A: So how was it working with Albini anyway?
P: It was excellent. He's totally laid back. He's a great guy.
A: I've heard a lot about him -- the reputation.
P: We'd heard a lot about him too. He, ah, he doesn't mince words. Very straightforward, he just says what he thinks, and he usually has some foundation for saying that. And, y'know, it could piss people off, to have an honest opinion. I think he's gotten a bad rap from a lot of quarters because he says what he thinks and doesn't kowtow.
A: It's a good thing as far I'm concerned, but then again he's never heard my tape (laughs from Peter)... How'd you guys get hooked up with him?
P: Well, I play softball in the summers, and one of the guys on the softball team, Byron Coley, who went to Hampshire and was a rabble-rouser there... I don't know actually if Byron's ever played in a band but he knows everybody from a certain era. He lives in South Deerfield now, and is friends with Albini, and Thurston Moore, and he works on Forced Exposure, or he used to work on that magazine when it was a zine, but now they have an issue like every two years... So Byron puts out a lot of records and is involved in all these strange peripheral musical activities. Somehow I knew Byron knew Steve, so I just called him up and asked for his number. And he gave it to me and I called Steve, and he said "Well, send me some music." (laughs) It was really no big deal, and amazingly cheap, since he basically charges what people can afford... It's extremely reasonable.
A: Cheap to good bands and pricey to crappy bands.
P: Pretty much, and he'll tell people that to their face: "I don't really wanna do your project, but I know you're on this major label and they'll give you lots of money, so..."(laughs)
A: I can just see him working with Bush.
P: He... I guess he wouldn't care, I mean this has probably been in print before, but apparently about Bush he said "They're a bunch of pussies."
A: 'Bout right...
P: So the other half of the story is... We'd thought about working with him for years, actually 'cause we'd heard stuff he'd done--
A: Big Black, Shellac, all that?
P: And production work, the PJ Harvey that I really liked... We'd liked that sort of sound for Io, but I always thought "Steve Albini, he's like this totally famous guy, we'd never be able to afford it" let alone if he'd even want to do it. So we were on our first West Coast tour, two years ago, right when Laura started playing with Cordelia's Dad. We did three dates on the West Coast. There's this guy at KCRW, which is the NPR station in Santa Monica, which is kind of a big deal, one of their top stations... There's this guy there that likes us, and he put us on a compilation one time, and so we met him. We had a day off on this West Coast tour, so I called him up and said "We've got a day off, can we come down and play on your show?" and he said "Yeah" So even though we didn't have a show in L.A. we went down from San Francisco to play on this guy's radio show (Chuck Taggart, Global Gumbo). We did a Cordelia's Dad set and an Io set -- this is before it was Io -- and it went really well, a great experience, so some label person heard this, and called up the DJ and said "who are these people" so we submitted a tape to this label. Brand new indie label, but attached to a special effects house in Hollywood, so incredibly well-funded-- they'd just finished working on The Rock. So these people had a lot of money, and they flew out to see us play at the Iron Horse, the last electric Cordelia's Dad show. They were interested in Io, so they actually showed up, and were impressed with the show, and offered us a contract. It wasn't exactly like a major label deal, but very similar. So we were into it, and talked to them for a number of months. And we were going out to the West Coast again, and so they said "Well, we want you do a showcase." Well, they made this big deal out of it, and they were going to get all these industry people to see it, and all this crap. But there was something suspicious about it too, because each time we'd call there's some problem. We get there, and the night before, Cordelia's Dad plays a show and our contact comes to the show, and comes up to us at the end and says "I don't know how to tell you this, but I've got really bad news..." The head of the label got sick and closed down the operation.
A: That sucks.
P: We had the pen in our hand, going "O.K., we're ready!" and they shut the whole thing down. We'd already booked time with Albini, so we called him up and told him "Well, we were gonna have this label, but now we're doing it ourselves" so he said "Well, O.K., come on out." He gave us his "independent band" rate, rather than the "label" rate.
A: So you did both records with him?
P: So we did the Io record in May, and spent a week out in Chicago at his place, and it was great, it was everything we'd been looking for. When I'd originally sent him music I'd sent him a whole bunch of stuff, and so he thought we were gonna do some acoustic stuff too, and was kind of disappointed that we hadn't shown up with that band, too. So we had started recording the Cordelia's Dad record, locally, with another guy, but we weren't really happy with the way it was going-- we actually got to the point of mixing it and then we decided "It just doesn't sound right, it's not happening."
(at this point in the interview we're listening to the Io record, and I hear the latest recording of "Idumea." It is amazing.)
A: It rocks. It's great. Fantastic.
P: It does rock. We're so happy with this. Now we've gotten to the point where, "O.K. We're writing new songs, we're moving on" but it's such a relief to document what we've been up to and get it done right. This is the first recording we've ever had, I feel, that really captures it.
A: You don't feel like the other ones captured the band at the time?
P: No. I think Road kill is a pretty good representation, but still-- it's live board-tapes, and it doesn't have the sound quality, and it's not the full range of things. I mean, I think as a live record I'm very happy with it. I think Comet is very good for the acoustic stuff. But the plugged-in thing... The first record is just it's own story, and the second record is overproduced...
A: I know. I was sitting down to write up the discography, and that second album, it's weird. It's got all these fantastic tracks on it, except for "San Francisco," which I...
P: You hate that?
A: It's the only song on any of your albums I don't like. (Peter laughs a lot). It's because it sounds like too much like "Scarborough Fair" to me, the sort of airy dirge thing. I like "Scarborough Fair," but I've never been able to handle "San Francisco."
P: Well, it's interesting. That one is... I think there's only one chord in it, or maybe two, but mostly it's just one. That's a song Tom wrote, which is why we stopped doing it. And uh, I liked it at the time, even though there's not a lot to it. But that record, we made a lot of mistakes with that, I think. I like a lot of the songs, but we decided to work with this friend of ours, Dave Schramm, to produce it, and we spent like nine months recording it. We'd go in for a couple days, then a month later we'd go in again. Very bad way to do it. It was good working with Schramm, but he had really different ideas about production values. Especially with things like distortion, and the rock and roll feel. I really like his albums--
A: Is he "The Schramms?"I've heard of them but never heard them.
P: They're really good, I like them a lot, but they're very carefully structured songs, and very, um... He's a little bit like Elvis Costello when it comes to recording, puts a lot of stuff in, little intricate parts fitting together, and it can work great or it can be overwhelming, and for Cordelia's Dad it didn't work. We had six guitars tracks on some of the songs, it took all the life out of it.
A: It's a shame, because it sounds like if it was recorded just straight-ahead it would have been fantastic. I mean, it's better than most albums anyway, but y'know, "Delia" and "Texas Rangers" rock.
P: Yeah, "Texas Rangers" is my favorite on that. Over time. I think it was the one that was best recorded. We spent a lot of time on that to good purpose, rather than ruining it. But "Shallow Brown"-- that was a great song live, but on the record it just doesn't compare.
