Sunday, April 29, 2012
Freedom's Children are for sure the most well known and important band from South Africa.
Some call them the PINK FLOYD of S.A. and if the political situation in S.A. would have been easier they would have had the same status in the international music market as Pink Floyd does. Beautiful composer songs, amazing instrument work, well-crafted guitar work and great singers. The extra heavy prog. sound beats most albums in the same direction coming from UK or USA.
Well, thank-you for the interest. It was all a long time ago. Yes, I was born on a farm in the Highlands of Scotland on the last day of the Second World War. As a boy I used to wander. Unlike these times ... my mother never knew ... where, exactly I was all day. Easter Ross was then an isolated part of the UK. Strongly Celtic. My grandparents spoke Gaelic ... though they spoke English as well. My mothers father was a fiddler at local dances. A font of tradition. My other grandfather, I called ... 'Boss' ... & he was a man who loved engines. My grandmothers were both tellers of old folk tales & as I remember went about their work all day singing very old songs I could not understand. I don't know if I am idealising this distant past ... but ... thats how it seems to me now. This world was left behind on our arrival in Africa. When we are very young we take everything in good stride. Everything & everywhere in the world is natural. To me arriving suddenly into the wilds of South Africa seemed as just another part of my wandering.
We sittled in the almost exclusively Boer dorp ( village ) of Graskop. It lies perched on the escarpment over looking the mythical Low-veld made famous in the book ' Jock Of The Bushveld.'
On arrival we were made to feel like Uitlanders ( foreigners, but the word in Afrikaans has a more bitter ring & every day after school the Boer children went round outside our house chanting ... "Huistoe Rooinek! Huistoe Rooinek!" ... meaning literally ... 'Go Home Redneck' ... but in the long history of conflict between the Boers & the British it really meant ... ' Go Home Bloody English ! ' When the Boers found out that we were Scots & not English their attitude towards us changed. Within six months I could speak Afrikaans & made friends with the local children especially ... the van Antwerpins ... all nine of them. So from the age of 7 to 12 I grew up as any Boer lad of that time. My brother & I even spoke Afrikaans to each other at home.
Hunting, fishing & exploring was how we spent our free time & how none of us got killed is a wonder ! We wandered miles away into the bush & koppies. We were only about 40 miles from the Kruger National Park so there were dangerous animals & snakes around. We were armed with air-rifles, bows & arrows, catapults & knives. We camped out. We were allowed to roam to our hearts content. This is no longer possible. We were very close to & felt a real bond with nature ... in it's more wild manifestation.
The only thing I can say about 'race' from this period is that every Sunday the African drums used to sound from the Location ( where the Blacks lived ) & that by the end of the day I felt myself in a sleepwalk from them. I did have what I can only call 'mystical experiences' in Graskop from about the age of ten. I think this happens to many children but they tend to forget them in growing up. Or they have it rationalized out of them. Mine are still very clear. But ... even more of a mystery.
To end this question I would like to say that the among the Africans around Graskop were many Shangaans who have the most haunting guitar picking style which they played while they walked the dust roads that cut through the koppies & thorntrees for miles ... and miles. It would come through the bush seemingly from nowhere. Unknowingly it made a deep impression on me. Now many years later ... I sit & try to find on my own guitar ... that bush backbeat ... by which one could walk the whole wide world . . . bare-footed.
I think we must have been among the first bands in South Africa to play R&B. There was an American at school, ...a Paul - who's father was a missionary and who went back to America on the long school-holidays - whom I asked to get albums by any Black dudes he thought fit by asking questions at the record shops. So he returned with ... Bo Diddley ... Chuck Berry ... Howlin' Wolf ... Muddy Waters ... Champion Jack Dupree & many more. We were smitten ! We spent all our time in bedrooms trying to find out that secret boo-boo. No kidding. To this very day.
We did make a very basic recording once. There was four songs . . . 'Stop& Listen' ... 'Beautiful Delilah' ... by Chuck Berry ... & one of our own compositions ... is what I remember. We actually drove all the way to Johannesburg ( in those days it was like going to Mars for country boys like us ! ) which is about 500 miles . . . to play the tape to a record company. The people we eventually got to play the tapes to were well known personalities on the radio. They listened. They shook their heads. " The guitar is finished," they said. And this is about 1961-62 ! Later on through Freedoms Children I got to know these people but I never let on that I was the callow youth from those years ago. 'The guitar is finished' . . . is a joke for the way this world is set-up.
This was a strange time. South Africa was up-tight. Our hair was getting very long. It was like walking around with trouble on top of the head. The 'straights' did not dig it. They wanted to punch us in the puss. They did. Fights broke out. Even revolvers were drawn. Going into a bar one had to have nerve. Even walking down the street invited confrontation. All this is forgotten now. But I reckon it still stands ... fashions have changed but the beat remains the same ... what does 'freedom' mean. Hair back then was a new flag. Now it is straw. Perhaps that is why we see so many Yul Brynner's these days ... looking tough ... like a bald penis. Yes, the Penis Men ... these day's ... they are to be seen at all the power points ... their noses in the trough.
Well ... back to us innocent lads in Pretoria. We practiced a lot. In a small town hall. We lived in caravans. And human kindness. We had no money. We did do a number of gigs. One of which ended in a brawl ... riot ... cannot really remember what ... the memory ... is such a myth maker.
