Esoteric and Steely Dan are practically synonymous. For more than 40 years, the duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have been pleasantly confounding music purists with their labyrinthine jazz-pop — and even more pleasantly confounding journalists in interviews.
Steely Dan is in the midst of a tour with an eyebrow-furrowing title and on some dates, the band is playing one of its classic albums in its entirety before providing some “selected” hits.
Becker and Fagen recently spent an hour on the phone with journalists and responded to questions with unusual jocularity, but frequently veered into unrelated tangents that were, if not anything else, amusing.
Here are some excerpts from that interview.
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Q: What changed in the touring landscape to turn Steely Dan into a touring band? You’ve put out two albums in the past 20 years, but have been touring regularly.
Becker: Everything has changed. First of all, we were just beginning to headline shows in the 1970s. We were usually in the band with, like, eight people in it or something and was earning $3,500 a night tops and plus you were playing under extremely variable circumstances and so on. So, it was a completely different type of experience.
Fagen: Also, most of the time in the touring in the ’70s, we were opening for The James Gang or some other band.
Becker: Also, we had this stupid bet. Remember the bet?
Fagen: What was that?
Becker: The bet about the — you don’t even remember. This is how bad it was. We had a bet that was based on picking a winner of a sporting contest and the loser of the bet had to wear this really powerful little office clamp that they would use to hold a big stack of papers together throughout the show for the next 10 years for every show we did.
Fagen: That was a turnoff.
Q: How did the tour name, “Mood Swings: 8 Miles to Pancake Day,” come about?
Becker: We made it up.
Q: Is it true that Kanye West wrote a letter to you guys to get permission for your song?
Fagen: Well, what happened is from time to time we get requests for licenses from hip-hoppers to use part of an old song or something. So, we got a clip of something from Kanye West wanting to use a piece of “Kid Charlemagne.” We usually say yes, but we didn’t like the way that one sounded.
Becker: Also, he was using a line of the vocal over and over again of Donald’s vocal, which ...
Fagen: We thought it was just too repetitive. But then he sent us a handwritten letter which it was so heartfelt that we finally gave in and acceded to his request.
Becker: Yes. He basically said that this was a song that meant a lot to him. It was written about his father and his feelings for his father and ...
Fagen: I didn’t get that at all from the music, but ...
Q: Given that we live in this high-tech modern age, Donald, I’m wondering do you do your own tweets?
Fagen: No, I’ve never had a Twitter account. So, it must be a fake. I don’t have a Facebook or a Twitter. In fact, now I don’t even have a website. I used to but I canceled it because it took too much time.
Q: Walter, how about you?
Becker: Of course not. I thought Twitter was a joke.