The guitarguitar Interview: Caleb Landry Jones
Published on 30 April 2020
You can tell by the front cover that it’s going to be an intriguing listen.
Caleb Landry Jones, the actor you’ll recognise from X-Men: First Class, Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and more, is reclining louchely on his record cover, cigarette in hand, wearing a most decadent Louis XIV wig and makeup, and otherwise naked.
For a debut, this is a pretty good start!
Those who know Caleb understand that he’s been a musician for most of his life, endlessly writing songs at the family farm in Texas and creating hundreds of finished, as-yet-unreleased, records’ worth of material. This new album, The Mother Stone, is his first formal release, and is a most striking cornucopia of psychedelia and Vaudeville. Full of personality and off-kilter strangeness, it’s definitely not the work of a careerist starlet looking to ‘cross over’: this is a genuine artistic statement, full of vision and ambition.
We had to know more!
As a busy and successful actor, Caleb spends most of his time in Los Angeles making movies. On top of the films we’ve already mentioned, he has also starred in Byzantium, The Last Exorcism, Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and, significantly, Twin Peaks’ 3rd Season. Just now, however, he’s self-isolating like the rest of us, with some unexpected free time on his hands and (unlike most of us...) a new record to talk about. This is where we pick up the story.
It’s a beautiful, sunny evening in Glasgow when we call Caleb at his folks’ place in Texas. We have half an hour to chat, and it turns out quickly to be one of the funniest, most entertaining half hours we’ve spent in a very long time! Caleb is a truly charming, eccentric man, with lots of interesting ways to turn a phrase or story. He frequently erupts into fits of laughter and keenly adopts voices and impressions to help express his points. Truly, it was a huge pleasure to talk with him, and his elliptical way of speaking is better presented as is, rather than being edited for brevity.
Our conversation takes in the recording of the record, the joys of finding Dire Straits on YouTube, the benefit of working on instinct, and indeed, what it’s like to be both a fan of Twin Peaks and an actor in Twin Peaks...
Caleb Landry Jones: Hello Ray from guitarguitar! How’s it goin’ man?
Guitarguitar: I’m good Caleb, how are you doing?
CLJ: I’m doing good man. Where are you at?
GG: I’m currently working from my kitchen as I self-isolate in Glasgow, Scotland.
CLJ: Oh right! What’s the weather like there? Is it cold?
GG: Well, to be honest, considering it’s Glasgow, the weather’s pretty incredible! The skies are blue like a Texan desert, man! (Caleb laughs!) How are things out your way?
CLJ: Oh, it’s beautiful today! There’s a few clouds, but the sun’s out. It’s nice. The air’s cool.
GG: Ah, lovely. So, you’re in a farm just now?
CLJ: I’m in Texas, yeah, yeah, I’m at my parent’s place.
GG: That’s not a bad way to self-isolate, just hanging out on the farm, right?
CLJ: Yeah, everybody keeps askin’, ‘how’s quarantine?’ I try not to brag or anything, it’s, ya know...I’m on a beautiful farm! It’s quite lovely.
GG: Hell yeah!
CLJ: I was wondering, I was thinking from yesterday, have you guys got any Great Pyrenees over there?
GG: The dogs? Yeah, we’ve got them over here! The big blonde hairy dogs? They’re amazing!
CLJ: Yeah, man. There’s all these houses round here where my parents live that have got these Great Pyrenees, but we’re in Texas! And I don’t know why you need a Great Pyrenees in Texas! They got long hair, you know? And these dogs, they watch the perimeter so well, they’re always tryin’ a...you know, me and my dogs are taking a walk and we get attacked by the Great Pyrenees!
CLJ: And I’m thinkin’, ‘Geez, no wonder they’re angry, you know? They’re in Texas!
GG: Yeah, they’re not just Pyrenees, their Texas-Pyrenees, right? Haha!
CLJ: I was talking to my dad and he said ‘Scotland? Makes sense in Scotland! Where it’s cold half the time!’ You know? I could see Great Pyrenees over there. So now I’m talking to you, Ray, and you’re in Scotland, so, I just asked for my dad if you guys have any Great Pyrenees over there. (I hear some yelling in the background) I was just telling my dad the news. He put his fist up. Just since we were talking about it yesterday.
