In your book "It Still Moves," you travel through the South to learn more about Americana and folk. What got you interested in the genres -- enough to want to spend so much time on the road investigating it?
In terms of wanting to write about it now, I was sort of coming from this indie-rock place, writing for Pitchfork. It seemed like there was this interesting cultural moment when a lot of younger artists in the independent rock realm got into this music -- suddenly I was hearing "Anthology of American Folk Music," I was hearing the Carter family. It was interesting to see those kinds of things collide in that way. I had written an article for Paste magazine that was sort of about finding the next American music. It was about this free folk, indie-folk stuff that was really popular at the time -- Iron & Wine, Wilco and slightly more avant-garde stuff like Animal Collective. It was also an opportunity -- and I think this is a very American thing, too -- to look at the way place influences sound. To really think about Americana as music about a place, or of a place. And the best way to do that was to just go.
You mention in "It Still Moves" that musicians often say the best music comes from the South. You're a native New Yorker, so do you share that opinion?
You know, I do. I feel like I'm betraying my region. I think it's very true. All of my favorite music and the bulk of my favorite writers are from the South. It's interesting to think about. Why this plot of land, why is it so artistically fertile? There are a maybe a million reasons why. I don't know why. I wish I knew.
You write a lot about the history of the Interstate highway system, and "It Still Moves" seems as much a travel book as a music book. How do you think music is affected by the road?
That was something that came from all this time spent driving. I became interested in roads, and where they came from and the way which they were designed. I was thinking about the seeds of this music, how it's endured and traveled. Much of these genres started out very much products of their region, and since then Americana has been popping up in Vermont. So it became a story, in my mind, about traveling and things moving and things becoming less regionalized. Roads played an obvious role in that, in how we move in this country.
"It Still Moves" is also the title of a My Morning Jacket album -- any connection there?
It's sort of a neat coincidence that it was also the name of an album by a band that is very much relevant to these ideas. It's certainly not named for that record, although I'm a big fan of My Morning Jacket and I very much enjoy that LP. I sort of got the idea for that title mostly from an article I read in Vanity Fair magazine by Donovan Hohn. There's a quote at the beginning of the book where he talks about the difference between America and Americana, which ends by him saying, "Does it move?" Not only does it go with the idea of highways and moving around, but then also the idea of this music enduring and changing and being perverted in all sorts of ways.
So how did your travels move you?
It was really just an incredible experience. It was surprisingly emotional, at times -- going to A.P. Carter's grave, sitting on a hill in the middle of nowhere in western Virginia. When you're a working critic, you kind of get detached from music in a way. You're living this 9-5 thing, you're listening to tons of records, you're not primed to connect with thing the way you used to. It was a great opportunity to slow down and reconnect with these records, in this almost primal way, because you're going to the landscapes where these records were sprung. You're connecting in a way that's more intimate, I guess, than an iPod or checking out a MySpace page. I also just thought more about music, in terms of being a regional thing -- getting back to music being a part of a place, and getting to see that place.