When Caleb Landry Jones, the actor known for turned-to-ten roles in films like Get Out, Heaven Knows What, and Twin Peaks: The Return, announced a solo album (The Mother Stone, released on Sacred Bones Records) in 2020, I immediately jumped on it. I was pleasantly surprised by its sound, a high-ambition melange of ‘60s-era baroque pop and progressive rock. Just over a year later, Jones revealed a sophomore record, Gadzooks Vol. 1, which doubles down on The Mother Stone’s strengths while cutting its runtime in half; it runs the gamut from the pop of “Yesterday Will Come” to a 22-minute musique-concrete closer “This Won’t Come Back.”
This time around I got the chance to speak with Jones, a true original: an unpretentious, unreconstructed artist. He’s given to friendly bouts of laughter that punctuate and ironize his points. The conversation we had, presented here, is an extension of his music: eccentric, funny, prone to digression and jam.
The Film Stage: I’m excited to talk about this record. I’m a big fan of this and The Mother Stone.
Caleb Landry Jones: Did you get to listen to it? Did they send you the whole thing?
Yeah. They sent me the whole thing. I got to freak out my roommates with that last track, the 20-minute one: “This Won’t Come Back.”
Did they stay and listen to the whole thing, or…?
Yeah. I made some pancakes and we listened to the whole thing.
That sounds pretty good. Pancakes and that song. It takes probably about half the time of that song and then you can eat the pancakes.
Well I put in some blueberries and stuff, so it took a little longer.
Pancake….whas’ a pancake take? 2 minutes? 3 minutes? If you get the pan hot enough.
Well, yeah. I had to reset the pan a couple times. You know when it overheats, and it has a little bit of that gas going off or whatever?
I’ve got Eggos in the freezer.
You have what?
I’ve got Eggos in the freezer. For about two months now.
You gotta break ‘em out sometime, you know?
That was the trouble. I did. I had one of ‘em and I thought: man… this is why my parents never bought these for me when I was a kid.
They’re insane. Especially the cinnamon toast ones?
I dunno. I got the original kind.
Oh, yeah. They’re not bad either. Well, funny enough, to kick this off, I figured out that we’re—maybe not friends of friends exactly, but I have a friend I play music with, Katy Rea, who said she kind of knew you back in the day, near Farmersville, TX. She told me to ask about your early days playing music with Spencer Garland and John Cook. Seems like a good place to start.
Oh yeah. Well, before that, I was playing music with Robert, who plays bass and guitar on the record. And we met when we were like 5, and then we started playing in worship band together. And from then on out just playing every weekend. Then met folks like Spencer and John, and they were doing the same thing—you know, wanted to play music, playing music, writing music, writing songs—so we all were doing a lot of open mics, and you know, playing open mics and different shows on the weekends, you know. And for the most part we’d all go to most of each others’ stuff. [Laughs]
Had a little scene going?
I dunno, I mean… [Laughs harder]
Liked each others’ stuff.
Yeah, it’s just a thing, you know, friends, you know [Laughs even harder] friends, you know, hitting up the same open mics. [Laughs very hard]
Right. “I came to yours last week, now you gotta come to mine.”
Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know if it was as planned as that, but there wasn’t much to do on the weekends. It was a lot of fun; it was a whole lot of fun. Playing and doing open mics, and… just playing in front of people. Playing material in front of people in coffee houses. It was really good for Robert and [me] just because it was a space for us to play and get some experience. [Laughs]
Did the audience like you generally?
Uh, I don’t know. I think there was always a few folks. When there were folks. Our parents were always, you know, pretty proud [Laughs] of the songs and shows.
I have a bunch of friends who started out, musically, with worship music. I think the late ‘90s and early ‘00s were the peak for that stuff—you’d hear it in Hot Topic, even. Christian screamo, etc. Do you think that style had any influence on you, or on the music you make now?
