Across Tundras Interview

We were big fans of the latest Across Tundras album, so we were quite happy when Tanner Olson of the band answered a few of our questions. Check out their website and if you can catch em on tour, we encourage you to do so.

How did the band form? Know each other from other bands? School?

Across Tundras formed in Denver, CO with myself, Heath Rave, and Kyler Sturtz. We were all good friends who knew each other from growing up in Sioux Falls, SD. Our paths to Colorado were different; but once we were all there it was inevitable that we play music together. Those guys eventually moved off to pursue other careers, and I kept moving forward with Across Tundras. The lineup has shifted a bit over the years, but where we are at now feels the strongest its been.

I have been working with Shannon Murphy since “Dark Songs of the Prairie”, so I gotta give props to her for being there and putting up with me for along time!

When you started, did you know how you wanted the band to sound or did it just happen naturally?

The sound was very natural, but not neccesarily planned. We wanted to convey certain feelings through music and imagery; our hometown on the prairie, our new home in the mountains, roots, history, nature, ect. With those ideas in mind, it just started flowing.

How much was Denver and Colorado an influence on your music?

The majesty and history of the Wild West and Rocky Mountains is very powerful and important to me. Being in Denver made it easier to tap into those feelings and emotions. The influence of Colorado and the West in general, after spending my whole life in South Dakota was very strong on me personally and musically.

What bands influenced you when you started? What ones influence you now?

I was really lucky that Neurosis used to be regular visitors to Sioux Falls, SD when I was a teenager. I saw them when I was 14 and it knocked me on my ass in a big way. I got to see them many more times growing up and they had a huge effect on me then and still to this day. They showed me that heavy music could be so much more thoughtful and artistic than the blood, guts, violence, and anger that many of their peers were peddling.

As I get older I find myself digging further in the history of music because we would be nothing without those who came before us. I would be less enlightened without these musical innovators/genius’ : Woody Guthrie, Cream, Hendrix, Jimmy Page, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Hank Williams, Hawkwind, Neil Young, and so many more. I find new influences everyday!

What spurred the move to Nashville?

Things got stale in Denver both musically and personally. I couldn’t find steady and committed musicians to play with Across Tundras. I couldn’t find a decent job. My sweet and loving dogs were “illegal” because of a ridiculous Pit Bull ban in the city. The scene was pretty cliquey and unwelcoming because half of the town was “snowblind”. It just got to a point where Denver didn’t feel like the right place for me to be anymore. I want to always be moving forward, not backward. Moving to a new city and a new start seemed like the best plan.

Was it a radical change from Denver?

It was and is a very radical change, yet welcome! From the liberal West to the buckle of the Bible Belt. I did spend 21 years of my life in South Dakota though, and it feels alot like the simple country living I grew up in. So despite the differences from Denver, I love it here and it feels like home.

Was it easier to connect with musicians in Nashville than Denver?

I got lucky and found two kick ass musicians right away in Nashville. I thought I was in for a long “rebuilding” process, but musically it all clicked and took off faster than I could of ever hoped for. Big props to Nate and Micah for stepping up and never looking back!

Musicians in Nashville are professional and have their shit together. This is Music City USA and if you are a slacker without passion, your gonna end up running home with your tail between your legs because it is a very serious thing here. Music is a tradition and way of life in Nashville; and I feel very connected to that.

What differences have you noticed between “Lonesome Wails from the Weeping Willows” and “Dark Song of The Prairie”

I actually see and hear a lot of parallels in sound and emotion between the two records. “Dark Songs” is a bit more abrasive and grungy, where “Lonesome Wails” was just indulging more in the folk and country aspects we established on “Dark Songs”. The sound of the two records and instrumentation was quite different though.

My idea behind the recording of “Lonesome Wails” was to do the most stripped down and minimal recording possible. I decided to use a single, crappy SM57 microphone with no ‘hi tech’ rack gear at all. Much the way Robert Johnson did those first recording sessions in November of 1936. I wanted to hear what Across Tundras would sound like without todays advancements in pro audio. All of the tones on that record are analog from a variety of natural sources. Amplified acoustic guitars, slide, mandolins, air organs, analog phase, recording rain storms, ect.

How do you go about writing lyrics? How are you inspired?

I get inspired lyrically the same way I do musically; from reading the works of the great literary minds of the world! I love all the old gothic writers and poets of the past. I look at the beauty of their words and incredible stories told; and try to hold myself to that standard of writing. I don’t see any point in writing cookie cutter commercial lyrics. I want them to be something you can see and feel on a deeper level.

Sometimes the right words are already written for our music by someone else who lived a hundred years ago. From time to time, I “borrow” lyrics or a poem when it strikes me as the right words for our music and put it together. It’s the closest thing I can find to going back in time and collaborating with Percy Bysse Shelley!

How would you describe the sound for this Album?

Old and new, soothing and disturbing, challenging and rewarding.

Do you find it hard to connect with audiences because of your mashing up of different styles? Also does your style make you an outsider in the metal community? What about country scene?

It is very fuckin tough sometimes. We played after Caspian last nite, and literally the entire room of 100 people left before we even started. Its unfortunate because some of those people may of appreciated what we had to offer, but never gave us a shot for whatever reason.

We try to play indie shows and everyone complains we are too loud/heavy.

I wish we could play country/americana shows, but our bastardization of country and folk would probably send them all running to the hills… so we don’t even get asked.
The metal community is the one place I feel at home; even though we are not a typical metal band at all… so props to the metal community for being the most open minded of all!

