February 22, 1999
Scott, I thought I saw you at the Posies final show at Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco. I'm wondering about your impressions of the show, and of the Posies as artists now that it seems their time has passed.
Scott: I loved the show. I'll miss the Posies very much, though I recently went to a Saltine show--Ken Stringfellow's new group--and thought it was incredible. I hope I'm getting the name right. I remember another KS show once being billed as the "Sol-Teens."
The Posies probably shape my ongoing impression of '90s music more than any other group. I loved Nirvana, but to me most grunge bands seemed kind of purposefully backward-looking--a cross between early seventies Black Sabbath and mid-eighties abrasive hardcore stuff like Big Black. And nothing like "low-fi" or "electronica" or any of the hip-hop variations has struck my ears as being new and innovative.
FROSTING ON THE BEATER is to my thinking a state-of-the-art record. It's the benchmark for that ultra-compressed '90s sound, which not everyone loves, but for better or worse nobody ever used to make records that sounded like that because the technology and the know-how just weren't there yet. Which is not to say it's just the production and mixing. They're extremely innovative with their guitar tunings, and the vocal harmonies are very sweet while at the same time having a sort of cinematic pathos to them. All their albums are terrific but that's the one that places them in my perception of history.
Further, when so many worthwhile acts reach some measure of acclaim with varying levels of success, what factors lend the most influence to whether or not they survive or disappear?
Some bands keep going for a long time on a cult following and fairly good press. Pere Ubu comes to mind. Certainly the higher the level of success, the more likely someone can make a career out of it.
Fortunately we're blessed with your career's relative longevity...
Thanks, that's nice of you to say. I know we're going to do one more album this fall, but after that I think our Alias contract is up, so the end may be looming as far as my album releasing career goes; I have no idea whether another deal will come along or not. At any rate, it was great to be able to put out well in excess of my share of records over the years.
--the next Jandek
February 15, 1999
Scott, I was fascinated to hear that you used to be a computer programmer.
Scott: I am still a computer programmer but, as Danny Plotnick would say, I'm not fascinating.
Looking back, there are lots of Loud Family references, from the packaging of The Tape of Only Linda and Interbabe Concern to the name of your old band Game Theory. I have two questions: First, was the song "It Just Wouldn't be Christmas" inspired by your experiences working in a software company?
I've had very positive experiences at the two companies I've worked for since 1986, and that's a rather venomous lyric, so I think the answer is no. The line about the convention hall doesn't come from real life, for instance. At the time I wrote the lyrics for that song I didn't understand them, and I didn't like them; they just came out. Strangely, years later I now understand my reasons for writing them better, though I'd probably embarrass myself badly if I tried to explain it essay-style.
Maybe I can capture the spirit by quoting T.S. Eliot, who can improve on anything I say with one hand tied behind his back, and being dead:
When the Stranger says, "What is the meaning of this city?
Second, have you ever tried to write a song about computers and computer logic, something programmers the world over could adopt as their own? If anyone can do it, it would be you.
Computers are already smug enough without us writing odes to them.
I also wanted to say that the new album is incredibly great, the best so far. Keep up the good work.
Thanks, that's very kind. If I accidentally catch a listen to my own stuff at times when I'm not in the mood for it, I sometimes think: it's true, I really am the single least capable producer and vocalist on the planet. Thanks for helping to keep me going, at least while I have contractual obligations!
Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn't go away.
That's a great quote. An ironic thought, though, is that if the statement were entirely true, this would undermine the context in which he'd say it. As long as we go around with the faith that another mind, such as Mr. Dick's, might at any time open up a reality that transcends the verifiable as we knew it before the encounter, there's room for the statement to be witty and wonderful. If not, we could entertain no notion of this "reality" he talks about--reality would have to already be completely specified in a closed, objectified system according what "goes away" and what doesn't by our existing definition. A statement like that could then only strike us as some sort of charmless, fanciful tautology, maybe the way we'd react to "you know a girl isn't pretty when you stop finding her attractive."
February 8, 1999
Scott, have you ever used Eno's Oblique Strategies as a guide while recording?
Scott: I have never actually used the Oblique Strategies but they look like you could get a lot done with them. Maybe I'll try writing a set of lyrics using one card before writing every line. Or making what the card says the line. Are they copyrighted?
You have to wonder if they actually work or if they just have the property of seeming like they would work. I just can't imagine Eno ever being stuck at something.
Bryan Ferry, in the old days: Brian, any ideas for this mix?
Eno (scenario 1): Well, for starters, we could make a tape loop out of the guitar solo, play it back at different speeds on two decks during the verses, and have 100 untrained vocalists try to sing along with them after only one practice, then...
Eno (scenario 2): Damn, Bryan, I can't think of anything it needs. I've gotten so used to the demo.
And what what action would the direction "Decorate, decorate" have prompted during the making of, say, "Crypto Sicko"?
These responses would have been possibilities:
1. Retitle the song "Decorate, Decorate."
2. Spruce up the studio.
3. Liberally add glockenspiel and vibra-slap to the mix.
4. Pursue a new line of work.
5. Add "Crypto Sicko" as a bonus cut to every master tape in the vault.
The Guy From Esposito,
Tall and tanned and young and lovely,
January 25, 1999
Scott, first of all, thanks for a wonderful tour this summer. It was great for me to be able to catch the LF live twice within a month. Pure (post-)Nirvana. The whole band did a job that was way beyond the call of duty, especially considering some of the venues you all had to work with...
