Archive for November, 2012

Interview: Dūrocs’ Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle, Part Five

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Bill Kopp: How did you come to have Elliot Mazer co-produce? Did you pick him or did Capitol say, “Here’s the guy.” And how do you think his presence affected the nature of the final product?

Scott Mathews: He was in San Francisco, and he had a studio. He let us come in and do some demos prior to the A&M period. On spec. We were friends with Elliot; I did some sessions for him with other artists. And Capitol knew that they could trust him with a budget, and that we were friends and could do this. So I don’t recall whose idea it was, frankly, for Elliot to be there with us, but we went along with it. And for the most part it went just fine. It’s different having a third party: you can hear the difference when it’s just us, on the bonus tracks. He’s really a guy who understands electronics; he was on the cutting edge of all sorts of gadgetry, and had some really good ideas. But aesthetically, you can sort of brand people based on the work that they’ve done, and Elliot’s known for a certain style of music. We’re different from that.

BK: Right. You’re jazz guys. [laughs]

Ron Nagle: Right! He made his mark with the first Neil Young album. And Jack Nitzsche – who had worked with Elliot – was also a dear friend. Elliot made that record sound great. But I don’t know if he had the same kind of warped sense of humor that we had. I don’t think he quite got the sort of take we have on people and on life. And the other thing is, when you’ve got three guys. There’s chemistry between me and Scott, because we had been working a lot together. And that got upset in some way. And what Scott mentioned about the mastering, too. The mastering on the new reissue is better. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better.

BK: Not to get too “inside baseball,” but being a liner notes reader such as I am, I have to ask: What the hell is a “battered otto?”

RN: [long pause followed by hearty laughter] I think the original concept was based on Jack Nitzsche’s Nitzschephone, a completely fictitious instrument. So it’s in the tradition of that. Autoharp, maybe?

SM: Vibes, maybe. We had battered vibes, Durophone. We were just fucking around.

RN: It was the beginning of the ecological movement, so there were references to battering baby seals.

BK: Nice…

RN: “No seals were battered in the making of this record.” It was just us being esoteric, as we are prone to sometimes being.

SM: It’s more interesting than saying we used a synthesizer.

BK: Were you intentionally trying to channel Chuck Berry‘s “You Can’t Catch Me” on “No Big Deal?”

SM: No.

BK: Okay, because when John Lennon tried the same thing on “Come Together,” he got sued.

SM: It’s part of the proud tradition of writing songs that list all the things you’ve got.

RN: What that song does have is a really exciting guitar lick on top of the story. There’s a tradition of – we hate the term rock’n'roll, so let’s say pop music – of over-indulgence and self-aggrandizing. So we tried our hand at that.

BK: 48-track recording was in its infancy in 1979, wasn’t it? Do you think having all those tracks at your disposal affected the sound and feel of the album? If so, in what ways?

SM: It had been done once or twice in L.A., but in northern California, never before. There was some trial and error in terms of how the chains linked, but I’ve got to give all the credit to Elliot.

RN: He was the only guy who knew how to do it. The only guy. We actually have – twenty feet from where we’re sitting right now – a whole box of 48-track master tapes. And it would take years to figure out how to sync them up.

SM: Those were the days of SMPTE code. That’s probably where Elliot shone the most.

BK: I’m a keyboard player, and I’m into what’s now considered vintage equipment. Analog and so forth. The credits indicate that all but one of the songs on the album used synthesizers. I know it’s been a lot of years, but do you remember what sort of synths you used on the album?

SM: We were big on the Yamaha CS80.

RN: We were given the option of having a string budget or using that money to buy a synthesizer. The CS80 – which weighed something ridiculous – had a lot of really interesting sounds. But there are a lot of different keyboards on there. Acoustic piano, tack piano. We are also vintage keyboard guys.

SM: I’m nuts for the old analog stuff. My studio’s full of it; I’ll never get rid of it. We use it on a lot of stuff we’re working on now. And we’re really excited about that; I know we’re here to talk about the Dūrocs reissue, but we’re still rockin’ it. More than ever.

RN: And I think all of the qualities that you mentioned are all there in spades on the new stuff, too. We’re really proud of what we’re doing now.

SM: We’re convinced we’re getting better…

RN: The idea is that the older you get, the better you get. At least that’s always been my idea.

BK: That’s the story I’m sticking with, too.

