Saturday, March 16, 2013

Unpublished Interview (Summer 2011)

It's been quite a little while since I've written for this blog. I have been active in some writing and collaborating. Very little in new recording, however.

For real this time, Smellicopter's release is just about to happen. I predict an April 1 release.

In archiving some audio and text files related to Smellicopter and its protracted creation, I came across what is likely to be the greatest interview I'll ever give. I had forgotten all about it. An indie zine approached me for an interview. I used the opportunity to be completely honest about songwriting, the depression/elation cycle that creatives face, and the repetition and blandness of interview questions. In the process, my answers offended the indie zine guy and we are no longer friends or even "friends." The interview was never published. I have removed the person's name from the interview and no mention of the publication remains.

What follows is the entire transcript interrupted here and there with illustrations to break it up. Please read it all, especially if you are a musician who has ever been frustrated by coverage of music by people who purport to be interested in it.

Summer 2011 Unpublished Interview

Let's talk about your musical influences. Who are your biggest influences and why? Who were your early musical influences?

  • The Beatles, especially McCartney, and all who were influenced by the Beatles.
  • Ray Davies and his Kinks
  • Brian Wilson and his Beach Boys
  • Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and Harry Nilsson.
  • Laura Nyro, Carole King and Todd Rundgren, all geniuses of welding r&b and pop with a shared set of easy keyboard tricks.
  • Any hard to categorize eclectic writers/performers.

But really…thousands of musicians would write the same list, so…big deal. What does this mean about my music? Do I value melody? Yes. Do I like 60’s and 70’s music? Yes. Am I old? Yes.

Sometimes I wish, in retrospect, that my influences had been more eccentric and unusual for that is the way of leaving something different behind in the wake of your passing, eh? My early cassettes seem to be by someone more inclined to become a true weirdo, someone more like the great English eccentrics: Ivor Cutler, Vivian Stanshall, Robert Wyatt, Syd Barrett, or Lord Berners, even Julian Cope.

Ivor Cutler if you must know

In these interviews you always either get “what are your influences?” or “what does your music sound like?” These are different ways of getting at the same thing: comparison, which is sometimes useful. “What does it sound like?” is more useful, though usually inaccurate, and subject to personal contexts such as being too full while listening or being in a car with a bad stereo, or being too full while being in a car with a bad stereo.

Earliest? Hearing music on TV, almost always jazz, r&b or funk on shows like Sesame Street, The Electric Company and on commercials. I watched a lot of TV way more than I ever listened to the radio. However, I heard all major 60’s hits in my mom’s 1962 Ford Galaxie on WFIR-AM as we went to doctor appointments and the grocery store. It was a wild scene man.

These are the same old answers I always give to these questions. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if musicians said completely different influences in each interview, especially if they were all tremendous lies? Today I could say my songs are influenced by Esquivel and Metallica. Next time it could be 1910 Fruitgum Company and Eric Dolphy. Then, when you heard the actual music you’d be surprised and elated! Perhaps you’d even convince yourself that there really were some similarities. So you see the usefulness and importance of lies. I heard somewhere that Garth Brooks said he was influenced by Queen.

Where do you see your music heading? I don’t know really. I suppose I must continue writing in “the grand tradition” of melody as the dominant force in my music. That’s what I do well. Melody, along with seventh chords, has vanished from popular music, so those who can still do it must.

I do know I’m sick of my process: writing up to a point, then doing an elaborate demo, moving the soundbites around and making room for more verses or choruses, then replacing most of those tracks with real performances….sigh…it’s just so tedious…there’s nothing fun about it at all. I blame this tedium on the computer. That’s right, I said it.

I would like to incorporate more ambient sounds into my music. (Isn’t that an interesting statement all by itself, standing alone there?)

I have really enjoyed recording tracks for Yani Martinelli’s next cd. She does nearly everything herself, so all I have to do is double a vocal, or think of some goofy keyboard line, or like that. Much more fun than the writing/demo/tracking process drudgery of my own stuff. The collaboration with her has actually sort of taken over my music time, which I gladly give to avoid the usual routine. 

Yani Martinelli: Very Talented Person
It’s been fun to do little videos with my daughter. If it’s one of those days when I can improvise a new song and I can grab her, we make a little video recording of me playing it. That’s also more fun than the drudgery/process.

