Digging holes, filling them up again.

No more hobbies.

I guess I’m done.

I just saw an ad for an old guitar case (just the case!) for $10,000. I think that’s the turning point on trying to be involved in the “Vintage Instrument” world.

15-year-old self

I have always been into old guitars, especially old Fender Stratocasters (see previous blog posts about these things!), but I’ve never been able to afford a “real” one, by which I mean a solid, stock, early 1960s Stratocaster. Even when I was a teenager: I found a Christmas wishlist I had written from Dec 1978 (I was 15) that had “Pre-CBS Strat neck” listed on it, ostensibly to put on the “Memphis”-brand Strat copy that I had. As if my mom would know what that was, let alone where to find such a thing.

Like pretty much every hobby or collection I’ve had, there came a point where I was priced out of being able to be part of it—I have not kept up with my age group, success and income-wise. In the 1970s and into the 80s I collected comic books, the classic old 1960s “Silver Age” DC and Marvel, and when Camper Van Beethoven was touring in the 80s, I’d try to find comic stores and buy $5 or even $20 comics to fill in my collection. But things changed, and in 1989 that first big time “serious” Hollywood Batman movie came out and suddenly those $5 things were $50 and the $20 ones were $200. So I pretty much gave up. And then when the band initially dissolved, I was a bartender during the 1990s, so my spendable cash mostly went to food or beer. It still does, I’m embarrassed to say. At my age where most of my peers have houses and savings, I’ve got a bunch of parts-made guitars. (I did “own” a house for about a decade. The house story is on this blog as well. It’s sad.)

I sold my comic collection in 1997 after moving to LA, via a fairly new thing back then called eBay. Got $7000, though it cost $1000 to send it all off to wherever via UPS. That money lasted for awhile when I was interning at Danetracks Studio before they started paying me. And of course, I quit working there to join Sparklehorse anyway, where I made a full $800 a week. While on tour, anyway. That lasted until that very last show, after which I never heard from any of that crowd again.

Many guitars have come and gone, I’ve sold several (and of course I regret selling each and every one!) and lots and lots of parts to build those modular Fender Stratocasters: all the parts are interchangeable! Well, mostly, anyway; it depends on the model year a bit, but for the most part there’s a lot of commonality. I had one (named Honey by a kitchen label sticker) that was “stock” as it came from the factory, a 1971 model, that I used on all my post-CVB solo and band albums and touring with Sparklehorse and then again with CVB when we started back up in ~2002. It was stolen in 2004 in Montreal. I got a brand-new guitar to replace it (a black “1962 American Vintage Reissue” model, so it was sort of like the old ones I always wanted. I added a racing stripe to it) and I always bought parts to build more. It was fun! A great hobby, guitars, especially modular ones. And the hunt for old parts was fun, like when I had motorcycles, I worked on my mid-80s Moto Guzzi V65, and rebuilt a few old 1960s Triumphs and a couple 1970s Ducatis as well! Super fun to try to track down the proper headlight ears or oil reservoir for my 1966 T-100SC, for example. (Similarly unaffordable now.) I sold some of the motorcycles when I was in LA—not as fun to commute with all those straight streets and stoplights—and the remaining ones left me in the process of moving to Sweden in 2012. My brain is filled with trivia of years and parts, correct markings and idiosyncrasies of the different model years of guitars, motorcycles, cars, comic books. Yay. Valuable information, that there. (All of which makes spotting fakes or just plain old wrong information all the more obvious on Reverb or eBay, though for the benefit of no-one as it happens.)

1966 Triumph T-100SC. What a great bike that was.

The biggest problem economically with “Partscasters” is that they are worth less than the sum of their parts! For example, if, last year, you had spent, say, $2000 (1 – see below for footnotes. Blog format is stupid) on a 1963 body, $2000 on a 1965 neck, and another $2000 on the pickups and plastic/celluloid parts, the guitar as a whole would be worth maybe $5000. Because it’s a collectors’ market, not a players’ market: stock, untouched, un-disassembled items are worth the most, like Mint Condition comics, and the prices drop precipitously from there, by halves or more per condition downgrade. So where a stock/mint model might be selling for $15-20k, and the individual parts for such a thing sold for relative fractions of that, a whole item made of various parts was considered Poor Condition and worth less than the parts! So my current collection of guitars is sort of ridiculous in the collector’s view. And of course, markets sell at retail, but buy at wholesale. For my own interest, I am (was) a player, so I’d always been trying to build myself that perfect guitar, that one single instrument that would be mine, the one I would play only and forever. And I guess I could say I kinda, maybe have that one… sorta… or these two maybe…, but then… well, then I only record with them anyway, because you don’t take that old shit on tour, it gets stolen.

Man I hate thieves.

So during this past year while everybody has been locked inside, the prices of not only “Vintage” whole guitars have gone up, but the prices of parts as well. Maybe it’s the tail end of the Boomer money freaking out on the stocking of man-caves, so it’s just down to that old supply and demand, where demand had risen massively while everybody was needing to do something at home. But why old guitars? Do people even still play guitars in modern music? It must be Boomers (2) expressing a faux-nostalgia, still admiring Eric Crapton or Jiminy Page despite their irrelevance to popular music these days. We (should) all know about the presence of “Blues Lawyers”, those dudes who are so cool that they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a 1959 Les Paul to hang on the wall of their office, and they venerate players like Joe Bonamassa who play the perfect blues licks on quarter-million dollar guitars—in concert, even: “look, bro, he’s playing a 1958 Standard ‘Burst! That thing is worth $xxx! Man!!! That’s cool.” I assume these guys are the tech biggies and CEOs that got massively richer during the pandemic as the workers struggled (you can go read about that if you want), so anyway, now, June of 2021, the asking prices for what a year and a half ago was a $20k guitar are now $40-60k, what was a $5k guitar is now $10-20k.

I’m out. Actually I was really never “in” in that I never had that $20k to buy one of those instruments anyway (and then what do you do with it?) I mean, I literally have a couple thousand dollars in the bank to pay rent with over the summer. I guess it’s good I’ve never been super into Ferraris or something like that. So it’s another hobby down the drain… or, well, perhaps it’s not exactly down the drain but the reality of these objects as an obsession has confidently moved beyond my narrow slice of reality. Finally, right? I guess I’m gonna have to take apart these guitars to sell them in pieces. What a shame.

And a hassle. I hate selling things, I’m not good at it. (Duh. Can’t even sell my own music. Nor my own services.) Even, or especially, in Sweden where I live, which as you probably know is one of the overall richest societies in the world, …so I guess that makes the people super stingy? I don’t get it. They try to haggle on everything, it’s fucking disgusting. Makes me sick to my stomach to try to deal with selling things on Blocket (nobody uses Craigslist even though CL is free and you have to pay to put an ad on Blocket…! And there are ads on every page! But, but, Craigslist isn’t “Swedish”…) I have tried to sell some pedals and parts here, I price them low, super reasonably, and still people are like, how about half? And you pay for the postage? And I get ripped off. Halkan the Slippery, famous proprietor of one of the guitar shops in Södermalm ripped me off one time, and I tried to get some of the parts back, but no way. (Plus he paid me in cash. Nobody uses cash here and even trying to deposit it into my bank was a extreme hassle: only one branch office of my bank in the entire city of Stockholm deals with cash and then you have to fill out forms to say exactly where it came from, what it was to be used for!) That combined with the fact that the postal service here is fucking awful (Postnord. In a wave of neo-liberalism, the state sold the post office to a Danish corporation a decade back) and they have a built-in fee to deal with the added value tax so that if I try to get something from outside the country (like American made parts for American made guitars) I end up not only paying way more for it, but then even more to the postal service than the customs tax office simply for the privilege of being able to pay these taxes through them! (There is no other choice, apparently, beyond filling out a 6-page spreadsheet for your one “imported item” as if you were a commercial importer.) Even for books or records, even gifts (if they are valued over $50). Last year I probably paid a thousand dollars to Postnord for the privilege of paying Tullverket a hundred. And that’s every year. Sweden sucks the joy out of everything in any way it can (3), this sort of thing is typical and of course dampens any gladness from buying or collecting anything that isn’t made in Sweden. And what is made in Sweden anyway? Nothing that isn’t a sad copy of something made somewhere else better. I mean: especially the music. What’s touted here is only what’s successful, and not what’s good. And what’s successful is always a sad copy of something else. From Abba to First Aid Kit. They sound to me like Westworld robots trying to be authentic something-or-other, it’s almost there but something always puts it right into the uncanny valley, some accent or phrasing. (I will ruin your appreciation of Abba any time you like, but let me start with this: Orientalism. You may think they are cute and funny, but that’s just you “othering” them. They’re actually neither cute nor funny, they’re just mistaken in their attempts at translation.) And to think that Izzy Young moved here because he was so taken with Swedish folk music, something that was actually and truly beautifully Swedish. Well, Benny Andersson even ruined that with his semi-musical take on it. (I mean, of course there is some good music, but you’ll likely never hear about it and these bands will never go anywhere. The export model is built only on previously successful conclusions. The current model for all music is to feed the tech-machine anyway, so no band that isn’t in the top 5% will have a lifetime of more than a few years by design.)

So I dunno what’s left for me in terms of interests. Flower arrangement? Bird watching? I collect books too, or used to. When I moved, I sold all my records, and shipped many of my books. That was dumb. It’s very difficult to find books in English here too, especially cool old books or hardbacks or First Editions, and that postal service—well, the UK used to be in the EU and I used to at least be able to get English books sent from there. So I guess that’s out now too unless I’m up for those excessive VAT and Postnord fees. And the “valuable” books that I have (in English) are worthless here as well, being English. And being books. I recently helped (well, I didn’t help much) a friend clear out her late multi-lingual father’s apartment of its books and even the University didn’t want the academic ones, nobody wants books. Books are passé, so last millenium. I despair for humankind.

No more “career” (as such) either.

I used to be a “professional” musician and composer too. Not so much lately. I do have a gig next month, the first in 17 months. I’m shelling out money to pay to travel to the show in Copenhagen just for the chance to play. Like the meme-joke about a musician being a person who spends $150 to get to the gig, brings $1000 worth of equipment, and then gets paid $50. It’s not a joke. I have to practice too, I got no callouses, man. And serious ulnar nerve issues in my left arm/hand—half my fingers are numb or painful these days.

I tried, I really did! For 40 years, trying to make this “hobby” into a profession. When I look at the classified ads for gear, musical instruments and even recording studio equipment are listed in a subcategory within the “Hobby and Free Time” category. I guess I should have caught a clue earlier. Now here I was wanting to express something real about existing, hearing, being, developing music as part of the expanding spiral of human endeavor, but that’s not a real thing, now is it?

Even while, for example, the Grateful Dead were not cool in the 1980s (4), I had jammed on those old songs in the UCSC dorms in 1981-2 and I loved the expanded form and subtle audio cues they used to segue into new material or the next song… I had always hoped that CVB would develop into a more improvisational outfit. We had our moments, but David was always into some ideal of how a song was “supposed to be” so that pretty much never developed. Even in Cracker, with Johnny’s guitar solos, they have their specified sections: this many bars for a solo, this is the form.

My intention with my first solo album, “Storytelling” (1988), and indeed all subsequent albums, was always that that should be some type of studio version of music that was to be developed or expanded upon (5). (Like how “Anthem of the Sun” is, with respect to “Live/Dead”, as an example.) But you know, when you have no interest backing, no agent, no manager, nobody but yourself to sell yourself, gigs are hard to come by. And music doesn’t develop unless it’s played, and often, so the isolated shows that happened for that album, for the subsequent Hieronymus Firebrain albums, for the Jack & Jill albums, for any and all of my solo albums from 1988 to the present day, have always been barely getting it together enough to even play the songs correctly to begin with, much less to develop and expand them! Look at the extant recorded shows I’ve done that are on Archive.org, there’s no touring. It’s always isolated shows, no steady band. As much as I tried to work with the same guys, these guys were often only doing it to be nice to me. (Thank you, though. I do appreciate it, that it happened at all.) It’s my show for this year! Come on, it’ll be fun! I could barely pay anybody, if at all. Which never goes far, of course. Nobody likes to play for free…

…or, well, I do I guess. I mean, most of the work I do I don’t get paid for, studio or touring. Never did. If you look at my discography probably 80% or more of that is work that nobody paid me for. Even now, in this past year where all I’ve had is recording tracks at home for other people. Sometimes somebody has $100 for a track, but more often nobody has money. You’d be shocked to know what little money I’ve made. And what little royalties have ever come in, especially now. And of course no record company has ever paid me to record (again, no management, no agents, no nothing on my behalf.) But I did it anyway. Or I mixed other people’s music. For that $100. Because that’s what I do.

My dream of course was that the music from an album like “Honey” or “All Attractions” should be played over days, months, years, to develop into Dark Star or something (Dark Star as a song started as a 3 minute single!) But you know, you get one show at the Camp-Out and one at a local bar, and pay each guy $100 from the $100 you get for the gig and… we barely knew the songs. I eventually gave up on that and started just doing improv sets at the events. The last set of shows that I did where I played actual songs (August 2019, West Coast USA) were mostly by myself (and a couple with Victor, and a couple with Kelly Atkins, thank fucking Glob!)

I don’t even like playing solo. I like playing with other musicians. I don’t like to be the guy that has to hold the song together entirely, and having that stress of essentially forcing a band to play my songs for ONE GIG meant that the pressure was on me to play everything exactly right so that the other folks could have less stress of having to be on top of it, because, hey, they were my songs after all. And they aren’t especially easy, I guess. I had to hold it together to make it seem like I was together enough to be a guy to back up. But really, I wanted to float, to have the song play with or without me so that I could be free to let it grow, to expand it. But I had to be the center of it, the guy to hold it together. Not my thing. I do relate to Jerry on this front.

I gave up on that with bands, so any “songs” that were played were only ever played at solo shows, and when there were other musicians to play with, we just improvised at any show that I managed to get in the past number of years. I tried to do a couple live streams in the first few months of the pandemic as well, playing songs and allowing as much growth in them as I could without the song entirely falling apart or fading into single notes. I gave up on that too, it just wasn’t real to me. It felt like I was practicing in my living room (I was) and that experience was not communicating with any people who might be listening. I relearned all of that first solo release “Storytelling” (a particularly difficult one), and managed in a few streamcast tries to get through the entire thing. I succeeded! Yay. What the fuck was that all about?

I tried improvised music streamcasts too, but it was similarly weird. I really want an exchange of energy, I guess. And I’m not much of a solo improviser, I like the interaction: action, reaction, creating the music so that we all hear how it’s going forward together. Picking up on those subtle or even subliminal audio cues to move into new territory. That’s probably why I started doing more computer programming in Supercollider or Max/MSP, so I could have something play sound back at me to react to. That’s beyond me now, the programming. I can barely figure out how to make a blog post here, now that WordPress has updated to use this weird-ass Gutenberg format. Fuck it.

I was studying music composition at Mills College from 2001-03, and among other notable professors there was that guy, Mr Fred Frith. In a composition practicum with him I asked him a lot about solo improvisation, as he successfully does that quite often. And he does it really well! He was like: play. So I did, but it was all “active” and not reactive. I guess I have a hard time reacting to my own impetus? Or I get so caught up in the idea of creating an impetus that it never pauses to assess itself. Dunno. Still learning how to play music.

Anyway, there’s no place for all of this in the world these days. There’s no band to help me with that dream scenario. “My dreams have withered and died” as Richard (or rather Linda) sang. I don’t even want to perform, I just want to play music, with other people, for other people. What you have seen if you saw me “perform”, say, with CVB, is the excitement of playing music. If I’m moving or jumping around, it’s not a performance, it’s the music moving through me. I’m not into the bullshit of mask wearing and pretending to be something, never have been—which is of course, an issue with “songs”, in that my songs are mostly “me” and only somewhat abstracted as character writing or acting. But character writing is what makes most successful songs popular. There’s this weird shift that seems to happen as musicians/songwriters age: they start out by writing “themselves”, what they know, who they are, but they seem to run out of it or something and start writing “characters.” Especially people who become successful. Back 20 or so years ago when I was in Sparklehorse, our peer group was made up of many extremely famous and successful musicians and I actually got to interact with them sometimes… I mean, if Mark was taken, of course; it wasn’t like Thom Yorke sought me out to talk to as his first choice. Anyway, I got into a conversation with Polly Harvey about this, and I ended up thinking about it a lot, how she was approaching 30 and had essentially stopped writing “herself” (as I took her earlier albums to be) and started writing vignettes of “characters”. David Lowery said once that he does that because “nobody can fill nine albums with their own experience”.

jes and thom

I call bullshit on that. One experience of love can forever inspire! One life contains multitudes! Or could, I guess, if you are willing to examine or re-examine. Or grow. To be frank, though, I pretty much stopped listening to PJ Harvey by the 2000s, because I didn’t hear her anymore and it was her that I liked.

Obviously none of that is Hard-And-Fast true. I mean, I did love Harvey’s later “Let England Shake” and the big concert I saw of that music was amazing. And David has recently been writing “autobiographical” songs for his solo albums (although his stories aren’t exactly true, of course…) And people like Richard Thompson who are essentially unknowable to begin with continue to write songs that are excellent and about who knows whom? But with regard to my own writing, it’s mostly directly from my heart to you, to quote Mr Zappa. Which is maybe what puts it in a niche (a very narrow niche) of popularity. I could probably count on my digits the number of people whom I believe actually enjoy these songs. Maybe it’s a genre problem, that is to say, unless you’re squarely within a marketable genre definition, nobody knows how to sell, or even buy, your music. Even with Camper Van Beethoven back in 1988 when we signed to Virgin, they said: just do what you do and we’ll sell it. But they gave up on that within a year and wanted a hit, so they made the band (sans moi by then) go back and record a cover song.

(More likely, it’s the sound of my voice. I do find that people mostly listen to singers who sound like other known singers, and I don’t, really. That’s how you know it’s viable, though, right? It sounds like music, music that I’ve heard before and was told that it was music!)

Well, the end result is…what? I did what I could. I have nothing to show for it, really. (Daddy, what is that shiny round piece of plastic? Huh? How is that music?) Like many artists over the centuries, I salute thee, I join thee in obscurity.

I haven’t written any lyrics for a year. I tried forcing myself to write song ideas earlier this calendar year and got a bunch of, say, demo chord progressions recorded. Nothing stuck…I think it’s the lack of input and idea sharing with others. Or I’m just done. But whatever. That’s neither here nor there and as Phil Ochs sang, “it doesn’t really interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.”

So maybe it’s time to sell the guitars, see how long I can live off that. All that writing and composing I did over the past 35 years stopped recouping anything royalty-wise once Sporkify came along. I argued the royalty rates even during the 3 years I worked at Pandora (2009-2012—where I made $20/hour, the most money I had ever made in my life! Then I got fired and lost everything anyway… So it goes.)

I lost. We lose. Music loses, I’d like to believe. I’m still beating my head against that wall by trying to get our (that is to say my and Victor’s, our publishing company called Bumps of Goose Music) song catalog listed with the MLC, the Music Licensing Committee, a new entity responsible for collecting and paying digital mechanical royalties from the streaming services, but even doing this is arcanely difficult for those parts of pennies. There are now several new companies devoted entirely to the process of qualifying data for ingestion into the MLC! That’s the biz. The fact that the writers themselves are responsible (or must pay one of these partner companies) for data movement between conglomerates that don’t give a shit about anybody who isn’t in the upper 5% income bracket, well it’s insane. And time consuming. And probably on purpose. I mean, you’d think that BMI, for example, would be able to provide a spreadsheet of all the songs a writer has registered with them for radio and TV broadcast collection, with all their IPI and ISRC and ISWC etc etc numbers attached and get it directly to the MLC, but no. There is no interaction. It’s my last battle to get this done. Then I give. Uncle!

I have no retirement fund, obviously. I guess I actually believed that there would be a “long tail” or indeed a tail at all. I do live in a welfare state now, yes, but I’ve never worked here: all my income during the last decade has been from touring in the US, hence I have been paying taxes in the US. So when I get that yearly Swedish Orange Envelope that shows your accrued pension? Zero.

