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Entries in mike thaxton (5)

Thursday
Dec092010

Nik Kershaw at 10

big artist head shot of nik kershaw, one of my musical heroesNik KershawTime flies. Ten years and some weeks already since I was riding in the car one night with Mike Thaxton and then, unannounced, he put in a CD with a powerful backbeat and an undeniable synth hook and a blaring horn section where a guitar solo might have been. At the time, scarcely a few notes in, I thought it was Eric Clapton's 1986 song It's In The Way That You Use It. I commented that it was good to hear that Clapton song after all this time. I had to bite my tongue when Mike straightened me out and told me it was Nik Kershaw's song Wouldn't It Be Good. Just as well. It had been even more years since I heard that one too, and this was a joyous reunion. Mixing up the songs was not impossible; Clapton was in his horns-and-background-girl-singers, 80s rock mode when he did In The Way. Glitzy 80s soulful rock stuff. Having both songs before me right now, it makes sense to mistake Nik's song (done in 1984, Clapton's in 1986), at least sonically, and with just a few notes to judge by. But I could never get into Clapton like I did with Nik Kershaw.

I think Mike had prefaced that night with some notice that he wanted me to hear some Nik Kershaw because he thought there was some loose parallel to the sound and career of Kevin Gilbert. Invoking KG was a surefire way to get my attention because Thax himself had given me a load of KG over the year prior, and that was the single most valuable artist for me then. What is interesting is that while Mike gave me a lot of KG in a hurry, there was a lot less NK available, though he did provide me with a copy of 15 Minutes and a year or so later, with To Be Frank. But it all hung on that one playing of Wouldn't It Be Good, that one November night, probably after a Magnificent Meatsticks session. That song still has some sort of magnetic attraction for me. I guess Mike's selling of NK by referencing Gilbert was to highlight that both had an insanely quantized and clear electronic sound in the 1980s that gave way to more organic and gritty acoustic-classic rock sounding instrumentation, greasier vocals, and generally more raw sound in the 1990s and present. In both cases, that was an appealing shift, though more so in Kershaw's case, I enjoy quite a bit of the earlier stuff. Another appealing thing for me was that both had a strong self-produced sound with each playing a number of instruments and minding the production too. Each has a distinctive voice that is applied in interesting ways. Sounded like promising stuff, this Nik Kershaw.

If my recollection of things is right, I didn't know it at the time, but Nik Kershaw became like a trusted new friend to me that season. Having hardly any prior experience with his music except for a vague recollection from 1984 of seeing the video of Wouldn't It Be Good, I was ready for his music to hit me with full force, not being diluted by endless radio play or other overexposure. Just as well. His CD 15 Minutes, the first he did after many years off and gone from the limelight, was the first full disk I heard, and this during the first weeks of the new wave of family drama that began about this time in 2000. For a few months from the fall of 2000 through the winter of 2001, it seemed the only disks I had in my 5-disk changer was 15 Minutes, Radiohead's Kid A, Jeff Buckley's Grace, Mike Keneally's Dancing, and Kevin Gilbert's Shaming of the True. That was the soundtrack to a time of depression met with a hopeful reunion with one side of my family which in turn was a provocative move for the other side, all with the exhaustion of finishing my own CD not long before and wondering when that would be pressed. Having just turned 27 shortly before, I was in deep. Whoever this Nik Kershaw dude was, he gave me a total gift with 15 minutes. I can't listen to it now without evoking memories of a cold empty house where my grandmother had left by ambulance and which the newly deregulated ($200) energy bill came down heavily upon me; angry letters; a day in the therapist's office (my sister's therapist); the lonely, tear-filled, raging 90 minute ride home from Long Beach at one in the morning; the smashing of tables and chairs and the spray painted message upon the tabletop, put out by the street for all to see; the fading moments of my grandmother's life, she sadly having seen the genie in the bottle finally get uncorked, and her befuddled response and complete helplessness to do anything but listen to me until she was overwhelmed; the endless hours of mining her belongings left behind; the painting of the house to make it my own; the trips to the CB therapist; the signing up for school at AIC—All that life for four or five months was accompanied in part with one great album of songs from a guy who I had hardly heard of a few months before.