RN: Everybody we dig, they just get better as they get older.

BK: Last question, digging deep into esoterica. To the way I hear it, “Nawgahide” is very much a piece with The Tubes’ “Bora Bora 2000.” Pure coincidence or something more?

SM: I know the Tubes song you mention; I just spun the vinyl a few months ago, and I remember thinking that too. I was actually in the studio when the Tubes made that song! But our song was just one of those things; we got fascinated with Ernie K-Doe, and met him and got some tapes from his radio show on WWOZ. He’s just going off. And I’ve got miles and miles of tape of that. So I just threw those together, and put them on top of another tribal drum track that I had maybe started for another song.

RN: Not to get too academic, but there is a sort of quasi-narrative to it. It’s a story, but it’s a story Scott created on his own, by taking bits and pieces.

BK: Come to think of it, doing that put you ahead of Brian Eno and David Byrne when they did My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

SM: It was ahead of its time, but it also caught the interest of [label name deleted]. They flipped for it, and did everything they could to put it out. But [name deleted] put the kibosh on it, I think. You probably don’t want to mention that. [laughs]

The expanded CD reissue of Dūrocs is available from Real Gone Music.

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Interview: Dūrocs’ Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle, Part Four

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Bill Kopp: There was no Dūrocs II. Was your deal with Capitol a one-off or were you dropped?

Ron Nagle: I don’t even remember how we were informed. I think it was some sort of Dear John letter.

Scott Mathews: Clearly, it was a two-way street. After we had that meeting with Bobby Colomby, there wasn’t any love there. We could feel that. We were ambitious, and thrilled to get on with the next step – whatever that would be – but it didn’t feel like Capitol was behind that. There wasn’t a lot of regret; it didn’t feel good to fold, but at the same time, it didn’t feel great to be someplace where they didn’t “get” it. But we continued: we built our own studio and started recording like mad…

RN: And people started recording our songs. We have sold millions and millions of records that other people have done. Barbra Streisand, The Tubes’ “Don’t Touch Me There,” et cetera.

SM: the other thing people forget is that there was a guy called John Carter; he was the one who revived Tina Turner‘s career. And he was not at all happy with us being on Capitol.

RN: He was not a supporter. It took a lot of work on the part of those who were our advocates to get us signed.

SM: Here’s why. I worked on an album at Abbey Road, a Sammy Hagar record. Carter was not really his manager, but he was kind of his A&R guy. I wasn’t very interested in Sammy Hagar, but I was surely interested in going over to London and recording at Abbey Road. So I wouldn’t join the band, and he had all these other people who were toeing the line, following the rules. I was not one of those. I was a renegade, ringer kind of guy who they brought into do this record. I had no interest in ever performing live with Sammy, and that caused some issues between me and Carter. To the extent that when he sent me the finished record, the note that he put in with it read, “You belong on the road, asshole.”

RN: So [sometime later] we were out in the middle of the parking lot, smoking a joint, and I walked up to Carter and I said, “You know what? You should be on the road, asshole!” I don’t know if he caught the reference or not.

SM: What we’re saying, I guess, is that one guy can sign you, but it takes the whole team getting behind you. The label has to all get together and agree, “We’re gonna promote this band.” And that certainly didn’t happen with us.

RN: Speaking of The Knack, Doug Fieger – now the late Doug Fieger – came up to us once and said, “I really like your record.” That was very gracious of him; they were huge at that point. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but some people got us.

BK: To my ears, the eight “bone-us” tracks on the new RGM reissue are – taken as a whole – actually a bit stronger than the album-proper.

RN: You’re a very wise man, Bill.

BK: I have my suspicions as to why that is the case…

RN: Tell us why, Bill. Because after 30-plus years, we’ve come to the same conclusion. Not that the other ones are bad, but we’ve just developed as songwriters. I mean, the shit we’re doing now is amazing.

BK: I will say this: I could play the original album for any of my hardcore music friends, and they’d listen and then look at me and say, “1979.” They would know exactly when it was recorded, not because of the songs, but because of the production. I don’t hear that kind of dated production aesthetic in the bonus tracks. I hear more of a timeless, direct, no-bullshit kind of production.

