[Photo by MICHAEL T. REGAN]
Alec Ounsworth will perform tonight at the TLA, opening for Dr. Dog, in support of his just-released solo album Mo Beauty. We spoke with Alec about New Orleans, drugs, South Philly, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the ambiguous status of Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah.
PHAWKER: Where are you living these days?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: In Pennsylvania.
PHAWKER: Oh OK, you’re still in Philly?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah, I’ve always been there, yeah.
PHAWKER: Where does New Orleans figure into this?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: It is south of Philadelphia. I’m kidding. You mean how did that come about?
PHAWKER: Were you spending some time in New Orleans in advance of even starting to make this record?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah, I met Steve Berlin the producer [of Mo Beauty], also a Philadelphia native, in New Orleans. Basically, there is so much talent down there that it seems kind of a good opportunity to put songs to a some of the people down there. It’s just an opportunity to try to work in New Orleans.
PHAWKER: To what extent do you think the place itself impacted the sound of the recording?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: It’s hard for me to quantify the impact of New Orleans on the record itself. I was playing with a lot of the guys, the majority of the people who played on the record are people who are from New Orleans. Whether or not that comes off I don’t know. I usually don’t really focus on a sound that has come from a particular city or a particular time.
PHAWKER: Can I ask you to talk a little about “South Philadelphia (Drug Days)” track?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: I’d rather not talk too much about that. I think it’s pretty clear. It’s just an document of an incident during a peculiar and dark time of my life. That’s all.
PHAWKER: Alright, we’ll leave it at that.
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Relatively speaking, I think we emerged relatively unscathed.
PHAWKER: Compared to others, yes?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yes, compared to others and other things that happened.
PHAWKER: There’s been darker things?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Oh sure, there’s always worse.
PHAWKER: That sounds like something for someone’s tombstone.
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah, “It Could Have Been Worse.”
PHAWKER: It’s kind of like, “I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia.”
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Oh yeah, maybe I’ll take that.
PHAWKER: You’re playing [tonight] as Flashy Python?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah.
PHAWKER: Which is a hilarious name. I can’t quite figure out why it’s hilarious. How did that name come about?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: It’s call sign for a ship. My dad was stationed at the Gulf Of Tonkin. He wasn’t directly involved in what happened down there, but he was stationed there. He and his Navy buddies would listen to call signs in their spare time and one of the call signs was Flashy Python and he just remembered it. I thought it was cool and he couldn’t really put his finger on what. So, that’s truthfully the story behind that name.
PHAWKER: That’s pretty amazing. Is he still around these days? He’s alive, yes? I’m curious on what his thoughts were on — if we could just take a sidetrack here for a second into a fascinating historical detour — what his thoughts were on Gulf of Tonkin when he was there and what his thoughts are on what happened today?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah, he wrote me a long explanation on the origin of where that name came from and I like what he said at the end, I’ll paraphrase it, but he said it sort of marked the period of innocence before a somewhat profound disillusionment with actually what happened at that particular time. I liked that idea and it marked a time in his life before he was struck by the reality of what happened. In any case, I wish I could send you what he said.
PHAWKER: Can you send it to me at some point? I’d be happy to post it with this interview.
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah sure, I’ll send it to you.
PHAWKER: OK, that’s great. Are you guys on the road right now? Are you traveling right now?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah, we’re coming back from New York right now. We did a show for CMJ last night.
PHAWKER: OK, how did that go?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: It was OK. There were some technical problems up there. We used the back line and some of the amplifiers are falling apart and it sort of put a damper on the whole scenario.
PHAWKER: Who is playing with you or who will be playing with you as Flashy Python?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: It’s my friend Matt Sutton from up in New York, and three guys from Philadelphia Brian Ashby, Peter Modavis, and Jonas Oesterie. They were 3/4 of The Teeth, do you remember them?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: They just ended last year I think and I was lucky enough to find three guys who are more than capable to join up and take this material on.
PHAWKER: Could you clarify, what is the status of Clap Your Hands these days?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: I mean, I don’t really like to talk too much about that. Apparently I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth where that’s concerned because…I’ll just give you the blanket answer: it’s on an indefinite hiatus. I don’t know, I have not felt compelled to put that forward again at this particular time. Let’s put it that way. Everybody’s doing their own thing.
PHAWKER: You have not felt compelled to put Clap Your Hands forward, or work on that project? Is that what you’re saying?
ALEC OUNSWORTH: Yeah, right now everybody in that particular project is involved with what they’re doing and I’m concentrating on this, so we’re leaving it alone for a little while or for a long while.