Mike Thaxton eventually got me a copy of To Be Frank, the follow up to 15 Minutes. This came to me at another time in life, about a year later, when a lot of that edgy drama had subsided into a livable life. Maybe it was that that led me to not savor this album the same way. The songs are just as good but they didn't hit me the same. There are some that I do totally love now, but on the whole, I don't have the same experience with that disk. The uncharted territory remained so for a few years to come: with the exception of Wouldn't It Be Good, I had not heard a note of his 1980s era stuff. That took a few years to get to. At that time there wasn't YouTube to help find stuff to listen to, nor was there iTunes Music Store, so I relied on some alternative means to collect even a partial bunch of his songs from that era.

Even now there is woefully little on iTunes America store, and the CDs are damned hard to track down for a decent price, but I've gathered much of the 80s stuff by one download or another. I don't have a favorite full album from the four that he made in the 80s, but I tend to favor The Riddle and Radio Musicola. My understanding and appreciation for Nik's 80s era stuff was helped along considerably by the analysis of Patrick Daily. More recently, I found out about another thoughtful but more fan-oriented take on NK's music which helped shed more understanding. (The Patrick Daily dissection did a lot to help me understand more about music, and he analyzes more artists in similar fashion on his website.) Dissections did not scare me away because I already had an emotional connection with the music and I always appreciate a deeper look at it or what motivates its creation. Not particularly being of age in the period when this 80s era stuff was coming out, Daily's study about gender roles and New Men was an interesting perspective. His observation that despite the synthesized gloss and glitter, Nik is essentially protesting the capitalist culture even as he embraces the trappings of same. All that has given me more to look at while listening. But dissection or none, I am usually enthralled by the interesting harmonic and melodic turns this music takes. With a mix of live drums played by some of the best in the biz, and sequenced drums playing some nearly impossible parts, and sometimes doubled up parts using acoustic and electronic parts, there is rhythmic excitement too. At times Nik's voice seems exactly like Stevie Wonder. An odd thing, considering Nik is a very white dude from Britain. But not surprising considering he would have had Stevie's music to digest all during his formative years before he even cut his first album. At times I hear a sophistication and production spit and polish that one regards Steely Dan as having, but without the pretense and snobbiness that seems to accompany SD. One song, Know How, is a bunch of clever but subtle word and rhythmic play, and has this enormously satisfying Weather Report style bridge.

The thing is, I just don't know what I like about Nik's music. I know know that it speaks to me in its onion-like layers of meaning revealing themselves over time. There is no shortage of melodies that have sunk their hooks deep into me. This to me is the sign of good music, and even popular music can be good if it can keep peeling the layers away. I have to keep mining the recordings because Nik doesn't tour the States. There is a kind of longing that I have as this reality sinks in. Maybe that is part of what makes Kevin Gilbert and Jeff Buckley so appealing—the book is closed on those guys, and Nik and I are unlikely to cross paths unless I get to Blighty or Europe. I have never seen any of his 80s albums in the flesh; never read the liner notes or chewed on the lyrics like so many other albums I've held in hand. So I have to do what I can to forge an ongoing relationship with the material that I do have.

Wednesday
Jun232010

Magnificent Meatsticks

the richard meltzer review of the magnificent meatsticks. from the san diego reader july 2000Meltzer's review of the MagMeat song bearing his nameGoodness me. It was a decade ago when me and some fellow beer and burrito loving friends convened in Hog Heaven Studio and wrought havoc on the instruments there. The Magnificent Meatsticks were intentionally horrible, in part because of the facts of the matter: Ezekiel Bonham (Brandon Arnieri) was not particularly a bass player (though he was a technically proficient guitar player but one lacking in musical sense of his own); Ham Rockett (Mike Thaxton, who drove to San Diego each week from Dana Point just to hang out and do this stuff) was not particularly a drummer—in fact, he pretty much hit his first drum hits with us; and Leviticus Mitchell (me) was not particularly a guitar player. That was the point: to be equally handicapped so the worst possible result would follow! The other reason was that as my CD project was approaching a year or pretty regular recording and development, I was frankly burning out on the methodical approach, with some tracks happening delightfully quickly in the early days of the project, and later ones taking some prolonged period to get players and track as best as possible considering no one was getting paid! So the all-improvisatory MagMeat was a breath of fresh air for me, giving me a chance to rattle the musical tree but without sweating details like tuning, rhythmic precision, harmonic or melodic standards, or dare I say, foresight and control of any sort! We were doing our best to scrape the bottom of the barrel, and sometimes we succeeded. Occasionally we actually nearly broke out into something nearly like music, and that was simply not allowable.