What bands out there should more people know about?

U.S. Christmas, Wovenhand, Battlefields, Vernal Pool, Mondo Drag, I Am the Tower

What are you touring plans looking like?

We are gonna keep going hard til we run out of gas and money!

Scott Thunes 2, Zappaholics only edition

During the 1960’s a lot of artists wanted to merge rock music with that of the classical world and the avant-garde. What sets Frank’s music apart apart from other artists who attempted to do so?

I wish I could help you more with this, but my appetite for music was very limited. I have some understanding of that type of music but mostly from a theoretical standpoint. There was something called the Third Stream, and it attempted to fuse classical and jazz. That brought up a bunch of great stuff, attempting to get classical soloists to improvise within a jazz methodology, but Frank’s music was totally written out. I don’t think the modern-classical sound-scape of Frank’s lent itself to a jazz interpretation.
Unless you’re talking about the Moody Blues or Jon Lord’s stuff, and that’s just pop music with orchestra as an integral part of the orchestration (led by the Beatles, natch) or classical-sounding stuff with rock organ improvised on top of it. Frank’s was merely modern classical music with some rock instrumentation included for coloristical purposes. Also, it lent itself to a different perspective on the part of the listener. Somebody sees some rock instruments on stage and they have expectations, expectations that Frank loved to mess with.

How serious was Frank about using his art to change peoples perceptions and ideas about music, and about society and politics?

I can’t answer that question on my own. it’s been subject to thousands if not millions of words during the past 50 years by people smarter and with larger vocabularies than myself. I’m just a little old bass player.

Frank’s and my conversations were limited, except that one time I asked him a huge open-ended question that cannot be recounted here, to nuts-and-bolts details of our performances together and/or life at his house, which I saw much of over the years.

I can only say that We’re Only In It For The Money was only the third in 60 albums spanning 30 years worth of trying to change people’s perception and ideas about all what you said. That seems rather serious to me.

How intricate was the system of hand signals musicians had to memorize to play with Frank?
Pretty moderate, in my opinion. Not that I can remember many of them, but maybe 10 were used with any regularity. Fuck You Middle Finger for highest note, pointing at the floor for lowest, forming letters with his hands for key changes (A, C, G, and E were quite popular, as they’re rather easy) and twisting his hair for Reggae. There was one for Mr. Rogers, which is ‘making it sound all tinkly’ but I can’t remember what it was. Time changes could be gesticulated, as could any number of gestural meanderings during conducted sections. Swoops and the like.
How well do you think the musicians who appeared on The first three Mothers albums played Franks music?

I loved those albums with a passion (still do) and I think they did excellent work. Two drummers? Killer horn and keyboard players? Singers like Roy Estrada? Nothing like them, ever.
How did Franks interactions with major labels work out for him?

After the debacle with Warner Brothers, and he made a pretty penny winning that lawsuit, I don’t think he had anything else to do with them, at least except for distribution. His problem was with radio not playing his stuff in America, Valley Girl notwithstanding.

If Frank were president, what kind of legislations could you see him backing?

I’m sorry, I can’t say. He was a social progressive but a fiscal conservative (by his own admission). He hated paying taxes. So did George Harrison, so he was in good liberal company there. Pot legalization would probably be backed by him not because, like me, he partook of said drug, but because he believed in personal freedom. But anything else, you might get a better answer from Gail.
How many hours a day did Frank typically work on his music?
Every second of the day he wasn’t sleeping, eating, or doing business. Honestly. He was always in the studio. Always.

Did you ever see or hear Frank interact with his parents and siblings, if so describe their interaction?

That, of course, and this is the point, really a personal question that I don’t feel entirely easy-going about answering (I’m still good friends with Gail and I would like to continue to be so, which is not to say I’m being guilted into silence nor am I being censored, but I feel strongly that my time spent up there was a privilege that I would not be honoring if I were to go into details), but I saw him interact with everybody, and I enjoyed seeing it immensely. He was rather like a king, rarely attempting to ‘parent’ or influence the actions or responses of his children, but coming and going around the house, almost always going from one place to another. But I did hang with him while he sat still and spoke, pontificated or listened calmly, was asked questions by his children and had great conversations with them. He once told me he would let the kids do anything they wanted if they could convince him of their path. I don’t know how often that happened.
What did Frank really think about jazz?

He thought it wasn’t dead but that it did smell funny, that it was the music of unemployment (this came to him after seeing Duke Ellington borrow some money from his road manager), and used the ‘aroma’ of it in a mostly humorous vein during my tenure with him. Other than that, the deep recesses of his concern for this music remain a mystery
Could you describe Frank’s creative process?

I saw him plonk out notes with two fingers on his then $90,000 Bosendorfer in the 32-foot-ceilinged room in his studio for hours, watched him type with two fingers on his 80’s-era green-screened computer monitor attached to his Synclavier for hours, watched him beat on an Octopad for hours to get raw rhythms to inject into the Synclavier and I watched him sit on his executive lounger in the control booth of the UMRK directing his engineer, rolling tape back and forth, sometimes (in the early part, not after digital) put razor to tape (that was my favorite) while he joked and laughed and put albums together. I also saw him bring music paper and pens to the beach the only time we sat on sand together (St. Petersburg, FL, 1981). I also had a conversation with him where he described the specific, and to him, wondrous properties of a certain ‘set’ of pitches that when manipulated a certain way engendered a miraculous transformation that I almost immediately and promptly forgot. He liked to either make up a set, or ten, and then either put two sets together vertically and horizontally (melodically and chordally) or mix up one set and do the vertical/horizontal thing to it by itself.