The vibe was heavy ... as they say ... at that time in South Africa. The white men who ran the show everywhere ... saw everything as a threat ... ( things not like them ) ... and that included long-haired beatnik teen-age ducktails like us. Oh boy ... it is almost impossible to recapture that time. It had a certain smell.
The scene for bands back then was that you got an agent if you were very lucky ... who got you a gig in a three monthly residence rotary system. You would then play six nights a week & usually also on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. You played on average four 45 minute sets with a 15 minute break every night. You also had to rehearse at least three times a week to get new songs to keep the act sharp. The agents & the Club/Hotel managers were kings of this system. We did not really care about money. We just wanted to play. They took advantage. We once played at the famous 505 Club for a whole year . . . 6 nights a week ! The people came. I have not got a clue now ... how much we were paid. Lately I have been reading about The Beatles in the early days in Hamburg ... & it is all ... very familiar to me. Playing so often ... for so long ... makes the band sonic ... & tight as skinny ... assed spooks.
This was the age of speed. Black Bombs, Purple Hearts, Dexies were in abundence in South Africa. Very ironic. On that speed one could play forever. And we did try to. Again it is very similar to the scene in Hamburg. We did not eat much ... being fueled by brandy & pills.
It was a great time for music. To play ... to listen ... to learn. South Africa was still very influenced by Britain in matters of culture. The only thing was we never heard any of the bands live because of the boycott. We were cut-off from living contact. Musicians learn a lot from watching what other musicians are doing. It is a whole other universe. In South Africa we had to make do with listening only. We did not have a clue what these bands sounded like live.
Yes ... the very word ... " freedom" ... was a taboo ... in the land of taboos. It was electric when we made it up. What ! FREEDOMS CHILDREN ? It cut through the air. On our first single the record company would not release it unless it was changed it to FLEADOMS CHILDREN ... & we put up with it just because we wanted to hear ourselves on the radio. It was laughable. But we did not laugh so much. Freedom ... to Fleadom. This is 'reality'. When the fuckers with all the power call the shots. The record company & the government. In certain situations. What is the difference ? That is how it was back then. But we were riding the music & just lived for that & what it was saying to us.
Well in South Africa Freedoms Children became notorious overnight. Le Macabre was our first residential gig. It is here, early on that we started doing 'Freak Outs' which lasted for one whole set. Unheard of then. We created our own home-made strobe lights which did not exist as such ... we had projectors showing films on all the walls ... we had jelly ... & dry ice etc. The music we played was a heavy beat with anything goes. We had tapes ... monks chanting ... bombs dropping. The first time we performed this it was a sensation. Also ... somebody took an epileptic fit ... nobody then knew ... that strobe lights can cause these fits. The fit was pounced on by the press. The authorities thundered ... " This orchestra ... this Freedoms whatever ... want to corrupt the youth. Look they are giving them siezures." The next time we did the Freak Out not all the people who came could get in. There were more epileptic fits. They became known as 'frothies' & I think a lot of people who did one did not have one. The Mayors Office, the Churches & the Police wanted to have us banned. We became front page news ! We felt the urge to make it more outrageous & the music more hypnotic & at the same time having wild stuff going on. The Mayor & the Police Chief came to see and hear for themselves. We were ordered by the Le Macarbe management to tone the whole thing down drastically otherwise we were going to get banned ( & they were going to lose big bucks ! ). So we toned it down for that show. And turned it all up again the next time. Eventually these Freak Outs took their toll as one had to think up things to take it further & further. This is the central problem of Freedom.
We got a lot of offers to play elsewhere. Before too long we were off to play there. We really left the 'Freak Outs' back there at the Macabre & never performed with all the lights, strobes & films etc. ever again. It was a real acid trip before we actually dropped the acid. It became scary. After-all ... we were in a Police state ... & it was Apartheid South Africa. This whole period started me to thinking . . . is there such a thing as Evil . . . outside of the men who carry it out. It is like Hitler is now personified as Evil incarnate. A monster. But is he ? If we allow History to become mere mythmaking . . . we shall be gobbled up by phantoms. The entire past is contrived. To suit the purposes of the new/old agenda & all its cronies.
Billy Forrest, a singer but also one of the pioneers of South African music approached us to to do a single. As we had not yet made a record we were keen just to get into a studio.
This turned out to be quite an experience as the engineer was about fifty something & had never seen amplifyers as big as ours ... nor how loud they could play ! We had the evening to get four tracks down. It was live. There was only two tracks. On our first run-through the engineer went bonkers. " All my needles are on red ... it is too loud ... I cannot record this." Or something along those lines. Someone went out & bought two bottles of Cane Spirit ... a potent liquor peculiar to South Africa made from Sugar Cane. Billy probably saw to it that the engineer's glass was always full. By the time we put down the tracks he had opened up all the controls & we were all well pickled and making a lot of noise. The solo in 'A Better Man Than I" when turned up gives one a good idea of that night. It is all live ! And we do four tracks in a evening. We never see the engineer again. But we parted better than we met ... & I can still see his face & his greying RAF mustache.
The real culprit in the concept behind this album - looking back now - is speed. South Africa was getting very paranoid. The 'summer of love' was drifting off. Darker regions began to move in.
Colin Pratley ( the drummer ) & I decided to go to London. To see what their 'freedom' was at & to play in a different scene. And just to get away from the oppressive situation in South Africa.
