Michael Azerrad vs. Jonathan Meiburg on Jet Plane and Oxbow
MA: Of all these songs, “Quiet Americans” sounds most like a hit to me, or your version of a hit, more than any other Shearwater song I’ve heard. It’s hard for me to get it out of my head. And I think I know what it means, but what does it mean to you?
JM: My idea for Jet Plane and Oxbow was to try to make a protest record that wasn’t dumb or preachy. Which was sometimes hard to reconcile with how much fun it was to do! But the more grand or triumphant the songs sounded, the more conflicted the lyrics became, which I really liked. I listened to it the other day for the first time since we mastered it and it reminded me of a breakup letter—the kind that’s furious and tender at the same time, because it’s written with love.
MA: Wow, who are you breaking up with?
JM: Good question…the United States, I guess, though that sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud. Maybe the idea of the United States. Some of the things we like to tell ourselves about ourselves. I’m as guilty of that as the next person, by the way; I’m not saying I’m the guy who sees it all clearly. I don’t know if anybody really can.
MA [in his best Bowie]: “I’m afraid of Americans!” But it can’t really be a breakup, can it? Because in a breakup you walk away, and you’re not leaving… are you?
JM: That’s the thing. I can’t stop being an American, even when it makes my skin crawl. I also can’t help loving it here, even though I hate it sometimes, too. And I don’t think I’m the only one here who feels like this. So in the end, I guess, the record felt like a way for me to send out a little beacon that just says “You’re not alone.” In the tense, polarized, tech-addled—but still very beautiful—world we’re in, I don’t think anyone can hear that enough.