SM: Direct and no bullshit: you know how we got that? Nobody was watching us over our shoulder. We didn’t have a watchdog, like Elliot Mazer was for the album. I’m not putting him down, but they didn’t give us the keys to the highway. It was more like, he was the guy, and they let us co-produce. Later, we built a studio for ourselves, and we made music for ourselves. And that is what you hear on those bonus tracks.

RN: What you hear is our sense of freedom; we didn’t give a shit if they were commercial songs, or “is anybody gonna get this?” We did it for the sheer love of doing it, in our own place. The two of us, no engineer. We just did it, and we brought our individual abilities and talents.

BK: Those tracks sort of “breathe” more…

RN: They’re less dense, too. I think on the album we may have been a little overindulgent. Later we were looking for a different approach. What we’re doing now has that, but it still has the freshness of those bonus tracks.

SM: We had control over the mixing and the mastering on those, too. Because when the album came out on Capitol and I heard it, I was so disappointed. It was flat and mushy. It doesn’t stand strong, especially in the rhythm department. I’m bangin’ those drums as hard as I can, and I listen to the record and think, “Wait a minute! Why is it soft?” Part of that is the layering. When you put something else on top, other things get taken away. On the bonus tracks, we had sixteen tracks, and the limitations perhaps served us well.

RN: It’s also the songs. Some of those were actually written around ’79. Then we went back and revived them worked on them more. Sometimes even years later.

BK: And that’s actually my question. The liner notes tell us the what and the where, but there’s no clue as to the when. Are those tracks unused demos from the album? A second album demo session in progress? Something else?

SM: [mumbles] Maybe a five year period…

RN: When you do bonus tracks, the label usually says, “Give us something that was done around the same time.” Our memories being what they are, I would say…yeah. Five years, maybe.

SM: We made a whole second record, but we were trying to keep those separate from the bonus tracks. But one song, “Pete Has Got the Power,” is from that.

BK: Really? That’s my favorite track on the entire disc.

SM: Thanks. We kinda couldn’t keep that one out.

RN: I’m glad we did this. We have another album which will eventually come out. Our sophomore release, thirty years later.

To be continued…

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Interview: Dūrocs’ Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle, Part Three

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Bill Kopp: So you guys were originally signed by A&M, but – as I understand it – that was around the time that A&M figured out it didn’t know what to do with rock bands, especially unusual, hard-to-pigeonhole ones. The Tubes got dropped after doing arguably their best albums for the label – Remote Control and the double live – and then they ended up on Capitol. That’s where you landed for the recording and release of the album, too. I know your Tubes connection – Ron co-wrote “Don’t Touch Me There,” and the two of you penned “Pound of Flesh” for them — was there any sort of connection between your being on Capitol and them eventually being here, or is it just a coincidence?

Scott Mathews: Well, “small world” style. The same guy was behind both signings. But our A&M signing was not exactly full-on; it was…what do they call it…a development deal. They gave us a certain amount of money… in our case, not to record; we had already proven ourselves in that respect…

Ron Nagle: We had this front money to use to put together a live band. And I was gonna be the old guy who didn’t go on the road.

BK: The Keith Reid, the Brian Wilson

RN: You get it; exactly.

SM: Kip Cohen‘s idea was to put us together as a band, and – I wouldn’t say reluctantly, but it really wasn’t our game plan – we thought, “Hey, somebody’s given us quite a lot of money to put together a band.” So we spent every dime of it on doing that. And they gave us a lot of dough. We rehearsed for a long time, got ready, and then had the worst showcase show for Jerry Moss. Strings breaking, basses going out of tune…

RN: The lead guitar player’s rock posturing, I think, was part of it too… [laughs]

SM: That was a critical offense. We had six guys in the band: two keyboard players, two guitarists. I wasn’t doing the posturing thing; I don’t know how to do that. [laughs]

RN: No, not you! [laughs even louder]

SM: We had great vocals, but we had a shitty-ass showcase for Jerry Moss. He was the one-and-only decider. We didn’t road-test any of the songs, play the Roxy all night, or any of the things you’re supposed to do. And in fact we should have done that, just to get our “legs.” But we laid an egg that night, and that was that.

RN: To their credit, A&M did give us the masters; we had done some recording for them. And a couple of those tracks wound up on the Capitol release. But A&M gave those to us; they didn’t say, “Hey, you owe us for these.” They said, “Okay, it didn’t work out, but you can have these.” I don’t even remember which tracks they were, now.

