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

On guitars, yet again (…for guitar nerds only!)

A couple weeks ago I did an interview about my recent albums “Superfluity” and the Sista Maj “Series of Nested Universes” for a Japanese blog called StarTrip. One of the questions was about equipment I used (the guy is a guitar player) and you know how I love my gear.

So I thought I should update the blog entries on guitars, The Stratocaster (part 2) and Les Paul! Les Paul! specifically, with a mention of the bass guitar as well. You know. Just because there needs to be more on the internet about old guitars and shit. By old rock musicians.

So my main guitars nowadays are the black ’62 Strat and its Strat cohorts and the Les Paul(s). I was trying to explain to my still-patient wife last night about the different ways these guitars feel to play. The ’62 is very interesting, it’s like a vintage guitar made modern (simply by means of making it playable, really) and not in the fake Custom Shop way*. The body and neck are both very old, the finish is coming off (the black [re]finish is super thin, and it’s a July ’62 neck that is unfortunately not slab Brazilian rosewood, but a laminated rosewood fretboard on top of the maple. I prefer the thicker flat-bottomed slab-board fingerboard. Too bad for me, I know. Fender only made slabboard Stratocasters from spring of 1959 to mid-1962) …but the metal is mostly new. And the fretboard is now a little flatter than the normal 7.25″ radius, heading toward the 9.5″ of the newer Strats, plus it’s got new frets, 6105 size, neck work courtesy of Geoff Lutrell at SF Guitarworks several years ago to make a twisty neck playable. Also, it has the DeTemple titanium bridge and tremolo block, so it feels super solid and very modern to play but with that old dried wood feel and weight. Kind of the perfect mix of these things. The pickups are the old ’62 pickups, now all rewound, (neck done twice now, (dammit)—recently by Lundgren here in Sweden.) I moved the Lollars to the ’62 AVRI. This one (the real ’62. I guess they need names) has some weird addenda also, some dude made these weird cast heavy metal parts that I saw somewhere, so it has skulls around the jack, and it has a 1980 “The Strat” brass knob for the volume knob (and the brass tremolo bar tip.) Just because. And I drew on it. I mean, my daughter drew on the 50s Strat, so…


the best one.

I record a lot with this guitar, on a bunch of Superfluity, (“The Dying Stars” is a good jam with it, for example) and Sista Maj (“A Very Heavy Feather” for example) and on a bunch of Øresund Space Collective starting with Different Creatures. I even brought it on tour with them last May in Europe. I figure if nobody knows it’s an old guitar, nobody will care and try to steal it. It’s all drawn on and shit, obviously not all-original parts!

IMG_7443The ’54/56 Stratocaster, on the other hand, has accompanied me on several solo shows. I like to play it if I play solo instead of an acoustic guitar. It’s so incredibly resonant, and the neck is pretty thick, it’s a lot like an acoustic guitar! Um, well, with a solid maple neck. The 50s pickups are very special, though, each very different from the others (even with the middle pickup repaired by Jason Lollar.) They have very distinct tonal characteristics, like each is the epitome of Stratocaster “neck position,” “middle pickup” and “bridge pickup” sounds. Quite intense. It’s such a pleasure to play, again with the old super resonant wood, but new frets (courtesy of Dan Erlewine in this case, who fixed the truss rod as told in the earlier Stratocaster blog post.) It has its old bridge on it which is not *quite* as stable (tuning wise) as the Callaham it had in that last episode, but is more “stock”.  I end up playing this guitar at home the most, noodling around on it the most. It just feels so good to play. Oddly I don’t record with it as often as the other one. It has its place in recordings, definitely, but usually for when I need a clean and direct sound without effects, just amp and guitar (that old Princeton Reverb, of course.)

Neither of these guitars have their original potentiometers. Which is too bad, I guess? I mean, I sure do see old pots on ebay a bunch for hundreds of dollars. These have decent post regardless, fairly new Mojotone or some CTS variety. I had some old 1962-dated 250kOhm pots for the ’62 but the knurl on the shaft wasn’t long enough (or something) to hold the knobs steady enough, so I abandoned that idea. Both guitars do have the old 3-way switches still, so does the ’72. I usually store the Grolsch bottle-cap washer/straplock on the switch when the guitar is in the case, when I got the ’62 refretted, Geoff Luttrell said, “Hey, is this to keep it in position 2 or 4? Cuz we can put in a 5-way, you know!” No thanks, I’m happy with the three-position switches. I don’t use the out-of-phase much anymore. (Also, that’s a straplock, you doofus.) I also like the standard wiring: volume pot, tone pot for neck pickup, tone pot for middle pickup. No blending, no weird neck-and-bridge pickup parallel or whatever. Come on people, if you can’t find enough different sounds with three pickups, two of which have tone roll-off, something’s not coming together for your sound to begin with. Also, no treble-bleed cap, I like the fact that the tone changes as you roll off the volume. Get off my lawn.

906785_10151855628199335_1627451415_oThe 50s Strat still has the newer anodized metal pickguard. I had a couple old broken 50s pickguards that I fixed up with bits of newer ones in the broken places, and I had one that was matte-backed like the oldest polystyrene ones (honestly I don’t know it it was or not, it’s impossible to know unless you were there) and I intended to switch the metal one out for it, but then last summer I sold a bunch of parts to Halkan from a shop in downtown Stockholm and I accidentally let that one go in the pile of parts. I’ll never get it back, nor see another, so I guess the guitar’s gonna keep the anodized metal guard.

(I was selling a pile of old pickguards and some metal parts, initially he and his son came over to get one of them, but ended up offering a bunch of money for a great big pile of stuff so I took it. Needed to pay the rent, you know. Neither my wife nor I were working at the time! I also sold a guitar that summer. But I forgot to keep the one plastic pickguard for this guitar.)

I’m still not satisfied with the repro parts that are being made for 50s Strats. The repro polystyrene (so-called “bakelite”) knobs and pickup covers are stupid, every manufacturer makes them rounded like they have been used forever, but oddly too much so, like the pickup covers all got rounded edges on all sides equally? Who plays like that? And still nobody gets the number font right, 0s are always too tall. So I eventually just put on new Stratocaster knobs (“60s style” which essentially look exactly like they looked in 1956, just made of ABS plastic now.) I have no idea where nor when the switch tip and tremolo bar tip on this guitar came from, they are hard white plastic like polystyrene, but again, if you don’t have a provenance trail, it’s impossible to be certain. More likely 70s reissue plastic, same polystyrene as the 60s model cars. I bought a Fender *official* Pure Vintage 1954 reissue set of plastic parts, made for some anniversary 1954 reissue, but I don’t like them either. Regardless, you gotta love the fact that Fender guitars are essentially modular!

But, you know… if I wanted to make these guitars accurate with correct period parts, it would cost a fortune. As they are, these guitars aren’t worth much in the collector market. Which is fine by me! With all the refinishing and alteration and repairs and replaced parts they are probably worth maybe a quarter of the price of the examples at GBase or Reverb or wherever (these links are sorted highest price first, btw.) A period correct bridge with saddles for the ’62 would be $750-1200. Replacing the plastic parts of the 50s Strat with actual 50s polystyrene (“Bakelite” as they still refer to it) would be literally many thousands of dollars—you see knobs for $1000 apiece! And over the course of the past 5 years, there are way more fake parts on eBay…well, either that or the sellers just lack knowledge. I see some people advertising “Bakelite” Stratocaster knobs for $650 or so but they are not even spoked on the backside, so not the real thing at all. And the “bakelite” pickup covers are all cracked and broken and still $3000 a set. I don’t think a 1954 polystyrene pickguard survives that isn’t super warped or broken.

So, fine, then.

Anyway, onto the rest of the guitars. I still scour for parts, just in case. Can’t help it. Ancestral junk dealer DNA. And I did find a good cheap ’66 Stratocaster neck, very used, enormous wide frets, thin nut—it was stamped with the B stamp indicating it was the normal width of 1 5/8″ but it was actually thinner than that. I got a ’65 body that had been repainted Lake Placid Blue, because I love that color, but while it was refinished with the correct paint, they didn’t actually do the white primer undercoat, so it looked a little off, especially if scratched. The ’66 neck went on my ’62 reissue (with the racing stripes and Fralin pickups) for a while, I toured with that one with Camper Van Beethoven for a year or two, then I finally decided to put it together with the blue body, fitted it with proper mid-60s ABS plastic parts, the ’62 reissue’s bridge (’62 reissue has a Wudtone bridge, from the UK, a really great design) stuck in some Abigail Ybarra ’69 Custom Shop pickups from 1999 or something, and had a new guitar. For a while. I had a love/hate relationship with this one. Not quite perfect, you know? Lake Placid Blue, but no primer. Neck feels nice and well used, but the frets are super huge, and the neck is a bit too narrow at the nut. Sounds good, a little too crunchy/noisy maybe with those ’69 pickups. So when we needed money last year, this one went. Sold for 40000kr. (probably around $4500 at the time.) The previous summer I sold a ’77 Strat that was “natural,” i.e. just wood colored and clear finish, maple neck. It was OK, pretty but not great. Fender started doing maple necks again in the early 70s, but they’re sort of sharp on the edges of the fretboard, and they had switched to polyurethane finish for necks and bodies, so it’s just not as nice, it separates the player from the wood more, feels more plastic. I only got about 10000kr for that guitar (it had been routed for humbuckers at one time.)

The ’62 reissue’s neck was on Victor’s 1984 ’57 reissue. So I got a 2012 AVRI ’59 reissue neck, but it felt too thick (I never understand Fender’s making of reissues. 1959 Stratocasters usually had very thin necks, 62/63 got much thicker, but the ’62 reissue neck is thin and the ’59 reissue was thick.) So I made Victor trade me necks last fall. (I mean, I traded my Strat neck for my Strat neck. What?) I played his ’57 reissue with the ’62 reissue neck at Camp-Out before taking them all apart and swapping necks.




( late Aug 2016 set at Camp-Out, using Victor’s ’57 AVRI with the ’62 neck on it!)