Do you think Frank was prejudiced against women in any way?

Not to my knowledge. I mean, we can go back and forth about his infantile focus on bathroom humor, or we can just view it as another form of documentary evidence of the types of women he met on the road, but I never heard him refer to women using terms usually reserved for locker rooms unless he met a total bitch, a fucking cunt, or a female asshole. If he had views on women, it was this: they were meant to stay at home and raise the children, but he didn’t point at women who didn’t do that and call them on it, like telling them to stay home or get off the road. Call it what you will.
Was Frank spiritual in any way?

Nope. Totally atheist and materialist.
How do you rank Frank as a composer?

He’s pretty good. I’m a thematic-leaning Germanic/dodecaphonicist, where, as we discussed before, Frank was a non-thematic composer in general (of course he orchestrated themes, that’s different), so for me, it doesn’t ‘hold together’ like I like music to hold together. He liked things to go from A to B to C to D…To Z and beyond, all the time having whatever else he liked float around the top sides and intra-dimensional parawhosits, which is great, and there are wonderful moments, and I love listening to much of it as pretty sounds. But I really like things to mix in with other things that give my mind something to hang on to. He didn’t need that.

If you like melodies, you listen to melodic music, so there’s something that you can hang along with on the ride from the start of the melody, through the transformative period and then back to the recapitulation, bring it all back together at the end. Or you can listen to crunchy rock guitar chords that, on their own, make for a satisfying musical experience. Or, you can search for meaning in the flurry of audio input, making out a sonic realm here and there, like looking for pretty pictures or apparent structures in clouds, but really it’s all just white noise and your mind is filling in the blanks without being asked. I think Frank preferred that. But I could be wrong.

Benn Jordan AKA The Flashbulb

An amazing electronic musician who is also a virtuoso guitarist, and an astute and innovative business man.

How did you first learn guitar? Self taught?

Upon seeing a kid-sized nylon-acoustic at the age of 6, I threw a fit until my Grandfather buckled and bought it for me. I’ve never had a lesson in my life. This isn’t because I’m confident, bold, and tough. It is because I started playing “inverted” style and nobody ever wanted to teach me. I suppose now I’m thankful for this because it has allowed me to play much more uniquely.

What caused you to get involved with electronic music?

Convenience, at first. I admit that when I was a teenager, I thought of electronic music as “cheating”. I guess I still think it is sometimes. I’m cheating now by using a computer to make my words seem much more legible than my horrible penmanship. Anyways, it was the easiest way to turn my ideas into recordings. Then I started realizing that you could do more with a drum machine than you could with a real drummer. And it seems like electronic music (in all of its shapes and sizes) has the most room for innovation. At least until some more acoustic instruments get invented or people start thirsting for microtonal symphonies.

How did you start scoring commercials?

I guess I always felt like my style of production was molded nicely for picture. I didn’t really have any desire to compose for advertisements until I started working with Vapor Music Group in Toronto. Not only did they give me spots that I enjoyed working on, but they treated me as more of a partner than just a source of music or income. Now I’m often in a position as a producer where I’m able to get friends involved as composers, which is great.

Any offers for films yet?

Sure. I’ve done more licensing than anything, at least in Hollywood. I seem to have a major problem with patience when it comes to a lot of things coming out of that city. After wasting so much time poolside or in a cafe, I’ve learned that working is much more valuable than talking. So out of Hollywood, all of the offers for composing I’ve had have been either insufficient monetarily, or the opposite of what I want to be working on. I must not forget that the way the industry works is very plagiaristic, routine, and judgmental. If I scored one movie about penguins, then the only jobs I’d ever get would be penguin movies. I did do some work on Secret Life Of Bees a few months back, and I have a couple of tentative things happening in the air while films are being produced.

I definitely want to compose for big feature films, but it only makes sense to be discriminatory until the right one comes along.

Do you ever plan on producing for bands?

I’ve worked with bands from time to time, but usually only on a one or two song basis. I wouldn’t be against producing a whole album if I was enthusiastic about the project and paid fairly.

What current artists should people know about?

Loaded question, so I’m going to name off a few electronic guys.

Kettel, Secede, The Great Mundane, Bartel, Jeswa/Josh K, and Polyfuse.

How did you get on the tour with The Dillinger Escape plan?

Ben Weinman was initially exposed to me directly through a Nine Inch Nails mix I did, and he’s also big fan of the genre I reside in. We met up a couple times, and perhaps due to my general apathy, he asked me if I could recommend him an artist who sounded like me who’d be willing to open for them. I haphazardly volunteered and ended up hopping on half-way through after negotiations.

Did you find it hard to connect with the audiences on that tour?

I was afraid it would be, but it wasn’t at all. I was imagining the audiences I saw in the 90’s at Pantera concerts…skinheads, stoners, and bikers. But DEP’s audience is really diverse and really open minded. There were of course a couple kids in the audience that didn’t want to hear anything but screaming metal, but it was genuinely well-received. I think the bigger problem was the press, who….as always, stun me with their ignorance and lack of attention to what they’re writing about. In a couple of the shows, my live set would be billed as “DJ Flashbulb”, or even “DJ Flashlight” in one of them. I remember reading a review describing my set as “a man pretending to play guitar over a prerecorded synthesizer mp3”. I guess MIDI pickups aren’t common knowledge yet?

Any good road stories from that tour?