I can't remember which way about it happened but EMI were expecting a record from Freedoms Children ... who no longer existed ... other than Cpolin Prattley and I. We put down some songs as backing tracks ... things like Judas Queen, Ten Years after & Miss Wendy. Kafkasque & Eclipse on the album were recorded by the full member Freedoms Children previously as a single. I did the voice over & sound effects. The rest of the songs were in the hands of the producer. So it is quite a strange album in that Colin Pratley and I were not playing on the rest of the album ... neither were we there for the production and mixes ... or for any say in the matter at all. As I said ... I cannot remember how things came to this. They did ... & that is that.
I did spend sleepless nights before I left for London teaching the songs to Dennis Robertson who was a singer I knew from Durban.. I thought he would be on all the songs but things turned out different. He only appears on a number of songs.
Getting back to the concept ... as I mentioned ... we were taking a lot of speed back then. During one of these episodes I saw all the masses of this world huddled under the powers that be & the 'way things are' ... all of history and its murderous rages ... over what ? At the same time I was suffering withdrawel symptoms from a long romantic interlude. I thought how alien we had become on our own planet. Like a horde. A heartless mass. So this is how war begins ! The battle ... hymn. It was all broken up ... just like this. When I put the voice over down I was in some state ... there was no engineer ... I had to go in & out of the studio to turn the tape machine off/on ... all the while speeding on Black Bombers. Perhaps I once really knew what the concept was ... I don't know ... I do not listen to the album ... not yet ... anyway. I think the people who do listen to it ... find their own concept of what it is. That is fine by me . . .
I do not have a clue as to how many copies were made. The cover artwork I did with the Jurg ( I cannot remember his other name, Geznar ... I think ) & we had a good time doing it ... he was a photographer ... so we both mucked in on the design. We hired a suit of armour ... we cut out UFO's to photograph. Yes ... that's the concept of the album ... Armour & Unidentified Flying Objects ... & Hordes of people in a world turned to Purgatory.
Your next release is legendary Astra LP. What is the story behind this album?
I think the story of Astra begins the night the Americans landed on the moon. I have always been fascinated with Space. Freedoms Children had reformed in London ... must have been late 1968. We were living in West Kensington. The Americans were scheduled to touch down on the moon in the early hours of the morning so we took acid & got our beds in good positions round the black & white TV set. When they landed we were spaced ... like we were there with them. I thought how existentialist the situation of the men on the moon was ... what it would be like if they could not get back down to Earth ever again. Its there in Slowly Toward The North, part II ... " Cannot get my way back down to you. " Also in the beginning with The Homecoming. But this space thing is mixed with happenings here on Earth ... Medals Of Bravery is about the Vietnam War . . . The Kid He Came From Nazareth is about Religion ... Tribal Fence is about race, Gentle Beasts is about South African ... Slowly Toward The North & we are back in Space & Time ... 1968 to 1970 ... its like a Freedoms Children journal ... even the sound. Clive Calder our A&R man ( and eventual manager ) gave us total freedom in the studio. No EMI engineers were present. We did everything ourselves. We camped out in the studio. It was a great experience.
We started work on Astra in London & Dunstable ... early 1969 ... about half was done like this ... the other half was written in the studio. Like I said ... we were camped there & would go right through the night into the next day as we had the keys to EMI's studio & we could do exactly what we liked. Hats off to Clive Calder for this.
What gear did you guys use?
Julian Laxton had a 30 w Vox amp with his Black Box ( something of his own invention ) & a Gretsch guitar. I had a Fender Precision bass guitar with 100 w Vox amp. Colin Pratley had Rogers drums. Nic Martens was on a Hammond organ. Gerard Nel played a grand piano, hapsichord & bells. This is what we used on Astra. When we toured the album we had 200 w Marshall amps.
What happened next for you? You went away from the band and form another called Abstract Truth. What can you tell me about that? Abstract Truth released some albums, but you were not a part of that. What followed next?
I was never in Abstract Truth. I jammed live with Kenny Heson & some others in Durban ... but that was it. I was asked to join Joburg Hawk as a song-writer. They were signed to Charisma Records in London. So in 1973 we were in London & they recorded at the Island Studio & played gigs all over Britain. It was not like Freedoms Children at all ... as I was not in the band. The band had 5 white members & 4 black. This was the time of strong anti-Apartheid demonstrations and action in England. The band became embroiled in behind the scenes politics. I don't think the ANC in London particularly welcomed a mixed race band from back home in South Africa at that time. The paradox of politics. Trouble from within the band stirred from outside influence. They were supposed to go to America but the 'revolution' got them first. Charisma Records put a lot of money and goodwill into Joburg Hawk ... but ... the bullshit ... came out on top. The band fell apart in mid-air & I found myself back on the Union Castle ocean liner sailing to Cape Town. The previos time I had been on one of their ships was when Freedoms Children sailed back to South Africa to record 'Astra.'