So the 2004 Fender AVRI 1962 guitar is back together, neck and body, now with the Lollar blackface pickups instead of the Fralins and with a Wudtone bridge. And a tortoiseshell pickguard. Tour guitar. Frets are too small, they sort of tried for the vintage-style small and flat frets. And living in Sweden, which is super dry in the winter, has made all the guitars have problems, not the least of which is the fretboards drying and sharp fret ends sticking out a bit, enough to feel like they’re cutting your hand if you slide around. So I’ve bought a Stew-Mac fret end file and slowly I’ve been trying to file the ends into comfortability.


’62 AVRI back together.


LPB ’66/65. Sold.

And the 1972 Strat? Still all stock, still good. Oddly, as it was the replacement and most similar guitar to the 1971 Strat that was stolen in 2004, it gets the least use now. I found an actual 1970s tortoiseshell guard for it (to match my ’72 Precision Bass) but after a couple months decided that it wasn’t right, so it’s all back to stock now. Selling that 70s tortoiseshell guard was the beginning of the sale of parts to Halkan, actually. He got some nice stuff in that deal, besides the 50s guards, there was the ’63/64 celluloid Strat pickguard (which I had on the LPB guitar for a bit, but thought it needed a real ABS plastic white 1965 guard to offset the blue, but from the celluloid one, in the process of slightly sanding the pickup holes from their shrinking in order to fit pickup covers in, I found out the truth of the Vicks’ VaporRub thing: sanding a real celluloid pickguard does give off a strong menthol smell. Weird!) Also several old metal parts, screws, tuners, one working 1965 pickup. But you know, we needed the money. I realized my mistake of including the 50s Strat’s pickguard only later and tried to get it back, but no way, he wouldn’t do it. I blame my bad Swedish. Or something.


nice, but… I dunno. anyway, that pickguard is long gone now.

Greg Lisher from CVB got a new Stratocaster in 2014 and it’s pretty darn good, though he has a humbucker in the bridge position (and I think he’s swapped the pickups out already. I sure did after I got my 2004 ’62 reissue from Fender, and the ’99 Inca Silver Strat which is now David Lowery’s.) I haven’t tried the Texas Specials or Fat 50s or whatever are in the new Strats, but a lot of stock pickups from Fender from the previous 2 decades sucked. The newer American Standards (2008-2015) have good features, better bridge and pickups supposedly, decent finishes, 22-fret neck at a 9.5″ radius. I’m looking into one of these for a touring guitar now, especially as now they’ve dropped that model in favor of some Elite and Professional series now… (update: found a good used 2011 one, it’s white. And I have a set of Fralins. [rubs hands together with an evil laugh])


Greg Lisher at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, photo by Lisa D Walker-Roseman

That’s Strats.


’73 Les Paul. an old pic (when we lived in Oakland)

The Les Paul is majorly in use in recording, it’s on the ØSC “Different Creatures” album, and all over Superfluity (and Shine Out…Check “Turtles All the Way Down” for Les Paul—even though obvious Hendrix—and “Nice Tree Ice” for the black Strat.). This guitar is just cool, 1973 Standard with full sized humbuckers. Makes me feel like Jimmy Page**. All stock except I replaced the bridge and tailpiece with a locking set from Faber (I have the parts they replaced, but I think they had been changed out before I got the guitar.) The frets are low, eventually it will need new frets but I can’t bear to do it yet. Instead, I sometimes bring “The Paul” in its place, as I did on the Sista Maj recording and on the most recent ØSC recording session (of which nothing is out yet, just finished mixing all of that stuff!). “The Paul” is very non-stock now, Seymour Duncan pickups, a brass-saddled Tone-Pros bridge and a Deusenburg “Les Trem” tremolo stop piece. The Les Trem is good, actually—I tried a Bigsby on this guitar but it never worked right due to the placement of the pickup switch. I had to drill an extra hole to move the switch out of the way of the Bigsby/Vibramate footprint, eventually I gave up and took it off and put on this trem system and moved the switch back. Works well now. Strong guitar, with all that walnut and the ebony fretboard.


Also used on the Superfluity album was the late 90s Danelectro DC-3 that I rigged a Gotoh sitar bridge onto. It’s sort of like the Jerry Jones or old Coral electric sitar now, almost in tune enough to record with. It was a cheap guitar to begin with, now more useful as a sitar.


Dano with sitar bridge

Of course I also use my Rickenbackers, the 450-12 is on many tracks on Superfluity, (as per usual, can’t make a record without it!) and the 481 is actually on “Sleep for a Hundred Years” for the ” I wish I could sleep…” parts. The basses on this album are either the ’72 Precision or the ‘fretless’ Musicmaster, although when I recorded basics with Mattias Olsson, I played his Hagström baritone guitar on the track “Superfluity” and some old thumpy 60s bass on “Imply It, Deny It.” I love that 60s thud bass. Need to get me one of those, like a Hohner or something. Hagström, more likely, over here.

Recording “Strawberry Sun” on baritone

In addition to all of this, I got a lap steel a few years back, some later-50s Fender Champ lap steel (exact year unknown as of yet, haven’t checked the potentiometer date) and have been playing it a bunch, it’s on many tracks on Superfluity and “Series of Nested Universes,” as well as the upcoming Øresund Space Collective music!


Recording setup for Øresund Space Collective Nov 2016 at Black Tornado Studio in Copenhagen. Clockwise, from bottom left: pedals, Moog Theremin, Farfisa (studio’s), violin, ’62 Stratocaster, Princeton Reverb, The Paul, Fender Champ lap steel, more pedals.

So, there you go, more trivial information for your vintage guitar curiosity. Write that shit up, Vintage Guitar magazine.

Wait, not done yet, here’s the geekiest part. All the measurements of the different necks and pickups, so you can see how consistent Fender has been over the years.


I totally forgot to write about the Gretsch. 1964 Double Anniversary, so I guess from the dates on the pots, because the serial number sticker inside is burned! I got it about 20 years ago from a guy who rented instruments to studios in LA, who knows, perhaps it was stolen at one point and they thought burning the serial number would keep them safe (from the karma of stealing instruments?) It has Filter’trons instead of Hi-Lo’trons like it *should*, and I put a Gretsch-branded 60s Bigsby on it. It’s quite incredible, from jazzy to rockabilly, the pickups have a twang and a crisp crunch when pushed. I used to use it when I played with Victor and Alison in McCabe and Mrs Miller a decade ago, and have recorded a bunch with it. Guitar solo on “Civil Disobedience” for example, from both Edgy Not Antsy and CVB’s New Roman Times. On Superfluity, it’s the main guitar on “Mouse” and (with the Ric 12-string) “The Luxury of Living” and “The Luxury of Dying”, it had flatwound strings on it at the time.

jes gretsch

photo by Kevin Graft 2004 from a CVB show, I believe.

*Sorry, Fender, I’ve just never felt a Custom Shop guitar whose wood felt right, nor was the right size or weight. Though I have played vintage guitars that felt like they were recent Custom Shop reissues… at guitar shows… hmmm. And Victor had a Nash Stratocaster that was supposedly a ’63 reissue and everybody seems to love Nash Guitars. Well, I hated it, it felt super fake and way too thick to me. So whatever, my opinion.

**just like Page. Like, all strung out and drunk trying to flub your way through the intro to Stairway. (kidding.)

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Guitar, Music, recording

Very Brief Tour Diary, Winter 2016-17

From Dec 27, 2016 to Jan 21, 2017, I was on tour with Camper Van Beethoven (playing with Cracker, as per usual) in the United States. Overall, this was an amazing tour, not just from the point of view of being successful (in that we filled every venue) but we played really well. Better and better over the course of the tour, in fact. And there was not one bad show. That’s gotta be a record of some sort.

One reason this tour diary is so brief is that very little happened apart from driving, flying, or playing, or trying to sleep. It was pretty packed in.

While I flew in from Stockholm—a direct flight to Oakland—to our first show in San Francisco, Chris Pedersen (Camper drummer) flew from Sydney, Australia with his family to Southern California a couple days prior, so our jet lags met in the middle. After a Thai Noodle dinner and a decent night’s sleep, got up the next day to meet some people (it’s sort of difficult being in the Bay Area for 24 hours when most of the people I know live there) so I had coffee with Rebecca Seeman who is actually occasionally in Stockholm because she’s working on a film about Izzy Young and the Folk Music Center, which he moved from New York to Stockholm in the late 70s.


Kelly Atkins and I

Then I met Kelly Atkins for lunch, which was sort of incredible because it was the first time we actually got to hang out and talk after we had been working together for a year on my “Superfluity” album (which is out this month) remotely, all by internet. She sings with 20 Minute Loop and also Kitka, she sang a great deal on my upcoming album. Then off to San Francisco and the show.


I felt fine, jet-lag-wise, for that first show at the Independent, but the next day, as David Immergluck joined us in Santa Barbara for the SoCal shows I had some serious jet-laggy time-and-place confusion as I stood on stage watching Immy play the mandolin. 9pm West Coast time is 6am Sweden time. Then a daytime drive in sunny SoCal from SB to SD, which took at least six hours.


Bam! Bam! …starting to look a bit ragged already

Our usual San Diego club is the Belly Up, but other bands had caught on to this between-Xmas-and-NYE thing and had already booked it so we played a giant box downtown. Heavy bass sound system, as you might imagine. Next day up to LA to play on the Sunset Strip (Whisky-a-Go-Go! I don’t even remember the last time I was there, it must have been when I was living in LA in the late 90s).


After San Diego and Los Angeles we flew up to Portland for New Year’s Eve, then drove to Seattle, after which we had a short break. I stayed in Seattle, visited friends and went ogling guitars at Emerald City and Trading Musician, also bought a down jacket at Mountain Hardware (something I had been needing in Sweden, but also for the upcoming leg in the upper midwest where it was super cold.) The Portland show was spectacular as always, at the Aladdin Theatre, as was the Seattle show at the Crocodile, where Camper’s set ended abruptly less than a minute from the end of our last song (a medley of our old instrumental SP37957, several Led Zeppelin riffs and Hava Nagila) when somebody dancing hit a glass fire alarm and set it off. It was sorted out by the time Cracker played.


