Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Pair of Interviews with Andrew Kenny of American Analog Set

Or American Lincoln Log Set, if you prefer. Hypnotic, drony, languid -- someone called it the best hangover music ever -- these mellow Texans put out some of the turn-of-the-century's best indie records. Lo-fi, low-key but affecting as hell, American Analog Set was a quiet little band, lazily lolling between two or three chords on an old organ.

The Set called it quits after 2005's Set Free, which was a fine place to end. It sure bested 2003's weak Promise of Love, which was preceded by the tight, concise Know By Heart and the warmly humming glow of The Golden Band.

Great places to start with the Set, packed with soft little fireplace hymns.

Leader Andrew Kenny was getting a graduate degree in molecular biology when we last touched base, and that ultimately derailed the band. He resurfaced a couple years ago with The Wooden Birds, a more acoustic/folk version of AmAnSet. Nice stuff, if a tad Iron and Wine-y.


July 16 1999 / The Golden Band tour

Do you call yourself a minimalist?

I don't know how intentionally minimal we are, because we’re not great musicians. So if we’re minimal, it’s because we don’t really have a lot to play. That’s a tough question. But enough people ask it, so I should have an answer by now.

Just in a repetion of a few simple notes and chord patterns, there’s a wealth of possibilities.

That's precisely what we’re about. We’ve come along a little bit, we’ve gotten a little better at playing our instruments. This is the first band any of us were ever in, and none of us are flashy players. We have some upbeat songs on every record, but... I don’t know if I’d call us minimalists. That’s sort of a strong word.

How did the Dr Pepper song come about?

We wrote a 30 second jingle for Dr Pepper because we’re all avid Dr Pepper drinkers. After recording the jingle, we realized "Dr Pepper’s never gonna want this. We’re just a little lo-fi band from Texas and they’re not gonna be interested." But we liked the song a lot, so we made it longer. We wrote a change and another verse, and we had a quick little pop piece, "The Wait." We always wanted to write a jingle, and those have to get going pretty quickly.

Are you getting more hi-fi, moving away from the living-room sound of your early albums?

I don't know, maybe not. It’s all home recorded, and all of our equipment is pretty ancient -- not by choice. These days, lo-fi means intentionally trying to record things in a quirky manner. To me it just means... not hi-fi. Maybe we’re mid-grade-fi these days.

You do like finding a few chords and letting them drone and drone...

Songs that drone on and on, 1000% of the time, are written by people who really like that chord progression, and those are people who really like music. That means to me that people who write music like that really like music. People who write really repetitive music are more likely to be into music for music’s sake rather than the business end of it.

Do you ever feel cynical about the music business?

I’m trying really hard not to be 28 and callused right now, but maybe I should try harder. It’s getting on me a little bit more this time, and we’re going to be out for six weeks, and I really want things to go smoothly and (big sigh) I don’t know. We’re just doing what we’ve always been doing and hopefully we’ve made a small patch of land we can stake our claim on, and people recognize that -- I hope.

When a stranger says, "describe your music," what do you come up with?

I’m glad it doesn’t come up very often. My mom’s friends will ask, "So, what do you guys sound like?" And I say, "well, we’re mellow rock." And really, at the end of the day, that’s pretty much what we are. You can call it names that are more contemporary, but really it’s just mellow rock. It’s mellow rock that I like a lot, but it’s mellow rock.

How do you feel about The Golden Band?

I like the new record. I guess it’s like having the third child: you’re not so worried about bucking 'em into the safety seat every time you get in the car.

Do you enjoy playing live -- is the crowd quiet enough or do they drown you out?

My favorite thing in the world to do is play music with Mark and Lee and Lisa; they’re my best friends and creative partners and we’re fortunate we’ve found one another. We get along really well. When we pull it off, we’re a pretty good live band. Sometimes we get out-volumed by the crowd talking and things like that, but sometimes people are really quiet.


November 20 2003 / Promise of Love tour

So, what's new?

I graduated from the University of Texas in 2001, and then took off for the Know by Heart tour for three months. Then I took a year off and wrote a lot. Then I started grad school up here in New York.

What are you studying?

Molecular biology.

What does that mean for the band?

I can’t do both. For the time being I think I’m going to make music for a little while longer, do the Analog Set for a little while. We all enjoy touring. But we all miss girlfriends, and we have other lives because we’re all getting a little bit older. But I knew I’d miss it if I left it forever at this point. I’ll do it for a little while longer and then I’ll go back and finish my PhD.

My favorite record is Promise of Love

It was full of tidy songs, that's for sure. They don't ramble on too long -- they kind of get in, do their thing, and get out. There’s stories behind all those songs, especially "Know By Heart." All those songs were written in a day. I think they’re cool stories.

And the first album I heard was The Golden Band, which I still love...

With The Golden Band, I like the way it sounds. It’s a good, moody kind of record but there’s so many things I wish I could go back and fix the mix on. On the older records, the problem was doubled or quadrupled by the fact that the entire side was mixed all at once because all the songs went right into one another. If you messed up once in a 20-minute mix it meant going back and fixing it again. Know By Heart and Promise we mixed and then went back, mixed and went back, mixed and went back. We fixed things that we thought should be louder or quieter.

Sounds like you're more of a perfectionist.

I wouldn’t call any record we play on a perfectionist’s record because we’re not outstanding musicians, but I think there’s a lot more artistry involved in the mix this time. I was happy with that -- that’s the way we’ll do things from here on out.

