Interview with Senon Williams bass player from Dengue Fever Oct 10

Where did the interest in Cambodian music come from?

I travelled to Cambodia in 1995 and i was in a taxi cab and the driver was playing this really weird 80’s music and it was all crazy medleys of Madonna mixed with the stones and then the clash would come in but it was all in Cambodian. I thought this is really weird, I thought I gotta find some of this music for myself you know. So I went to a market and I found this cassette booth and this guy had one mother-ship cassette machine with all these crazy wires sticking out of it plugged into all these baby machines around it. So when you picked something he would copy it right on the spot and give you some random cover so you never knew what you were getting. When I was there I noticed all these 60’s looking drawings and paintings and I thought wow, what is this old stuff? So I picked some of those and it was all these crazy psychedelic music. So that’s when I first got turned on to it and then my other band-mates got turned onto it in different ways. So we all had this interest in this music, we’re not purists or crazy Cambodian freaks, it was just something that we were interested in and it was an idea that was sparked and we just managed to see it through you know.

How did you find each other?

Me and Zack, the guy with the long beard, have been friends since we were teenagers. We talked about checking out this psychedelic Cambodian rock and at the same time tropicalia was happening so we were checking out the old Brazilian music and there was this old Turkish music, so we were all into this old stuff. Zack and Ethan were playing pool in a local pool hall and they befriended this Cambodian dude, and he said hey man you should go to Long Beach, that’s where all the Cambodians are. That’s where all the crazy clubs are. So they went down there and found that it was Chinese style synthy pop real cheesy, but they heard the singing it was the exact same voices and same melodies as the old stuff we like. It was like a light went off. What if we supply the band and we find one of these ladies to do the singing. So it was the two of them who went searching for the singers but it was all of us who rented a rehearsal space and tried out all the singers.

It seems like a far fetched idea, even now after having seen you play a couple of times and having heard your albums.

It was totally bizarre that was the appeal. We didn’t just want to be another indie rock band from Los Angeles. We wanted to something that was taking ourselves out of the element. We wanted to do something strange but something strong or proud because a lot of the music was apathetic, like we’re in a rock band but we’re not that good. That was the attitude of some of the bands. And when you see Nimol sing she’s like here I am this is what I am. I’m a singer and I’m out here doing my thing. We noticed right away that Nimol just had it. On our first show we were at a local club, people were dancing like crazy, jumping up on stage, which is rare in LA. It really jazzed us. We thought we could do this a few more times. It was never meant to be a project this long, we had a couple of concerts in mind and we just wanted to do it for fun and it’s flowered in such a way that it’s just become hard to stop.

I found your film Sleepwalking thru the Mekong really amazing. Were you worried about how you’d be received in Cambodia?

Definitely worried because we wanted to go to Cambodia but we didn’t know how we could pay or afford to go to Cambodia as a band. So we came up with this idea that maybe we could raise the money to go there and play and we could make a film. So we came up with the idea and had to completely lie about all these wonderful things we were doing in Cambodia in order to get the investments to give us money, and none of that stuff happened, but all this other great stuff happened. It was very scary we had no idea what t expect and Nimol was frightened too, she didn’t help us feel any better, she was like I don’t know what’s going to happen. So when we got over there and played this music it endeared us to the people. The second day we got to Phnom Penh, we played on national tv and they loved the show so much that the tv station aired it 3 times a day for the entire month that we were there, so we couldn’t go anywhere. I mean I saw Zack walking down the street with a Cambodian scarf wrapped completely around his head, his beard tucked inside his shirt and he had a pair of glasses on. He was like I have to stop and sing to everybody. Every two feet I have to stop and sing to another Cambodian. Me being a 6 foot 6 black dude and him with the big beard the two of us stick out. The thing is you go to these little tiny villages in Cambodia that have no electricity. Every few shacks have a fluorescent light that runs off a car battery and a tv that runs off a car battery, so everybody across the entire country got this show. So even when we travelled across the countryside and would stop in a one cow little village people new us.

Now you know how Lady Gaga feels.

You know what’s funny about Lady Gaga. I really can’t tell her from other people. Maybe that’s why she’s so popular, I can’t tell her from another woman. They say androgynous about sex but she’s like without a look, she’s like invisible looking or something.

You guys look very interesting on stage, you’re individual characters. When I first saw you I thought you were a team of super heroes.

I think we should make action figures. In heart we’re all the same, but we definitely are completely different. There’s nothing calculated. When we walk down the street we all look like we’re from different bands.

You don’t look like the Ramones, put it that way.

Laughs.

