Considering that‚ was there ever a moment in recording The Fall Apartment that you felt you had a breakthrough?
Yeah. There's moments in the song "Newst Flurries‚" where I don't even know if I could perform that song. I don't even remember what tuning it was in. That one in particular‚ even though at moments it sounds a little too New Age-y for me‚ there was some stuff going on in the middle of that one where I felt I was really onto something -- just stretching the technique‚ finding a technique and seeing how far you can take it harmonically and physically. It's something that everyone should strive for‚ I think‚ who wants to play instrumental music. It was a piece of advice given to me by my friend Jim Hobbs‚ who's a saxophonist for the Fully Celebrated Orchestra: Just find a technique. You find a simple little technique‚ something that actually feels physical. Playing an instrument‚ whatever it is‚ there's a certain amount of physicality involved and therefore you're going to find patterns or little paths into something‚ just stretching that as far as you're willing to‚ or even past what you're willing to do. It might be painful or take up more of your day than you'd planned on‚ but stretching that technique and letting it kind of teach you -- there was a moment‚ in that song‚ where the technique took me somewhere else where I had not expected to go.
As far as writing goes‚ "War" was a big breakthrough for me. That was just one of those great stream-of-consciousness‚ let-this-melody-go-where-it-wants pieces‚ and I love it every time it comes around. It's just one big‚ long cycle‚ but it seems to answer itself.
It really strikes me as being conversational. I was listening to it last night‚ and thinking about how it sounds like it's calling and answering itself‚ how the echo-y‚ reverb-y sound converses with the melody part before it…
Yeah. That one's pretty old‚ about four years old for me‚ but there's really nothing I would change about it. It's just a complete-feeling thing. The only questionable song for me on that record is "Still Shiver‚" just because I wrote that song and it had lyrics to it. But I thought the melody carried real well on its own‚ and it was a nice solo guitar piece.
What do you find questionable about it?
Just the decision to put a song that has lyrics and has been performed with lyrics on the record as an instrumental piece. I just don't know when I've seen that happening‚ except when jazz musicians cover pop songs.
You do it as well with "Heart Shaped Box."
True‚ but I didn't write "Heart Shaped Box."
Good point. A few days ago‚ I listened to the original In Utero version and then listened to your version. The way you pull the melody out and isolate it and make it slower and with a little more feeling and more drama to it reminds me of what a great tune it is. In comparison to the Nirvana version‚ where there's almost a lack of subtlety. I feel like they rush it‚ and suddenly my perception of the original is colored by your version and how you treated the melody with a bit more tenderness. You give it a little more space‚ and you can realize how pretty it is when there's a more space there and you don't have all the guitars and drums.
Never my intention‚ but I'll take the compliment. [laughter]
What were you thinking when you chose that one?
I remember deciding that I wanted to play that song just sitting in a friend's apartment watching VH1 or something. That song came on‚ and I had my guitar and was just playing along with it‚ and did my dropped-C tuning thing and learned it in that key and realized the possibilities of doing that song as a solo acoustic. There's this motion going on that's sort of a line cliché idea‚ with the 5th degree moving up in half-steps and a great sort of resolve with a chorus that comes with its own punch and separates it. I think it was another one of those pieces that had a complete statement to it. I like melodies like that. It works well. The chords don't need to be too difficult. The chords remain pretty simple‚ but it's a very recognizable melody. Of course‚ it has that great‚ low-bass sound and the tri-tone [sings the melody that accompanies the lyrics "I've got a big complaint" in "Heart Shaped Box"]. It's just really primitive. I have no idea how much knowledge Kurt Cobain had‚ but I sort of see him as a kind of Lou Reed figure‚ knowing just how to keep it primitive but artful.
And the middle section was just a whole other thing. That was just a riff I started rocking out trying to get that full‚ percussive sound out of the guitar. No doubt‚ probably a little inspired by Kaki [King] and how much of the guitar she's using. She's using‚ shit‚ above the headstock‚ she's using the body as percussion‚ harmonics. It's pretty awesome to know that I know a person that's that inventive‚ to be inspired by her‚ and that she's my friend. I kind of hope that maybe she'd hear that and know I was nodding to her and not necessarily ripping her off. At the same time it felt like‚ for me‚ a very original thing and kind of a breakthrough at the same time. The rhythm‚ trying to hold that together is actually really fucking hard for me. I think I've only performed that once and I think I totally train-wrecked. It's really hard.
I wanted to ask about "Do I Have to Understand That?" Did you feel like you wanted to break out of doing all acoustic and use some percussion and effects?
That's the one track on there had been recorded before I even started talking with Josh. And when I sent him the bunch of songs‚ the 15 or 20 songs that I thought‚ Hey‚ this is what I got‚ I threw that one in there figuring he wouldn't bite at it‚ because it's so different and because it is electric guitar and it has all this computer shit going on‚ all of this reverse guitar and percussion. The cool thing about that song is that every sound on it was made using one guitar I had‚ this old Danelectro. All the percussion is just flapping that guitar and plucking the little strings above the headstock and hitting every piece of metal on it I could find. [laughter] Yeah‚ I called it "Slapping the Danelectro" for a long time. It was basically just beating on this guitar.
So I threw that in a mix of songs for him as something I had done a while before‚ and he was real into it. I always thought it would make a good soundtrack for some kind of crazy discovering-an-underground-ancient-future-industrial-site or something.
Do you feel like you brought any of that musical experience back with you to The Slip?
I don't think so. These were songs I had and they were really separate from everything I did with The Slip. Primarily‚ the project was centered around being able to perform‚ as a solo musician‚ complete instrumental arrangements with the bass line and the melody‚ and all that stuff. Which is a completely different approach than ensemble playing. But if it did do one thing‚ at least it gave me the comfort in knowing that I had satisfied that need‚ and that I had gone through the process of learning what I wanted to learn about how to play that way. For a lot of those songs‚ I knew what I wanted to do‚ but I really had to learn how to do it in order to get a good recording of it. "Maria La O" or "Gin Gin" is a lot of bass line and melody and chord stuff happening at the same time‚ so it gave me that nice feeling of accomplishment‚ like‚ Oh‚ now I can go back to playing with the trio or the quartet or the other ensemble. And in that sense it did. I could lay back and enjoy someone else playing the bass.