So, the band will continue?

In some ways, we’re fighting the good fight, and it seemed like the right thing to do. This being the only thing any of us have ever really done in life that we could be proud of, it didn’t seem right to just drop it and not do it anymore. We'll tour a lot over the summer, and then from there we’ll kind of take stock and say "Did this massive full-time touring and writing and recording schedule do us any good?" If we’re all still gung-ho, we’ll make a decision at that point.

Are you disappointed in Promise of Love?

The songs themselves I have to stand by. I think they’d be standout songs on Know By Heart if they’d been treated a little differently. They're as good as anything else we’ve ever done, but it was definitely more of a recording project, it wasn’t really about the songs. It was about making some magic happen on tape. If I had it to do over, I would go back and touch up every song on the record. At the time, I didn’t think we’d put out another record. You live and learn. I though that was going to be the period at the end of the sentence. I didn’t know it was gonna be a comma in between Know By Heart and the next record.

(Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

R.I.P. Mick Karn 1958-2011

Gerry Rafferty I can't say I'm broken up about, but I always loved Mick Karn's bass playing. I have a soft spot for self-taught musicians like Karn, who developed an idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable sound. His rubbery work on the fretless bass sounds like nobody else. It's a slithery, almost underwater sound.

His work with Japan was my introduction to his playing. The Tin Drum and Gentlemen Take Polaroids albums are great places to start. His fretless bass is all over Gary Numan's Dance, another old favorite. And I suppose that pretentious Dalis Car with Peter Murphy should get a mention. Karn's playing on the title track is liquid futuristic funk.

Another great Karn artifact is Rain Tree Crow, the record that re-united Japan in everything but name.

Karn died of cancer yesterday in England. I'll be listening to a lot of fretless bass today, methinks.

(Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mickey Hart, July 1997

Two years after the death of Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead's drummer, Mickey Hart, played a show in Colorado with his Planet Drum ensemble. We had a great phone conversation one afternoon, which first appeared in The Boulder Weekly on July 24, 1997.

This is the internet debut of that interview.

From 1967 until Jerry Garcia’s death in August of 1995, Mickey Hart played percussion with the Grateful Dead, in addition to regularly succumbing to an uncontrollable urge to uncover and bring to light music from all over the world. He recorded The Music Of Upper and Lower Egypt during a Dead tour in 1978 and has since cataloged and released music from every continent save Antarctica. He has worked and toured with the Gyuto Monks from Nepal, the Latvian Women’s Choir, Balinese gamelan orchestras, scores of African and Caribbean drummers and, most recently, Native American war veterans. 

Through Rykodisc, Hart has released lost gems from the Library of Congress, archiving hidden ethno-musical wonders. As author of the book Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm, and its accompanying album of the same name, he delved into drumming and rhythm as a cultural, social, psychological and subliminal force. 

We spoke about the Grateful Dead's legacy, the condition of global music, the death of Jerry Garcia, the Chemical Brothers, ethnocentrism, MIDI technology, World War II, Phish-heads and the meaning of life.


Is it good to be back in your traveling drum circle?

Oh yeah! This is an exciting time. It’s an amazing moment in percussive history. It’s quite a bit different from last time, though the engine is the same. The songs are completely different — much more rhythm oriented. It’s a dance groove, really. The first Planet Drum was more of a concert kind of a thing, and this is more of a dance band with a bent toward the more esoteric electronic sounds.

So you’ve embraced industrial and techno music?

I’ve been into electronic music since the German industrial bands of the 60s. And I love the Chemical Brothers, Orb, all that kind of stuff. I’ve been following their illustrious careers. I have an instrument that contains all of my percussive samples, and we call it RAMU. RAMU is the centerpiece of this Planet Drum.

What exactly is a RAMU?

Random Access Music Universe. It’s a robot. It’s basically a sound droid. It’s part real drums and then there’s the digital parts, both in this contraption. It’s sort of a newfangled instrument.

And how many of those exist?

Well, one! There’s only one RAMU! I’ve been building it for years. But until the last year or two we didn’t have the sampling power to be able to really bring all these exotic sounds to the performing arena. We can in the studio, but in concert is another thing. That was the dream, and RAMU is the realization of that. Between these master percussionists and RAMU we have every continent in the percussive zone represented. We have a stage full of instruments — all we have to do is fall either way and we’ll make a sound! It’s quite an array. I like to think of us as a Delta Force.

"World music" seems more popular than ever now.

I’ve always looked at these musics of the people of the world as great creations, perhaps their greatest creation as a culture. Thousands of years of instrument making, thousands of years of learning to play, then taking the music and marrying it with the history of the culture ... it’s like a great art treasure, a Picasso or Renoit. But it’s sound. It represents what we as a species have accumulated, all the mythos, everything is in that sonic repository. Now people are starting to understand that this is an important thing. These are great treasures, and people are collecting them and listening to them and valuing them.

Do you see America’s musical ethnocentrism beginning to unravel?

It is. It was inevitable. As soon as we started presenting this music of the world, not in a brown paper wrapper but presenting it like you would a Grateful Dead record, with perfect liner notes and looking like the jewel that it is... Remember, in the old days this was second- and third-rate music.

You didn’t think that anything else aside from classical music from Europe was first-rate. That, of course, is not the case. There are great virtuosos all over the world in places you’ve never heard of playing music you’ve never heard of. Music permeates the whole planet, every culture. And people are starting to really understand the value of them now.