In 1972 Freedoms Children began to play with a black group called 'The Malombo Jazzmen'. This was against the law in South Africa. It was illegal for black & white to appear together on stage. Freedoms children were back to the original three of Colin Pratley, Ramsay Mackay & Kenny Henson plus the singer from Astra days . . . Brian Davidson. To cut a long and troublesome story short ... We & the Malombo's had hatched a plot to play together on stage at the Durban City Hall. We were booked as Freedoms Chidren to play on a bill with other groups. Nobody other than our manager of the time ... knew about this. We had bought skeleton masks to wear & also florescent paint for our arms & hands. There was seven of us on stage before the curtains opened ... it was tense & hilarious ... because we could hardly tell who was who till they picked up their instuments ... Colin Pratley was calling to who he thought was Kenny Henson when Julian Bahula the Malombo's tribal drummer said ... " Hau ! No ... it is not Kenny ! ... it's me ... Julian !"..... Well, this was very funny when you can be arrested & charged for playing music with someone you don't know who. But in all this lunacy Lucky Ranku, Malombo's guitar player turns to me & with tears behind his skeleton mask & says, " I can only play in my own country if I look like a spook " . . . and ... then ... the curtains went up ... & the crowd, ... the audience audibly gasped at the sight before them . . . 7 figures with skull heads and glowing hands.
I think I can say that this was the first time blacks & whites played live together on a public stage. The Malombo's played three songs with us then rushed off stage and down the stairs out into the street where our manager was waiting in a parked running car & whisked them away into the African night . . .
Yes, the sound is very good ... I listened to Astra for the first time in years ... & was taken by surprise. The box & all the covers are of high quality.
Hats off to Shadoks & Thomas Hartlage !
I have had a studio in the house & have recorded about 140 songs with another musician, Henry Dennis ... We call ourselves The Fumes Of Mars & we are building a website of the same name on which we are down-loading the songs, artwork, photo's & a whole lot of writing on the world, politics & the present financial robbery.
Thank you very much for the interview! Would you like to send a message to your fans and to It's Psychedelic Baby readers?
Hello out there you Fanatics & It's Psychedelic Baby readers ... always remember ... Psychedelia . . . is a big part of Reality.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Hi guys, how are you? What are you currently up to?
Hi man, we've recently been to London Desertfest, an amazing experience. Now we're getting ready for out next European tour in which we'll be visiting Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany and Italy. 11 gigs in 10 days.
You came together in 2004. How did that happen?
A bunch of guys were looking for a singer to form a stoner rock band, and I was free so I accepted. I was friend with the drummer at that time already, that's why I came into the band and how Zippo as we know it got started.
You combine very different styles of music. This is why I am curious what are some of your influences?
Influences are so many that making a list would be just boring. Our roots are deep in heavy psychedelic rock, metal, punk and progressive rock. Reviews tend describe our sound as something close to Mastodon, Baroness, or even Tool sometimes, but our aim is to be remembered to sound like ourselves.
You self-produced debut "Ode To Maximum" (2006), the following "The Road To Knowledge" (2009) are really outstanding. Would you like to tell us background from those two releases?
Each album of Zippo has had a different approach in the making. “Ode To Maximum”, as many debuts, contains a bunch of songs composed and arranged in a huge lapse of time, and you can hear the different styles on it, you can also hear two songs in Italian. We were young, but that album has the right flavour, and it feels like the beginning of something great. The following “The Road To Knowledge” is a concept album on Castaneda's “The Teachings Of Don Juan”, we achieved more personality with this work and we put a lot of efforts in the whole process. It was like doing a soundtrack.
You played a lot of shows and did a lot of touring in Europe. My friend told me you are really heavy and powerful live. I’m really looking forward to your concert at Klub Gromka in Ljubljana, where my
friend “KiborgSpužva Büking” booked a show. What can we expect, mostly new stuff from your latest release?
Your friends have good tastes in music then. We're so happy to have finally managed to come to Ljubljana after many years. Yes, we'll mainly focus on the new album for sure, but we'll play songs for each album.
Speaking about your latest one, Maktub. What can you tell me about it? The album is really the best so far in my opinion. The 7 Tracks have been shaped by Victor Love at Subsound Studio while mastering duties have been handled by James Plotkin (Khanate, Sunn O))), Isis). Intense, daring, and twisting; with very special guests such as Ben Ward (Orange Goblin) and Luca T. Mai (Zu). Would you like to tell a few words about producing this and how was working with Ben and Luca?
Thank you very much. “Maktub” is our favourite son and needed great godfathers like Ben and Luca. You know, I always like to say that music itself is the best way to make friends for a musician. We played with Orange Goblin before, as we did with Zu, so these collaborations came out kinda naturally, and we're really happy with the results.
Maktub is also released in limited edition, 300 hand numbered copies pressed on 180gr. 12" vinyl. It’s really nice you released your music also on vinyl!
Yes, the vinyl is finally out, you should see with your own eyes how pretty it looks. It is out now on Subsound Records in transparent blue colour with full printed innersleeve. It's good to give fans a choice, and vinyl is a timeless item. Grab your copy at our show!
Since you did a lot of touring with bands like Entombed, Crowbar, Orange Goblin, Witchcraft, Colour Haze, Karma To Burn, Sons Of Otis, Zu, Ufomammut, Solace, Brant Bjork And The Bros, Los Natas, Rotor, Cripple Bastards, Stonebride, and many more... What are some crazy stories you would like to share with us?