Nothing too incredible. I got along with everyone well, but most of the time Ben and I would stay up until 7am when everyone else was sleeping and have the big room on the bus to ourselves to work in. Traveling on a tour bus, while far more convenient and comfortable, doesn’t even count as traveling for me. The tours I’ve done in the last 2 years have been in an SUV, usually avoiding freeways and interstate highways. Unless it is an emergency, I refuse to fly unless I’m going overseas…there is simply too much to be missed.

Favorite venue to play at and why?

Good question. The factors are usually sound, turnout, and amenities/backstage/staff. I’m going to stick with the USA since Europe’s worst venues are often better than the best ones on this side of the pond. The Abbey in Chicago or Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh are probably the closest to having it perfect.

What inspired “These Open Fields”

Way back in the day I did this mix/performance for a radio station in York, UK called “Me Touching Dead Air”. To this day I still think it is some of my best work. I was trying to recreate that vibe in These Open Fields, but ended up making something entirely different. Most of the album was made while drifting around the US and Central/South America and not at home.

Do you ever plan on releasing stuff that’s more singer-songwriter orientated rather than electronic based?

Releasing, maybe. I’ve made a lot of stuff that never seemed to fit into albums. I could probably compile it and release a vocal/folk album, but I guess I’m really controlling over the direction my releases travel artistically…and that isn’t on the plate just yet.

What business advice would you give young bands?

I suppose I’d tell them not to separate what their doing from any other business. Bands tend to make horrible business decisions because of desperation caused by competition or the eagerness to validate their artistic voice. If people are coming to see your show and paying cover, then you should get paid too. If people are using your music on television or in a film that is making a profit, then you should be getting paid too. There is no exception to this, especially since the standards you set for yourself will ultimately define your value. The more shows you play, the less of a new or unique experience it is for your fans to see you play. So wouldn’t it make more sense to play less, play better, and ask for more?

How have your legal problems with itunes panned out?

I really, really loathe that company. They’ve played ball with me, of course, because they were getting a huge pile of bad press as a result of not doing so. But even the higher level reps they’ve sent to deal with me are condescending. Their whole iTunes business model is proprietary and no different than the sunken ship the major labels set to sail 20 years ago with overpriced CDs. Apple makes a lot of money at the expense of your freedom to listen to music on whatever device you want.

What is your creative process like?

It really depends what I’m working on. For my own music it has gotten much slower and a bit more mature. I used to work out of a bedroom studio and just drink coffee and chain smoke through the nights. Now I have a 3 room studio on my lower level, and my living area upstairs. I set an alarm clock and live by a pretty set schedule. I even have dry erase boards with ideas and goals scratched out on them. Maybe I’m getting old?

Ideally how do you think record labels should behave?

In a way it is kind of like asking how a floppy disk drive distributor should behave. Should they try and invent reasons to bully people who use CDs or thumb drives? Or should they change their business model?
The record label is entirely obsolete. Some will argue that they are still required for promotion, but surely you don’t need an entire company to link an artist and publicist. I would say that every indy label should do business the way I do with Alphabasic (entirely non-profit to everyone but the artist), but you can’t expect people to do that unless they’re really passionate about their artists.

What effect do you think the Internet has had on independently released music?

Artistically, I suppose time will tell. Part of me believes that music will finally be subjected to a more Darwinian approach where bad song writers won’t get heard. Another part of me fears that perhaps Western civilization is more thrilled with fads than actual hard work and dedication when listening to an album. I suppose both are true.
The important thing is that the internet has separated copyright and tangibility. An artist no longer needs a major label record contract to have his or her music widely distributed, but at the same time, if savvy enough, a child doesn’t have to have parents well-off enough to afford premium cable to watch an HBO documentary or the History Channel. A huge part of what keeps the poor starving and the rich wealthy is control of information and education. I think part of this aggressive battle over copyright has more to do with than than anything. When information is free, they can no longer decide who stays ignorant.
Did that get too Sci-Fi?

Scott Thunes

Scott Thunes played bass on some of Zappa’s best recordings. His playing complimented Zappa’s extended solos particularly well, and he aided Zappa in arranging some Bartok pieces, for one of Zappa’s touring bands. Thunes has done tours with a handful of other artists, but has spent most of his time with his wife and two children.

What have you been doing for work these days?

I’m a stay at home dad this decade.

Have you been working on any new material?

I don’t have any old material. Really, I’m just a kind of bass player.

When was the last time you played a gig and how did it go?

Funny you should ask. Right before this weekend my last gig was with my friend Kyle Alden, helping out with low frequencies on his more pop-oriented tunes. It was nice. My wife was there and she got to see me play my flat-wound, fingerstyle which I don’t normally do. I’m more of a round-wound heavy-pick using son-of-a-gun. Mellow. Groovy. Slippy. Not growly. Punchy. Hard. Right?

Have you pursued any artistic endeavors outside of music?

Urm…takin’ pitchers? Starting thinking about writing my book? Clearing the front yard of tons of river rock?

Do you have any all time favorite composers or bands?


Do you keep up with new music, and if so do any artists stick out to you?


If you had unlimited money, highly trained musicians of your choice, and unlimited rehearsal time to produce a piece of music, what kind of ensemble would you bring together for it, and what would it sound like?

It would probably look a lot like the Ensemble Moderne and would sound like shit because I don’t know what I’m doing. On a lighter note, I’d mix up some Hindemith, Tubin, Hartmann, Henze, Busoni, and Reger in a big mental pot and cross my fingers.

If you could join any group or musical ensemble what would it be?

