The next weekend’s gig was an opening slot for The Dead Pollys, and then I would sit in with them as well. They are a punk band. Straight up, though a bit celtic-influenced. The singer, Niclas, or Nizze, is a big bald headed dude with a leather jacket, and could potentially be assumed to be dangerous or scary or both, if you didn’t actually talk to him, or perhaps see him with his family. And when he’s singing, he’s all energy, all that hugeness is also inside him, and he sings it out. The reason he’s a punk rocker is that he’s got a lot to say about inequality and fascism and shit, and it’s gotta be loud and strong. When I went with him on the train to Nynäshamn to record at the bassist, Juba’s, place, I got a good sense of him being one of the actually good people around, though he looks sort of mean in the picture I drew of him.
I thought that for an opening slot, again all by myself, I would just borrow his guitar and play some of my older songs from my Jack & Jill albums of the mid-90s, maybe a couple newer ones. But I assumed it would be a punk audience, and I have no idea how they would like a solo long-haired singer.
The venue was Brother Tuck’s, I guess yet another Irish-style bar with a cavern below it, this time on Götgatan in Södermalm. I knew where it was, right across from Skanstull station, but I had never been there. Walking in, I could see it was a football bar, tons of people were wearing green and white clothes because of some football game. The cellar with the bands was all cement downstairs, typical crap sounding place. I soundchecked with the band, basically just plugging the violin directly into an amp and dialing back a bit of treble, no pedals. Sounded great with the distorted guitar, and I had rehearsed with them so I knew four or five songs.
I checked Nizze’s guitar to make sure I could play it, and as I thought, it was a little tough. He played a Telecaster with thick strings, high action. He’s a strong guy, me, not as much. But I could do it, I think. If I remembered the words to the songs.
We ate upstairs, and I saw more punkers showing up, I asked Nizze about the band name, because when I had been thinking about it earlier, I veered away from the obvious and got caught up in a dark corner of the world, and thought about Polly Klaas, a young girl who was abducted and killed in Petaluma 20 years ago. She had actually been Chris Pedersen’s kids’ babysitter, and that was perhaps the final trigger that sent his family away from the US and to Australia. Then later, in 2007, I had been working with the Theatre of Yugen doing a cycle of Noh plays and one was about Polly (the demon play, I believe). But Nizze assured me that it was a Monty Python reference, of course. (And The Plastic Pals band name is from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know. Some predilection for British humor over here!)
After dinner I went for a walk in the area and saw some nice murals on the sides of work scaffolding, and then saw Marty Willson-Piper inside Pet Sounds Records. I went over and he unlocked the door, he was closing up shop, apparently having taken over from the owner who was finally taking some time off after decades. Marty is always fun to talk to, he is obviously way into music and writes a blog about listening to records, mostly (or possibly always) from his own record collection. I told him I was sitting in with a punk band this evening and he said, “Refused?” I said, no, that would be awesome though, but he said that they were in fact playing a secret show that evening. Dang! He said he was going to go to San Francisco to play Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in the fall, and wanted to know if I knew where he could get some more gigs with that as an achor, so I got his email address and later tried to hook him up with the booking agent that books Camper and Cracker, I think something may have worked out. Hope so!
When I got back to Brother Tuck, I could see that there were all sorts of football hooligans and punks there now. All sorts of punks, meaning skinheads also, wearing flight jackets and shit. I know there are anti-fascist skinheads and two-tone skinheads and stuff, but it still freaks me out. We’re in Stockholm. Not as bad as in some other parts of Sweden, but there are fascists and ultra-rightist racists, they even have Nazi-type demonstrations. When I went to the bathroom to pee, I realized suddenly that the skinhead peeing next to me might see that I appear circumcised and think I’m Jewish (as opposed to simply being American. It’s a long story.) That is fucking weird, I had never once in my life considered the fact that somebody might see my dick and hate me. I mean, because of the way it looked. I felt rattled by this, and had to talk myself down a bit before getting ready to play. I had a set of song-type songs, again, mostly from Jack & Jill’s “Chill and Shrill” or “Fancy Birdhouse,” Pushing the Norton, Another Beer, I’m an Idiot, I’ve Seen a Goat, and then threw in a rousing “Hey You” at the end, just to see if they’d come with me. Some people did, though most of the punk audience was still upstairs watching the football.