Victor, Greg and Chris, rocking the Crocodile Backstage. Rock n Roll Lifestyle!


slightly classier…

Minneapolis at the Fine Line was also a strong show, in spite of extreme cold weather. Then we drove to Chicago and of course stopped at Chicago Music Exchange (I bought a Zvex Box of Rock pedal, something I’d been looking for in Seattle) before heading to the Lincoln Theatre down the street. This was a good show with a strange audience: several drunk people trying to talk to the band members between songs (“what kind of mandolin are you using?” really, dude..?) and otherwise all staring at the lead singer even during guitar solos. I’ve seen that sort of thing before, it usually means that they don’t know the band very well. Especially odd behavior given how intense Victor and Chris, (bass and drums,) were by this point in the tour—they were crushing it.



driving that rental car to Cleveveland.

Next show was Cleveland (“Hello Cleveland” or actually, given the recent jokes about how their sports fans couldn’t even spell the name of the city, “Hello Cleveveland!”) where we played a sort of dinner theatre club next to the ice filled river. A good show where several long-time fans told us they had been waiting ages to see us play. That’s always a kick, people who have 25 or 30 year old albums to sign.

We flew down to Georgia the next day, and then drove to Athens, where we got to actually have a busman’s holiday on our night off: we went to the 40 Watt to see The Minus Five and Alejandro Escovedo. Stunning show, complete with some severe time-displacement feelings when three members of REM were onstage singing “Don’t Go Back to Rockville.”


Minus Five/REM

We got on a tour bus the next day and headed up to North Carolina. On the previous leg of the tour, we stayed in hotels after each show, but on a tour bus, you have a bunk and attempt to sleep while the bus drives late at night and then you wake up in the next town, grungy and smelly. Many decent sized clubs have showers backstage, but not all of them. The theatre in Charlotte was a new place, just setting up for shows, but ready for action though they had yet to fly the speaker stacks above the stage (they were testing them on the ground on the sides first.) It looked like it may have been a seated theatre a long time ago, now internally stripped to the concrete with a sloping floor. It sounded pretty good, regardless, and filled up with an enthusiastic audience.



From here, up to the famous 9:30 Club in Washington DC, a place with a large backstage with shower and even places to lie down. The club has some of the best crew of any place in the states, always professional, and it always sounds great. The only rival it has for great crew is the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, where we played the next night!

From Philly, we bussed to Boston, playing the Middle East in Cambridge, a place we’ve played a thousand times since the 1980s, it always rocks like an old punk rock show. Victor and I left with our friend Richard Gann, an artist we’ve known since we were at UCSC in the early 1980s (his paintings are on my Sista Maj album covers, and on the upcoming Superfluity cover, as well as the old Hieronymus Firebrain albums!) Richard lives in Brooklyn but teaches at RISD, so he and his brother were setting up a house in Providence, where we ended up that evening. The next day we drove to New York for the last show of this leg of the tour, at BB King’s on Times Square. I have to say this isn’t my favorite place to play in NY, but it’s ok, despite having to be there for a 12 noon load-in and then not sound check until after the Harlem Gospel Choir was out off the stage and it was cleared, like 5pm. Victor was flying out the next morning (back to work in SF for a few days) so he had a hotel room, I tagged along for a shower, then tried to walk over to the public library on 5th Ave and 42nd St (as I sung in “I Know You Know Me”) but the front steps were filled by a writers resistance protest against the incoming fascist regime.

The show went smoothly, we hastily loaded out on the sidewalk when the bus came around, and drove all night again, to wake up in Richmond, VA. David still lives there part-time, so he went home to take care of things, we all hung out in a day hotel room, or the bus, waiting to eat at Mamma Zu’s, the best Italian restaurant ever. And It was a sensational meal, fitting end to the moving part of this tour. The next shows were all in Athens, GA, part of our Camp-In Festival (to match the late summer Camp-Out festival in Pioneertown, CA.)

Unfortunately for me, I woke up in Athens the next day to load our gear into the 40 Watt Club feeling pretty shitty, and went immediately back to bed once we got into our hotel. I missed out entirely on a couple free days we had before the music all started up again, curled up in bed freezing and sweating and sleeping. I tried to wake up a few times to eat and managed a pack of ramen and some triscuits, and tried to do a podcast interview with Mark Linsenmeyer for his Nakedly Examined Music podcast, interviews with songwriters about the songs. This was specifically about a few songs on Superfluity, which is supposed to be out Feb 24th.

I was a mess, and I don’t think I could speak coherently, although when I suggested later that we just re-do the podcast, he said, no, it was fine. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

I missed the first day of music at our festival, the acoustic night where the Cracker duo played, Peter Case and Ike Reilly, but I managed to get up the next day and get to the Camper Van Beethoven show at 11pm. I was still pretty wacked out by the cold or flu or whatever, but after a rhythmically rocky start (for me, not anybody else) I think I managed to play the whole set pretty well. It was the only super long set of the tour, a two-page setlist.

The next day was Saturday, Cracker was headlining, but several other shows took place at other venues during the day, including sets by Johnny Hickman and Victor Krummenacher at Hendershots, and I did an improv set at the Flicker Bar with Victor on bass and Ian Werden from The Heap (also playing that evening at the 40 Watt after Cracker) on drums—Chris Pedersen had already left that morning on the long journey back to Australia. I was generally awake and alive by this point, so it went off well. I went to eat with Victor and then over to the Cracker show, stuck around for the Heap (Bryan Howard, bassist in Cracker, fronting this band) and then finally left, stopping in briefly to the Caledonia to see a bit of what turned out to be a local Christian metal band, who sounded like over-the-top 80s hair metal.

Woke up too early the next day to travel home, a van ride to Atlanta, a Delta flight to Miami (where they charged me for my bag being 8 pounds overweight) then I tried to get the local train to Fort Lauderdale airport to catch the Norwegian Air flight home, but it was Sunday and my flight had been late and I missed the last train by 10 minutes, so I just took a cab. Norwegian also charged me for the 3 kilos over, despite the fact that from Europe the limit is 23kg, but from the States apparently only 20kg. Whatever. This flight was delayed by two hours at the gate, then another on the ground, but eventually we left and I got home in time to drop my bags and go pick up my daughter from pre-school.

In all, this was an incredible experience. I’ve toured, of course, a million times in the past 35 years, but these guys in Camper Van Beethoven, David Lowery, Greg Lisher, Victor Krummenacher, Chris Pedersen, and I, are really “the band”. It’s the band I really learned to play in a band in. It’s the band that just keeps getting better. Each of these musicians is amazing, and by the end of this run, we were tight and strong, it felt incredible. It’s an honor and a privilege to play with these same people that we have played with for 30 years or so. And: not one bad show. The entire tour, not one bad show. I’m still stunned by that.

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Touring

A Series of Nested Universes

In a couple weeks will be the official release date for two of the three albums that I have been working on way too much over this entire year. The first is Øresund Space Collective‘s “Visions Of…” and the second is Sista Maj‘s “Series of Nested Universes“.

There’s a lot of URL linking here, take your time, have a listen!

The new ØSC album is material from a recording session in Copenhagen at the Black Tornado from 2 years ago, Nov. 2014. This same weekend session produced the albums “Different Creatures” (which I also mixed) and “Ode to a Black Hole” (mixed by Scott Heller, aka Dr Space.) There were some other pieces of music from these sessions, but probably no more albums. To solve that problem, I drove back to Copenhagen last weekend with KG Westman (from Siena Root, West Space and Love, also on several ØSC recordings) and we recorded much much more music which will probably be several more ØSC albums over the next couple of years, while Dr Space relocates to Portugal.

This album, “Visions Of…” has the 42 minute title track, and then a divided-in-two funk-rock piece called “Above the Corner” and “Around the Corner,” obviously paying tribute to Miles Davis. For any and all that liked “Different Creatures,” or indeed any other ØSC recordings!


Here’s a nice review of both at Thee Psychedelicatessen

I’ve been writing about Sista Maj off and on here and on Facebook or wherever for a while, I’m extremely happy that this album is seeing the light of day and the earholes of listeners. Scroll to earlier posts in this weblog and you’ll see.


It’s pretty intense. Here’s the promo text:

(“Sista Maj” is colloquial Swedish for “the last day of May”. Literally, it’s “final May,” which leaves the potential meaning that it may be the last May…ever)

The last day of May 2015 happened to be the first time that these three Stockholm musicians played together. They had played in other constellations before, but this started a new group: Sista Maj.

Mikael Tuominen comes from Kungens Män, a post-rock instrumental psychedelic band, coming from the long-standing Northern European tradition that includes both Krautrock and Swedish Progg. In this band, he played guitar, though he played bass, his first instrument, when he met Jonathan playing together in a composed/improvised group led by Einar Baldursson (Gösta Berlings Saga) for a few specific concerts in Stockholm.

Andreas Axelsson plays mostly in jazz and post-jazz improv and avant-garde groups, such as Lisa Ullén’s Group, and Eye Make the Horizon with Mikael. Mikael recommended him to Jonathan for a recording session intended for a record of songs and improvisations that Jonathan was working on for “Superfluity,” but oddly Mikael couldn’t make it to the session at the last minute, so it took another month before the three got together, this time with no agenda.

Jonathan Segel, an American living in Stockholm, has been playing violin, guitar and keyboards with numerous bands over the past 35 years, most notably the continuing Camper Van Beethoven as well as his own projects which span the genre-worlds of psychedelia, improvisation, prog rock, Americana, electronica and avant-garde. He has played with artists from Eugene Chadbourne to Fred Frith, in bands from Sparklehorse to (most recently) the Øresund Space Collective.

Sista Maj got together occasionally just for fun, but usually recorded the sessions and some were put on Soundcloud. In October 2015, Jonathan had a week booked at Mattias Olsson’s Roth Händle Studios in Sollentuna to work on his own music and generally explore. Of course, Sista Maj came along.