Until recently, Anglo music has just been viewed as being “smarter” somehow.

Exactly — and the rest was savage music. Race music, they called it. There were many words for it, but it was never thought of as “the best.” Whenever you said “ethnic” or “folk” music it always sounded lesser. For 200 or 300 years it was this white art music from Europe and every other culture sort of suffered under this imperialism. That’s what really happened — and then the church did the rest.

For a long time, Westerners considered ethnic music too weird.

Well, when we say weird, remember that these observations about world music were made by anthropologists, and they reported with a certain kind of bias. Some of these savage, primitive tribes were among the most cultivated and spiritual on the planet. But through the eyes of a white anthropologist, all that was written was a savage, primitive take on it. It was people who knew nothing about the music but reported on it anyway. So it took years and years to be able to be a legitimate player in the soundscape of the world.

And now things have turned around a great deal — like food, sometimes it’s the otherness of these world musics that makes them interesting to us. We’re searching for something different.

Well, it’s a spiritual thing. What people are looking for in the music is that “hit,” that energy that takes them over the line, that gets them high. That’s what sacred music is all about. A lot of music that existed before entertainment was used for rituals that had to do with prayer or blessings or something to do with a higher priority ... a trance-dance kind of thing. People are looking for that, and with a lot of indigenous music, that’s at the very core. That’s what makes it so valuable. It is like food — music is one of those things you can look at like a meal. You sample all the world’s music as you would the food of the world. It’s a nourishment. And there’s a lot of bad music that was recorded as well. Now everyone’s getting in on this world music craze, and there are archives being released that are just terrible. Just because it’s indigenous doesn’t mean it’s good! There’s bad music out there just like there is here.

The American Warriors: Songs for Indian Veterans project you just released mentions that the Navajo language was used as a secret code during World War II, a code never cracked by the Japanese. I was in the Four Corners area near Monument Valley a few years ago, and I picked up a Navajo radio station out in the desert. When I first heard it, the speech and the singing sounded like they could be from another planet.

Well, it’s supposed to take you to another planet. That’s what it’s for. It’s for transcendence, travel, time and space. These are powerful songs and the energies are scary, so it’s not really conducive to an easy listening experience the first time you hear it. You have to really listen to it, and listen deep inside of it until it reveals itself to you. It seems like American Indian music is some of the most powerful on the planet.

What’s the latest on your Endangered Music Project?

We’re about to release three new albums from the Library of Congress. They house over 50,000 recordings around the world. A lot of these are from cultures that no longer exist or have been on the way out, so this project unearths those musics and brings them into the digital domain. We go back and find the field notes, the stories of how the music was first found and the people who recorded them and so on. They’re great stories — mysteries, adventures, romance ... so to me, this archival stuff is a great passion of mine. Some document the origins of this music — pre World War II music from the African Diaspora in the 1930s, before the war just upset the whole sonic ecology of the world. War really does not help indigenous music.

At music festivals, like the HORDE Fest in Denver last weekend, informal drum circles are more prevalent than ever.

It’s an old way to communicate. It was great 10,000 years ago and it’s great now. It’s something that’s certainly a very powerful ritual. You don’t have to know how to drum, either. The art of drumming is not really about that, it’s about locking together in rhythm and sharing a simple sound.

Playing in a drum circle seems to trigger a response...

Of course. That’s where it’s headed, that’s where it comes from. Once they make that connection, that’s the sound yoga. That’s what it’s all about. Connecting with your subconscious, finding out who you really are, what you really sound like, and creating something of your own for that day and that day only. It’ll never be the same. It’s a wonderful unique ability to take something from nothing and build it in sound. Then it’s there and it’s powerful and then all of a sudden, it goes. But you’re better for it after it’s done. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

You find most of this music and present it mostly undiluted — how do you view someone like Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel who take the same influences and weave them into their existing structures?

All the controversy, all the stuff that goes around it, who owns it, whatever — that’s all details. The music progresses as it changes and adapts, it mutates and becomes a hybrid: it fuses. All of that is good for music eventually, because music should be able to transcend all that — race, gender, geography — it has to do with the soul. When the music has no more need for the community, the community does not need that music. That music will die. It will become irrelevant. So when people like Peter Gabriel or the Beastie Boys, whomever, gets turned on these more esoteric styles and use them in their music, it’s usually for the betterment of the music as a whole. I asked His Holiness a few weeks ago about the sound of the monks — there’s been a lot of controversy about people taking the sacred sounds off their records and using them. He said that “whoever hears the sound will be better for it.” Even if you don’t know the dharma, don’t know the words, the Buddhist teachings are still there. If this is a holy sound made by a holy man, the ear — even though it doesn’t know what it’s hearing — somehow will be better for it.

You're willing to sample sounds digitally — though some feel that diminishes music’s organic spirit.

Poppycock! Who says that? What gives them the right to make any kind of boundary line on art? I say poppycock! (laughs) It’s the effect that it has on the people who listen to it that’s the real value and how they participate in it. I honor the old rhythms, and I practice them on a daily basis, but I also have one foot in the digital domain. I live in a very unique time in history where I have one foot in the archaic world and one foot firmly placed in the digital one. I love to process things. I love space. But I also love the sound of an acoustic drum. Usually, my synthesis comes from an acoustic source so I have a very specific priority in mind.