Maybe I can find some other hippies or a circus to bum around with for the rest of my life. I mean, once my daughter is 18 and moves out. If she has somewhere move out to. If there’s a world to bum around in. If I’m still alive by then. Till then, aloha.

footnotes, in the only way I could figure out how to do them in the new obligatory WordPress input format, which sucks ass. Blog form in general is antithetical to writing, in so many ways—nobody reads a book back to front, and yet with this format, time is upside down, this post is the end of the story and yet it appears at the top. Fuck the internet and all it has spawned.

  1. Now $4000-6000.
  2. Baby Boomers are of course technically those born in the post-WWII Baby Boom, 1946-1964. I was born in the fall of 1963, but I have never, ever, felt myself to be that part of cultural America.
  3. Secular Lutheranism? Protestantism with its work “ethic”? They are extremely Puritan (e.g. pot is an ILLEGAL NARCOTIC! HELP! You will be a drug addict! But alcohol, tobacco, hey, no prob. Cuz they’re LEGAL.) The whole concept of behavior is about “Lagom” or just enough and no more. You don’t stand out, you don’t have or do more than anybody else, stay unobtrusive and everything is “lagom”. Nobody gets to experience joy! That would be too much. I mean, unless they are drunk, and then suddenly it’s like they’re tripping. Fucking weird (Seriously, drunk Swedes are intense.) People say Swedes are stuck up and snobby, Swedes counter to say, no it’s just that we are shy and it appears that way! But the reality is that, indeed, they are incredibly stuck up and snobby: they believe inside that they are always right and they have the best understanding and view of the world, but god forbid that anybody would know that you felt that way! So they wear a continuous mask of “lagom”. What a bullshit culture. So incredibly hypocritical—look at the lip service given to Greta Thunberg: that poor girl was shocked to learn of the realities of the world and the destruction of the planet, while her classmates heard the same lecture and went right back to their phones and cared not a whit. She (has Aspergers, so, like me, unable to process the hypocrisy of this social stance) was like, we need to fucking do something! Nobody cared at all. Until her school strike was picked up by global media, because in other cultures, there are people who actually do feel and care. So she became famous and then, only then, Sweden was like, OH YEAH, Greta, she’s one of us. But they didn’t change anything about Swedish behavior. People still drive their fucking cars around the city (why? Great public transport!), still count on the arms factories to build new offshoots in the Middle East to provide tax money to the Swedish state, and then, then, when they’ve made arms and vehicles and sold steel for a couple hundred years, they complain about the immigrants forced to move from the destabilized areas. I know, the US is worse, but the US capitalists and extraction merchants are blatant about it (like the US racists, they’re pretty much in your face. We get to argue to their faces.) Here, nobody can even understand their own part in causing human migration patterns even within a relatively short period of historical time. “What? We’ve been good, though…?”
  4. Indeed, the several times I saw the Grateful Dead in the 1980s, they sucked ass. Sorry 80s/90s Dead lovers. Post-heroin any band is usually not good and my opinion hasn’t changed with re-listening. That said, the Dead weren’t cool in the 1980s in my world mostly because my world was College Rock/Alternative Rock and that was essentially a continuation of Punk, which meant that pretty much anything big and popular and especially from the 1970s Arena Rock world wasn’t cool. I still liked Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but I had to hide the Yes and Jethro Tull or be prepared to take crap for it. Whatever. Some things stick and some don’t, I only recently realized that I don’t think I like LZ much anymore, but writing this paragraph, I decided to put on Yes’ “Going for the One” and I still know all the words. In high school (1978-81) my “punk rock” band Bürnt Toäst still did covers of LZ and Hendrix in the mix, and I also played bass in a band with older dudes (so I could get into bars) who taught me Dead songs when the singer took a (coke) break, so I knew a bunch of Dead songs—as a bassist. I didn’t really listen to them then. Now, on the other hand, I am very into early Grateful Dead, pre-1970. It’s shockingly good. I’m even amazed at the development of their improvisation from there through the early 1970s, what they did and the fact that the audience was with them the whole time! What I’m not much into, however, is the Americana era stuff, and I know that American Beauty and whatnot were their breakthroughs, and everybody loves all those songs. They’re OK, I guess. Not my first choice to hear, and mostly if it comes up in shuffle I’ll skip it. The acid primal stuff though, it’s incredible. I started last summer on a forum thread listening to every Dark Star to analyze the development, we’re at ~#50, early April 1969.
  5. And you know I love the studio and especially mixing the recorded music: it’s like sculpting sound. You can listen to any of my albums, or the ones I’ve mixed for Øresund Space Collective, and you can understand that I’ve been working in studios for 40 years. I do love it. Playing music, especially live, is like painting. Mixing it is sculpting with the paintings. Admittedly, though, recording in a “Recording Studio” can be weird, like you bring your blank canvas and your paints, but you have to rent the brushes and paint it all as fast as you can, though then at least you can get a look at it/listen to it later and figure out how to structure it in 3-dimensional space. And time.
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Posted in Music

Reblog from Scott Heller’s blog


Interview with Jonathan Segel

Scott Heller: Jonathan Segel is one of the most creative musicians that I have ever met and worked with.  Both of us are from California and only about week apart in age.  We first met in the SF bay area in the early 90s when I would attend the concerts of his band, Hieronymous Firebrain, who would play the local clubs.  After many years, we both ended up in Scandinavia (JS in Sweden and myself in Denmark).  Anyway, it was good to catch up with Jonathan to learn a bit more about his history in music- past, present and future..

SH: How did you get started playing music?

JS: That’s hard to pinpoint. I mean, my parents were both music listeners, but not players really, outside of church choir or high school band. My dad still had his trumpet, though, I think a nephew of mine has it now. He has always had a huge classical music collection on LP and CD, they had many varied LPs I listened to growing up. During the time that I grew up in the 1960s, they actually had music classes in school in elementary school (“da-da-ditdit-da and the like”) and I was already playing songs on recorder by then (wooden flute) and I tried to have piano lessons but had one of those mean teachers who physically mushed your fingers into the correct key to get you to remember it, so I quit at 7 and started messing around with my mom’s classical guitar. But I was also already drawing little hairy figures like cousin Itt with electric guitars and bat wings and top hats, listening to my clock-radio alone in my bedroom late at night—I got my own room when I was four or so, that’d be 1967-68, so I’d tune in to an AM station from San Francisco which was mixing in local bands with the bubblegum, so Jefferson Airplane caught my ears early on. I didn’t start playing with other people until I was 12 (1975-76) when I got back to Davis after my mom had been on sabbatical in Tucson, which was where I got turned onto much heavier  music by the record store dudes on 4th Ave; I’d walk up and down the street after school, they were like, whatcha listening to kid? I said, Beatles, you know, they said, here’s some Alice Cooper, (etc.) So when I got back to Davis, I was like, hey have you heard this Led Zeppelin, they’re phenomenal! And found a guy in my neighborhood who was into playing bass, and then we met another guy at school whose parents ran a “Pickers and Singers” folk group at their house, so they all played (folk and country music, mostly) and had several instruments, so we formed a band, acoustic at first. Stayed together until we left for college! Mostly covers, but we wrote about a half dozen songs. 

Did you try out other instruments besides violin and guitar? 

Well, I stayed mostly away from keyboards after that first thing, and in fact developed a thing against keys even for a while in high school, like was not into bands with keys. Except Pink Floyd. (I got over it). But, while I was, say, liking the Queen records where Mercury played piano, I did note that they had liner notes that said “And nobody played the synthesizer!” And when suddenly that liner note was absent was the beginning of them losing me. A lot of the 70s big timers lost me with their later 70s albums, I wasn’t that into The Wall or In Through the Out Door by then, in favor of more out-there and DIY stuff that I was hearing on the UCD station, KDVS. 

Anyway, yes, I should say that I started playing violin when I was 10, but I quit after 7th and 8th grade Orchestra, I broke my left hand in PE and pretty much stuck with guitar after that until I was in college. I did get a mandolin when I was about 15, as much because of Heart as Led Zeppelin!

You studied music at the University of California, Santa Cruz?  I was reading recently about the electronic music laboratory and how they had some of the original modular synthesizers.  Was modular synthesis part of the program? Did you get to play with any of these and make recordings??

Yes! So I went to UCSC in 1981 and was initially a philosophy major, but I tested into the second year music theory classes right off the bat and they were intense! Every day at 8:30am for four quarters (3 per year, summer break) 1.25 hrs MWF, 2 hrs T-Th, plus labs, so after that first year, I could get a music major in 3 years, so I switched to Music Comp, minored in Classical Languages. Before you got to go in the studio, you had to pass Gordon Mumma’s Mus35 class in the history of electronic music, which was amazing (and all 20th century, an anomaly in all the other music studies) but involved hours of listening in the library basement listening rooms. Then we got to work in the EMS, with Peter Elsea as mother hen for the studios and him and Gordon teaching the classes or seminars. One studio had 4 Revox B-77s, a Tascam 16-channel 8-buss mixer, a modular Moog system and a few awesome rack examples: an Omnipressor, the Eventide Harmonizer, some parametric filter device… an A/DA Stereo Tap Delay, just awesome gear. A big room, and mics (can’t remember which). The second room had a Buchla and an Alpha Centauri digital system, these were tougher to control, more code-writing instructions and fed by cassette-modem! The Moog of course was pretty old and drifty, but it was fun, had a 8-step sequencer and the filters and oscillators of course and ADSR units. We did a lot of tape collage stuff too (duh, you can tell by how I work in ProTools…) And then second year you could get to book time in the middle of the night, so we started recording bands and stuff, even though there were obviously other engineering labs in the building. Which reminds me, the stairwell was a great echo chamber, it was concrete, a 5 story building, we could run lines to the top and bottom.

So to answer your previous question, while a teenager I played guitar, bass, mandolin and violin, but when I started the music major, I had to pass a “keyboard proficiency” exam which meant lessons and playing Bach and stuff, which I muddled my way through. But also I was studying composition so I tried to learn how all the instruments worked and felt, I’ve gone through numbers of instruments and attempted to learn what I could, clarinet, trumpet, flute, organ, cello, contrabass, marimba, vibraphone, etc. I don’t know if I’d say I can really play them, but I have a better understanding of them. I’ve recorded myself playing any one of these things at some point or another to use in some recorded music somewhere.

UCSC was known as a really cool school. I went to UC Berkeley but it was 30,000 students, where as UCSC was much smaller and tucked away in forest!  What are your best memories of going to school there. You could have gone to UC Davis which was much closer to home.

Oh, I have so many intense and interesting memories of UCSC, I was at school 1981-85, started playing with Camper Van Beethoven in ’83 and our first album came out the day I graduated in 85. I lived on campus the first year, then moved to a little town called Felton in the mountains behind the school for two years, about 45 minutes to get to school by road but we could also walk across the forest in the same amount of time, then eventually moved back into the town. The campus is on a hill overlooking the northwestern part of the town, so it’s very separated from the town in that you have to expend energy of some sort to get up there one way or another. But it’s beautiful all around that area, the cliffs over the ocean are incredible, the redwood forests above the University are incredible. Definitely some tripping events took place out there. There were lots of very creative people living there when I was, like in my second year of school the music theory class had tons of jazz guys, (most of whom are still playing, in whatever capacity professional musicians play in these days. That is to say, I see their names around still.) That was a little daunting to me (I was 19 or so) as I wasn’t super into jazz, I was listening to a lot of classical to try to basically ingest music history as I learned about it, and a lot of avant garde/20th century “western art music”—which included the minimalists—shit all these are long stories—and weird 70s stuff like Can and Art Bears when at home, and other prog rock, and then my high school girlfriend was also at UCSC and on the radio KZSC doing a punk show, so that too. But that year, the jazz cats won and the theory had a lot of Coltrane or Miles as examples… 

So anyway, there were always people interested in or doing all kinds of music, so I went to a wide variety of shows. On campus was one thing, but in downtown Santa Cruz there were rock and jazz clubs, and you could go up to San Francisco to see all sorts of things if you were committed to driving back in the middle of the night (about an hour and a quarter.) From Sun Ra at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz, next night a gamelan ensemble, then later that week Philip Glass or Robert Ashley in SF, or maybe a punk show or a concert of baroque music on campus. And then in the dorms there were tons of kids who were typical Santa Cruz deadheads, so I saw the Dead several times too. A band called King O-San that I played with in high school, the guitar players were super deadheads, so they would teach us Dead songs for when the singer “took a break” (i.e. went for a coke bump or whatever) so I played a lot more Dead in the dorm lounges that first year, despite the antagonism between punks in the other campus bands and the Dead world. I was sort of oblivious, I just liked to improvise. There were several bands on campus or students that lived off campus but practiced on campus, so CVB also had our own shows there too. And when I graduated, Camper made a record and even toured out to Texas and back later in the year, but we lived and got jobs in town for another 5 years and played at parties there for a few of those years. By the late 1980s, CVB would tour the whole United States twice or more every year, even Europe and the UK, and then come home to sleepy old Santa Cruz, like, whew we’re home, but then after a few weeks you’d get restless, wonder what’s going on in the real world out there? Santa Cruz is sort of a whirlpool, I think it’s one of those places that people get caught in and maybe don’t escape. I moved to SF in 1989, the earthquake hit and SC really changed after that too.

What was the first band you played in? What is the last band you have played with? 

First band I played with was with those guys in Davis, we called ourselves Bürnt Toäst. At that same time, or between times when Bürnt Toäst had a drummer, I also played in other cover bands in Davis, including King O-San (whatta name!) who were older dudes in their late 20s who played guitar and even older (oh my god) singer with a moustache who crooned the “Tuesday’s Gone” type stuff, I played bass and another guy I knew in high school played piano. The drummer was a ex-biker who would freak out about gigs and drink too much, so we’d call in another high school guy we knew, we got to play in bars, have beer, so we stuck with it just to get beer and play music… um, pretty much still doing that now.

It is well known that Camper Van Beethoven has been your main band for the last 30+ years.  How does that work these days with you being in Sweden for the last many years?  

Well, we had a schedule up until early this year where we would play the West Coast between Christmas and New Year’s, then do some middle US or the South or Texas, and the East Coast by President’s Day weekend in January, later adding in a festival (called Camp-In) in clubs in Athens, GA for the end of the month. As well, we started an indoor/outdoor stage festival in 2004 in Pioneertown (the Camp-Out) near Joshua Tree in California, which usually ran four days in late August or early September, so we’d tour to it or from it in the Southwest or Midwest, say, Chicago to Minneapolis, then south through Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, NM, AZ, to the Joshua Tree thing, or vice versa. So it was pretty easy when I moved here in 2012 to just fly to the US twice or three times a year and tour for a month or six weeks. In that time, we played in the UK once and in Germany/Austria. Since the singer also fronts Cracker, we almost always (except for the UK/EU) played with Cracker headlining. They had big 90s radio hits and are still the bigger draw, of course, more publicly recognised and accepted. At the festivals in Pioneertown and Athens, each band got headlining nights, and we all got solo sets to do songs or improvise, which I built a tradition of at the Camp-Out festivals, and then brought it indoors at the Flicker Bar in Athens for the past 4 or 5 years. I turned a lot of listeners on to the Øresund Space Collective in that way too, and Sista Maj. The truth is that even straight rock music listeners (like the Cracker fans, who are a little country, a little rock n roll, like a lot of 70s bands) like to hear a good jam, and the CVB rhythm section—who just happen to be half of the Monks of Doom—with me wailing on guitar, we can jam out some decent stuff now and again, so they were interested in hearing more, which was really cool to see happen. I’m sort of the “weirdo” of the band family, which is fine I guess. 

It has been quite a few years since the last CVB studio album. Anything in the pipeline?? 

To be honest, I have no idea. We’ve each been on our own this year, there have been a couple attempts to work on things over the internet but it hasn’t amounted to much. Mostly concept album ideas that petered out, but damned if I didn’t try to write outlines for several songs based on North Korean popular propaganda song titles… Everybody in the band worked on solo projects, and Victor Krummenacher (bassist) also had band with Dave Alvin and David Immerglück called “The Third Mind” which put out a record of songs and jams, very cool stuff like covering Alice Coltrane or Butterfield Blues Band, and they were going to tour last spring, all cancelled.

You were always quite busy with lots of music projects even when CVB was around. In the 90s you had a few groups like Hieronymous Firebrain and Dent, each of which made a few albums.  What was HF like?  How did you meet the guys in that band.

That band went through two distinct lineups, the first before it was even really named was with Berkeley guys from Barrington where we practiced, with David Immerglück (also Monks of Doom, in the Ophelias at the time. Later with Counting Crows, which he has stayed with as a career… ick, but what can you do. He’s an amazing guitarist, can play anything at all.) Immerglück got hired to make up for my absence in non-violin things after I got essentially kicked out of CVB in 1989 and they hired Morgan Fichter to play violin, so Hieronymus Firebrain v1 dissolved and I advertised in  local mags (BAM, maybe? I can’t remember) and a Berkeley student named Russ Blackmar auditioned to play drums, and played everything off the HF tapes I sent him perfectly right off the bat, and a bass player from Oakland named Ted Ellison (later of then band Fuck) and then my then-roommate in SF Mark Bartlett played guitar and sang also. Mark was the person who convinced me to continue the band, and he’s a great player (look up Four and a Half Pounds of Sunlight sometime, if it’s even on the internet anywhere!) but what happened was that he and Ted got more and more proggy over the 90s while Russ and I got more Can and simpler. Eventually we broke up and Russ and I got his roommate, Jane Thompson, to play bass and formed a classic pop rock trio. 

Dent was a project that came after HF broke up and you guys were living in rural New Mexico. What was life like for you there compared to the intense SF bay area? What was a day like? Did you guys just sit around and get stoned and play music??  The two CDs you made are quite interesting. One is more poppy mainstream while Verstärter, more experimental in someways. I always loved the title, There must be less to life than this!

Our friends in the band The Whitefronts, who were a psychedelic art collective, several of them moved out there to Questa and built a studio out of adobe, so we went there. We’d mostly just play when the mood struck us, work on things right there in the studio to record, make it up as we went along. In 1997, I moved to LA to work in a studio there, (film sound, doing sound effects and that sort of thing) so I just took the tapes and mixed them at home. Dent was whoever was around, which was often me or Victor (from CVB, Monks, etc) and the Whitefronts/Lords of Howling/Art of Flying people (go look them up!) but also sometime somebody coming off their drugs heading out in NM to dry out, but could play a lead somewhere, that sort of thing. 

Obviously with the Covid 19 lockdown your normal life of a few tours in the USA with Camper, one tour with Øresund Space Collective and local gigs was highly disrupted (as was your income).  How have you dealt with this? As many musicians, I guess you made a lot of new music, dug into the archives?? What was the most interesting thing you found in the archives??

It’s been a tough year! Last year, the LAST of the Camp-Out festivals (number 15!) happened in early August, we had toured from Chicago to it, then I did three weeks of solo shows playing songs I had written over the course of the previous 25 years and then one last CVB show, headed home, went back for the winter tour, ended that by playing improv sets at the Camp-In, came back and did two solo shows with Donald Lupo in Finland in February and then wham! nothing. 

At the very end of the time I was in Athens, I got together with Bryan Howard and Carlton Owens, the rhythm section from Cracker, cuz Bryan was setting up a studio at his house, so we jammed, just on what instruments he had there, which was fun—unfamiliar guitars, a ES335 and a set-bridge Strat with heavy strings! Anyway, the first thing I did was work on those, and that came out as the Transatlantic Space Connection.

And I thought, hey, last summer I played tons of songs and sang and shit, I can do a streamed live show. It took a few tries to figure out how to, and the time zone differences between Sweden and the bulk of what audience might listen in the crowded world of the internet was in the US, but eventually I got it down and did a couple shows and one at Larry’s Corner, with an audience of Larry. I made a few attempts at playing songs from my first solo album, Storytelling, from1988, so I got it into my head to try it in its entirety. It was a double album from late 1988, even more on the cassette I think. Remastered by Myles Boysen in 2011 on 2-CDs. I did streamed live sessions of side 1&2 first, then 3&4 and then the whole thing and then only the “Thinksong” parts as a suite, the improvisable-with-set-arrival-progressions stuff. Then I started burning out on songs, and singing to nobody in my living room, staring at my phone, so I did a couple instrumental improv things in between these, then I sorta stopped. I had been working for a couple years on a bunch of weird recordings I’d made of recorded environments and/or field recordings worked into music, so I just continued with that. That one came out finally in August of this year, called Outside Inside. It’s esoteric, but I was very isolated (am still) and that was what was going on in my head, I think there’d be some people who must relate to it. Not sure still, but it’s out there for you. Then also, the rights to Superfluity ceded to me earlier in the year (3 years on Floating World UK) so I had to wait for the “sell off period” and the contract was over. Luckily for me, they had 100 2-CD sets with 4-panel artwork by Richard Gann (one of the people I’ve worked with since forever, he did all the HF CD covers, all the Sista Maj CD covers, etc. The other person is Edie Winograde, who’s been photographing us all since the 80s, lots of the CVB covers, and several of my albums have her photographs) so I got to buy those and finally release the album on Bandcamp, using the 48khz 24bit masters! Yeah! Released this last week! Please take a listen all you readers, it’s like the bookend for Storytelling. We’re moving onto a different shelf now.

