What are you doing in Australia?
Me and Rufus and my mom and my aunt are doing family shows here for this Leonard Cohen extravaganza at the Sydney Opera House.
Were you and your family competitive with one another growing up in Montreal?
Rufus and I were totally trying to kill each other at all times. We’d also have these competitions to see who could outsing the other person at the top of their lungs and who could stay awake the longest.
Rufus. He’s quite a fighter.
Growing up in Montreal must have been interesting. There’s a great music scene there now.
It was. We had a lot of little things going on. We were involved in these things called “Yawps,” which were performances in loft spaces with poets and other musicians and performance artists. The guy who hosted them was this professor who’d gone nuts after having been kicked out of one of the universities for having affairs with students. He would run around screaming naked.
So how did you make it from Montreal to New York?
I made a little tape with some of my songs and sent them to Nick Hill, who used to work at WFMU in New Jersey. He invited me down to play shows and live with him and his wife and kid on North 8th Street. He was a real Williamsburg, grassroots kind of guy.
You sound really unenthusiastic about New York.
Well, for about five years it was fun, and then you actually become a New Yorker. And then you spend the next ten years trying to get out.
Are you still living in Williamsburg?
Yes, I live on South 9th Street in a little cardboard box under the Williamsburg Bridge. But I don’t want to say I live in Williamsburg. It’s embarrassing. How about “Southside”?
Speaking of embarrassing, I’ve heard that a few artists on your label, Rounder, were uncomfortable with the title of one of your songs, “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole.” True?
Yes, a couple of artists complained. I guess they’re Christians, and they saw the title, and they decided to boycott Rounder. They said they’re not going to buy records—which they wouldn’t have to do anyway since they’re on the label. Anyway, so now the title is “BMFA.” [Laughs]
Seems indicative of what’s happening in our country right now, doesn’t it?
Yes. I guess it’s the direction we’re going in. Soon, we’ll be living in cardboard boxes under the Williamsburg Bridge. All of us.