The Fake Retirement of Ted Leo

Rumors aside, the mod-punk icon still gives a fuck. Maybe too much of one.

"But ultimately," he adds, "I feel like I'm on the right side of some imaginary line."

The Brutalist Bricks, Leo's newest album, came out in March. It's more relaxed than much of the Pharmacists' output over the past decade, which was marked primarily by the Bush administration and Leo's furious response to it. Bricks finds him in a less topical, more abstract mode; even the melodies, always his strong suit, are less concentrated and more diffuse. Songs tend to work with one or two ideas instead of five. Some of this is age and experience: "I'm just personally sick of having every song that I write be so weighted down with every single bit of meaning," he says now.

But in part, Brutalist Bricks is an attempt to restate, using a slightly different formal frame, the way Leo has felt all along: "The idea is that the only reason that I'm pissed off about any of this is because of how much I love it all," he says, when asked about the way the personal and the political commingle on newer songs like "Bottled in Cork." "There's that Crass line when they say, 'People always ask us why we never write love songs, and our answer is, What do you mean we don't write love songs? Everything we do is a love song. Everything we write is a love song. Our love of life is total.' And that's absolutely why I give a fuck in the first place—just because I actually give a fuck."

Somewhere during our conversation, I realize that the weird chirping noises I'm hearing in the background are birds. Leo is looking forward to Siren Festival, he says, where he'll perform this Saturday, followed by a booking slate that will take him through the end of 2010. After that, who knows? "I imagine we'll have to tour less, you know, because we'll have to be working in other ways more," he says. "Beyond that, this is all in process."

Ted Leo headlines the Voice's Siren Festival July 17 with Matt & Kim, Surfer Blood, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and so on

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