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Music Interview: Tortoise

Words By: Laurent Shervington


It’s about quarter past six in the morning and I’m in a particularly windy park  with a laptop and mobile phone. It’s also Election Day for the United States today. About thirty clicks outside of Cologne, John Herndon of pioneering Chicago experimental-rock outfit Tortoise picks up the phone, somehow sounding energetic at 2am German time.

In January Tortoise released ‘The Catastrophist’, their latest contact since 2009’s ‘Beacon of Ancestorship’ and Herndon still feels super happy with the full length: “I feel great about it, [over the year] the music has really taken a new life in a live setting”.

That night the band was in fact set to play their 100th show in Germany, planning to celebrate the milestone with friends from around the world, and John in particular was optimistic about celebrating “the demise of Donald Trump” on the night too. (Post Election Edit – ah!!).

I quizzed Herndon about the role of politics in music, in particular recent political songs like YG & Nipsey Hussle’s ‘FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)’ and Tim Heidecker’s ‘Trump’s Pilot’, and whether they have the power to change people’s perspectives on the election. Amusingly frank, Herndon’s take was that while the songs alone might not have the power to change people’s opinions, the artist behind them do: “I’m kind of putting myself in the mind of a much younger person and wondering if there are kids who might be on the fence and are fans of rap music, for example, Chance the Rapper. Chance recently performed in Chicago as a rally to get out and vote, it’s possible there were some undecided kids who thought “oh Chance is voting for Hilary, I’m gonna vote for Hilary!”.

When I asked whether he ever consider recording a song about the election, Herndon claimed that “All of [Tortoise’s] songs are about us getting elected president, we’re pretty much the presidents of everlasting love and peace and orgasms for all people”, a great sentiment in retrospect.

Tortoise are of course performing at the Rosemount Hotel on the 10th of December, and according to John will be playing tracks from all of their records – “a mixed bag really, but heavy on the newer material” as it’s the stuff that is most interesting to the band.

In terms of future plans for the band, they’re finishing off their tour and kicking back for a bit before heading back into the studio, Herndon concluded by telling me the band is “undergoing a big transition, I don’t really know what is going to happen but it’s exciting and I feel lucky! I’m so happy to be playing with them.” So are we John, So are we.

Get your tickets to the show on the 10th here.