Yeah… probably in what I don’t want to make, more or less. But there were some bands that I was into that I thought had really… like, I thought Keith Green and bands like dc Talk, I liked how each song was full of 3 or 4 ideas. Keith Green, same thing: he had really fantastic arrangements and really dramatic [Laughs] arrangements. I liken it to some of that later Cat Stevens stuff, very dramatic. [Laughs] “Father and Son.” I listened to a lot of Christian music in my teens and got really fed up with it. I didn’t hear enough… not necessarily distortion, but destruction within the music. It didn’t feel as raw as bands like the Velvet Underground. At 16 I started to move away from it, got into dirtier approaches to song-making. And to recording. And enjoyed other things—started just shifting gears I suppose. But yeah.
I have a friend that said his pipeline was Christian music to fucking Coldplay or something, and then from there—
I remember a few kids in church that were really into Coldplay, but I never got into Coldplay personally.
I managed to skip out, thankfully. I was more of a classic–rock kid. With the Pink Floyd tees in middle school.
Yeah, I hated classic rock. Classic rock to me was a lot of, uh… I dunno. I thought, like, Bon Jovi. You know. Things like that. And I wasn’t much into those guys. At the same time I probably enjoy it now more, now that I don’t take myself as seriously as maybe at 16 or 17. Now I can enjoy Bon Jovi more than I could at 15, I think.
Yeah, I agree: that ‘80s gated-drum style, it’s fuckin’ goofy, but it’s got some pleasures.
I dunno, I mean… [Laughs] I really don’t like it, but… but I think, uh, [Laughs] some of it’s so absurd that it’s kind of great.
Right. I was super anti-80s in high school, but now I can dig on, like, the Smiths or something. Obviously Prince. The Beastie Boys.
Yeah, I also wasn’t into much music from the ‘80s, and I guess that something changed a bit in the past 15 years or so. I’m finding myself liking a lot more of it, or listening to a lot more of it than I had and liking it.
Yeah. You kind of have to. It’s “in,” you know?
I don’t know about that. Around 23 I started wanting to hear more sounds from the ‘80s. More of these synth-heavy disco-y beats. I wanted to hear this [Laughs] I wanted to hear, I was enjoying that more than I did when I was 16. I despised [that sound] at 16, 17, 18… 19.
Did you ever try to make any ‘80s-style music?
Yeah, probably. I probably have in some kinda way, thought of something from the ‘80s… but on this record, no. [Laughs]
A little more, though! It’s a little more synth-y than the Mother Stone, which really gave me some old-school, proggy, psych-pop vibes.
I think the only thing, era-wise, it comes down to how we were recording, by recording on tape, and using a very old studio and, um, with everything still being the way it was so long ago. That’s probably the biggest aspect. [Laughs]
And you can’t replicate that sound on digital equipment. I think that’s what a lot of people try to do these days—everyone’s always talking about the “tape-hiss quality” that they want. But I like how the analog sound influences your material.
Yeah, we wanted to—after we did The Mother Stone—you know, Nick and I would talk. We both wanted to do the next one on tape, whatever the album was. Just because I think we’d found a rhythm with each other. I’m glad we made the first album digitally, just because it was messier in a way of getting it made. It was only a matter of months since we’d finished recording Mother Stone that we started recording Gadzooks, so it really, really, really—a real big continuation of, you know, [Laughs] the songs and “what can we do with this next batch that’ll make it better.”
I think it is a better album, too. I like both but I think this one… it has a lot of really strong songs. And I like that this one, like The Mother Stone, has a song cycle quality with a lot of transitional tracks and segues.
Song Cycle, the album?
Yeah, the album and also the —
I don’t know that album too well. I’ve heard a few tracks from it. I think it’s only because I found someone quoting me saying something about it. I don’t know it [Laughs] well enough to be talking about it.
I guess “song cycle” generally refers to… it’s not exactly a concept album, but all the songs flow together in a very specific way.
I thought you meant that album by, I forget his name—
Van Dyke Parks?
Yeah yeah. Which I… no, no, I do like that album a lot! Van Dyke Parks is wonderful. But I’ve only heard that album. I was getting him confused with someone else. I really [Laughs] like him. Drew turned me onto him—Drew who’s on the arrangements. He turned me onto Van Dyke Parks when we met for… I think it was the, we met to discuss what we were going to do, get some ideas out there and ‘put em down, and I remember he brought up Van Dyke Parks, and that got me to listen to the record. I quite liked it, and I loved that first record by, oh, what’s his face… I can’t think of his name.
