“For the last 15 years, Stevens has mixed his own life history with fantastical images and stories of the ages—from the Bible, from Greek mythology, from American fables—inventing a new sort of 21st-century folklore along the way. But while this creative strategy has led to him being regarded as one of the finest songwriters on the planet, it’s also taken a personal toll. “My imagination can be a problem,” he says. “I’m prone to making my life, my family, and the world around me complicit in my cosmic fable, and often it’s not fair to manipulate the hard facts of life into a vision quest. But it’s all an attempt to extract meaning, and ultimately that’s what I’m in pursuit of, like: What’s the significance of these experiences?”
Pitchfork: Did your dad and stepmom impose Christianity onto you when you were young?
SS: No, they weren’t that religious at that time. We would go to Methodist church, because that’s what my great grandmother attended. I was the acolyte in charge of lighting the candles, which was really exciting to me. I had this childhood fantasy of becoming a priest or a preacher, so I would read and study the bible and then make my family listen to me read a passage from the New Testament before meals—and they very begrudgingly accommodated that for a while. I was just fascinated; some of my most profound spiritual and sexual experiences were at a Methodist summer camp.
Pitchfork: As in much of your work, there are references to Christianity and mythology on this album. What does faith mean to you at this point?
SS: I still describe myself as a Christian, and my love of God and my relationship with God is fundamental, but its manifestations in my life and the practices of it are constantly changing. I find incredible freedom in my faith. Yes, the kingdom of Christianity and the Church has been one of the most destructive forces in history, and there are levels of bastardization of religious beliefs. But the unique thing about Christianity is that it is so amorphous and not reductive to culture or place or anything. It’s extremely malleable.
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