Our band name was originally borrowing a couple letters from each of our names: BR AX ED from BRandon/thAXton/ED, but of course the beers induced brainstorming (in the classic tradition of garage bands). Fabulous Fucksticks was a contender before the slightly more acceptable Magnificent Meatsticks was voted in. Our individual names were taken from a formula guided by a biblical first name of some sort and the last name drawn from that of a famous rock drummer (Led Zep, Poison, Hendrix respectively in the list above). We rattled off a few more than that and kept them in mind for when we needed to bestow a name upon another guest Meatstick. I seem to remember a sax player named Steve Young came and blew some horn for us. We dubbed him Deuteronomy Carr after Eric Carr of Kiss. I seem to remember calling Jukka Pietarinen (a Finnish Keneally fan who was here for the Nonkerstock that summer) by something like Methusela Moon or Nicodemus Peart!

The MagMeat was always accompanied by file sharing and other illicit computer based activity by young men. Actually, I was not particularly a part of that but in those early days of mp3s, I was like a kid in a candy store when I realized that Thax seemed to have the means to get damn near anything I wanted, and more. So he was always feeding me some CDs of new stuff, old stuff, odd pop songs I asked for, and so on. He was like a musical drug dealer. That summer was in the very early period of my online presence. Earlier in the year, Thax had started me up on email, gotten me an MP3.com account, and some other stuff like that. I had no computer of my own, so I used to go to Brandon's place a few miles away to check in and make updates. I was getting into Photoshop, starting to dabble with effects and was having fun making little images on Brandon's computer. He used to let me tinker on that thing all night even after he went to bed. I'd mess around and leave at 5 am and then call it a night! It was a far cry from my prior computer experiences, long before all these great programs and the web had been developed. It was like learning magic.

Over some stiff beers (Arrogant Bastard and Stone IPA were pretty common) and some wicked good carne asada burritos we used to joke about how dreadful we sounded and how we could be famous on MP3.com since the space was given away for free. So we set about creating our space there and put up a number of recordings from the first few jams in June or July. We recorded everything straight to two-track and therefore had no mixing recourse. Editing was not off the table though so I practiced some savage editing on the two track stuff and did some odd things like copying and pasting a sample of the left side, making one side stutter or echo separate from the other. Other things we allowed to have done in recording was one vocal performance to "enhance" the trio recording, but it had to be improvised and fucking rude, loud, distorted, or otherwise unacceptable to most listeners. You can hear the seven cuts that we called finished elsewhere on this site. The thing is, since we recorded most of our jams nearly every week, there was massive amounts of material. It was more than my VS-880 could hold so I routinely cut the stuff ruthlessly and then burned CDs. Even still, there are probably 15 CDs on a spindle somewhere that has some of the most er, avant-garde stuff you (n)ever heard. To make up for a lack of chops or compositional foresight or tasteful use of silence, we usually drenched things in massive amounts of long-tailed reverb. It was quite something. (I still occasionally tickle myself with the idea of making a CD of that stuff, cut up ala Miles Davis material with Teo Macero at the helm of the editing block, slash cuts with no real attempt to mask the edits.) For such bad music so intentionally mangled, the two track stuff sonically has way more finesse than it deserves. It's not like we just used a boombox with a built in mic. There are moments when I like certain sounds and mix levels better than some of the stuff I captured track by track and spent days or weeks working on. All this went down 8 channels of mixer (with added effects all the way through) and through a compressor across the whole thing, and there it was!

