GEN F: Cass McCombs

Photographer Todd Cole
October 25, 2010

Since leaving the Bay Area just after he graduated high school, Cass McCombs has lived a gypsy existence filled with unpredictable migratory patterns and slippery language. The nomadic troubadour has wandered from coast to coast and back again, sleeping on floors and in cars, writing songs and cutting records—beautiful, beautiful records.

In the process, McCombs has also developed a gift for conjuring blurry imagery for his melodies to tip-toe or cartwheel around. His poetic ambiguities are as maddening as those melodies are difficult to shake. “Writing is not really the be all, end all of thinking. It should be a way to move you from one thought to another,” McCombs says on the phone from Los Angeles, his soon-to-be-former home and the recording site of his upcoming LP Dropping the Writ. “It’s like in Exodus: ‘No man shall speak the name of God and live.’ Once you speak, once you say any word it loses its ability to keep growing. Every time I sing, every time I speak, I’m killing words.” Though he claims to have never been force-fed religion as a young man, biblical imagery also peppered the gothic-pop of his last effort, Prefection, an album the soft-spoken McCombs remembers as “cursed” and “satanic.”

Years in the making, Dropping the Writ served as catharsis for McCombs, a “regime change” not just in body, but in spirit as well. The creation of the record cleansed McCombs, but also washed away a toxic film left by those he recorded and cavorted with during the Prefection sessions, a network of friends that he says collapsed around him in the process. Dropping the Writ is a sonic marriage of the jangling guitar curls and tall grass finger-picking that had lived separately on his previous work. But within this mix, one constant remains: McCombs’s croon, a light-footed instrument ideal for the impressionistic, stained glass projections his lyrics produce. “I tried to make it a cross of all the records I’ve done. I don’t know if it’s a happy record, but it’s definitely not as dark as [Prefection]. Things were incredibly fucked up and just in writing this record I was able to avoid dying.”

Despite his cryptic musings both in song and conversation, McCombs wields a wit that floats under the radar, hidden in the labyrinth of his words. “Enlightenment is a lie,” he says. “That’s what I need to remind myself, that I am a worm, that I am not a god. Thinking these things helps me, and it’s not just for writing, it helps me get through the day. It’s basically not taking myself so seriously.”

GEN F: Cass McCombs