A: Huh, that's weird. Of all your songs, that's my favorite, and I was trying to figure out which I'd heard first-- live or recorded, and I can't remember. The way I heard you guys was through my friend Mark, who'd been listening to you for a couple of years before I met him. He loaned me this tape, and I listened to it once or twice and I loaned it to my girlfriend and then I gave it back to Mark, and he said "Hey, they're playing" and I said "Sure, O.K., I'll give you a ride." (laughter). I think it was maybe a show or two before the Comet release party...
P: Was it in the summertime? Summer '94?
A: I think it was maybe June...
P: July 4th weekend, probably, if Cath was in the band. Our first show there with the three of us.
A: But "Shallow Brown" was great. And "Idumea" which you'll record how many times?
P: (laughs) As many as we can. For a while we were thinking we'd put a different version of this on every record we ever do. But we kinda lost track of it. We have a couple more versions of it we can do, so...
A: Well, I remember at the Northampton Harmony/Jeff Colby & Kelly House Jazz Trio/Cordelia's Dad show at Fire & Water, two Januarys ago, you sang it shape note style, unaccompanied. That was
P: That's probably the next way we'll do it.
A: Gosh, where were we?
P: I was talking about something...
(We lose track of things).
P: ... We were really happy with the Io record, so we trashed the recordings we'd been doing (the Cordelia's Dad stuff), and called him up. He had this one week available in August, when the guy he shares his studio with (Bob Weston)--
A: Is that Idful?
P: I don't think it really has a name; it's an interesting place. He moved. When we did the Io record he'd only been in the place for a couple weeks, I think we were the second or third band there. He's got this new building that's very cool, and they weren't really finished with it yet. The whole time we were there they were putting up drywall, so all of our stuff is covered with drywall dust. But the control room was finished, and the recording area was finished. And he's got this weird thing that I don't really understand: the rooms are suspended within the building, this big old warehouse building... I'm sure Tim could remember what used to be in there. Across the street used to be the old Bally factory, where they made the pinball machines. And this place was something else interesting. So they built these suspended chambers within the building to isolate the rooms...
A: Really suspended? Or just isolated?
P: Somehow isolated, physically and acoustically isolated from the rest of the building. So when trucks go by, if you're in the living area you hear them, but if you're in the recording area you don't hear them at all. And the walls are made of adobe bricks, which he researched as being the best stuff to use. So it's like his dream house. He's got two rooms, a live room and a dead room, and we did some stuff in each... Anyway, he does most of the stuff in the studio, but sometimes Bob Weston does sessions too, so he had this week when Bob was using the studio but he (Albini) didn't have a project. So we flew him out here and we said to him "Anywhere on the East Coast you want to work, we'll try to get the place." He said "Oh, it doesn't really matter, they're all the same. My studio's the only good one." So we said "o.k, we'll go to the Slaughterhouse." And I really like Mark Alan Miller (at Slaughterhouse), he's got good ears. We thought it'd be interesting for him, too, to work with Steve.
A: Wow, pretty neat.
(Our tea is ready, and Peter serves it to me in a limited edition Cordelia's Dad mug).
A: How many of these exist?
P: I think there's 72.
A: I've got one.
P: I'm up to three now. Next I think is mousepads.
A: That's pretty good. What about screen savers?
P: Yeah... We're making new stickers. We got this catalog... Coasters, too. My favorite so far is toothbrushes.
A: You're right, that's the best. You could get really ambitious and-- do you remember the Muppet Babies toothbrushes, where on each one they had a different Muppet? (He doesn't). Well, you could do that-- the Cath toothbrush, the Tim toothbrush...
P: Well, the whole action figure thing is something to aim for.
A: Yeah. Comes with a playset and little holes on your feet so you can stick you guys on there in "full rock-star pose."
A: Well, let's talk history. How did it all begin?
P: I spent a couple summers playing in this country band in Saskatchewan...
A: Are you Canadian?
A: Are you Saskatchewanian?
P: No, I wouldn't say that (laughs). And that was a very strange experience that gave me a taste for wanting to do something different...
A: Country being different, or doing something different from country?
P: Doing something new. I'd been playing in another band at college (Amherst), and working summers in this country band, and it was just fucked up.
A: You were playing rock before?
P: Yeah, 80's stuff.
A: Like a cover band, or just "in the eighties?"
P: Ummm... ecch (we laugh). Oooh... Scary. It was the eighties, yeah... So that band broke up because of people graduating and stuff, and I came back for my senior year, and I'd just been playing in this country band, and... Somehow it occurred that Tom King played banjo, and I went up to him one day and said "Hey, do you wanna play some music sometime?" And he said "Sure." and he had met Tim before, and they had played a little bit. I didn't really know Tim, I'd seen him around and we lived in the same house, but... So Tom and I asked Tim to play bass, because I'd seen him play bass before with another band, so I thought he was a bass player. It took about a year for me to find out that he was a guitarist, and that he could sing. We ended up forming this real act-- a band, with seven or twelve people in it, playing really bad songs with this outrageous, stupid singer. So after a couple months of that, we had a couple of shows, and we realized that it wa a bad idea and we should do something else. So one day the three of us got together, and I don't even remember who had the idea, but someone said "Let's play these folk songs, and play them real loud and annoying."
A: "Really loud and annoying"-- that's where it all started.
P: Yeah, and we tried it, and it was so funny. We couldn't stop laughing.
(We are interrupted by the arrival of Cath Oss, bass/voice/dulcimer/accordion, who goes into the kitchen and putters around).
P: And so we had a show, and people liked it, and we thought "O.K., we'll keep doing it."
A: So Tim was playing bass and singing?
A: So you just started playing and stuff? I guess that's how bands go-- I've never made it far enough to have a full band.
P: Yeah, well, the key thing was "We have almost enough songs to play a set now, so let's book a show and by the time the show comes around we'll have figured out enough songs."
A: So how long was Tom around for?
P: Until '94.
A: And then he left.
P: Yeah. But Cath joined before that.
(Oddly enough, Cath enters just at the right moment).
P: You came in right on cue. We were talking about everything...
C: I missed the history of the band! Oh crap.
A: Cath, how did you hook up with these guys?
C: I had a friend who was going to Hampshire, who said that there was this really cool band --that was Sarah Kline-- anyway, she was getting postcards from them, and she said "Oh, they're playing in NY, go see them, go see them." So I was living in Brooklyn and I went and saw them play, and went up and talked to them afterwards, and then they were playing again the next week, I guess...(Unfortunately some dialogue was lost here, and other spots, due to my absurdly lo-tech recording device) Then I had decided that I wanted to go visit Sarah and so I asked them if I could a ride up to Massachusetts, and so around four in the morning I hopped into a van with three guys I didn't know to drive up to Massachusetts, and not even to Northampton, but Boston, because they had to catch a plane to... St. Louis?
P: We were going to Minneapolis, but we were flying out of Boston because we were going to be recording at Fort Apache...
C: We stopped off at the studio...
P: It was very convoluted.
C: It was very exciting.
P: So after playing a show in NY, driving overnight to Boston, flying to Minneapolis, we had some friends out there who picked us up and took us home, and we got there at 8:00, and it was Sunday night, so we watched The Simpsons for the first time. We were so delirious we thought it was the funniest thing we'd ever experienced.