Scott: Thank you very much. It was Nearvana, is what it was.
Secondly, being both a software engineer and a musician yourself, do you think there is some correlation between software engineer types and music? Seems to me like most computer people are way more into music than your average American, even to the point of being into the same style of music. And I don't mean just listening to it either--a lot of people in "do it yourself" local bands and such tend to be computing folk. Is there something in the brain that links these disciplines?
Writing a song and writing a computer program are the same kind of general activity; that probably has a little to do with it. They're both acts of programming. According to my dictionary, "program" comes from the Greek pro (before) + graphein (to write), used to mean a public posting of a schedule of events. In both a song and a program, the end product is scheduled events, sound or computer events, intended to have a certain effect when you fire them off.
Some common cause? Is it that appreciating music takes some of the same understanding that appreciating math does?
I've thought about that one before, since people talk about music being about frequency ratios and rhythm patterns and all, but I don't think so. Too many people who are great at one don't have a clue about the other. I remember reading Goedel, Escher, Bach and liking it a lot but being unconvinced that Bach's music was great precisely insofar as it solved complex problems in counterpoint--as if the cultural component of Bach's music were negligible, and it would sound just as good to an Indian sarod master as to a Western classical musician because it's just that mathematically airtight.
Is computer programming actually an artistic endeavor that's not too far off from creating music?
Both involve the pleasure of creating some little thing to delight ourselves and others, maybe to get praise for it if we did a good job. But an "artistic endeavor" is a cultural endeavor, and a computer program isn't, it's a technical endeavor. The success of song creation involves other people inherently, whereas the success of program creation involves a functional goal from which human opinion has been subtracted out. When a program works, the hope is that this job done well will be appreciated, will make for good social interaction. But good social interaction is the job that, properly speaking, has to be done well by a song. This is a subtle point--subtle because I'm not articulating it very well--but creating to people is different from creating at them.
Or I am just noticing correlations that aren't really there?
Probably more like I'm making distinctions that really aren't interesting or important except to me.
Lastly, there's this really cute girl in my 8th period biology class. I'm very interested in her, but she doesn't know I exist. Any ideas? Please don't suggest counseling. Been there, done that. Thanks.
Desperate in Denver,
Proving that one exists is never easy. You might start by giving her the arguments used by Descartes and Bishop Berkeley.
ceci n'est pas un ordinateur
January 18, 1999
Scott, regarding "Second Grade Applauds": If I've had that hook playing in my head for 5 years, the least you could do is give some explanation to what the lyrics are "about," so I can judge whether or not I've been completely brainwashed. This isn't really phrased as a question, but there you go.
Thanking you all at once,
Scott: Thanks for thinking well of one of my songs; I'm always afraid that when I start holding forth on the subject of what it was "about," that will all change.
First, Little Joe was Little Joe Cartwright, the youngest of a cattle ranching family on the Bonanza TV show. Or so I remember it from my early childhood; maybe they were actually crime fighters or space explorers. At any rate, in the first verse of my song, he gets tired of roping steers.
See, that falls right into place once you know he was in a cattle ranching family. The song should make perfect sense now.
I answered another question about one of the songs on that album recently, or maybe I just started spontaneously talking about myself--how embarrassing--but I think I started noticing that there was a how-to-please-the-crowd theme on the album PLANTS AND BIRDS (which didn't). The second grade in the "Second Grade Applauds" are there because I'm thinking about the difference between what a crowd really wants and what it only thinks it wants, or can be convinced that it wants. The second grade are the crowd in that song, maybe taken back to a somewhat less complicated frame of mind; though how it all shakes out is a little complicated, not because my design was all that grand, but because without a good sixties TV metaphor the whole English language just breaks down.
--Captain Lovey Dovey
Scott, why is it "We Love You Carol and Alison" and not "We Love You Shelley and Robert"?
Scott: It was originally "We Love You Shelley Winters and Robert Preston."
January 11, 1999
Scott, thanks for many, many years of pure listening satisfaction. Around a year ago, I read an essay about the Velvet Underground written by Lance Loud. This led me to wonder if you've had any contact with members of the actual Loud family.
Scott: Not directly. We've been trying to get Lance to come to a show for years but despite a couple of alleged close calls he hasn't shown up to one yet.
If so, what were their reactions to your use of the name?
Someone at the label talked to him when we first signed to make sure he didn't think anyone in the real Loud family was displeased by our using the name. What their actual reactions were I couldn't say. I heard an elaborate story about Lance playing our first album for various family members and recording their reactions for a Details magazine piece, which appears not to have been true as far as I can tell.
More questions: Both on your instrument(s) and in the studio, are you schooled or self taught?
I took some classical and "rock" guitar lessons from age 9 to 12, and I had a few music theory and choral singing classes in 7th to 12th grade. My college degree is in electrical engineering, which maybe makes buttons and meters less scary, but most of my producerly skills I picked up from Mitch Easter or various studio engineers. You aren't often called upon to build a new signal processor using NAND gates.
