Title: Skull Cave Interview
Source: Skull Cave (Triple-R Australian radio show), September 24, 2004. Telephone interview by Stephen Walker. Transcript from tape by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library
Date: September 24, 2004
Key words: Real Gone, creative process, Larry Taylor, Marc Ribot, Real Gone title, Real Gone tour.


Skull Cave Interview


SW: I asked Tom, when is it time for Tom Waits to make a new album? You know, is he backed up? Is he constipated? Uh, is he hearing other records that inspire him? And this is his response...

TW: Yeah, you go to the record store and you say: "What d'ya got Ray? Is there anything good, uh anything hot? Anything new, anything I should hear?" You know, you're looking for something and you realize there isn't really anything out there that you really wanna listen to, that's gonna give you that jump. So you uh, you realize you have to make it yourself. You know?

SW: Now, I believe that this album - well, some albums end up in the bathroom - but I believe this album actually started in the bathroom with noises that you're making there. Which sounds strange...

TW: That sounds terrible!

SW: ... But uh... you know what I mean.

TW: Uh well, everybody knows that uh, you know, the acoustics are a lot better in the bathroom then anywhere else in the house, you know. So yeah, it stands reason that you go in there. I brought all my uh instruments in there, the drums sound better in there, you know. It's like the stairwell. And uh... So yeah I took a little 4-track, had a 58 and just clapping sounds wonderful, you know. You know, rooms are instruments as well, so... Uh, anything that resonates isn't it? ... is an instrument. So yeah, it worked better.

SW: So how many of those very first sounds can we still hear on the album?

TW: Uh.. oh I see what you mean. Well it's kind of like that Clang boom and steam uh... happened like that uh... And then that Chickaboom(1) and then uh, and all the mouth percussions, where it's all by itself. But you know, we mixed other ingredients in, and made chili, so uhm... But uh yeah, you can hear the uh stripped down uh version of all of those things on those songs uhm...

SW: Well you mentioned ...?... Uh, how do the lyrics come out of that kind of thing? Like, are they sounds that start to form into words? Or how does this album balance out that instrumental sound and the words? It seems to me, that they're almost the same. It's like cut up words...

TW: Uh, well you know, any sound is really music, you know? Uh, words are music too so.. uh.. I don't know uh... It's like incantations, or talking in tongues in a certain way I guess, cause you put sounds together that have no apparent meaning. I mean, what does "A bop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom!" mean? I don't know what that means, but it frightened people. Uh, a little black man with the high hair, a pencil thin moustache, trying to play with his feet ...it scared the whole world! (laughs). Uh, no I don't know. You know my stuff is more like a rhythm guitar, you know, it's texture, it's cornstarch. you know? It's a sickening agent, that uh you know. I mean sometimes you just record the sound of a shopping cart, you know, going down the parking lot, and then put that on a loop and just leap it in there for texture's sake. You know? Uh, just like a wash over it you know? If things sound too naked, you know, you put some, you know: "Put some stripes in your tie!" And uh, so there's all kinds of little tricks like that, you know.

SW: When you're laying down that foundation, do you have any idea what it's going to end up being like, or is it a bit like laying down the foundations of a house and builders sort of building walls and stuff and they have no idea what the building is gonna end up even looking like?

TW: Oh ghee I don't know. No, I have a pretty good idea what it's going to look like. I have a vision about it, you know. Uhm.. yeah I'm not just uh throwing rocks, you know, at night, you know. I don't know, I wouldn't call it scientific but there's certainly much more of a plan involved.

SW: So you got an idea in your head about the final product, what it's actually gonna sound like?

TW: Yeah of course. Yeah. Uh, but you know, which is not to say that... You know, beautiful accidents happen all the time, sometimes changing the course of the tune. But uh, you know, that's part of the whole process too. Being open to and paying attention to the possibility of that happening, you know.

SW: Well Allen Ginsberg says uh: "First thought, best thought", are you the same with takes? That the first take is the one that you're really trying to make the record from?