BK: It’s funny that you say that. The only other time – in all the interviews I’ve ever done – where I have heard a similar story, it also involved A&M Records. Lee Michaels recorded Joe South‘s “Rose Garden” for A&M and wasn’t happy with it, and he – I assume with A&M’s consent – gave the master to Brotherhood, a band featuring three ex-members of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

RN: They’re very songwriter-oriented. A lot of people thought that Warner Brothers was the “Songwriter’s label.” and they were, but A&M had their share. The Carpenters and so on.

SM: I think it stemmed from those two guys [Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss].

RN: And Joel Sill…his father was a giant in the industry. So there’s actually a lot of connection to the Brill Building, in a funny kind of way. But A&M were talking to us about a possible publishing deal, too.

SM: By and large, I think people dug being on A&M more so than many other labels.

RN: That was the sense that we felt. But it didn’t work out.

BK: I own the Dūrocs album on vinyl, but I have to admit that – one – I don’t recall ever seeing it in stores back in the day, and – two – my copy is a drilled-sleeve promo copy.

RN: I think ours are, too! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that wasn’t!

BK: What sort of promotional push did Capitol do for the record? I’ve read the pig-at-Capitol story [described in the liner notes of the 2012 Real Gone Music CD release], but how much of an impact do you think that really had?

SM: The big band at the time was The Knack. Capitol went all, “Here’s the new Beatles” with the Knack album. You’d drive down Sunset Boulevard, and every other billboard was for The Knack. I can recall one thing: we bought [advertising space on] the back cover of Billboard Magazine.

RN: And we did do a lot of promotion ourselves. We were being managed by a couple of guys, and we went to New York. We had connections with Rolling Stone; I knew everybody there. David Fricke wrote a great review, which helped. The record actually did get on the charts, way way down. It got a little chart action, as they say. But we never saw a royalty statement or anything.

SM: It did better in Europe…

To be continued…

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Interview: Dūrocs’ Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle, Part Two

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Scott Mathews: [The music on Dūrocs] does run the gamut. You’ve got songs like “No Fool No Fun,” and other songs we wrote from the deepest of our hearts, in a melancholy sort of way. Like “One Day at a Time”…

Ron Nagle: And “Don’t Let the Dream Die.” Another thing, to give you some background as to what was going on at the time, we were very big on the Phil Spector approach to making a record. And of Philadelphia in the 70s’; we’re big fans of Gamble and Huff. Right now, we’re on a big Shadow Morton kick. We love that whole tradition. So in particular, being from San Francisco and all that represented – with the exception of The Tubes, I might add – we pretty much hated all [the local stuff].

SM: We liked Sly [Stone].

RN: Oh, yeah, yeah. But we liked the great production ideas. And musical ideas. Entertainment; you could feel that stuff. It wasn’t about a movement. When the Dūrocs record came out, it was the “narrow tie” era. The Knack. What did they call it, new wave?

SM: Yeah. And we didn’t really fit into that. We were sort of powerpop, which was also happening then. But frankly, the timing of our record in the marketplace was not the most perfect fit. Also, it’s worth noting that we put out videos as opposed to touring; we weren’t a band. We started the video division at Capitol Records six months before MTV. In effect, we left the building right as MTV had started up. We missed the boat in a big way.

RN: We’ve got those old films; a lot of people have seen them and dig ‘em; I think they still hold up. They’re very entertaining. They’re controversial in some ways. We were literally only a couple months out of step. And we knew people at MTV, but by that point, the record had bombed. [Today] we’re getting way better reviews online, from different sources, than we ever did when the record first came out.

SM: Which is saying a lot. Because we were treated pretty fairly by critics. We were critics’ darlings.

BK: Right. It was the commercial marketplace that sort of…um, didn’t want to know.

RN: They didn’t really know what to do with us.

SM: See, back in ’79, 1980, you could be signed by one guy. Then all of a sudden the record comes out, and they have this round table meeting: “So, guys. When’s the tour? Yada yada yada.” And we’re looking at ‘em, saying, “What? You don’t know that we’re more of a Gamble and Huff kind of operation?” We were more in the Steely Dan model, where we go in and make records, and we don’t tour. We said, “We’re here to produce other artists for your label. You didn’t hear that?”

BK: “Oops.”

SM: That was kind of a shocker for us.