Aside from all that, I’ve done lots of individual tracks for people, a couple Astral Magic albums, Spirits Burning with Michael Moorcock, couple of Buck Down’s songs, some on albums by Taperecorder, and we finished a bunch of the ØSC live and studio stuff, just today finished a mix of a friend’s cover of a hokey Swedish song he wants to put out for Solstice …and I did finally do a Dead cover, Here Comes Sunshine. In other words, not getting a job, going way up and down, trying to continue, not playing as much as I want to nor feel I should do. Trying to keep recording chops up but I feel self conscious in an apartment building when many people are home most of the time now. I have this cool little Vox AC4 and an AC15 but they’re both so loud! Crazy. So mostly if I need to play electric I use the Princeton Reverb with a cleaner signal at lower volumes into the mic, then use amp and effects stuff in the computer! I feel like it’s cheating, but especially in context if you’re doing something for somebody else, it’s quick to get controllable tracks with the Universal Audio guitar amp emulators or Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig or even Amplitube. If I practice at night, I do pedalboard directly into the UA interface with their amp plugins, or Softubes’ Amp emulators. I love NI’s Guitar Rig (still on 5) for mixing guitar signals into mixes, so many weird choices. I guess one day I’ll have to get a real job.

The last 6 years or so you have been quite active with the Scandinavian music collective or supergroup called Øresund Space Collective.  For those not familiar with ØSC, it is a totally improvised rock music collective with lots of different members. How did this all start?

….Well sonny, back in abouts 1992 or so, if’n I recall… I think Scott Heller was at the Starry Plough taping a Hieronymus Firebrain show? Local music head, maybe you knew Russ Blackmar (from HF, J&J) from KALX? I think he’s still on KALX now does a metal show? Anyhoo.

Yes.. I was at the Starry Plow and recording the show.  I probably won tickets to the show on KALX as i usually did to some show every week. I  did visit Russ once at his apartment in Oakland, I think. 

I moved from Oakland to Stockholm in 2012. Backstory is that I married a Swede in 2003 and we lived in Oakland, I taught music theory and computer music at College of Marin and Ohlone College, probably unsuccessfully but who knows, and worked at used book stores in SF, until that financial crisis in 2008, so while in Sweden in the summer of 2009 I learned that the colleges couldn’t keep the part timers’ contracts, so I had to get a new job. I had musician friends who worked for Pandora doing “analysis” where they multi-choice a piece of music or song for its component parts, to build a database that matches specific elements to suggest new music to you. I thought, cool! So I got a recommendation, but they didn’t need any more music analysts, so they sent me to the listener support team. See, customer support is actually for the ad department, the customers are the advertisers, the listeners are the people that pull the sausage through the pipe. But the interview was mostly about how computers work, which I knew from using computers since the 80s, and using them in sound studios or record labels, and then in graduate school at Mills, doing computer music, so sound issues, I thought, I could handle. And handling sound problems for people was mostly ok, if it was just computer fuck ups, like, scripted responses to people. But if the algorithm fucked up, tracking it down was really funny. For example there’s a band called Anal Cunt from Rhode Island, and their song titles are misspelled version of, say “Pavorotti” or “Greatful Dead”, so the hapless listener would misspell something they wanted to hear and suddenly have this horrific noise, as they would say. But I also got complaints about ads, so I started checking into what sort of things were being advertised to whom, and found several rightist/christian/homophobic groups were targeting midwest colleges, and I complained to the company… and this went on for a while, I had arguments with the head of the engineering about the ethics of tracking people’s phone to target ads, about whether they should accept political ads, then these same arguments with Tim Westergren, which was useless obviously, because one day I came into work and they were like, take your shit and go. On the way out the elevator (big building in downtown Oakland) I see David Immerglück coming out because the Counting Crows were gonna do a noon concert for the employees…

So I was fired and we had a kid who was 1. The only choice was to barge in on my wife’s parents in Stockholm, so we lived in their apartment till we found our own. 

Anyway, while at Pandora, I had access to a huge music library, so I started trying to find cool bands from Sweden, and I did. Many older prog and psychedelic bands, but also I found the ØSC “It’s All About Delay” and “The Black Tomato”, so when we moved I started looking them up and found out that it was indeed YOU, Scott Heller, who was behind this band. I promptly volunteered, and I think the first thing we ever did was play together in the studio in Copenhagen in 2014? Anyway, I’m a fan for life and if I can play, all the better. And if I can even work on the recordings, bonus, I just like it, any aspect of it.

Thanks Jonathan.. the Collective have changed a lot since you have been part of it and we have released some of our best recordings ever…The band is known for playing quite long concerts for the fans. How do you and the others approach, getting up on stage with no songs and just creating music for 2-3hrs?  How do you come up with the next idea? Do you often lead the jams?

The answer to these questions is impossible to put into words, and I think that’s why we play it as music. Often when we start I think it has as much to do with where the first person to make a noise has put their fingers. You hear it and find where you are in relation to the other sounds. Sometimes we have to step back and listen is someone is making sounds to find how it’s going and how we might fit, sometimes, your fingers just do a thing in response. When we’re live, jamming with Jiri on bass, for example, I remember so many times when he and I would be standing next to each other on the last tour and just occasionally look to the other person, fingers, eyes, then change the music. Often, for me, improvising music is a combination of some sort of hearing in my head all the things that people are playing (at best, in live situations) and having my ears add in many parts that I could hear going along with it, (probably just tinnitus), and my fingers doing something that compliments it or makes sense. (and pedals). Sometimes your fingers just play and you just listen. It’s hard to describe it: where does music come from? Some people say it’s there already and we just play the notes. 

I guess it is similar for all of us.. Listen, listen to all the sounds and let your mind and body flow and hope your skills adapt! At least for me, as the least skilled one in the collective.  
You have been on quite a number of releases, many of which you have mixed yourself…   Describe how ØSC goes about making a record from recording totally improvised music in the studio creating a record?

The sessions that I have been involved in have happened in either the Black Tornado studio in Copenhagen or on the road in the EU, captured either on the band’s digital recorder (*) or the house’s system or digital mixer—which, btw, as much as live engineers seem to rag on them, they are great for this. I have plugged the USB cable directly into these boards and recorded 32 tracks all night long, direct, using Logic to record with the 2013 Macbook Pro plugged in. One night even with it projecting video. Anyway, that was impressive.

So, in either case, I continuously harangue the recording engineers for all files and abscond with them after the tour/session. Then safely at home in the Magnetic Satellite, I can transfer the raw audio data into ProTools on my Mac Pro from 2010 with Universal Audio Apollo I/O and a couple UAD-2 cards. 

The mixes are mapped out then, I usually do the classic left-to-right drums, bass, keyboards, guitars, violin, (banjo, etc), (vocals, in the case of Scott’s vocal mic live), then Aux sends for reverb, delay, other effects—often another reverb, like a plate for some things when there was a convolution of a physical space for the main reverb—then a master buss, then the output. I’ve had sessions so big and long that I had to make stereo master busses for section on the extreme right, but in the virtual/screen space world, that ends up confusing me. In a real mixer, you could just use your hand and no eye.

In a studio session, we make roughs at this point for trying to: first, see what’s good, and second, see what goes together. And sometimes both or neither.  Then mostly Scott, Hasse and I discuss them. 

So I could go on and on about eq and compression and effects. I usually end up putting some of Scott’s modular synth into a moving spatial field, and I’ve ended up using mostly Melda Production plugins for that. There are free ones, I’ve bought a few of their modulators, they have amazing pan/trem/rotary plug ins, you can change the waveform that it uses across the stereo spectrum to have little loops in the middle instead of just back and forth, for example (e.g. modular synth on some ØSC album…)

Sometimes I add VCAs to control overall levels of groups like drums or guitars, usually I use the bass signal as a line with a compressor (Empirical Distressor) and the amped signal with Softubes’ Bass Amp room to put it in a world. Lotta UA Neve stuff, or Helios EQ for guitar (especially Vemund), UA channel strips for keyboards. I use Altiverb for primary reverb space and to set the band into a specific environment, on a lot of ØSC I’ve used the EP-34 tape echo, or SoundToys delays. And sometimes a UA Plate Reverb for snares or other things. The Altiverb convolution reverb has such an amazing library of mapped spaces that I play around with it a lot, several ØSC mixes live in old churches or halls, even outdoors like the Austerlitz Forest. Some of the live ones in specific clubs (like Paradiso in Amsterdam) or concert halls. On “Experiments in the Subconscious” the last track “Hieroglyphic Smell” resides in the main room of Alcatraz Prison!

What are some of your favourite ØSC records and tracks?  

So many. I loved all of Different Creatures, that was the first thing I was involved in, so many great musicians and great musics happening. And Kybalion is amazing, just cuz it’s so weird, the weirdest tracks. And the Ode to a Black Hole.  

So what do you think 2021 will hold in store for you??  Will CVB tour the USA again?  Do you have other releases planned??  

I honestly have no idea. I don’t have more planned, I wrote some songs, but I don’t feel them right now. Not sure what music I should be working on, I really miss playing with other people! 

I want to see what happens in the world, I think. I’m pretty disappointed in humanity, especially the US, even though they (we) finally voted Trump out, there’s damage that will take decades to fix if ever, and the world political landscape gives lip service to things like climate change but doesn’t do a fucking thing, I don’t even know if I can count on any of us being around for any lengthy period of time. 

Anything else you would like to mention??  

I’ve said too much already! Most of the music we spoke about can be found on the bandcamp sites.





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Outside Inside

A new album, out August 7th, 2020!

Whenever I make a new album of music I am so proud of it; it always feels like the best music in the world, the culmination of everything I have learned to write and play and everything I have heard and studied up until this very moment. I’m so happy to release it, and I expect of course that everyone else will feel the same way. For awhile it was like, there are albums and then there are albums, I guess depending on how public you expected them to be, how outside, how much money to spend on even making the album (as if you could recoup in sales these days), not just money spent on recording but whether it was made into some physical form. More precedence and importance to LPs, CDs, than cassettes, say—but even just making CDs—so for a while we could pretend that there were albums more important than others based on production values or format. But I could still make private, more inside, albums of what I was currently excited about, that I could release even on CD for a while, but then only digitally. For example, albums like Echopraxia or Artificial Relics that are sort of sets of etudes, or the music I’ve done for dance companies or other milieu. Every time, I feel like ‘this is the pinnacle’. Though, of course, once I release it out of my private listening zone, into the outside world, I rarely come back to it. I think lots of artists are that way, once they’re done with a piece.

Having no other representation, all of my releases are on Bandcamp and only digital anyway,  and on my own I’m losing the distinction between things like major releases and minor releases. And now after being stuck isolated for a while, the things I’ve been working on are even more inside, which makes me think even more that it’s the best thing at the moment. I’m losing touch! What music is worth releasing and what isn’t? I have favorites in both inside and outside types of music from many artists, interior and exterior, private and public music. And often the most inside music is the most “outside” stylistically, and vice versa. But maybe the music I make in my room might work somewhere else too, in someone else’s room. And of course I expect that everyone else will feel the same way about it!

Usually, of course, there is little response beyond “huh?”, and as time marches forward, musicians and any managers/agents/publicists that may have existed are left home in our shacks in the dusty wilds of the overcrowded and leveled plain of the internet, unnoticed by the masses of virtual humanity scrolling by, getting that front page of only google-related “search engine optimized” content in any search for anything anyway. And as I age out of the pop demographic, what music I do make becomes less relevant to the church-of-what’s-happening-now in music journalism (as such) and popular culture in general, and only of mild interest to ‘a small circle of friends’ as Phil Ochs put it. Yeah, yeah, we know. No matter—it’s art, man!

Regardless, I always feel like I should explain myself in order for you, the rare potential listener, to understand what I’m doing with this music and understand why I would make this music, why it is important to me. Why would I do that? Well, I want you to get the joke, too!

That said, this particular album is some weird-ass music. It’s definitely not destined to be one of my more popular albums. Late night listening, maybe. Take it with you on a trip. For me, this was a means to focus, a meditation.

So, a manifesto, then, like some 20th century art movement? I don’t have a good branding name for my “style”, and in fact my point is only that this is music, within the world of what “music” is or may be. I do like deconstructing in order to reconstruct, and as much as people tend to disregard post-modernism these days, I’m still way into it. Meta always makes the best jokes best. 

Since NME and Rolling Stone aren’t ringing me to answer these pressing questions, I’m gonna be proactive and answer them myself. I’ve had some time to think about it.

So, yes, this is being released during a time (Summer of 2020) when everybody is simultaneously stuck inside and worried about the outside, and that period has enabled me to finish this project, but I have been recording and working on these tracks for about two years now, so the “meaning” is not embedded at all in the angst of pandemic.

The meaning is embedded in the superimposition of the inner and outer, the listener and the listened-to. The beauty of it, the joke, is context. Sampling was a great idea, right? The earliest tape collagists knew that context was where the art lay. Pierre Schaeffer presenting a steam train in a concert hall forced a listener to hear it out of its own locale and try to hear it as sound in and of itself. It’s the same idea as John Cage’s famous piece 4’33”, where the audience hears a pianist not playing the piano, meaning that what they are listening to is the space that they are in. Music is where you find it, right? In the ear of the beholder. This of course is why I love tape collage, or musique concrete, as an art form, and I happily still adhere to the idea that these sorts of pieces should be part of albums* that also contain other types of music (e.g. “Phenomenon and On” from 2017’s “Superfluity”, digitally mis-titled as a “Mystery Bonus Track” by streaming, um, “services”). And as an avid field-recordist, I’ve been using collage technique in studio music for almost 40 years, superimposing outside recorded items on top of studio-recorded sound, or turning the outside inside. Or vice-versa! I remember presenting one piece in the UC Santa Cruz Electronic Music Studios for some course final for Gordon Mumma’s class (maybe 1983?) where I had made it sound as if all the sounds were happening in the other room, like we were trying to hear the “music” through the walls. 

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In the latter 1990s I worked for Dane Davis doing sound for film in Hollywood, (I loved it and only ended working for him to go play music on tour with Sparklehorse) and it gave me the opportunity to up my game in the field recording world, and thus to make more music from ‘non-musical’ recorded elements. You can hear it a bunch on the album “Scissors and Paper” from 2000, and of course on all the Chaos Butterfly albums subsequently—I consider them, as electro-acoustic music, to be highlights of psychedelic music, though for certain my definition of what psychedelic music is is not standard among genre enthusiasts. I have always used a lot of recordings of rocks, whether or not that (rock) was the genre. They have nice resonances. I guess you’d consider this sampling still, though sampling’s use in popular music by this point in time, well, the idea has eaten its own tail: mostly people aren’t making musical sounds with out-of-context recorded sound, but strictly sampling ‘music’ to make more music. Or worse, shoving its head right up its own ass, sampling specifically only, say, dance music to make specifically more dance music. Self-referentialism can be fun, of course. Meta can make a good joke.

If there’s humor in it. 

And, of course…

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As a recording musician, you always have many options with respect to how to capture sound—and none of them are real. You can never record what you hear, how your ears hear things. So we fake it, usually: in recording studios we try to hyper-accurately record perfect performances of people playing instruments, but then we filter the frequency spectrum and dynamically compress the recording so that it’s easier to hear what we want to convey, or at the very least to highlight the aspects of a sound that you want to be more present in the mix. And music, that undefinable aspect of sound, can come through regardless: you could use an ultra-high-fidelity recording of a shitty instrument or a shitty recording of a beautifully made and perfect instrument. People react to sound as they hear it, as Mozart laughed at the Steppenwolf listening to Händel on a transistor radio in the Magic Theater, pointing out that as marred as the mechanism was, the spirit of the music still came through.

Whatever that is. 

And we as a culture go through trends in what is the appropriate sound quality, hi-fi, lo-fi, distortion, “clean”, whatever. Similarly, of course, popular music goes through what it accepts as harmonious, each new dissonance becoming normalized with repetition, from the ubiquity of the blues-and-then-the-Beatles’ sharp-ninths over major chords to the distortion of the electric guitar, the electronic machines making rhythms, vocal-fry singing styles, etc, etc. Nothing is sacred, period. It’s all just sound, in the end. 

I’ve written before about why I like seeing/hearing/playing improvised music, a lot of which boils down to the fact that a human being is doing something and we are hearing that. Often, in real time, …though of course recording can allow a listener to experience this post-facto. The element of human action is what I am into. The element of human action in the moment, in time, as it happens. Being an improviser, of course, is to “be” the music, to try to let yourself go into that psychological flow state where you are not thinking so much as doing, acting and reacting to make the sounds as it is appropriate to be to be making music. Again—whatever that is. As a player, you try to prepare by learning as much as you can about how to play the instrument so that you no longer have to think about what you’re doing in order to do it. Or not! You might just use something that makes sound that you don’t know exactly how to operate to make sound with it in the moment by the sheer will power of physically expressing your living actions! Children, of course, do this all the time, and they make some great sound!


I mean, I also like hearing music where people are physically and consciously acting in consensus to make a pre-planned series of sound events, e.g. playing a written piece of music or a song, simple or complex. That’s powerful, right? Orchestras with all those musicians working together to create a sound, it’s amazing, large choirs (back when we had these things, remember that?), and bands, rock bands with the amplification to strengthen each part of the mix. All funneling these myriad sounds into a single unified whole. That’s amazing, and can make it easier for a listener to abandon their self and be absorbed into the whole of the sound, to be a part of it, a piece of the whole, being the whole. 

I’m currently profoundly missing that human interaction. (As are we all, currently in 2020.) And it’s giving me the opportunity to get back to my recordings of rocks and ice and other sounds, to re-examine these recordings I’ve made while trying and not trying to make music. Many of these tracks are the result of either purposeful misdirection in the process of recording or trying to make sound while not specifically making music. Let me try to guide you through this as a listener. I recommend headphones, and either an environment of nature where you might be fooled into thinking that not all the sounds were coming from the headphones, or maybe you are just wrapped up in a blanket in bed and drifting off with your eyes closed. Smoke a big fatty and let’s go.

There are only two songs in this collection, really. The first track, “All Signs Point to You’ll See” and a cover of Chuck Prophet’s “Rider or the Train”. I say “songs” in that they have sung lyrics, really. And they have Kelly Atkins singing on them also. “All Signs…” does place this album critically within this pandemic time period, at least lyrically, but that was not intentional. What was intentional was recording the instruments and voices from near and far, and allowing the sound of both types of recording. Obviously I left the doors open. And put multiple Kelly-voices together into an single room. The electric bass track is recorded acoustically, a microphone close to an instrument intended to be amplified. That mic track was then amplified. Allowing the outside inside, etc. 

“Till the Cows Come Home” and “Real World Lessons” are based on recordings of our neighbor in the Swedish countryside, who does Kulning, which is an old Swedish form of singing that allows the voice to carry extremely far out across lakes and valleys so the cows can hear it and find their way back home. And for as much as I talk about the sounds of human action, when I get inside the computer I try to make it make sound that I have far less control of! Going back to Chaos Butterfly,  for example, I was coding a lot of SuperCollider and Max/MSP computer programs to “interact” with us, the musicians, and produce sounds that we didn’t, based on our sounds, but not exactly controlled by us. And I’ve coded many “musical boxes” to make “music” by themselves as such. Just because, right? I mean if I’m so into seeing, hearing human beings and their actions making sound, what about enjoying music made not by human beings? Can I still enjoy it as music? (The answer is yes, I do. Ear of the beholder and all.) So anyway, here you have two different things grinding up the sounds made by a human being. One is a computer program regurgitating a human kulning. The other is children (a different kind of computer program) having heard kulning, trying it themselves, and getting a learned response!