I would bring my brother back from the dead, all musty and decrepit, and reform the Young Republicans from the 80s. We’d get so big so quickly that I would have had to think twice about leaving to play with Frank.

Would you ever consider touring with Fear again?

I would have to add some requirements, such as Lee actually paying me for the album I made with him over 13 years ago, he’d have to apologize for the way he treated me and my friend on the last day of recording (and all throughout the tour, starting around D.C.) and he’d have to wear a different fabulous dress every night and have the words “Racist Homophobe” tattooed on his forehead (heh heh, just kidding)

What do you think of Microtonal music?

I’m a big fan. I love Charles Ives’ Three Quarter-Tone Pieces for Piano and the works of Alois Haba in general (did you know that Frank was a follower of Haba’s method of non-thematic Composition?)

What do you think was Frank Zappa’s greatest artistic achievement?

Probably 200 Motels. Or maybe Lumpy/Money. Billy the Mountain rates pretty high. YCDTOSA Complete is a dramatic statement. Solitude.

Do you see yourself becoming more involved in music again once your children leave the home?

I’ve already started the rehabilitation process.

If you could how would you restructure how music is taught at the high school and college levels?

No idea. Never really did high school.

Why do you think orchestral music isn’t as popular as rock music?

Americans, at least, have been radically dumbed-down, and it takes more than an appreciation for a pretty melody to ‘do’ orchestral music.

Where do you stand politically, and what would you like to see change over the course of Obama’s first term?

I’m a lefty, pretty hardcore, and legalizing pot would have to rate pretty high. I don’t smoke and haven’t for two decades, but it’s a sin how many people are incarcerated for things like that. Worse, Bush and his cronies are rich, free, and terminally and inhumanely cluless as to the long-tern damage they’ve done. (Or Are They?!?!) A Truth and Reconciliation committee should be convened as soon as possible.

What do you consider to be the best recorded example of your bass playing?

Sunrise Redeemer, Fire and Chains, Death And Love ( Love and Death?) off of The Waterboys’ Dream Harder, and my entire contribution to the album, In Remembrance (found on by my Junior High School friend, Geoff Wolf.

Glenn Branca

Branca, is an avant-garde composer, who paid his dues playing in experimental rock groups during the No Wave art movement in New York. Branca’s compositions explore just intonations and often incorporate lots and lots of dissonance. His latest piece entitled The Harmonic Series explores, suprisingly, the harmonic series. Four out of the five movements within The Harmonic Series have yet to be commissioned, so if you have any cash and love great music Glenn could use a hand.  Along with being a great musician Branca seems like a nice, well read guy who doesn’t shy away from honest answers, and is quite funny.

Where do your initial ideas for pieces come from?

That’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer.

Does improvisation play in your composing process?

I have often used structured improv and still do at times.

But in general I don’t like the word anymore since it tends
to imply a Zorn style improv that isn’t something that I do
and I don’t enjoy listening to.

Do you leave room in your pieces for improvisation, or is everything written out note for note?

I think that I’ve already answered that one. But most of it is written out note for note. I will say that I’m a big fan of the kind of improv that Miles was doing in the 60’s with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. In fact I’m working on

a “Jazz Symphony” that would develop what they were doing at the time, which was some of the most unique, complex and beautiful music ever recorded.

Do you view yourself as a spiritual or mystical person, how do you think it affects your creative process?

No. I believe that we understand very little of what’s going on here. But I do believe that there is a life force or light within

us all. I don’t think science has come close to explaining what it is, although I’m a big fan a science and math.
How does it effect my creative process? It is my creative process.

Have you ever incorporated aleatoric composition into any of your works?

Yes. Very often. In fact I like music that gives me unpredictable results but always in the context of a structured design.

Why do you think exploring micro-tonal music is important, and what initially drew you to it?

At first it was just a different kind of tuning system. I was doing a lot of work with different tunings in the late 70’s and early

80’s. But when I started working with the Harmonic Series I discovered a whole world: musically, philosophically and even
“spiritually” (which I define as anything outside of what can be rationally defined). What drew me to it was just curiosity and and interest in experimentation.

Why have you taken to playing a double bodied guitar with one neck?

It’s a “Harmonics Guitar”. Something I invented in the early 80’s. The original was just a long 2×4. Later in the 90’s a friend suggested that I make one that could be played like a normal guitar (the original had to be played sitting down like a lap steel).

If you want more info about what the Harmonics Guitar is check out Bart Hopkin’s book “Experimental Musical Instrument Design”. It’s got a detailed explanation of my original instrument.

How would you change how music is taught in the high school setting, if you had the option to re-arrange it any way you like?

I never studied music in high school so I really couldn’t answer that.

How is your 14th symphony coming along, and when can we expect to hear it?

Only the first movement has been written and performed. You’ll have to wait until I get commissions for the other 4 movements.

And since the piece is for full symphony orchestra that might be a very long time.

What instruments is your 14th symphony written for?

Answer above. But I will tell you that the whole thing is in the intonation of the harmonic series. The name of the piece is in fact THE HARMONIC SERIES.

Could you see yourself producing more rock oriented material in the future, or do you see yourself sticking to orchestra composition?

I will still write pieces for 100 guitars if and when I get commissions. I still think that I can get an orchestral sound that rocks out of 100 guitars. We shall see.

How much music, which abides by the traditional Western 12 note system do you listen to, and do you see it as more or less interesting than micro-tonal music?

I think that good music can work in any system. As Steve Reich once said: “It’s not what you do it’s how you do it.”