BK: I’ve heard many stories in which a band gets signed by that so-called one guy, and then that guy gets fired. Then the band is left with nobody at the label to advocate for them, no one who “gets” them.

RN: Right. They call it Executive Turntable. Which meant, your main man left!

SM: And in our case, the new main man came in…Bobby Colomby, who was a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears [chuckles]. The band’s engineer told me how they used to record: the band would go in and track – with horns, with everything – and the last thing they would put on would be the drums! Because the guy couldn’t play! So, what do they make him? A record exec!

RN: You wonder about their thinking. We were pretty cocky at the time, maybe on the border of being disrespectful. But we’d think, “Why are these guys in charge of our destiny?” And here, this guy is the head of A&R! He thought we were a jazz group!

SM: He said, “Guys, I got it. I know who you are. You’re jazz.” That’s all we needed to hear to get on the next flight back to San Francisco.

RN: No, no. In their defense, we did use some of what people call “jazz chords.” We like the big chords: the major sevenths, the ninths. But we’re not jazz! The guy was an idiot. He just didn’t understand; if he heard a major seventh or a suspended chord, I guess he thought jazz is what we were doing. But we were really more about emulating Carole King.

BK: Or pretty much anybody who writes on a keyboard!

SM: Exactly.

RN: I can’t play guitar, regretfully; Scott can play everything. And I do write on a keyboard, and those sort of chord voicings do come up more on a keyboard, I suppose. We like those sort of chords. And there are other [influences] who deserve credit, too. People like Ray Davies; brilliant writer. His word pictures, things like “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s the kind of stuff we wanted to do. Both of us are very visually oriented, so when we write a song, we kind of want people to “see” what’s going on.

To be continued…

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Interview: Dūrocs’ Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle, Part One

Monday, November 26th, 2012

File Dūrocs under Records You Probably Never Heard. Released in 1979 to critical plaudits but commercial indifference, the sole album from the “group” of the same name quickly went the way of the cutout bin. But the music therein was more deeply-layered than one might expect. While the music – the instrumentation and arrangement – was firmly rooted in pop tradition, the lyrics were often something else entirely. Bent, off-kilter subject matter and a wry take on the world made Dūrocs an oddball release, albeit one that’s well-worth revisiting now, some thirty-plus years later.

And in that endeavor, we have the folks at Real Gone Music to thank. Working with the duo of Ron Nagle and Scott Mathews (they are Dūrocs; the outfit was never an actual band in the strict sense), RGM has remastered the original album (good thing, because it was a bit muddy sounding) and released it in an expanded format, appending it with eight previously-unreleased tracks from around the same period.

Nagle and Mathews both had careers before the Dūrocs’ late 70s album, and both continue to this day. They might be one of the most successful songwriting teams you’ve never heard of; the list of artists with whom one or both has played, written for and/or otherwise collaborated is staggering; go read Scott Mathews‘ bio for a small taste. And Ron Nagle – a member of Nuggets-featured sixties garage-punk band The Mystery Trend [“Johnny Was a Good Boy”] is perhaps even more highly regarded for his work as a ceramic sculptor, a point of view that informs his musical work. Here’s his Wikipedia bio, which shamefully fails to mention his music except in passing. Nagle’s website is here.

Perhaps their most well-known non-Dūrocs work is The Tubes‘ notorious showstopper, “Don’t Touch Me There,” A Spectorian/Nitzschean extravaganza of the first order. (What? You don’t know that one? Watch [an ever-so-slightly NSFW] live video here).

Though their experience on Capitol Records could well be termed (at worst) a disaster or (at best) unsuccessful, Nagle and Mathews are surprisingly sanguine about the entire episode. But they are also quite willing to address the many reasons for the project’s lack of success: some internal forces, some external. But the one thing all of the contributing factors seem to have in common is that they make for good – and often very funny – stories.

I sat down for an interview with the duo a few months ago; armed with a dozen or so questions, I didn’t expect the conversation to go very long. But the candid responses Mathews and Nagle gave me provided more than a window into the situation they encountered in 1979; I also got a better feel for what it was like to be a newly-signed act in one of the music industry’s (last) heydays. The Dūrocs story touches on an odd assortment of other narratives, from The Knack to Sammy Hagar to Blood, Sweat & Tears to Tina Turner.