The rest of the evening was some hella punk, though again I had some moments when I couldn’t tell which way the pendulum was swinging, politically. Lots of songs about marching boots, oy oy oy, but I believe they were anti-fascist. And “Olof Palme’s dead” which may have been pretty punk to say in 1980, but politically it’s a bummer and has been ever since he got shot on the street. This show featured a band called Sighsten’s Grannar, which means Sighsten’s Neighbors (someone is going to have to explain who this is, I was never sure what the implication was,) who were a defunct band coming back to make one last show, so they had the big audience. The band after me was D.B.T.S., which was supposed to sound like “diabetes,” then Sighsten’s Grannar, Dead Pollys up after them, so I saw a lot of punk rock. They rocked it, most people stuck around. I played the shit out of the violin on a few songs, it was a total hoot to play heavy loud punk rock. Nizze is a really forceful singer.
So now I’d spent the previous weeks with all sorts of music, jazz and rock and classical, prog and punk and improv. During the following week, the guy whom Nathan had originally suggested as a bassist, Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells, was in town and had a studio he usually worked at called Gyroscope Studios, run by a guy named Frank Sanderson who was a drummer, so we arranged to meet there. I took my guitar and violin, then when changing to the bus at Liljeholmen, there was a dude in a tweed cap with an instrument, and in fact it was Jair-Rôhm, so we rode together and he told me that he was an American who had lived in Stockholm for about 15 years, and then moved to Bangkok four years back and come back to Scandinavia to work on cruise ships and such. However, his background was heavy, lots of playing bass on everything from LA sessions to an awful lot of free improv. He was carrying a portable electric upright bass and a pedal.
He showed me the way to the studio, and we met Frank, who was yet another American who had been living here for years, and was a voice-actor for his day job. The studio was an apartment of several rooms, the first of which we entered was the control room with the mixing desk and computer and a bunch of other random Soviet Russian-made synths and outboard gear. In another little room were guitars and amps, and through there was the drum room, where he had his giant drumset set up and mic’ed in a permanent way. Pretty cool setup! He said that we’d essentially be able to play and listen in the control room to the whole stereo mix, so Jair-Rôhm and I set up on the floor there. I had brought my little pedalboard, but for some reason it was having a high pitched noise issue (power supply thing, I think, trying to power the pedals through the Boss tuner. No wonder everybody here uses those power bricks with isolated 9v outputs. Never had that problem in the states, even though the power supply wall warts all say they’re good from 100-240v.) In the end I gave up on my stuff because Frank had a big pedal board he had built with a bunch of Electro-Harmonix devices! Yum!
Jair-Rôhm had one pedal. He was pragmatic, it was a Zoom multi-effects device and looper, and his bass sounded like something between and upright with a pickup and an electric bass. We tested sound levels and I tested out some of the amps and eventually we were ready to play, so Frank started up the recording on the computer and off we went.
Immediately I could see that this was going to be great. For one thing, I had all these great effects pedals to play with that I didn’t really know how to use (yet), but for another thing, these guy were masters of their instruments, which meant that it didn’t matter if I even played anything and it would still be great. In fact my only job was not to fuck it up! I was in pretty good playing shape from all the recording sand listening I’d been doing, so it all seemed smooth. After a little bit of build up, Frank jumped right in with a groove, and Jair Rohm went in super rhythm, I found some good tones and we were off. At any given point there may have been two of us inside and one outside the groove, Frank or Jair Rohm changing things up as needed, I rarely took any rhythmic control and was happy to fly melodically around Jair Rohm’s harmonic space, on guitar for a while then violin.