C: Do you remember which episode it was?
P: I believe it was "Mt. Splashmore."
P: The legendary weekend.
A: So how did you actually become a member?
C: Let's see... Some stuff happened, and then I moved up to Northampton to share an apartment with Sarah and at some point I went over to visit Tim, and some other people, Kelly and Karen, I think Jeff was there... And they were singing shape note at his place, and I started singing shape note. And then the band had two other people join --at different times-- and the one guy I came after didn't want to tour, and there was a German tour coming up...
P: That was Steven Maggs, The guy on the front of Joy Fun Garden, the guy who wasn't Tim.
A: I wondered about that.
(All laugh) P: The mystery explained! By the time the record came out he wasn't in the band. I guess he plays on one track.
C: So there was this German tour coming up, and Steve didn't want to tour. I wasn't in the band so I don't know exactly what the band was doing--
P: Looking for a bass player.
C: Looking for a bass player. So I got a phone call. "So, Cath, how fast do you think you can learn how to play the bass?" "Ha ha ha ha, very funny, what happened?" "Steve's leaving, etc etc. No, we're not kidding, actually." Anyway, I wasn't sure if it was going to happen or not...
A: Had you been trying to learn bass anyway?
C: No, this was new, so in, like three months, I pretty much learned all of the songs. A lot of it was by rote to start, hitting the right notes in the right place --thank you shape note-- and it seemed to work out. I don't remember exactly when it got decided, particularly, except that it was all of a sudden like "Hm, it's time to leave my apartment and move into the band's house because I can't afford to go touring and keep an apartment."... Actually, I played the encore at an Iron Horse show-- .that was Steve's last show, and there was this dramatic "Steve is now leaving the stage" and Cath comes on and plays "My Pretty Little Pink" because it has the fewest notes-- (guffaws)
A: There's only two, right?
C: Yes, that would be two. No, no, there's four altogether actually, but two of them only happen very sporadically, I think twice.
(More crucial dialogue lost)
A: So that was '94?
P: No, that was '93. So Tom was still in the band.
A: So there were two guitars?
P: Yeah. The motivation was to have two guitars, and Tim already knew how to play --he'd taught Tom many parts-- and Tom wanted to have two guitars on the How Can I Sleep album, the album with a ton of guitar tracks...
A: He didn't want, like, six guitarists?
P: (laughs) He did, but we only had two people.
A: So how long were you a four piece?
.P: Well, we were a four piece with Steve for awhile... It was a very strange period. We weren't very active. We were living in different states, even more so than now. So then it was in April of '94 when we started over, when the new era began.
C: We decided we could work together.
P: Yeah, and it was very good. That was really when we started doing a lot of things we're doing now. There's been some carry-over, but I think really the band is only approaching its fifth anniversary, rather than it's eleventh.
A: So was it a conscious decision to stop playing most of the stuff from the first few albums? Did you feel like you had to start completely anew?
P: Well, there was still stuff we liked, and we didn't have enough good stuff to not play that, but there was definitely a conscious effort to do new things and we... Well, we had this other event come along, this avant-garde piece... And for that, we spent two months where we practiced almost every day for five or six hours straight, and a lot of it was improvised stuff, structured noise, so we came up with all kinds of new things in that period, just figuring out how to play. So that was really good, I mean, we hadn't practiced like that since the band had begun.
A: So when did you start getting "folkier," and doing the acoustic stuff alongside the rock?
P: Well, first of all, the "folkier" direction has been a big problem. The acoustic direction has not been a problem. We constantly fight to make these distinctions.
A: Like being called a "Celtic band."
P: (bitterly) Yeah, we've been battling that one for a long time. Actually, the very first Cordelia's Dad show ever had an acoustic part to it. So it has been there, but... Sometime before Cath joined we started doing more acoustic stuff, and it had become more schizophrenic and become more of a problem, logistically and musically: how to present that kind of stuff in the context of other music, and play this music at a rock club with crappy PA's, all that stuff. But I think it was a real gradual development , and at some point, I don't remember when, we thought of adding a fiddle player. So we had Becky Miller for awhile, who's the one on Comet, but she had a lot of other stuff going on too, and kind of had a different idea about what it means to be in a band. I think rock bands have ideas about being in a band which are different from other genres of music.
A: How so?
P: Well, my experience with being in rock bands is, you're in a band and it's a very anarchistic kind of thing, and electric, and it's about a band and having some kind of vision and moving toward other things happening at other times. Whereas I've experienced in other genres of music-- well, like playing in an orchestra: you show up to rehearsal and someone calls you, and you show up at the gig, and then you go home, and there isn't much in between. Maybe you practice your parts, but...
A: Like a job.
P: Yeah. I think a lot of "folk" music is like that.
C: In an orchestra you're less playing with a group than you are concerned about playing it right, so you're listening for your part which... It doesn't seem like you're actually working, whereas in a rock
band, it's getting put out of a group activity.
P: When you play you're have to think about the sound of the group, instead of just your part. So Cordelia's Dad is unusual, because it is a band, and it's a band sound. Even though a lot of the stuff we do is only a couple of people playing at one time, the context of the whole group lets that stuff happen. Tim would have a hard time doing a bunch of solo unaccompanied singing-- he would love it, but probably not as many people would show up to experience that wonderful performance for two hours. I'd go.
C: I'd go.
A: I'd go too.
P: Well, hopefully he'll do that at some point. But you know, it's the context of the band that lets you do a lot of other things. And it also makes it comfortable for people to not do things, unlike an orchestra where you play timpani and spend most of the piece counting time, and then you play your three measures.
A: So when did you pick up the "small round drum?"
C: (laughs) Good phrasing.
P: (laughs) I'd gone out to art school in California, and we'd been playing some of the acoustic stuff, and I hadn't been doing anything in those sets --I didn't sing at that point, either. So even when the band had sort of broken up, but not really --I was living in California, and Tom was in Missouri, and Tim was at Wesleyan, we weren't doing much. This eleven-year history is full of huge holes. So I'd been looking for something to do with the acoustic stuff, and there was a music school as part of the art school, and I went and talked to this professor guy, who said "Oh there's this new guy visiting, who's one of the world's greatest frame drum players," who was there to get a degree in something else. (End of tape 1). So he gave me a few lessons, and it was cool, so when we did start playing again I started it, and really developed my own style from playing with those guys.
A: So it wasn't a formal education?
P: I had about five lessons and I learned quite a bit from the guy, but not a lot about style, and that's where I figured out how to say my little bit about bodhran (ba-RAHN) and "Celtic" music. What my teacher actually said about bodhran is that it's a style of playing, and not the instrument. Because the frame drum is a very simple design that's found at least throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including Siberia, and it's been around for a long time. But the idea of bodhran in Irish music is actually really new-- it probably started in the sixties. It's not some ancient Celtic thing-- that's a whole bunch of crap. (Lots of laughter) This guy I learned from, Mel Mercier, he teaches at the University of Cork now, and he's among Ireland's leading bodhran players. But I don't say bodhran because I don't know anything about Irish music and I don't play in the bodhran style. I play in my own twisted style, mostly based on Tim's singing, and more and more on Laura's fiddle playing.