No, Randy Newman. His first album. I think Van Dyke Parks—didn’t he do the arrangements for that album? I love this album very much, and so I didn’t realize I’d heard Van Dyke Parks before.
And Van Dyke Parks did a lot of the lyric writing for the Beach Boys’ Smile.
I’ve been saving Smile for myself, because I still haven’t heard the whole thing.
Smile Sessions is crazy. One of my favorites.
I’m going to listen to it in my 60s or something.
When you’ve “earned” it. That’s a song cycle, too—a lot of the songs purposefully flow into each other. I was curious about what attracts you to that album form vs. having a more separated collection of singles.
I think there’s a part of me that loves a really well-made medley. And I think when I’m making music it’s just out of the circumstances. It’s because I’m holding onto the songs until I can record them, and I’m not writing them down—except the lyrics, which in turn helps me remember the songs and the structures to some of them. So really it’s because of this situation: sitting on songs, writing them within a few weeks, and sitting on them for another few weeks. [Laughs] And because of that they morph into this really kind of long piece. And then it’s just a question of “where do I stop and start” when it comes down to a CD or vinyl or, you know… but it’s really just been happening because of time on film sets, where I’m not able to make music, or I am able to make music but I can’t record it right away.
So, yeah, they start to glue together. And before I know it I’ve figured out transitions for all of ‘em, and I get to the end of one song and I’m all, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if this came in,” and it sticks and I stay with it, you know, and don’t think tooooo much, don’t think too… too… don’t labor too much about it. But if I was recording while I was writing, they wouldn’t go like that [Laughs] because I wouldn’t give myself that time to analyze it in that way, or to play it a hundred times before recording it.
It’s funny, because it’s a far cry from the way most of the music industry works right now, which is an almost ‘50s-era return to single-driven music and playlist placement and all this crap that I’m sure you hear a little about.
You said it yourself in the last review last year about, like… you know, it’s so expensive to make records, and it is very difficult to, like: what I did with The Mother Stone was, I threw money into the well. Really giving it time to fart around a lot, so I didn’t feel rushed. But you can only do that if there’s the money there to do it, and I think it’s very difficult [Laughs] to… it means you kind of have to make it from home and bring it in to get a few things in the studio done. I think it forces the aspect of the business to the forefront of everything, because now we’re talking about money at the end of the day, and a “we’ve gotta make that money back” kind of thing. I think I’ve been fortunate in the way of funding it myself. I’ve been fortunate to not have to adhere to some of those pressures, of looking at it more like a business and less like a medium [Laughs] for an artist to work in.
I think it’s too bad that more people don’t attempt this kind of ambitious work, which is what I like about both these albums. Even 10 years ago there were a lot of bands and rappers and pop musicians that were interested in the album format. Whereas these days, no one else is really trying it.
Yeah, and I’ve always loved albums to be this really immersive thing, and when it really clicks with you—like a good book or a good movie or something—it sticks with you for a while. And you really dive into it in a way, and I love that. [Laughs] I can only hope to give folks something close to what I get out of other things.
Do you see yourself having any contemporaries musically? Anyone you’re interested in that you feel aligned with?
Man, to be honest, I don’t read any books, really. I hardly listen to much music, except for the stuff that comes in for maybe an acting role or, you know, from a friend [Laughs] telling me about, like Drew telling me about Van Dyke Parks, or it relating to what I’m working on. But I’m really not hip to any scene really.
I get that sense.
[Laughs] I mean, of course I know some bands [Laughs] that are playing right now that are making music. I’m aware of some of them, you know, but most of the folks that I read about or hear about I haven’t heard before. I’ll remember something I heard in a CVS.
CVS: where you find all the good music. In the press notes you say that your intention “is not to rob the listener of their own fantasies. I’m only interested in the album’s response by its audience.” With that in mind, and—you seem to be a fairly private person, you don’t have social media or anything—
I mean I got an Instagram, but I’m not… [Laughs] there’s not much going on on that side!
I guess this quote made me want to ask you: do you feel there’s an overload of context in the current artistic climate? You think that things are too public, or there’s a lack of mystery?