“Responsibility For One’s Actions”, “Standing Apart From”, “Marking Time” are all the result of recording when I had been so deflated by the idea of making music in the he modern world at all, essentially given up. In my mind, I know that what I do is pointless, and the very fact that I dedicate my life to it is ridiculous, given that it does not benefit me nor my family in any realistic way, as the neo-liberal world likes to point out. (And I fully admit to not being very realistic about much in general.) Regardless of my actual ability to play the guitar, for the most part all I could manage at this point in time (these were recorded initially in the summer of 2018) was to lay the guitar on the ground and rub rocks on it. (Rocks always sound good.) Or set a fidget spinner spinning on the bridge. Weirdly, to me anyway, music still happened.


“Pulse Check” checks my pulse. I’m alive, right? Apparently also I am not a machine: despite playing with an unforgiving delay time, I fluctuate. 

You may be wondering at this point, if you are listening, why is there a pulse or a drum machine in these pieces anyway? That’s a very good question and I have several very good answers for you. The first is that our kulning neighbor’s husband happened to have brought an ancient Baldwin Tempomatic drum machine back from the US some years back and had no use for it (no use! I have a 110v transformer!) But more importantly: a pulse can mark the time passing. That’s one way you might know that it’s music that you’re listening to.

Baldwin Tempomatic

What is music, again? Usually it’s sound that happens in time, over a specific amount of time (4’ 33” for example). As Jaques Attali theorized in his book
“Noise: The Political Economy of Music” (1977/85), humans probably used music as ritual demarkation of the duration of a ceremony of some sort (he posits sacrifice) and similar to Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra, it becomes separated from its initial use and takes on a life and meaning of its own. But as the ear of the beholder can hear it anywhere, I like to be specific and point out that very ear: that pulse you hear? that’s you, the listener, listening. Usually in a reverberant space, as if it were an internal monologue, like they do in movies: reverb means it’s inside. Like your brain has reverb on its internal sounds, bouncing against the inside of your skull. It does, right? 

I mean, even the Grateful Dead played blues songs initially, simply because there had to be a song to play to have something to improvise on. Otherwise what the fuck? Now, I love a good 45-minute Dark Star as much as the next guy, but often to fill time when playing a concert there has to be something to play. Like, say, a song. A song, in this context is just a time limitation, a structure for the musicians to relate to while they explore sounds. I mean, a song in any context is that too. But my point in having the pulse in all of these pieces is to point out to you that you are listening. I could record birds singing and overlay a track of pulse, and suddenly the context is changed. Or, you could be like Messaien and transcribe the birds and have Yvonne Loriod play their songs on a piano in a concert hall, and again, the context is changed and the listener is forced to understand that they are listening to something, something specific, planned by human action, and not just hearing sounds happening in space and time. 

I guess I should point out that, yes, I also studied composition with Pauline Oliveros at Mills College about 20 years ago, and the impact of her ideas of Deep Listening have made huge impressions on me. Compare what I’m droning on about here with her ideas of actively making sound and actively imagining sound, especially in the context of improvisation, and her writing about processes of attention and awareness when listening and playing sound and music, remembering what sounds have happened, hearing what sounds are present. So yes, in essence this entire album is an exercise in Deep Listening. 

Moving on, there is the exploration of inside spaces. As with “All Signs…”,  the idea of recording loud sounds (amplified electric guitar, for example) from close and from far away has been used in rock music recordings for years (like Jimmy Page’s recordings of guitars and drums on Led Zeppelin albums for instance, creating large spaces and tight spaces.) I like a good “room recording” mixed in, …sometimes. Or in these cases, mixed up. Often, you can hear the player’s actions beyond playing their instrument, like stepping on an effect pedal switch in the space. I think I’ve included these sorts of sounds (and incorporated many types of sounds) as far back as “Scissors and Paper” (2000) but I think that before that point I mostly tried to exclude sounds that weren’t “the music being recorded”. For the most part, anyway. I can hear pedal switches in the room on “Little Blue Fish”, for example. 

Anyway, earlier this year, in late January 2020, after a tour of the US with Camper Van Beethoven, I stuck around Athens, GA for a week in the hopes of recording some new ideas with other band members, but circumstances left me alone in an A-Frame building—but with all the equipment. The building had two floors, one of which essentially overlooking the other, so naturally I set the amplifier at the bottom and the microphones at the top. I did manage one recording session elsewhere, with Cracker’s rhythm section of Bryan Howard and Carlton Owens, a jam session that I took home and jiggered into this album, the Transatlantic Space Connection: one track here is titled after a joke I made about throwing a party at the A-Frame I was staying in. The bass line suggested it to me, even, I still sing along “party at the a-frame” to that bass line. Hence, on “Outside Inside” we have the “Afterparty at the A-Frame”, apparently a more introspective or even sullen social gathering. Well, not a gathering at all. I was alone. This continues with the “Explanatory Gap” and “Eventutation”, which are concerned with the idea of a thing happening at all. 

“Blow Up My Crocodile” is really about human reaction, now isn’t it? There are several recordings here, the mics on the balcony are there to record the weather or car-bys (as we called them in the film sound world, cars going by across the stereo spectrum), though once placed, the recordist goes in to make coffee. Also, there’s mics up to record some guitar improvisation. The child, however, sees that on the balcony is her deflated pool crocodile, which obviously needs inflation. But then, what’s this? Live mics that are moving meters? I need to sing, obviously!

“Icewater” has some of my favorite-ever recorded sounds, the ice in the Mäler lake breaking up and moving around in the wind. Ice is probably as good as rocks. I do tend to use a lot of ice and rocks in my recordings, but hell, they sound cool. And “Snowfoot” is the sound of feet walking in snow. I did loop a section for consistency, but I was walking pretty steadily there, wasn’t I?

“Rider or the Train”, well, mostly this is about the sound of the near and far mics on the guitar, the open door letting the thunder in, the song itself about the conflation of all these things. I think I had recently played a show with Håkan Soold opening for Chuck Prophet and the song was still floating around in my head. Also at the time I was in some serious pain and approaching a back operation, (successful) trying not to be on any opioids (also successful, within two weeks after the operation.) I made up some extra words, sorry Chuck.

The guitar solo in “Rider or the Train” is, again, just rubbing rocks on an electric guitar on the floor, but it almost sounds like an honest blues-rock solo. Completely unintentional, but there you have it.

“Distant Thunder” is just that, and “Vectored Space” is also just that. These are very literal, just that drum marking the time against listening to the world around you, pointing out to the listener that you are here, listening, and the world is here being itself.

You may drift off to sleep now.


*This idea of course was prevalent when people started using the studio as an instrument when making albums of songs, and many groups in the 1960s seemed to be quite aware of the inherent psychedelia of tape music as they heard from the modern composers coming out of the 1950s (members of Can, for example, were students of Stockhausen), but by the time I was 7 and had heard “Revolution #9” on the Beatles’ White Album, Jefferson Airplane’s “A Small Package of Great Value Will Come to You Shortly” on After Bathing at Baxter’s and Zappa & Mothers of Invention’s “Nasal Retentive Calliope Music” on We’re Only In It for the Money, I assumed every album was supposed to have a post-modern audio deconstruction of itself and environs. I didn’t hear much more of it in the pop/rock music world until Game Theory’s “Lolita Nation” (1987) and of course I tried to carry that flag on my first solo album Storytelling (1988) —to disastrous response.

Posted in Music

What’s all on that overcrowded Bandcamp page?

5 June 2020, Updating for 7 May 2021, it’s another of those first Fridays of the month when Bandcamp foregoes their share of sales and all proceeds go to the artist.

It’s a good day to explore and buy new music.

Go to: https://jsegel.bandcamp.com

(also check out https://sistamaj.bandcamp.com where the music of Sista Maj lives, a band I had in Stockholm from 2016-2019, improvised/composed spacey instrumental music, and for the real space rock: https://oresundspacecollective.bandcamp.com where I’ve been involved playing and mixing often since 2014. I’m not personally on all of the albums or shows, it’s a collective, man. But if you look at the notes, you can find me.)

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Here’s what’s all at there that place the link page graphic display of files:

The first row now has “Superfluity”, a huge opus that essentially bookends “Storytelling” (1988) enclosing everything in between. It was a double-CD, released by Floating World UK in 2017, now the rights are back in my hands, so it’s available digitally here (and if anybody wants to license this, or anything, really, for LP or CD production, let me know.) Next to it, “Superfluousness” is the outtakes, that is to say the superfluous music from the production of “Superfluity”. The steps along the way.

“Outside Inside” didn’t start as a Pandemic album, but it kind of became that. It’s experimental, odd, conceptual whatever you like to call it. I wrote a lot about it when it came out in the summer of 2020: https://jsegel.wordpress.com/2020/08/01/outside-inside/

“Here Comes Sunshine” is the Grateful Dead song, done as a single for the summer solstice of 2020. With dub b-side.

In the second row, the first three: “Transatlantic Space Connection” and the two live at Camp-Out XV and XIII are essentially space rock, improvised rock music (TSC was in studio, subsequently overdubbed/composed a bit in studio)

“Moving Through Loneliness” is music made for dance and then film, it’s heavy, long and dark.

“Shine Out” (2014) and “All Attractions” (2012) are albums of songs, for the most part. “Apricot Jam” is an instrumental comp-provised companion to “All Attractions”, while “Turn Slowly…” is extras from that period.
Similarly, “Honey” is an album of mostly songs from 2008, while “The Space Between Stars” is a piece made out of on of its jams.

“Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”—i.e. no direct hits, a collection of “popular” tracks from 1990-2012

More albums of songs: Storytelling (1988), Hieronymus Firebrain’s “Hieronymus Firebrain” (1990), “There” (1993) and “Here” (1993), Jack & Jill’s “Chill and Shrill” (1995) and “Fancy Birdhouse” (1997), “Scissors and Paper” (2000) and “Edgy Not Antsy” (2003).

The next rows are mostly electronic/electro-acoustic music. Eclectronic!
“Storm Starts Stopping” (2014) is a single piece, “Summerleaf” (2006) is many shorter pieces. “Amnesia/Glass Box” (2005) are pieces made for Curt Haworth’s Dance Company, “Rauk” (2005) is electronics with rocks or violins as sources, “Non-Linear Accelerator” (2003) is a set of electronic and field recorded pieces. Most of these use SuperCollider, Max/MSP and Reaktor as the coded or synthetic sources.

Chaos Butterfly is improvised and composed electro-acoustic music, most of the time with Dina Emerson singing or playing wine glasses, while both of us processed the sound in our computers. “Radio” (2006) is live in the he KFJC pit, “Live at Studio Fabriken” (2005) is live with Biggi Vinkeloe on saxophone and flute, “threelivingthings” (2005) is a studio recording. “Unforeseen Events” (2006) contain some live and some studio pieces, also with Kiku Day on shakuhachi and Helena Espvall on guitar and ‘cello.

“The Secrets Sparrows Keep” (2015) is music made form shared ideas back and forth, with Mattias Olsson. Similarly “Current” by Shale is with Tom Shad. Dent’s “Stimmung” (1995) and “Verstärker” (1998) were shared ideas passed around while out in New Mexico at the adobe studio used by the Lords of Howling/Art of Flying. (go and search those guys up, you won’t be disappointed!)

“Echopraxia” (2015) is a set of (mostly guitar) echo etudes made into composition after the fact. Similar to this is “Artificial Relics” (2018).

“machines” are code-based musical boxes that generate sound with small nudging or input from the composer.

“Underwater Tigers” is a single long piece to draw one into sleep.

Sideways’ “The Minutiae of Ephemera” is all the recordings I had of a rock band that existed in the early 1990s in San Francisco that contained several members of local bands from that era.

Dr Geronimo Firebrain’s Plane Crash Tapes Vol. 1 (1993), Vol. 2 (2010) and Vol. 3 (2010) are all outtakes, mistakes, exercises, etudes, weirdnesses, and generally things that didn’t fit anywhere else. Highly mercurial and eclectic.

“BIll’s Run”, “The Invisibles”, “Love Will Travel”, “Bunny”, “Kickin’ Chicken”, and “100% Human Hair” are all movies scores, several full-length and a couple shorts.

“Shibuya”, “Emotional Geographies”, “How is a Church Like the Sea”, “Hotel of Memories”, “The Desire Line” and “Site” are all music for live dance company performances. Most of these took place in theaters, though “Shibuya” was improvised on the spot while busking near a subway station and an impromptu dancer appeared.

“Storytelling Demos” and “Questions Answered” are the cassette demo tapes for “Storytelling” and the first Hieronymus Firebrain album, recently transferred.


Posted in Music

(Mostly) Universal Audio and mixing the space rock

It’s the end of an era.

Well, for me anyway, in terms of mixing and recording audio. You see, for the past number of years, almost a decade now, I’ve been on the Universal Audio “Artist’s extended demo” roster for their plugins. In the course of this time, I’ve spent the money on several pieces of their hardware (Apollo 8 Channel Quad processor, a PCIe 2-sharc card, an external FW800 2-sharc card, and more recently Apollo Twin Quad Thunderbolt just for use with the laptop) and recorded tracks for tons of albums, and mixed, mixed, mixed. Even sort-of mastered some albums. But now, I’m losing my “artist” status as the churn moves on to the more important folks. Ah well, all good things, as they say. 

I’m a ProTools guy. Still. Started with SoundDesigner II back when I first saw it used in 1990 or so, immediately stepped into the world of digital recording and mixing. I’m really into being able to view the waveforms and edit them like graphics. Part of the synesthesia of hearing sound in a stereo space, seeing the analog drawing of the energy going out the speakers. I can’t say I’m super psyched about Avid in general though. I haven’t updated Protools since my “subscription” to whatever ran out, and I’m running an almost 10-year-old computer, so I’m still working on PT 12.4 here. Nonetheless, all the Universal Audio plugins are still working. And I’m super good at working with audio in ProTools, in a way I just can’t figure out how to do in other programs. I’ve tried many over the years. I do have Logic X on my laptop, (which is lucky because then I can just plug a cable from a digital board at a club and record all the tracks onto the interior drive (SSD) and it *just works* in a way that Apple stuff should. But then trying to deal with mixing or editing in Logic and I can’t even.)

Universal Audio is a Santa Cruz company, so they’ve been nice to us in Camper Van Beethoven, we being (initially) a Santa Cruz band. I had always loved their audio hardware, especially the preamps, but the direction they’ve taken with hardware emulation plugins is astounding and keeps getting better. I’m hooked. 

I’ve got my favorite plugins to use, of course, by now, but I change it around. Right before leaving on tour with Camper Van Beethoven this summer (2019), I was trying to get some mixes done relatively quickly, several Øresund Space Collective shows from eastern Europe in May and June were recorded multi-track (either directly out from a digital mixing desk at the club or board outs to a hard disk recorder) so I’m trying to make ‘em sound good. I’m gonna go through my methodology here.

So, I got 6 concerts multitracked, you’d think I’d make a template to just dump all the audio in wouldn’t you? I guess that would be smart, but the thing was each night had different mics and even different drums sometimes. So it wasn’t like I could just make generic settings, so I just loaded all tracks into their own sessions and started from nothing on each one.


Classically, I like to set up tracks starting from the kick drum, snare, (hi hat if the channel exists) toms, overheads. Then on to bass tracks, guitars, synths. Like normal old-school mixing board set up. ØSC is an instrumental all-improvised space-rock ensemble, so usually only one live vocal mic for Scott Heller (Dr Space) to announce things. I’ve mixed several of our studio albums as well, so even though the lineup changes (it *is* a collective, you know), the vibe is usually a groove with wailing guitars and synth, with Dr Space doing modular synth wind/noise/sweeps/bleeps’n’bloops, etc. Think 70s Hawkwind or maybe Gong. 

Most of time I will make a drum buss with its own VCA and possibly a buss that controls overall guitar-and-maybe-synth levels. If I’m doing studio mixing I still go the classic mixing board method and have stereo busses for drums, bass, guitars, synths, (vocals), reverbs and effects, and I put them all the way right on the other side of the master fader. 

Starting with our kick, I’m trying to get a decent sound out of either the drum set that resides at the practice space in Copenhagen, now parading around Europe at the mercy of whatever mic some club in Dresden or Warsaw may have for it, or an opening band’s gear. Tim Wallander, the drummer (from Agusa and several other Malmö-area groups), usually brings his own snare and cymbals, and his snare sounds like a drum, it retains a lot of drum-shell sound and less of snare-y high end (especially with a crappy old mic on it.) 

I’ll usually resort to my favorites for these, UA Neve 1073 or Neve 88RS. The 1073 is just the best, in my opinion. I end up using it a LOT, desert island preamp and EQ. The 88RS of course has the weird Neve compressor/gate, and while I try not to gate any of the drums (if I have to, I’ll edit tom tom tracks to only have their hits, but…),  I do end up with slow gates on the kick sometimes, depending on how much low end is bleeding from the bass nearby or if the stage has subs under it (why do they do this!?) In any event, one tries to get some sense of the size of a kick drum shell in terms of low-end resonance, with some elements of the sound of the beater beating the living hell out of its skin. I usually end up making a kind of bactrian-humped EQ where the bass guitar can fit in between—minus a little 90-120hz or so on the bass, but then bringing a little bit of very low under that from the kick and the bass also. I find that the classic compressors like the UA DBX 160 or LA-2A are working nicely after EQ on the kick, if indeed the signal isn’t recorded with compression to begin with (again, different clubs.)

The UA Neve 1073, as I’ve said, is the best on everything. It just sounds good. I use it on snares, on guitars, on vocals. Even without starting to alter the EQ settings, I feel like just inserting it on the channel brings a lovely sound, a little quality distortion that brings out the harmonics of the sound. As I mentioned, the snare ends up being recorded live as well as it can be, which isn’t always excellent. In the mix, I end up needing more “snares” sound, more hi-mid white noise elements to add to the drum’s cracking and popping sound. There are some great presets for the 1073 to start out with, many “70s” sounds, for example. One thing I dislike, however, is the sound of a super squished snare that pops instead of cracks. So I try to be very sparse on compression. What I *do* do, though, is often duplicate the snare track and EQ it radically (UA Cambridge EQ!) to bring out the snares themselves and then crunch that up a bit with something like SoundToys Devil Loc or maybe even a SansAmp. 


drum processing, kick and snare EQ/preamps and compression, Overheads EQ and parallel buss comp

Toms are a problem on these live recordings, because they are inconsistent and almost always open mics that pick up everything. I try to tune them to get some more resonance and a little stick, the bactrian camel curves again, a little higher than the kick for resonance, and possibly lower for the stick with a dip in between. Say ~150hz for the floor tom, and a little 1k-2k spike. I wonder if a superimposition of all these EQ curves would look like a herd of camels. Depending on what’s going on CPU-resource-wise, I maybe just use the ProTools native 7-Band EQ and possibly their gate/comp. Tricky though, with the gates, due to what freqs may be bleeding at what levels. Especially for mixing a live show, I want it to sound more natural and less studio-jiggered. Gates can bring in some weird elements when the drum track has a sound that aren’t the sound of the drum in the recording, can end up sounding bizarre, like sudden high pitched electrical noises coming in with each drum hit. Not fun.

For Overheads—if there are recorded tracks! I’ve mixed some shows that had no cymbal mics, so had to duplicate other mics and radically EQ them and try to place them in space to fake it—I mostly use the UA Cambridge EQ, some hi-pass, then depending on what cymbal or toms are on what side, make some cuts in the middle and boosts in the high end to match the instruments’ tones. I run a parallel drum buss through the UA Fairchild 660. Wow, what a roomy compressor/limiter. Really ties the room together, that guy, like a nice rug.

I’m mixing drums from audience perspective, by the way. For live, anyway. I think I unconsciously do from drummer’s perspective (L-R) when doing studio recordings, but for live shows, I try to match the placement on stage as if you were in the audience. So for these, floor tom is left channel, rack tom is right channel. 