What do you think are the relative benefits of each approach?
Pop-rock is kind of too monkey-see monkey-do for a whole lot of schooling to be worthwhile. Producing seems well suited to an apprenticeship system because being exhaustively informed about technology is less important than being used to managing recording situations. You need a good feel for how records get done well and done as interestingly as possible while staying on schedule.
Which do you prefer: making records or playing live? Why?
Probably playing live if it's a really good night. It's hard to enjoy making a record in a way. There's always a fair amount of anxiety about it not sounding good enough.
Finally, what is the best selling album in your catalog? How many copies did it sell? How many albums have you sold all together? Thanks so much for your patience with my cheezy questions. By the way, you guys ROCKED in Portland.
Thanks! I actually don't know how many my albums have sold. SoundScan isn't very informative for indie records because not that many of them are sold in SoundScan reporting stores. I think my records sell between five and fifteen thousand each depending on which way the wind is blowing.
why don't we sell this song all together
January 4, 1999
Scott, I'm quite grateful that I was turned on to your music. I really, really like it. You make me smile. My friend tells me I'd also like the Game Theory stuff...so, when you see that extra dime in your royalty checks, it's from me.
Scott: Thanks for sending such wonderful thoughts. What do you mean by "extra" dime?
Have you ever thought of doing a long continuous piece of music a la Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick? With your abilities I bet something like that would be really cool and really good...
As you may know I'm at least a medium-sized fan of prog rock from the early seventies. I think of some of the songs I write as loosely describable as extended compositions in that sense--"Sister Sleep" from the last album, for instance. What usually happens is that I start out conceiving of a song as being bound to end up twenty minutes long, but by the time we've worked it up and I've thought about what people are going to get bored with if it's overextended, it ends up being only a little longer than a regular pop song.
I've heard that the way some of those early seventies groups worked was to actually go into the studio with only so much written, and just keep writing new parts and tacking them onto the end, all while the clock was running, until you had twenty-five minutes of material. It sounds like an interesting thing to try one day when we have about ten times as much money in the recording budget as we do now.
don't push me 'cause I'm Fragile,
Scott, I had to listen to Days For Days several times before I decided I liked it. Good work as always, but what is this morbid and unprofitable fear of catchiness you've developed?
Scott: When I was a kid, neighborhood bullies used to beat me up while listening to ordinary hit songs on the radio. Naturally, a morbid fear of catchiness developed. Thankfully, a handful of radical bohemians, perhaps such as yourself, embrace my tortured anti-music.
December 21, 1998
Scott, imagine you didn't have the gumption to start your own band, the talent to write truly original songs and the ability to hold down a day job and still manage the other rigors of an original act. Do you think it would be fulfilling enough to, say, play covers in a wedding band once a month, or would you simply be a music fan at that point, spending more time listening and abandon playing altogether?
Scott: The cover band. As little aptitude as I have for singing, I've always known that I love to sing and the quest has been to make that tolerable to those nearby. And I just plain get excited when I have a guitar in my hand pounding chords. It feels like I'm taking control of my little world in some way, and it can really cheer me up.
Hour for hour, playing covers is far more enjoyable than playing my own songs. Strumming a new song for the band is always excruciating; it's unfinished and everyone in the room gets this look like "wow, Scott sure isn't coming up with much this time." Then when a song is done yet still new and exciting for the band, audiences don't know it and sit there wishing you'd play something from the days before you lost it. By the time the first human actually wants to hear it, you've probably played it a hundred times and are plenty ready to move on. With covers, everyone on and off stage is more or less happy.
I've wanted since junior high school to be in a cover band that actually did good songs. When I was 16 in 1976 we used to do Roxy, Bowie, Iggy, Syd Barrett--all to zero takers, naturally, but the world's dialectic has advanced since then. (Now the flavor of stupidity is that no one could possibly listen to anything like Yes or Cat Stevens, but I'll take that over 1976 any day.)
December 7, 1998
Scott, how seriously should I be taking this year 2000 computer problem?
I'm a nerd for a living and I keep hearing about how many computers systems that we take for granted, or don't even know we depend on, might be affected by their inability to count past 99 in a predictable manner.
Airlines aren't taking reservations for anything after New Years, the chair of the senate's Y2K special committee follows the president's non-statements with suggestions of printing out all your important financial info and stocking up on food and water and mentions the possibility of power brown-outs.
I'm beginning wonder whether, after January 1, banging rocks together will be the new state of the art.
So, what about you? Where are you on the scale between trustful ignorance equaling bliss and going all out Branch Davidian? A couple of extra cans of beans-n-weenies on the shelf just in case? A lease on camouflaged bunker in Utah with it's own well and solar power? Any newly acquired personal armaments? Or is this all just a Chicken Little EMAIL VIRUS WARNING!!! with a numerological twist?
Scott: I haven't heard a convincing description of how all such doom is going to come about. I can envision monetary transactions getting messed up because suddenly programs can't figure out what event happened before or after what other event, but it's not intuitively obvious to me why computers would say "oh no, it's the year 1900, we'd better shut down water and power to the city." I'll probably take the minimal precautions of getting my finances in writing shortly before Y2K.