The work I’ve been doing this summer on the amateur digital remastering of my cassette archive has been tedious, but rewarding and surprising. I released eight cassettes from the late 80’s into the early 90’s. The first and last of these are for sale (or casual listening) on Bandcamp along with their original artwork. The first one, Hot Enough to Fry Your Dog’s Brain, in particular, is almost unbelievably na├»ve and odd and, therefore, deserves much wider listening. By the time of A National Treasure in 1994 I had worked out songcraft in a more normal way. You all really need to purchase both and then pickup the others are they become available. (A few may be combined into a “Best of the Rest” type release.) 

Hot Enough to Fry Your Dog's Brain

The album after Smellicopter will include the leftovers from those sessions, whichever new songs end up finished, and I have found a few old tunes to include as well. In other words, the same old thing. Collaboration will continue, of course.

What music software do you use?
 Who cares? Really. They all do the same thing. It doesn’t matter which you use. Try to record at the highest bit rate you can. Don’t use mastering plug-ins because it is so easy to screw things up. That’s my advice. I still use Digital Performer at home. If someone else is tracking for me, of course, all different ones: ProTools, Logic…some others. The more expensive ones simply do things more elegantly. 

Is there any other music software you plan on getting? (Another question about software? Really?)

Hell, no. If I did it would be something a collaborator used successfully. I fear the learning curve and the guilt of spending more money on music, especially that which has no immediate pay-off artistically. I know it would take me forever to figure out new software and that is precious time not spent on writing.

What's in your home studio setup? Carpet and printed circuit boards. Crumbs. Dust. Some spare computer monitors, the family vacuum cleaner, lousy worn-out cables, a reasonably expensive telescope (an unused gift to our family), boxes of music magazines, lots and lots of kid artwork, 150 unsold copies of my last cd and the complete Emma Peel years of the Avengers on VHS.  I have some cylindrical sound baffles that belong to this guy who works for Bruce Hornsby. (The same guy leant me his old Ensoniq SD-1 for nearly ten years, which was THE sound of For Those Who Like POP. I miss that synth. Its string and horn sounds were cool; not realistic, but neat sounding.) An old Mackie 1604 VLZ board, some Behringer compressors, the last living Mac G3, a lot of kid scale classical guitars, a Gibson SG of early 70’s vintage, the Yamaha Motif, and a lampshade I use to make an extremely low-pitched drum sound. One of the great things about collaborating with others is the sounds of their instruments and signal processing. I feel like I have access to a lot.

Do you write songs on keyboards or guitar? Both. Sometimes in the songwriting process I switch instruments just to hear the chords differently, and hopefully increase the chances of blundering onto something I haven’t already done a billion times before. Certainly you can’t force a song out. Inspiration happens when it wants to. Treasure the mistake, the accident. I can often work pretty well around distractions like children. The slowness of it all is frustrating. At 48, I feel a little desperate I must say. How many more years do I have to do this? I want to get all my music out there, but…albums end up taking a minimum of 3-4 years to do. There’s got to be a better way! If I never wrote another song I would still have at least ten albums worth of great songs to do over and present in a better way.

Talk about your latest release.
Ah, Smellicopter, the myth, the legend, then eventuality.  After yet another multi-year sequence of writing, demoing, tracking and mixing I was surprised that we’d recorded 16 songs for Smellicopter, though cost and sanity require that it has ended up as an 11 song album. (The five others will go on the next album). What can one say really? It should be my best yet. The amazing pile of talent all over it alone is reason enough to say that. Great performers from home and abroad on every song. In fact, on many songs, the contributions of others are so great and even over powering that I was able to cut back on my own parts, often out of necessity. Piano parts in particular were often re-done and re-done and re-done, each time finding a simpler way to play; a less cluttered space emerging, more complimentary to the other instruments and the vocals.

Songs range from the r&b pop of “I Could Use Some New Friends” (about the difficulty of making new friends in middle age) to fictional character songs like “Daisy Von Zeppelin” and “The Iceberglar” to songs about real people, including “Tim E. Redmond” and “Weirdos.” There’s also a wonderful older song called “Delmarva Way,” which is lyrically at least my Jimmy Webb imitation. Just about every song tells a little story, so there’s plenty for narrative fans.

There are a lot of great sounds from Roland Wolff’s mountains of guitars and vocals, to Yani’s marvelous ukulele and vocals to the Spectorian stacked vocals from the Purple Submarine Orchestra. Great drumming and guitars from Virginia, too: Anthony Allen and Jack Shannon. Palmer Wilkins, who tracked a lot of this stuff in ProTools, has been charged with ‘getting creative” with the mixes. Though the writing is old school, there’s no reason the album has to sound vintage. I’d rather bring this kind of writing closer to the contemporary world if it is to live another day. We’ll see. I haven’t heard the mixes yet. I think you will all be absolutely blown away. Really.
Roland Wolff: Very Silly. Very Awesome.