So a little ear-candy now, since I’ve got a decent drum set going on, with a parallel compression, both summed to a drum buss controlled by a drum-group VCA. But it’s dry! So, rather than trying to mix in a room recording (which I could do and have done, of course) I’m gonna fake it. Two reverb busses are in place at the far right of the mixing console, one of them is my all time favorite, the AudioEase Altiverb. I’ve been using this convolution reverb for what, 20 years now? Still the best. (for me anyway.) In this situation, I’m finding either a club to put the band in or possibly a theater space. For several of these shows, I’ve settled on the Club Paradiso in Amsterdam as a substitute for, say, Hydrozagadka in Warsaw or Vaastavirta in Helsinki. Sometimes the New York club Tonic works really well for a club space background. My weird methodology is to send a little of the snare track directly into the Altiverb reverb, and then take another send from the parallel comp drums track to a *different* reverb with all the drums. Often that second one is a plate, like UA’s EMT140, but they recently brought out the Capitol Echo Chamber and so I’m using it while I can. What’s cool about it, besides sounding like an old recording studio’s echo chamber, is that, in stereo, the sides are unequal: it actually maps the real space, so the bounce is different on different walls. This can be cool, especially just a touch to create a sense of space for the ensemble to live in. 


Now on to the bass. Jiri, the bassist, plays a left handed 5 string bass with a low B string, and he uses a lot of effects. Including fuzz, octaves and echoes. So he tells the sound man that he likes a microphone on his cabinet instead of a DI, as that will actually get the full frequency spectrum he’s using. Sometimes he sounds like a bass, sometimes like a synthesizer. For the most part, I just need a little bit of control, so first thing I will do is notch out a tiny bit of low end in that 100hz range, maybe 90, maybe 120, to fit his signal around and between the kick drum. Then compression. I’ve been using the UA LA-2A’s a bunch for bass compression, but I’ve recently been on an Empirical Labs Distressor kick. (for guitars too!)

It helps *me* if there’s a DI line also, because what I like to do is send that signal to the UA/Softubes Bass Amp room. I love this plugin, it’s amazing on line-recorded bass. I’ve used it on nearly every album I’ve made in the past 7 or so years. It sounds like a bass amp (or three) in a room. I have two 70s Fender basses, a Precision and a shitty Musicmaster with the frets filed off and a Seymour Duncan pickup, either one plugged directly into the Apollo and then through the Softubes Bass Amp room, and that’s all I need. In Jiri’s case, for these live shows, I use the plugin in mono-to-stereo and bring it in under the original track. That way I can EQ his original track to get all his high mids and then the amp room brings up a bit of the ultra-low floating around in the space. Especially good when balancing a fuzz bass with the band. It’s a lot of two-humped EQ curves going on between the bass and the drums, all fitting together in notches. Herd of camels.

On this tour, we had two guitarists and usually a keyboardist. Our normal touring synthesizer player, Mogens, had to stay in Copenhagen due to just starting up his own acupuncture business! So we tried to get locals each night to jam with us, and we got some great and varied musicians. On these shows in the screenshots, in Warsaw, it was Marysia Bialota on some Korgs, while in Helsinki it was Vesa Partii playing a synth with a guitar: Boss GT-10 Synth and EHX Key9!

In general I want the keys to be relatively centered in the mix, but of course that depends on the music and where they might be on stage (bleed-wise). Or if it’s an actual organ or mono-synths or what. In Hamburg we had Anders from Liquid Orbit with his touring setup: a chopped Hammond with tour-boxed Leslie speakers, a Mellotron and a mono synth! Unfortunately, we don’t have multitracks for those, just room recordings. 

I started using UA’s CS-1 Channel Strip a long time ago when there was a starting preset called “Synth Tamer”. Well, I can’t find that preset anymore, but that doesn’t stop me. It’s got an EQ section for some shaping (hi-pass to get out of the way of the bass, for one, some upper mid sculpting, maybe some hi end sparkliness) and then it has a compressor, and some time-delay and it’s own reverb. I try to get a little subtle chorus out of the delays and maybe a rectangular room for a little bit of its own space. Might nit need more than that.

The other guitarist on this tour was Vemund Engan, from Black Moon Circle, who was most of the time playing through a big Peavey combo (from the Copenhagen rehearsal space again), his tone is very rock guitar, very Marshall-y, with either an SG or a baritone guitar. I was playing my Fender Stratocaster (the ’62 reissue, now with a super comfortable leather strap which was very cheap in Poland. It feels like you’re sliding into a luxury sports car to put it on) into a Peavey tweed classic, my tone ranged from more Strat-clean to fuzz, with echoes of course, etc… I could go on about pedals and guitar tone forever. Maybe I will someday.

Anyway, we are usually on opposite ends of the stage, so I put us there in the stereo space as well. EQ and compression. Lots of volume editing. And one trick: I put each guitar into one of the reverbs, with the send panned opposite to the track’s placement. I love this trick, I automate the send levels for solos to send the track into the other side of the space, it’s especially cool with the UA Capitol Studios chamber because it has a distinct bounce on the left side, you can take the left-channel guitar, send it to the echo chamber right side and it bounces a bit back to bolster the initial track as well as spreading the signal a bit for solos. I do this rather than change the pan of the track on live show mixes. 

guitar synth helios

guitars: Helios and Distressor, 1073 and Smack (an old ProTools comp) and the CS-1 for the synth

These screenshots are from Warsaw and Helsinki, at the former I was left side (looking *at* the stage) and Vemund right, at the latter, it was the opposite. Again, I often use the UA Neve 1073 on guitars, but I’ve also become smitten with the Helios 69. The Helios really brings the crunch out and can tame some of the low end as well, so I have been using it on Vemund’s guitar signal. I only became aware of this EQ due to recording some Camper Van Beethoven with Jason Carmer in Berkeley, CA, and then discovering the preset on the older version of UA’s Helios called “Carmer’s Charmer.”

I’m usually more “classic” electric guitar-sounding usually with a Fender amp (the Peavey Classic is excellent, by the way), so the 1073 works really well on my guitar or violin. That and the Distressor! I was turned on to the hardware version of the Empirical Labs Distressor when I was playing with Sparklehorse 20 years ago, I mean, you can tell Mark Linkous loved his compression, and the Distressor was a hit with him. I have never owned the hardware version, but UA’s plugin is kicking ass for bass, guitar, violin, etc. It has some harmonic features as well, hi-pass and harmonic distortions that can work wonders on midrange and treble instruments. 

So that’s all pretty simple, straightforward. Get good sounds and leave them in the mix. I’m not doing ornate effects sends like I would do in a studio session (where I do really go for it with the different echoes and filters and whatever.) However, I do want to make Scott’s modular synth and Kaoscillator make the space to lead the listener through the sectional changes in the improvised music. Scott usually has a mono signal live, so I get to play with it in the mix. Depending on the quality of his signal, there are different options. Some places are crappy DIs and there’s a lot of line noise which is a bummer, but a good signal from the modular is also tricky because it’s producing a very wide frequency spectrum and sweeping through it. I would like to compress or limit the signal, but again that can be messed up by the sweeps of different frequency areas, so one thing I started doing recently was using the new UA Oxford Dynamic EQ, that can limit levels for specific ranges, in a graphic EQ window. If I set it for a basic De-ess type and then wiggle it around, I can get a decent signal when his noise or tone sweeps go through the high end, 5-7khz. I mean, oscillators don’t care, they just output signal regardless of your old ears and the Fletcher Munson curve. I also have been tending to hi-pass the modular, he rarely goes into super low end and usually it’s just line hum down there. 

Then I auto-pan him. I started using Melda Production modulation plugins a few years ago, they’re really good but I still find them really difficult to get to the controls! Have to look it up in the manual each time to find how to slow down the LFO, it’s not intuitive. I started working with their Leslie cabinet emulators for organs, but have recently really gotten into their Pan and Spectral Pan modulators. You can alter the waveform of the controlling LFO, so I usually put a couple harmonic bumps into the sine wave so that it hovers back and forth in the center before panning out to the sides. Like a spiral. With the Spectral Pan, I can specify a frequency range or ranges that pan differently. And then, he gets echoed, with the sends reversed left and right, so the echo follows his panned signal across the stereo space, almost like it has a trajectory of its own. Maybe he gets a little sent to the Altiverb also. For echoes, I’ve used a bunch of different things. I like the UA EP-34 tape echo, but haven’t been using it on these sessions, instead I’ve gone with a SoundToys EchoBoy for straighter echoes in stereo (lots of options here too, including some tape drive or prime-number echoes) or their Crystalizer, which is a granular echo so I can have a certain quantum of the echoed signal fed back and reversed in time, which is super cool with Modular Synth sweeps. Other commonly used delays are the UA Cooper Time Cube, which mimics a weird hardware unit that has a hose coiled up inside it to delay the sounds (hardware version used mixing CVB at Chase Park in Athens, GA), or my old favorite, the A/DA Stereo Tapped Delay. The A/DA is something I used a lot back in the early 1980s when I started down this road of audio sin at the University of California Santa Cruz Electronic Music Studios. We had an Omnipressor, the A/DA Stereo Tap and an Eventide Harmonizer and a few other crucial pieces of hardware, now almost all available as emulation plugins from UA or Eventide. The A/DA made the UA roster last year, at a time when I was working on a piece for a choreographer that was coincidentally premiered at the UCSC Performing Arts Theatre (in multichannel!) So I really got my Stereo Tap groove on very heavily for that one as I recalled the EMS there.

modular 2

Modular synth precoessing

Back to the live set, the lonely vocal mic will sometimes get a little work, but again, it’s mostly just for Scott to introduce the band or talk to the audience between pieces. Maybe I’ll freak it out a bit with a UA Moog moving filter, and send it to echoes or reverb or something. 

So we’ve moved across the (virtual) board from Left to Right, then my Aux channels are just two reverbs and a delay, then a Master Buss that has some faux-mastering plug ins if I’m in a hurry, then the master fader. For these shows, which are mostly straight-to-video, I mean, straight to the Bandcamp site or the internet in general, I just do the EQ/Compression/Limiting right there and that’s that. For studio mixes, I mix and then set up a whole new session to master. I’m not the greatest mastering ears, I think, but you know, you do what you can. There are a number of pieces of UA gear that really can make you realize what mastering is all about, and I have a number of ways and means to work on the final mix on the master buss. 

For EQs, I like the UA Chandler Curve Bender, it’s not a radical EQ but it can carve out a nice shape and it has some super-high end air to work with. The other route is the UA Precision Multiband. Wow, what an instrument. It’s a multiband compressor that can control separate frequency bands in separate ways. I’m trying to *not* alter my mix super much, just trying to get some cohesion and enhancement. Especially if it’s gonna be flac or MP3 listening on the other end. The Precision Multiband is a hog, though, and it means the whole mix is offset by about 16000 samples in delay compensation, so playback looks a bit weird. Not suitable for tracking. 

For compression or limiting, I used to use the UA Precision gear most of the time, but lately I’ve gone over to the dark side using the UA/Sonnox Oxford Limiter. It’s a boss, has its own EQ enhancement curve levels, and the normal input and threshold settings, as well as some control for compression attack and release. I don’t just want to squish and get more “loudness” out of it, I prefer to have a slower attack and let some drum transients come through. And since most of this stuff will never be aggregated to streaming services, I don’t have to worry about their weird loudness measurements and specs. 

For more nuanced compression, I love using the UA Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, in one of its more gentle modes. Sometimes I also will put the UA/Katz K-Stereo ambience recovery stereo field manipulator, it can widen the image or shed some light into the corners of the reverb spaces. I also tend to try using the UA Ampex ATR-102 tape machine for the master buss. I’m into the hi-fi settings, 30ips, 1” tape, not slammed on input. The tape machine emulators are interesting, in fact my very first experience with UA plugins was when we were recording Apricot Jam and All Attractions and the engineer threw the UA Studer A-800 across all the drum tracks, it blew my mind. I will sometimes do some tape deck on drum tracks as well, or at least kick and snare.

mastering 2

Mastering/mixing master buss with Precision Multiband, K-Stereo, ATR-102 and Oxford Limiter

Anyway, that’s a quick run through of my process for mixing these live recordings. I love mixing music and/or sound. It’s like a big 3D sculpture in time. Mixing ØSC is super fun, but always a little tough due to the length of the piece—some jams are 30 or 45 minutes long, so moves you make on volume or EQ might need changing or going back to check how it gets there, trying to get the sense of where you are in the overall timeline. I’ve tended to draw in the volume and send level automations by hand rather than controlling a virtual fader, but I have recently tried to use the ProControl EUcon app on iPad, or the Softube Console 1 controller which I got a couple years ago for use with UA plugins, but really I don’t go to it first. Yet. Old habits and all. 

In terms of the 3D Stereo space, it’s funny, because a long long time ago in the late 1980s, I was working with an engineer named David Gibson on my first “solo” album, “Storytelling”, and he and I discussed our various synesthetic takes on the stereo field of sound, at different levels and frequencies, and he was coming up with an entire methodology on mixing based on a visual model of the sound field. Which I could easily see, we worked well together on that album’s mixing (done at Hyde Street Studios in SF in 1988. Sandy Pearlman kept coming in and muttering, calling me “Frank” for some reason.)

There you have it. I wrote this up during a flight layover at Gatwick on my way to the states to play music. One day I should describe one of the studio mixing sessions. 

Albums I have worked on using Universal Audio plugins include:

Camper Van Beethoven: La Costa Perdida, El Camino Real and Sharknado songs

Jonathan Segel: All Attractions, Apricot Jam, Shine Out, Superfluity, and several others in between.

ALL Sista Maj albums! (Though the “Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy” LP was mastered by Eroc at The Ranch in Germany so it’s even better.)

Øresund Space Collective: (studio) Different Creatures, Visions Of…, Hallucinations Inside the Oracle, Kybalion, and upcoming releases and (live shows) Live in Karlsruhe,  Live at the Little Devil in Tilburg, NL, Live at Urban Spree in Berlin, Live at in Tampere, Finland

And many violin and guitar tracks recorded for other peoples’ projects. 

I have to thank Universal Audio profusely for the opportunity to use their software for these past number of years. It has been invaluable and has bettered my output as a recording musician and as a mixer. They have brought me back to the realm of the physical studio while being able to work on my little sessions in Pro Tools on a 2010 Mac Pro. It really changed my audio life.

Posted in Music

Songwriters and composers! April 22 2019 is the deadline!

Songwriters and composers, lend me your ears/eyes/brains for 20 minutes here, this is IMPORTANT and critically timely. And it affects writers globally, if your music is streamed in the US. Please take time to read this and research a bit.

In the US of A, the Music Modernization Act passed last October. There are several parts to it, but NUMBER ONE is setting up a non-profit agency to collect and distribute digital *mechanical* royalties. This will be called the Mechanical Licensing Collective, duh. Historically, mechanical royalties were paid to songwriters when a copy of their work was manufactured. The copy in the digital world is of course the data file itself being transferred to your streaming device, and as our musical contributions to the world of art have been re-evaluated as being worth near-nil due to the very fact of digital media format, we’re talking about some hundredths or thousandths of a penny. Regardless, none of them streaming services actually bothered with acquiring the actual mechanical licenses to allow them to stream some millions of songs, and that was what those class action suits were all about last year. 

What is happening now is that the Copyright Office is choosing an organization to be an entity called the MLC (Music Licensing Collective) and it will be set up to get the information on all streamed works from within the USA, collect the mechanical royalties, match them to a database of songwriters/rights holders, and then, yes, distribute the money. A key component of this is the development of that database, of course, and the accruing of *unmatched* royalties and the subsequent “black box” that holds them. 

SO. All proposals and comments on the Copyrights Registrar’s government site are now open, until April 22nd. There are two groups competing to be chosen by the Registrar to be the MLC. (And one proposal for who will be the DLC, the Digital License Coordinator, and that was made by people from DiMA.org, the digital streaming services organization, which includes representatives from Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, etc.) And then there are comments from people supporting one group or the other. You! You should support one group or the other. You should write a comment on the Copyright Registrar’s site:


Before you just go running your mouth off like I am now, let me fill you in on the two groups. One is the AMLC (American Music Licensing Collective): 


The other is just calling themselves the MLC as if they were already it:


You can tell my bias already. Things to know: I am currently designated to be on a committee within the AMLC designed to resolves conflicts with the license matching and payout. My illustrious bandmate in Camper Van Beethoven (and sometimes Cracker, when I’m playing with them), Mr David Lowery—a known artist rights activist and troublemaker—is designated to be on a committee within the MLC that deals with the “black box”. 

I’m gonna lay out my thinking on why and where all of this is good or bad:

The MLC (or the group calling themselves the MLC, intending to be the MLC) is mostly made up of people from the major label publishers, Universal, Warners and Sony, and a lot of Nashville and Los Angeles industry heavyweights. They obviously know what they’re doing, right? Therefore when they expect startup costs of ~$50Million dollars and an ongoing cost of $26-48M per year, we should think they are on top of shit. However, if you look at their proposal (it’s in 4 parts, PDFs, downloadable from that comments section/ “view open docket” on the Copyright website) the tech architecture they’re talking about is wimpy. A straight pipe, oh money comes in and then it goes out. Right. 

Should it go without saying, that I don’t trust these guys, exactly? Here’s something to think about: that black box. If they have unmatched royalties sitting in that box for three years, guess what? They can distribute them as they please, which they intend to do “by market share”. That was how they interpreted the Music Modernization Act’s wording of percentages. The AMLC believes that the greatest percentage of unmatched money would be a large number of independent songwriters that would need to be paid. I think that’s pretty obvious. However, as I said, Mr Lowery will be on that MLC committee…

You can also download the AMLC’s proposal, which begins with an estimated startup cost of more like $7Million, and check out that tech archictecture. It gathers from multiple databases that are currently extant, utilizes machine learning algorithms to understand the flow of information for the system and guide license and writer matching. I’m way more convinced that the AMLC will get songwriters the money owed to them. 

Now check out the board and the people involved, the MLC (cheeky to name themselves that, I think.) 


It’s all big publishers.

And the AMLC: https://www.songrights.net/why-us

It’s small publishers and independent songwriters, for the most part. With a hunk of tech knowledge behind them. 

Again read the info yourselves, think about it. The big boys have a lot of know-how, of course, they can do it, but at a cost. I think that very cost will be passed on to the independent songwriters, but the current big payees will benefit. I trust that the AMLC will actually get people paid. 

These organizations are soliciting for support in this now, so I will end this by asking you—if there is no conflict of interest, but even if you may be published by one of the entities on the board of the MLC!—to write, film, post your verbal support for your choice of who should be the Music Licensing Collective, and I’m saying straight out, I think the AMLC is better. Not just because of my personal involvement: I am involved because I trust them more. 

You have until April 22 2019 to post a verbal comment on the Copyright site. 

Thank you, Jonathan Segel, songwriter and composer.

Posted in Music

Links and still playing catch-up

[This is an amalgam of information from the front page of my website from the past few years, just gathered in one place toward the end of 2018. Here is info on my solo material, my work with Øresund Space Collective, Sista Maj, Camper Van Beethoven and others!]

From Feb 2017: “Superfluity” is out, it’s a 2-CD album, with artwork again by Richard Gann, this time with a four panel foldout cover. It’s out on FreeWorld/Floating World Records from London.

(Actually, now, a year and a half later, The Orchard has put the entire album on youtube, so I guess here you go):

Mastered by Gary Hobish at A. Hammer Mastering , a double album of songs of all sorts, lots of guitars, basses and drums, a little violin, and some beautiful singing from Kelly Atkins (from 20 Minute Loop Kitka and other projects!) and more cover art by Richard Gann.

It’s big, it’s massive, it has everything you have ever wanted in an album.

Look for it wherever records are sold (hah.)—and if they don’t have it, ask for it!

Nice reviews are coming in. Rocktimes.de totally gets it.

A great interview from StarTrip in Japan

Here’s a long interview about the writing of this album on Nakedly Examined Music

Superfluity CoverFinal

And there’s more. If you didn’t know before reading this here, there are more superfluous pieces that never made it into the stream of phenomenon and on. Outtakes from Superfluity. I gathered a bunch of them for you here, even more Superfluousness:


You can find free downloads of several things by Jonathan Segel & Band on Bandcamp. Here is an improvised concert at the Camp-Out XIII from Sept 1 2017 on bandcamp!


I’ve been working with the Øresund Space Collective for several years now, recording, performing, mixing, etc. Not on everything they (we) do, mind you, but many. All the vinyl is on Space Rock Productions/Sapphire Records. (Click for info)

Here are several of the Øresund Space Collective sessions I’ve played on (and mixed all of them at the Magnetic Satellite, except “Black Hole” which was mixed by Dr Space):


HallucinationsLivein BerlinKybalion Front

Different Creatures

Ode to a Black Hole

Visions Of…

ØSC/Maat Lander Split LP

Hallucinations Inside the Oracle

Live in Berlin 2018

and this winter: Kybalion


Sista Maj!