We put our worst foot forward when I wrote to the San Diego Reader to tell them to pass on word about a certain track called "Richard Meltzer is my Fucking Hero" to the rock critic who bears that name and for the time around then, was a writer who contributed to the Reader. We used to crack ourselves up reading his concert previews, which never really focused on any of the artists being discussed. It was always wild stream of consciousness stuff. Anyhow, we figured we could get his attention with this ditty that invites Richard to come and "fuck me up the ass." It worked. I mean, we got his attention in one of the few articles he ever wrote (that we saw) that actually made mention of the artist in question! Check out the "review" here.

But personally, Magnificent Meatsticks in retrospect has proven to be a sort of heir to the absolutely irreverent stuff I did with Matt Zuniga in 1992-93 or so, and more broadly, the last hurrah of playing with total abandon and just not caring if anything was good or not. After the taste of live interaction in the MagMeat, I found myself wanting to start playing bass within a band context and was hoping to work in that vein a bit. The quartet I tried to get started later that year was a more developed thing for the few weeks it lasted. Brandon was in it, as was his friend Ryan on drums (still one of the best drummers I played with), and Todd Larowe. Various other groupings over the next year or so included Todd or Brandon at times. Eventually though, all that was way more than I was cut out for, some people within these bands giving me the news that I myself was not good enough a player to be in them if we were to really play the music I was hoping to play. But in the summer of 2000, I did not yet know that.

Ahhh—Hog Heaven in the summertime. No windows. No vents. No AC but for a fan or two. Insane humidity like a gym locker room. Play 15 minutes then open the door for 15 or more, then repeat a few times. Get burritos and beer. Come back and scan the recording for some highlights. Ah. The good old days.

Friday
Aug202004

Wedding "Party"

People ask us why we didn't just choose to elope. We wanted a ceremony and reception. Of course we had to do it on the cheap, so there was no wedding planner, no expensive invitations on designer stationery, no renting exotic venues for ceremony and a separate one for reception, no outrageously expensive live band.

Yep, we'z po' folks here. There was one thing that we thought would be a slam dunk, and that was picking our wedding party. Reasonably, we had hoped for four bridesmaids and four groomsmen. But maybe we got off to a late start so people were not as available as we would have hoped. Kelli has some far flung friends, but most of my picks were local. I made a few calls out to people, some were delighted at the offer but unable, some were able but undelighted, and some were able and actually would do it. But those of course came after all the other rounds.

The biggest issue of late was that there was one dude, about 18 years my senior, whom I had originally asked to have as the entertainment (with his band). But he gave me a slippery "no" that was pretty well sugarcoated. Apparently, musicians look at playing weddings like gay men look at women, or something on that order. I asked again when my OTHER live music option quoted me a price so stupidly out of my range (despite being their slave for years, and offering a lot of my own gear and some labor to make it happen). Still, he said no, and never even gave me a chance to talk terms, presuming I would lowball him to an insulting level. I'm cheap, and everyone knows it, but damn, he didn't even give me a chance.

So then, feeling pretty burned that the elder statesmen among friends of mine would not help out that way, I grunted and grumbled at the idea of having to use a DJ. (DJ's, among us musicians and sound reinforcement types, are a lower form of life, you see. They are in a whole other entertainment industry caste. First off, they pretend to be musicians, and from solid practical experience, they don't know how to run sound systems right.) After a few weeks, I was still looking for a best man (I know, this should have been damned easy), and well, I asked this same guy, who this time said he was honored to get that call. Nice. But a few days later, he calls to tell me he and the wifey have a friend of 30 years that is getting married on the same fuggin' day as I am, and he needs to go to that wedding. He told me he was really sorry.

So I am back to the drawing board again. I finally find the best man and he is willing to give no bullshit. By this time, Kelli had only her maid of honor, and we pretty much decided to go with one person each, at least until about three weeks ago when she got another confirmation. So I go ask the usual couple dudes who got the earlier invites, and one can't make it because his mom was dying back in Florida and he was going away. Bummer. True bummer. So I just told him to show up if he was able, just as a guest. Then I turn to my favorite dude (again) who wrote to say he had time to go to my wedding again since his other plans fell through somehow. Joyous occasion. I guess. After a couple days, I tell him I was still interested in having him in the wedding party and had a new opening to include him as groomsman. And he agreed.