Recently I’ve been listening to Beethoven piano sonatas (killer). At the moment I think the best orchestral composer was Debussy.

Which authors have you been reading lately, and has any of their work influenced your composing?

Reading and collecting are my hobbies. Occasionally I’ll lift a name or a quote from something I really like.

Actually tonight I read Ben Jonson’s “A Farewell To The World”. It was on of those things that really
said it for me and I might use it as a title for something. At the moment my fav authors are: David Mitchell, Christopher Brookmyre, Irvine Welsh, Paul Di Filippo, Christopher Buckley, Alan Moore (when he bothers to do something), Martin Gardner and John Shirley. My complete list would include lots of dead people and a number of others who haven’t written much that’s any good recently but nonetheless have done a lot brilliant stuff. Let’s say that would number at least 100.

Interview with Odawas

Where and when did you form?

Odawas was formed in Bloomington, IN. Michael and myself both worked for the student newspaper. I wrote film and music reviews and Michael was my editor. While working on a short film, I learned that Michael occasionally played music, so I decided to see if he would be interested in doing some music for the short film. He played some demos for me and asked if I’d be interested in recording some parts from a keyboard he had. Neither of us had been in a band before that point, and I don’t think either of us thought for a moment that a band was being forged in those moments. The short film was never finished, but those demos became the Vitamin City EP, and I suppose the rest is history…

Who plays what during you live performance?

Typically, Michael plays acoustic guitar/harmonica and covers the vocals, while I play a couple of different keyboards.

How have you changed stylistically since forming?

I think the stylistic core of Odawas has remained the same, in that it is music based around the folk singer/singer-songwriter and the stories they tell. However, the worlds in which we choose to situate those stories has developed and gone through changes over the course of our albums. Following the EP, our first album for Jagjaguwar (The Aether Eater) was a psychedelic blitz of ambition coming from musicians finding themselves in a studio for the first time with free reign. The elements of psychedelia were honed down and filtered through a spaghetti western aurora for our following effort (Raven and the White Night). With our most recent album (The Blue Depths), the musical exploration of other and strange worlds found in psychedelia were continued, but now found themselves awash in synthetic reimaginings. But always at the heart is the singer-songwriter.

How do your songs come together?

This is another process that has evolved with time. Our current method of working usually involves Michael recording a series of demos for possible songs and ideas for the direction of sound. These are handed over to me and I begin working on arrangements and trying to assemble both the world Michael envisions with his songs and the sounds these worlds will consist of. After new and fuller demos are cut, the real work begins of figuring our what is and isn’t working, new directions suggested, old ideas abandoned, and stitching the pieces together again.

How do you write lyrics, and what themes do you prefer to cover?

Michael writes the lyrics for Odawas and these most often come after a song has been written. In a lot of ways, it really follows stream-of-consciousness as we work out the structure of the song and Michael plays with various phrases or ideas until he finds something that sticks and then a story begins to form around that. Stories are fairly central to all of our work. With The Aether Eater, we followed the hell-bent maddening of an astronaut, a la Dante’s Inferno via the furthest reaches of space. Raven and the White Night was loosely based around the events and experiences of the Jonestown massacre, the ideas of religious ecstacy and hypocrisy, and ultimately abandonment. With The Blue Depths, conceptually we focused more around the world we situated the songs within and less on a series of interconnected stories, though themes of love lost and won, secrets and death permeate its entirety.

Who have you most been most excited to play live with?

We’re always excited to play with the different musicians we’ve formed relationships with over the years. Shows with the likes of Zelionople, Elephant Micah, and the Black Swans always brought great times, great music, and great memories. We also have a show coming up at the Great American Music Hall with Autolux, which is an incredible band from LA that we are really excited to be playing with. Both the band and the venue seem pretty overwhelming, and that’s just how we like it.

What inspires you other than music?

Most directly, other than music, would be film. Film in all of its auspices has been greatly influential to both of us, its means of weaving stories with music and sound, and, in a way, is a great mirror to the means of production and work that goes into making an album of ours.

Where do you see yourselves as a band in five years?

This is completely dependant on the outcome of 2012, however, in five years, I believe Odawas will either be castled away in some decadently remote and ghost ridden studio, tapping the ether and releasing our creations in a Wizard-ly fashion or perhaps performing elaborate productions that are equal parts Scott Walker and Cirque du Soleil. Hopefully both. We definately have aspirations to be working in film/televison.

What has been the best moment you’ve experienced being in Odawas?

While we often consider ourselves a more studio oriented band at the time, playing live is always interesting and some of the best moments of being a part of Odawas come from those shows. We are always greatly appreciative and equally afftected when people come to us following a performance to tell us what they thought of the show. Regardless of where their opinions fall, its nice to know you’re connecting with people and that they care and/or are moved enough to come talk to you about it.

Why do you think your music is important?

I think if there is any one reason why our music is important, outside of to ourselves, it’s because it is definately the result of two guys who have had a dream and have been persistent in chasing that dream. Neither of us our virtuoso musicians, with all the time and money in the world. We’re average guys, with boring jobs that we have to work to make ends meet, whose cell phones get turned off from time to time. But we have this dream of music, and we follow it, we do the best we can, and we keep going. We may not be the best at what we do yet, but we’re fighting to get there, learning along the way, and not looking back. Dreams are an immovable compromise and our music is a reflection of that journey. That’s what is important.

Interview with Jez Lowe

Jez Lowe is a folk artist hailing from the North East of England He has been making great music since 1980, and warrants your attention if you like strong lyrics a charming voice and beautiful folk guitar.