Sista Maj started on the last day of May in 2015, as a band it lasted about 3 years. The musicians are all busy with their myriad other projects, all of which are incredible.

Sista Maj started as a trio: Andreas Axelsson on drums, Mikael Tuominen on bass and other things, Jonathan Segel on guitar, violin and whatnot. Instrumental hypnotic intense psychedelic space rock in the grand Northern European tradition that runs from Krautrock to Swedish Progg. We got together to improvise, mostly, then sometimes take those improvisations and re-work them. We performed live very few times, and sadly the only recording of a live show I have cut off toward the end of the first track.

Per Wiberg joined us in 2017 to play keyboards, opening up our sound to new territories. The latest release, “Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy” has all four of us and a bit of Mattias Olsson as well. Later this year we release “The Extreme Limit.”

To research these guys, go check out Kungens Män, Automatism, Fanatism, Eye Make the Horizon, Lisa Ullén Trio, AAM, (oh and maybe Opeth…)

All at SistaMaj.bandcamp.com, recorded in garages and a bit at Mattias’ Roth Händle Studios. Here is a double-CD from Sista Maj, Series of Nested Universes


Other musical additions to the world on the web:

SHALE is Tom Shad and Jonathan Segel, with some help from Ralph Carney and others. A collaboration made on the web, sharing ideas back and forth!

Another recent thing I was working on was “remixes” of the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble for their Remix Project. Find my additions HERE, scroll down, I’m there on the lower left.

Also in the midst of all this super psychedelia, I also played some mandolin and violin on Björn Brunnander’s new release, “Galler” on Poolhall Recordings, and played violin on a Townes Van Zandt song for the Lowlands (and friends) cover of his entire last performed set.

I also contributed some violin to Gong family folks Spirits Burning and Clearlight on the releases “Roadmap to Your Head” and “An Alien Heat

ØSC has toured through Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgian, Austria and Switzerland in May 2016, and again in May 2018. Many of the shows are online to listen to at Archive.org. Some were recorded from the board to a multi-track, two of them sofar can be found on the Øresund Space Collective Bandcamp site, including the newest, Live in Berlin.

I also added a little “jazzy/ethnic” violin to “West, Space and Love, Volume II“!

And also a nice evening improvising at Larry’s Corner with Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, you can listen to that here on Archive.org also.

As Scott Miller wrote in his song “720 Times Happier than the Unjust Man”:

“I fill my days with work because I am lazy

The way a coward is hungry to get in any fight

That he can win”


Just so you remember:

Camper Van Beethoven, still alive and kicking after 35 years, has two recent albums “El Camino Real” (2014), and its 2013 companion “La Costa Perdida.” We also have two brand new songs premiering in the SyFy film Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! You can find the soundtrack CD HERE! 

Of course, also in 2014, Jonathan Segel’s “Shine Out” came out on CD and digital. Physical copies are now sold out.

Check here for info and music: SHINE OUT


Here’s an interview and review at Music Web Express 3000!  This site is great, there are tons of great interviews, check it out! And you can learn about the making of the above-mentioned albums.

I had a vernissage for my artwork, drawings I had done while riding on the subways around Stockholm, at Larry’s Corner (Grindsgatan 35, Stockholm) in November 2015. I have soem prints that I will sell while on tour anywhere. Check them out on the ART page! Also, I played some spacey odd music while I had the space, most of it is collected here on ARCHIVE.ORG

Though admittedly not all of it may be listenable!

Almost all of my own music is on the Bandcamp page at


More music may be on its way.  Who knows? I sort of thought that Superfluity might be my last slew of songs, but you never know.  More superfluous art.

Find me talking on The Partially Examined Life, episode 115, about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, and with Victor Krummenacher on episode 118 about songwriting, reality, authenticity, that sort of thing.

Omnivore Recordings, who recently rereleased Camper Van Beethoven‘s 1988 and 89 albums “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” and “Key Lime Pie” released an expanded verison of our 2004 ‘comeback’ album, “New Roman Times” in February!

(And check this out: there are even more extras available for download from

Camper Van Beethoven.com)

The Shine Out CD and digital release is only available at the above links. It’s now on iTunes HERE. There are only a few copies of the CD itself right now, will be available on-demand from Finetunes through Amazon.

One thing to note if ordering is that I am in Europe, so I can send CDs from here (but please include a bit of postage) but I did leave a bunch on the west coast with Victor Krummenacher, so hopefully he can send some if they go to the US.

Also recently added: Horsehoes & Hand Grenades, a “greatest hits” (or misses, as it were) digital package of songs from the past 25 years of Jonathan Segel albums… dip a toe in the water and see where it may lead you, it’s a good place to start with the 25 years of rock music. I haven’t yet made a compilation of the “other” stuff….

Camper Van Beethoven finished a good long while of playing shows in 2013 and 2014 promoting the CDs “La Costa Perdida” and “El Camino Real” out now on Savoy/429 Records!  See here to get it on Amazon .   here for iTunes!

The newer  CD, “El Camino Real“, is the companion to “La Costa Perdida”, mostly concerning Southern California (where La Costa is about the Northern part!)…Out June 3rd 2014!

When not touring, Jonathan lives in Stockholm and is adjusting to living in Europe (see blog entries) and sits in as a guest sometimes for shows with The Plastic Pals or Gösta Berlings Saga or maybe someone else… (sat in with Built To Spill  even.)

All Attractions and Apricot Jam were both released in 2012, the physical package was a 2-disc set with both, out of print now, we did print up a second batch of the CDs as individual packages. Currently they are sold out,  but digital is available at music.jsegel.com or from CDBaby or even from iTunes, or of course you could look in the merch piles at any Camper Van Beethoven show.

The Jonathan Segel band has played shows at every Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Annual Camp-Out, Numbers ONE through FOURTEEN in Pioneertown, and there is audio available to listen for free on Archive.org, even some video of the 2012 show on YouTube. Soon there may be audio or video of the 2013 or 2014 or 2017 or 2018 show.

Here’s audio from the acoustic-guitars-through-echoes improvisation from Camp-Out XIV, Sept 1 2018

Chris Pedersen, Victor Krummenacher and I:

Here’s a recent live set, improvised in its entirety at Larry’s Corner in Stockholm, Sept 26 2017

Victor Krummenacher on bass, Mattias Olsson on drums.

Here’s more live chaos, Chris Pedersen on drums and Victor Krummenacher on bass:

Posted in Øresund Space Collective, Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring, Violin

2018 updates

Hi, it’s been over a year since I wrote anything here. Partially it was because I wrote that thing about the New Pornographers and then apparently AC Newman read it, and then I saw them play and talked to him a bit. It was a bit of a shock to suddenly collapse the private/public nature of writing and the internet and music and everything. I felt pretty embarrassed, actually, that he had read it. When I write words, a lot of the time what I’m doing is trying to solidify thoughts bouncing around in my head, coalescing them into words that sometimes fit right and sometimes don’t. But writing them down, you do see if they are working or not. So it’s a personal sort of thing, in many ways, trying to understand how I think or feel about something. But then the internet, you know. It amplifies and broadcasts—complete with the ultra-compression that large media does to content (I mean that in sort of an analogous way to dynamic compression in audio: Loudness Wars!) so the smallest asides are equal in weight and meaning to the largest idea presented. I guess in the end, I was not sure I was comfortable with the thoughts reaching out of my head and being scrutinized outside of the context of my own  mind. And so time went by and I didn’t publish anything word-wise.

Well, and then other things. Anyway, I was just going to update this blog to point to all the music that has happened from my world since. Right after that aforementioned post, Camper Van Beethoven went to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, our third time there, mostly for the celebration of the memory a friend from there who had died recently. I started to write a tour diary of the experience, and all the music I saw, but I stopped in the middle and there it sat. Oh well.

And then Camper did our 13th Camp-Out Festival in Pioneertown, I came home and worked more on Øresund Space Collective albums I was mixing.

In November I had some difficult travel to Trondheim trying to get there to play with Øresund Space Collective and Black Moon Circle, but I did eventually make it and we did record a lot of music there, none of it out yet. It instilled me with a fear of travel. It is difficult enough to continue holding it together as a musician without the added complications of trying to get somewhere to do what you do when nobody at all gives a shit. Especially those working at airports, or more like the parent companies. They really do not give a shit. I am more and more convinced that in fact there are very few people in the world that actually care at all that I personally should continue trying to be a musician, to make, compose, perform music. Much less write about it. But what the fuck else am I gonna do?

At about this same time, an old disc injury in my lower back decided to not be held back by continuing to do yoga or swim or walk, and I developed an ongoing sciatic problem than started moving constant nerve pain down my legs. Pain is bad. Nobody likes it. I went to the doctor, they just sent me to the physical therapist for ten sessions. That didn’t actually help.


“Be Mine” – Austin, TX motel parking lot, Jan 2018

Camper went on tour after Christmas (2017) and everybody got the flu on tour and it was difficult to remember all of it. We played the Camp-In Festival at the 40-Watt in Athens, GA in January (2018) and I do remember that  the Monks of Doom played and that Chris, Victor and I did a stellar improvised set at the Flicker Bar next door.

When I came back I worked on several tracks for various people, and mixing more ØSC and trying to finish Sista Maj recordings. The band was supposed to play in February, but it didn’t happen, and everybody in Sista Maj was busy with their other projects, so the band disintegrated: Mikael Touminen is in several bands, (Kungens Män, Automatism, Fanatism, Eye Make the Horizon) and they’re all amazing. Andreas Axelsson is as well, (Eye Make the Horizon, Lisa Ullén, AAM, etc.) and Per Wiberg had started playing keyboards with us, but you know, he’s just famous! Anyway, I had a number of garage tapes of us, took some to Roth Händle and played with Mattias Olsson, eventually got them all mixed and into collections. I was hoping that one of the labels that does Mikael’s releases would be interested, but they are scaling back of course, so the first of these, “Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy” is out this week on Bandcamp.

In the spring I worked on music for Cid Pearlman’s dance performance called “Bluets” based on text by Maggie Nelson, I composed for 4 -channel dispersion in the UCSC Performing Arts Theater. That was fun, recorded some with Mattias Olsson and made some cool music. We’re waiting on potentially more performances of the piece before I get to release the music.

Here’s a mix of bluet-ish music that was made for background play in the lobby of the UCSC Performing Arts Theater during the run of the show.

In May (2018), ØSC went on tour in Europe (supporting an album called Chatoyant Breath that had just come out—it’s not one I was involved with in playing nor mixing, but that certainly doesn’t mean much, it’s got amazing players! That’s the beauty of having a collective that actually works, I have heard that some members have even played in Copenhagen without Scott Heller (Dr Space)! Anyway, we were touring with Black Moon Circle from Trondheim, whom I had recorded a track for their “Psychedelic Spacelord” album, so Vemund played the guitar with ØSC also on this tour. We cooked, for the most part. The last show on the tour, in Berlin, was recorded in multi track, and I mixed over the summer, it’s out on a limited CD release!

The tour was hard, actually. It was hot, we were in a cramped van with a whining transmission, underfed and underslept, no money. It was like touring in the 1980s. When we were in our 20s. It was much easier then. Scott wrote about it on his blog, so I didn’t have to. Also my legs hurt. but by this time I had actually managed to convince the doctors to do an MRI. They immediately sent me to the back specialists.


The next shows were ØSC in Portugal in late June (2018). Again, I got so screwed by the airlines, all flights cancelled, no way to make the tour, I missed it entirely. At that point I totally gave up.

In July I holed up in the countryside. I tried to record, but I couldn’t find much meaning in it, I ended up rubbing rocks on electric guitars and such. I also played a bunch of acoustic guitar with echoes. Camper Van Beethoven’s bassist, my good friend and co-consiprator Victor Krummenacher came to visit, which was great, and we played a bunch of music together. We recorded some of it. Still thinking about what to do with it.


My brother and his family came to visit later in July as well, and after a couple busy days in the city, we also went out to the country and relaxed a bit. Then when they left I went to the back specialists and got an operation where they removed some exploded disc material and scraped away the sides of the bones in my lower back. No more nerve pain. Well, except that I got addicted to Oxycontin for 5 days. Seriously, that shit is despicable, after 5 days I tried to stop taking it and went into the worst black hole a person could be in and still be alive. That took a bit to recover from, but by the time I flew back to California to start a short tour with Camper Van Beethoven, I was only taking Advil again.  And CBD balm (California, still not legal in Sweden.)

Victor and I got to play more acoustic guitars together before the tour started, so we were able to work out what we would do at Camp-Out 14, the following week. Instead of playing the now-normal electric improv set, we did an acoustic space rock set.

It was a rushed two weeks, only a few shows, a few visits. Back in Sweden, now 55 years old (as of Sept 3) I started moving a few collections from SoundCloud to BandCamp, like these, “Artificial Relics” (guitar with electronic music) and “machines” (SuperCollider coded music.)

about machines:

These machines are all music written in code, in an application called SuperCollider. The oldest ones are the “Cars” pieces, (originally begun in 2001, in Supercollider v.2—this code is too old to run now!) these all use very similar timbres, but for each one I made a graphical interface to control parameters to “play” the synthesized sounds, so each one is a live improvisation: the controls included start/stop buttons for the different types of sounds, and sliders or range-sliders to determine possible sets of choices of pitch, length, time, envelope, even scale elements for the synth process to choose from for the next sound iteration. All of the tunings are Just Intonation, basic major or minor usually, pentatonic or hexatonic scales.

The beginnings of this compositional code were pieces that were to accompany a dance piece by Ellie Leonhardt, as were several pieces on the “Non Linear Accelerator” album (e.g. “Ellie Altair”). The Altair name came from the movie “Forbidden Planet”, which was somehow important at the time, and the “Cars” name comes from the fact that the pieces titled “Breakthrough Cars” were to be played from automobile stereos in a site-specific performance of the dance piece.

As these pieces are contemporaneous to most of the music on “Non-Linear Accelerator”, they also form some basis for much of how we used SuperCollider in the music in Chaos Butterfly. I did perform many of these types of pieces live, some with audio input from violin or guitar, including one memorable computer-only show at the Tonic in New York in 2002 during the very first run of shows by a resuscitated Camper Van Beethoven at the Knitting Factory. I had been invited to play at Tonic by TimeBlind, another SuperCollider composer. During the set, most of the half dozen or so people just sat around spacing out, but about half-way through, a woman came up to me and asked if I were doing the audio or the the video. I told her I was making the sounds.

She said, “Can you fix it?”

The “Machine in the Garden” pieces (~2016-2017) are similar machines, they were made in SuperCollider v.3, attempts at a composing a soundscape for Edie Winograde’s film of the same name for museum exhibition.

see: www.ewinograde.com

These pieces use only harmonic series excitations of enveloped pulses, all sets of possible rhythm or pitch (or number of harmonics) choices pre-programmed so the pieces just ran as they were, choosing what to do next when the time came. These are some captured possibilities of a potentially infinite process.


Later this fall the next ØSC album, Kybalion, will come out, with a virtual reality type experience designed by Batuhan Bintas. I’ll keep you informed.

So that’s the last year or so. Maybe I’ll try to write up a few of these events in a more detailed way if I can.





Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring

The New Pornographers’ “Whiteout Conditions” and my interpretation thereof.

So far I’ve refrained from writing ‘reviews’ of albums or other music or bands to this extent. I’ve written an awful lot about music, of course, (well, mostly my own, see every other blog post) and its interpretation and/or effect, but here I’m gonna just tackle one album like a rock critic, or some idea of what a rock critic could be.

The New Pornographers are a popular pop-rock band who’ve been around for about 20 years, formed from the ashes of other popular pop-rock bands. I’ve been a fan since they started. They’re kind of a supergroup, with most of the members having solo careers or other bands as well. I am a huge fan of the NP—I love a good hook in my pop music, especially when it’s combined with cool lyrics and executed with superlative musicianship and a beautiful array of tones in the recordings. These guys have pretty much consistently provided pleasure to my ears with every album release. Oddly, I have never seen them play live, though that will change this weekend, when we go to see them at Debaser Strand in Stockholm.

I also don’t know them personally, though I met Neko Case (one of the singers) when she played with her own band at our Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Camp Out Festival, probably about a decade ago? (I can’t exactly remember.) I tried to give her one of my poppier CDs, “Edgy Not Antsy” (2003) in hopes of eliciting some sort of camaraderie on the pop rock end of being a rock band person, but to be honest I have no idea if she even took it with her when they left. At some point on tour in Boise, ID, several years later we did cross paths with the NP, as their tour bus rolled up the the Super 8 as we were leaving, though I only ended up talking with the drummer for a bit to find out what band it was, when A.C. Newman (main singer/songwriter) got off the bus, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t interested in human interaction that morning.

So, they have a new album. They’ve had new albums before, of course, but I’m finding this one to be particularly thrilling. For one thing, it’s *all* A.C. Newman-penned songs, none by Dan Bejar who was off working on his own band, Destroyer, apparently. (Or not, who knows. Their press is obviously contrived, as I will get into more later.) They’ve settled into this style that uses sequenced synthesizers with the normal retinue of guitars and synths (and bass and drums and lots of singing). The result, after an obvious learning curve on their last album, “Brill Bruisers”, is so well-honed now, and so extremely pleasing to hear with your earholes, clocked soft and hard sounds pulsating and phasing through the stereo space. The singing is still incredible, with Neko, A.C. (Carl, I guess? I don’t know him well enough to know which to refer to him as) and Kathryn Calder doing multiple interconnected parts, and without having Bejar’s sneering Hunky-Doryisms, it works much better as a whole album. But here’s the thing: the lyrics are genius. They’re just oblique enough to give a listener some words to work information out of while providing some keywords with obvious dramatic effect, while simultaneously being full of fanciness: rhythmic alliterations, internal and external rhyme schemes, smart word combinations, etc, all accented by the co-lead singer duties within any particular track. Where Bejar’s lyrics always seemed to hinge upon him finding some witty-sounding phrase (like “myriad harbor” or some thing,) Newman’s are actually clever. Or even smart. Even if neither you nor I know exactly what he’s singing about

So what is he singing about? I personally love lyrical puzzles, and the poetry of fancy wordplay, so as the melodic hooks started seeping into my brain, the pop music virus that repeats itself in your ear forcing you to listen again and again until it finally burns that earworm out, I started delving more into the lyrics. The online sites suck, many were simply plain wrong, had entirely wrong lyrics listed. Admittedly, it’s tough to understand them all (as words let alone as meaning,) but I think some of the lyrics sites use some stupid AI transcription software to get lyrics to new albums, or it seems so. This site, genius.com, seemed to be mostly correct.

And here’s what I think: This is a meta-album. It’s an album of songs about an album of songs about playing music about the music industry and being a lead singer in a popular pop-rock band therein. Now that’s my take on this, and of course, not knowing these people personally, perhaps I’m projecting my own experience on this interpretation (as one does) and reading into it everything about the music industry and being a songwriter and whatnot. Perhaps that’s one reason I like the album so much. But let me clarify my conclusions a bit, and then I’ll admit to also seeing Illuminati references everywhere, or whatever psychotic pattern-recognition thing you, the readers, might attribute this interpretation to.

Again, I love lyrics, I love interpreting them, and on some level that’s what songs are about: the interpretation in the mind of the listener. I have no idea if any of this has anything to do with what the songwriter(s) were thinking, and that doesn’t really matter. It’s not quite like trying to interpret Yes lyrics (I didn’t want to know, for instance, that “giant flying purple wolfhounds” was actually a reference to a military plane, nor that mountains coming out of the sky and standing there was just cuz Jon Anderson was stoned in the tour van in Scotland.) Nor is it important to know the writer’s intent, really. What if that love song you love is about a taking a nice dump?

Here’s one thing to keep in mind, though: nobody talks about this, the meaning of the songs. On the New Pornographers’ website, everything just says “Whiteout Conditions” is out and the band is touring. If you go to the band history tab, it only says who plays in the band and then has some press quotes about how the record sounds. In fact, even the quotes from Mr Newman are about instituting some idea of Krautrock into their sound, somehow riding the “new motorik” wave of popularity (there’s a lot of it going around) and how it doesn’t sound like Krautrock even so. Well, you know, the Buzzcocks and the Jam said the same thing, just FYI. (Well, so has everybody.) Reviews I’ve read, NPR, PopMatters, No Recess, etc. all seem to focus on the sound of the album more than what it says. I think that’s common, in general, in rock criticism nowadays. That’s all people need to know, really! That’s why we stylize genre descriptors in press releases, so that the reviewer knows what kind of music this is! Even way back when I once wrote album reviews for Puncture Magazine, I ended up not knowing what to say about music at times and just described the physical music, that is to say, how the chords and melodies were put together, what kinds of sounds were used.