A: Nicely explained.
P: I'd like to put that one to rest.
A: I can imagine. Everybody hears the early stuff, they say "They're a Celtic band. Look-- it's 'Loch Lomond' they're Irish, or Scottish" or whatever... (Big pause) My brain just dropped out for a second.
P: (to Cath) I played him the Io record.
A: It rocks. It's about bloody time.
C: My sentiments exactly.
P: I really wanna get that out.
A: Is it going to come out?
C: Yes. But we don't know when.
P: I really feel that we should put it out this year, even if we have to do it ourselves. We're still looking for a label. We've had a little bit of interest. (Laughter all around) The fabled "We're talking to some people." But no one is really beating down the door.
A: Really? I would.
P: I don't understand it myself.
C: I think it's probably because Io hasn't been very active...
P: I've talked to a bunch of label people about both bands, and mostly if they like the stuff, they wanna see us, and they wanna know, "Well, what are you doing?" And we've pretty much stopped playing to concentrate on getting records out, because it's been so long, and because it's frustrating to try and get any good shows without a record. I very much understand how bands seem to come out of nowhere, and the whole buzz thing... You can be working away in your own universe, and nobody will know what's going on, and suddenly you have the emergence of a band. And the industry's so conservative, you just can't get over it. If someone bites, then everyone else is running right behind them.
A: So when did you make the decision to "no longer exist as we know it," as the email release put it?
P: We talked about it for a long time. When we had our "reformation" in '94 we'd talked about changing the name of the band, but we didn't do it, for various reasons. And as we started to play more gigs in the "folk" scene it became more and more of a problem, because people perceived Cordelia's Dad as a "folk-rock" band, which is just total, complete death, so horrible. So we'd have a folk gig, and want to play electric, [and they'd say] "Oh, we love, folk-rock music." And they just had no idea, and on some occasions we'd try to do that, and Tim would turn on his guitar and start tuning it, and it'd be "Oh my god, oh my god! Turn it down!" And then we'd try to get rock gigs, but we couldn't get good gigs, because [they'd say] "Well, we don't know who to have you play with, because you have that folk-rock sound." Whereas we used to play with all the other touring "alternative" rock bands, and it wasn't that big a deal. So we knew we had to do something, and musically the directions were becoming even more schizophrenic, with writing more original stuff for Io, and getting more obscure and more intense with the Cordelia's Dad stuff, and learning more and more about traditional music. The two had just grown so far apart that while we still saw them as linked, it was a big problem in terms of other people's perceptions... We've recently talked about... (Cath or Peter makes a hand gesture implying the closing of a circle, and they laugh.)
C: It seems so arbitrary sometimes, with people's perceptions. I mean, if enough people say something is linked, then it's linked. Why are they linked, or why are they separate? Why is this distinct from that, and why is this "baby baby" song different from this song that goes "baby baby?"--"Oh, it's in a different key! Ohh..."
A: "This is the band in which we play in A."
P: (laughs) Yeah.
C: I wonder what would happen if we just did it.
P: Yeah, I think to do that Io has to be standing on its feet and known as a rock band. And once we establish that, then we can do some shows together. (Laughs all around).
A: A split seven-inch.
P: Yeah, exactly. We'll probably do that. Those are the kinds of shows I like-- when you see three bands, and they're really different, but they're all linked in some way. That was a really great thing about the first label we were on, OKra. They had seven bands, and a couple of them more similar to others, but most were all really different. They were all really good.
A: I don't think I know any of them.
P: The Schramms, Fellow Travellers, Ass Ponies... The two country bands never got that far, but all the other rock bands on the label got signed by other labels.
A: The Ass Ponies-- people know about them. I had a friend whose band used to open for them (The Nicholsons, Cincinnati OH).
P: Everyone on the label, including the Ass Ponies, always thought "This band, we all love them, and they're never going to do anything, because everyone is always going to hate them." The Ass Ponies used to say that everyone hated them. And that was just the way it was. It's just so ironic that they were the ones to get on the major label, and get on the radio... Schramm was the best musician, and Fellow Travellers were somehow the most interesting, because they were so strange-- really poppy, yet in this bizarre way. Jeb Loy Nichols, the Fellow Travellers guy, now has a solo record on Sony. So OKra was really exciting, because there were all these different bands, but they were linked by certain themes running through the songwriting, and a certain take on the world... But they were also linked by unacknowledged, or buried, interest in music from a long time ago. There's this weird path you can trace-- most of the bands were interested in some way in the Louvin Brothers. Who were these excellent guys from Northern Alabama, who were a country duo. One of them was a fundamentalist, and his brother was this hard-drinkin' guy. I'll play you one song, Uncle Tupelo covers this song... These guys were sort of heroes of the so-called insurgent country movement, and the Louvin Brothers grew up listening to shape note music.
(We listen to the Louvin Brothers, who are brilliant.)
A: So speaking of shape note, how did you guys get into it? I know Cath heard it coming out of Tim's basement...
P: I heard it from Tim also. He heard it a long time ago, when he was growing up. And how we got into it is kind of explained in the notes to the Northampton Harmony album.
C: I think Tim and Kelly (House) have done the most research on shape note music, and then found out that there were sings around, and went to them and sang.
P: I think I went once, in '93, to a convention, and then in '94 started singing with the band.
A: I remember going to see the band when you didn't sing.
P: Now I can't believe I didn't. What the hell was I thinking?
A: Yeah, it's hard to hear you guys in my head without you all singing.
C: Alright! (High-fives Peter, and then much dialogue is lost).
P: I think Laura had probably sung a little, because she's so immersed in music, but never performed. We didn't give her a chance to say no.
C: "You are a treble. We don't have a treble."
A: How'd you guys meet her, anyway?
P: We had been looking for a fiddle player, and we went to this folk-music conference, which turned out, actually, to be a good thing, for reasons that had very little to do with the conference. She was there playing, and I heard "Oh, they're good, you should check them out," and of course I missed their set. Tim met her, very briefly, long enough get her phone number-- I mean, not like that (laughs). So she was on the list of possible people to ask about this, and we got a couple of festival gigs, and some of them wanted us to have a fiddle player, and we wanted to have a fiddle player for this big-stage thing. So one of the gigs was up in Winnipeg, and she was going to be there anyway, so we called her up and asked her about playing with us, and she said yes. So we met her at the festival and ran through some tunes, and played them. There was a thunderstorm, and funnel clouds were forming. This festival had been hit by tornadoes a couple times, and two years before there'd been two tornados that had gone parallel down the side of the audience area. They had this history of bad weather.
C: Tim was playing "Montcalm and Wolfe." (we listen to it, a very solemn, almost ominous tune with just guitar and voice)
P: It had been clear for the act before us, then we go up there and clouds start to form, and Tim starts playing this. Suddenly there's these black funnel clouds reaching for us. So we're up there, and people start to get up--
C: -- and the yellow slickers are popping out, and Tim's singing "Say my love is dead..."
P: I mean, what can you do? So he keeps playing.
C: At some point he said "This is the weirdest thing I've ever done."