GG: That’s cool. Please tell your dad hi! So, your farm is where you record your music?
CLJ: Uh no, well, yes but not the record. We recorded the record in Los Angeles at Valentine Studios. That’s why it sounds so good!
GG: Haha! It sounds awesome, for sure. Did you write the music back at home, though?
CLJ: Uhh, yeah, well, lately it’s been mostly movies, you know? And then I get a month or so from work, I’ve got time off and I don’t need to be in LA, so I come to Texas and record ‘em. But this time, I couldn’t get to Texas and so, through a friend of mine, he hooked me up with Nick over at Valentine Studios and then we just started making it.
GG: Nice. So, do you normally write on the guitar? Or keyboard?
CLJ: That depends, it just depends on what you’re wanting. Sometimes I get so tired of one of the instruments or something, or I’m trying to make a different kind of song or so on. Usually, you go in with a different attitude, you know what I mean? Like, you start it off on the piano cuz you know there’s so many ways about it. I don’t know, it puts you in a certain kinda...somethin’.
GG: Yeah, it get that completely.
CLJ: Or, you feel a little more angry, so you get out your electric guitar and some power chords come out, hahaha, you know what I mean?
CLJ: Or, a keyboard, because you’re wanting...I don’t know...but to me, right on: keyboards, guitar, you know? Just one second... (more yelling from the farm) Sorry about that.
GG: That’s okay man, everything okay?
CLJ: Oh yeah yeah yeah, the dog isn’t supposed to be around the sheep.
GG: Haha, oh no!
GG: Shit, man!
CLJ: All good.
GG: Cool. So, your new album, The Mother Stone, is being released very, very soon over here. There’s a pretty interesting story about how you got signed, that had something to do with Jim Jarmusch...
CLJ: Yeah, man. Yeah, I gave Jim two of these records that I did in Texas. He told me, ‘Man, you should really get these to Caleb at Sacred Bones (record label - Ray). I showed Caleb the record I was in the middle of working on, which is the Mother Stone, and he dug it. It kinda went from there! Then I finished the record (laughs) and gave it to him! I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a kid. It’s taken a little bit, but I’m so excited about exactly how it’s happening. It really is like (hoots) Woo Hoo Hoo! It’s really special.
GG: Hahaha, yeah man! It’s quite an amazing sounding record. To me, it sounds like there’s a kind of like a 60s Psychedelia, and a kind of 1920s Vaudeville vibe. Would you say that’s fair enough? Is that stuff in there?
CLJ: Oh great!
GG: You hearing that, yeah?
CLJ: Oh yeah, big time! I love that! (laughs) I think...I’m not really thinking of it at the time. Drew, who wrote the string arrangements, he’s just like, ‘Ah, Vaudevillian!’, and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, it IS a little Vaudevillian!’, you know? Heheh. Usually, it’s not until somebody puts it into context that I go ‘Aw, really? Yeah! Yyyyyeah!’
GG: Hahaha! What other musical influences come to the surface for you?
CLJ: Ohhh, jeez, (exhales), uh well the last few days I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Can. I really like that band. And a few years ago, I listened to Randy Newman’s record, the one from 3 or 4 years ago, and that one really flipped me on my side! Haha! I think that’s an incredible record. But I haven’t been listening to too much music, recently.
GG: Have you been busy with acting roles?
CLJ: No, I just been, like, been watching a lot of older live performances on Youtube, you know? Or just stuff like this, I don’t know, like (Caleb adopts a kind of circus ringmaster voice) ‘1974, Bob Dylan screwed up!’ or whatever. (laughs). I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before. ‘Dire Straits! Live Aid! 19-whenever that was...!’
GG: Yeah man! Do you know what’s weird? Just before phoning you, I was playing a little bit of Sultans of Swing on my guitar there, just to pass the time. What a coincidence!
CLJ: Such a great song, isn’t it?
GG: Oh yeah, very smooth!