We were touring with our mates The Orange Man Theory in Greece in 2009, the tour was not going great and we were driving towards the last gig in Larisa. After 6 hours drive, we reached the venue but we were told our show had been canceled by the promoter (Kostas from Gca Concerts) that very day, and no one in the venue knew we were coming, as no one thought to inform us about it. With a whole tour gone wrong, no gig, no money, angry as hell, we found the best man on earth in the owner of Stage Club (his name was Kostas too) with whom we spent the whole night drinking in a bar at his own expenses. We only know what happened afterwards, one of the wildest nights ever. He also payed for our hotel rooms. Thank you mate, I hope I'll be able to return the favour one day. About the asshole that ruined our tour, I only have pity for his fucking miserable life.
Well, thank you very much for the interview and hope to see you soon in Ljubljana! Would you like to share anything else for It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
Hope you'll get the chance to catch us live in Ljubljana or anywhere else in the next Zippo tour. Thank you my friend for the space, all the best!
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Joe Medina is the mastermind behind "Merch" project. They recently released this really nice psychedelic album with high quality production and orchestration. You can hear some quite unique sounds on it. So if you are for modern psychedelia go for it, but before that you should read our interview with Joe. He shared the whole story behind the project.
Hi Joe! How are you? We will talk about your music project called Merch, but before that I would like to know a bit more about your background, by that I mean what were you doing before this project and perhaps if you can tell me a few influences on you?
I'm doing very well. It has been a warm and sunny weekend out here in San Francisco and I'm in an overall good place in my life so I have no major complaints. As far as my background, I was born to a middle-class family in Fresno, California which is midway between S.F. and Los Angeles. My first exposure to music was probably through my father singing oldies songs to me as a toddler that he would convince me he had written. Usually they would be pretty but morbid songs like 'Last Kiss' or 'Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)'. It wasn't until I was a few years older when I first heard The Beatles on the oldies station in town that I said “Dad, they're playing your song 'Love Me Do' on the radio!” and he admitted that he didn't write any of them! Listening in the car with him and singing along (although I was an absolutely terrible singer until just a few years ago) gave me my first understanding of melody and what goes into making a catchy song. Between listening to oldies with my father, hearing more adult-contemporary stuff in the mornings while my mother got ready for work, and watching whatever was on MTV with my older brother's friends (I have fond memories of walking around with them while they would take turns doing verses from the rap songs of the day)—I was thoroughly engrossed in music. With them it was always more of a passive thing though, kind of background noise—no one in my family actually plays music or anything like that. I absorbed it all, so by the time I received my first guitar when I was nine years old I was able to move around on it pretty quickly. The first time I remember discovering music for myself was at an Asian grocery store three blocks from our house where I would sit at the comic book rack and read while my folks shopped. There was a magazine there whose name I don't remember, but it covered all these bands I'd never heard of and even had a flexi record in it of Mudhoney's 'Touch Me I'm Sick'. Around that time I also came across a cassette of 'Axis: Bold As Love' that totally floored me. I really got into everything from way older stuff like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and Django Reinhardt or blues like Robert Johnson and Lightnin' Hopkins to anything current but obscure I could get my hands on like The Boredoms out of Japan. There was this insatiable thirst for knowledge on my part at the time for not only all kinds of music but also literature. I was very into Nietzsche and French Symbolists like Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Verlaine. I definitely got into trouble for reading that kind of stuff in school, but luckily by this time I was in a school for the gifted so I didn't incur the kind of ridicule I might if I was in a regular establishment. By the time I was in high school I was able to play back on the guitar whatever was playing on the radio and was running with a crowd of kids that were deeply into punk rock like The Germs, Operation Ivy, Black Flag, The Subhumans, The Exploited, and I was making all my own clothes too. We had an all-ages punk rock venue in Fresno at the time called Patterson Hall, so we would go to shows every week by bands like Youth Brigade as well as ska bands like Let's Go Bowling and Skankin Pickle.
A major influence on my life occurred when I was a sophomore in high school. I came down with meningitis and almost died. I can still very vividly remember the feeling of being on a cold metal operating table and having that long needle put in for the spinal tap. It was such a serious case of the disease that complications would come up from it for many years after. From that experience, I understood the fragility of life and how we don't have time to follow anyone else's path but our own. I think that had more to do with me leaving my hometown than anything else.
I still hung around for a few years because I had a little sister that was born and I wanted to make sure I was there to develop an early relationship with her. My first trips to San Francisco happened because I got involved in swing dancing and it was a big thing there at the time. I got good enough at it that I didn't have to work a regular job for a while—just teaching people how to flip over eachother's shoulders and such.
Crossing the bridge into San Francisco represented absolute freedom to me. Coming over in a car late one foggy night while blasting some bebop and just having that fog suddenly open up and this vast metropolis towering in front of me was such a magical experience. Once I had a taste of that there was really no question. I worked something like three jobs, gave plasma twice a week, and even delivered newspapers to get the money together to move. Once I got to the city, I committed to not having to move back no matter what (most people when they leave my hometown, they wind up back pretty quickly). That meant eating rice every couple days with duck drippings or taking a long subway-ride to eat at a homeless shelter (I was living on the outskirts). I landed various odd-jobs at a laundromat, a library, telemarketing, all while auditioning for bands that I didn't feel were doing anything fresh or exciting. This influenced me to drive my car around when I could afford gas(instead of upsetting my housemates with the noise) and singing at the top of my lungs until I could hit every note that I wanted to. I figured I would be better off eventually putting together my own project than keep trying out as rhythm guitarist or bass player for something I didn't believe in.