"What if neighbors come to steal my food?" you wonder. Ha! The food on my shelves is poisoned. The real food is hidden.
Also, what are your thoughts on the morality of programmers heading for the hills to protect their selves and families from feared economic collapse vs. sticking to their cubicles and working fixes for it?
Andy Ingraham Dwyer
Programmers choosing to survive in the wilderness is a funny thought.
It wasn't programmers working today who caused the Y2K problem, so their obligation on moral grounds alone to fix it could be questioned, but you may well ask what would happen if we found ourselves dependent on programmers' morality. I think programmers typically believe by mid-adolescence that since without half trying they have themselves steered clear of committing any monstrous crimes, while the morality of others proves a drab nuisance at best, it follows that they themselves must possess a truly sterling morality, one in need of no further work of any kind.
tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1899,
November 30, 1998
Scott, I was glad to hear the name Priapus in a song (he's quite a character, that bawdy little imp),
Scott: A song from the wood as it were.
and overall I think that Days for Days is a great album.
Thank you! I find it's great driving music, both away from it and at it.
My question(s) tho, goes back a ways: Was "He Do the Police in Different Voices" a tip of the cap to T.S. Eliot (or, consequently Dickens?) or were you using that phrase in its more general sense?
I am willing to believe I have a funny way of talking but I would not go so far as to say I know of a general sense in which to say "he do the police in different voices." My answer is therefore that, yes, my cap was off to Mr. Eliot, as it always is--off my head, on the ground, ready to catch any change he might fling. I haven't read OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, which is apparently where he got it, and although I've read THE WASTE LAND many, many times, that phrase was actually cut (it might have only ever been the working title) so I can't say I know a damn thing about what Eliot thought about it.
There's a literal sense in which it's meaningful to me--the siren sound is there, you know--but I was thinking a lot at that time about what it means to "do a voice," to adopt a mode of expression, so I pinched the phrase. This was all years ago, but let's say it amuses me now to say that one thing I was trying to express in this and in "Sword Swallower" was that you can't succeed in speaking the truth by putting on what you expect your audience to take to be the voice of honesty. You end up not saying the truth, but saying the thing which you expect people are looking for in an honest statement. The job of acquiring credibility saps energy from the job of deserving credibility. So to get myself at least within range of the truth, the first thing I was going to do was remind listeners that I am an aspiring entertainer and stealer of lines.
Also, the "Here Comes Everybody" on "Ballad of How You Can All Shut Up" sounded like a sly Finnegans Wake reference.
One might as well claim to be sly in one's Finnegans Wake references because crass or sublime, virtually no one is going to give a rat's ass.
Maybe I just suffer from an acute case of self-reference: any act of interpretation says more about the interpreter, I suppose.
I don't know if it says more about the interpreter. I'm of the somewhat out-of-fashion school that says meaning is in at least one sense more or less absolute and unambiguous given enough information about a subject and a mind broad enough for it. But it's good to remember that we don't often operate under very ideal conditions.
Then, if we cannot transcend our subjectivity, and all Love is Narccicism, is there any hope for selflessness or humility?
I have to take baby steps toward that one. Transcending subjectivity is, I think, only possible in the following sense: if you figure out how your subjectivity was wrong in the past, you can potentially correct for it that much but no more.
Love which is called Narcissistic is a difficult concept for me, because loving yourself, enthusiastically encountering yourself as you are, seems to lead to happiness and good behavior. It's self-loathing which leads to disastrous compensation, though the self-loather is paradoxically the one most compelled to appear at ease. Rene Girard points out (or so I take it) that our perception of others as self-satisfied--and this is often a social front the person puts on, as in an act of coquettishness--leads to our own inappropriate behaviour in reaction, though we'd prefer to think it was the original fault of someone else's apparent smugness.
So I think the hope for humility and selflessness is that a certain aspect of transcending subjectivity involves overturning notions of how self-love is perceived in one's self and others, and how it is earned. To think it can be earned as if at a job is to perpetually suspect you haven't done enough lately to earn it--it has to be a matter of grace, a matter outside causality; this is why the great religions talk about faith and forgiveness. You can't earn personal forgiveness except by the grace of the person you've offended, and you can't earn cosmic, ontological forgiveness--a feeling of self-love--but by the grace of whatever you call God. I think the movie UNFORGIVEN addresses this stuff really well.
we all got it comin', kid
November 16, 1998
Scott, which generally comes first: the lyrics or the music?
Scott: It boggles my mind that writers like Elton John can get handed sets of lyrics, some of them real disasters, and make reasonable songs out of them; it feels so against nature. (To our younger readers: Elton John had about one and a half good albums before you were born). I mean, sometimes I'll really get in the mood to craft some fine art and write out a few lines, but I can't use that as-is in a pop song, I have to do surgery on it so it sounds less like it's enjoying the sound of itself.