I think as a society we’re very into a particular niche, [Laughs] a fad, and how long it’ll last, I don’t know. It’ll probably just evolve and evolve like it has been. But yeah, I’ve always enjoyed not knowing too much about the folks that have influenced me. And yes, some of them I want to know everything about. But I don’t think I wanna see any of them shave in the morning, or want to see what they ate for dinner this evening… but at the same time, maybe there are some folks I’d be curious to know what’s in their refrigerator. It’s just something I’m not very connected with, I think. When it comes to this aspect of—this digital phenomenon or whatever you call it. [Laughs]
That’s part of why I enjoy what you do. I think you achieve a mystery that few public figures of this era even attempt. Do you get any pressure to update yourself? Or does everyone understand that you just do what you do?
I don’t know, I get the feeling like it might be more productive in certain ways if I did—and at the same time, the time is probably better spent making things if possible, or watching Master Chef.
Do you have any predictions for the 2020s?
The 2020s… no. Not at all. [Pause] [Laughs]
Are you playing any shows?
I’d like to; I’d like to at some point. I’d very much like to put wheels on the car. I guess I’m not sure which album’s going to walk, or what that is going to look like, what kind of tour that’ll be, or what kind of shows that’s going to be.
Any concept of what you’d want a live band to be like?
There’s a few dancing around. I suppose it’s a question of which happens first [Laughs] or how it goes, but yeah. I [feel] like I just need catch-up, and there’s a lot written that I still need to get made, so that I feel caught up. But I’m not sure—
Oh, yeah. Yeah, you know… ideas or groups of songs. Because of this year, with quarantine, I imagine a lot of folks have had a lot of time, including yourself, to write some material. I’m sure there’s a lot of folks that have been recording it and then a lot of folks probably can’t wait to record it, and I’m one of the ones that need to record it.
I think the sound for this one is a little more pared-down. With The Mother Stone I was like, “How the fuck could you ever tour on this thing?”
Such a symphonic sound, you’d need to play Royal Albert Hall or something to get everyone in there.
Yeah, and there’s some moments on Gadzooks that I feel like are more stripped-down, and then other places where it’s maybe just as illustrious. I think it just felt right. But yeah, I was struggling to figure out how to get 22 people on the stage, and how I was going to pay for that. [Laughs] Unless I’m coming out of a cannon, you know, it’s gonna be difficult to get the amount of people we would need to make that worthwhile or fundable.
I could see a lot of these songs adapting to a white-hot, five-piece rock band.
Yeah, and I’ve heard those ideas float around from people. Part of me loved when I was young, I’d go see a band, and they’d be exactly what I expected [or] better. Like a Radiohead or somebody, who are really on the mark when it comes to duplicating it live—
Crazy on the mark. Two drummers?!
I don’t about that, but in creating aspects of it that only come across through the live performance, that are a bit different. But I always was bothered when the band couldn’t pull off the record, and it was evident that they couldn’t pull off the record. [If they’re] recreating something and reenvisioning something and it’s a different take on something, then I found it easier to lean into and I found it more enjoyable, but if it’s just that the band couldn’t hit the mark [Laughs] then it was really… you were always going “dang, that was $30?”
“You guys actually kinda suck. You just knew what producer to get.”
Or how to do it in the studio. And when making these records, to be honest, I haven’t thought at all about the live [show]… I wanted to do everything and anything that came to mind in the studio, and not say no to any ideas, however big or small, and not be bogged down by “how do you make this live?” I just wanted to do it and do it my way, I suppose. And so, yeah, so it’s only now that I’m realizing, “how would we do that?”
I’m trying to think of other people touring huge-sounding albums. Joanna Newsom? She worked with Van Dyke Parks on an album called Ys.
Yeah, I remember that. I think I saw a live video of them together. But yeah, I think she’s been working at music for a bit longer [Laughs] and I was just lucky that Nick and I were able to get the players, and Drew was able to get the players to play on it. Let it work out. Because everyone’s in the middle of a bunch of different sessions all the time.
Everyone on the album rips. I love how precise the sound is.
Gadzooks Vol. 1 is out September 24 on Sacred Bones Records.