TW: Uh, okay, yeah, well uhm... Yeah most of these were first takes and most of these were uh live vocals and uhm... So I felt like the world was collaborating with us, you know, there weren't a lot of accidents on the uh three mile hike you know? Uh, you know, I'm not really in the music business, you know, I'm in like the salvage business I think (chuckles). You know, I'm always looking for things...

SW: So did the record actually end up coming together quit quickly?

TW: Yeah.

SW: I mean a lot of records these days that takes months or years to make...

TW: No, no, no, no...

SW: How long did this take from go to ho?

TW: A couple of months top to bottom. Uhm, yeah I had them fast, you know?

SW: Now on these albums of course you're collaborating with your wife Kathleen again...

TW: Yeah.

SW: ... and that must be a very interesting dynamic to be working with someone that you're actually living with as well. I mean, to a lot of husbands I think that was a nightmare, but obviously from your point of view it works very positively.

TW: Uh... yeah it works great. Uh, you know, uh... she's a heavy-equipment operator you know. She's like a private eye. And uh, you know she's also like a hummingbird you know? Her wings beat 800 times a second, you know. And she can fly backwards. So, you know, it works. So...

SW: And there was a bit of a family affair in that your son Casey also appears on the album as well(2).

TW: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Uh.. yeah he got paid. You know, it was his first question: "Will I be paid?" And uh.. So, no he... yeah, it worked out good. And uh, you know, it... The thing about with your kids in the studio is that uh... you know, it's uh, you give 'em instructions but.. You know it's hard to tell your kids what to do whether you're working or you're at home, you know. So I would say uh: "Why don't you turn that uh floortom upside down and play with the mallet" or uh: "Hit it on the side with a stick and play the other one with your hand" or: "Put a glove on that hand and hold the...", you know, what ever. And all he would hear is, you know: "Take out the trash!" So for him it was kind of like uh, you know, listening to your dad telling you what to do. But, you know, we got over that and it uh, you know, it turned out good. I learned, I think I learned a lot more from him then he learned from me, you know? Cause uh, you know he's really out there, you know?

SW: So the musicians weren't actually brought in on this album, until that groundwork, with those noises that you were talking about and the percussion sounds from your mouth etcetera, until that was done. Then what? Then the band came in to play those songs?

TW: Well no, I just brought tapes in, you know, of me doing my incantation. And uh we all decided democratically what belonged on it, what would be uh advantageous, what would detract, you know, The same we do all the time making a record, you know? You know half of the stuff you bring in ...?... and the other half you find when you get there. So, you know, you go in the studio with medical professionals. That's the secret.

SW: Well one of those is a long-time compatriot Larry Taylor(3) . I mean you worked together so long, it must be very hand-and-glove with him.

TW: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah. I start sentences and he finishes them. And uh, you know he's played with anybody. You know he played with Jerry Lee Lewis and uh... Of course Canned Heat for a number of years. His brother was in the Venturas did you know that? And uh he's done a lot of blues over the years of course. But uh, yeah he's very versatile and a joy to work with.

SW: And Marc Ribot(4) is someone that you've worked with before, and you have a reunion with this record. I think since you've worked with him he's been working in several south American fields and jazz fields a lot?

TW: Well, you know, somebody like Marc I think is just as comfortable with, you know, industrial noise guitar as he is with uh... you know, legato, you know, very lyrical styles as well. So, you know, he's uh he's really someone who does a little plumbing and he also does some electrical. You know, he's well rounded and speaks 17 languages. You know? He's really uh.. he eats with his hands. You know? Brave, strong and uh, courageous.

SW: You're pretty much left alone I reckon by your record company, uh when you're making a record. What relationship do you have with Epitaph Records? I mean it's obviously been a very positive relationship, you're still with them. Uhm, what, basically you make the record and then you give it to them and then they release it? Is that how it works?

TW: Yeah. Yeah. (laughs)

SW: It's very simple isn't it?

TW: Yeah, it is very simple! Uh...

SW: It's a wonder it doesn't happen to everybody all the time!

TW: Well... yeah... Uh, I don't know. Maybe it's because it's a smaller label, you know? They're not looking after advice from ...?... you know. Uhm... and they have a lot of respect for me. You know, you deliver it and they put it out.