So, hardly ever lyrics first by themselves; usually a short melody line with some words appear together. It's tempting to invent stories about the process that make it sound more like architecture than it really is--one moment a melody idea isn't there, and the next it is, and you didn't really do anything to make it be there. You know? Anything that feels like the thing people will like about a song feels like it just fell down from God. You didn't make it, and you feel completely unqualified to finish it. Like: shit, now I have to write some lines on my own that people will think are as good as that one God wrote.
But a song with a rhyme scheme is incredibly restrictive, and that helps keep things going in the right direction. In normal speech, we tend to cloud the subject with implications that we have good personalities. We don't want to transmit our precise level of informedness and humility, for instance, we want to transmit a gross exaggeration whenever possible. But in a song there isn't room to do that. You can write an arrogant song, but you can't really disguise it as anything else, whereas you can disguise, say, an arrogant speech as a nationalistic speech. I would say it feels like there's only room to say one true thing in a song, and you have to let it find its own direction. Making the scansion work is such a full time job in itself that if you try unconsciously to introduce self-serving commentary, you just run out of room to still embody the subject: the subject goes away, and you're commenting stylishly on nothing, which might be great, but in a completely different way from what you intended. Your words and the way you sing them simply have to make their own case.
November 9, 1998
Scott, you've been a big influence on me. I think it's great that you have this forum for interaction with your fans. It's hard to imagine, for instance, Michael Jackson doing the same thing. Of course, considering his audience, the caliber of questions here would surely be superior. At the risk of contradicting myself, here's some for you.
Scott: Thanks for being influenced by me! As far as I know it's not a terrible mistake, but I'll let you know immediately if I find out otherwise.
We know you're not really a Spring. Are you an Autumn?
I don't know, I don't know. April is the cruelest month...September girls do so much...Tuesday's gone with the wind...what does it all mean?
Do you often use names from "real life" in your songs?
Kristine, my fiancee's name, is in a song from the last album. That's about the most daring level of verisimilitude I've resorted to. Hopefully the issue is behind me now, but I've observed over many years that having women you've been involved with think you're referring to them in retrospect is a strangely lose-lose proposition. Either they think you shouldn't have pined over some past attachment or if they think they're the past attachment, you shouldn't have been making them the object of a grievance. Let me state right now that all conjecture was wrong; everything I wrote before 1996 was the result of being spurned by my one true love, Maureen McCormick.
Have you ever upset friends or acquaintances by writing, um, pointed accounts of them?
No, but good idea. Apparently the guy who draws Dilbert had his company superiors terrified that he would poke some sort of grisly fun at them. How I could put that into effect given the diffuseness of the audience for my music is a tougher problem. I guess if the need ever arose I could make real trouble for, oh, Anton Barbeau. You reading this! I could be at work roasting you with satiric balladry as we speak!
Did you do anything special for Bloomsday this year?
Nothing I can remember specifically. Shaved, worked at my job, walked home, went to the toilet, took a bath, rode in a car, read a newspaper, ate lunch. Just that sort of thing.
U.P.:Up and away,
November 2, 1998
Scott, since I saw Game Theory open for the Cucumbers in Athens, GA in 1985, I've been a constant listener to your records ("fan" sounds so pathetic). It is with huge disappointment that I found out that neither Tower, Virgin nor HMV in London is carrying Days for Days. I'll order it of course and wait six weeks. I realise that this may be as pointless as complaining to Robert Rauschenberg about the wrong placement of the stuffed goat, but I'm annoyed that I'm denied access to perfect pop in such a large city. Because this page is not called "Tell Scott" I'll cut to the question: Could you perhaps have a word with Alias or their distributors, or should I kick some ass locally?
Johnny Mundane (London, England)
Scott: T.S. Eliot did write "The Waste Land" specifically about London so if you felt like doing some bemoaning in that area you might have classier grounds than most. And, yes, then and now the problem has been that there aren't many Loud Family records there.
All I personally can feel when I'm in London is that it's exciting and different, but undoubtedly I have that luxury for one reason only--I already have Loud Family records.
But I digress from the subject, ass kicking. Don't kick Alias's ass; they're more or less our only friends in the music industry. So, I guess HMV, Tower, and Virgin. Just take every man woman and child connected with those stores out back and kick their ass, then say "and let that be a lesson to you for not carrying the Loud Family." Their fear of further violence will lead to us being promoted enthusiastically.
yours in fog,
October 26, 1998
Scott, I had to write to tell you how much I enjoy your music. I have Interbabe Concern and just got Days for Days. I'll soon be getting your other stuff.
Scott: I love you.
A friend turned me on to you, and I'm turning others on to you. I'm probably not your usual demographic--age 40, but still listening to new music. My similarly aged friends--the few who still listen to new music--also really, really like you.
Thanks. A lot of over-40 people (well, five or six) like my material, and I can only conclude that to appreciate my music it helps to be at least as senile as I am.
In searching through your "Ask Scott" archives I was happy to find your discussion about "the one odd thing" you put in regular chord progressions. Your songs seem to have an interesting quirk, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was--thought it had something to do with major/minor relations. Would you care to expound a bit more on this quality?
It's hard to expound analytically on music; nobody likes music because of sensible thinking, they like it because of cultural black magic--yet it just so happens you're talking to Mr. Expound On Anything, so here goes. Most unsuccessful songwriters probably love to suppose there's some terrible pathology at work keeping people from liking them, and here's a little bit of mine.