But I don’t think anybody can really draw the line on great art — that’s sort of a pompous attitude to take. Some people mix the acoustic world and the digital world with what I consider very bad taste, but that’s me personally. You can’t say the digital domain “grays out” music. We’re just learning to play with computers. And the opportunities, the colors available to us in the digital domain ... it makes my heart just jump right out of my chest! The possibilities that you can have with electronics, with MIDI, with synthesis ... you can be in the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, or you could be in Bali with a gamelan orchestra or at sea in a raging storm or you can be anyplace with this technology! A musician who’s exploring these realms is living in a golden age.

There’s always closed minds around when new tools are invented.

That’s right. You can read back through history, there’s always been musical persecutions. It’s one of the first things that get taken from a people, and it sort of breaks down their spirit. Because that’s at the very center of most people’s lives, especially in indigenous cultures. I would say to all those people that they’re barking up the wrong tree. They’re not well informed about what really lies ahead, about the possibilities of the marriage between acoustic and binary code. Remember, it’s in the hands of the practitioner. All the music, all the sounds around you are your orchestra: why limit them? Any sound that you can perceive or create should be part of the soundscape of the next century and the centuries to come. The next century isn’t going to sound like this one — the digital revolution has taken care of that. There will never be a change like you’re going to hear now. The new technology will be powerful and smart and very friendly and it will be an extension of your imagination. You will be able to go into cubbies you never could in the acoustic world, and it’s going to be called for. Things are moving fast, moving differently, there’s different sounds and different feelings — everything is changing.

Music should change. (dramatically) Or die.

True — just like music changed when the Grateful Dead ended. August 9, 1995 was a significant day for a lot of people — the previous generation may remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, but in this town, people remember what they were doing when they heard Jerry died. What has the death of Jerry Garcia and the Dead meant for you?

It’s tremendous. The Grateful Dead to me was a lot of things — a life, a habit, it was family ... so it was a multi-level thing with me, as opposed to people who see it from the outside. But I understand what you mean — I remember where I was, too. It’s one of those things that was really important, because it took something away that was very good and very rare, and a piece of everybody sort of died with him. Because he was a big part of what made it go around. So, I understand.

And the Dead will become a myth — part of the American musical history forever. Some Deadheads would no doubt consider his death a pivotal event in their lives.

(chuckles softly) He would laugh. Really. But he’d understand, too, because we all knew the power in the music. We knew that it was a potent energy to be used for good. If you point it in that direction, you can get a lot of good done in 30 years. But now everybody is doing what they wanted to do that we couldn’t do when we were in the Grateful Dead because it was a full-time deal. It takes a lot to be in the Grateful Dead for 30 years. So we’re doing other things, planting gardens, raising children, like we couldn’t before. I have a 14-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter and I was away for most of their formative years. So this will benefit them. I’m certainly filling my time with what I want to do, and that’s playing rhythm with these people.

Just not touring with the Dead must free up an enormous amount of time.

Oh, it’s great! I can really appreciate it. Now I see the leaves fall off the trees and grow back. I’ve never really lived a normal life, being in one place and seeing the seasons change and simple things like that. I miss the band — that goes without saying — but it was just a job well done. We did the best we could with what we had. I feel very good about it. When I look back, I look back and I smile. I don’t cry. And that’s what everybody should do. They’re all lucky they got to be a part of it while it was here on earth, because it was a very rare thing. It was a good thing, but nothing is forever.

In your opinion, who is doing the most capable job of following in your footsteps? There’s so many bands trying to carry the torch.

To be honest, I’m not listening to those bands. I’m not tuned into that, my ear is not there. So I don’t listen to all that. I haven’t heard them yet. They aren’t, truthfully, of that much interest to me. I’m sure that Phish are a very good band, because people have a real feeling for them. Not to marginalize who they are — I’m just listening to other things. But all of the music in this wake is all valid, it’s a wonderful thing and it’s great tribute, all these guys picking up these values ... the jamming, the open-ended stuff, the taping, all that. It’s a wonderful tribute to the power and the legacy of the Grateful Dead. And we all really appreciate that. Don’t misunderstand.

There’s a lot of people looking for a surrogate Dead.

That’s fine! Find it — if you must. And you’ll find it in many different places, you’ll find pieces of it here and there. You’ll be able to find pieces of it in other music. Go find it. It’ll never be anything like the Grateful Dead.

(Copyright 2010 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ian McCulloch October 1995

At Echo and the Bunnymen’s zenith during the mid-1980s, the Liverpool quartet was one of the best and biggest exports from New Wave England. Following the band’s acrimonious dissolution in 1988, leader Ian McCulloch made a couple lackluster solo works that failed to scale the Bunnymen’s heights, while guitarist Will Sergeant kept the name and created a dismal finale that pleased no one. Finally, in 1995, Mac and Sergeant made amends and teamed up again with a new project called Electrafixion. The old ingredients were there, but something still wasn’t right and the project basically went nowhere. They then reformed Echo and are still together.

This interview, from October 1995 before a Denver show (where maybe 40 people showed up at the 1300 seat Ogden Theater) is classic Mac. He always loved talking trash about unworthy musical acts, as he does below:

Whatever happened to your solo career? After the second album (1992’s Mysterio) it seemed to just fade away. You never toured after that record. What happened?

I don’t remember what happened. I went to Tibet for six months.


