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Texas Yankee ponders myth (and dishes)

Okkervil River's Sheff records, tours, cleans up.

Will Sheff, the leader of Okkervil River, the mostly Austin, Texas-based band that will co-headline The Trocadero on Friday night, with New Jersey punk-rockers Titus Andronicus opening, was on the phone last week from Brooklyn, where he has lived for the last three years.

And since it was his first day home after three weeks on the road, Sheff was not only fielding questions about I Am Very Far, the well-wrought and rocked-out new Okkervil River album, he was also taking care of domestic duties.

"I'm washing dishes," said the 34-year-old guitarist.

"When you go out on tour, the whole house shuts down. There are a lot of jars of things that are expired that I'm cleaning up."

Ah, the life of a rock star.

And while tackling such quotidian tasks, Sheff also is perfectly capable of discussing substantive issues, such as "We Need a Myth," the stately centerpiece of I Am Very Far that sets his musings about the collective spiritual crisis of Western civilization to the beat of a catchy pop song.

"That sentence just jumped out at me," says Sheff about the song title. "I was thinking about everybody. Us. Now. I wrote the sentence in a sort of sarcastic way. Like, 'We need a myth, we need a crutch.' But it's also like 'We need something to believe in, to sustain us.'

"I think as we forget our cultural roots, and get cut off from other people and the deeper part of ourselves. You can see that we're really hungry for that stuff, and we don't know where to find it anymore. I feel that about myself and I see it in the culture as well."

I Am Very Far is the sixth album by the band that named itself after a Tatyana Tolstoya short story.

"I had just read it and liked it a lot and said, 'Guys, what about this for a band name?' They really liked it, and the minute it left my mouth I thought, 'Oh my God, what a terrible band name.' So it's ironically hilarious that I'm the one who has to carry this name all over God's creation while none of those guys are still in the band."

Three-fifths of Okkervil still reside in Austin, where Sheff, a New Hampshire native, moved to start the band in 1998. "I'm very much a Northeasterner at heart," says Sheff, who produced Austin psych-rock legend Roky Erickson's 2010 album True Love Cast Out All Evil. "People think we're such a Texas band. I lived there for eight years, but I was always aware that I was a Yankee."

Sheff has his doubts about Okkervil River as a name because it's hard to spell and not easy to pronounce. But it doesn't concern him in the slightest that some might call him "pretentious" for naming his band after a short story by Leo Tolstoy's great-great-grandniece.

"I always knew that the things I was doing could be described as pretentious," he says. "But it never really bothered me.

"Because I think most of my favorite artists are people who often get described as pretentious. The Incredible String Band would be a good example.

"Anyone who's got a really grand ambition for music, those are the kind of people who risk being called pretentious.

"When we think about the word pretentious, we're talking about somebody putting on airs and trying to seem smarter than they are and trying to impress people."

"I think it's just as common if not more common that people who get called pretentious are just incredibly sincere about what they're doing," Sheff says, and though he's not referring to his own artistic approach, he could be. "They have a really intense vision of what their work could be, and don't want to put a limit on it and are just very passionate about it."