I gave him the details about how to get the tux, and he made the arrangements. Then, about a week and a half ago (about a week after he okayed with me he would do this), I sent out an email to best man and groomsman, with a list of common duties that goes with the position. Some were applicable, and others not, and I wrote in a few specific requests for the rehearsal the day before, and the morning of the wedding (it's being held at 5:30 pm so there is lots of time to prep and hopefully relax a bit). I needed help setting up the church patio, with tables, chairs, and the PA, and to fetch the beer, among other things like that. I gave a timeline for events. A week went by and things seemed fine.

This Sunday, I got an email from this dude and he was telling me he had no time to do 'all this' stuff, and didn't know he was going to be asked to do this, and indeed, he said he didn't know what the position was all about anyway! He said he didn't sign up to have his whole Friday and Saturday co-opted, and he went so far as to say he felt like I was taking advantage of him, what with all the setup work, the stag party coordination and the tux that would make him look nice and matched with the best man and I. Well, I thought, why the hell did he not ask what the job entailed? Then I thought maybe I was stupid or hard headed for me to ask a dude to be a part of things when he already weaseled out of my invitations on two and a half occasions before. I kindly reminded him I was not investing $30k on this event, and therefore had no coordinator, band for hire with soundman, professional photographer with assistant, etc., and that I will be doing work myself on the day, and need some help from the only people in the wedding party who's job it is to help the groom. I also said I needed to have him there for the peace of mind that not ANOTHER person would try to get the rehearal rescheduled to a time more convenient for them (our keyboardist was making this request a week earlier and it bugged us). He bothered to bring up some tired out old issues surrounding my depression and my time spent assisting him on his recording projects, and that was when I started to lose it. That was when we started rolling out the laundry list of these things, back and forth, all of which were not germane to the topic--how to get the wedding done in less than two weeks. He loves to ride me for what he deems is my condescending attitude about music, and how it's useless to me, and I don't need it or like to hang out anymore, etc. I was hoping we could have a new experience between us and that time, and maybe one that would be quite different and would maybe send us to a different place. I told him I had a short list of people I wanted at my wedding and none of my family members wanted to be a part of it, but I gave him three shots at actually being a part of the ceremony because I wanted him there. Not good enough.

His reply began with "Ed, your response put my on edge again." Nice. I see where this is going. He got on his high horse about how I had been virtually useless as a depressed engineer last summer, and that he gave me a lot of this and that to help me feel better about it. Well, my idea was that I would help him do his project, and he might teach me some new music theory, arranging, or whathaveyou, and I was hoping for a sit down lesson. I did get regaled with anecdotes and other little bits, but really, the day was a loss if he didn't get what he wanted, and that was some engineering assistance from me. Then he launched into a tirade at how I always seemed to put a price on everything he asked me to do, or I wouldn't do it at all. Well, fuck me. 2003 was one of the most fucking weak money years I've had since I worked at fucking Subway in 1992! Can you blame me for wanting to get paid for working as a tech? That is how I made my money for most of 1995-2003! I donated my time to him because he seemed enthusiastic about me learning some stuff, and offered to play on my stuff, or otherwise give me a way to improve my musicianship. I got a sandwich and a drink for my trouble on each occasion, and some jollity.

Well, this second email of his sufficiently pissed me off that I went on a tirade of my own, and finally told him that we had no relationship now that we did no recording or music activities together. He lives too far away for chance meetings, we don't play ball together, we don't see movies together, we don't smoke weed together, so really, what is left, once I have let music go and have pretty much written those years off as my own personal dark ages? There is nothing left. I wanted the wedding to be an opportunity to send things in a new direction, as he would see me in a far happier surrounding than ever, and would have a couple days of a totally unique bunch of shared experiences. But no, I would be taking advantage of him, and apparently, as he said, he wouldn't even move tables for the friend that also was getting married, but postponed. I wrapped up my email with my admission we had no surviving relationship once there was no talk about preamps and compressors and mics and stuff. I told him I was done with this. Not just the wedding, everything. A short response from him the next day suggested we talk when I calmed down, but I wrote to say, 'no deal... it's done, we're done. I don't need to explain myself anymore.'