Uh, all right, I didn’t really go to Tibet. We didn’t do the tour ‘cause it didn’t seem worth it That’s the wrong answer, isn’t it? At that point I knew I was looking for something else. Some songs on the solo albums were good, and there were some really good lyrics, but there was also a lot of confusion. I didn’t really know what I was looking for — until I met up with Will and heard him play guitar again. I never liked putting records out as Ian McCulloch. Still, I’m not done. I’ll have a comeback in the year 2000. I’ll come back as the Sinatra of the 21st century. I want to get people to write songs for me, though, people like Nick Cave. But that’s a ways off.

Were you disappointed that the solo path didn't work out?

Anything like that does, even if you think it doesn’t. It put a dent in my confidence, but I learned from that. There was a period when I was really uninspired. Some songs on the solo records were good, and some really good lyrics, but there was a lot of confusion. I didn’t really know what I was looking for. Until I met up with Will and heard him play the guitar again. With his guitar and my voice ....

Are you playing guitar for these shows or just singing?

I play a little bit on stage, but now I’m just shakin’ me thing. It’s great. I’m no Eric Clapton, you know.

What exactly led to you and Will getting back on civil terms again?

A mutual friend suggested we start speaking again because it was so petty. We met and had a pint and that was that. Because we hadn’t spoken for five years there was a new kind of tension between us, and that led us to make the Electrafixion record, which was a really raw, rockin’ album. But now it makes sense to call it Echo and the Bunnymen because that’s who we are. We chose the name Electrafixion because of a dream Will had about me being crucified on some barbed wire electric fence ... an electric crucifixion. And I’ve always hated names like ‘Huey Lewis And The News.’ But now we’re coming back and we’re gonna rock the pants off people. They’ll love it. It’s a new start and we’re reclaiming what’s ours. I want all our riffs back, because people have taken Will’s guitar riffs and abused them. Not to mention my singing style!

I’d imagine you’re not fond of the Echo album that Will made with singer Noel Burke after you left (1990’s Reverberation)?

Definitely. It was crap. It was so mediocre it saddened me. It wasn’t Echo and the Bunnymen, because Echo and the Bunnymen was over when I left. It was over whether I left or not on April 22, 1988. That was it. It was something I loved, but it was dead. Now that we’re back together, we’ve found there’s more tales to tell. We get on better now than we ever did, I think.

What should your hardcore fans expect from this reunion?

The best, because that’s what we gave ‘em with the Bunnymen the first time around. I think they should expect star quality. Charisma. Fantastic rockin’ songs. We’re uninhibited again, and we don’t manufacture mystique or overdo the sense of drama like some bands. We just do it naturally. That’s what we’ve got that sets us apart from the crowd.

Absolutely. I remember your last American shows — you were stuck with Gene Loves Jezebel. And it was no contest.

Yeah, I hated those shites! I wanted them thrown off the tour, the dumb bastards. And they were ugly as well! If you’re gonna throw the makeup on, you need to have the plastic surgery done first!

(Copyright 2010 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

RIP Don Van Vliet 1941-2010

Captain Beefheart formed his Magic Band the year I was born and released his last album when I graduated from high school. As I've always loved weird music, I sought out Trout Mask Replica at an impressionable age. It left me impressed.

I always regarded him as a crazy maverick, and when I learned that he was a big influence on New Order/Joy Division and Jack Dangers/Meat Beat Mainfesto it didn't surprise me. His music was always traded like secret contraband among insiders; his impact on every aspect of the punk/psychedelia wave that followed him can't be overstated.

Listening to Captain Beefheart at His Best today. A gorgeous day on Roatan.

(Copyright 2010 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bob Log III New York City 21 Jan 2000

This is one of the last interviews I did from my home in Denver, Colorado. By the end of that month I was moving to Fort Lauderdale.

Five years before, I walked through the gate of Fiddler's Green in Denver for Lollapalooza only to be greeted with the sight of Doo-Rag.

The Tucson twosome looked stupendous: guitarist Bob Log rocked a thrift-store guitar with a hole in the soundboard and Thermos Malling's drum kit was a beer box and a paint bucket. It sounded like the bastard sons of RL Burnside with a dose of weed and another dose of Ween. And probably some huffing from a can of ScotchGuard.

After his partner bailed, Log donned a helmet with a mic inside and went solo. He operated a drum and hi-hat with his feet.

This interview outlines the fundamental principles of his infamous “show me your tits” doctrine. His motives are obtuse, possibly not as prurient as pathologically silly. 

He also talks about Ani DiFranco's audience, his stunning good looks -- and hitting Coolio in the eye with a bottle cap.

I saw you at Lollapalooza, on the second stage. It was really hot, it was early... and I thought Doo-Rag was from outer space. Are you guys still doing stuff together?

Outer space? Well, that’s what it sounds like. Yeah, we still do things here and there. Joe Thermos had a baby, and he’s in a band named Coin, so he’s doing that. We just Doo-Ragged this summer, we went to Europe for two weeks, and we’ll get back together at some point.

Some folks looked freaked out by the sight of you two.

Maybe the first time, but we don’t mean no harm. We’re just trying to get people to shake the shit!

You guys worked hard in Doo-Rag.

We played every single day for probably about five years. You just gotta love it! I mean, if you don’t, you gotta just hang it up! I’ve always thought, anyway.

Some people hate to tour. You act like that's the best time of all.