I managed to land a job as rock specialist at a big record store here and also got some freelance writing jobs (working on history books) which were both big turning points for me. That eventually led to me becoming Head Writer for a music magazine.
So how did it all start with Merch?
Well, I wrote and did interviews for this magazine for a couple years until it folded. I did interviews with big bands in the indie world like Spoon and Guided By Voices and when the magazine ended I thought, perhaps naively, that I could make songs as good as any of the bands I talked to. The curtain had dropped for me and I realized that all these big musicians that I looked up to weren't really different from me and I could do it too. I put an ad on Craigslist, managed to convince a drummer and cellist that I knew what I was doing, then put money down for a rehearsal space. We did shows, went through some personnel changes, just all the kinds of stuff that a young band goes through—especially one with a bandleader who feels like he knows best but hasn't really found his footing yet. There were tours throughout the state and then across the entire country. A couple of 7-inches saw the light of day during this period as well as a full-length CD. By the point that it was time to record that first album, our third cellist had just quite after having a nervous breakdown from the road and out of some internal need to make things hard on myself I decided to play all the cello parts on the album since I wrote them all anyway. So I practiced the parts for eight hours a night for a month and then recorded the songs in order of easiest to hardest. Amazingly, that album got a lot of college-radio airplay and even made it as far out as Australia and Israel. I am rather shocked by that, looking back on it, since I can't even listen to it. I think someday I'll redo it as a double LP, the original version and how I would approach it now. After a time, Merch really stopped being a band and became my individual musical outlet with outsiders brought in to help realize the completion of projects.
It's pretty obvious you are a fan of psychedelic music. What are some perhaps less known bands, that had an impact on the band itself?
These aren't really lesser known artists, but I was definitely listening to a lot of Love's 'Forever Changes' while planning out 'This Betrayal Will Be Our End'. I probably listened to that everyday for a while. Greg Ashley [This Betrayal's producer/engineer] turned me onto Dungen which I hadn't heard before and now adore. Some of that probably seeped into there. I recall also listening to some Roy Harper, 13th Floor Elevators, Moby Grape. There was also some United States Southern metal like Baroness that I was listening to that has some psychedelic touches to it. Stoner metal like Electric Wizard too. There's also all the Bay Area psych stuff happening now like Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh & Onlys, Kelley Stoltz, The Sandwitches, Ty Segall, Sleepy Sun, Six Organs Of Admittance. 'Odessey & Oracle', 'Pet Sounds', and 'Smile' were all pretty big for me too.
This Betrayal Will Be Our End is a mixture of »indie« psychedelia with some other genre touches. Is there a concept behind the album?
I went through a terrible break-up with someone that I thought I was going to always be with. I think it would be impossible for me to convey to someone how much a broken love can destroy you (especially that big first one) unless they have been through it too, but I did my best. I wrote the lyrics and basic chord structure for all the songs in a flash fever of a couple weeks. It really seemed at the time like it was either do that or perish. I initially thought this would be more of a singer-songwriter type record with just voice, guitar, and maybe a bit of cello. Once I really looked at what I had though with these songs, I decided that I needed to prove something to myself to get through that time. I wanted to take various genres of music whether it be 70s AM radio like 'Bread', black-metal, noisy indie-rock, country, whatever. I decided to take different types of music I had absorbed over the years and channel that into making one of the greatest break-up albums of all time—something that could shift through styles much like how one goes through various kinds of emotions during an occurrence like that. I knew that the lyrics seemed probably so over the top that they might not work on just an acoustic guitar. I didn't want to change a word of it since it's all true and it was important for me to not go back and retouch any of the words so I constructed this grandiose soundscape around it.
That kind of came together at the last minute. I was toying with a few concepts and wanted something with a darkly cinematic feel to echo the music. It was also important to have something that would catch the eye in a record store, since this was first-and-foremost always going to be vinyl. A photographer in Brooklyn agreed to license one of her pieces for the cover, but ended up asking for more money at the 11th hour. I ended up finding an old photograph through Creative Commons that had been used before but to evoke a very different mood. There was also some help to get the Merch logo to look appropriately Argento-ish.
As I understand this project is not really new and it's actually a few years old…What happened, that you finally decided to release it?
The only real story there is that everything took a lot longer than expected. The basic recording of the album only took two-and-a-half, maybe 3 weeks. A couple labels showed some interest but weren't offering anything that couldn't be done independently—all they really did was slow things down. Then it was the matter of getting a mix which showcased the music off properly. That was a real learning process and took months. Getting the money together for the mastering and then the pressing of the record then pushed things back even further. Finally, once it seemed like everything was in the clear—there were issues with the test pressings and it had to be done over again. None of this is uncommon, I just wasn't prepared for it. I'm just happy it's finally beginning to get in people's hands where it belongs.
Sassafras is the name I gave to a stuffed toy lemur of mine that I used to take on tour with me. The first Merch album I released under the name Sassafras Records even though it wasn't a real company at the time. I decided to distribute the vinyl of 'This Betrayal Will Be Our End' myself (at least domestically), but once I started the process of doing so I realized for the amount of work I was putting in that I should offer the service to other artists/labels. Within a couple weeks of putting the word out about the service, I had a roster of a few really great labels/artists. That was just a few months ago and I'm adding new labels every month. Sassafras focuses on vinyl and cassette distribution and is currently just focused on record stores in the United States, but will expand soon. I'm always on the lookout for interesting labels/artists and also overseas distributors to work with.