P: So that was our first gig with Laura, and our next gig was when she joined us on that little California trip.
A: And she just sort of became absorbed into the band
P: Well, I guess been thinking of a change, so, I guess that was in August, when we did the radio show in CA, and in October she moved to Boston from San Francisco. So then we said "well, do you want to join the band?"
A: So you (Cath) are in Springfield, you (Peter) are here (Northampton), Tim's in Connecticut, and she's in Boston.
A: And at one point you all lived in Hoboken?
P: No. Tom and I lived in Hoboken, and Tim was living in CT. So we didn't practice very much.
C: I don't know how they got things done, actually.
P: I don't either. It was bad. That's part of why the second album is the way it is.
A: So now here we are. We've got Cordelia's Dad and we've got Io. On this record (Io) you've got a fair smattering of the trad stuff. Are you going to keep doing old songs, or are they going to be all
P: Io is all originals.
C: I think we might end up doing some Cordelia's Dad covers.
P : And some unaccompanied singing. We're putting "Despair" on the Io record. That's a combination we've talked about for a long time. But Io won't do any...
C: No "folk-rock."
P: No maidens, and dragons, and kings, and queens...
C: No more rich white people's love lives.
P: Well, except our own.
C: Yeah. I guess that last one is also true for Cordelia's Dad.
P: We were just talking about this last week, about what to do next. And I think we have a continued interest in doing many of the things we've been doing, but want to go in new directions also.
P: I mean, the ideas on Spine are mostly a year and a half old.
A: Yeah, just looking at the album, I've seen you play just about all of them, probably.
P: Yeah, you've probably heard everything on it. (We spend awhile figuring this out).
A: It seems like it'd be a real pain in the ass, that kind of thing happening.
P: It's aggravating. We hope to cut down on that kind of thing in the future.
A: As a consumer, or fan, or whatever, I remember when Road kill came out we were all psyched. We'd been seeing you play "Song of the Heads" and were so excited. And in the first minute of
looking at the album, we were like "Wait a minute. What is this?" And after a listen you say "fantastic" and all that...
C: It's the first rock record I'm on.
P: Our friend Chip, who runs Scenescof, suggested that we document what were up to right then. And by the time it came out, the actual performances were two years old.
A: That version of "Edward" is old.
P: Well, yeah. That's extremely old, but unique. That's the only time we did that. That was an early WAMH (Amherst College) radio show. There was a guy who had an industrial show who asked us to come on and play. This was in the first year or two of the band, and so we had some acoustic stuff but not very much. So I think we played "Sweet William" and some other things, and some improv stuff, and Tim had this idea for "Edward"... He had played it on the guitar before, but we had never performed it like that. I'm banging on shit in the studio, and the Dj is playing with some tape delay thing, and Tom is playing on some other guitar... Tom might not even be on there. But Road Kill is just supposed to be something to put out while we try to get out the real record, we've got stuff that's good that people might like. And the rock record still hasn't come out. When we did Comet we did a bunch of recordings for a rock record too, because we were going to do two records at once because we had enough stuff to do it. And it turned out that we found a way to put out Comet, and not the rock record. Then our German label wanted us to put some rock songs on, so we thought we'd throw "Jersey City" and the two other ones on there.
A: A cruel tease...
P: (laughs) But then the rock record never came out.
A: So there's an album just sitting waiting?
P: Well, it transformed into Io material. It's the three songs on the German album, I think maybe "Rock Me," and a couple of other songs. All the good stuff will come out eventually.
A: Then you can stop putting out this crap.
P: It's fucked up how hard it is to get stuff out properly. And the public perceptions of what the band is doing relative to what's going on. First of all that time delay, but also-- well, one magazine thought we were giving up rock music because our albums were getting progressively more acoustic. And in performance and rehearsal that's not what we were doing, but we had just been given the opportunity to put out records that were that way. So public perception... I mean, people can't come to every show.
A: Of course they can.
P: (laughs) So mostly people perceive you through your recordings, and that's a very strange history.
C: I think that may have been the motivating force to split the band. The acoustic side was what was getting public notice, and so it was like "Where's this rock band coming from?"
P: And in the rock world if you've been around for two years and no one's heard of you, you might as well start over. It's just so exhilarating to start afresh, both musically and on the business side.
C: When we decided on the name, we were driving to Michigan, and we were kind of talking...
P: I think we'd just seen Dole's motorcade driving by.
A: Dole the pineapple people?
P: No, Bob Dole. That loser? We were on our way to a show in Toronto, and we were gonna be playing the Iron Horse in a couple weeks.
C: And Tim said, "Io."And things flashed through: "Ooh, it's short. You an spell it. Wow."
P: No more "Cornelia's Bad."
C: There's a couple ways to mispronounce Io but it's must mostly just inflection.
P: It still amazes me how often people ask me "how do you spell that?"
C: So outside Philadelphia we pulled into a rest area and called Deborah (Miller, the booking agent).
P: I called the guy from the local paper, to try to get it in the paper.
A: Before you changed your minds?
P: (laughs)It was very very exciting.
C: It was like "AH! YES!"
P: It's been that way since. No more confusion for us, at least, though we realize that some of the public are still wondering what we're doing.
C: Making decisions like that is really cool, because ultimately there's not too much that's not reversible or somewhat fixable. So it's kind of like not making decisions is when you get all confused and people are all unclear about what you're talking about, so then you make the decision and then you work from having made that decision, and it's way easier.
A: It's interesting that on the one hand the splitting of the band seems like it'll aid people in reconciling themselves to it, but it seems that you also might lose a certain clarity of perception. Like listening to road kill alongside comet you hear this one entity that takes the old American idiom and puts the contemporary one alongside it. It made me think a lot differently about what you can do and what genres mean... I mean, the Io stuff rocks, but I think you might lose a small kernel of that unity of genres, or whatever.
P: I think it'll be less obvious. But certainly there were people who were very upset. It's hard to explain without talking to people in person what our program is. I guess my own hope is that we'll keep doing our music in the way that we want to do it, and it'll continue to evolve. I hope that we can get the music out to people, and we'll continue at least to allude to the connections. We do a lot of cross-promotion between the bands... That's a difficult balance, trying to say "O.K. This is this band, we're doing this" and focus on that, but at the same time let people know "Well, if you like that, there's this other thing you might want to check out."So we've been working hard on trying to do that without diluting any specific project, which is bad. So I hope that continues, and if people like Io then they'll check out Cordelia's Dad and draw their own connections.
P: It's happened a bunch. And that guy at 'FNX heard one of our rock songs and came to see us at the Iron Horse, and it was a Cordelia's Dad show, and he thought it was cool.
A: It makes perfect sense to me.
P: To us to, obviously. One of my favorite pieces of fanmail recently was a 13-year old girl from Oregon who saw Cordelia's Dad play at her high school. She wrote us this letter and said "I hate folk music, but you guys are really cool." And I hope we get a lot of mail like that.
C: At that show these kids came up after our very short concert and said "You guys ROCK!" I think the elements that we see as similar between Cordelia's Dad and Io come through, and there are people who are open to seeing that, and they'll see something and remember it. Because we make it it's still in the music, even though the bands aren't blatantly side by side.