What happened was unexpected. With a studio and with the time to explore, they took their time to explore. The intensity that had marked their previous music in its immediacy was now able to find its way in the build-up. The studio itself had instruments that added to the sonic mix—upright bass, baritone guitar, electric sitar, percussion instruments, a Hammond organ. The pieces range from jazzy (Peony Spies) to electric intense (A Very Heavy Feather), from funky and weird (It Never Ends) to hypnotic (Series of Nested Universes), jam (Like a Diamond in This Guy) to space (Bones of Steel.) The album has an overall dark mood, another unexpected turn, but one that only adds to the heavy nature of the music.

Jonathan mixed the tracks in over a period of several months, while also working on the upcoming Øresund Space Collective album “Visions Of…”, as well as various other projects.

Now it’s here for you to explore, a Series of Nested Universes.

Sista Maj  :  Series of Nested Universes

Andreas Axelsson: drums and percussion

Mikael Tuominen: bass (upright, electric and Ashbory), baritone guitar, electric sitar

Jonathan Segel: electric guitar, violin, organ, synthesizers, bass

Disc 1

1. Peony Spies   6:39

2. Secret Cave, Secret Rat   10:30

3. Which, in Turn, Falls        13:59

4. A Very Heavy Feather     25:40

Disc 2

1. Series of Nested Universes  10:52

2. Like a Diamond in This Guy   11:36

3. It Never Ends 17:19

4. Bones of Steel 16:13

Cover art by Richard Gann

Recorded at Roth Händle Studios, Stockholm Oct 2015

mixed at the Magnetic Satellite, Stockholm Jan-May 2016

Space Rock Productions 037


If you read the linked review on Thee Psychedelicatessen, or translate the French reviews at Agoravox*, you can get a decent idea of the music, but you won’t get how intense it is until you listen to it. The session when we recorded it was a side-trip from the making of my album “Superfluity” which will be out next year. Where “Superfluity” is as much a lyrical statement about the significance and insignificance of life, love and everything else, “Series of Nested Universes” is an auditory journey through the micro- and macrocosms of life and death. You may have guessed from the titles that it’s going to be akin to a book of death being whispered into your ear as your self dissipates, from the dissolution of the organic into dirt and flowers to the weighing of your soul against a feather and onward. You might make it through several nested universes and be happy to shine, but you know… it never ends. And oddly, those new bones are robotic. (…and even literally: no human was playing that piano.)

Enjoy it. It’s an odyssey.

In the US, you can get the CDs from me when I’m on tour with Camper Van Beethoven from Dec 27-Jan 21 (if you order on the bandcamp site and aren’t in any of the places we’re playing, I can probably mail them at some point in January 2017.)

I should have a few CD copies of “Visions Of…” on tour as well. It will be out on vinyl soon as well, though Sista Maj probably won’t be anytime soon (also it won’t fit easily.)

In Europe, get them from Sapphire Records or ask Record Heaven or your local record store!


Oh…That third album that I’ve been slaving away on? Superfluity. Complete superfluousness. Out late February 2017 on Floating World UK. Believe me, I’ll keep you informed.


*Google Translate yields some amazing phrases, that obviously have to be used in promo materials:

atmospheric atmospheres made of collage of sounds whose color seems falsely freezing

The music is resolutely hovering

The end is downright enthralling

It is inventive and in addition it is beautiful music

a contemporary free rock work including the subtle play of the double bass that accompanies baritone guitar impros and other electronic tablecloths

…the production remains very neat, better than the Grateful dead live (?)

Posted in Music

An end of summer update

This is directly from my website‘s news, but I thought it should exist forever here also because I’m proud of all of these musical adventures.

Here are many recent (2016) 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.  You can also find them with a couple other SuperCollider-based pieces that I rediscovered in the process in this playlist entitled

Random Electricalism:

And then there’s the one hour drone remix:                                                                                                        

Mysteries of uB episode 8 Special Guest Jonathan Segel

from das from ubuibi

Here’s a recent live set, improvised in its entirety at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Aug 27 2016 Victor Krummenacher on bass, Chris Pedersen on drums. It was Pajama Party night at Camp-Out XII.

Anybody that has been following this blog knows that I’m working on two things this year, plus all that extra stuff with people like the Øresund Space Collective and Camper Van Beethoven!

But let me lay it all out:

First off, there is Sista Maj. Sista Maj is currently 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. Beyond some sessions now at, we recorded at Mattias Olsson’s Roth Händle Studio last fall and mixed it over this past spring. It’s done now. The album, “Series of Nested Universes” will be out this fall on Space Rock Productions! Art for this album and Superfluity are by Richard Gann.

SO, yes, the album “Superfluity“. It’s about finished, being mastered now, a double album of songs of all sorts, lots of guitars basses and drums, a little violin, and some beautiful singing from Kelly Atkins.

Still looking for that help I need to bring it to the world. Help!

“…Number three, sir.”

During this same period, I also finished mixing the upcoming album from Øresund Space Collective, “Visions Of…” also out in the fall! To celebrate, Mikael Tuominen’s band Kungens Män and special guests (I’m sitting in) will be playing at the Melody Box in Stockholm on October 21st!

What else, what else? I went on tour with ØSC through Germany, Holland and Switzerland in May. Many of the shows are online to listen to at Some were recorded from the board to a multi-track, two of them so far can be found on the Øresund Space Collective Bandcamp site! I mixed the Karlsruhe show, Scott mixed the Nürnberg one.

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

In the midst of all this super psychedelia, I also played some sweet mandolin and violin on Björn Brunnanders upcoming release, “Galler” on Poolhall Recordings, and mixed a nice summer song from Diipak called “The Longest Day of the Year”

These came with a few gigs sitting in with these guys, and also a nice evening improvising at Larry’s Corner with Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, you can listen to that here on also.

On Nov. 14 2015 was my first live show with Øresund Space Collective for the release party for the new 2-CD/3-LP set “Different Creatures” which we recorded in Copenhagen and I mixed here in the Magnetic Satellite hovering above Stockholm. differentcreatures

This album set is great and is getting great reviews such as this one from Prog Archives. I’m very proud to have been involved with this album and look forward to mixing more music from these sessions, which I’ve been working on lately.

I toured with them in May of 2016, the first show was a doom/stoner rock festival in Copenhagen called Northern Discomfort, where we celebrated the release of  “Ode to a Black Hole“, then later we headed to Germany, Holland and Switzerland, as noted above, and when we came back we finalized their next album, “Visions Of…” due out this fall.

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”


And just so you remember the recent past:

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 for all of you!

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

More music on its way.  I’m making a new album! Yup. More superfluous art.

Read my blog about it all!

I recorded a bunch starting April 2015, at a few different studios in Stockholm, with several different people. These included improv sessions at Eastman Studios with Andreas Axelsson on drums and Mats Burman on bass.

2015 was when the Superfluity journey began at Roth-Händle Studios with Mattias Olsson, recording some song basics and yet more improvisation, worked on since. This includes vocal contributions from Kelly Atkins!

Later, in October, I had the whole studio to myself for another week, including a day of improvisations with Andreas Axelsson on drums and Micke Tuominen (from Kungens Män). The band is called “Sista Maj”. Out Fall 2016.

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

Backwards in time:

I was Copenhagen October 2014 recording with the Øresund Space Collective, with many great musicians, including a couple people that I played with before in Stockholm like Alex Skepp from Gösta Berlings Saga on drums and Mathias Danielsson from My Brother The Wind and The Muffin Ensemble on guitar and pedal steel! We recorded hours of material, it make take a year to sort through it all. The first release from this session is a doom-rock piece, 55 minutes long, on LP and CD soon: “Ode to a Black Hole”. I’ve been mixing the next batch, which will be a 3-LP/2-CD set called “Different Creatures” out November this year.

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.

I am starting to go through Finetunes so those of you in Europe and Asia (as well as the US) will be able to find this album soon, not only digitally but on-demand CD manfuacturing!

The new “label” is called “demagnetized”. I’ll try to get more of the old Magnetic catalog available this way over the rest of the year.

There were new pressings of All Attractions and Apricot Jam, each as an individual CD in a lovely Stumptown “Arigato” pack.We should have them at any Camper Van Beethoven shows. Available in Europe (Sweden) from Record Heaven. Also available from the above links, via the bandcamp page. Not too many actual CDs left, folks!

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 just 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, but I’ve printed up a new batch of the CDs as individual packages. Currently they are available from me directly at or get the digital from CDBaby or even from iTunes, or of course 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 ELEVEN in Pioneertown, and there is audio available to listen for free on, even some video of the 2012 show on YouTube.



Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring, Violin

Playing music for the purpose of music.

A couple weekends ago I went to Copenhagen to play a doom rock festival with Øresund Space Collective, the release for “Ode to a Black Hole”. It was a punk rock youth center, tons of doomy bands, really quite something. We played late, starting at 1am, but were well received by the punks and metalheads. I’m going to go out on tour with ØSC in Germany this coming week, just for a week of shows. I look forward to it immensely, I need to play more than I do, and play more to entertain both myself and others in the spur of the moment, in real time. Playing improvised space rock is good for that, it’s meant to exist in that time and space that it is being played.

Here’s the gig in Copenhagen, May 6 2016

Sound is good on the video, but I’m really loud in the mix—I don’t know if it’s the camera angle or the awesome Orange amp I was using.


I think I got caught up in the idea of being a “professional” musician of some sort over the course of the past, oh, 35 or so years. What I mean by that is that I felt like every time I picked up an instrument, there had to be some reason for it, like if I were just playing it would be that I was working toward some goal or another. As in, improvising was for the purpose of writing a new piece of music. Even when I was just sitting playing the acoustic guitar, somewhere in the back of my mind was the voice asking “Is this something that could be used for a song?”

That was definitely one of the reasons why I didn’t have any intention of making a new album. Or two. I didn’t want to have to think that way, especially when the final product has become so devalued that it’s a losing proposition to continue to make music—if you are part of the 99% of recording artists, in any case. So it’s a good thing to go out and tour with ØSC where I just get to play, make sound at the moment, enjoying it for the moment, not worrying about anything being permanent.