So while you probably don’t know Dūrocs’ music, and you might not know about Ron Nagle and Scott Mathews, they’re all worth checking out. As it turns out for me, a conversation with this pair is every bit as entertaining as the time spent listening to their music.

Here’s Part One of my five-part interview with Dūrocs. – bk

Bill Kopp: While the production aesthetic on Dūrocs is pretty much of its time, the music itself is less clearly pegged to a particular era. In a lot of places your music reminds me of a British group who were working around the same time, The Motors.

Ron Nagle: I had never really thought about it in those terms. Back in the day when we came out, we were sometimes compared to The Buggles

BK: In your music I hear a sort of late 70s throwback to early Brill Building pop styles. Do you think that’s an accurate characterization?

Scott Mathews: Yeah, that! Completely. That’s exactly where we were coming from. Our heroes were Leiber and Stoller, and everybody in that building.

RN: Goffin and King, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann

SM: That’s exactly the setup. The Dūrocs were actually, originally, going to provide for Capitol Records services as producers. And then they suggested us putting out our own record first. Which was…fine, y’know. It wasn’t exactly the ultimate game plan, but it was meant to be one of many records we would make for Capitol.

BK: Musically the songs on Dūrocs are fairly mainstream, though with some interesting arrangement touches. But it’s with the lyrics that you guys really set yourselves apart.

RN: That’s what it is. It’s pop music, but there’s this little – for a lack of a better word – humor, and a cynical twist. There are certainly a lot of soft spots, too, in terms of emotional stuff.

To be continued…

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Moogfest 2012 Recap, Part 4

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

The Magnetic Fields
On one level, the selection of The Magnetic Fields was an odd choice for Moogfest. The group’s music has mutated through a variety of approaches and styles over their 20-plus year history. And according to the bio on the Moogfest site, “Their current album Love at the Bottom of the Sea brings [leader Stephen] Merritt back to the use of full on synthesizers like he did with the band’s 1999 classic 69 Love Songs.” But attendees drawn in by that description were in for a shock: on this night, the band played solely acoustic instruments. Merritt worked a harmonium most of the evening, and the other members of the drummer-less band played acoustic guitars, cellos, ukuleles, fiddles and so forth. To paraphrase a friend (one who counts himself among the group’s admirers), “They looked and sounded like a bunch of college professors — or people who used to be in bands – who gave up that life, and recently came back to dabble in it.”

Merrit’s basso profundo voice is appealing to some; he reminds me of Bill Callahan/Smog. I can’t handle his vocal style at all when he sings on his own, but when he harmonizes with one or both of the band’s female members, it often works quite well. The band trafficked in their mordant songs about love and death, and repeatedly deadpanned about the downbeat nature of their lyrics. Overall, it was a strange set to witness at a festival such as Moogfest, but it was undeniably enjoyable.

Thomas Dolby
I had seen Dolby earlier this year at an excellent Greenville SC concert (and had interviewed him not long before that), so I knew what to expect. Fans expecting a 1980s Memory Lane trip would be disappointed, but odds are there were scant few of those in the skewing-young Moogfest crowd.

The set began with executives from Moog Music coming onstage and presenting Dolby with a super-sized Minimoog Voyager (more keys, more knobs) in honor of his being named as…well, I forget what the honor was. But he deserves it.

Dolby’s set was warm and upbeat; though for many he’s associated with electronics and fiddly synthesizers, the vast majority of his music is quite – for lack of a better word – organic. He’s one of few musicians who bridges danceable styles with music that is, well, musically interesting. As was required of a Moogfest set, his show was shorter than the Greenville performance, but the crowd loved it, and responded enthusiastically.

Moogfest 2013?
It’s hard to know where Moogfest will go from here. The event started several years ago as a small affair in New York City, and then migrated to Moog Music’s home here in Western North Carolina. Moogfest 2012 was the third fest here, and the one thing that has been constant has been change. It’s likely that the event organizers will continue to tinker with the format; after all, they have to have profitability (or break-even) as a goal. And as long as the music remains a primary focus, Moogfest is likely – whatever its shortcomings – to enjoy an impressive future, and will remain a festival of choice for discerning concertgoers who demand something different from their live music experiences. The festival’s commitment to taking chances, to making offbeat choices, is the thing that makes it occasionally frustrating. But those same qualities are what make it ultimately challenging and rewarding.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

I’ve been running this blog for just shy of three and a half years now, posting new content just about every business day (I’ve missed a few, and when life intrudes, I occasionally reach back in to the archives and repost something old, but I haven’t done that very often at all). One tradition I have observed, however, is taking Thanksgiving Day off. Not as goofy as Halloween, and thankfully (ha) free of the religious baggage with which so many other holidays are laden, I really like this fourth Thursday in November.