A: I think if you keep doing things like singing a hymn or two during Io sets. One of the defining moments of Cordelia's Dad used to be starting the set with Tim singing "Old Bedford" and then going into "Jersey City." I mean, I put "Old Bedford" on a mix tape between The Who and the Replacements and it worked perfectly.
C: When we opened for Weezer that was what Tim opened with. Archers of Loaf were the other band, but the first thing that happened that night was Tim singing "Farewell to Old Bedford" and then we went into "Jersey City." So some people get it, but not everyone. And it's good to find people who get as excited about that as seeing Weezer play "The Sweater Song."
P: It's very cool when that happens, being able to get past people's prejudice or skepticism about acoustic music. And then time and time again its happened that when people think they're about to see a rock band and we start playing acoustic music and they're ready for rock music, they love it. But if they hear "Cordelia's Dad, oh, they're some folk band" they never show up. It's unfortunate.
A: It's interesting that most of the people I know have the opposite bias, and it drives me up the fucking wall. They'll love the acoustic stuff, and they'll like the rock o.k. but they won't really get it. I think
maybe some of it has to do with not having seen it, because that's the best.
P: I think road kill can be a difficult album for people who haven't seen us play.
A: Yeah, I tend to forget that, and get irritated at people who don't go to shows.
P: Well I think it's the same for both our bands, and other bands. Seeing it live makes such an enormous difference.
(Tape one ends. We take a break and talk about some other stuff. Then...)
P: I was wondering if there are any other misconceptions or strange things people don't understand that you could explain.
A: I was trying to think of that too. I think I must've yelled at everybody who says the f-word. I think the only other thing people ask is if the band is married, either to each other or to other people.
P: Laura got some fan mail the other day, but we don't get quite as many mash notes as we used to. But with the new record coming out maybe the mail will pick up.
A: I think that's about it. Is there anything you guys want to clear the air about or make known?
C: Mostly we'd like not to hear that we're a folk-rock band...
P: ... Or that we've broken up.
A: Maybe we've sort of covered it, but how do you see yourselves in relation to current contemporary American music?
P: I can illustrate this. This weekend through convoluted circumstances I ran into this guy Mitch Rasor who used to play in Absolute Gray, a band out of San Francisco. I'd heard of Absolute Gray, but never actually heard their music. He'd heard of Cordelia's Dad, but didn't really know what we were up to. He thought we were from San Francisco. What it made me think of is: we've been operating in our own universe, and we used to be more a part of some sort of indie-rock scene, back before it became alternative rock, back when you'd go on tour and no one was on a major label. But this guy Mitch is now on a major-affiliated label, and he's put out three albums with them, he's got a publishing deal with Warner Bros.., he's got a publicist, he's got a German label, he's really set up. But he's playing at the Bay State, which is this cool but dumpy club. There's 10 people there, crappy PA, if he walks out of there with $50 it's a really good night. It's bizarre because in some ways we're completely obscure, in some ways we're totally famous, in some ways we're doing really well, and in some ways we're doing horribly. So I can't really figure it out. My goal is to have more contact with other bands, and get try to get back in touch with what other people are up to... England is really good. We've gone there a bunch of times. Last January we spent a month there doing Cordelia's Dad shows and Io shows, and played with other bands and met other groups. And most if not all the bands we played with were really interested in what we were doing. Musically it was very satisfying, and personally it was good just to be in touch with people more. It's strange because we just do things because they come up, and we because we want to go visit someone. At least over there I feel like we're in touch with what's going on.
C: And not in the folk scene. Not even the acoustic music scene.
P: Just the music lover's scene. People who go out and check things out.
A: The Oasis scene.
P: (laughs) We played with an Oasis-type band. It was, uh, different. We didn't connect with them very well. Down in Bristol... Connecting musically with other bands, I tend to like bands more when I see them play, and it's bands we've played with that I'm most interested in. Like this band Kodiak, in Northern England, who are great. And last time we were in Germany, A Subtle Plague. We did a couple shows with them. The first time it was by coincidence, and the second time we ran into them it was like old buddies. But that kind of thing doesn't seem to happen in the States as much anymore, because so many bands have signed with major labels and they're all package tours. All the opening slots have dried up. We played with the Squirrel Nut Zippers because I knew their agent from other circumstances, and we happened to be able to work out one gig with them.
A: Good show.
C: The music was good, but the setting was this mall in Virginia Beach. It was a seafood bar in a mall in Virginia Beach with nets on the wall.
A: Who else do you guys like that are alive? Drop some names.
P: I like Low. I saw them in concert, and they're not my favorite band, but they're intriguing. I'm looking forward to the new Hole album.
C: Did you hear the Ministry Grateful Dead cover?
A: Have you heard June of '44?
P: Not yet. I've heard about them.
A: You should. It's really loud and really beautiful.
C: Dwight Diller.
(Break in the tape while I run out to get a mix tape to play them)
C:... So there's this guy [I can't figure out the context of this, sorry- A] and he's talking about being dedicated to his art and "I don't care about the financial stuff, I have advisors for that, I'm just dedicated to my art." And if we had huge egos and dedicated to our art, we wouldn't care. But it would mean that we'd have this strange troupe of people working for us and we wouldn't be as involved in our stuff as we are, and we'd probably have faded out within two years.
P: Someone sent me email recently a while ago after a show in a bar in Milwaukee. It was put on by a folk society, so of course hardly anyone showed up. Tickets were $10, as folk events tend to be, because the audience has more money. I've come to believe actually that $10 is a reasonable price to pay to see an experienced band. We've made a conscious effort to keep prices low in this area, playing the Iron Horse for $6, unlike everyone else. This guy was complaining about paying $10 for a band he'd never heard of. (Goes to answer the phone)
A: I remember when I first got to Marlboro, and I started meeting people from other places, Portland or wherever, and they'd talk about going to see four bands they knew for $6, and then complain about shows out here being so expensive. After most of the shows I went to in high school, which were big concert-type things where you pay $17.50, $10 is nothing. You can always borrow that from someone.
P: And if you look at movie prices, people go see things they know they're not going to like without thinking about it.
C: I saw KISS for $10. It was great. It was my first show.
A: What was your first show?
P: The first rock show I remember seeing was April Wine and Red Ryder. (Defensively) It was in Canada.
A: It'd have to be. My first was the Monkees in '87, and then it was Aerosmith and Dokken at the Worcester Centrum. I was a metaller in high school.
C: I saw the Hooters and Loverboy.
P: At some point I was trying to make a point about money. I guess it's one of those things... I've had my share of bad experiences going to see bands, and I don't go to see bands very much anymore. I also have that thing about cover charges, and I'm not sure where that comes from. But it's pervasive, and unfortunate, because I don't think it should be that way. When you delve into the economics of it all, we are making a living --sort of-- doing music, but really only when we're touring. And even then it's so pathetic, so far below minimum wage. I think on our best tour we made, after expenses, $30 a day each. For being away from home, working all day long... It doesn't pay you anything for rehearsal or the months of preparation. And something like Fire & Water [cafe in Northampton] is a very difficult situation to figure out, deciding to play there and not get paid for it is a political decision. He wants us to come back, and it's a good setting, but we're not sure how to negotiate it. How to figure out how to set ticket prices so as to avoid the perception of "Oh, they're not indie-rock anymore because they charge too much" or "Oh, they can't be very good, it's only $5."