I mean, I do write a lot of music. Or improvise a lot of music and work it into pieces. Or both. I have tapered off writing lyrics over the years, unless I have songs that just *must be* songs, in which case I am forced to actually write lyrics for them, which I eventually do, usually later in the process—not that I don’t know what the song is about nor potentially some of the lines, I just let them linger for days, months, even years. Literally years! I have some unfinished songs lying around from 20 or more years ago. But one of the things that prevents me from finishing writing is the unspoken obligation that I feel (toward the song? toward posterity? toward myself?) to record, mix and produce the final and paradigmatic version of the song.

As an example, there is a song on “Shine Out” called “Leaving Troy” that I must have started writing in 1990 or so, had ideas of how it sounded, most of the lyrics. (It wasn’t about Victor’s life, just saying.) When I was working on the songs for that album out in the log cabin, I just felt that it was time to finish it. Similarly, there is a new song called “Walking Along the Shore of the Ocean of Things Unknown” that I started maybe 10 years ago, but really had nearly no lyrics, then when I was in Roth Händle Studios last fall, I finally decided to record it, so I made up some lyrics. Later in the batch of things that Chris Pedersen played on, he played drums on it. However, it doesn’t fit with the “Superfluity” album idea nor the rest of the songs, so I still haven’t worked more on it. I expect to finish it this summer after I get done with all of the “Superfluity” mixing and everything else, and all of the Sista Maj “Series of Nested Universes” mixing and mastering and stuff. It will probably end up in the collection called “Superfluousness” which is currently growing and only available to my Bandcamp subscribers. (heh, see, I advertised!)

Indeed, a number of things were jettisoned along the way. Some of the instrumentals from recorded improvisations, some that were compositions. One of my initial ideas was to have a giant dream sequence in the middle of the record, somewhat about the passage of time and sleep, which had small songs interrupting it, but as I worked on the piece (“Phenomenon and On,” it’s called) I ended up dividing it into only three parts, the first of which is a shorter but jarring electronic music piece (entitled “Silent Notes”) the second of which is an improvisational guitar-based instrumental entitled “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers,” and the last part is a huge 23 minutes of electronic music. (Note: when I say “electronic music” I don’t mean dance music or techno or whatever, you know, I mean tape collage/outside synth/etc. in the tradition of 1950s-70s electronic music. I was deeply influenced by the rock band usage of this in the late 60s: Revolution 9, of course, …(which is referenced on Superfluity in a couple places, by the way) Zappa’s tape collages on the Mothers of Invention records, Jefferson Airplane’s “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly”. I assumed every great album needed at least one (e.g. “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” with the latter section of She Divines Water.)

And then when I went to the university, I actually got to start creating these things. That was back in 1981, I took my first real electronic music class from Gordon Mumma. Then got to work in the UCSC studios under him and Peter Elsea for several years. You can hear bits of my electronic music forays under the tracks leading into early Camper Van Beethoven recordings, like the beginning of the song “Cowboys from Hollywood” (1986), and then of course the second and the penultimate tracks on Storytelling (1989), “Prospective” and “Retrospective”. I’ve been at it awhile, and with computers it only got more intense. I do intend to write about that sometime, the whole computer music thing…!

Anyway, in the Superfluousness collection there ended up some other things as well, acoustic guitar finger picking, doom metal, 1960s-BBC TV-theme-style tracks. I intended to make a 1980s hair metal track too, but so far it only exists as a mini cassette snippet somewhere within “Phenomenon and On”.  A few are still unfinished, but I’ll sweep it all up sometime. You’ll see.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring

The continuing road to superfluity

I’d like to continue the story of the making of the (as-yet still upcoming) record called “Superfluity” because I am assuming all the people reading this entry have also read the previous 10 or 6 or at least the last 4 blog entries here. Right? You have, haven’t you?

After recording in various studios in April and May of 2015, I only had a couple of gigs before heading out to the countryside for most of the summer. My wife’s family bought an old farmhouse out by a lake about 40 years ago when the family inhabiting it had finally all emigrated to the US or to the big cities, as most people living in the Swedish countryside did by the 1950s and 60s. So most of the apartment complexes in the cities were built in the 50s through to the 70s, and most of the old country communities emptied by the 70s. This place is like a 16th century log cabin farmhouse and then a toolshed and a barn, to which is now added another log cabin room that was literally moved whole from a nearby location to our yard, and set above an older pit that had been a potato storage cellar.

Image 26

recording cabin

Additionally, they recently built a little shed that is supposed to be a hygiene house, with a shower and toilet, but so far it only has a dry toilet…which is actually more civilized than the outhouse, of course, but the running water thing hasn’t worked out yet.

Anyway, the second cabin is a single room, it’s used as a guesthouse and my wife’s mom uses it as a painting atelier. It’s all wood, so needless to say, I’ve been recording there every summer I’ve ever been there.

This particular summer, I had a lot to work with, so I brought my Stratocaster, Les Paul, an old Fender lap steel, a fretless Fender Musicmaster bass, a violin, my Princeton Reverb and whatever percussion things were out there left over from recording Shine Out. And I proceeded to listen to the recordings, letting them work into my brain. I started doing overdubs on the studio jams, to see if they were heading toward anything. This, for me, involves finding specific rhythms or melodies and figuring out how to bring them out of the mix by accentuating them. Making improvisations into composition, in a way.

The other thing I had to do was to finalize the mixes for the Øresund Space Collective album, the deadline for which was August. I was about done with the mixes, I thought, but being a triple-LP/double-CD, it was hard to make sure every pass. At this point I was sort of pre-mastering the mixes by taking my final mix and mixing two versions of it against each other, one through an analog tape emulator (UA’s ATR-102) and one through a stereo field enhancer (UA’s K-Stereo). This made very vivid yet heavy finals, which I was sending to Mr Sanderson at Gyroscope Studios to do the final mastering EQ and compression.

[of my own music] The jam sessions from Eastman Studios were the first things I worked on. Each one was around 15 minutes long, there were five of them. I realized pretty quickly that the last one where I played violin was just a series of endings, so that couldn’t go anywhere as it was. The fourth one was where I played bass and nobody played guitar, but my studio pals Nathan and Johan wanted to come in and they played piano and violin. This was a weird track, sort of floaty, never really getting to the melody that Johan kept implying. I left it alone also. #1-3 seemed like they had some decent parts. I started in playing guitar with the guitar parts, or violin or lap steel, figuring out which sections could go where. Of course, the entire first improvisation seemed good, taken as a whole—though with some accentuating some melodies and whatnot. Number 3, where I played Les Paul, was also pretty good, but needed a bit of editing, and not much more. Number 2 was odd, and needed to be cut up. And then I got into adding synths and things.

These first three ended up being tracks called “The Dying Stars”, “Confabulation” and “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers.” This will mean something in another half a year or so, unless you’ve been subscribing to my bandcamp site, in which case you may have already heard one of them. Number 4 became “Drishti”, after adding guitar and other violin parts later.

Over the next month or so, I went over the tracks recorded at Mattias Olsson’s studio, and the tracks that had drums from both sessions even, to see what to do. Some of these tracks were nearly ready as they were, only needed some lyrics or melody to go on, some were very raw. I had improvised with Mattias for several tracks, and as I listened to these, they also began to take shape in my mind. I started writing the lyrics.

Now, it really was not my intention to be all caught up in working on a new album. I wasn’t even sure what I was saying anymore, given the state of music and its place in the world. For me to make yet another album is useless. It’s so completely superfluous to life. What I was thinking about was the fate of the human race, really, in the long term. People always think so short-term—how can I survive this week!—so they can’t even have the extra brain cells to consider how their actions affect coming generations. What if everything you did was valued on a hundred or thousand year basis? Or longer! What if your forebrain didn’t actually filter out the passage of time as it does so that you can live comfortably in the seemingly-unchanging specious present like you do, but instead saw the consequences of actions, and the consequence of past actions that led to the moment you found yourself in?

Many of the songs started forming around these ideas, in different ways. One of the tracks we made up at Mattias’ became “Strawberry Sun”, a song essentially about how long the rocks, dirt, water, and light took to make that strawberry whose juice running out of a child’s mouth is creating a smile. That particular smile, a billion years in the making!

Others, after applying a Les Paul to an improvised baritone guitar take with Mattias on drums, started to feel like a multi-sectional prog rock masterpiece. This was going to take some work. And the lyrics would be more philosophical, on a human level. Some of the other tracks were actually songs to begin with, they just needed (actual) lyrics and organization. The entire project was looking very large.

On some songs, like “Sleep for a Hundred Years” and “No Backup Plan” (again, this shouldn’t mean anything to you yet. The record isn’t done!) I had tried to get Andreas to play drums at Eastman, then again got Mattias to do them at Roth Händle, but I wasn’t super happy with either on No Backup Plan, although I figured out a plan to use sections on “Sleep”, every section of the song would have different drums and different guitars, even some drum machines. But I worked out what was going to happen for the middle section of “No Backup Plan” and a general idea for the others, wrote a bunch of lyrics, played guitars and violins and what not all summer whenever I could work on the stuff.

I did finish the Øresund Space Collective mixes in time, they got them off to the manufacturers, who later called me from Germany to say that my CD master files were erroring out, and it took me a while to figure out that it was because of the Ø in Øresund being written in the CD-Text information. No odd characters, folks! The album title was changed to “Different Creatures” partially based on the amazing artwork that Mårten Smid did for it. A three-LP package is a lot of space to cover!


In August I went back to the states to tour with Camper Van Beethoven, the original five piece version that has been playing lately which includes Chris Pedersen, our drummer, who lives in Australia. He was coming over with his wife and a son, and a cousin’s son, who were going to be merch sellers on a tour of the southwest and our Camp-Out festival in Pioneertown, California.

At this point I got the bright idea to ask Chris if he could drum on a few tracks, like “No Backup Plan”, and we arranged to do this sometime in the fall, he knew a studio he could record at in Sydney.