That’s why we do it. It’s easy when you love it. It’s real easy. No matter how long the drive is, if I finally get to park, get out and then kick out some shit, I’ll drive that distance, you know? I just drove over from Tucson to New York, do you realize this? It was just for one show. What the hell —- get me out there, put me on a bill, and I’ll play. Drive for three days. Now, that’s not normal, but I’ll do it. I get to get out at the end of the day and kick somethin’ out, so it’s totally worth it by the time I get there. This time, I had to rent something 'cause my car I didn’t think would make it through the snow.

You were forced to be a percussionist.

I learned to play the drums with my feet. It was kind of an emergency. We suddenly couldn’t play, and for me it was a choice of going home and not playing, or kicking my guitar case and playing anyway. So that’s where I started, though I’ve evolved it since then. Now I’ve got all kind of drums. I’ve learned to play and I quit kickin’ the guitar cases cause they stared breakin’ and it was getting expensive.

How did the helmet thing start?

The first day I ever played by myself, I put the helmet on to hold the microphone in place. And also I’m a little sick of my face; I’m a little tired of it. And I don’t want people to listen to my music just because of how good-looking I am. I want 'em to concentrate more on the guitar.

Now, doesn't it get claustrophobic in there? Hot?

It can work that way. I can still see. From time to time it kind of fogs up a little bit. But the main purpose was to hold the microphone to my face, so no matter which way I’m turning... You know, I’ve got a lot to do up there. I can’t waste my time lookin’ for the microphone. A mic on a mic stand? That’s the stupidest system I ever heard of. And also, it’s protection. Look what happened to Curtis Mayfield. It’s not funny. It happened, and I feel bad -— I should have sent him one earlier. I heard that something like this just happened to Boy George, too — I should have sent him one too.


No, that’s okay, he can get hit.

Does it bother you to be isolated from the audience that way?

No, actually, no. When I got the helmet on, it’s just me and the guitar. I have trouble seeing stuff. Sometimes people clap their tits and I don’t even know it. I try to get people to tell me about it later. Just let me know: tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m clappin’ my tits,” and I’ll be like, “Okay, you get a t-shirt after the show.”

But someone could be lying -- saying they're clapping their tits, when they're really not.

That’s always a danger. It is a danger. But I gotta stay away from it. Pay more attention to the guitar.

Do you think your music ever brings tears to eyes?

Oh yeah, I get people cryin’. But you know what I want people to do? You know what I’m tryin’ to get ‘em to do? I want people to take their tits out and clap 'em along with me.

Is it working?

It’s starting, it’s starting to happen. It’s taken America and the rest of the world just a little bit of time for me to warm ‘em up, but the second time I come back to a city, someone’s takin’ em out. Not every time, but it’s starting to happen more and more.


It sounds great, don’t it?

Men as well as women?

Sometimes a guy will jump onstage, rip off his shirt and clap his hands against his breasts, like one hand per breast.

But that’s cheating!

That’s cheating. I appreciate it, and sometimes it’s better than nothing. Sometimes it ain’t. But that’s not the way the song goes. But I do appreciate the effort, though. If a big, fat guy gets onstage and claps his tits together, I’m totally fine with that. I don’t prefer that; I ain’t gonna pay for it. But I would remember that party.

There is a video comin’ out, “Clap Your Tits,” and it’s gonna have some of the actual recording session, and that girl playing live with me in Tucson. And I’m making the video so that the cake actually gets baked with the tits like in the songs.


It’s about a cake that’s being baked without using no hands, just tits. It’s kind of a lumpy brown little cake, but it tastes good. (laughs hysterically)

Ever cleared a room before?

I’d have to answer that with a yes. (laughs) I actually cleared the room in Oxford, Mississippi, the home of my label. There were maybe 50-60 college frat boys in the bar, and by the end it was just two of my friends shouting "Play more! Play more!" so I did.

Boy, you've teamed up on some odd bills...

Yeah, it’s funny how it happens. I get heavy metal bands, folk singers.. I get Coolio (laughs).

Yeah, he was also on that 1995 Lollapalooza tour.

That was the day I hit him in the eye with a bottle cap. In Denver.

On purpose?

No, it was an accident. He asked me to open his beer bottle, and I had I just just learned how to open my beer bottle by flippin’ the cap up with a lighter, and it shot off and hit him in the eye. We shared a trailer on that tour. He just grabbed the beer, gave me a dirty look and walked way. So I thought, “Man, I’m gonna get my ass beat already. Damn, and it's the first day.” But then he came back, asked me to open another bottle, and he covered his head and acted like I was gonna hit him. It was okay. He didn’t really mind.

At Lollapalooza, you were the very first act -- you had to get the party started.

We tried to. We had to start playing at noon, so we had to start the party by 11. Which meant by 4:30 we were pulling ourselves around by our lips, and then we had to drive 700 miles, but it was good. I had a great time.

What was it like opening for Ani DiFranco?

I had never been a part of something that was so organized and successful. I didn’t know anything about her. I said, “I don’t know... what is this about again?” And when they told me she played for 3,000 women very night, that’s when I hopped on the boat. When am gonna have a chance to do that again?

Did you have fun? Did the crowd respond?

That's where "clap your tits" got invented, I was just trying to get people to do it, I didn’t have a song or anything at that point. They didn’t seem to be paying too much attention. I’m not out to cause any trouble, I just wanna party. And that’s just one way to bring the party up a notch. I think people who have boobs realize this. And I think most people have a sense of humor, and those are the people I’m talking to.

Did you like Ani's music?