You’re the giant, the guitarist is the dude from zz top, you’ve got a pawn shop dealer on the keyboards…I could go on…

I’ll make sure I let him I know that one.

I’ll make make sure never to introduce myself to him.

If you meet him be prepared to duck

The other thing that struck me about Sleepwalking Through the Mekong was how the music is so tied up with the genocide there. Were you aware of this when you began?

When we started the band we really didn’t know much about Cambodian history. I travelled to Cambodia and I knew about the khmer rouge and I knew about the time period that it happened, but getting to know Nimol and this band has made me get to know more about the people of Cambodia and how they’re coping with this travesty, that still affects the culture now. Because basically all their educators, their architects, musicians, anyone with an education either left or was murdered. Cambodia really was stripped of its culture. It wasn’t a genocide across all classes, all classes of people died, but the first to die were all the educators, the thinkers and artists. It really today is seriously affecting Cambodia and its culture. I didn’t have a real grip on that when I started the band. As we progressed, making that film and we’ve worked with a few aid organizations, and things are presenting themselves, so it’s something that we do.

I hear you’re working on a new album.

I’m sitting outside the studio and the other guys are working on some keyboards right now, we’ve been heavily into recording the past few months. So when we come to Australia we’ll definitely be playing a few of the new ones.

How’s it going, do you feel like there’s much progression?

As we put out more and more records we keep on trying to push ourselves to something new. Nimol started to sing in harmonies, it’s very new for her because Cambodian music is one singer or many singers singing in the same register or key. So now we’re starting to experiment. we’re bringing friends and getting little more orchestrated, we’re going for a little more of a larger sound on some of the recordings.

I was a big fan of your Mulatu Astatke track.

I’ve never seen him play, our keyboard player saw him in LA and said it was amazing. All those ethiopique albums are so perfect, that music just reminds me of a flock of birds taking off, it’s just beautiful

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Neil Young – Le Noise (Reprise)

There is a reason that Neil Young decided to call his 7 millionth album Le Noise. It’s due to the presence of producer extraordinaire Daniel Lanois (Dylan/U2) who has warped and distended his sounds, adding a complexity and a kind of inebriated psychedelic slur over everything. Not just echoes on the vocals, or walls of reverb, but a grander more signature stamp on the album. Where most bands pull back on the effects to try to portray the illusion of reality Neil and Daniel elected to make it all overt. It’s not that it’s too much, rather it’s just very obvious, almost another instrument woven within the songs.

It’s an incredibly stark and stripped down album, dark like Tonight’s the Night, perhaps like that 1975 offering prompted by the death of someone close to him, this time bandleader and mercurial pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith. It’s just Neil and his guitar, either acoustic or electric, yet the production fills any void, moving, pulsing, warping along with a kind of controlled weirdness. Neil has returned to that meaty fuzzy, ok, grunge guitar sound of Sleeps With Angels era and Lanois treatment of his guitar is nothing short of extraordinary, both in terms of texture and timbre, but also in terms of the way it’s stretched across the stereo field, Song wise Lanois rescues some of Young’s potentially lame moments such as Angry World with a guitar sound you can almost taste in your mouth and a disconcerting vocal loop. The effects duck, weave explode and disappear around Young’s songs as he continues almost oblivious. He doesn’t interact, they both just do their own thing.

There’s a kind of reflective poring over his life, but you suppose death of a close friend can do that to you. On the Hitchhiker, he details his drug history whilst on Love and War he notes that they’re very familiar subjects for him. You get the feeling that La Noise is about asking questions into the void. “When will I learn to Give Back? When Will I learn to heal?” He asks on Rumblin.

Neil Young albums can be hit and miss. Yet every now and then something in his brain seems to snap and he takes a real risk, changing things up. Both Trans, and Dead Man spring to mind, maybe even Sleeps With Angels. Le Noise belongs here as well. This is a great album.

Bob Baker Fish

Fragmented Fish Oct 10

Guy is thirty five, married, has three kids, and likes to sing karaoke. He chooses inspiring songs like Air Supply’s All Out Of Love, REM’s Losing My Religion, and Elvis’ You Are Always on My Mind. His singing is quite sweet in a naive untrained way and you can tell he’s really feeling the music. He also does a pretty good baritone for the Crash Test Dummies Mmm Mmm Mmmm. But Guy has become a You-tube sensation, with over a million views and almost 3,000 subscribers. Diagnosed with Aspergers and Tourettes syndrome, his renditions are filled with involuntary tics and cussing, his heartfelt songs punctuated by potty mouth spasms of ‘ass’ and ‘fuck.’ His tourettes has progressed to the point where he can no longer work. He has a five or six day cycle, and in the meantime tries to control all the sensory inputs into his life and manage all kinds of stress he might experience, such as meeting new people, talking on the phone, being hungry, tired, or even spending too long in the car. With his music you get the sense that he’s thought to himself, ‘well if I’m gonna go off I might as well use it for something.’ Thus when the phone rang a few days ago he ticked like crazy and thought of the most obvious thing…Rick Astley.

His rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up is filled with the urgency and pathos that is lacking in the original. Intermittently clicking his fingers and whacking himself on the head to stop his tics, there’s a real tension there as you hope he can soothe himself for long enough to squeeze out the verse. “And if you ask me how I’m…fuck” he offers improving the song dramatically, before descending into laughter realising he’s fighting a losing battle. It’s at this point the tics build into a repetitious ‘fuck off’ medley and you can see him really fighting with the disease. You think the song’s over. But then between jerky spasms of cussing he miraculously ekes out ‘Never Gonna Give, Never Gonna Give,’ and you feel like cheering. It’s simultaneously tragic and inspiring, juvenile and voyeuristic. You don’t know where to look or how to react. But the songs are hilarious, genius pieces of instant composition. almost a sub conscious comment on the songs he chooses to cover. He does it to raise Tourettes awareness. Just type in tourettes karaoke. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yijqt5cHmj0 You’ve just been tic rolled.

It was while doing research for an interview with The Murder Junkies, GG Allin’s infamous backing band that Fragmented Fish discovered The Blood Artist. Apparently the bass player from the Murder Junkies (currently on tour in Australia), GG’s brother Merle, bought one of his unsettling works. Whilst artists have for years been known to mix little pieces of their DNA into their paint, be it blood, semen or even urine, Jack Crowley puts them all to shame. He lives out in the Californian desert, hunts and eats rattlesnakes and uses their blood for art. He is on record as saying that he hates art, and paints for money, but once you see his work you can tell that’s just posturing. He’s a portrait painter and chooses wholesome subjects like George Bush, Jeffrey Dahmer, Alex from Clockwork Orange and of course Charles Manson. His paintings are quite one dimensional. He allows the blood to dry, turn a horrible dark red, almost brown to create the illusion of depth. Then he paints over the top. Apparently the density and freshness of the blood impact significantly on the tone. Regardless of the ingredients there is something quite awful about and unsettling about his work, something scary and wrong. So if you’re looking for that one last serial killer portrait or wondering where you could find the image of the founder and high priest of the church of Satan etched in blood, call Jack. http://www.freewebs.com/bloodartist

Boredoms Live 10/10/10 – Forum Melbourne

Unfortunately arrived late, for the last few minutes of crowing and wailing from Melbourne idiot 3 piece Bum Creek. One of them was lying on the ground and it was some kind of demented acapala thing they had going making you mourn and wonder about the remainder of their set. They’ve just released their debut LP (yes vinyl) on Chapter filled with joyous broken spazzed out wrongness and it’s beautiful (wrong), but they’re still a band you need to see live. Anything can and does happen.

Kes Band started with noise, operating as a super group seven piece reigning in some assistance from Zond’s Justin Fuller on additional guitar and three backup singers/ occasional woodwind players. They were loud, shouty, a kind of ill defined electrified folk. Though throughout their set they played like seven different bands, genres became meaningless, leading one to wonder where the centre of this band really lies. But this kind of eccentricity and diversity is their appeal.

And then on the stroke of midnight. On the 10/10/10 the boredoms appeared for their yearly boredrum performance, this time on stage with 9 drummers. Wait a second…Oh that’s right the tenth drummer Yojiro Tatekawa started from the middle of the crowd, who were parted like the red sea as he was eventually hauled onto stage playing madly. The remainder of the drummers, Yoshimi, Zach Hill (Hella), Hisham Bharoocha (Soft Circle), Jeremy Hyman (Ponytail), Kid Millions (Oneida), Butchy Fuego (Pit er Pat), Piklet, the dude from Baseball (I think) and Ben Ely (Regurgitator) sounded thunderous, playing in unison. They’re reminiscent of the tradition of Taiko drumming in their discipline, arms raised together punctuating a thunderous beat. It was relentless, Eye whacking his staff across his two guitar mutations, at one point climbing his 7 neck guitar or flirting with his DJ pitch shifting, wailing maniacally into one of his three microphones, building crescendos and then letting the world fall apart. Then came the one song we knew, Acid Police from 1994’s Chocolate Synthesizer on fire with it’s huge guitar riff and the drummers sounded like elephants stampeding, the effect plastering our faces back like we were trapped in a giant wind tunnel. It was huge, monumental, quintessential. Then they walked off. The crowd, so devastated by this point could barely muster any applause, we thinned out but they weren’t done, returning for another 30 mins of percussion orientated mayhem. It was madness, it was ludicrous, but it was disciplined and it was beautiful, one of the most amazing musical experiences in this writer has ever come in contact with. But most of all it was big. Very very big.

