|Title: KCRW-FM: Morning Becomes Eclectic (interviewed by Chris Douridas)
Source: audio tape. Transcription (excerpts) by Gary Tausch as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, August 8, 2001
Date: March 31, 1998
Key words: Marxophone, Sampling, Leadbelly, Recording process, Beck, Fall Of Troy, Kathleen
KCRW-FM: Morning Becomes Eclectic
[starts with Singapore from Rain Dogs]
Interviewer: Singapore - why did you pick that?
It's an adventure song. I like adventure songs and I always remembered that in the studio the drum sound that we used was a two by four attacking somebody's chest of drawers and the whole song played and all the backbeats were played with a two by four hitting the chest of drawers repeatedly and on the last bar of the song the whole piece of furniture had collapsed and there was nothing left of it and the song was over but it was just a - That's what I think of when I hear the song. I see the pile of wood and it excites me. Michael Blair was the percussionist. It wasn't a very expensive chest of drawers - it was just one that we'd found out on the sidewalk.
On playing at the Dead Man Walking benefit
My wife and I wrote two songs for the Dead man Walking album(1) and now this is like the live version, I guess, of the record.
About the Portishead song Sour Times which they then play
I always loved that - what I think is a Marxophone(2) is the central instrument on this cut and I had a Marxophone and I only talked to one other person who also owned a Marxophone - that was Mitchell Froom(3). It's kind of an adapted futuristic autoharp. It gives you a plectrum sound that comes from vibrating a metal strip with a hammer on the end. So it's kind of like a very narrow strip of metal that functions as a vibrating hammer on the string and it gives you a great sound and they used that and I didn't realize it was a Lalo Schifrin sample but I recognized the sound because every time I move things out in the garage I knock this thing over and it does that when it hits the floor.
It feels a little bit like I imagine the space capsule, you know, circulating out in space somehow. It reminds me of that - it's like a science fiction feeling to it. Which reminds me - did you realize that when astronauts first shaved in space their weightlessness, their whiskers, they floated up into the ceiling. They'd shave and the air would be filled with their whiskers and they had to come up with a special kind of a razor. It's a vacuum razor. It just sucks - the razor - sucks all the whiskers right off your face while you shave. They're not available in stores but they should be. I would buy one.
Interviewer: on sampling, have you been approached?
Yeah, they have. And you know they pay you some money and invariably you say okay, that's okay, that's cool. Just give me credit and give me some money and I'm fine with that. I guess it's just inevitable, it's kind of like collage work or montage work. There's just an enormous amount of information out there and it's inevitable that people want to make things out of the torn part off something else and put it with theirs. I think it's a natural creative process. It's kind of like all those things Max Ernst did, those weird collages, he tore pictures out of magazines and everything so I'm fine with it. I hear a lot of really strange things using samples and I do some sampling myself. Things I hear around the house. A squeaky shower door or the sound of a - of course that's my own shower door. It's like micro macro work I guess, macrome or microme.
A discussion about some old Leadbelly and Son House records and an Alan Lomax field recording compilation that Tom has brought in - specifically a song called God's Unchanging Hand to start
It's an old gospel hymn. I just love the way it sounds like everybody is beating time with their feet on the wood floor of the church and there's even some syncopated clapping going on like the stuff that the Staple Singers do - [Tom demonstrates clapping] - that's starting to erupt and it just sounds very natural. It almost sounds like the kind of things that go on when there's never anyone around to record. That's what I love about it. It's a beautiful hymn.