Hell of a way to throw a wedding party, eh? Now I can move onward with my happy life.

Sunday
Jun202004

Going to Mars for Boy Time

No, that was not a Michael Jackson reference.

With Kelli being gone, I've just had a chance to be a waste of a person, sort of like I was in 1999, sans the extreme depression. I mean, it's overcast outside, and has been for weeks now. I actually like the "June gloom" just fine. I hate hot summer days, so this month has been great in that regard.

Anyhow, last night it was downloading a bunch of porn for kicks, and doing some much needed file maintenance to keep my images all organized. Then there was downloading a shitload of songs from Limewire, and the resulting attention paid to my iTunes library. Today, it was sleeping in until 10 am, which is about three hours earlier than I used to get up, but times are different now. Then I did the classic 1999 thing; moped around for a few hours, checking the mail often, pacing the house, looking at all sorts of stuff from my past that I probably shouldn't, and very typical of my musician years, waiting for some musicians to call or show up. My buddy Thax came down with his girliefriend and we all shot the shit for a few hours. He's from Orange County, so I don't get to see him too often, or nearly as often as I did when we played in the Magnificent Meatsticks (that as a result of his love life stepping to the fore). He brought me some CDs to steal. He was a huge part of my late summer 1999 creative spell by the music he let me rip off back then. Well, today he brought me The Mars Volta's Comatorium, and after several hours of my own twiddling about in the studio, I put on some King Crimson on the studio speakers and blasted some of their really mad stuff off The Construkction of Light and The Power To Believe. That was just a primer for the Mars Volta stuff.

In the last few years since I got the computer, nearly all my music listening has been on the computer, and often has been a really fragmented affair. I have a really short attention span now that everything is at my fingertips. With the time to spare and the determination to do nothing but what I want to do this weekend, I decided to just lay out on the studio floor where the bass waves couple into a massive throb that turns your gut to jelly if it's loud enough. I get to do this at any hour of the day or night, theoretically. At least that's what I did for years while my grandmother was here, sleeping in the room exactly where my computer is now, only a wall away from the studio. It's very liberating to play your music really fucking loud at 3 am. But, in the time since Kelli and I have been going out, my late night studio excursions (the ones that were always productive in my halcyon days of recording) have been pared down, partly to let her sleep, but really to be with her more, and to send that message.

So I have the Mars Volta CD playing right here, blasting into my face now. I don't think I have ever heard anything like it in one place. Shit, this is going to mark me for life. I mean, it has the musical balls that I like from the stuff I listen to, and it actually has moments that remind me of what I am trying to do, both sonically and artistically. Yeah, it sounds like they ProTool-ed the hell out of it as far as editing and arranging, but hey, it's not like the sparkling and sterile pop pabulum that gets the same treatment. This is some intense shit. Not just in its heaviness. It must be the heaviest, most frantic shit in my collection, but it's heavy in a whole other way than gobs of distortion and boomy drums. This is just intense. It's a roller coaster, almost from bar to bar there are nutty changes that just shock and awe (to coin a phrase). It's like King Crimson's older days of improvisation and anarchy, with some Santana grooves, a voice like Geddy Lee's from when he actually went for it, and I don't know what the fuck else there is in there, but damn. This is something that I can see putting in to loosen up my mind. I have some ideas that are quite down the road some of this stuff is, but I haven't had the musical balls to actually do it. And sometimes the gear is in the way too, but mainly, it takes a certain amount of adventure to get the stuff I want to do, but as a solo artist, it is just hard to get some of these things to play right. A few years ago, I would have done it, mostly because I had time to experiment and twiddle with gear for fun. My time has just been hard to come by, or more specifically, hard to focus toward music. I can't count the hours I have wasted on the computer. There are a lot of things in the way. Grrrr. At least this time, I set up the studio in a way that suits my solo artist work, with some effects back in the loop. I have not had effects ready for tracking for about three years, because I wanted to streamline and force myself to play more, and record cleaner. But some of my inspiration leaves me when I don't have some effect to play with or against. So I allowed myself to have effects printed to disk again. And, time permitting, I will try to actually molest the features in ProTools now that I know I don't want to just approach things as if I were in a band.

