Kurt Wagner isn’t sure if he would have formed Lambchop if he failed to catch a Vic Chestnutt show in 1990.
“That concert had a huge impact on me,” Wagner recalled. “He was touring behind his first album (‘Little’) and he played this show in Asheville (North Carolina) and there were two people in the audience and I was one of them. I spoke with him and told him that I was recording and he made me realize that I wasn’t crazy for getting into music.”
Wagner started to record with Lambchop shortly after his brush with Chestnutt He produced Chestnutt’s sublime 1998 album, ‘The Salesman and Bernadette, which featured Lambchop.
“That was one of the all-time high points for me,” Wagner said. “There was nobody who tried harder to be an artist than Vic Chestnutt. He was the total package and then some.”
It’s not surprising that Wagner was devastated when the partially paralyzed Chestnutt passed away in late 2009.
“It was hard to believe,” Wagner said. “There was no one else like him.”
The singer-songwriter and his band were in the embryonic stages of ‘Mr. M,’ Lambchop’s latest album, when Chestnutt died.
The quirky alt-country band tips its cap to Wagner’s greatest influence throughout the disc. The baroque songs don’t pay direct homage to Chestnutt but the sense of loss and sadness is palpable. The poignant lyrics and gorgeous melodies delivered by one of the most unique bands on the circuit make this one of Lambchop’s most moving works.
“I think we do things our way,” Wagner said. “There’s nobody else like us.”
That’s an understatement since Lambchop, which will perform Wednesday at World Café Live, has no desire to fit in with the rest of the music world. It’s latest album has its share of inscrutable lyrics. (‘We took the Christmas lights off the porch/on February 31st).
Wagner and his ever-evolving lineup is a welcome bunch of nut jobs, who have no interest in chasing a trend. Lambchop has remained wonderfully weird for over 20 years.
“We have our own identity,” Wagner said. “We don’t try to be someone else. We wouldn’t know how to do that. We’re true to ourselves.”
That was Chestnutt’s story as well. Wagner and Chestnutt connected since they were kindred spirits from the South.
“We had quite a bit in common,” Wagner said. “Now he’s gone and we’ll carry on. I love being in this band. We have so much freedom or is that a general lack of ambition?”
Wagner is joking. Lambchop has artistic drive but it’s not concerned about the mainstream.
“That’s due to our label (Merge Records),” Wagner said. “You have bands there like Superchunk and it’s all about the music. Our label is like this hothouse for bands that want to make the best possible music. They trust what we do so can make a record like ‘Mr. M.’ It’s about making the greatest record you can make. That’s the way it was for Vic Chestnutt and that’s the way it is for us.”