Regular posting will resume tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s a quick summary of some recent Musoscribe interviews you might have missed:

Note that all seven of these are from within the last 90 days. There are literally dozens more of my interviews here and here. And many more are on the way.

I am thankful for my readers. Happy Thanksgiving.

Moogfest 2012 Recap, Part 3

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Hands-on Moog Exhibit
A key component of Moogfest is the showcasing of its namesake’s electronic innovations. With Moog Music’s headquarters and factory a mere few blocks away, it made perfect sense to offer an interactive setup wherein visitors could fiddle around with Voyagers, Little Phattys, Etherwaves, Moogerfoogers and more. Making it even better, participation in the free hands-on exhibit did not require a Moogfest ticket.

I wandered downtown midday Saturday with a friend, and while he perused some (overpriced) used vinyl autographed by a Moog executive (not the late Bob Moog), I fiddled endlessly with a very sexy Minimoog Voyager. This particular model featured backlit colored controls, making the damn thing even more impressive than it already was. Taking the best of the classic 1970s Minimoogs, the Voyager adds modern capabilities including MIDI and memory(!) and leaves behind the finicky and sometimes temperamental nature of the vintage models. Some people swear by the old ones, but having owned (and eventually sold) a late 70s Moog years ago because of then-irreparable pitch drift, I have to give the clear edge to these new models. Pricey indeed, they’re worth every penny.

It was a little amusing watching a fellow attendee – one clearly with a traditional piano/organ background – approach a Voyager with two hands, and then try to play a piano piece (full of chords and moving left-hand bass lines) on it. I gave him a quick (and, I hope, friendly) explanation of the concept of monophonic synthesis. He frowned and replied, “Oh.”

And how could anyone not love waving arms wildly in front of an Etherwave Theremin? Well, I did, going so far as to spin it around so I could play it left-handed (I own a PaiA Theremax, custom-built as a lefty model.) Kudos to Moog Music for getting their equipment out into the public sphere.

More Moogfest 2012 coverage resumes after a Thanksgiving Day break.

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Moogfest 2012 Recap, Part 2

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Primus 3D
In the run-up to Moogfest, fans wondered what-the-hell the appended “3D” would mean for the show by Les Claypool‘s sorta-prog band. Once I entered the sports arena that is the Asheville Civic Center (recently and sneakily rebranded as the Sponsor’s-name-here Arena, but they’re not paying me, so Civic Center it is), the answer was clear: volunteers handed out 3D glasses to all of us. The stage setup put the emphasis on the large projection screen behind the band: the images on it were loopy and synched to the music, and they were reasonably interesting even without the glasses. With the specs, however, some of the images were quite eye-popping. It was the sort of experience that makes one crack jokes about wishing you hadn’t given up drugs.

The band themselves were shrouded in darkness (or blacklight) nearly the entire show. Musically, I must say that Primus’s appeal eludes me entirely. Claypool is a technically impressive bassist, but the band’s music is the sort that leads a first-time listener to assert, “It’s clear which one of those guys is the band leader.” All of the songs were built around Claypool’s bass. And if rubbery bass noodling isn’t your cup of tea, you won’t find a lot to like in Primus’ music. Claypool’s vocals were subject to heavy electronic processing, and the word that best sums up his vocals is “annoying.” Imagine the least appealing qualities of The Residents, wed them to an ersatz “funky” beat mangled by a prog sensibility, and you have Primus. Some of the songs were mercifully short, giving me some small hope that I’d enjoy the next, but in every case, the song that followed was equally unappealing. A musician friend of mine who is far more charitable – he has something good to say about nearly every musical artist – summed up the entire show in two words, which I will quote here: “Primus sucked.”

The visuals were cool until they got boring, though.

Black Moth Super Rainbow
Sadly, things went downhill from there. My companion and I ventured across town (we’re talking like eight blocks; Asheville is small) to the Orange Peel. Near there we found a long line stretching along the sidewalk. People were waiting quite awhile to get through security detail and gain entrance into the venue (it holds about 1500). After a good solid half hour, we got in, just as Black Moth Super Rainbow began their set.