SW: Now, there's 15 songs on the album. How many were actually recorded when you were still working on them. How many didn't sorta make the cut so to speak?

TW: Oh, I don't know. There's always the ones that don't make it on. Uh, experience that you uh, you know, you put two songs in a room together and they have kids you know. And then, you know, you always end up with some left over. What I usually do is cut 'em up and use 'em for bate to catch other songs, you know? It's uh.. here's how it works... uhm... That was a joke...

SW: I know, I get it! Uhm...

TW: I was waiting for the laugh!

SW: (laughs) Okay. Uhm, what about uh the title of the album? When did Real Gone emerge - the title of the album - was that before or during or when the whole thing was over? How did that name come up?

TW: I don't know, it's all these folks leaving on the record you know? So it may be anything with "Real Goner", "A Real Goner" and then it was "Really Gone" and then it was "Real Gone", you know? I don't remember the... all the steps. But uh... It seems odd, because it also kind of an old musical expression, you know. People used to describe a certain condition of music and uh.. You know: "It's real gone", and I guess it's also when you're gone right? I mean really gone... you know.. like dead...

SW: Absolutely...

TW: (laughs) So uh, there seems to be a lot of that on the record too.

SW: Now my particular favourite track of the noisy tracks on the record is uhm Metropolitan Glide. I love that. It sounds actually like uhm, you know, a bastardized sort of version of the old Captain Beefheart: I'm Gonna Booglarize You(5).

TW: Uh huh... Oh yeah.

SW: With its similar syncopation about it.

TW: Okay. That's cool. Big Beefheart fan, you know. As is everybody, I know. Uh, he's the original town crier, the village idiot and mayor, you know. He's very ill and uh I have some friends who work for him and uh... You see?

SW: Well, that's sad.

TW: So uhm, keep him in your prayers and your thoughts.

SW: I shall.

TW: (cut) Yeah, I did, didn't you hear about "The Locomotion", "Potatoes" and the...

SW: Oh yeah.

TW: ... you know and "The Swim" and "The mess-around", and "The Glide" and, you know. And "The stomp" and "The pony" and "The twist" and "The peppermint twist"...

SW: That's right.

TW: It's like, nobody thought of anything I wouldn't. And then I realized I hadn't heard one of them in a long time, you know. So we made one (cut) You know, how you open and how you close is always important, cause it's like putting a set together on the road, you know? Uhm.. my wife's there and I am, you know?

SW: Speaking of being on the road. How are you going to work these songs live, given the way they were worked up, in uh... for the record which is unorthodox.

TW: I don't know. Uh, I really don't know.

SW: Oh, you haven't tried yet?

TW: Oh, were just starting to rehearse so... You know, it comes together one way or another.

SW: And the band that will be going live with you, is that the band that's on the record?

TW: Yeah, well: Larry, Brain(6), and uh... you know, that's the band right now.

SW: And we haven't seen you down in Australia for a very long time...

TW: Alright yeah...

SW: Is there any chance do you think that uhm... this time around we might get to see the Real Gone tour?

TW: I don't know. I'll only be going to a few places(7) cause I'm pretty microbiopic, you know. I'm a real cranky guy (cut). No, no, no. You now, I take breaks because I feel backed up, you know. I don't know, everybody is a little different about it I'm sure. But I uh, you know I leave it alone for a while and then I come back to it and then see if I've uh... (cut) You know there's a lot of intelligence in the hands.. So I find writing a-capella is better for me these days, as it's hard to train your fingers. Do something they've never done before, you know. And uh, with instruments usually your fingers just wanna go back to what they did the last time. So uh, I try different tricks to kinda free myself and, you know, pick up an instrument that I've never played before. Or, you know, just to have the thrill of unfamiliarity. And that the uh, you know, the feeling of discovery, yeah. So...I do the same thing with music, you know, the people I work with, you know. So: "Okay everybody switch instruments!", "Awww! Yeah! Switch!" "And I'll play the drums, ...?... now!" You know? And sometimes surprising things happen, you know?

SW: Yeah, so, really you.. It's just sort of working in the sense of not of having any kind of mission in mind but just what comes out of the actual instruments themselves?... Is that right? Is that what you mean?

