member of Pere Ubu, active in the band from 1975 to 1979, then again from
1996 to present.
From the early eighties through early nineties, he played somewhat sporadically in a band called Tripod Jimmie with Lennie Bove, first in Ohio/Eastern Pennsylvania, then in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tripod Jimmie's first album was recorded live on a pier in Erie, PA. While unknown for the most part, TJ is unique and interesting band in its own right. MP3s of TJ can be found on the MP3 page.
In early Ubu, the
songs either started as jams, or Tony and/or I (or Tim or Peter in the
very early times) would work out a basic riff to get the ball rolling.
Everyone was responsible and in control of their own playing. David usually
did his part last. This became very ponderous and, after I left, I assume
somewhere in the fall-apart stage, that method was scrapped. When it worked,
it was awesome, with 5 or 6 strong, different personalities making major
contributions. I think the problem with that was the destructive nature
of some of us. The temptation to trash someone else's idea was too strong.
The temptation to stand with your own thing to the detriment of others
was just as strong. Result-deadlock. Remember this when we get to your
last history question.
In jimmie, the songs were mostly started from a Lenny riff, then I put a guitar around that. We often had some sort of silly idea that would set off the process. Bald Electrician, for instance, came from Lenny's observation that electricians seemed to be thin on top, probably hair loss due to electric shock. "The more you lose, the better you remember". This was satisfying for me as a guitarist, because I didn't have to worry about holding things together, I could just let it rip. Not sure it worked as well from a song content stand point.
I started playing at age 17 on bass. The reason is a little unusual, but may explain a lot. I wanted to race cars, but met with complete resistance from my family. I wasn't strong enough to overcome the resistance, so looked for something that had a lot of energy, and demanded the same kind of complete concentration. (Actually, I had forgotten about that until I was about to type "I can't remember why"). My technique quickly outstripped my esthetic, I overplayed. My friends talked me into taking up guitar. Technically, I have more talent on bass, and I can hear a strong bass influence in my playing. I think what you are referring to is the 2 lessons I took before I went into the Army. I had been trying to learn guitar, and figured I would have plenty of time in the Army to work on it.
3-J was actively influenced by soul music. In fact one of the things I was thinking about at the time was what it would be like if some alien was exposed to all relevant information about R&B except actually hearing it. HE wouldn't have any cultural background to fit it to. He wouldn't have all the hidden keys. Kind of like "you say potato, I say potato, lets call the whole thing off". I don't have a direct line from what comes in to what comes out. Perhaps a closer line 20 or 30 years ago, but not now. I do all sorts of things to try to change how I sound, but I always sound the same.
When Ubu started it was highly unusual to start out writing music. Bands would develop a local fan base by having a great stage show. Only then would they dare to try a few "originals". Copy bands were the norm, actually, that's all there were. Think about it. A generation before the Beatles etc. made a major breakthrough being able to write and record their own stuff. They did this only after years of playing other's songs. Of course, playing and writing are two different skills, so many really good bands just couldn't make the switch. Ubu, on the other hand, started at the creative process. Worked great for me, I couldn't bring myself to play the intro to Smoke On the Water like it was on the record.
Actually, I'm not sure how much thought was put into how many guitarists. We started with 2/3 and 2 left. Under the Ubu technique of going with what's happening, we got 1 replacement. 1 guitar, 1 bass. Later, after I'd left, I asked to come back, and David decided that the form was 1 guitar. The number of guitars didn't affect the song writing as much as the personalities involved. Jimmie had 1 guitar, and I got to rip up because Len was there so strong. In Ubu I couldn't do that because I didn't trust the song to still be there if I took off for a while. More basic than that, the song structure hung on me. Any leads I did had to still act as song structure. In Ubu I was a rhythm player that played leads, in Jimmie I used a "lead" style of playing to push the rhythms. Strangely, even though the people are different in Ubu now, I'm still primarily a rhythm oriented player. And yes, Jones and I play together on virtually all of Pennsylvania. Most of the really tasty leads are his.
In the times I've worked with David, he has ideas, themes, subject of interest, phrases, etc ready, but, for the most part, doesn't tell us. He'll tell us enough to give us a hint of a direction, but not enough to unduly influence our processes. We (mostly me on PA) bring in musical ideas, and flesh them out into songs, with his input. The farther along the process goes, the more direction he gives. Then he takes the stuff away and puts words to it. Then back to the band for any adjustment. THEN we relearn the songs for performance. Not the best way to do it, but with the constraints of all our locations, schedules, etc, it works remarkably well. PA had 1 week of rehearsal/song writing, and one week of studio work, followed by a few more days of mixes/ fixing. I think we put it on the road with a day's rehearsal.
Actually, I wasn't taking issue with Jimmie being simpler, but your reason for it. Jimmie was simple on purpose. How far could we deconstruct the song structure while still having a rich, complete song? Pretty far as it turned out. The main components of the songs were voices, but the rhythm harmonies and melodies etc. were considered, used as "voices". Kind of like, every component of the song was put together like the voices in Ball Of Confusion. How big can we get with 2 voices, 3 instruments and a demented taped player.
Ah, Jimmie. Think about the difference between playing with people, and playing with a machine. When you play with people there is the moment. All the changes that small timing movements, change of attack, mood etc. do to make music so wonderful. When people play with machines, they don't interact, they "play to". By not playing to we gave Jimmie life. We played, jimmie played, it was different every time, there was interaction. Jimmie had parts, in for the chorus, out for the verse etc. He didn't have notes, harmonies, rhythms etc. that had to be in exactly in THAT SPOT! Someone once said that we were Jimmies back-up band. The possibilities were endless. In one song, Jimmie played a mutated part of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. So we jammed with a dead person. A first, as far as I know. By the way, we got the idea from Allen Ravenstine. He used a tape deck into his synth a little in the early Ubu stuff. We just went a little more extreme with it.