When did you decide you were going to make your living playing music?

J – It was always a hope, but it was a gradual decision. I studied at college for a few years and by the time I finished that, I knew I was going to give it a go as a profession.

How do you write your lyrics?

I keep a note-book and a small tape recorder and take notes for both lyrics and melodies as I travel around, then let them ferment until I make the big step of putting things down on paper. It can take a long time, or it can happen very quickly.

What are you favorite lyrical themes?

People and relationships, and the context in which they occur. Often with a background of North east England where I come from.

What kind of effect do you think The Internet has had on music?

Good and bad. The accessability has good sides and bad sides. I don’t worry about “rip-offs” or illegal downloads really. But the easiness for people to make music and present it has perhaps diluted the quality of the finished product. But also given us some great new songs!

Do you follow any new bands or singers?

Always try to hear everyone that I hear about. Lots of great new players emerging all the time on the acoustic scene.

Why do you think the music you make is important?

I don’t really think of it in those terms. I get a kick out of doing it, and from other people enjoying it. When I hear other performers talking about their stuff as being “significant and important” it just puts me off.

Do you see yourself as part of a scene or artistic movement?

Part of a world-wide folk movement.

What do you think about Obama’s election?

Thrilling. Fresh, clean, hopeful – what more can we ask for? I hope America gives him the long-term chance he deserves, and the world deserves.

What has kept you making music all these years?

I just love it. It’s the most important thing for me, rightly or wrongly. Sometimes I forget to eat because I’m too busy thinking about playing music.

How many instruments can you play?

Mainly just guitar-type things, plus harmonica and a bit of keyboards and tin-whistle. Banjo, mandolin, cittern.

When are you playing in The United States again?
I’m at Old Songs Festival near Albany NY in late June with a bunch of other gigs on the east coast. Can’t wait to come back!

Interview Murry Hammond

Murry Hammond is a member of the Old 97’s and has a solo career recording gospel tinged country songs. He’s a nice guy and a hell of a songwriter. Check him out.

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Where do you come from?

I grew up in a town of about a 1000 people west of Fort Worth. The town is called Boyd. I left right after high school.

When did you start writing music?

I was a late starter – didn’t know how to play an instrument until summer of 1984, when I was 20, but I got started right away. It took me a couple of years before I’d write anything I was proud of.

How do you write lyrics?

I like the “hard truth” of life, and I write best when I’ve said that in some plain way that sort of stings a bit. I’m not really happy with what I’ve written until I feel I’ve accomplished this. I really struggle with words – it takes me a long time to get it right in my mind – but knowing this about myself, I never put a time limit or a deadline on anything. Everything is in a slow cooker. I do know when song is finished, though.

How important is your faith to you, and how did you come about it?

My faith is very important to me – it drives my whole life. I’m a better person for it, a nicer person, I think. In less pain than in the old days. It’s been just a really good tool for cutting everybody some slack in a real fundamental way. To see people how God might see them, and see my place along side them. That’s the gist of it. No preachy stuff, I don’t like preaching or being preached to. I know it in my gut – what I call the Holy Spirit.

How I came about it… I just felt called to it – it’s always made a certain amount of sense to me, but I had to get rid of all the images and ideas of those televangelist types which always turned me off to it. I had to tear it all down in my mind, and rebuild it, throw away the hypocrisy and lies and keep what was good. Then it started making sense to me. You have to be vigilant about your own faith – there’s a lot of voices out there, and they aren’t all operating out of love. There’s a lot of hatred and intolerance and fear and self-interest in all religions. You just have to throw away what’s bad and keep what’s good.

Do you belong to any particular church or sect?

I’ve belonged to a denomination called “Disciples of Christ” for years now. The denomination doesn’t have a credo or an ideology beyond just trying to obey Jesus’ command to be good to each other, help people in the community and beyond, and try to fix ourselves in the process. It’s pretty inclusive – so much so, I imagine most right-thinking Christians probably think we’re going to hell. :p

Do you see yourself as part of a scene or artistic movement?

Not that I’m aware of. I know of some like-minded artists, but I imagine we’re just more folk music, you know?

Could you see yourself making a living doing something other than music?

Oh yes – I’ve always wanted to be a librarian, to work in special collections and preservation. I didn’t finish school for this, so I’ve done this very thing as a hobby for years. I have a website call Texas Transportation Archive that collects together material on Texas and Louisiana railroad and sawmill history. The link is

If given the option what one thing would you change about America?

We need to be passionately curious about the rest of the world, and see our connectiveness with everyone out there and between ourselves as Americans. We have to meet in the middle in order to transform this cultural civil war we’ve been struggling with for so many decades now. Our culture wars have created two opposing idealogies that see their “war” as a war of conquest, and no one wants to give an inch lest they lose the whole game and perish. So nothing gets done for our planet and our peoples, as Americans we isolate ourselves in the world, and we go forward divided and afraid. I wish every child in this world got to travel some, I think it would really have a good effect on how we all treat each other. I’m hopeful, though – seems like we’re talking about how to build bridges and finding common ground again.

Would you ever sign to a major label?

No, not anymore. I think it would muck things up, and the Old 97’s feel the same way. I think either doing it all yourself, or finding that happy medium between DIY and getting help from a company is up my alley. You have to make your record deal – even if it is you doing everything – work with your life. A major deal doesn’t do you any good if it take you away from your family and leads you into a life where the quality of life actually goes down. On the other side – if you are in a position to travel and really take a bite out of your music career, a label situation might really enhance just how much “reach” you have. The point is not to be famous, but being happy and productive, to wake up each day being unable to contain your own enthusiasm. For me, it’s being on an indie label with the 97’s, and doing my solo stuff entirely DIY. I’m happiest here.

