At his recent Massey Hall show in Toronto, Sufjan Stevens said some pretty revealing things onstage. At one point, he thanked the audience for their appreciation of his work and suggested that making the music on his new album, The Age of Adz, got him through a very difficult year. In an interview with Exclaim! this week, Stevens elaborated upon his vague stage banter, and his insights are rather shocking.
"I probably shouldn't go into the gory details of what I went through, but I will say that I did get very sick last year and had some serious health issues that were really confusing and mysterious and debilitating," Stevens reveals. "For several months, I couldn't really work and was forced to focus on my physicality and restoring myself. It took several months before I could even get back to working again and writing music.
"I was really, really desperate to get better because I had started so much music; I had begun all of these projects and was recording a lot. Then when I went back to it, I found it really overwhelming and I didn't know how to approach it. So, this record, The Age of Adz, is, in some ways, a result of that process of working through health issues and getting much more in touch with my physical self. That's why I think the record's really obsessed with sensation and has a hysterical melodrama to it."
While the perplexing, electronic-based album does contain many references to love and death, most listeners might rightly assume Stevens utilized all of these as artistic devices. Now it's clear that he was undergoing his own devastating physical hardship.
"Yeah, it was really confusing and catastrophic in a lot of ways because it was a virus I had that affected my nervous system and I no longer had control of my responses to circumstances and events," he explains further. "I had this hyper-adrenaline and was in chronic pain. I had to go and see neurologists and physical therapists and do all of these tests. The nervous system, the brain and spinal cord are so mysterious, profound and beyond our understanding. When you're not well and your body has these traumatic responses to illness, it takes so long to recover from that and have your body restore itself. It took months and months and months. It was really bizarre."
Fortunately for Stevens and all who love him, he's feeling much better now. "Yeah, I'm really good. I'm much more conscious of myself and my health and have a much lower threshold in terms of my workload. I think that's a good thing. I'm trying to be a really good steward of my body. I think working through that in the music has also allowed me to really change my perspective on my work, not take it for granted, and to really delight in every opportunity that I have to be creative and share my work. That's really vital to me now."
The Age of Adz is out now on Asthmatic Kitty. Head here for the full list of Stevens's upcoming North American tour dates.