I believe music uses the language part of the brain, only music is different from language in that there is no clear distinction between what is being said and what language is being used to say it. Really successful pop music often arrives at some sort of gaudy alignment of the two: surf music which talks about how good surfing is, for instance. It sounds like a simple case of accessibility, but it's not. When, on PET SOUNDS, the Beach Boys shifted from beach-bum/hot-rodder shop talk--something 1% of their audience probably involved themselves in for real--to subjects universally felt and cared about (and did it brilliantly), there was widespread confusion and sales plummeted.
At another extreme is someone like John Cage, who I think profoundly distrusts the basis of appreciation of a piece of music being nothing more nor less than the sum total of other music the listener has heard in his or her life. It seems shaky: arbitrary and co-optable. But I don't go to his extremes to counteract it, I go to what I consider a mild extreme. What I'm "saying" has no de facto congruity with the style I'm using, but I want the style to stay enough in the background for the statement--"the one odd thing"--to be in sharp relief, not vice versa. People who expend energy deciding what is trip-hop, what is noise-pop, ambient-this or retro-that will wonder why I waste my time. Well, almost everyone wonders why I'm wasting my time, but, hey, I'm making a point here.
Why do you think it is that your little quirky things work rather than just sounding quirky??
Trial and error, I guess. I try a lot of phrases before I get one that works for me. I can only ponder after the fact why it was good; there's no strategy for actually generating them, that I know of.
And why no Pittsburgh concerts? PLEASE come here. Or let me have a tape of a show or something.
I am all for arranging a Pittsburgh show. If I send a demo tape to the Pittsburgh chamber of commerce, can they be counted on to do the rest?
4:33, good buddy,
October 19, 1998
Scott, when I was a teacher trainee I used the very amusing Game Theory Christmas Tape as a listening comprehension in a class. They were delighted. The sound effects were met with lots of laughter. Anyway, as one bright young thing remarked, the story is not fully consistent. It ends like this:
"And so Denis did attend Unhand the Whales that Christmas Day, having learnt an important question. He vowed on that day, that before voicing disapproval of any cause, he should always take the time to verify that the cause did not in any way benefit him."
The problem is that the cause did not really benefit him. Or do you mean that if he had run away immediately he wouldn't have got his Christmas presents?
Daniel the Swede
Scott: How a release of 300 copies can haunt one.
Not wanting to keep the youth of Sweden in ethical limbo, the point was that dreaming he was a whale and that the people on a boat with Sting saved him from being harpooned should have inclined him to appreciate charitable natures, but--are you ready to bust your sides laughing?--he ended up being just as uncharitable but with new resolve to scan the world for charities which could help him, and from now on hate only the others.
Gotta stop, I'm out of breath. I should really be doing stand-up.
P.S. Rumour has it that The Posies are coming to Europe. Don't you know them?! Perhaps you could join them on "the Loud Posies tour" or possibly "the Posie Family tour." Think about it. It's about time that you conquer our part of the world!
Of course--everyone should know the Posies, occasionally the best band in America! 'Cept now they've broken up. But with solo albums there'll just be more to love.
Scott, I'm currently listening to the new album. I'm really enjoying it. The odd number tracks are quite bizarre and original. Thanks for letting us in on your not so standard musical excursions. I notice thanks to Chris Xefos. King Missile is one of my favorites ever!! Why the thanks, and what is Chris up to?? Thanks for all the great tunes!!
Scott: Chris is a huge talent. He's currently playing in various SF bands, writing songs, and producing records. I would suggest a web search under Xefos to turn up juicier rumors than I can fabricate off the top of my head.
Glad you're enjoying our album which ain't so incomprehensible once you figure out that dogs, pigs and sheep really symbolize people.
--rock and roll Animal
October 12, 1998
Scott, I love the new album (though I confess I usually just program out the odd-numbered tracks--is that wrong?). Already have the wife singing "Why we all moved to Ca-li-for-ni-a" around the house.
Scott: Thanks. You mean you routinely arrange for her to walk around singing that? Kinda weird, but--great!
I had a question about "Cortex the Killer," in which you name-check your hometown for the first time (as far as I can tell) since the Game Theory days: "Sacramento...I have let your people down." This is so ineffably sad that there must be a story behind it. Is it a reference to something specific? I mean, I personally don't feel let down. Does it have anything to do with your 20-year Rio Americano reunion? (this year? next?) Do you plan to attend? What will you wear?
If there is one, it's this year, but nobody's contacted me--and my parents haven't moved; maybe there's some preference that I not show up. I would have to wear one of my foxy nylon disco shirts by Nik Nik. I was actually a Roxy/Bowie boy in those days but leopard jackets and oversize kabuki space suits weren't widely available.
There's a combination of straightforwardness and sarcasm in that line, I'd say. If, for instance, I think now about not letting Sacramento down, that might have meant something like becoming a famous musician playing music Sacramento perennially likes--which I couldn't do if I tried at any rate, but is even a tricky concept in that what a modern community (and I use the terms loosely) might think it will always like it of course doesn't continue to like ten years running. Kansas? Tears For Fears? Bush?
