Cass McCombs says he’s no one. But he’s definitely somebody.
The singer-songwriter has released seven full-length albums, toured the world and developed a reputation as a relatively press-shy nomad. His sound ranges from folkie dream-pop to hypnotic rock jams in the vein of the Grateful Dead.
“I have nothing to teach,” McCombs says by phone from “somewhere in California.” “I have nothing to learn. I am no one. I have no identity.”
The 36-year-old musician, who performs Sunday at the Black Cat, is talking about self-reflection and how he sees contemplating one’s experiences to be a foolish act. It seems like an odd stance to take, considering the stories and emotions McCombs communicates with his art.
“If you have a moment of reflection, it will find you, if it’s necessary,” he says. “But that’s not what music is for. That’s perverted, you know. Music should be fun. It should be challenging.”
Though McCombs’ catalog offers plenty of fun, there is also a profound depth of feeling in his music. There is a sincere seriousness to some of his music that seems to belie his mission statement of fun. His songs are not sharp or prickly, but full, inviting, and expansive, inspiring a sense of wonder.
McCombs’ latest record is the double album “Big Wheel and Others,” released last fall. As befits the nature of a double album, the tracks seem to have a certain freedom from constraint, much like their creator.
According to McCombs, his own life does not play into his songwriting and any seeming autobiography is, in fact, not. Forget thinking of “Lionkiller” as a detailed account of his birth, or “The Executioner’s Song” as representing his actual feelings about his own job. McCombs prefers a separation between art and artist.
“On a really basic level, no, my songs are not inspired by my life,” he says. “Life is not story. You know? Life is life. … There’s no history. There’s no facts. Life just goes. It flows. It goes and changes. It vaporizes as soon as you try to put your finger on it, you know?
“So, I would never try to, like, associate with life,” he continues. “It’s impossible. My life has nothing to do with this. No artist’s life is what their art’s about. That’s not what life is. … Feelings are closer to life than anything.”
As strongly as he feels on the subject, McCombs won’t be publishing a book full of his thoughts on existence and identity anytime soon.
“No, no. That’s not my thing,” he says. “I’m an entertainer, I’m a guitar player. All this philosophy stuff, it’s a hobby. I mean, it’s also our obligation.”
A personal obligation?
“An intrinsic obligation to the gifts of life. Philosophy is an obligation. We have to further ourselves. We can’t be complacent. We have to push ourselves.”
Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; Sun., 8 p.m., $15; 202-667-4490. (U Street)