How about concerts? What are you planning?
My aim is to release records that will sound good today, tomorrow, and fifty years from now. One of the next ones will be with a full orchestra recorded in Eastern Europe. There is one coming out before that next year, but I don't want to ruin the surprise of what its going to be.
Greg was really helpful in the studio. He'll be the first to tell you that this record turned into the most ambitious thing he'd ever worked on and it got a bit stressful at times. He also really allowed me to blossom and try out different things and let me run with an idea even if he wasn't sure if it was a good one. I never felt tethered in the studio which is a big part of how it ended up like it did. Picking sounds that captured a wide dynamic range made all the difference too, which Greg deserves a lot of credit for. It was a great deal of fun (which was really important in completing such a dramatic piece of work) figuring out where a song needed a low growly ancient synth to add some bass or a ukulele to cover the high-end.
Chris Porro mixed the record and did a fantastic job. I really wanted to avoid making the album sound tied specifically to 'now'. We had some hiccups at the beginning, but then I brought in some albums that I liked the feel of and Chris worked from there. I recall those being Neil Young's 'After The Gold Rush', Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid', Nachtmystium, and Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (interestingly enough).
What do you think about the current psych scene? Like it, hate it or love it?
I think the scene is very healthy right now. It's really great seeing my friends, colleagues, and just people that I admire getting recognition and doing well. The Black Angels just played to a huge crowd at Coachella. I think with all the avenues that we have to explore that things are only going to get better. Like, if one of the bands wanted to release a four-hour song online they totally could. In turn, because all the music can so easily be made available online, those of us that want to make vinyl it challenges us to make a record good enough front-to-back that someone would want to lay down money in order to put it on their turntable. I was in a record store a few weeks ago and they were playing 'This Betrayal Will Be Our End' on the speakers and there was a copy on display with 13th Floor Elevators and Scott Walker. I feel if all of us in the scene set the bar high so that we belong in record stores amongst greats like that (instead of necessarily competing amongst ourselves), the music will only improve.
Well, thanks for taking your time! Would you perhaps like to say any final words or a message to It's Psychedelic Baby readers?
Well, to any of the It's Psychedelic Baby readers out there that are also musicians: keep open ears. No matter what style of music you're playing, listen to as many other sounds as you can. It's that mix of the various things you absorb that makes something original come out of you. Also, thank you so much for all the support for this record that everyone has been giving. If your local record shop doesn't carry it, you can send them to the Sassafras Records & Distro site (sassafrasrecords.wordpress.com) to get copies for their store. You can also order copies directly on sassafrasrecs.bandcamp.com and, as of this writing, Aquarius Records has exclusive colored copies of this first pressing of the vinyl (as opposed to the standard black-vinyl copies that all other retailers carry).
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Micah were a progressive rock band from Indiana. They played mixture of psych and prog and they are for sure one of the best "American" prog bands. They released "I'm Only One Man" back in 1971. Now after so many years Shadoks will be reissuing their legendary LP. It will be out on June 2012. I had the pleasure to talk with the band members about their memories. Enjoy!
Thank you for participating in this interview regarding Micah. Before we start to talk about the band, I'd like to ask you where did you guys grew up and what was the scene in your town?
George Robert Wolff: I grew up in Hudson NY and started playing drums at 8 years old. I had many influences at that time. Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, were the first that I remember. I played in the High School Band and in Drum and Bugle Corps.
Gary Taylor Ohlson: I grew up in Red Hook and Clinton Corners, New York - in Dutchess County. These are small, picturesque upstate New York towns with a lot of history and a variety professions, including a large art and music community. It was the typical 60s and 70s scene.
Marty Horne: I grew up in Bridgeport, Ct. It was a blue collar factory town with some excellent rhythm and blues bands.
Bob Rowe: Hello there! I 'm Bob Rowe, born and raised in Terre Haute, Indiana. known as the crossroads of America, and with three colleges here, there was a variety of musical influences.
Were you in any bands before Micah?
George Robert Wolff: At the age of 16 I joined a band called "The Shades Of Brass". The band performed at the Apollo Theater, appeared on TV and did some Collage tours as well as doing some recording at King Studio's in NYC. The group mainly played James Brown style music with a few jazz numbers. The band only lasted about 2 years as we all went on to college.
I went and heard Jimi Hendrix, and that was that, Mitch Mitchell was someone to listen to, and I just loved it. I loved the big sound he had with his drum set. I went to NYC and had the Drum ProShop in Manhatten put together a new set of drums for me made from Mahogney which I still have at my home and play today, and love.
In 1968 I formed the band AXIS with some really fine musicians from Hudson NY, and we played a lot of Jimi Hendrix, and Doors music at clubs in the Hudson Valley area for about 1 year.
Gary Taylor Ohlson: Yes. I played keyboards and did vocals with Hardstone Farm and a couple of high school rock bands.
Marty Horne: I was a drummer in my first 2 bands.
Bob Rowe: My first band was formed in 1963 called the 111 Deuces.We were one of the first rock bands in the area, so consequently we were well known in the Midwest areas. I was in a few bands after that,while attending Indiana State University where I hooked up with Robert Wolff,where we had a group called Soul'd Out , then Frogmeat, being the house band at clubs while finishing school.