TW: Well there is a mission. The mission is to be uncomfortable (chuckles). You know, or to be uhm... to lack confidence. That's the mission... sometimes, you know? Uhm, it's for you to try and play an hobo or timpani or uh... you know. And then just see what comes out of you. Which is not to say that, you know, it's not thrilling to have someone who's a genuine uh expert on their instrument. You know it's just sometimes its, uhm... when you're writing it's good to turn it upside down a little bit.

SW: And I guess the thing about it is that the musicians that you work with - and family members - I guess there's a lot of people who just wouldn't get it. Who are outside that circle, who would find that way of working intimidating or a little bit like playing without a safety net.

TW: Oh I see, that's why I play! You know, I mean, when it's uh. You know, the best way to approach it is to dance just like there's nobody's watching you. I think that's the best approach for me, you know.

SW: So it's just being there? I mean really being there. Concentrating, hearing, thinking.

TW: Well, kind of abandoning your uh.. Well leaving your body sometimes, you know.

SW: And just getting out of the way?

TW: Yeah, I guess so, yeah. Uh, you know, because uh sometimes the songs have a particular direction that they wanna go in, you know. I don't think songs really like being recorded at all, to be honest with you. I think the whole process is a little violent, you know. And that most songs would prefer to be uh... just to continue to evolve through being ...?... the old-fashioned way, you know?

SW: You refer to songs as if they were entities. As if they're beings independent of you?

TW: Uh... yeah.

SW: You reckon they are?

TW: I reckon they are.

SW: Right.

TW: Yeah.

SW: And that they live on beyond... That, like they're still growing I suppose even though you're not feeding them. Like they... when you come to part they're slightly different again?

TW: They're growing even though I'm not feeding them, is that what you're saying?

SW: Yes.

TW: Uh... that's a good one!

SW: Yeah?

TW: Uhm... I don't know what they eat, you know. So uh... Every now and then there's a volunteer in the garden, you know. And I always give them a little extra water.

SW: It seems like those little magic monkeys where you used to sit and wait, in the comics in search of water.

TW: Sea monkeys(8)?

SW: Sea monkeys, yeah...

TW: (laughs) Yeah...


(1) Clang boom and steam, Chickaboom: tracks nr. 13 and 16 (hidden track) of Real Gone. Read lyrics: Clang Boom Steam

(3) Larry Taylor: Bass (Top Of The Hill, Sins Of The Father, Don't Go Into That Barn, How's It Gonna End, Metropolitan Glide, Dead And Lovely, Trampled Rose, Green Grass, Make It Rain, Day After Tomorrow), Guitar (Shake It), Don't Go Into That Barn) for Real Gone. Also (upright) bass on tour promoting Real Gone. October 2004 - November 2004 and US tour promoting Real Gone/ Orphans. August 2006.

(4) Marc Ribot: Guitar (Top Of The Hill, Hoist That Rag, Sins Of The Father, Shake It, Dead And Lovely, Baby Gonna Leave Me, Make It Rain, Day After Tomorrow), Cigar Box Banjo (Trampled Rose) for Real Gone. Also guitars/ banjo on tour promoting Real Gone. October 2004 - November 2004.

(5) I'm Gonna Booglarize You: of the album The Spotlight Kid (Reprise, 1972). Read lyrics: I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby.

(6) Brain: Percussion (Top Of The Hill, Hoist That Rag, Sins Of The Father, Shake It, Don't Go Into That Barn, Metropolitan Glide, Trampled Rose, Baby Gonna Leave Me), Claps (Shake It) for Real Gone. Also percussion/ drums on tour promoting Real Gone. October 2004 - November 2004.

(7) I'll only be going to a few placesReal Gone tour 2004 (October 2004 - November 2004). Further reading: Performances 2001 to 2005.

(8) Sea Monkeys: Sea-Monkey is a brand name of a hybrid of Artemia salina, a species of brine shrimp. These are a type of fairy shrimp - not true shrimp, but a branchiopod. The term Sea-Monkeys (sometimes unhyphenated) is a trademark used to sell them as a novelty gift. They originate in salt lakes and salt evaporation flats. Further reading: Sea Monkeys official site.