It’s maybe not my cup of whatever, but it sure seems like a lot of people like it. I don’t have any of her records, but I appreciate her bringing me along. I'd do it again. They're nice people.

You have a compact, mobile, portable self-sufficient system...

It’s a one-man band, and you know what? We’re all one-man bands. You, me, everyone reading this, we are all one-man bands. It’d be a hell of a long show, but we can do it. Some people say, "I can’t play music! I don’t have this, I don’t know how....” That’s bullshit. I can play music with a guitar and a guitar case. Let’s go. You either want to or you don’t. You just gotta work on it.

Clappin’ your tits, well, I just want to jam with people, and that’s one way of doin’ it. Anyone who wants to jam with me, just come on down, take 'em out and tune 'em up. You gotta be in tune, so make sure to buy my record and see if you’re in tune.

Now, I'd read you wanted to cross the country by hopping on one leg. How is that coming along?

It’s gettin’ there. I bet I could hop all the way home to Tucson if I wanted. It’s only my right leg. My left leg doesn’t have to work so hard. So my right leg is huge, and my left leg is a skinny little toothpick.

Doesn't that make you walk funny?

Yeah, a little bit. It’s more of a swagger. But I've always had that.

(Copyright 2010 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lisa Gerrard Bremen Germany September 19, 1995

At the end of this interview, Lisa talks about the nature of creativity as it relates to sheer play -- and why the imaginary gap between performer and spectator is silly. It's some of the best advice anyone has ever given me.

After all,  the best Dead Can Dance songs -- like Gerrard's epic "Cantara" -- originate from a primal, child-like place. A place that existed before language put the rule book on the shelf.

In this interview with Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, prior to her solo Mirror Pool tour, I thought I was conversing with deity. From the first time I heard DCD, I thought there was something there that went way beyond, spiritually, what anyone else was doing. 

Their organic, gothic, impenetrable blend of Nick Drake and Joy Division crossed with "world music" -- and strings! -- is pompous, pretentious, but powerful. I wouldn't say I listen to Dead Can Dance, or Lisa Gerrard, all that much these days, but I do love Ark, the new record from Brendan Perry, Gerrard's partner in Dead Can Dance.

Gerrard didn't do many interviews, and hearing Lisa Gerrard's voice talking to
me, instead of some unleashing some glossolaliac singing, was rather intimidating.

That was amazing -- an outdoor amphitheater, the sun set and the moon rose -- and then Dead Can Dance were under the New Mexico stars promoting their final album, Spiritchaser

A road trip to remember. 

The next night, we followed the band back to a over-crowded Boulder Theater.

Afterward, I met Brendan backstage, and he signed some stuff for me. But Lisa had already left the building.
Hello Lisa -- how are you?

I'm great. We had a very nice show in Ghent last night.
How does it feel to be on stage without Brendan?

Well, I’m working with the musicians from Dead Can Dance -- Robert Perry, Ronan O’Snodeigh and John Bonnar, so it doesn’t feel that different. Obviously, not having Brendan there does feel kind of weird, I must admit. But it’s still a lot of fun, it’s really nice.

Some of the pieces on The Mirror Pool are older pieces that you have performed with Dead Can Dance before but haven’t recorded, like "Swans," for instance. What’s the history behind these tracks?

I used to do “Swans” as an encore, an improvisational piece that was different every night, and it’s very different on the record to the performance that I did with Dead Can Dance. One of the pieces I started six years ago. Some were started a long time ago and took a long time to finish because they are quite complex.

What segregated these songs? Why weren't they included on a Dead Can Dance record?

Well, there are some things that you write that you don’t want to collaborate on. There are some things that are more personal to you. I really wanted to complete those works on my own.

The sentiment that I wanted to point to with the work was something that I didn’t want to collaborate with another person with. The fact is, when Brendan and I get together to make a record, we work apart for about a year and a half or two years, and then we get together for twelve months to do an album. In the time that we’re apart, we write a lot of music sometimes the actual piece of music doesn’t arrive on a Dead Can Dance album, but something about the architecture, or something you learned, points you toward a vocabulary that will take part in a Dead Can Dance record. We always hope that the pieces we’ve done apart will be involved in a Dead Can Dance record, but usually when we get together the idea is that they’ve grown and amalgamated over time and have turned into something completely different.

So, we usually don’t even show each other the work that we’ve written over that time, and just get on with writing new things.

Some pieces you can just keep for yourself?

Well, you kind of keep them and you think, Oh, look, it doesn’t matter, because the continuity of this record is becoming very percussive, and it’s out of context, especially with the new record we’re doing. Over the last couple of records, things have been becoming more percussively based and less orchestral, and I think that’s why the orchestral parts of the work I’ve always done have been building up. I felt it was an accident. After hearing the work I had cataloged, it was decided we’d find out if I could get enough of a budget to do it with a real orchestra, and if I could then I would consider doing them -- otherwise I’d just let sleeping dogs lie.

After you and Brendan broke up, you moved to Australia you got married, and lots of fans expected Dead Can Dance would not record together anymore.

You know it’s strange, people always think ... It’s amazing, ‘cause I’ve been in Ireland for the last seven months doing a Dead Can Dance record, and during that time I’ve done several interviews connected with
The Mirror Pool, and usually they leave it to about the sixth question. It’s usually, “Is this the end of Dead Can Dance just because you’ve released something out of that context?”
It certainly isn’t, and the last seven months have proved that fact. After I finish this tour, I’m taking a little break and then I’m going back to finish the album with Brendan and then we tour for four to five months next year as Dead Can Dance.

