If the measure of a great record is how it reveals itself over time, then Greg Copeland’s “Diana and James” is a masterpiece. It’s a blend of “Cold Mountain” musical textures and Cormac McCarthy literary elements like murder, regret and brooding historical reverie.
But its arrival, 26 years past Copeland’s incendiary debut album, still doesn’t unravel the mystery of the years connecting both works.
Where did he go, and who returned? These and other questions were recently put to Greg Copeland.
What have you done with the fury that shaped so much of “Revenge Will Come”?
The fury you’re talking about is part of my emotional DNA and can’t be extracted; it’s a kind of fuel in my engine, but now I’m driving the same car to a different place.
For me, “Revenge Will Come” is largely an outward-looking record … mostly informed by my own version of the punk ethos. The Clash was literally “the only band that mattered” for me when I wrote it, and music was one big wasteland between “London Calling” and Joe Henry’s “Scar”. I can’t think of a single record that really knocked me out between those two.
But [much of the genre is] about blame — i.e., how stupid and shallow OTHER people are (corporate figures, girlfriends, mindless workers, etc.) and how THEY have messed ME up. The big “f*ck all” that’s crouched in the heart of the best punk music can (and, for me, did) deteriorate into a refusal to recognize that I was to blame as much as anyone else for my own condition.
The two records sound like they might have come from different artists.
I know and people have been telling me that and I kind of like that actually. There’s something about that that appeals to me, because I don’t feel like the person that made “Revenge Will Come.” I mean, in a sense I do, but as a songwriter I don’t. As a songwriter I feel very different. So it would make sense that they would seem different.
“Diana and James” is an inward-looking record, because that’s where love is — and love (with all its sharp-toothed details) is the central theme of the record.
How did your return to songwriting happen?
I didn’t make a conscious decision to begin writing songs again; the songs themselves simply insisted that they be written … I was the only “volunteer” in the room at the time. Every one of those songs is a direct reflection of something specific that was happening in my own … life.
I would wager that all of the songs on “Diana and James” have two or more contradictory emotions at work at the same time, like the counter-springs in a clock, because that’s what I was going through. “King Confusion” indeed.
Where did you go after “Revenge Will Come”?
I decided, I gotta make a living. A friend of mine who worked at a really big law firm … had this huge case, and they were hiring paralegals. Not off the street, but they might as well have been. If you could read English they could use you. I just showed up thinking I could get about six weeks worth of work. I decided that I wanted to be a paralegal, and I was for a couple of years, then I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, and I fell in with a law firm that I just love, it was real ethical and everything you’d want, and I just kind of did what they did.
Then you re-discovered your muse?
That lasted for 15 years and I just got sick of it. I got to this point where I just had to write. I had done it before and I had that gene that knew what to do, but I didn’t have anything. Then a friend asked me, are you still writing songs. He knew what I’d done before and was curious why I wasn’t doing it any more. Then he asked me why, and I hadn’t really considered it. So I had to figure out why, and just get past it. Having gone through that process, it took me a couple of years to feel it was real, rather than just a whim.
So now you’re a lawyer who writes?
It was something where there was a particular moment, a three-month period where I changed from being a lawyer who wrote songs to being a songwriter with a day job. And that’s where I am now. I love my job, there’s a lot of flexibility, I don’t have to do any bullshit, I do a good job, work about half of what real lawyer works, dollar in dollar out, and the rest of the time write.
Do you have any plans to perform live?
I’m a writer. You can phrase it anyway you want. I love writing, I love recording, but when the record’s done, my job is done. I don’t hold myself out as an entertainer; I’m a songwriter. I’m not the guy up on stage. It’s not my thing – at least not now.