CLJ: That band’s pretty awesome. I really don’t know them too much. I was in this movie the year before last and a friend of mine - she became a friend of mine – she was playing that song and I found myself listening to it all the time! (Sings in a high-pitched voice) ‘I want my MTV!’ There’s something so cool about it: it’s kinda Dylan-ey, but it’s not, ya know? (does an excellent Bob Dylan vocal impression) Kinda-gotta-little-of-that-thiiing-goin’-on!
GG: Hahaha, he totally does!
CLG: It’s just cool! And that headband? That red headband? He looks like a Sonic the Hedgehog character or somethin’. But they’re a really tight band.
GG: Oh yeah, famously so! Well, they’re kinda the best you can get, in terms of talent, for that kinda sound.
CLJ: Yeah. But I need to, I mean, it’s really sad that I haven’t listened to a full record by them. I really don’t know how good they are, or how bad they are, really. I just know these two songs from many live (laughs) YouTube moments! And they’re all great! Haha, they’re all really good performances! Even when they’re older, you know, they’re still, like, kickin’ it!
GG: Totally! Legends. So, back to your music. Now, I’m not trying to read too much into the fact that you’re an actor, but when you write songs, do you tend to write in different characters and personas?
CLJ: Not really. I think it just kinda happens. I’m writing a part of a song, or starting to write a part of a song, and it sounds like something, so you do it, and that’s just how it is. (laughs) Either you add another part to it, and it has to sound like ‘this’ for whatever reason, you know, and you do that. I guess it’s whatever the chords are. It’s whatever the pattern of the song is. Whether it fits, whether it feels like it has to happen or whether you have to find a whole new way of doing it! (laughs) Cuz you’ve only heard it that one way! Can you pull it off? Then, if I can’t pull it off, like, vocally or something, I’ll do it a whole different way so that another ‘something’ happens, you know?
GG: I do know what you mean! Is that how you end up with things like the English accents and the other character voices?
CLJ: Yeah, man! Like, (burst out laughing, as do I) I don’t know why! It’s like...the last ten years, all of the music I’ve been writing has been just very much this sound. Sometimes I stray from it, but I always seem to come back and so, all I can think of is have it gotten it out of my system yet, you know?
CLJ: Whatever that entails. See what happens next! Hahaha! Every time I’ve tried to...the last few records, I’ve tried to say, ‘I’m not gonna do this! I’m not gonna sound so like ‘this’! No more English Invasion!’ or whatever, and, you know, it gets right back to it for whatever reason. It’s eating me and I’m just, like, killin’ it, or else I’m saying ‘Okay! Let’s do it!’ (laughs) Let’s do that!
GG: Hahaha, fair enough! That makes sense!
CLJ: I think it also came from me trying to figure out how that...I think there was, when I was 20, a desire to replicate (that type of sound and writing style - Ray), to an extent, and then finding myself, to what I thought as being able to pull it off, or, it might’ve been something like identifying with it, with being able to pull it off, and then it becoming a very safe place to get it out through this kind of sound or something, I dunno what it is really, but it’s been going on for the last ten years! (laughs)
GG: The inner Syd Barret has lived within you for a decade.
CLJ: That record was all the John Lennon, Syd Barret stuff, you know, like Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson. I was really young when I heard Sgt Pepper’s as a kid and that really affected me a lot. Then, as I got older, there was like Velvet Underground. They also did the same thing: they showed me all the rules that they broke in order to get the sound that they got, to make what they made. There’s more proof, you know? Of what you think everybody may be afraid of, but you feel so strongly about. I just needed more and more people like that to emphasise that to myself until I had the courage to do it myself when I was 18. As I get older, I find I’m a little more fearless in some ways and more fearful in other ways, trying to maintain this kind of, uh...embrace the chaos, embrace the mistakes! Get dirty! There was a TV show called Magic School Bus, and she’d go (puts on crazy high-pitched voice) ‘Get messy and make mistakes!’, something like that! Then they’d do something crazy like, you know, become the size of atoms or something.
GG: That’s a really good rue to take with you, isn’t it? Get messy and make mistakes.
CLJ: Yeah, and it’s only since I was 18, and 20 and 21, 23 and you know, even now, I keep finding myself, like, having to embrace it more because there’s something scary about that: about not being in control. But there’s something freeing with it, too, and usually, through that lack of control, I find something much more extraordinary. So, in making this record, it’s something I’ve been playing with these last ten years and I’ve really gone down the rabbit hole with and let that happen, and so this record didn’t differ in any way form that, you know what I mean?