Bob Baker Fish

Boredoms Interview October 2010

It’s difficult to believe that Japan’s Boredoms have been in existence for over twenty odd years. And ‘odd’ is definitely the word as from the very beginning they were doing things very differently to everyone else. Initially their sound was a crazed frenetic wrong rock, a hyperactive mixture of punk, No Wave, and experimental noise that produced an intense somewhat manic totally ludicrous sound, filled with front-man Eye’s banshee wails and music that obeyed a demented internal logic. In fact it was this insanity that had Eye courted by no less than John Zorn to join his iconic downtown supergroup Naked City.

However somewhere in the mid 90’s things began to change. Gradually they left behind the noisy stupidity of their youth and began to embrace a more spiritual approach to their sounds, influenced by DJ culture and trance music. Around 2000 their Vision Creation Newsun album heralded a new direction for the band, featuring epic space jams, a less abrasive, more psychedelic and highly percussive approach. They also handed over their entire catalogue to techno producer Ken Ishi, DJ Krush and Unkle for remix albums, put out an album with Ween entitled Z-Rock Hawaii, lost half their members and splintered off into countless side projects such as Yoshimi’s 00I00, AOA and Eye’s numerous art projects and remixes. The band lay dormant for inordinate amounts of time, changed their name to Vooredoms, recorded an album in the water at St Kilda beach with Ollie Olsen, released a live album with a choir (Super Roots #9), and generally confused everyone.

Then they popped up again with one of the wackiest large scale sonic experiments you could imagine, an experience that changed everything for them. On the 7/7/2007 they assembled 77 guest drummers at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York with Eye in the centre conducting the ensemble like a manic wizard. “It was earth rumbling,” offers Yoshimi, one of the Boredoms percussionists, and the one constant (aside from Eye) in the Boredoms lineup. “Sound was like a Godzilla walking, so the impact was more than what we expected. But one thing, when we rehearse music, 13 drummers playing drums in really tiny room, at that time the sound impact was more than 77 drums set.”

Whilst you can see the results on You-tube and a newly released DVD, the performance which featured members of everyone from Gang Gang Dance to Holy Fuck, is one of the largest scale outdoor experiments in sound the city had seen. “I was so impressive for this intense phenomenon,” exclaims Yoshimi. “In the outside, 77 drummers playing on the ground near the water and with lots of air, it was 77 drums come together, more than a big sound.”   

It’s a concept they have continued to embrace over successive years.

“After 88 boredrum it’s like playing with numbers,” Yoshimi explains. On the 7/7 2007 we played music in 77 drummers, 8/8 2008 we played music in 88 drummers. 9/9 2009 we played music in 9 drummers then 10/10 2010 we are going to play music in 10 drummers. At the moment Boredoms has got 7 drummers, so we are thinking we are going to Australia, we should feature 3 local Australia drummers and play music with us.”

In fact the band are increasingly drawn to introducing others into their sound and music making process. To do this in a way that isn’t complete chaos they place some restrictions and limitations around the performers, asking them to play together in pre determined ways. Within reason.

“They bring so many different atmospheres of drumming for us,” confirms Yoshimi. “We can’t control everything… we are making a song possibly to what we can all play. Limitation isn’t control for us,” she continues, “we needed limitation, but it is ok to not come together sometimes, so loose sound is good.”

As a result their live shows have become renowned for their relentless tribal percussive energy, a grand spectacle. Twenty years on it’s still like nothing else around, with Eye, surrounded by drummers alternatively working with cd DJ’s, strange glowing orbs or his incredible 7 neck guitar which he bashes savagely with a staff. It’s a show which conjures up spiritual and ritualistic notions, something Yoshimi is quick to counter. “I don’t really care about it but quite often people are asking us this question. I think the sun,universe and natures are really great but we are not trusting in something specific,we are not joined in rituals, also we not influenced by something from spirituality.”

If the motivation doesn’t come from the sky, then the band are finding what they need in their sounds. Yoshimi and the rest of the band believe in the power of percussion.