And many people say they don’t even listen to the lyrics. Personally, lyrics are extremely important to me, to the point where they can make or break a song for me. I remember being really into the Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream” when hearing it on the jukebox at the bar I worked at, and then one day reading the lyrics. On the other hand, I have always loved Scott Miller’s lyrics/melodies/music through Game Theory and into Loud Family, and his way of manufacturing lyric was, similar to Newman’s, ornate yet oblique, playing with words and sounds and language until it could say several things at once, lyrical depth which combines the art and the craftsmanship of poetry with a hooky melody. (A.C. Newman also wrote about being a fan of Scott’s after his (Scott’s) death a few years back.) Cagey lyrics are of course also a way to hide, where you don’t have to reveal everything about your trip in some obvious verbal way. You can be humorous and deceptive about, say, depression or other mental illness, or develop your own code for things that are meaningful but potentially embarrassing for yourself. I mean, I write that way, always have. I tried for a while (starting maybe with Jack & Jill) to be purposefully more direct, but I’ve crept sideways from there. like a crab, right.

Neko Case and A.C. both are indirect lyricists, which I personally love. Neither say things directly. Case seems to paint verbal pictures that you fill in to understand the story at hand. Newman is more a player with the sounds of the words. While I love to think of the person singing the songs as the writer of the words that they sing, and I would love to think of each singer on this album as the lyricist, the liner notes do state that all of it is written by Newman.

So what does A.C. Newman have to say?

The album starts with the song “Play Money,” which of course is not about fake play money (so much as maybe the fakeness of money—when you have it, that is) but about playing music for money. The song seems so end-of-tour to me that I automatically adjust into that mindset when I hear the starting pulsation. “I only play for money, honey. Look at what this run has done to me.”

I only play for money, honey
Look at what this run has done to me
It has me gunning for the country
Sky's memory and moonless
A vision copied from the bootlegs
We are out of tune so mostly tuneless

For a fee I'll fight any foe
For a fee I'll take any blow

I only play it cool and bruising
But only when my lips are moving
You've been careful here to keep the tempo
Only play with money, careful
Not to trigger some reversal
And to live by an obscure example

For a fee I'll fight any foe
For a fee I'll stop any show

I know -- have an eye on you to get this right
Have an eye on you to climb these heights
Have an eye on you--oops, pay-per-view

I beat the path of least resistance
Over the hills and out of wisdom
And just when I thought we beat the system
I knew a gentleman of leisure
He loved to talk about his treasure
And of how he got it for a song, song, song, song

For a fee I'll right any wrong
For a fee I'll right any wrong
For a fee I'll fight any foe
For a fee I'll stop any show

I know -- have an eye on you to get this right
Have an eye on you to climb these heights
Have an eye on you--oops, pay-per-view
Have an eye on you to get this right
Have an eye on you to climb these heights
Have an eye on you--oops, pay-per-view

Only live for happy endings
Stop them like we started
Pardon my affinity for clothes and Clueless
Never been an opportunist
I accept the prize if I somehow surprise us all 
and get there soonest

I only play for money, honey
I only play with money, honey
I only play with money, honey
I only play with money, honey

The song (the song)

…I don’t exactly know what “gunning for the country” means (beside being a nice homophonic slant rhyme) though I take it as “I need to get the fuck out and head out to the country where there aren’t so many fucking people.” Though of course, it could be something patriotic and weaponized, who knows. But they continue about the quality of what they do in playing music live, a vision copied from the bootlegs, out of tune, etc.. Then they equate to the mercenary: for a fee I’ll fight any foe. Fum, goes the guitar, fum as Jack’s giant would add to the end of that phrase, fee fie foe fum in a lovely syncope rhythm of labial fricatives (distorted, actually. The mixing/mastering has bandpassed many of the consonants on this album to a discreet upper-midrange/lower-highend  that is pushed and compressed to be almost like a percussion instrument. Useful when you’re using the vocal fricatives to propel the otherwise-clocked rhythm.)

Nor do I really get “only play it cool and bruising” except that it’s obviously cool, and perhaps a reference to Brill Bruisers,  the lead track on their previous album of the same name. “Only when my lips are moving” is the joke, you know, about when a lawyer is lying. So the focus is maybe moving off the performers… For a fee I’ll stop any show. Again, probably an internal band reference to “All the Old Showstoppers,” another song about fame-versus-numbers. As would be the outro “the song (the song)” which itself is a repeat of their first “hit”, “Letter from an Occupant” from 2000. So they are talking about playing “the song” (“that’s shakin’ me”) that makes them famous enough to tour and play “the song”. And then, just when they think they beat the system, they meet the “gentleman of leisure” who got his treasure for “a song, song, song, song, song”. Obviously Jack, who ended up with the giant’s goose that laid the golden egg. Fee fie foe fum. Who are those guys that are rich from “the song”? Well, nobody in our day and age, it’s sort of an outdated occupation for songwriters, that’s for sure. So possibly some Geffen-type industry person. Or like, led zeppelin, “over the hills.” Or more likely more the Westergren or Ek type these days. And what does that mean? All your work is for naught, peon. You’re just the music maker. You may think you can get ahead in this music biz, you’re doing so well, aren’t you? “Have an eye on you.”

Is the song itself the golden egg? Is Newman himself the goose? NP refer to “The Song” a lot, I think it’s more like the Platonic ideal. The song referred to is “the song”, the one that works, the one that catapults the band, but also the one that is the creation that they make, the one that is the craft that they work.

(As an aside, I wonder if the band makes money, actually. New Pornographers, I mean. You’d think so, right? They’re famous and great and everybody knows them. They tour all over the world. I imagine that having a couple songs in TV commercials did well for them, but I sort of think that even at their level, admittedly above mine, though I play similar sized places with Camper Van Beethoven, CVB doesn’t have the pop draw nor radio love that NP do nor tour as much. And I don’t make money. So it’s possible that they do, though again, I’m betting it’s all in sync fees and not in record sales nor touring. I mean, we’re going to see them at Debaser Strand this weekend, that’s a 8 hour tour bus drive from Oslo to fill a 300-person place. )

I only play for money, honey. I only play with money.

Title track is next, Whiteout Conditions.

Flying and feeling the ceiling
I'm barely dealing
And the faces, the faintest of praises
Are too revealing
Such a waste of a beautiful day
Someone should say
It's such a waste of the only impossible, logical way in

A fly-in in LA was open
I wasn't hoping for a win
I was hoping for freedom
You couldn't beat 'em
So you crumbled, you doubled your dosage
you wanna go, said the inhibitor blocking the passage, 
that thing is massive

And the sky will come for you once
Just sit tight until it's done
The sky will come for you once
Just sit tight until it's done

Got so hooked on a feeling
I started dealing
in a stage of grief so demanding
I got a stand-in
Every radio buzzing, it wasn't the dream of the moment
Wasn't the current that carried me, keeping me going

Only want to get to work
But every morning I'm too sick to drive
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget the mission, just get out alive

Only want to glean the purpose
Only to scratch the surface, raise the plow
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget your mission, just get out somehow

Everyone suddenly busy
Suddenly dizzy
You're so easy, it's pushing you over
You're taking tours
Of a treacherous strip of the badlands
You have your demands
Maybe you riot for nothing - it's just a bad hand

Only want to get to work
But every morning I'm too sick to drive
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget the mission, just get out alive
Only want to glean the purpose
Only to scratch the surface, raise the plow
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget your mission, just get out somehow

Flying and flat on the ceiling
I see myself
And the revival, it suddenly hits me
It's going viral
Such a waste of a beautiful day
Someone should say
It's such a waste of the only impossible, logical way in

Got so hooked on a feeling
I started dealing
But the days spent kicking the cages
Are too revealing
So committed to your misfortune
But still a cheater
Such a waste of a beautiful day
Wish you could be here

So this could be about many things, but obviously the gist is trying to deal with life. On meds, or drugs, or something. Maybe a migraine. It’s a funny combo of drug lingo and med lingo, though, the first great hook that caught me on this record is the incredibly funny “got so hooked on a feeling, I started dealing”, which, given that it’s been nearly 50 years since “Hooked on a Feeling” came out, I was shocked nobody wrote this before. But it’s so funny to reference a hit song when (ostensibly) talking about being a musician hooked on music and starting to “deal” it like a pusher. And later “kicking” the cages, he says, and days spent doing that are too revealing.

The opening verse seems just like trying to deal while either taking your brain meds or forgetting to take your brain meds (says I who takes brain meds.) What pushes me toward this conclusion is not just the language of “inhibitor blocking the passage” etc, but the whole flying/ceiling/barely dealing + dizzy/buzzing stuff that goes into the existentialism of “such a waste of a beautiful day” and “waste of the only impossible, logical way in”. I have no idea what the only impossible logical way in is. But it’s big, it’s the only impossible logical way in, after all. So are “whiteout conditions” caused by drug-drugs? Or your prescription? Impossible to know, but “only want to get to work but in the morning I’m too sick to drive”, yeah. “Forget your mission, just get out alive” —been there! Maybe it’s just an ocular migraine, a scintillating scotoma (been there too…)

The sky will come for you once? I dunno. Maybe that’s his personal experience of the scotoma or the crash itself. Or something, anyway.

But I hear a familiar depression-vesus-meds in this one. (Meds being whatever medication is needed, pills or booze or whatever.) In all these lines. And like he says, maybe you riot for nothing, it’s just a bad hand. I think Scott Miller wrote an awful lot about depression and dealing (with himself, with people, with music “business”) in a similar way, that is to say: cloaked in artifice. And later it got the best of him. I do it too, I think that writing this way, circumloquatiously, is a way to mask it, to try to save some of the embarrassment that one feels in admitting to the world around you that you are depressed, or manic, or mental in some way. I have no doubts that Mr Newman is a hyper intelligent person, (given only these songs as evidence, yeah) and I do know that that makes things difficult when it comes to either fitting in, or being who your handlers want you to be if you are the cash cow. I mean, I play in a band with David Lowery. Lowery ends up mostly writing in characters that he assumes the identity of. It’s possible that Newman does too, but I hear it as personal, especially here. I think the “you” at the end, so committed to your misfortune but still a cheater” is himself. “Wish you could be here.”

The single is next, “High Ticket Attractions.”

You can imagine all the factions
That form around high ticket attractions
High on the spirit, hopped up and mystic
After the flame baptism you’re fearless
You know the science of falling
You have your calling
You know the song

The Magna Carta, it’s underwater
We left it there for the sons and the daughters
One day they’ll find it; they’ll be reminded
When we live undersea like we ought to
Didn’t know flying from falling
Clueless the poor thing
Sad to report
Didn’t know losing from learning
Wheels were turning
You know the song

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

You feel the suction, the call to action
That will surround high ticket attractions
You want to travel, want to unravel
Take the experience to the next level
With no respect for the warning
The violence of yearning
Defiance of learning
In protected encryption
The voice of addiction
You know the song

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

You know the song
You know the song
You know the song
You know the song

You can imagine all the factions
That form around high ticket attractions
Just like the Mayans took all their science
And dumped it all in the drink and went silent
They knew the science of falling
They had their calling
You know the song

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

This one seems to be about, yes, high ticket attractions, those high-money touring artists. You know the song. And you can imagine the hangers-on. And trying to keep up with it on tour. Perhaps it’s about a specific diva, but I’d guess not. Also, it has that weird “vision of the world of the high class” thing that many other NP songs of the past have, implications of hanging out with the ultra-rich or upperclass, or royalty. I never really got that, even if I liked the songs that had those things in them, I never understood if it was supposed to be literal or not. Maybe the guy does hang out with countesses, I don’t know. (My brain went immediately to “I am the Countess,” My Little Pony’s take on Gaga.) I mean they went with mermaids, right?

You know the song. The suction that is felt is the pull from the buyers; to sell records, you have to create suction at the public end to pull them to the stores. And the suction of charisma, of famous personages, you’ll just do it. And the suction that is just plain old sucking. Here’s another reference to “Clueless” as well, which may be a pet phrase or maybe he’s really into the Alicia Silverstone coming-of-age movie, I don’t know. (I haven’t seen it.) I think either is possible.

Why is this the single? I have no idea. It’s a song about fame. About famous songs and the mad practice of presenting them in public. Again, songs about the business of music. Maybe the reason for it being the single is magic, it’s a spell to invoke fame by singing about it. But then there’s the video, which is horrific. I won’t include a link, you can look it up if you want. It’s the epitome of stupid, has nothing to do with the lyrics, it’s a slow-mo, hi-res high school riot that starts off with the male and female models pretending to be high school students in a fake chemistry classroom start teasing each other. It’s so slick and crass that it’s disgusting. Maybe that’s what you get when your band is from Vancouver instead of LA, you get something like the cast of The 100 faking being young and hot and ritualistically destroying their very own Riverdale High like true rebellious teens would if they could. Icky, for so many reasons, not just overblown production values. But, possibly it will get the band exactly what they want in an audience?

(And then, there’s also this video for the song, which I think is really cool.)

But, you know, “This is the World of the Theatre.”

Since they've come, I've tried to go it straight, 
but I've got no clue how to
Was gonna make it up just now, 
try to come up with some high-brow move
Kid gloves, and stranger loves you've known,
you sort it out somehow
You used to chime in quietly, you sing, but you're a moaner now
Think of all the life we're saving
Think of all the legs we're breaking

Is it too late to live in your heart, too late to burn all your civilian clothes
As you break into a million parts, too late to learn it 
yes we're all elbows

Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak
This is the world of the theatre
This is the world of the theatre

All the phantom minor notes they pass you on your way to dine
They call you from their hiding places on 
the shoulders of your chimes
Think of all the cold they're braving
Think of all the ways we'll cave in

Is it too late to live in your heart, too late to burn all your civilian clothes
As you break into a million parts, too late to learn it -- will it come to blows?

Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak

This is the world of the theatre
This is the world of the theatre
Is it too late to live in your heart, too late to burn all your civilian clothes
As you break into a million parts, too late to learn it, yes we're all elbows

Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak

This is the world of the theatre
This is the world of the theatre

Yes, indeed, it’s all theatre. You’re in SHOW biz. But it’s so important, isn’t it? Think of all the lives we’re saving. But are you yourself? Who is yourself? Can you be yourself when you are acting? I once tried to piss off some actor friends of mine when I lived in LA by going on a rant about how all actors were basically lying, never being true to who they were. It was funny at the time. Recently I’ve been in more discussions about what people represent when they’re on stage, if indeed a person can be “who they are” when they are performing. It just makes me hate politicians even more, why I would rather read politics and platforms than hear any politician speak.

I do like the referred-to phrases, though: think of all the cold they’re braving.

I do appreciate the military jargon of burning all your civilian clothes (no, forget your mission, just get out alive.) As a member of a touring band, everybody outside the world of the tour is indeed a civilian. It’s a natural way to see things. But here, giving up your identity as a civilian is predicated on “living in your heart”, i.e. secretly being yourself in the face of facade.

This also was an early adoptee song for me on this album, which started me looking for the lyrics online—and finding some incredible mishearings. Check out this take on these lyrics: Cockle, reese and poutine break? Yeah! They are Canadians after all. Yes, we’re on a boat.

Next is Darling Shade, our shadow.

When you add your voice to bad choices
Then your noise so white becomes [melted]?
It's dripping down the walls like quicksilver
Dripping down [as] slowly [as sabbath]?

And for you: the Pulitzer Prize
For stepping into traffic
Now the new: the Americas
You broke through, you're laughing

We have found a use for the profane
Searching for the gods in the corners
With the ignorance of the poet
An unbreakable focus of mortars

Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow

Was a [singer] from the bad choices
On a [sayer] without a pretense
When you give your mind to your voices
You accept the terms of your sentence

And for you: the Pulitzer Prize
For time served, you're walking
Now the new: the Americas
You broke through, it's nothing

Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow

You began to climb the new tower
Thinking you could learn a new language
That you would return a few favors
Since you left everybody hanging

Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow

Shadowed by an underworld figure? Or journalist…? Well, the music biz is infested with shades, it’s true. Darling Shade seems more like a character from a Bowie song, even with Dan Bejar not taking part in this album. Maybe the song is about him! More likely it’s singing “you” to yourself again. You broke through, it’s nothing. More military imagery (focus of mortars) and music biz cliches like the break through. But Darling Shade left everybody hanging in the end.

Second Sleep

Been awake for awhile
Going deep, going long
Rifling through what I keep

In the floats, what we found
Under glass, all the hours
Filled with Hail Mary passes
It all sort of fastens to you
As you sleep

Been awake, thinking fast, cannot sleep
Second thoughts, second rate Socrates
At dream's door, feeling flat, searching high
Left outside, like a vampire in light

At this time of the morning you'd swear it was night
It's enough living proof of the use of lights on (lights on)

Been awake for awhile

Somebody on a lyric site wrote that this was a reference to the thing going around a couple years ago about polyphasic sleep, how everybody “used to sleep two times a night, separated by a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night.” There are numerous examples in old literature, but I have to say that I always thought that this phenomenon probably had more to do with the fact that people used to drink all day, so they probably woke up after a few hours of sleep when the alcohol was detoxified in their system. This song seems more like normal (“normal”) insomnia, especially the fast thoughts and rifling through “what I keep” and “hours filled with Hail Mary passes.” Lord knows I understand that, I wrote a bunch about sleep and the lack thereof on my latest album as well. Again, though, it could also be the meds. But I bet that doesn’t account for the cool rhythms of the sung consonants. Again distorted, but cool word-cuts like ‘like a vam/pire in night’ in great rhythm.

The next track is my current favorite, “Colosseums”. Obvious, perhaps, in the context of rock music, stadium rock is really its own thing. Although probably dominated these days by country or pop stars, I tend to envision U2 or Coldplay: some crap fake-emotive singer with soaring anthems banking on the fact that the space the noise fills appears to add profundity. A Second rate Socrates could really sound wise here.

Colosseums, colosseums of the mind
An ancient con, the shadow of a song
Exhibitions, international in size
I close my eyes, I can see the lion

Colosseums, colosseums of the mind
Right on time, celebration in the ruin
Elation is moving in a wave
I avert my gaze, but still I see the lions

Say it like a soothsayer
On repeat for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way
You can’t fool your way

Colosseums, colosseums of the mind
A scalper's price, built into the design
Jubilations, laughing out the place
Look in my face, you can see the lion

Say it like a soothsayer
It will keep for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way
You can’t fool your way

Say it like a soothsayer
On repeat for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way

Say it like a soothsayer
It will keep for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way
You can’t fool your way

Here, he’s using the extended metaphor of the Roman colosseum and the whole bread-and-circus spectacle of lions eating Christians to rock it out. Complete with the entrance of the marimbas in the intro, the rattling bones (like on XTC’s “Poor Skeleton Steps Out,” though I got the impression that Paul Fox had no ideas of his own when producing “Oranges and Lemons” back in 1989 so he dug up their earlier albums’ production for ideas and settled on “It’s Nearly Africa” for this one.)

Right off the bat, we know that the spectacle can’t present the real, “an ancient con, the shadow of a song”. You can’t even play the damn song in a stadium, the size makes it into something else. (“The Song”, I mean. The ideation of “song”. The artifact of “song”. The [second rate] Platonic ideal of “The Song”.) The colosseum is huge, and its size is in your mind. The singer singing the song here is singing it in the colosseum, and closing his eyes, he sees the lions. Because that’s what the audience really wants, anyway, isn’t it?

This is also the first song with a lyrical twist, finally. Even after the second verse’s celebration in the ruin, averting his gaze he still sees the lion, but in the critical third verse we look in his face and can see the lion, he has become the lion in the colosseum.

Say it like a soothsayer, a nice alliteration, indicating the methods of sounding prophetic or holy in the colosseum. I still think of Bono here, even though the advice is obviously to oneself in the context of the song. Fake it big. Don’t listen when the fool says you can’t fool your way, because obviously (if Bono, for example, is any indication) you can. Say it like a soothsayer, on repeat for days, (“keep for days”? I hear “it will hold their gaze”, that is, if you can say it like a soothsayer, it commands the attention of the audience. Which is what you want, if you’re soothsaying.)