CLG: It’s getting the bones for the song and coming in with the bones, putting down the guitars, the vocals and the drums. Then sitting down with keyboards for the second week and allowing kind of anything from old-new things you know you want to be in there, to things you have no idea, to try out things. Cuz you can always take them out at the end of the day! (laughs) And I’m not a very technically skilled musician whatsoever, so a lot of what I do kinda comes from ramshackle bumbling around kinda-thing, you know? Haha! I think at 18, I tried really hard to control that for the first few records I made by myself. I really tried to control that. In my early 20s, I think I completely revoked that idea. I think this record is a part of that.
GG: Yeah, I hear you. And so, all the string parts, and the horns and things: is that all musicians that you’ve hired in, or are you guys doing that with software?
CLJ: Oh no, those are absolutely real people. Yeah, we had a bunch of different players come in. Um, some were able to come in more than once, and some weren’t, due to scheduling and stuff. Cuz they’re all busy (laughs) doing real work! So they were coming in to play around with me for a few hours.
GG: Sure, man.
CLJ: They’re like: ‘Who wrote this song? Was it the kid giving us tea?’ The only thing digital on the record is my keyboards.
CLJ: But still, a man plays them haha! But that stuff, that was all written by Drew, Drew Erickson. He wrote all of those (horn and string - Ray) arrangements. Nic, the producer, introduced me to him while we were recording the record, while we were trying to realise that we had enough money to do it and that we could do it. Once that happened, Drew got onboard and he put in a few songs, we did some days of work and that went on later to doing more. Now, I feel like I can’t do it without him! (laughs) It’s really beautiful to develop these friendships too, at the same time.
GG: Oh yeah, undoubtedly. That’s the best thing about it, in many ways, isn’t it?
CLJ: Yeah, that’s when it becomes something even bigger than yourself, you know?
GG: Yeah, indeed. Out of interest, what kind of keyboard do you like using anyway?
CLJ: On this one, I’ve got, um...geez, I can’t tell you what kinda Casios. I used one Casio, I think two Yamahas and I can’t tell you what those are because I have no idea! They were in the studio. And then, I used a Mopho, I brought the Mopho and I brought...oh, what is she called? Ah man, I’m going blank! It’s the same company, Dave Smith, the Prophet!
GG: Ah, the prophet! Amazing synth.
CLJ: Yeah, great keyboard! Yeah! Unbelievable! You can make it do anything! Anyway, those two were used, and you know, Nic had an arsenal in the studio, like a Hammond and a celeste. Other stuff too, I can’t remember what they were, but Wurlitzers, things like that. So there’s a mixture of everything apart from the barn! We used everything we wanted! We’d plug it in: ‘How long’s that gonna take? An hour? Ah, I like it, it’ll be worth it! Let’s do it!’ (laughs) You know, go outside, smoke 4 joints, come back, ‘we don’t have it ready’. Okay, okay, okay. Go out with a Batman comic, come back, we’re all ready to go and I’m so high that it’ll take us 5 minutes before anything concrete can happen.
CLJ: That’s probably why Zappa didn’t put up with it.
GG: Totally, haha! So, one of the things I wanted to ask is: you’ve worked with Jim Jarmusch, who is obviously a very music-influenced filmmaker, and so is David Lynch, whom you worked with on Twin Peaks.
GG: When you worked with him on Twin Peaks, did you guys ever have any kind of musical interaction? Or conversations about music?
CLJ: No, I was, I was in a, I was...no! (laughs)
CLJ: I was pretty nervous, and I was playing a character who was going through a (starts laughing) bunch of stuff that I think I was going through what I was going through at the end, at the beginning! Hahaha! I was having a tough time! But uh, all I was thinking about was ‘don’t screw up the lines’! Remember the lines! But yeah, no we didn’t. We did talk about the character in the beginning. That was about it.
GG: Okay, cool. It’s quite something, to be a part of Twin Peaks. It’s quite a special cultural thing, isn’t it?