“Drum-set and percussion are totally opposite,” she explains. “I think percussion is a form of human expression to connect nature made by god. Hit percussion then it makes a sound so anyone can do it,but rhythms are effected by what kind of blood you have.”

These days their music feels more organic, like it has been borne from epic studio jams, perhaps pieced together later. This is somewhat of a shift from their earlier material which very much involved the layering of sounds and utilising the studio as a tool. Nowadays with the studio recordings slowing down to a trickle the focus appears to be very much on performance, and their song writing process reflects this.

“Sometimes it starts from rhythms, sometimes it starts with a phrase, we are making songs that are possible to play in live show. So all of us arranging songs, we are making songs as like what an average bands does. Most recent song we produced was Eye offered us to make a song and Eye is constantly spitting same single sound in fast tempo so we produced a song stable for his idea. It is like in a way making a song for live show, but studio recording songs are slightly different.”

Fragmented Frequencies Sept 10

As you read these words there are multiple layers of sounds occurring around you, most of which we block out to focus on whatever the task is at hand. So put the paper down. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and just listen for a minute or so to your surroundings. What can you hear? Is there a dominant sound? Is there more than one sound combining to create this dominant sound. Try and reach underneath it now to uncover those less obvious sounds lurking under there, perhaps those quieter ones at a higher frequency. Once we’ve identified these sounds perhaps we can begin to consider their meanings, as there’s no such things as benign sounds. Every sound is loaded with information, and our minds are incredibly adept at decoding them, more often than not without our knowledge. So what does sound tell us about our world?

It’s the question at the heart of Norweigan artist and author Brandon Labelle’s book Acoustic Territories/ Sound Culture and Everyday Life (Continuum/ Macmillan) in which he investigates the locales in which we live our lives, highlighting the meanings we unconsciously understand yet rarely consider. He begins with a boy on a train asking one of those impossible questions that only a child can. ‘Where do sounds come from and where do they go?’ Pity the parent who has to answer that. Labelle’s approach is academic, he addresses philosophy, theoretical models, sociology, architecture, sonic research and art practice. He draws long, almost tangental bows, and as a result his hypothesies at times feel altogether cheeky. Yet that’s part of the dilemna, the nature of sound is so subjective, it’s something so personal and intimate. It comes into our body and we experience it alone, yet it’s also something that is immediately shared with others who are also having their own personal intimate experiences. It’s this collective experience that allows Labelle to undertake this study, drawing upon his own personal experiences in various locations. He says as much in an artist talk/introduction to his book that you can listen to online at http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/events/labelle.php.

He investigates the street, the home, the underground, prisons, cars, shopping malls, airports, even the sky and the media, using vibration, echo, feedback, resonance, and transmission, as a framework in which to view the communication of sound. He then attempts to decode the sounds and understand the contextual meanings that we attribute to them. He references everyone from street buskers to John Cage, hip hop to Saturday Night Fever, Brian Eno to sirens in WW1 bomb shelters, and challenges notions about the politics of the spaces we inhabit. His take on noise pollution is interesting too. He touches upon the notion of acoustic violence to discuss some of societies ills. Noise can be a confrontation, a symptom of disruption. However in society confrontations and disruptions are often necessary for progression. Then there’s silence, the absence (or reduction) of noise, which can also be an act of violence, particularly when when it’s politically motivated noise reduction. Just ask the Empress.

It’s this kind of thinking, a few steps progressed from noise=bad, silence=good, that make this study/ academic reflection so interesting and inspiring. It’s required reading for any sound artists out there, a text to help them take stock of the ammunition they’re loading into their compositions. But it also reveals how we’re such a visual culture, ignoring (but still processing) sound, using it to contribute to our understanding and experience of our environments, yet only raising it to our consciousness when we find it objectionable. Why that is however is a whole other book and more than likely involves cavemen, dinosaurs, and our fight or flight response.

Finally one of the the most adventurous risk taking musicians who ever lived passed away at the ripe old age of 88 last month. A Scott, Bill Millin was a renowned bagpipe player. It wasn’t so much his compositional dexterity as the fact that he played his bagpipes on a Normandy beach on the 6th of June 1944 as his commando brigade swarmed up the coast. He kept playing ditties like ‘Highland Laddie,’ as his comrades fell around him. German POW’s later admitted that they didn’t shoot him because they thought he was mad, and the moniker stuck: The mad piper of D-Day. He kept playing for four days until shrapnel apparently destroyed his pipes. But you can just imagine it, after 4 days of bagpipes mad or not, the Germans must have hit a wall and taken them out.