I would love to hear them perform this song in a colosseum!

…but. We’ve Been Here Before

Here is the quick rundown
We've been here before
It's best not to wander far
'Cause we've been here before
We couldn't find a way out
When we were here, the first time
Now it's mines we're leaving behind
Mines we're leaving behind

Didn't choose what we mean
Just hummed along with what's played
There were rules once back when
There should be rules again

Here is the quick rundown
We've been here before
It's best not to wander far
'Cause we've been here before
And we couldn't find a way out
When we were here, the first time
Now it's mines we're leaving behind
Mines we're leaving behind

And oh, to leave them behind
And gold to trade for my life
Where we end up again
The gods of bad parties reign
Chased by invasion lights
Round the same block again

So here is the quick rundown
We've been here before
It's best not to wander far
'Cause we've been here before
And we couldn't find a way out
When we were here the first time
Now it's mines we're leaving behind
Mines we're leaving behind

We've been here before

We didn’t choose what we mean, just hummed along… well, you gotta choose it now. Even if you’re stuck in some labyrinth of post-colosseum after-show parties, which sadly end up with you as the semi-famous reigning god. I’ve seen it a few times. Unfortunately. What a sad state, and I can see how after catching yourself there once, you’d wish for the gold to trade to get your life back.

But, ignoring for a moment the paradox of “if you couldn’t find your way out the first time you were there,” how could you be stuck a second time, and moving on to leaving and leaving behind mines… So, mines that destroy that entire scene? Impossible. I suppose you could leave mines that destroy your own credibility as reigning god so that you could never reliably find yourself accidentally falling into that labyrinth again. Redefine yourself and your persona.

“Juke” is the next track. I only know the word in the context of the jukebox, I assume it meant a kind of dancing. I looked it up and found that it’s a word for a quick fake, or a quick move to fake you out (or a stabbing!) and probably that quick fake move is why it got associated with dancing. Probably a Gullah/West-African based word meaning bad or disorderly. However, I have certainly never heard it used as it is here, “Juke you.” Though followed by “feels like the dawn took you out” may be a continuation of the last bad party.

Been through here, crystal ball
You crashed, shattered into [songs?] above you
There are rules here, into shapes
You can, can and so you will surrender

Juke you (Feels like the dawn took you out)

You pass through here, on the way, to call
Call to tell us, 'Stop. Surrender.'
Some of you fear it has come to pass
At last, last September, what? you lost me

Juke you (Feels like the dawn took you out)
Took you out

I been through here, some of you can run
Underneath the world beyond earth
Been through here, crystal ball
You crashed, shattered into souls above you

Some of you
Some of you get life
Some of you
Some of you get Lifetime
Some of you
Some of you will run
Some of you
Some will feel the strange cold
Some of you will run
Be [accused?]
Some will take a lifetime

Juke you (Feels like the dawn took you out)
Took you out

Juke you

It may be like a continuation of being here before, what with the crystal ball and talking about rules. I don’t know, I don’t get this one, I think. Some of you get life may refer to the poor idiots sentenced to life in the stupid scene, though, “some of you get Lifetime,” like the cable channel? I guess some of you do. Or maybe some people “get” Lifetime, I sure don’t. I don’t really get life, for the most part. Some of you will run. Indeed. Juke you. Whatever that means, you got faked out?

Next, we move another step clockwise in the story of the dealing with the life of being a singer of songs in a business of selling songs and singers.


We were not quite young when you called it clockwise
Go unchallenged in the light of the life
In the struggle to rule the second string
In the valley of the middle fingers
In the valley of lead singers

We are not quite done you could call it clockwise
Power surges and the backups are fried
We are live [with 'we brought from the blue'?]
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers

We were not quite done, yeah, you called it clockwise
Hold the looking glass up to your eyes
See The Saviors are still asleep in the men's
See invaders that look like their dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers

Low Life

We were not quite fun, you could call it clockwise
Allow me here to accept the demise
Accept it proudly on your behalf
As you oversteer -- every star turn in here
In the valley of lead singers
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers

As he says, struggling to rule the not-quite-top level, the second string of players in a valley of lead singers and their dead ringers. Replaceable, easily. A valley of middle fingers, enough and we could have ringers sent in from the coast in a heartbeat, to quote Buddy Rich. I guess if this album is a “rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust” sort of story, this is the downfall, not exactly fatal except to one’s career. The path of the lead singer is from star to low life when they aren’t revered anymore. Awesome synth tones moving around in there, though.

For an album that is touted as being some pop interpretation of krautrock, there is surprisingly little Neu in here, but in the final track, Avalanche Alley, we finally get the full Für Immer beat promised at the beginning of the album in “Play Money”.

Cover your eyes, surprise your fate
It's only an avalanche away, you're safe
It's only a scratch, you're great
Several years after the flood
Your singularity under the gun
So late, so late to the game, so late
We thought it was wise to wait

Sent you blues from the last world
News from the future
Blues from the last world
News from the future

Several miles behind the wave
We needed to cross the ocean, we missed the ride
Lord knows we could use a ride
You summon the breath to finally say
It's only an avalanche away, feels right
And you can stay here tonight
Yeah, you can stay here tonight

Sent you blues from the last world
News from the future
Blues from the last world
News from the future

Better angels formed the cottage industry
The testimonials, warning weather
Rules of the house
Are all graffiti scrawled
Ceremony calls, the tarred and feathered
Jewels in your crown
Are loud and proudly fake
Ceremony calls, the overthrowing
Consigned to the dustbin, all good lines thrown away
Defined by the daylight waves we found in Avalanche Alley
Controlled demolitions of the times far away
In line for the festival that we call Avalanche Alley

News from the last world
News from the future
News from the last world
News from the future

It’s definitely tough to interpret this as a song, let alone as the closing track of the meta-album about itself in its own context. The titular avalanche could be the one that brings the singer to stardom, though it could be the one that wipes them out. I think hanging out in the festival called Avalanche Alley makes it more like they’d be waiting to regain that feeling of importance that comes with being a big shot on stage, that same feeling that they were so tired of at the play money beginning. This alley is next door to the valley of lead singers, I’d guess. But if the industry machine has abandoned you, maybe the cottage industry might help build you back up again, even if you’re faking the content. These lines seem like they have some specific reference (to the singer) that isn’t obvious or known to me as a listener. That’s ok, of course. It is definitely a bad thought to feel that you have been consigned to the dustbin of history, as Trotsky said, with all your good lines thrown away. I have no reference point for the “daylight waves” that define these lines. Maybe that goes with either that it’s the Kurzweil singularity he’s talking about and it’s not coming fast enough or that they “missed the ride” offworld, I mean who knows.

And the important thing here seems to be the sending of news from the future. Or the blues/news from the last world? So long as there’s something new in the damn future and not this same old shit (I don’t mean that about the album, I mean in a more universal sense). It sure is a hopeful sounding chorus, especially as the final track in the sequence.

So anyway, there you have it. I didn’t even mention how incredibly pleasurable the sounds on this album are with the ‘motorik’ beats, combos of beautifully squishy synthesizers with the pseudo-techno sequencing mixing effortlessly with a human drummer and bassist and the jangly power pop guitars. Currently it’s worming its way through my cochleae and it won’t let go.

And I concede that everything I’ve written here may be entire bullshit, of course. And don’t tell Mr Newman that I wrote this.


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Posted in Music, Touring

Literally, Superfluous.

It’s Monday today. Last Friday afternoon I was home waiting for a call from WORT radio in Madison WI, to do an interview about music, specifically about my latest release “Superfluity”. The phone rang and it was my wife who was walking through downtown Stockholm on her way home from work and ran into a ton of people running away from a tragedy where some person had stolen a beer delivery truck and ran down several people on a walking-mall on his way to try to blow up a department store. She was stuck at this point, walking with all of the other stunned people westward to our area of town since they had shut down the subways as soon as this happened. I listened to her in shock but had to get off the phone to get the other call and do an interview, now with that same empty feeling in my solar plexus that I had felt for days after the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland last winter.

I had to talk about music now. How could that possibly be important? And I got my wife off the phone for that. And it’s especially ironic because one of the underlying concepts on my album is that of just how superfluous music is, indeed how superfluous human beings are, life itself is, compared to the rocks and water of the earth or the solar system. A little overflow in an system otherwise heading toward equilibrium.


So I was a little shell-shocked myself, and started on the air talking about what just happened, and a little about international politics, but the Disc Jockey managed to change the subject so that we did actually get onto the topic of the album and of Camper Van Beethoven and so forth. I wasn’t brought on for news analysis, after all! I tried to shift gears and explain things like “what I bring to CVB and is it present on my solo records or what?” and “what’s it like these days?” I have no idea what I said. One thing I do remember is talking about how music is so devalued now that many people that make music (by habit or compulsion or whatever) have even less incentive to try to be commercially successful, so many just make the albums that they want to make, and fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. I’m certainly that way these days, “Superfluity” is a huge project—I was hoping to make a followup to my very first solo album from late 1988, the one that was called “a double album art-rock horror.” Several other musicians I know seem to just be going for it (like Nathan Hubbard’s Skeleton Key Orchestra album), trying to create whatever the farthest reaches of their imaginations come up with, or maybe just diving back into their roots to dredge up all the things that gave them meaning as a musician (like Nels Cline’s “Lovers”).

Can they get meaning from doing this? I wrote an awful lot about this sort of dilemma in this blog a couple years back now, one of the main lines of thinking that ended up with me making this album (and the Sista Maj album). Yes, it’s true: for me, making and recording music, mixing it and sculpting it into some final recorded piece, is important to me, I have spent most of my adult life in the pursuit of spending the maximum amount of time doing exactly that. So it must give meaning to my life. But music itself, is it even necessary? People are killing other people for some reason or another, surely the fact that violence is happening at all is more important than making something that will be enjoyed ephemerally by few people, and isn’t even an absolutely necessary thing for them. There’s already a plethora of digital files available to everybody to excite their cochleas and get some sympathetic vibrations going in the nervous system.

Let’s look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, (as disabused as the idea may be) and we can see that it’s unlikely that art or music—both the creating of and the enjoyment of—are gonna be way in that top bit of self-actualization or self-transcendence, so they’re not gonna be so necessary if we’re not taken care of, safe, loved, respected and self-respecting people. In other words, music is superfluous. And it’s just sounds, anyway, right? What are you even saying when you play music? What are you even hearing? Surely you could live without it.

Now, I can hear many people, including some aspects of myself, saying: No! Life without music is unbearable, it’s important for the mind and the soul and without it life would not be worth living.

Well, ok, but tell that to the people down on the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid, those struggling to survive at all, or struggling to be safe in a war zone. Even moving up in this hierarchy, people in relatively safe societies disenfranchised from their fellow humans by a lack of love or bonding or an entire lack of respect by some group within that society…and even in our relatively safe societies, these things are falling apart. People are less safe, there is more blatant racism, sexism, etc. What’s the purpose of that?

Some percentage of people in the USA seem to be in favor of their current president and his entire cabinet of corporate fascists. And their actions are causing more and more problems for more and more people, and yet, still, they continue and there still exist people who want them to continue. Why? What are they seeing as the end game? What is the racist’s end game, for example—a world where there’s only one skin color? How is that possibly a good thing? And how is causing pain and/or killing people a good thing, at all, ever? (also, if you just wait a few hundred years, to take the “Superfluity” long-view, maybe all the human races might get genetically blended together anyway. I don’t even get the “white” thing to begin with, white skin seems like a such a genetic dead end!)

I mean‚ I can sort of see the corporate fascist’s end game, but it’s usually just greedily gaining as much as they can before they die, fuck everybody else. In fact that seems to be the root motivation for most libertarianism or republicanism to begin with, personal greed. It seems idiotically obvious that most of the US/Russia/Middle East politics and war is just about making money on oil or natural gas. It’s hard to believe that anybody thinks that is a good thing. So why don’t we fix it? I guess we love our oil, need to drive them cars. Because deep down when you try to back it up with religion or creed, the entire rationale falls apart.

The search for meaning in making music must be even worse for some people.

If you have time, read this article from Feb 2016 by RFK Jr. And this article on why some points he made might be wrong (although it doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things, RFK Jr still mostly right.) Why is it that I, a musician, would want to know about oil politics? Is it just because I live in the same physical world as this and would prefer to survive, right there at the bottom of the needs-pyramid? Have you read “This Changes Everything”, Naomi Klein’s book on the extraction-based corporate world and its impact on our globe, our species, our lives? Are we in fact doomed now by these idiots who seem to be attempting to die with the most toys, all the while making it more and more uncomfortable and dangerous for the rest of us? How is this good for anybody…unless human people are simply in the way of the planet doing something else. Maybe we will realize our entirely superfluous nature and go extinct leaving the way wide open for a race of intelligent dragonflies hundreds of millions of years down the road. Or not. Maybe just rocks and water.

Meanwhile, we destroy our garden and turn it into an empty yard, as I sing in “Cat & Mouse”. If that’s not what you wanted, then—what? Oh did you want something else? Because there are old rich white guys out there who seem to not give a shit so long as they can get some more dollars. Let’s make sure that Europe’s heating gas is being sold by x. Or y. But we need to make sure those sources stay in our wheelhouse, and somebody is gassing civilians, let’s break something with missiles (so that the missile maker makes us some money, at least) and the next day some distraught person sees no other alternative but to kill innocent people with a truck or something. Because all of this is totally necessary, right?

People are dead. How is that good? Stockholm responded by having a “Love manifestation” where thousands of people gathered this weekend to proclaim that love was more powerful than hate. Which is great. And they believe it, which is also great. Though, cynically, I could say that they can afford to. Most of the needs of a person are indeed taken care of here. That’s good! That’s why people wanted to make a society like this in the first place. The only thing that fucks it up is when people think they should be making more money and they try to privatize something like medical treatment or the post office (both of which have been severely screwed up by several years of “moderate” government—why would you ever want things that serve the citizenry to be obligated to be profitable? That makes no sense at all, the “customer,” i.e., citizen, is then devalued in order to raise the bottom line. That defeats the purpose of having a health service, or a postal service, or whatever, to begin with.)


Like I said, I’m not here to talk about news analysis, am I? I’m here to talk about music. Yet music is overflow, superfluity, from simply being alive. Just like being alive at all is just a slight overflow of chemicals and electricity in the physical world. It doesn’t really matter. The entire physical universe would exist just fine without either. So if you’re going to overflow, my humble opinion is that it’s gonna be better to do so with something beneficial to the people around you rather than detrimental. I’m just hoping that music is indeed still beneficial. I worry about that due to the fact that it seems like fewer people care at all about music, many can’t even be bothered these days. Many of my friends seem to listen to podcasts nowadays instead of spending those precious minutes listening to music. (It’s as if they really just would rather watch TV, but their eyes are involved in something else. How can that be good?)

…nevertheless, she persisted, as we say to ourselves these days.

Can music even say anything to people? My friend Steed Cowart, a composer whom I met when he was the only grad student in the music department at UCSC back in the early 1980s, just posted a quote from Stravinsky on FB: “For I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc. Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence. If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality. It is simply an additional attribute which, by tacit and inveterate agreement, we have lent it, thrust upon it, as a label, a convention – in short, an aspect which, unconsciously or by force of habit, we have come to confuse with its essential being.” From ‘Igor Stravinsky (1936). An Autobiography, p. 53-54.’  I think what he’s actually saying is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” in so many words. Music may or may not be a language, either way it has no inherent semantics, there is no signified in a note. Nothing specific is conveyed by some arrangement of sounds. And as John Cage composed to prove, and as Pauline Oliveros lived, sound becomes music in the listening.

I’ve always been fascinated by “political music,” especially where it’s not obvious by means of lyric. How can that work? While making “Superfluity,” one of the things I got back into was late 1960s Jefferson Airplane—Baxter’s, Volunteers, Crown. Very political lyrics, very cynical as well, must have been a bad trip for some listeners. I remember being a child and listening to my mom’s copy of “Crown of Creation” and being scared of Grace Slick’s voice. But the things they said/sung were extremely incendiary in many instances, especially on Volunteers. No rock band is saying anything like that now, are they? I’m certainly not at that level of anarchism these days, even when I feel like I’ve been going for that same sound with the dual male-female vocal thing that existed here, through John and Exene in X, (and then all through Game Theory and later Loud Family, to the New Pornographers, …who are saying what, exactly?) But in the case of JA, even they themselves became disillusioned during the 1970s and the rise of the Me Generation paving its way toward libertarianism and neo-liberalism, and they just went for it themselves by the 1980s.

When I was at Mills College (2001-03) I started making a documentary film about political avant-garde music, from Cornelius Cardew, who abandoned art music for communist anthems when he thought that the entire milieu of western art music was bourgeoise and would not help ‘the people’ (as essentially Ruth Crawford Seeger had done 40 years earlier,) to groups like AMM (acronym for nothing, actually) and MEV (Musica Electronica Viva), both began in the 1960s trying to break their music free of the clutches of the universities and class systems that held “classical” music. AMM tried to improvise with no stylistic ties, to break out of genre. MEV had free-form happenings that broke the proscenium that separated performer from audience. These groups contained musicians and composers who were ostensibly trying to better the world, to bring awareness to the problems they were addressing in order to make things better for all classes and divisions of people. By making sounds.

I interviewed many people, including Fredrick Rzewski, the composer and pianist. We met in Brussels and talked, and he invited us over to the studio where he was recording a Cardew piece called “We Sing For the Future” (that I had never heard of because it was written toward the end of his life when he was supposedly not composing such music. Rzewski queried me on it, as a test I think—he probably would have gotten rid of us if I had said, “oh yeah, I know that one!”) Anyway, in the course of the conversation, I asked him how he could possibly believe that creating music based on political ideas would change anything, let alone anyone’s mind and he answered: “It’s like magic, if you believe it, it seems to work.” Soon thereafter I abandoned the entire project. He was right. I’m not much of a believer, in the end. For me, the entire idea of “soul” is firmly the same as “self” and “mind” and exists simply due to being alive. Oh, it’s amazing all right, but it’s not holy. Even that soul that cannot thrive without music.

So what am I trying to say, what’s the big idea? Superfluity, the album, has a path that it takes, from the framing songs—Equilibrium parts 1 and 2, ensconced in the physical world from which we living things are just overflow—through the human-condition psych-folk songs of “Mouse” and “Cat & Mouse,” the political in “Imply it, Deny It,” and to the frustration of just wanting to go back to bed until people can get their shit together in “Sleep for a Hundred Years” with its quotes and references to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Dorothy Parker, the Clash, and how did that make a difference anyway? Then it takes off, trying to illustrate (oh, right, music cannot actually express anything, right…) the view from a great distance in time with the gigantic instrumental sections of “Silent Notes,” “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers” and the collage “Phenomenon and On”. When we get back we have the beauty of “The Luxury of Living” and its by-products, “Strawberry Sun” and explanations of that luxury in “Superfluity”—what difference does it make? The cat is a living thing, aren’t you amazed!? And on out with “The Luxury of Dying,” good that we’re impermanent, actually, to where it all leads with “No Backup Plan,” a sort of Doctor Who-type take on stumbling your way through [eternal] life, the universe and everything, until it’s all on its way out. “The Dying Stars” is instrumental, and “Equilibrium Part 2” bookends it. So there you have it. Get it?


“Wow, I’m really expressing myself!” Bonzo Dog Band, also heavily referenced in “Phenomenon and On”

Simply being alive in the world at large caused me to make this collection of sounds, vibrations in the air that tickle your eardrum into producing nerve responses in the cilia in your cochlea, some overflow byproduct of existing. Big deal. Elsewhere somebody is still wanting to take something from someone else, or is hurting or killing them.


even worse than plain Isis.

In the end, I’m proud of the thing I made. I think it’s good, I thought it was the best way for me to do something good in the world, that maybe listening to this might help somebody to make good decisions regarding what they themselves do in this world. That’s all I can do. And it doesn’t really matter at all, in the long run. In the short run, maybe you can listen to it and decide for yourself.


here’s some reviews of these recent albums from this week:

Sista Maj on on DPRP, the Dutch Progressive Rock Page

Superfluity on Thee Psychedelicatessen

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Posted in Music, Philosophy, recording

photo by Ian Weintraub

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