A: Most of the shows I've been to have probably been $6 or $8 for three or four bands, and usually there's two bands I've heard, and one I've maybe heard of. And occasionally I get turned on to some really cool bands. I mean, you pay for an experience. Even if I hear a crap band, it tells me something about what not to do. I mean, that's how I saw Les Savy Fav, and they were great. The headliners (Trans Am) were amazing, and the other bands sucked. But still, I mean, $8... It just drives me up the wall when people say they love a band or music or whatever, and won't shell out, or make the effort.
P: I think people don't realize the economics of it. For us, it has a significant effect on us whether or not someone buys a record. But with Nirvana, so another 100,000 bootlegs get made-- big deal. It's extremely sad. The distribution on comet was so fucked-up and inept that the distributor only sold 1500 copies of the album, and we sold more than that ourselves at shows. It's absolutely pathetic. It boggles the mind. I wouldn't be surprised if there was another 1000 or 2000 tapes out there.
A: I had copies of your first two albums and Joy Fun Garden before I ever saw you, because I couldn't find them. But then I gradually bought them, except Joy Fun Garden, which you still can't get.
(The interview degenerates into complete irrelevance. Just as I'm about to leave to drive back to work in Boston, Tim arrives).
A: Okay, now be intelligent.
A: So how did you get interested in old music?
T: As long as I can remember, for whatever reasons.My reasons for it have changed over time, but I think when I was really small there was something that I responded to. It's a hard thing to figure out, because in some ways it's about old music, in some ways it's about individual singers, in some ways it's about songs or melodies. There's probably much more that I don't like that I actually do like. When I was a kid, for whatever reason, I was really interested in old stuff, so just the fact that they were old songs was enough. That's definitely not the case anymore, my interests now have more to do with whether a song is interesting or not. But yeah, I was into going to old whaling museums. When I was little we lived in Lexington, and there's this obsession with history. In kindergarten you go to the recreation of the battle of lexington, and you make tricorner hats out of newspaper. I'm not exactly sure why but I was interested in it.
A: Did you play old music before that fateful day with Peter and Tom?
T: not really. It was stuff I just kind of sang to myself. I had a hardcore band, or actually various bands that were various degrees of hardcore, sort of metal-crossover stuff, when I was 14, which was the first time I was messing around with old songs. "Pretty Little Pink" was actually a song from a band called the Plague that I played in with a friend of mine when we were 12. So we messed around with that, we messed around with a couple other things, but it was pretty incidental. It was all subsidiary to our interest in hardcore and punk and stuff.
A: You're degreed in this kind of thing, aren't you?
T: (extremely uninterestedly) Yeah, yeah...
A: Is this what you studied? American music?
T: Kind of. I didn't want to go to college, I just wanted to play rock and roll, but everyone was just like "Well, you gotta go to college, your parents are both teachers." So school for me was a way to do things I found interesting. So I made my own major at Amherst. I majored in South Indian Classical Music, and that was my main thing for about 10 years. The only real training I've had has been in South Indian classical music.
A: (ironically) It really shows in your work.
T: Yeah, obviously. So that almost got me out of playing rock and roll. Cordelia's Dad actually broke up when I was out of the country for a year, in India. And then I went to graduate school, also basically just because I wanted to keep studying, and they pay you to go to school. So my theory was "Well, I'll go and I'll just play music all the time." The scary thing was that graduate school was more about reading French critical theory and stuff than it was about playing music. Which was kind of a shock to me-- I didn't understand why these people were involved in music if they didn't want to be playing it. That was really hard for me to understand. Fortunately at Wesleyan they have a fairly open Master's program, you can do a lot of performance, and so I went there to study South Indian music, because that's one of their strong suits, but I wound up concentrating on, I guess you'd call it historical performance art. A project based around 18th and 19th century American vocal music, shape note type stuff. But the way I went about it was more an extended performance piece. It had a lot to do with trying to get people involved in locality and music and architecture and a sense of place.
A: Speaking of shape note, did you grow up with it?
T: Only on record. Initially harmony in general was sort of alien to me. I mean, you play rock and roll and every song and everything is parallel fifths. I didn't even know what parallel fifths were until I went to college, and then the first thing I heard was "You can't do parallel fifths." What the fuck? Everything I ever played was parallel fifths. But my sense of harmony was like "Okay, I'm doing one thing, the other guy's doing something else." So that's what I thought was harmony, any time you're not singing the same thing. When I heard shape note music I was interested in the melodies, and I really like the tunes. I really liked unaccompanied hymn-singing in some of the millions of American styles that I'd heard. But the harmony stuff didn't make a whole lot of stuff to me for a long time.
A: Jumping around to some technical stuff, what are your favorite tunings?
T: Well, for Cordelia's Dad I use... I can never remember what it is. I have this down... The bottom note is C, F, C, F, G, C. I think. I use that for fingerpicking, and when I wanna do strummy stuff I tune the G also to F. Kind of a dulcimer tuning.
A: Yeah, I do that only a whole step higher.
T: That seems to work pretty well for a lot of things.
A: What about the rock? Do you do that in standard?
T: It depends on what era the song's from. I used to do all the songs in standard, and then I moved to DADGAD, and now I sort of go back and forth between DADGAD and DADGAD with the low A dropped a whole step. I did that kind of not really willingly, it was when I was playing second guitar briefly in Cordelia's Dad, and it just kind of stuck. I never play in D when I'm in DADGAD, I'm always in different keys, I just got used to the relationships. One of the things that's useful about DADGAD is the ease of transposition-- you can change keys just by moving the capo around. I've been trying to get a cheap Korean guitar for ages, and I finally got one. A good cheap Asian guitar, for a number reasons. Partly because I think if you look hard enough you can find one that's just as good as a Martin, or better, and partly because it'll save me having to talk about brands with the people at concerts. I don't mind, but I get really sick talking about "this is a '32, it's got the original pegs." I'm not interested, I'd much rather play on a cheap piece of crap I can paint green and put stickers on. Now that I've got that I'm actually going back to standard to try to do some stuff.
A: It's interesting to go back to that once you've been doing alternate tunings. It made me respect standard a lot more.
T: Yeah, standard tuning is a pretty well reasoned-out thing in terms of changing keys.
A: Back when Cordelia's Dad did the rock stuff, how would you decide whether something would be an acoustic thing or an electric?
T: For every song that we wound up doing, we probably went through a hundred that we tried. It's much easier to write songs than to try to make old songs work as rock songs. There's very few that really work and don't sound stupid, like Ye Oldy Celticky. If we found a song that was interesting I'd try it both ways, but sometimes there was an arrangement that just jumped out. I mean, "Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still" is so obviously a pop song, it was easy. But things like "Texas Rangers," man, it took me forever to figure out how to play that one. A lot of times it wound up being making the most out of very small ideas, like "Shallow Brown." If we were to have done that acoustic, that kind of arrangement wouldn't have worked. We wouldn't have had the sustain, the dynamics aren't there, and we probably would have just done it unaccompanied. There were a few songs that we did both ways, like "Idumea," I sometimes sing that unaccompanied. It really just depended on the song. It's hard, because we didn't have a cookie cutter for it. Sometimes I wish we did, but I'm also glad for having the experience of having to work really hard on a song to make it right.
