Will Sheff, Okkervil River Go the Distance with 'I Am Very Far'
Will Sheff has been having some big-budget dreams lately.
"You know how you have those dreams that are like a big Hollywood blockbuster? Some dreams are normal and some are epic," he says. "They [say] there's something more meaningful you're supposed to get from those dreams."
The correlation seems almost too obvious: As Sheff talks dream interpretations, his band Okkervil River's fifth full-length release, "I Am Very Far," is poised for a May 10 release on Jagjaguwar Records. The album, produced by Sheff, features 11 carefully orchestrated tracks that push sonic boundaries even by Okkervil River standards.
"Will went into this album knowing he was going to have the freedom to write and record however he wanted to, and I think that shows," Okkervil River's manager Ben Dickey says. "It's a deep, diverse collection of songs."
But that doesn't mean the album's intricacy was planned: During the course of more than a year, the band undertook countless hours of repeated recordings, improvisations and rehearsals. While some songs feature performances by more than 13 musicians in a live studio, others were recorded by the core band and then rehashed piecemeal, recorded again and again, then overdubbed with orchestral tracks to achieve the perfect sound.
To complement the album's purposeful diversity, Jagjaguwar has defined its marketing as decidedly mysterious, according to co-founder Darius Van Arman.
"We decided to focus on the concept that this is the Okkervil River record that different people are going to take different things from," Van Arman says. "Consistent with this approach, all of the advertising, artwork and descriptions we've used in connection to the marketing [of the album] all have an enigmatic bent."
In addition to giving four preview performances at this year's South by Southwest festival, the band has offered a free download of the song "Wake and Be Fine" for subscribers to its e-mail newsletter. The group also debuted the song live on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in January.
The amount of work surrounding the album's creation shows how far the band has come since its 2005 breakout record, "Black Sheep Boy," which drew the act national attention at SXSW that year. (The band's following two albums, "The Stage Names" and "The Stand-Ins," peaked on the Billboard 200 at Nos. 62 and 42, respectively.)
Sheff says that with "I Am Very Far," he felt more confident in the band's ability to achieve what it wanted.
"Around the time of 'Black Sheep Boy' I started getting a sense of how the 'darkroom' [of my abilities] was laid out -- sort of like, 'Oh! There's stuff over here on this table and then there's this over here,'" he says. "Ever since then it's been a lot easier to make things happen that I'm picturing and wanting."
The album is the band's first release following Sheff's venture behind the soundboard last year, to produce rock legend Roky Erickson's album "True Love Cast Out All Evil." The record, which featured performances by Okkervil River, earned Sheff a Grammy Award nomination for its liner notes.
And the spotlight on Sheff is intentional. Van Arman says Jagjaguwar has concentrated on "doing a better job as a label of really talking about who Will Sheff is [and about] his special narrative or literary skills."
The album hasn't yet been released, but Van Arman says he's nevertheless confident.
"Our gut," he says, "tells us that it's likely that this album will be the best-selling Okkervil River album yet."