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Simon Joyner: Talking with Ghosts

Songwriter and perennial outsider embraces the dour side of Nebraska

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Has anyone ever recorded a cover of one of your songs?

Bright Eyes recorded "Burn Rubber" and Conor's done several of my songs at shows. Diskothi-Q did a great version of "Javelin" on a 7-inch back in the '90s. There are a lot of interesting covers of my songs on YouTube. That's pretty great for me, maybe more so than known artists covering a song, because it really gives a sense that the music is getting out there and meaning something to people. I remember reading an interview with Leonard Cohen where he talked about hearing someone singing and playing "Suzanne" on a ship he was traveling on early in his career, and that endorsement was what kept him writing. It's not as romantic but all these kids on YouTube has that kind of effect for me, however good or bad the renditions happen to be.

Has being labeled Conor Oberst's mentor affected the way you're viewed as an artist?

The Bright Eyes connection has had the effect of a lot of people giving my music a listen and that's been all positive. It's definitely helped to bring more people to my songs than I could have done on my own — that and Conor frequently praising my songwriting in interviews. He's been a real champion and very generous. Also, you have no idea how many "Yellow Bird" tattoos there are out there on people's bodies right now. I get a lot of people showing me their yellow bird tattoos, so I have Conor to thank for using that image from a song of mine in a couple of his Wide Awake songs and inspiring a lot of ink to be spilled on ankles and shoulders. Again, very flattering to have his endorsement and to have people find my songs because of his songs.

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