Now, I’m one of those people who really likes psychedelic rock. But the term has become so abused in recent years that it’s nearly meaningless. And many artists who adopt the term don’t seem to know what it really means. It does not mean “take drugs and play music.” It’s a sensibility. It also doesn’t (necessarily) mean “drone on one chord and stare at your feet,” although sometimes it actually does, and that kind of thing can in fact be done very well. Modern acts such as Black Angels and Black Mountain exhibit a clear understanding of what made 60s and 70s psych worthwhile, and they apply that frame of mind to their own modern music. Simply put, Black Moth Super Rainbow didn’t. Loud and boring were the two words that came quickly to mind.

From my point of view, the second day and night of Moogfest 2012 would offer much more in the way of entertainment.

Stay tuned for more…

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Moogfest 2012 Recap, Part 1

Monday, November 19th, 2012

The 2012 Moogfest was quite a different creature than its 2011 predecessor. While Moogfest 2011 was a three-day event with a large number of stages – venues indoor and out – the 2012 event scaled back to five indoor venues. (The “indoor” change made real sense: October weather in Asheville NC is unpredictable. It’s often cold, and in 2011, it poured, pissing off some performers and quite likely ruining some of their equipment.)

The 2012 event also reduced from three nights to two. And in a controversial move – one that elicited a number of unhappy comments on the Moogfest Facebook page – each evening’s schedule started later than the previous year’s lineup. The overall ticket price did drop proportionally, but many concertgoers (or potential ones) may have felt that they were getting less value for their entertainment dollar in 2012.

Adding to that perception was the fact that this year’s lineup did not feature “marquee” acts on the level of Flaming Lips. While the largest draws were quality acts (within the context of their specific genres, anyway), none ranked as high-profile major concert names.

The no-outdoor-venues decision also meant that one of the festival’s admirable connections to local businesses – the placement of several locally-owned food trucks inside the “Moogfest Playground” in 2011 – was a non-happener in 2012.

Organizationally, on the ground the 2012 Moogfest was a smoothly-run operation. The long, long lines that were a hallmark of 2011′s shows (especially at the Civic Center) were happily less of a factor this go-round. (Of course this may have been related to a decline in ticket sales; I don’t have data, but anecdotally I can report that the downtown Asheville sidewalks were not overflowing with concertgoers in the way that they were last year.) And while costuming has been a big part of the Moogfest experience, there did seem to be a decrease in the number of oddly-dressed people on the streets and in the venues. One notable exception: the guy dressed as a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce, complete with bright green cap atop his head.

But then there was the music. Previous comments aside, the lineup was well-chosen, suitably eclectic for an event worth of its namesake, and certainly entertaining. My personal Moogfest schedule wasn’t quite as exhaustive as it was in 2011, but I did get a chance to check out several intriguing performances.

Morton Subotnick
The first show I attended was a low-key affar at the (very classy) Diana Wortham Amphitheater, a performance by synthesizer pioneer Morton Subotnick. Musically akin to last year’s sets by Hans Joachim Roedelius, Subotnick’s concert featured a performance of his historically important work, “From Silver Apples to a Sky of Cloudless Sulfur.” A recording of the piece has been selected as one of a small number of works (about 300) archived at the National Registry of Recorded Works at the United States Library of Congress. The piece as performed this night (with not-sure-what-he’s doing accompaniment by a second person onstage) was a deeply textural, often meditative piece. Modern listeners familiar with Philip Glass and/or Brian Eno would have recognized Subotnick’s approach. Parts of the work were just pure sound (as opposed to “music,” and some unkind people might characterize it as “noise”) while other parts briefly drifted toward melody. Visually there wasn’t much to look at during Subotnick’s performance; he and the other guy merely got on with whatever it was that they were doing. Meanwhile, some interesting-but-not-distracting impressionistic images were projected on the wall behind them, in a manner very similar to what was done during Roedeliius’ 2011 set.

Sitting in the Diana Wortham during Subotnick’s performance, one had the feeling of being witness to something very important. Certainly not a fist-pumping, rock’n'roll extravaganza, it nonetheless fit perfectly within the Moogfest concept, and – as it would turn out – ended up being one of the weekend’s brightest spot for this attendee.

Stay tuned for much more…

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