Can you describe your songwriting methods? It happens three ways:

There are magical days when I can sit down at the keys or pick up a guitar and there it all is: a song comes out in just about complete form, two major sections at least with completed melody and some lyrics, too. As I age, this is very rare. It used to happen a lot in my 20’s and 30’s. I mourn it. What a beautiful way to work. In fact, I consider myself a lesser writer now that it doesn’t happen anymore. I feel that it should work this way. 

The next best way is the valuable mistake. I’ll sit down with either instrument and just play, nothing in particular, just going through some of my typical progressions and “shapes” and something will go wrong. The wrong thing is, of course, the right thing and this is what you pounce on as a writer. Often these can be worked into either an existing song fragment or developed VERY SLOWLY into a song.

What mostly happens for me these days, is a partial song comes to me one day and I write it down and play it a lot before I put it aside. Then, if I’m lucky, within a few months I have managed to finish it. Some of them take years to complete, however.

I have a big sketchbook with evolving songs written in it. I use my own peculiar notation system. Once it gets pretty close to being finished I use MIDI to lay down basic chords and, above all an accurate performance of the melody.

Here’s what NEVER works: hearing a tune in my head in the shower and then getting to an instrument to quickly get the tune down. I have managed to write the tune down a few times, but it’s never as awesome as it sounds in the shower. I have successfully thought of songs while driving, however, and written those down. One of my favorite songs, “Real Estate” happened in this way.

The awful thing about all of these is dealing with the depression that comes with creativity. I feel it a lot. If you really, really want to write a song but it doesn’t happen, that’s a downer, but the fleeting elation of doing great work always has the emotional quicksand feeling coming right around the bend. Several hours of intensive and fruitful writing or recording for me soon turns into a black hole and I feel awful. Still, I feel that I have to write and that I owe these songs something.

What made you decide to start making music of your own? Like most North American males of my age I simply had an acoustic guitar. (Aren’t we born with those?) I would sit on the front porch in our suburb and spend hours putting my fingers in shapes that felt right on the fretboard. These were not normal chords in a lot of cases. I never understood people who’d just learn the standard ways of playing ordinary chords and not wonder: “what happens if I lift this finger up?” “What if I play the f# here instead?” I didn’t make up proper songs till much later and certainly there was no singing. It was music of a sort, though. I was probably in 7th grade or so when this all began.

Are you active in your local music scene? Hmmm. Well, I know enough local musicians and the ones I know are good players and nice people. The greater Richmond area is full of musicians. We have street bucket drummers, whom I always enjoy. There’s a crazy lady who strums chords over and over in a tempo-less Thorazine-doped state. The players who are part of anything you’d call a scene, though, I don’t know ‘em. There are a lot of annoying bands I just couldn’t care less about. If not for trying to find the time to practice, I’d like to eventually get back to playing live. I know exactly who I’d pick to play with locally. My dream has always been to just sing ‘live” and talk about the songs.

Who would you like to collaborate with on new music?  The same people that I have been collaborating with to make Smellicopter: Yani Martinelli, Roland Wolff, the Purple Submarine Orchestra and a few others. I could see working with Fumiyuki Sato if he’s willing and the language barrier isn’t too great. Yani and I are so on the same wave length musically it’s scary, and we quickly learned the value of each others’ ideas. I’ve given her the task of finishing some songs of mine that came to a stand still. So far, one is complete and we’ll be both be recording it for her cd.
Shizuko Ito: One of Japan's Great Writers and Performers

What other bands are you're excited by? Testbild!, High Llamas, Mayumi Akasaki, Shizuko Ito, Wool Strings. I try to keep up with Louis Philippe. Mostly, I am excited by newly acquired vintage music. We don’t want to try list my interests there, but I’m always wanting to hear new/old music.  Anyone reading this is welcome to “friend” me on Facebook and read my sporadic “Listening Log” under Notes. 

What's next for you, musically speaking? (isn’t this the same question as “Where do you see your music heading?)

What did I forget to ask you?  Why these questions are exactly the same as the last time I answered them, which is, what, ten years ago?

What's the URL for your website?  Scott hasn’t been updated in years and I haven’t paid the webhost this year. I don’t know what to do with a website any more. What does it do that music sellers, blogs and social networking sites don’t already do? Please visit instead:

And give me a full discography.

·         Egg (1970)
·         The Polite Force (1971)
·         The Civil Surface (1974)
It’s terrible that Egg only made three albums.

You Can Tell That Egg Really are Sorry There Were Only Three Albums

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