess I'd be talking more about the Reddy Kilowatt stuff than
anything on Present Dusk, but anyway... I think writing has developed more along the same lines
for me. The more I read, the more I see people who don't seem to be following the rules and I
think that that is encouraging. I think I kind of write stories the way I think and talk, so I might
have my own "style" or whatever. I'm sure that subconciously I've borrowed stuff from other
people or have been influenced by their writing, but I think I usually write stuff from a point of
view that is pretty similar to my own. I'd guess that being a good observer is far more important
than an extensive knowledge of literature. I've been around a lot and seen some pretty strange
things and I think I have a relatively good handle on the modes in which people operate. I'd say
that's the most important thing, not whether or not you've actually read all of The Magic
Mountain or Ulysses.
How much stuff have you written?
Well... I'm really bad about getting my shit together. I always think of music as my priority, so I
don't finish a lot of the writing stuff I start. I'd guess that I have maybe 20 short stories in
various stages of completion. I also wanted to do this collaborative novel with my friend Teddi,
who also writes a bit. I was excited when she suggested it ëcause I figured that I might actually
get that completed because we could encourage each other to work on it. Of course, she kind of
suggested that we do something like that and I sort of worked on an idea that I had and then she
shot the project down. She claimed she liked my beginning, but didn't have the time to work on
it. I think that after I finish the next record I might take a break from working on music and I'll
just hide out for a month or two in some small town in Oregon or something and finish all these
stories. I think I've got some really good ideas... I just don't think I'm committed enough to
making them turn out as good as they can.
What about the Clearfield book?
Oh, yeah... I think it would be amazing if I could just get it totally together. There is a lot of
material that basically writes itself. I just need to figure out a way to make it all cohesive, which
you would think would be easy, seeing how I was there and all. Basically, it is going to be a
10-year narrative history of Clearfield, Pennsylvania. There seems to be some sort of black cloud
over the town. Lots of suicides, murders, drunk-driving accidents. Adultery and sexual escapades
galore. A town of 6,000 where I've personally known about 10 kids who have died and known of
more. I guess it would focus on the years I was around the most... from when I moved there
from Baton Rouge in 1988 at age 15 to last summer when I turned 25. All my friends in New
York were always fascinated with the tales I would tell about this town. They keep encouraging
me to work on it, and I have a little bit. My mom probably does more work, though, by clipping
out all the newspaper articles for me. My brother came up with the title and he might still work
on the entire book with me once he gets his Master's.
What's the title, again?
Further Downstream The River, which is some sort of mountain gibberish expression that James
[Fred's brother] sometimes rambles on about.