I don't have any interest in solo work I think in terms of ensemble. No trade-offs. I just can't satisfactorily play alone.
I can't remember how long we played at the Pirates Cove. A year or two. We were always rehearsing for the purpose of song writing.
Early Ubu used taping as part of the process. It was (is) impossible to separate the act of playing from listening to it to decide it's (what you're playing) merit. The only way to compose on the fly is to have a way to monitor it. Taping. Also, folks have always liked to tape Ubu.
Touring then, for me at least, was about like touring now. I wasn't responsible in either case for finding the gigs. For the most part, we don't play the same venues over and over, so it's always a new variation on the old experience. A few wonderful shows for audiences that appreciate us, a bunch of shows in places that don't know us for people that don't care. That's not right. We will play in a town somewhere, and it will be in some small club, and the staff won't know or care about us. The place will be about a quarter full, mostly with people with nothing to do. Most will hate it. But always, ALWAYS, there will be a very few people who have been waiting all their life to see us. Could be Madison, Wi, or Sydney Aus., it's the same. It can be so unpleasant, but so important. Almost like a sacred duty. The hardest thing, by far, to deal with in Ubu is the schizophrenic reaction we get. I can't begin to describe what it's like to present our music to a group of people. A musician plays to people for the reaction. When the reaction is so strong, and varied
I don't know what's out there. Peter and I developed that noisy guitar sound kind of at the same time. I think he was probably a little better at it. He could just about get away with doing it on acoustic guitar. I was more compact, he was more self- indulgent. He would go off, and we'd be "come ON already". Then we'd hear the tape, and it would be magnificent. Don't want to talk about his personal problems.
Allen Ravenstine had done electronic music in the studio, and had some recording gear. I did Steve Canyon. I think some others had done a little something or other. Remember that Tim (and later Tony) had never played a musical instrument before. Ken wouldn't tell us anything unless we asked. We'd do something, wonder why it didn't sound the way we thought, then he'd tell us why. He didn't want to unduly influence the process. The home recording was a compositional tool. Actually, the studio, at the beginning, was more of a reporting device than an instrument.
Ubu did covers entirely to fill time. That's no longer necessary.
A couple things were going on to point me out of Ubu. For one, I liked touring and everyone else seemed to hate it. Ironic, since I never went on tour again until I rejoined the band. For another, David was going thru a religious phase that I resented having my name associated with. Remember, back then it was publicly seen as a band, not DT and the Ubus. Those were side issues, really. The big thing was New Picnic Time. I felt we'd made certain mistakes on Modern Dance, certain other mistakes on Dub Housing, and New Picnic Time would put it all together in the definitive Rock album. Instead, it was a new thing. I was Very disappointed. If it didn't happen then, it wasn't going to happen. So, I went off to do it myself. And failed, obviously. Ubu is an entirely different entity now. Amazing, since it's still very much Ubu. People think it's David's band now, but it's not. David serves Ubu, as we all do. Back in the day, it was anarchy. Now it's very much under David's direction. I may be the only one who thinks so, but to me, the musicianship in the band is at it's highest level ever. Then, I was, probably, the most accomplished musician in the band. Now, I'm probably the least. I'm speaking strictly about the ability to have technique available to serve inspiration. Everyone who ever played in Ubu had lots of creativity. No-one in their right mind would try to rate, or quantify creativity in Ubu. The process is different now. Most importantly, no one has any notions of popularity or monetary reward. While this can be frustrating, it's also liberating.
I use whatever suits my fancy. Some guy in Cle bought out an entire year's production of white Gibson Flying V's. I thought that was wonderful, and started begging people to get me one. It took several years... A few years ago, I was thinking about the nature of the electric guitar. Originally it was supposed to be a way to make the acoustic guitar audible in a big band. It was supposed to sound like an acoustic guitar, only, well, loud. Of course, people started realizing what the possibilities were, and the electric guitar got a life of it's own. Nothing has really changed, tho, since the humbucking pickup back in the late 50's or early 60's or whatever. Everything since then has been a development of either the Gibson Humbucking sound, or the Fender sound. But. Great strides have been made in amplifying acoustic guitars. Why not run the whole sequence again with the new acoustic technology? So I had a guitar built with just one pickup- a Mike Christian piezo bridge pickup made so the heavy metal guys could play their obligatory tender acoustic number without switching guitars. Only I use it--that's right--as an electric guitar, with the amp sound, distortion etc. It SCREAMS! Has more dynamics than any guitar I've ever played. Amp wise, I use a rented, or Ubu standard issue Twin Reverb amp. I've had a variety of amps over the years. Have no special preference. I use .012-.054 Stainless roundwound strings. I pick really hard, and the heavier strings sound better under those conditions. Also, it discourages the old string-bending cliche.
In the day, I used a Fender Telecaster Deluxe, with whatever as a backup. The Tele was a real piece. I used to vibrato by shaking and twisting the whole guitar. The neck got so loose it wouldn't tighten up any more. I had to glue it in place. The intonation changed with the intensity of picking (something all guitars do, but not as much). Made the overtones really wild. You couldn't tune it with an electronic tuner, the signal was too weird. A friend has it now, he had it restored. Not the same. It's really amazing to me that I can use almost any guitar, amp, whatever, and I still sound the same. I even switched to metal finger picks from flat pick, and I still sound like me. Huh!
I use pedals for
two reasons. One pedal, a Digitech RP6, I use to have a good sound that
I can plug into any clean amp and be workable. By the way, I use a lot
more distortion than it sounds like. My picking style overpowers the distortion.
Yes it does. The other use of a pedal is for an instant volume change.
Any EQ pedal, or whatever, will do.