A: It is hard to arrange. I tried to do a guitar version of "The Dying Californian."
T: That's a tough one.
A: Yeah, it ended up sounding like "Old Mcdonald," which I thought might've made an interesting segue, but...
T: Yeah, right. I like that idea, but that's a whole other ballgame, mixing those kinds of things. One of my favorite things about these old songs is that there's a lot of people all over the place that do them in a lot of different ways and one of my favorite things is when you heard a song where the tune doesn't sound like anything, you've heard it a million times, and you just think "so what" and then you hear somebody that somehow does something real small with it, and it's just great. The tune of "Dying Californian" doesn't, to me, jump out as being a great tune, but somehow there's something in it.
P: I've heard that done at shape note conventions, and it's just another song.
T: And you hear Dwight Diller play some of these standard tunes, like "Jack of Diamonds," and you realize why these songs have been around forever.
A: What was your first show?
T: My first rock show was probably Rush. In one year I saw Rush and Black Sabbath, and the Ramones after that. And some kid had tickets to Iron Maiden, so I went to that. I saw Rush, Black Sabbath, and the Ramones in rapid succession in 1980.
A: Good progression-- low to high.
T: Actually, Rush was really good. But the Ramones, was like-- they were the Ramones, so what could you say? I just got the CD version of It's Alive. The album was like the formative album of my life. It's the best fuckin' album, and I just got the CD version, and I've been remembering again what it was like.
A: Does it sound good on disc?
T: It sounds better than it ever did on any of my stereo systems with a crappy needle. I'm not a big vinyl person. The only stuff that I can't listen to on CD is hardcore. It just sounds silly. I have to have it on old crappy cassettes in order for it to sound right. Everything distorts.
P: There's so much more variation in people's stereos than there is between CD's and vinyl that to me it seems like a spurious argument.
A: What are your favorite Cordelia's Dad songs?
T: Off the first record I like "Her Bright Smile" and "Pretty Little Pink."
P: "Dying Californian" has always been one of my favorites.
T: That's definitely my favorite one off that German thing (Joy Fun Garden, out of print).
P: On Comet, "Frozen Girl" is such an experience.
T: Yeah, that's my favorite there.
A: Except if you have to pee.
P: Playing live, for the first couple years, we were doing "Katy Cruel." But on Comet it somehow wasn't fully captured, so it's not one of my favorites on the record, but it's a great one live.
T: It's funny how it works, that sometimes something's not your favorite song, but you do it and feels so great. On the new record I really go back and forth I like all of it so much. Off of How Can I Sleep? I think "Shallow Brown" is probably my favorite.
A: That's mine.
P: That's my favorite song but not the best recording of it.
A: Cath, what about you?
P: My favorite on the new record is "Knife."
T: That could be mine, too. My favorite part on the whole record is when Peter hits the drum on "Knife" and it goes "duumm." That's my favorite second. It's like a little "What's Happenin'" effect.
P: On all the records there's these little moments like that.
A: On Comet it's when the fiddle comes in on "Booth Shot Lincoln."
T: On that record, some of my favorite seconds are in"Frozen Girl." Like at the end, it's "cold stars shone" and then there's the guitar bit after the singing stops, "dum dum dum."
A: "Baby Song" always comes up as a favorite.
P: It was very amusing the first few times.
T: I was thinking about that on the way up. I was listening to modern rock radio, and I was thinking about doing things that have an immediate appeal, and doing things that I really feel deeply. And I was trying to argue for immediate appeal, because it is nice for things to be appealing.
A: Well, the essence of rock is instant gratification.
T: For a long time I thought we shouldn't do that because people liked it for the wrong reasons, and I think I might be finally emerging from that. I don't know, you listen to It's Alive and it's so great. It's tiring because it is so constant and so immediate. And I think that most of this music that we've involved in is more "whole-life" kind of stuff, where a set or an album or the repertoire isn't just a whole lot of the same thing. I don't necessarily say that that's a better way of doing things, but for our interests it just seems that we feel like we gotta do this whole range of experience. But I think it's okay if people like some of it because right away, it's cool.
P: I think in the future we might do albums that are more focused, where we don't have to try to do everything that we do.
T: Yeah, say "There's plenty of time in life to do all these different things, let's just do a set of blah blah blah."
P: We've talked about doing an album with Dwight Diller --but not with him yet-- where he just plays tunes and we just sing hymns.
A: That would be cool.
T: Kind of like a split CD, only not. What you gotta do is get him up there (Marlboro College). His records are good, but his show is a lot better.
A: I got this Duke Ellington quote from the inside of a Joe Jackson album (Cath snickers)-- something about Joe Jackson?
C: I ran some lights for a dance number once.
P: Did I talk to you about his three-sided album? Joe Jackson the musician, right, not the baseball player?
A: Yeah, the Shod Joe Jackson.
P: Sometime in the '80's when I had a radio show he put a live double album, without the last side. I was very impressed with his ideas about that-- it was all done live in a really nice room, and it was one of the first times I heard about someone working really hard to get a good live sound. It sounds great, I mean, it's Joe Jackson and you might not like it, but production-wise it's really good.
T: I like the Anthrax cover of that song ("Got the Time). (Imitates it).
A: That's really good. Did you hear them cover that Smiths song?
A: It was from the movie Airheads and they covered "London."
T: I bet I would like Anthrax doing the Smiths more than the Smiths doing the Smiths. Or the Smiths doing Anthrax, for that matter.
A: Anyway, so on the inside of Joe Jackson's Night and Day he quotes Duke, who says: "I am an optimist. From where it is, music is mostly alright, or at least in a healthy state for the future, in spite of the fact that it may sound as though it is being held hostage."
P: I suspect things have not changed very much in decades and decades. There's always been a commercial nature in music, even ??? It's hard to do something unfamilar... Live music right now seems to be having a hard time, but I'm not convinced that it's harder than it ever has been.
T: It's also hard to tell exactly what's going on, because there's an infinite number of different kinds of music going on, and there's obviously things that are doing better now than ever.
A: It's like the big generational argument, where every generation thinks it's got it worse off than the generation before it, when really it feels like things have always been pretty much the same-- I mean, I wonder if I was born in 1874 instead of 1974 would I hate life more or like life more.
T: With the work that we're doing, over and over again, you come across things that feel like deja vu in retrospect: people saying things that are so uncanny, and aspects of the American condition, as they call it, and aspects of American culture that go back as far as you want. One of the quotes on Spine is from a Yankee character from the 1850's-- a made up character named Josh Billings, by a contemporary of Mark Twain's, very interesting. One of things was publishing tons and tons of aphorisms, and there's this one that says "Things ain't as they used to be is the solemn and wise remark of mankind since Adam was a boy."
A: Right on.
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