What is your life like outside of being a musician?

I’m married and a father of a little boy. I’m really happy being around the house. My music life is really amped up when it happens, so I go completely the opposite way when I’m not playing.

Have you encountered any young bands, that you think deserve more attention?

I’ve been in a wordless music phase, so my playist right now is full of ambient and vocal groups – Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, Arvo Part, Henryk Górecki, throat singing from David Hykes and Jim Cole – that’s really trippy stuff right there. I’ll soon go the other way with 60’s garage or old punk rock, I imagine. I’m an old ex-80’s hardcore punk rock guy, and I’ve recently befriended a couple of young hardcore punk kids on MySpace that promise to turn me onto stuff they swear I’ll love… I’ll keep you posted!

If you could play a show with any musician of your choice, who would it be?

If I were to fantasize about bills I’d be happy on… Innocence Mission, Doc Watson… there are so many are dead and gone – Johnny Cash, June Carter, etc.

Interview with Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros has been composing music since most of you were in diapers. She is a large proponent of drone based music and has recently released a book on the subject. Do yourself a favor and experience some of her music.

What initially drew you to drone based music?

The sound of tones.

Why do you think the kind of music you make is important?

It is important to me however that is not necessarily important to others and the importance of my music is for others to decide.

How did you come to play accordion?

My mother brought an accordion home when I was 9 years old and I got fascinated.

What kind of experience do you think listeners should have when listening to your music?

Experience is personal and private so there is no “should” coming from me. I would like for their experience to be expansive but there is no guarantee.

Who do you feel most lucky to have worked with?

David Tudor

Could you see yourself doing something other than being a composer?

Sure, I’d be a scientist

How much over your music involves improvisation?

Almost all of it

How important do you think improvisation is to music as a whole?

Most of the world’s music is improvised.

What young composers and musicians deserve more attention?

All of them that want to create music.

What do you listen to for enjoyment?

Different music at different times. I like all music.

What is the greatest experience you’ve had performing music?

Usually the most recent.

If you could how would you change the way music is taught through the public school system?

I would introduce instrument making and improvisation and sound art.

What do you do for fun outside of music?

Visit with friends

Interview with Gentleman Reg

Gentleman Reg was kind enough to answer some questions for us. Keep your eyes out for this Canadian songwriter and his top notch band.

How do you write lyrics?

Generally lyrics come last. After there’s a guitar riff and a vocal melody i fit lyrics in. And often incorporate my jibberish and improvised lyrics into the final lyrics. Once in a while there will be one or two lines which start things off. Like in “you can’t get it back’, i had the line ‘Show me what the girl does’ and wrote the rest around that line. So then the trick is figuring out what that initial line means and what else you can sing that relates to it, and then it just builds. Titles always are the final thing.

Do you have any favorite themes or topics you like to write about?

I like to take little bits of things in my life, situations, events, people, and then create stories around them. Very few of my songs are completely autobiographical, they’re all bits of reality meshed with fiction. But the topics always differ. i’m too scattered to write on the same theme for any length of time.

Do you see yourself as part of any broader cultural movements or scenes?

I’m part of a queer art scene in downtown toronto. But it’s pretty vast and varied and without a home base. I am a cycling advocate, and have taken part in benefits and rally’s for cycling in the past.

Having been independent and on a label, which do you prefer?

We’ll being part of a label of this size is stil quite new to me, but so far i prefer this to any other situation i’ve been in. I’m the kind of person that functions best with help, a support system, people to get answers from. So far it’s ideal.

How does the music for your band come together?

Generally i’ll have a song with vocals and chords changes and melodies all in place. Then i’ll bring it to whoever, sometimes just Greg, drums, or him and francois, guitar, and we’ll just play through it and see how it develops. Sometimes it doesn’t change much at all. This album though was the first time songs did in fact change dramatically once brought to the band. just a few. but i was open to letting that happen this time out.

Do you like to play leads, or do you prefer to stick with rhythm playing?

I play rhythm guitar. I get guitar players like Bry Webb to play leads on my songs. He makes my songs better.

Why do you think the music you make is important?

Well there really aren’t alot of people that sound like me are there? I like music that does something new and pushes things a bit, and just singing from a queer male place gives my lyrics a different perspective, and then singing those lyrics in a breathy/raspy falsetto adds a unique slightly unusual texture to the vocals. But ultimately my music is important to me because i can’t not make it. It’s important for my sanity. Ultimately i want listeners, but i’ve been doing this for ages without them so i’ll just keep pushing forward and hope people hop along for the ride.

Could you see yourself doing anything other than playing music?

Well i do the occasional acting in film and theatre, and that just seems to find me. I do al ot of ‘art’ modeling for various things. Whenever someone needs an albino for a photograph i’m the one they call. And i’ve had a plethora of day jobs, so i’ll always have something to do, but always alongside music.

If you had the option would you sign to a major label?

Possibly. Though i would NEVER be what they want so it’s a non issue.

What do you find inspiring other than music?

Art, my friends, books, i’m an avid reader, rooftop gardens, toronto island, solitude. i like how all those things could equally apply to an aging woman.

If given the choice, what band or artist would you most like to tour with?

I’d love to tour with Arcade Fire. We’ve certainly played shows together in the past but never done a tour. I would just never get bored of watching them every night.
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