In the fall I continued to work on the songs when I could, wrote more lyrics when I could, did some overdubs, and mixed as I went along. Everything started shaping up, with certain pieces dropping out. In October I had the opportunity to take over Mattias’ Roth Händle studios for an entire week myself while he was on tour with Necromonkey and then with Akaba in the US.


With that in cards, I thought I could finish off any overdubs, maybe make a number of acoustic-based tracks, improvise, set up everything… hell I could record a band. So I set it up to record Sista Maj over there later in the week.

I did a lot. I brought many instruments, played a lot of acoustic guitar and mandolin, made up whatever I could when the mics were up. Recorded overdubs of vibraphone, marimba, Hammond, piano, even pipe organ (on the proggiest of the prog, of course) and the IMG_3499Tenori-On that was there while Akaba was rehearsing before they left to New York to meet up with Mattias. I thought I might make a few more tracks for the album, but it didn’t seem like anything new was going to fit in. So there was just more. More that’s going into the Superfluousness batch of the Superfluity sessions.


When the Sista Maj guys came, Micke Tuominen and Andreas Axlesson, I had set up drums and bass and electric guitar, as we usually did, in hopes of capturing a rocking improv session. What happened was way more subtle, however. We started with Micke playing an upright bass that was there, and I played violin. The entire vibe of the session was very minimalist and droney (I was using my Electro Harmonix SuperEgo, which is a note-capture drone pedal…) On other tracks Micke played baritone guitar or electric sitar, or even an Asbury bass, these little things with rubber strings. There was definitely some space rock and hard rocking moments, but overall, it’s fairly somber. A very interesting set of tracks, more to stew over.


Sista Maj, l-r: Micke Tuominen, JS, Andreas Axelsson

After all this, we actually all had a gig together, Øresund Space Collective and Kungens Män (Micke’s band) at the Melody Box in Stockholm. Alexander Skepp, the drummer from Gösta Berlings Saga, and Matthias Danielsson on pedal steel,who had played on the Different Creatures album both lived in Stockholm, so they were part of the band, and Hasse Horrigmore, the Tangle Edge bassist from the sessions came down from Norway. The rest of the band came up from Copenhagen, some of whom I was just meeting for the first time. KG Westman, who had played sitar, didn’t want to play, so his sitar teacher, Stian Grimstad, was going to sit in. It was a long night, a long amazing concert. I did lots of guitar, violin and even theremin. The “Different Creatures” album was out and we all got copies here, I got several so I could sell them at the Camper shows coming up in December. The next ØSC album scheduled would be “Ode to a Black Hole”, a doom piece we had recorded in that same session, mixed by Scott Heller, Dr Space himself.

So the Superfluity songs bubbled in the background now, nearly all recording done except some drums from Chrispy and some backing vocals. My wife, Sanna, who has sung on several of my (and even Camper Van Beethoven’s) albums did a few backing vocal tracks. I had asked a couple other people about doing backing vocals, and the most enthusiastic response came from Kelly Atkins, who sings with 20 Minute Loop, and with Kitka, the women’s choir. When I sent her tracks, she loved them, so she agreed to do parts for them in the near future. So I spent a bunch of my time mixing the Sista Maj tracks, adding a few bits, doing a few edits. Then it was time to go back to California for Christmas with the family, first time back for my wife and daughter since we left in 2011. And then, I had a week or so of shows with Camper Van Beethoven.

Normally I write on this weblog about touring with CVB. I haven’t been for this past year. Why not? I don’t really know. Ask me anything, I’ll tell you. I just didn’t feel like writing it all down at the time.

So, then in the past few months, early 2016, I finished up mixing the Sista Maj sessions. It’s going to be a double CD at some point, entitled “Series of Nested Universes”. And I set about mixing the rest of the Øresund Space Collective tracks from the same sessions as these other ones mentioned, with the same critical ears of Hasse and Scott, and I think they’re all done now, for release later this year or early next.

And then I got Chris Pedersen’s drums for ‘No Backup Plan’, some for ‘Sleep…’, and a couple others that are going to be finished later, not for this album.

And Kelly Atkins’ vocal masterpieces started coming in track by track—she was doing multiple parts! She was composing counterpoint to what was there already, incredible. I’m still messing about with late-stage mixes, but the album has sorted itself out into a sequence and nearly final mixes. Now I just need somebody to put it out! (literally. If you have a label, let me know.)

(I’m going to try to write more about the songs themselves as a potential release gets closer. Meanwhile stay tuned.)


Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Guitar, Philosophy, recording, Violin

Part 4 – Punk as fuck.

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.

Posted in Guitar, Music, recording, Touring, Violin

Part 3 – “Will and Representation”

For the show on The Partially Examined Life podcast episode 115 where we spoke about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, we read the third book of “The World as Will and Representation,” (or, “…as Will and Idea,” written in 1818, and then a revised and fuller version in 1844, so, from Beethoven to Wagner) specifically with respect to his take on aesthetics. A lot of the whole book is about trying to ascribe a “will” to the essence of Plato’s Forms without being theistic. It’s a tough call. The Will is somehow separate from the Form or Idea or Representation, which is isn’t the thing itself anyway, the Will is the thing-in-itself instead of its self in a causal world. And for the most part we only know of things through our senses, which means that we only know about their causality, (which would follow, from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, because anything you can see came from somewhere, for some reason, yeah), so even knowing the timeless Ideal Form of a thing, from your perspective as a human being, like the idea of “moose” as opposed to the moose you see over there eating a tree branch, involves your subjective understanding of moose given your own limitations of existence on a planet that has moose. So from Schopenhauer’s take on this, there’s an underlying level of is-ness to the moose, the will that is the objective thing that it is. But it’s unlikely that you can experience that, unless you have complete objectivity.

You know, like with Kant’s idea that to know a thing in and of itself outside of its existence in time and space requires a kind of knowledge that is not that that we obtain with our sense, but a direct knowledge of a thing, a transcendental knowledge rather than an immanent knowledge of something’s literal existence in the here-and-now. So how does a human experience transcendental knowledge? Via art, of course! Schope says: “What kind of knowledge is concerned with that which is outside and independent of all relations, that which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that which is subject to no change and therefore is known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the Ideas, which are the direct and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, the will? We answer, Art, the work of genius.” But of course it has a much to do with the self-consciousness of the knowing person and their own ability to objectify the world around them, separating their reaction from the knowing of the object/art/world. And he goes on about experiencing beauty (which ain’t good, as it’s sensual, you know, so non-objective) versus experiencing the sublime, which is the ultimate transcendental knowledge as it transcends our own individuality.

Well, as you can imagine, this goes on with examples and descriptions of what’s good and bad aesthetically. The will itself has motion and desire, so things that fulfill its desire and provide satisfaction don’t allow the self to transcend its own relationship to the object or art, so what you’d be after here is something unfavorable to the will and its desire that you could contemplate. So attractiveness, beauty and charm, that’s just tawdry. The sublime is reached when the will is transcended consciously. Pure will-less knowing. (And he goes on about how symbolism is crap, etc.)

Anyway, though he talks about how rhyme and rhythm are “aids” to poetry, he can only think so because of the direct connection to temporality in our human perception. They are a means of holding attention. What’s the real and true representation of the will, of course, is music, I’m guessing because it’s an abstract and is never literal even if it tries to be representational of specific things. He does say that great poets can present the thing-in-itself by understanding the inner nature of man and presenting it with adequate objectivity, but somehow he believes the music is a direct copy of the will itself, not itself a representation.

Really, I found a lot of his ideas to be contradictory, but what do I know about 200-year-old thought. He abhors symbolism but then classifies the parts of music symbolically, the bass being unorganized nature, the mass of the planet, which has to move in large intervals, the other tones the organization of harmony on top of that corresponding to animal life, then the melody is the great human being, the knowing guiding light. What a crock. I hate this Man-as-lord-over-the-earth crap. The whole dominion over the earth and animals thinking is what got us into destroying the planet we live on. It’s an ecology, we’re part of it. You’re soaking in it!

So anyway, the will strives, seeking fulfillment, and the absence of satisfaction is suffering (he had been reading Buddhist tracts!) Music is a universal language that expresses exactly this. Music is the metaphysical to everything physical in the world, and as the thing-in-itself to every phenomenon. We might as well say that the world is embodied music. He seems to have read a lot of theory about music, he knew his harmonic theory and mathematics of tuning. He had already gone off about the idea of the sublime in mathematics, (Germans are into that, as seen still in the Ritter Sport chocolate bar “Perfection in a Square”) and he goes off for a while about tuning ratios and how the physical world simply can’t even hold a perfect music because of the Pythagorean Comma and other deviations from perfect whole number tuning systems, saying how temperament is just the way our imperfect physical world has to deal with what would be otherwise perfection, and I suppose is perfection in the will.

I didn’t mean to write an overview of Schopenhauer here, but I get started and this is what happens. It was fun to read and talk about, you can listen to the whole podcast here, but you know where this kind of thinking goes, Nietzsche picks it up with the Will idea and goes for it, then more dominion-over-earth-and-people crap and then you get Nazis.

The fact that the passage of time disproves old science and old philosophy is ironic when you consider the intent in both is to understand the unchanging essence of the universe. Schopey had a lot to say about music and aesthetics, but music changed an awful lot after him, and went all abstract once the media technology could accurately represent sound (or vision: after the camera, painting got wild. That’s another essay…) One thing that stuck with me was his use of the word (in English translation) superfluity, which described the state of artistic genius, or art in general: the idea being that genius is an excess of knowledge that goes beyond just the needs to service the individual will, and can provide the genius with a “clear mirror of the inner nature of the world.” This is funny to me, as superfluity means overflow, of course, but we usually use the word superfluous, which just indicates that it is excess and unnecessary. So, art in general is superfluous. It is, indeed! It can only be there when the basic needs are taken care of, when the body is fed, clothed and sheltered. In fact, all art is superfluity. It’s overflow.

