Cass McCombs isn’t in pursuit. Making music and playing music is what it’s about for the veteran songwriter and his approach is refreshing. He doesn’t pretend to have the answers, responding with awareness of everything he doesn’t know.
“I don’t have Spotify, I don’t use that. I don’t even really know what it is,” he says.
McCombs doesn’t need to care. He’s doing fine; a great songwriter and then some. His new classic rock album, Tip of the Sphere, plants its roots in the collective consciousness through Spotify and the forces of the Internet.
McCombs’ albums are collaborative efforts, both in their making and in their references to music history.
“Personally I like making music with other musicians rather than it being a solitary event,” he says. With that intention, he has collaborated and toured with some of the biggest indie artists of the day. Here, there is no attachment to the paraphernalia of the music industry. Scenes for him are “gross”; he makes music with his friends. He is able to call himself, “pro friend, anti scene.”
Music was natural for someone raised by it. McCombs was “crawling, on [his] knees, through the legs of musicians playing.” He started out listening to metal, and making music with his friends. “We became obsessed with the electric guitar.” He moved to the East Coast early on, saying about it simply, “I don’t think anybody really wants to stay where they’re from.”
Despite the wealth of political and literary references in his music, McCombs wants you to take what you want from his music, and forget the rest. “They’re only intended, really, for me.” The appreciation of the singularity of people’s experiences makes him reluctant to qualify anything generally.
“It sounds really goth,” he says. “But we’re all invading each other’s spaces like some sort of modern dance. We have to move around each other’s spaces.”
Dancing is also McCombs’ metaphor for the act of listening. “If you’re listening, you’re dancing.” That’s about as far as he’ll go to categorize his audience. Music making is more about the realm of the psyche, that “not nice place.” That’s where he goes to write.
“I mean, I’m writing all the time. I don’t think about it like I’m writing an album, and I definitely don’t think about it like it’s a business,” he says. “I don’t have to write these songs. Like, I need to write these songs, and I always write these songs because I have emotional problems. This is the only thing I can do to deal with certain shit that’s going on inside me. Again, maybe that sounds super goth or something but that’s just the way it is.”