Years ago, your records were had-to-find imports and I remember having to pay lots of money for them...

Oh, you shouldn’t have bought them, you should have just used the tape machine!
...And at the time you were fairly obscure and unknown. Now you’ve toured a couple times and have successful records on a major label... How do like the fanatical fans in the US?

It’s always a pleasure to go and play in America, I can’t explain why. Whenever we go there, it’s sort of this incredibly large spacious place where you can just sort of lose yourself in and disappear into... A very different feeling to Europe altogether. And the people there we found to be extremely warm, deeply intelligent and very, very sensitive, the people who came to the concerts. And we were quite surprised by that, because the angle we get on American culture we get on television in Europe is sort of very middle of the road very quirky and all one-liners... and when we arrived in America we realized we had a very tainted vision of what the place was really like through television, etc. So it’s always good to go back there.

The thing that’s been really interesting about America is the difference between the media coverage, I find there’s a lot of accuracy with the press. It’s been lost or cynicized in England especially. So it was very encouraging, and after going to America I started speaking to the press again. I’d stopped for nearly six years. And that’s simply because I thought ‘there’s really no point, because they’re just going to make it up anyway and it’s going to be very funny and very nasty and let them get on with it,’ and when I stopped doing press, they made it up!

So I think as the music has grown up we still get a cynical look at the things that we’re doing... a sort of ‘oh god, give me techno any day' sort of attitude Which is absolutely fine -- there’s no problem with that --but it’s very, very far stretch from being 20 years old and turning up as a group in England and being really put through the mincer. The thing about America that restored our confidence in talking about the things we do was because of the accuracy there.

When you toured the US two years ago with Dead Can Dance, and most people saw you for the first time, do you think audiences were surprised that you performed mostly songs they hadn’t heard before, as opposed to songs from your records?

I think people respond when they know a piece, but that’s not really what the concerts are about. The concerts are about being involved in an inspired performance. And in order for a performance to truly be inspired the work has to be fresh. It can be a situation where you can be performing something live that’s on record and you’re putting your life into it, because it’s been composed with samples and you’re performing it with live musicians. Then it’s very, very nice to do this. But if this isn’t possible, it’s not really very interesting for us as artists or musicians to perform this work, because we’re not creating an inspired space in that time that we’re given. Do you understand? This is the most important thing to us. Sometimes it’s not even the work itself that’s the thing that really makes the concert work --  it’s what it appears to be pointing to, or there’s something in the energy there.

In order to maintain that energy, there has to be a good vibe.

Does that mean you won’t be doing any Dead Can Dance songs?

Absolutely not! I wouldn’t dream of it! It would be disrespectful to Brendan. In the concert film, we got to do our own compositions because it was fitting, but... If it’s in a Dead Can Dance context, I just don’t think that it’s relative. I’ve done some work with Brendan’s younger brother, Robert who is a fine musician very, very interesting ... excellent Irish bozouki player, brilliant percussionist and also makes his own wind instruments. I’ve done some interesting collaborations with him, and the boys are able to, during the live shows, do a fragment of solo works they’re doing themselves... Ronan O’Snodeigh is doing the bower, the Irish bower. It’s beautiful -- he makes the drums speak.

And Pieter Bourke does an Egyptian tau and Robert Perry does some solo flute pieces. So it’s an wonderful opportunity for the audience to enjoy them as solo artists something they never really had the opportunity to do with Dead Can Dance. So it’s a really special situation for the young musicians we work with. I feel very much at this time in our lives that we have to pass on to these younger musicians the things that we’ve learned through our artisanship. So they can take over where we leave off.

I wanted to ask you about your sources of inspiration.

My sources of inspiration are integration and love between people, love that I receive from my family and situations that are very basic, very simple. It could be on the street. It could be at a bus stop, at a vegetable stand or a market. I can’t say to you that I can isolate where my inspiration comes, from especially in a religious sense. Because I don’t think there's a person on the planet right now who isn’t somewhat confused in terms of trying to make a connection between religion and spirituality.

I really feel there is something sacred within the work that we do, but I don’t think it’s religious. I think the sacred thing I sense within the work that we do is the fact that it encourages others and gives them a sense of well-being. And that makes it sacred.

What did you mean by the statement you made in Toward The Within when you said, "Let language grow by itself?"

With the singing that I do ... I’ve always tried, I’ve always wanted to be able to explain it to people. I feel like the singing that I do is the language that I was born with, not the language I was taught to speak later. When I said that, I wasn’t being condescending, I was trying to encourage people to come into contact with their own creativity whether through singing or playing the bongo.

It’s not to stick a violin in a child’s hands and expect them to be a virtuoso in five years, and be inspired after five years by listening to this cat being swung around by its tail! I mean, we should allow ourselves and our children to come into contact with something --and just very simply and very basically let it grow, from a very simple point. I think we’ve lost contact with that, and we feel like we have to be brilliant, or think, “I could never do that” so we become disconnected -- and in a way, punished -- by the fact that we’re not allowed to express it or we’ve lost our confidence. And these are things that really shouldn’t be on the stage
at all!

 If anything is bizarre, it’s that what we do gets such an incredibly beautiful reception --when it’s something that should be something that’s taking part of people’s lives on different levels everyday! Instead of being isolated to the theatre! Because it’s not really
that detached from creative play, or things that can take place in the home.

(Copyright 2010 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)