The use of the first person narrator makes your latest album The Book of Traps and Lessons feel incredibly intimate. Was that a conscious decision?
I was encouraged by [producer] Rick Rubin to pursue the poems and the songs that were written in the first person. These are the ones that he was most moved by, most excited by. Then when I had the bones of the album and I began to understand what story I was trying to tell. It just felt right to have this character speaking from the first person, like a kind of old school poetic journey of account and witness.
Every single thing that I've written – whether the albums, the plays, the novel – it's been about me trying to get to grips with something that's been happening in my own life. That's just my experience of fiction, it begins in truth, and usually the most powerful and profound stories are the ones that come from real experience.
Your musical style is so unique. Often the backing feels ephemeral and dreamy, but the lyrics are so affecting. How do you write this way?
Dan Carey, the guy that I’ve been working with since Everybody Down (2014), writes the music and I write the lyrics. We work together in the room and the things that he does affect the direction of my writing. If he's writing something that I'm into he knows that I'm into it because he'll hear my pen move faster across the paper.
The single ‘People’s Faces’ is such a beautiful capsule of this moment in history. How important is storytelling in times like this?
For me the role of the musician, the poet, the artist is really important. There is a necessity for numbness in the times that we live in. You have to be numb otherwise you'll go mad. That numbness is pervasive and leads to complicity in all kinds of things that you're uncomfortable with. The thing that music can do is connect you again to the present, ground you in the present. I think that's so powerful. The first step towards making decisions about being more empathetic, more accountable, more active, whatever it is that you want to be doing. It all starts with connection.