On the recording process
After a while I guess you get more natural about it like the way people work with a camera knowing there's a machine there that's capturing everything but there is something I think that's kind of like a pateurization process that takes place when you record that takes out a lot of the nutrients in the music sometimes if you don't approach it right. You kind of have to sneak up on it or it has to sneak up on the music. What I love about these recordings, particularly the Lomax stuff and all these Southern Journey CD's that have been reissued now - that all these recordings were made in the 30's and the 40's in all of his travels in Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma. he travelled in his car. He had a tape recorder in the trunk of the car. This massive - for that time state of the art - reel to reel tape recorder. Even before that I think he used the wax cylinders and there's something really warm about the machine and how it reacted and a lot of the people that he was recording were a little embarrassed because they said these are our family songs and this isn't for the public to hear. These are our songs that we carry around. These are jump rope songs and these are chain gang songs and things I heard from my great grandfather and like that and I think that's what made them sound so real was that they were kind of surprised that anyone would want to - it's like somebody wants to take your children's drawings from the refrigerator and put 'em in a book. It's like - are you serious?
That aspect of it I think made them so warm and I think now that they're out I think it's gonna affect a lot of people because it's like almost like a lost river for a lot of young writers I think that will be moved and influenced by not only the sound of the records but the music itself which is really the history of black music in America really. It goes all the way back to the source. So these are really - these are jewels. I listen to them a lot at home and in the car and I picked a couple of things that we might listen to.
[Play hymns, a Leadbelly & Son House duet, and then John The Revelator by Son House]
I love that song. Somebody told me that they did this song in that Blues Brothers movie but I haven't seen that yet.
Interviewer: Beck has done this song too
I love Beck. In fact Smokey Hormel(4) is playing with us. He's great.
Interviewer: did you see Beck's live tour?
I saw a few things. I saw one in San Francisco. They played a big concert hall up there in Oakland and the show was terrific. It was just wild and I'd never seen anything like it really. He wore a white suit and did a thing with his guitar that's like - he was spinning the guitar around his body like a ring. It was just unbelievable. He's got some great moves. A lot of variety. The show had a lot of variety. Really knocked me out. He's not afraid to let the needle go over into the red.
Interviewer: did you recognize a bit of yourself in his stuff?
Yeah, I did a little bit, yeah. I mean I knew I wanted to listen to more of it so I guess maybe that's just cause you feel something familiar or you recognize something perhaps that you share in common - a love of some of the same things that you're bringing through yourself and out into your music. So, yeah, definitely. Do you want to kill a little time? I can do some amazing facts, Chris. Did you realize that every 45 seconds a house catches fire in the United States, every 45 seconds. Did you realize that there are over 22 million cars in Los Angeles. I mean the last time I counted. Two thirds of all people in the US who choke to death are under 4 years of age. I'm sorry. I'm on the wrong page here. I'm on the safety page. Let me move over into something more lighthearted. How about royalty? Louis XIV owned 413 beds. What would you do with 413 beds? I guess you'd sleep in a different one every night. That's what I would do. Did you realize that man is the only animal that cries? Now a lot of people would debate that - cause my dog cries - so wrong! These are not amazing facts - they're just amazing - and my dog cries a lot, perhaps too much, I think he needs a therapist. And most automobile trips in the US are under 5 miles.
Interviewer: you're a walking encyclopedia
I'm reading from the book, Chris. I have to confess. This is not all coming from me. Here's one though you'll like - Tarzana - a lot of people know this if they live in the Los Angeles area - was named after Tarzan because Edgar Rice Burroughs lived out in Tarzana. But here's one that I also thought was interesting. The Founding fathers of Modesto were so modest that they didn't want to claim credit for starting the town, so they decided to call it Modesto. Because they were so modest, they called it Modesto.
[Intro to live performance of Fall Of Troy]
This was a news article about 2 kids that were involved in a shooting and they were very young kids and it was in New Orleans.
On Kathleen Brennan
I want to do a whole record of her dreams. She has amazing dreams and it's just remarkable and I think they should all be turned into songs.
Interviewer: how did you meet?
We met on New Years Eve at a party in Hollywood and I was leaving the next day and I was moving to New York City and I was never coming back here to the Los Angeles area ever again. That was what I said. But I'd said that before. So we met on New Years and then I left and I was gone for about 4 months and then I got a call from Francis Coppola to do songs for One From The Heart which was the first film he was doing for Zoetrope Studios and I came back and I got a little office with a piano in it and I was writing songs and Kathleen was working at Zoetrope. She was a story analyst. Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.