Obligatory favorite-album-list question: You place the first three Steely Dan records high, but the next four don't make your top 20 at all. Surely Katy Lied is better than Red Octopus!
"If only you'd believe in miracles, so would I" seems a good deal more pithy and sophisticated than anything I can think of on Katy Lied. "Who's coming on, is it you or me?/Coming on, while it's still soft and warm" is fairly grabby stuff, and the Jeffersons' music did a lot more movin'-on-up than Steely Dan's at that point, say these ears. Though neither one of these records is exactly Mr. Toad's wild ride from start to finish.
Maybe if I played them all the way through, which I haven't done in years (what can I say? I'm underfunded), I'd see this your way, but at the time of release I thought they were starting to sound a little, as they say, paid for.
Not that this is subjective or anything. I won't ask about Joni Mitchell until next time.
I wouldn't call Joni neglected on my lists by any means. But, you know, last I checked (1976?) there were people better than Joni Mitchell. She struck me as stuck forever in the psychological that gropes for the spiritual, but a spirituality that's always too self-conscious--as if the right way could be known by its glorious and subtle objectification of everyone who'd ever made her feel bad. This is unfair of course because I don't know her mature work at all.
Looking forward to seeing you in New York, where they jazz the rock.
glad you got to see me blow, cat!
September 28, 1998
Scott, I saw a reference to record ratings. Me, my brother and best friend create tapes every year that feature our top 20 songs and albums in countdown style. How do you go about rating and ranking records? How long have you been doing it? Do you have lists of your top albums and or songs? Thanks for being a Ron's top 20 mainstay!
Scott: I keep swearing I'm going to make road tapes of my top songs, and I also keep swearing I'm going to compile a list of the best music for each year of the century, not just the rock album era. Can you believe there's no money in either of these worthy endeavors?
Yes, I do the songs, too, and I consider that list more important than the album list, except that it's less interesting to other people; the critical world focuses on the unit appropriate to a buyer's guide.
I rely on suggestions and free records from friends at labels, and I would say that Sue Trowbridge and Greg Dwinnell usually influence me due to their informedness and similarity of tastes to my own. There's no system I adhere to; I just write down the names of albums that excite me so much I want to share the news. At the end of the year there's usually a publication or two wanting to publish the opinions of music biz nobodies like myself, so I pull the whole thing into a top ten commitment which I then start painfully regretting in about a month.
Scott, how come Lolita Nation, Two Steps and Tinker were never re-issued by Alias?
Scott: The voice of temptation, the siren song of millions to be made from those titles, cried to Alias, but they stood firm, a rock. "To an ugly enough public tendency, we will not pander," they were heard to say.
You were also labelmates with the Smithereens back then. Did you ever tour with or do anything with them?
Game Theory opened two shows for them: one in SF and one in Santa Clara. I was pretty much a fan, and I remember them being very good and very loud, and old school rock as the day is long: their road crew had Bill Graham level contempt for the idea of any of the Smithereens' equipment being touched or scooted to make room for the other bands--which seemed kind of a lost dispositional art in the funsy Camper Van world of 1987. (For the record, I remember the band themselves being congenial.)
Just wondering, hope everything is well,
Thank you. I think I can report that nothing is that bad.
guns 'n' blood 'n' roses 'n' butter 'n' bread 'n' chocolate,
September 21, 1998
Scott, I read of your interest in Rene Girard's work. I have a passing interest in his work and often read Prof. Eric Gans' publication "Chronicles of Love and Resentment" online. A friend tells me that the rejection or downplaying of Freud and other psychiatric/social theories in Girard's work is a major stumbling block. What do you think?
Scott: It's strange to me that a lot of top scholars--Gans, who I guess is at U.C.L.A., is a notable exception--don't really take to Girard. I don't understand a criticism such as "he downplays Freud." Is it true that we all know at a gut level that Freud is so correct in all things, that if a cultural anthropologist downplays him, we lose our link to reality?
For one thing, last I remember it was all the rage to dismiss Freud as a sexist or something but here Girard calls the Oedipal complex into question and he might as well be burning the flag. Do we men think "of course it is true that we desire our mothers sexually in early childhood, but have learned to repress the urge; without this core of our being the universe is chaotic"? I interpret Girard's reaction to be that if some psychiatric patients do have such repressed desires for their mothers, it's not because desire for one's mother is a force of nature, but that the child observed the father desiring the mother, unconsciously acquired the desire himself (Girard's main thesis is that specifically human desires are "mimetic"), and thus in his own mind entered into a rivalry with the father. This, to me, is like a knot loosening, the unintelligible becoming intelligible. If someone were to say "this is too reductive," I could only reply that my personal taste runs toward what reduces complexity rather than what increases it; if they say "this is disrespectful of Freud," I'd say Totem and Taboo was appealingly modest about what psychoanalysis could offer anthropology, but that doesn't mean that anthropologists forever owe Freud reciprocal modesty by the rules of sportsmanship. A modest and careful contribution from a great mind can still be wrong. Girard isn't short on general praise of Freud as a thinker and observer.
That Eric Gans title is great, but I haven't read him yet. My fear is that he gets into a certain area of discipline I'm not so good at, identifiable by sly, urbane uses of the word "signifier."