I’m one of those overflowing people, I recognize myself in this: if I’m fed, the next thing is music. And I acutely recognize the ridiculousness of making music in this day and age, when the very existence of our species is threatened by its own idiotic furthering of “individual will”. I mean, go back and read “Not a Tour Diary.

The next day was 4/20, dude, a Monday. Our family-friend Joa was singing Nielsen’s Third Symphony at Konserthuset, and I had a comp ticket, though nobody else could go (well, it was either me or Sanna, but somebody had to stay home with the child. I suppose it could have been the grandparents, but somehow none of this worked out. Nor did Joa’s parents come, for some reason.) This meant that I would be sitting by myself in the concert hall amidst all the Stockholm cultural elite. Best thing to do would be to smoke half a joint that I managed to procure from the previous week of studio activity. This is a much more difficult endeavor here in Stockholm than in, say, Oakland. Or anywhere else in the world, actually. Swedes think pot is a narcotic. It’s some weird cultural norm that all drugs are considered evil, even though alcohol use and abuse is rampant. Even when my wife moved to California, she was shocked that people smoked pot. Cannabis is severely illegal in Sweden. Well, that would make it unthinkable that I would just sit there and smoke it, right?

So I sat in Hötorget on the back steps of the concert hall with a hundred other people and ate a falafel, had a beer in a brown paper bag (bought from Systembolaget downstairs in Hötorget Hallen, so not cold. They don’t even make that easy*.) and then I went around to go pick up my ticket. I went around to the entrance to the concert hall and walked up the stairs to ask the ticket taker where to pick up my ticket, which was off to the side by the entrance, which was also the entrance to a coffee shop. After convincing the will call people that yes, this weirdo in front of you had a ticket left for him by a performer, I went back outside to smoke part of a joint. I figured standing there on Sveavägen would hide me in a crowd, so to speak. So I stood outside the coffeehouse and lit up. A black guy came out to talk on the phone, I offered him a hit, he looked at me like I was insane and ran back inside. Right, not Oakland, I forgot. I smoked about four hits, couldn’t hold on to it anymore, nobody seemed to figure out what was going on, so I threw the roach into the gutter and popped a piece of gum in my mouth and went in to go to the bathroom and wash my hands. I walked back up the stairs and handed my ticket to the guy, I just knew he knew I was stoned. Found the bathroom and waited in line with the well-dressed middle-aged men needing to pee before sitting through some classical music, washed my hands and face so nobody could smell the lingering scent and bust me. I felt like I was in high school. I made my way through the foyer with the exhibits about Sibelius and Nielsen and noted that I should check them out before the Nielsen symphony. Found my seat and sat down, luckily with nobody on either side of me.

Oh shit. I am really high. I’m so high I’m about to pass out. This is what you get for lowering your tolerance. This is a beautiful concert hall! Sounds amazing. I hope these nattering old ladies behind me don’t know I’m so high. Shit, my gum is not holding together, what the hell? Why would gum lose its consistency? It’s like strings of syrupy gunk falling apart in my mouth. Maybe it had some weird chemical reaction to the pot. Or the falafel. I have to get up and throw it away, shit. Ok, ok. I can do this… So I made it up and back to my seat, and then the orchestra people were coming out on stage. They are all dressed the same. In little rows. All those violins!

Right, they’re going to play Beethoven. Beethoven’s Third Symphony, The Eroica, 1805, the heroic symphony supposedly written for Napoleon and then rescinded lest the composer should subsequently lose a commission from a royal patron. Here they go.

Two hundred years have passed with this same classical language now being used to death to lead us by the nose in every movie score to indicate tension and release. Man, I’m getting tired of it. I’m tired of this theme from the first movement. I remember being so into Beethoven symphonies when I was young, but this endless drilling of melodies in diminished or dominant 7th chords, just waiting to resolve is awful! It’s endless purposeful tension—Oh! It’s Schopenhauer’s striving will. Right, his book was first published in 1818, this is what he meant by music. Shit. Right, let’s try to listen to this as the direct copy of the will.

The will is frustrated. And all those musicians all in lines, all wearing the same thing, sawing away, all playing the exact same thing. So fucking fascist. This music is fascist. And it’s about “heroism”. Right. I hate this symphony. Why did they choose to play this? Who the fuck put this on the program with Nielsen or Sibelius? The program says something about relating Beethoven’s Third to Nielsen’s Third, a hundred years apart. What the fuck. Was Nielsen writing about heroism? I doubt that.

Ok, ok, listen to the underlying will, the truth of people and reality back in 1805. Shopenhauer pointed out how poets presented history in more accurate ways than historians because they were free of the literal. This thematic material is being beaten to death. What do these people around me think? There’s a guy in a suit to my right in front of me nodding his head, he’s dancing a bit in his little way. The old ladies behind me are enjoying it. Or sleeping. Wasn’t there a movement of this symphony that I liked? I hope it’s the next one.

Nope, not the second movement either. The funeral march. That’s not super nice for Napoleon, is it? He didn’t die until 1821. At least is has some interesting fugal stuff. God it’s long. Right, it’s the will, endless, striving. Sweaty. Maybe it’s the third movement I liked.

Ok at least I don’t feel like I could faint at any moment now, and my adrenaline reaction to the situation and the fascist orchestra is dwindling a bit. Maybe I can begin to enjoy Beethoven. This movement has a funny thing in the totally gay Scherzo melody, it’s like the melody is presented, dit-dit-dah, dit-dit-dah, over and over, so dumb, then the response, and at the very end right before it’s supposed to end there’s a fragment, a little last turn of an appoggiatura, like fuck you, we’re leaving, but we just have this last thing to say. The fuck-you bit. I like that. Ha. Here’s the melody again, dit-dit-dah…and the responses, bah-da, bah-da, bah-da, bah-da… and there we go, diddle-dee-dit, fuck you. Have to remember that fuck-you bit. We’re going out, but, oh, one last thing: fuck you.

And now the last movement, finally. It sounds great in here, you know. I thought the way they had the violins with the first on the left and seconds on the right with the violas and cellos in between was gonna mean that the faces of the seconds were facing backwards and we wouldn’t hear them as well, but they’re some sort of reflective surface above and right behind the orchestra, so all parts are there. They’re all lined up in their tuxes, playing their lines all together. Like a good army. This movement is theme an variations and it never ends. Continuous tension in the only way we knew dissonance could be two hundred years ago, those tritones and dominant 7ths. And to think that people are still speaking this language, all the stupid film composers forgot the lovely dissonances of the 1940s and 50s films and went back to THIS. Let us show you to what you are supposed to feel! Shut up, Beethoven. Ok, it’s not your fault, but you started it. You and your trombones and piccolos. Oh wait, it’s only horns in this one. I think? Can’t quite tell, they are really blaring. And you guys are all sawing away on those diminished chords, let’s drag this out, and finally, finally get back to that big Eb. And Again!

Yay, you did it! The orchestra stands up and bows, sweaty. You did it, you guys, you played a Beethoven symphony. That’s what I think as I clap. You did it. You can go home and think, hey, we performed a Beethoven symphony, all the way through. What a feat.

Ok, shit, it’s intermission now. I’m gonna read the exhibit in the foyer and wonder why the fuck they put a Beethoven symphony on this week-long program of Sibelius and Nielsen, and why I didn’t get any Sibelius. Gotta maintain, here in public. Can I read? Oh yeah, I seem to be able to read, ok, I think I can do this. Maybe I can even buy a bottle of water.

Nice little museum of information in the foyer, I learned that Nielsen played folk music and that he was a violinist. I went back into the hall and listened to the sound of the hall. This hall sounded great. Some musicians were on the stage making little notes and sounds, people were milling about. The sounds from everywhere were available to me as I sat there on the main floor, back a ways but generally in the middle. I like the way they set up a reflection baffle directly behind the orchestra, but then there are rows of seats above that behind them with nobody in them. I love this music, the music of the random bits the musicians are playing and the sound of the reverb in the hall, and various little subdued conversations. Ahhh.

Eventually everybody has filed in and the conductor comes back out and the symphony starts. It’s obvious that the composer was a string player! This is very cool, open strings and melodies obvious to the left hand, with a harmonic language of big open intervals, fourths and fifths and seconds. This is from about 1910. Cool harmonic language, not exactly tonal but with melodies that suggest tonality, but move away from it, or move in and out of various tonalities. Very folk-music rhythmic. Why did they put Beethoven with this?

The second movement segues in and it’s fairly slow and static, then holds on a specific set of pitches and suddenly, hey, there’s Joa! He’s in the balcony row above the back of the stage to the right of the orchestra, like a little balcony. He sings a melodic vocalise over the static chord, maybe 32 bars. Now there’s a woman on the same level, stage right, she sings the same melody a couple octaves higher. Ok, that’s it, over and back to the orchestra jamming away on their folky melodies. That’s it? No more singing? He came all the way from Berlin to sing 32 bars? Wow.

When the concert ended, I was mellow enough to maintain, went outside and called Joa to see if he was going to come out or what, he texted back to say he was going to go across the street for a beer with a friend of his from school whose dad had been the horn player in the Royal orchestra here when Joa’s grandfather was the principal flutist. So I met them and we went over there, and asked them a bit about the program, trying not to be so obvious about that fact that I just could not comprehend why on earth they had put that Beethoven piece on there. Joa’s friend said, hey, ask my dad, he’ll be here in a second, he is the program director and this is his final program, he put together this whole Sibelius and Nielsen program. Oh shit! Well, dad came over, and they proceeded to eat dinner and we had some beer, and they talked about how horn players were great—and great drinkers. And about various conductors they had worked with and such, I tried a little to ask about the program idea, but couldn’t quite understand his concept beyond the two composers’ third symphonies a hundred years apart, but then I realized that he was a french horn player, and Beethoven really wrote the shit outta that part for this symphony, before he discovered the trombone. And there’s that part in the last movement where the horn precedes the main melody entrance, and they talked about horn players ripping it at that moment. Ok, so he had some special thing for this one. I guess it’s excusable. Maybe.