Interviewer: you keep a nice balance between career and family
Well, sometimes it's like log rolling and if you see just a shot of it, a still picture of somebody log rolling it's one thing but as a moving picture you see what's required. Yeah, we're keeping a good balance on it
Interviewer: the story is you're recording a new album
We're writing it now - when we get time. I usually keep a tape recorder with me all the time. But we're getting there. Maybe we'll record in May, sometime in May, part of May part of June. I don't know what it's called yet. I wanted to call it the Eyeball Kid but that probably won't end up being the title. It'll probably be something else that I haven't thought of yet. But we're just putting the songs together
Interviewer: how many songs so far?
I don't know, 60 of em I think. really. Pieces, pieces of them
Interviewer: you take a tape recorder everywhere?
It's little. It's about that big. The quietest place for me is in the car driving on the road cause at home if I go into a room and close the door the kids all want to know what I'm doing in there and then when Kathleen and I are in there together writing then they really go crazy. It's like geeze, the whole bottom just dropped out - what are you guys doing in there? It's funny - but the car is a better place really
Interviewer: band for the album, the usual suspects?
I don't know. Yeah there probably will be some of the usual people I've worked with. I'll probably work with Greg Cohen on upright bass and - I don' t know, I haven't really thought about it. The songs are really kind of rough right now. What I like about the songs when you're writing them is you don't even know them yet and they're really ill formed and they haven't really been turned into anything yet and they can go anyway. I seem to want to keep them that way as long as possible cause nobody knows them but you. So they're like your own personal songs. It's like having a mouse in your pocket, you know. And nobody knows but you. And you sing it and I think that ' my favourite time - before the songs get released and then you just tell them - you say, " All right you guys, go out there and bring Dad home some money."
Interviewer: are the songs fully formed when you present them to the band?
Not always, no. The way Kathleen and I work, she'll write a line, I'll write a line, she'll say that's a terrible line. You've written that song 700 time before, what do you keep writing the same damn song for. And I say what do you know - and she throws a magazine at me and I shut up for a while, you know. She writes down in journals all the time, just a constant log going of all things happening in the world and so she has this enormous wealth of material that is compiled mixing dreams with the kids' stories and magazine things and things you cut out of newspapers and remembered and I'm not as organized so I - but we do have a long - we have a big stack of newspaper articles that we're getting ready to go through. Which is a good thing to do. Particularly for songs. Cause there's so much in the paper that you see, you read, you forget, you'll never see it again. So it's coming, it's coming good
Interviewer: and you're changing record labels
Yeah, I've been on Island for 10 years or more, I don't know. It's not sorted out yet. They're putting out a compilation album of all the Island stuff off the last seven albums that were released on Island. It's 20 songs, it's not a box. It's called - now this sounds like a plug - it's called Beautiful Maladies. It's coming in June. They want it out in June or they're gonna get mad. It's June
*** intro to Filipino Box Spring Hog ***
In my old neighbourhood we used to have rent parties- if you couldn't make the rent. So they'd have a big festival out in the alley and cook a pig and invite a lot of people and charge them money of course - but most people brought something too. So they'd dig a big pit and then cook a big pig and there's like 200 people there and they're out in the alley. But I was staying in this place where I had a mean landlord and everybody hated the landlord and we were gonna have the - wasn't any point in having the rent party cause you'd already been evicted and so somebody got the idea that we' d have this big barbecue - we'd have it in the house. So they sawed all the floorboards out of the living room and dug a hole in the living room and put the box springs of a mattress down there and underneath the box springs there was a lot of madrone and eucalyptus and then we put the pig on top of the box springs and we had this big barbecue. It was memorable, everybody'd still talking about it - so anyway, this is about that
Interviewer: that song was going to be on Bone Machine wasn't it?