2) Paul Virilio (Dromologies etc.) has a book out called Open Skies which I think is interesting in its diagnosis of our current information-age dilemmas.
I'll keep an ear open for this.
My third question is, are we doomed to relive every musical period at least twice? There's that expression, "history...first time as tragedy and then as farce", what happens if it was farce to begin with? Do we then have glam as tragedy?
More and more the truth of nostalgia is right in front of everyone's nose. It's too much yarn to spin here, but I think the best outcome would be that we lose faith in the tragic aspect the first time around, but, failing that, we could set rigid moral limits: any weak and impure nostalgia from the era of nostalgia itself, for instance, the early 70s, is considered hopelessly gauche; strong and pure nostalgia is felt only for jerky silent film footage, Charlie Chaplin impersonators, Art Deco lettering, Scott Joplin music.
O O O O that Shakespeherian rag,
September 14, 1998
Scott, how many copies of ALRN, Painted Windows and Blaze of Glory were produced? How were they distributed? I have read that all copies of Blaze of Glory were used as "promotional" copies, yet members of the loud-fans list have reported that they purchased the record "new" in record stores, thus implying that some copies were made available to the public through normal distribution channels.
Scott: There was no physical distinction between promo and for-sale copies. At the time we could afford only disks, not cardboard jackets, but we decided to put them out even with unsellable packaging to get our personality somewhere on the map--i.e. send them to press and college radio. Thus, Bagism: our drummer Mike Irwin (who was an artist), Photo Robert, and I came up with that white trash bag design. We thought it might be an interesting enough novelty that distributors would actually take a few of the 1000 copies, and in fact they did; we ended up selling about half of them, though, as we feared, a lot of them warped.
We also did a thousand ALRNS and a thousand PAINTED WINDOWS. For all the releases, the procedure was the same--we'd put boxes of them in the trunk of a car, drive to Berkeley and San Francisco from distributor to distributor, Rough Trade, etc., begging them to take some copies. We'd also liberally distribute free copies to record stores. My first receptive audience turned out to be scenester record store proprietors. Though none of those records you mention was reviewed very well (the buzzy synths alone were a hanging offense at the time), record collecting lunatics appreciated the diversity.
Who owns the rights to the Game Theory material, and who has possession of the multi-tracks?
Scott Vanderbilt owns everything with the name Game Theory on it forever. When I become a big star in these my golden years, he will get rich and it will all have been worth it for him.
September 7, 1998
Scott, as a parenthetical note to the discussion of May 11th which touched upon monosyllabic band names, I feel compelled to mention that there was in fact a Boston supergroup which went by the name of "Lint." They're noteworthy for two reasons: one, they featured several members of the Swirlies (a Boston based group who'd be of interest to anyone who likes My Bloody Valentine) including Seanna Carmody who has gone on to form Syrup USA. Two, it was the first CD (to my knowledge) which you could also play on your turntable: a small flexidisk was attached to the top of the CD containing a (very short) bonus track.
Scott: What a great packaging idea! I love stuff like that. They could issue a vinyl release that when you take it out of the sleeve is already covered with lint.
Still curious...why sodium laureth sulfate and not sodium lauryl sulfate?
I think if Marcel Duchamp were here he would back me up on this: sodium laureth sulfate can be proven with modern chemical analytical techniques to be the shampoo ingredient conferring a more classic beauty--hence the "eth" chemical suffix, as in, were Shakespeare examining a bottle, "it bestoweth beauty."
--Stratocaster on Avon
Scott, what if you came across a book that was about an openly lesbian rock band that had taken the Loud Family as a major influence (other influences include Aimee Mann), and was part of the first openly gay/lesbian rock scene?
Scott: I'd think it was very thoughtful of this band to cite us as an influence, and I suppose having our name in it might convince me to buy it if I were already interested enough to be checking it out in a book store. Citing a few thousand bands as influences in this book might be a way to move quite a few copies.
And this scene sought to get rid of the more commercial forms of alternative rock and bring more underground artists to bear on the mainstream, like LF, and Aimee, and Ani DiFranco. I have written a book like this and would like to hear your thoughts. Are you bemused, flattered, hate it, etc.?
Feeling guilty, I guess, for being the weak flank in this takeover. Even with our new army of gay and lesbian fans there may never be such thing as a coup where we could emerge triumphant. How would it work? Nirvana didn't sell a hundred times as many records as someone like Teenage Fanclub because they were a hundred times as good, they sold a hundred times more because they were that much better a story in the minds of casual observers. You could divide the world up into the corporate, image-conscious, closed-minded phonies on the one hand, and on the other hand the Kurt Cobains who came off like loser kids but had this spark of incisive sincerity, and say "hey, I belong in that second category; that's me all over."
How you'd ever do that with us or our music I couldn't imagine. Also, we're pretty happy to indulge in guilty pleasures; a deal-breaking cover of "Story In Your Eyes" by the Moody Blues could pop up at any moment.
I know this is a rather wild question but I just thought I'd ask it anyway.
The Loud Family are a wild band full of wild people ready for wild questions.
--son of Sappho
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