CLJ: Yeah, I’d say! But I’m a fan! (laughs)
GG: You were a fan already, yeah?
CLJ: Yeah, yeah I was at the barn, in the middle of making a few records at the time, and I remember I had the first and second Season on VHS together, so I brought that. And I also had the first episode, the one-off or whatever, that they did?
GG: Oh yeah, the pilot?
CLJ: Yeah, the pilot. They had that on DVD, so I got to watch it, and then I got a call (starts laughing) not too much later, like (puts on a slightly ludicrous David Lynch accent) ‘Heyyy, we’re gonna be working on Twin Peaks’ and I was just going ‘what?’! Haha! And then watched Fire Walk With Me (Twin Peaks prequel movie) and went ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know about this!’
GG: Hahaha! That’s an intense movie!
CLJ: Well, to me, that’s the film that, I mean, c’mon, the first episode is just fuckin’ insane, you know? You’ve got, like, Palmer dancing with his daughter’s picture frame, you know what I mean?
GG: I certainly do! I know it well!
CLJ: You know it well! (laughs) That scene opens it up off the bat, you know? Haha! You just don’t understand the gravity to the situation yet.
GG: That’s it! That’s Twin Peaks, really, isn’t it?
CLJ: Fire Walk With Me was this realism that lasted for far longer than it ever had before, you know, in the world, for something like that. It was like they were playing around with those spaces but in the film, you’re wallowing in those spaces for so long. Longer than you ever have before, in the series or anything, you know?
GG: Yeah, that’s a great way to express it.
CLJ: To me, it’s like ‘Jeez Louise...(exhales) Whoa!’ (laughs)
GG: Totally! So, Caleb, I only have you for a few more minutes, so, I wonder: you create music all the time; do you have another record ready and waiting?
CLJ: Uh, I mean, yes and no. I was in the middle of making this record, so it felt like this is what we needed to do. It felt like that’s what needed to come out right away! (laughs) But, you know, that needed to be the first out of the gate. I was working at Stone’s Throw studios a year before that and we made a record over there with Jake, the engineer. So, I was still questioning whether or not to put that record out before this one, but I just felt like this was the one.
GG: This was the statement?
CLJ: Yeah, and I could’ve over all this time, put it out on YouTube or Myspace or whatever...well, I guess I did do it on Myspace quite a bit when I was 16 or 17, but you know, I could have put it out myself, some of these records, but something always held me back. I couldn’t express to my friends who are on these records sometimes, who’d go ‘Why aren’t you putting it out?’ and I’d go ‘Mmm...not yeeet’ (laughs) I didn’t have a good enough reason, but enough to not do anything with them.
CLJ: I felt like I was waiting for something special. Something very particular, I just didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know if it was necessarily a label. I was waiting to meet certain people and I feel that I t happened in the last year.
GG: That’s fantastic for you!
CLJ: Somehow it just felt right.
GG: That’s so great, Caleb! So, after the lockdown inevitably ends, do you plan, in between movies, doing any touring?
CLJ: Yeah, I don’t know! When I was making the record, all I was thinking about was making it, not necessarily what it would look like on its feet. After I’d finished, I realised I had 20 or 21 people on there, you know, in a roundabout way, to compete the whole thing. But I’d love to do something on that kinda scale, I’m just not sure what it’ll be or what we’re gonna do, or how long it’ll take. We’ll see! Everything’s a possibility!
Caleb’s PA came on the line to signal our time. Caleb and I chatted briefly about some of the great movies he’s been a part of, and as we were saying goodbye, he said:
CLJ: Ray, I hope you’ve been doing at least some of this outside. Are you outside?
GG: No, still at the kitchen!
CLJ: Oh, well now you can go outside and fly a kite! (pause) Maybe flying kites isn’t your thing...
It isn’t really, but after coming off the phone with Caleb, flying a kite sounded like pretty much the best idea in the world. Especially with a Great Pyrenees to accompany!
Caleb’s album, The Mother Stone, should be out now on Sacred Bones records. It’s an amazing journey, and one well worth going on. We can’t wait to hear what comes next.
We’d like to thank Caleb for giving us such an enjoyable conversation! We’d also like to thank Kate Price for organising everything.
Thanks for reading!