Oh, yeah, it was an outtake and then it wound up on something else, some compilation record that it came out on. It was an outtake from Bone Machine
Interviewer: any new instruments for the album
Well, things to choose from, I don't know what I'm going to use. Up where we live there's a lot of people that build their own instruments and that's Harry Partch country up there where we are. He lived in Petaluma for a long time and there seems to be a little enclave of his niche - artists up there that build - instrument builders and sculptors and all that. There's a very interesting guy who lives in Ohio, his name is Q Reed Ghazala and he made something called the Photon Clarinet that is a box with a light sensitive patch on the top and the tone responds to the intensity of light so if you aim a flashlight at it it goes crazy and it sounds like you just threw a lobster on a campfire and then if you bring the lights down it goes kinda hoooooo augghh - down in here. He takes apart toys and puts them back together and they're never the same. There's a lot more conventional guys up there that do like stuff from a hardware store, you know.
It changes the way you see a hardware store when you start hearing these instruments. You go into a hardware store and you start thinking, God, I wonder what that bucket sounds like over there - instead of, you know
Interviewer: so your trips to hardware stores are like looking for instruments?
Well, not consciously but sometimes, yeah, that's what happens
*** plays part of Good Old World ****
Maybe I'll just do medleys - a little piece of everything. I had a dream the other night that Sammy Davis Jr embraced me in a bathroom. It was one of those big bathrooms like at the movie theatres you know, this big regal looking bathroom and I was just leaving and Sammy Davis was there and he looked wonderful. He had a little tweed suit on and his hair was great and he gave me one of those big hugs, you know. Apropos of nothing, Chris
Interviewer: film projects - a documentary?
Oh, I did a voiceover on a Guy Maddin - he's a Canadian filmmaker, very strange. That was a few month ago. He did a film called Tales From The Gimli Hospital and another one called Careful. I don't know how to describe them. They look like old films. They look like - but they're not. That's kind of his thing. they look like strange old archival pictures that someone found in a vault in the boiler room and put in the projector and everyone's just - but they're new films. But that's part of his look and they're like children 's stories. Anyway this is a documentary and I just did the voiceover, talking about him
Interviewer: are you intending to continue in film work?
I'm waiting for a good thing to come along, that I really want to do. I'm reading scripts periodically. I'm looking for something to do. Something that's not in Bulgaria for 18 weeks. That's the thing about movies. You usually end up going far far away. I'm looking for something to do
(1) Dead man Walking album: Dead Man Walking (music from and inspired by the motion picture). Various artists, 1995 (released January, 1996) Sony Music Entertainment Inc. (Columbia CK 67522). TW contribution: "The Fall Of Troy" & "Walk Away" (first release, not on motion picture soundtrack)
(2) Marxophone: The Marxophone is a musical instrument that has four sets of chord strings (C-major, G-major, F-major and D7) to be strummed with the left hand and two octaves of double melody strings (C-middle - C'') which are struck by metal hammers activated by the right hand. The hammers are mounted on spring steel and produce a mandolin-like sound from repeated bouncing on the strings, hence the name mandolin-guitar-zither that was sometimes applied to the Marxophone. There are no recordings known of Waits using the Marxophone. Further reading: Marxophone homepage
(3) Mitchell Froom: - The album 'Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films'. Album released: December, 1988. Chamberlain ("Heigh Ho - The Dwarfs Marching Song"); - New Year's Eve concert appearance at the Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles/ USA. December 31, 1988 .- Concert at Wiltern Theatre. Los Angeles, USA ('LA Riot Benefit'). May 30, 1992. Keyboards; Further reading: Who's Who?
(4) Smokey Hormel: - Concert at Shrine Auditorium. Los Angeles, USA ('Not In Our Name': Dead Man Walking benefit). March 29, 1998. Guitar, banjo; - Concert at Paramount Theatre. Austin, USA (SxSW Festival: 'A late Evening With Tom Waits'). March 20, 1999. Guitar, banjo; - The album 'Mule Variations'. Album released: April, 1999. Chumbos & dousengoni ("Lowside Of The Road", "Get Behind The Mule"), dobro ("Pony"); - Tour promoting 'Mule Variations'. June 1999 - May 2000. Guitar, banjo, mandolin; Further reading: Who's Who?