I guess what really impressed me about the MV CD was the liberal use of any device to show musical balls. I mean, the editing, the liberal use of effects on any and all sources and vocals, and the wild dynamics and in some cases, the sound of a single guitar just dwarfing the band is all a bunch of things you don't hear too often, and it is nice to know something like that can slip by the radar of a major label. Every now and then there is some hope for something like art to reach the masses. I guess it helps that the band is made up from some known names, so I don't know if this could be released if from some utterly new bunch of guys. Oh well, it's here and sounds good when blasted.

I should stop to hear more music on the studio floor, under the glow of the Apple display and a few dozen LEDs and LCD displays.

Monday
Jun142004

Composing

Nineteen hundred and ninety nine was an odd year. Musically, it was a turning point for me. Professionally (if you can call my work that) it was pretty stagnant. Personally it was pretty dead, even dreadful at times. Most of the time I hated the work I did, but took refuge in music, and worked endless hours on the varied projects I had going on then. In that year, I had my goofy music project well underway (in its third calendar year), some work with Tamara Vilke (someone Mike Keneally hooked me up with, which ended up being a ten song project with me on drums primarily, but also on bass and guitar and a little bit of keyboards, Todd Larowe and Bad Jesus as the band, on guitars and bass, respectively), Mike Keneally's Nonkertompf (really, a bunch of stuff I thought was just demo material), the research and development of musical ideas that led to and ultimately became the basis for my CD Receiving, and my friend's band, Loaf (five songs toward the end of the year, on which I played guitar and keyboards). These were the true Hog Heaven halcyon days. In that year, I played on singer songwriter stuff, did wacky improvisation, "session" playing, and the painstaking job of playing whatever would eventually become my CD. I actually became a better musician that year, and when I listen back to the stuff I did, I feel proud of it. There are some good drum performances on Tamara's stuff, and some soild guitar and keys on Loaf's stuff. I also did a smashup keyboard solo on one tune on Receiving, and I am still baffled how I pulled it off. I just got lucky, as Todd would say. My goofy music project was an interesting outlet for me, and some of the last fun I had in my music was done then. Since the mid summer or so, most of the fun has gone out of it. After that period, I thought of myself as more serious, and the silly ideas just sort of stopped happening, or maybe I censored them out. I am still proud of Receiving though. Actually, as I was making it, I knew I was asking more of myself than ever before, and even now, I feel that it was a mark of achievement that I still haven't touched, and had a feeling it would be that way, even as I was making it.

I thought I would take several months to recover, but here it is, nearly four years after the musical portion of the CD was done, and I still have barely finished a damned thing. Everything I do seems to fall short of my expectations of myself. I know I have the ideas, and the ability to play the parts is there with some work, but somehow, I just find myself scrapping everything now after a few overdubs. My patience for dealing with gear is almost none. I used to like messing with gear as a means to making sounds and atmospheres, and frankly, to cover up for a lack of musical technique. In the time since my CD was done, I felt like getting back to basics, or more realistically, getting to basics at all. My ultra-rude and perverse "band," the Magnificent Meatsticks, was to my music what Nietzsche was to Judeo-Xtian thought. Deconstruction. Start from the ground up, don't assume anything. In the middle of 2000, toward the end of my CD project, my buddies Mike Thaxton and Brandon Arnieri got together for beers and burritos and music swapping, and eventually we got to playing some "music" that was so out in left field. Mike wasn't really a drummer; he had no experience, but he suited us fine. I was more familiar with bass than guitar, but I played guitar. Brandon was a guitar player, but he ended up on bass. That way everyone had a handicap. After 1999, with me being a 3rd rate session dude, and solo artiste and all that, I wanted to be in a band, but really, for all the music I had done, I was a studio guy who relied on the stop button, multitracks and digital editing to do so much of my stuff. The MagMeat was a way to enter the band realm again, this time on guitar and bass. I had to do what every other punk had to do when he joins his first garage band. I was never in a garage band. Yep, this was my boozing and cussing gig that I never had when I was 16. And I sucked, just like I would have if I were 16!