After this, Joa and I walked around and went over to the Glenn Miller Cafe, which is a small jazz club, to have another drink and listen to an entirely different kind of music. This place had Lagunitas IPA on tap, so I was happy. And Joa knew the bartender, she was a singer he had gone to school with also. There were about 4 people there listening to a trio of bass, drums and saxophone, who were good, not too inside, not too outside, just right for late on a Monday night. When they took a break, a couple sitting at one of the tables came up to ask Joa about his performance, (he was still in a tux and carrying a bouquet of roses) and it was obvious that they too were singers, the guy had the most huge low voice even when speaking. They talked a bit about the schools here and singing the Nielsen piece, which I commented was such a small bit for a solo for an out-of-towner, Joa said that was what made it critical! You were there to sing for less than a minute, at the right time with the right tone, better get it right!


We tried to make it back to Hötorget station but were too late for the subway on a Monday night and had to catch a cab all the way home to Blackeberg.

I had some time the rest of this week to work on organizing and beginning to figure out what all I had recorded so far from both studios and try to think about where this completely superfluous musical addition to the world might end up, aesthetically. To say nothing of where it might end up economically, which was a foregone conclusion anyway. Plus I had one more gig coming up the following weekend with The Dead Pollys, a Stockholm punk band whom I had recorded a violin track for on one of the songs (“All the Gold in the Land”) on their new album, “A Bullet for the Wicked“, which this show would be a release party for.

(I ended up railing on Beethoven in the “after show” discussion on Episode 115 of The Partially Examined Life, a video chatroom where people discuss the podcast. And then discussing more about aesthetics and authenticity on Episode 118 with Victor Krummenacher there too.)


*That’s on purpose. The idea is to make it harder to get alcohol (anything above 3.5%) by only selling it in state stores from 10am-7pm on weekdays and Saturdays. They even had ads on TV around the holidays featuring the ghost of Christmas present sort of thing to show how your life might have been if alcohol had been easier to get, how you would have wrecked your family life and your job by being a drunk.

Posted in Music, Philosophy, Violin

A full April, continued (part 2)

At this point, after a couple recording days, I had hours of audio to sort through, several pieces from Eastman and several from Roth Händle, though I had to wait for the files from Mattias Olsson because he likes to record on an old hard-disk recorder (it’s like tape, punch in or out, gotta know your part!) so he had to get the files from it and into Dropbox or somewhere where I could download them. So I didn’t get to dive in and start listening immediately to those, and anyway I had to reread Schopenhauer and think about aesthetics, and practice for an upcoming show where I would play solo.

I actually don’t like playing solo shows. It’s not because I’m more stage-frightened, although I guess I am, but it’s that it doesn’t sound like I want it to. I am into the sound of a band, the sound of electric guitars, and I like having the freedom of having a rhythm section so that I can be more fluid around it. And play lead guitar, of course. But here I would be opening for The Plastic Pals at the Southside Tavern in Hornstull, and then sitting in with them for a few songs on violin. I’ve played with the Pals many times over the past few years, they are a solid rock band led by Håkan Soold. They sound a lot like they stepped right out of the 1980s Paisley Underground scene in California (though with a few lyrical choices that might make it questionable as to whether they were indeed native speakers—not that the California guys didn’t perhaps sound that way as well), and as a result they’ve ended up playing opening slots for the existing folks from that scene, which has been sort of funny for me since Camper Van Beethoven had played with a lot of these guys back it the late 1980s. For example, since I’ve been sitting in with these guys, we’ve played with Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas and Dan Stuart separately, all of whom were in the band Green On Red way back when, and we also opened for the Dream Syndicate. I actually hadn’t talked to Steve Wynn since he and Dan Stuart were playing as Danny and Dusty and Camper played with them in London at the Mean Fiddler in 1987 or so. (That itself was a memorable experience for me when Steve and I started talking about living in Davis in the late 1970s and early 80s and how I used to ride my bike from my after-high-school job at Steve’s Place Pizza to the University to see him with the Suspects or see Alternate Learning or whomever…and we started speaking the flat-and-fast Northern California style of speaking and then realized that none of the Brits nor Scots around us could follow us! Ha! Just like so many Americans can’t understand thick Scottish or northern English accents!) At the gig in Stockholm at Nalen, I ended up talking with Steve backstage about Scott Miller and his passing. Weird, I guess that’s what old musicians talk about, either equipment or dead friends.


Plastic Pals L-R: Olav on drums, Anders, Håkan, Bengt

This particular Saturday, April 18, as it happened, was “Record Store Day,” which meant that Pet Sounds Records had bands playing. I played there once on Record Store Day a couple years back, but to be honest it seemed like absolutely nobody there gave a shit about me playing, not even the people running the shop. They agreed to book me to play, advertising as “from Camper Van Beethoven,” but they didn’t have any Camper Van Beethoven albums in stock, nor have they since. This despite the fact that a few short years ago Camper was receiving huge 2-page reviews in the newspapers, we’d been entirely forgotten by the hip-oisie by the time I moved here. (The Swedish distributor for our stateside label didn’t even bother to put out our 2011 and 2013 albums here, they just did not care at all.) Also despite the fact that Marty Willson-Piper is now taking care of Pet Sounds Records! The record store crowd at the time that I played were really into some Swedish musicians from defunct bands, clearing out before I went on and then waiting patiently outside for the next batch while I played inside. This year, The Plastic Pals played a set promoting their new 7” single of Timing is Everything/I Want You Back (which I done a little engineering for) before going over to the Southside Tavern to load in, and at least 15 people were watching. I went down to watch and generally hang out, and then rode with them to their practice space to get other things and off to the Southside.


…or go to TjejBoxning.

When I had first started playing with the Plastic Pals, they rehearsed in a tiny room near Slussen, now they had finally gotten a decent sized space, but what a weird location! This was like a hidden room behind a metal door in the lowest floor of the back end of an underground parking garage on the north part of Vasastan. You’d never know it was there, behind that random door. Who knows what’s behind other doors one might see in the cement walls of underground parking garages?

Then to the club, which, like many here, it seems, is some cellar below a pub. These places have narrow stages and sometimes low arched ceilings. The Southside Tavern is ostensibly an Irish pub. I think. Anyway, the people that work there are all English or Irish or Scottish. And the upstairs has a restaurant with fish’n’chips and burgers and such. I’ve played there with the Pals several times (and other similar places). Even though they actually have some decent beer on tap upstairs, the band gets a case of pilsner or some other cheap crap, and gets 25% off of food, or something like that. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed to eat, the other guys went to their nearby homes. It actually takes me about an hour to get to this area from my apartment, so rather than spend two extra hours on subways, I hung out and thought about what to play for my own set.

My wife’s family had met another local family in birthing classes when my wife was in the womb, and this other family has become, well, family. The kids all grew up together and the families not only have apartments a block away from each other, but they also have summer houses (like everyone in Sweden) right near each other. The younger of these two brothers is now an opera singer, and lives in Berlin, but he had come back to town to sing in a Nielsen symphony at the Konserthuset the following Monday, part of a series celebrating Nielsen (a Danish composer) and Sibelius (a Finnish composer). Both brothers came to my show to support me, which was great! But it did mean that I would be singing in front of a real singer. I’m not a good singer at all, though I like doing it. Like playing the violin: I managed to get into the University orchestra more on enthusiasm than talent.

I’m alternately happy and sad that I sound like I do. I really don’t want to sound like anyone else, but I tend to think that the sound or tuning of my voice alienates most first-time listeners. Or even long-time listeners, maybe. This is one of those things I think about often, the fact that so many popular singers in this past decade or two just sound like somebody else or some specific style or genre. It confounds me, how on earth did this happen? Originality is played down in favor of catching the listeners’ ear with the comfortable sound of the generic. Regardless, I certainly don’t sound like anybody who can actually sing, but I always believe in that balance point between ars and ingenium, one’s craftsmanship versus one’s innate abilities, that the balance point should never be equal: it’s always more interesting when it’s offset, even so much as to be about to tip. I love the artists that have so much inside that needs to get out even if the ability to play is underdeveloped. I also love the ones that are so technically competent that they can shine that little bit of genius through in the small touches.

For my set, I played an electric guitar rather than trying to be the standard acoustic-guitar singer-songwriter douche. As Seth MacFarlane accurately pointed out in Family Guy, these folks killed the guitar.


solo set at Southside.

I played songs from my most recent albums with songs, Shine Out, All Attractions, and Honey: Can’t Help It, Turtles All The Way Down, Hey You, The Bolinas Witch, Listen, Örebro. It was short and sweet, not too much sweating. Joa (the opera singer) and his brother Ted said they thought I sounded great, though it was hard to tell with the rest of the small audience. Swedes, you know. Or maybe Stockholmers, they’re like the New Yorkers of Sweden: too cool to dance. Not that my songs inspire dancing. In fact, that’s not fair, I rarely dance at shows either, too busy thinking. About the music. Maybe everybody in Europe is just cogitating.

After my set, Ted, Joa and I got drinks and I sat with them during the parts of the Plastic Pals set that I wasn’t playing on; I only played about half dozen songs in their set. Which is as it should be, they are a rock band, adding a violin is cute and all, but it’s not necessary all over the place. The Pals have a ton of great songs, several from their last album, Turn the Tide, but many more newer ones that aren’t released yet. I sat in on a bit of both (I had played some violin on some of the newer recordings, and recorded Håkan’s vocals on several of them as well, but so far only two singles are out). Between songs, we drank more and I ended up meeting Donald Lupo, another American ex-pat who lives in Finland and plays the banjo. Apparently we had met 25 years previous at some Camper Van Chadbourne concert in Germany, though I had no memory of this. Surprise, surprise.

So eventually I packed up the violin and the guitar and headed to the subways station, where inevitably I had to wait 20 minutes for the next train, and then another 10 minutes at Slussen, two stops later, for the connecting train, so I got home at 3am or something.

I was a bit hungover the next day, which was probably not the best shape to be in to do the video chat recording for The Partially Examined Life on Schopenhauer and aesthetics

Posted in Guitar, Music, Philosophy, Sweden, Touring, Violin

photo by Ian Weintraub

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