An hour and a quarter or so later, we came to a stop. I guess that’s the piece? Nice! Time for lunch! We went out and walked a bit up the road to a cafe near Telefonplan, had a relaxed lunch and came back and played just another half hour more and decided we were done. This was some fun music. Frank’s “group” was called The Momentary Music Ensemble, so this was who this would be attributed to, though he also said he was going to take out bits and pieces to play with for other projects (one of which is this track, Dance Medicinale). I got a rough mix of the whole piece we did, now called “Bad News Spiderman,” and though I read that with a comma, Frank never put one there. (That is, somebody saying to Spiderman, “[Looks like] bad news, Spiderman,” not that he’s a ‘bad news spiderman.’) He claims it’s out soon… I can’t wait! I will definitely keep you informed…
It’s up on Soundcloud now:
The next gig I had was playing again with Håkan from the Plastic Pals, but this time as an acoustic duo opening for Chuck Prophet at Nalen. Nalen is on of those halls that’s been a popular place for a hundred years, the site of many great jazz performances in Sweden back when the great players all came here, and were actually appreciated.
With all of this musical activity I felt ready to tackle the listening part again, so I spent a lot of the next month working in my home studio, sorting out my recordings and diving back into mixing the Øresund Space Collective recordings from the previous fall. The ØSC recordings comprised several hours of music, but by this point Scott Heller, Dr Space, had decided which tracks would be going on the release scheduled for the fall. The working title was “From Many Lands,” to somewhat relate the disparate origins of the players, though as we worked more on the release, and especially with the artwork from Mørden Smed, the title became “Different Creatures.” Two CDs, 3 LPs, including two pieces that had sitar, one that was more Hawkwind-like, one more MAN-like, two outside electronica and one 45-minute epic space jam. So I worked exclusively on mixing these tracks, going back and forth with Scott and Hasse (Hans Horrigmoe, the bassist on these sessions and long time member of Tangle Edge, a Norwegian band.) There’s a lot of information about this process here on Malcolm Humes interview here on Perfect Sound Forever.
The mixing went on most of the summer, as I moved my home studio out to the country and began working on overdubs for my recordings, and writing them into songs, writing lyrics.
At the end of the month of May, I finally did get together with Mikael Tuominen (who was the person who was supposed to play bass at Eastman Studios to begin with, remember?) and Andreas, and we played and recorded it. The day was the last day of May, so we ended up calling the ensemble Sista Maj, which I think is a dark joke as it is colloquial for “the last day of May” but could also potentially mean “the last May” ever. You can listen to some of this here on Soundcloud, so long as Soundcloud lasts.
The Momentary Music Ensemble, in an entirely different incarnation, played at Fylkingen in early June, this time with electric sitar and trumpet and saxophone, we were all arranged around the space!
So. The purpose of all of this writing and all of this playing and all of this listening is and all of this audio sculpting in mixing is… superfluity. The album I am working on now, completely superfluous, complete overflow, is superfluity. I did most of the organization during summer, I had no gigs until heading to California to play again with Camper Van Beethoven in August. In the process of arranging and editing the recordings I had, I wrote lyrics and played guitars, violin, whatever. I sang some. It’s a big project, it’s two hours long, about. Two CDs, if it ever is made into physical objects. One of the pieces is a 23-minute piece of electronic music called “Phenomenon and On,” a tape collage and whatnot, everything I know about music all thrown into the kitchen sink. It’s right in the middle (which would be the end of the first CD, so you could easily skip it.) There are songs that are rock songs, there are songs that are more complicated. There are some instrumentals that are improvised, some that are composed.
I started a subscription series on my Bandcamp page, you can subscribe and get this album when it’s done…And these subscribers are also getting the outtakes as time goes on. Yes, even as long as my planned concept album is, there are outtakes!
I will write more about it all as we approach its release.