But the MagMeat made me bold, as I found that after a few years of ONLY interfacing with recorders and the rare live session, I was itching to make music, even bad or deconstructed music, in a band. For some reason, we recorded everything we did, no matter how bad. Mike got better on drums, and I decided to get all my ya-ya's out on guitar by doing the most abusive things I could with an Ebow and my whammy bar and gobs of gain, echo and feedback, and other implements of guitar molestation—we'd be big in Japan, no shit! I still have hours and hours of our sonic holocausts and once in a while, I hear a few minutes and smile.

We were bad, make no mistake, but it was like stripping all your clothes off and running naked. It got me to think about music again. The somewhat related but all different band that stemmed from the MagMeat experience was a quartet, mostly here to play stuff that I had, was another kick for me. That was the first band I played in on anything other than drums. This time it was my five string bass, and I allowed myself an octave pedal, and some distortion and chorus. But I had to put the notes where they belonged. This band lasted three weeks, and it wasn't for another year before I got something like it again, but in the mean time, had some one-off jams with me on bass (sometimes on my new fretless, which was a whole other ballgame or my growing trust in my instincts) that left me feeling good. 2002-03 were years where I tried a number of band combos, and liked a few of them a lot. For a while, I was on bass, and thought of that as my new musical home, but after throwing up my hands in disgust at not being able to find and brainwash a guitar player, I just decided to try it myself, and that was, for me, more of jump than drums to bass, or fretted to fretless. All of a sudden, I was playing the part that is most associated with the entire piece of music being played, and in a few cases, it was odd hearing the bass being played by anyone else, sometimes technically better, but with a whole other approach! Well, that only lasted for a while before I gave up music for a while. But I would like to play again, and on guitar.

Okay, I will fess up, and it's not like it's a secret. I don't practice any of my instruments. That's not to say I don't have the occasional breakthrough with some resulting effort to try to polish up that new discovery, but nearly always, my technical ability has been called up on an as-needed basis. But then sometimes there is some amazing lucidity in what I do, even if I have been away for a while (that used to mean I didn't play for a week or so, but now there have been a few stretches that go on for months). But really, I never sat down with a book and said, 'I must learn these scales and be able to play a zillion permutations of 3-, 4-, and 5- note groupings.' I know my scale theory well enough to be dangerous, but don't master the dexterity end of things. It's not because I think I will lose my musical soul to technical articulation. I am just lazy. But despite that, I am a better player from playing with the short lived bands, because in any one of those groups, I like the challenge of thinking on my feet, and if I use whole notes and half notes, so be it (I can do better than that, just not too well at first). Improvising has been my main love, but not jamming. I draw a distinction; jamming is, to me, what the Grateful Dead and their clones do. Improvising is what King Crimson and Keneally (on a good day) do. Improvising calls upon your active input; jamming pretty much lets you cruise by on autopilot. Improvising, when done well, should sound composed, and composed stuff, when done well, should sound like it has the fire of an improvised interaction. Improvisation is not necessarily going to be solid sounding. It can be, if you have some dudes who know their shit and can articulate it, but improvising should be daring, without crying over "mistakes." The basis for the improvised material in my little bands sometimes stems from an abstraction: "play the sound of a ..." or maybe from a theoretical idea I want to explore: "you play in the key of D harmonic minor, and I will play in B major, use quarter notes to start, then open up as the clash and consonances start to make sense. Or maybe I suggest a harmonic vocabulary based on a few anchoring notes: "use the notes D, A#, E, C#, first in a series of parallel-motion chord roots, then use them as harmony notes in whatever inversion seems to make sense, then use them against each other in harmony (the 7th from E to D, the third from A# to C#, then add the E, and do some other stuff). So you see, I think in abstract ideas, and don't mind calling on bitonality, polytonality, metric juxtapositions and stuff. I don't have as much control over it as I would like but I find the fun is really in suggesting this stuff to someone who knows what is being said, but doesn't know the outcome. Unfortunately, some guitar players took umbrage at my ideas and left.