You formed in Terre Haute, Indiana in the summer of 1971. Tell me about this summer of 71'.
George Robert Wolff: I left Hudson and went to College in Terre Haute Indiana to complete my education in 1969. I met Bob Rowe and he hired me to play drums. During the summer I went home and jammed with Gary and Marty at the Hardstone Farm, and told them about Bob having a house gig in Terre Haute. Gary and Marty came from NY to Indiana where we put the band together.This was the beginning of MICAH, which was Gary's idea in naming the band. We all had different backgrounds but all loved the music of ELP, Alan Parson's the Beatles, and YES. I also listen to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Billy Cobham who influenced my personal style. These different styles all added to the unique sound of MICAH, with each member adding his own taste to every piece of music.
Gary Taylor Ohlson: Marty and I were with the Hardstone Farm band in upstate New York, and we went to Terre Haute to get Robert and form Micah. Robert had auditioned for Hardstone Farm, and I loved his drumming. I wanted to form a rock band without horns and to start to write and perform my own music.
Marty Horne: The summer of '71 in Terre Haute was one long party! Gary and I were in Hardstone Farm together. We left that band to form Micah. We were originally called Max but Gary wanted to change the name to Micah. We were the house band at a popular club called Willie's Part 2.
Bob Rowe: The Vietnam war was in full swing at this time. Finishing school, we were all of a sudden in big demand. Tom Gillis, a great bassist, who I'd played alongside from the beginning, was unfortunate in the draft lottery. Robert and I had to start anew. Robert,being from New York, went home where he jammed with Gary, Marty,and Gus, who had just split a band called Hardstone Farm. Consequently,We put the group Micah together in Terre haute where I had bookings set up.
You later moved to New York. Did you perform in Indiana? What happened in New York?
George Robert Wolff: MICAH stayed in Indiana for about 1 year. We thought NY State might be a better place for the band. We relocated to the Albany, NY area. I had a business relationship with Jack Carpinello who booked both the Shades of Brass and Axis. He loved the band and asked to represent us. We all agreed. Jack had a business relationship with the owner of Advantage Studio and we proceeded with recording "I'm Only One Man".
Gary Taylor Ohlson: Yes, we played a lot in Indiana and, well, members of the Hardstone Farm band came out to Indiana out of nowhere to beg me to come back to the band and, well, I did. I went back to NY with Hardstone Farm, then Micah came back to NY, as we had already booked gigs. I went to see them play and they were playing all my music without me, and it kind of hit home. I asked if i could come back and left Hardstone Farm again, and Micah went on again as we were.
Marty Horne: After Indiana, we moved upstate N.Y. and signed with Jack Carpinello , our manager. Jack brought Monroe Pastrel of Sterling Award Records to a Micah gig and we played the "I'm Only One Man" suite for him.
Bob Rowe: The guys were a couple days late from New York. We had time for a three hour rehearsal before our first gig. I think we were all surprised how tight the group was. We played here until we found a place to land in New York. I remember having about forty bucks in my pocket when we headed east. Fortunately, Joe Carpenello, who became our manager, had us booked at The showboat in upstate New York. We got us a good size house, and Joe kept us booked from there.
Soon you got signed by Sterling Award Records. How did that happen?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: Ha! There is many observations and opinions on this subject. Suffice to say, Micah's talent and potential was recognized.
Marty Horne: Jack brought Monroe Pastrel of Sterling Award Records to a Micah gig and we played the "I'm Only One Man" suite for him.
Bob Rowe: I believe Joe set it all up.
One thing I find very interesting is your influences are mostly from British progressive groups. There aren't many prog bands from the states in the 70's. What are some of the influences?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: We played a lot of Santana music along with our own music, then Emerson Lake and Palmer and groups like that came along. Of course, as a keyboards player, I was impressed with and very interested in the complex style, progressions and movements of this style of music.
Marty Horne: The prog rock influences were mainly from Robert Wolff and Gary Ohlson. I was more into Rhythm and blues, blues, and jazz guys like Wes Montgomery and Howard Roberts.
Bob Rowe: If we're talking early days, I would say Yes, Cream, Yardbirds, Beatles.......long list.
I'm Only One Man is your legendary LP from 1971. Where did you record it and what are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
George Robert Wolff: Truth be told. The record was never finished. If you listen there are no overdubs. In addition there are no backup vocals on side B. We recorded the record live on the studio floor with the intent of the tracks to be only used as a reference for the producer. The producer had a different view of how the band should perform the Suite. Micah felt it's a Suite, you will notice one song ties into another. We really liked the concept recordings released at that time THE BEATLES and ELP for example. So a difference in opinion led to a crashed project. What you are hearing with this recording is an engineers mix, just to appease the band, with no production at all, and no effects. Sterling Records went on and pressed the record without the band even knowing what was transpiring. Sadly, the band sounded much better than this recording with our own amps and drums and with or own sound man. The record is, on the other hand, the positive result of many work hours with material we all loved and believed in. The band reeled from this experience and it led to our demise. We all went in different directions in 1972.
Gary Taylor Ohlson: The album was recorded live in one afternoon at Sterling Sound in NYC. The owner and his son were having issues, and we never got to finish the album. The album music was just a live take in the studio, recorded and released in its non-produced, non-reengineered form. Memories are not good of the situation between the father and son at that time. The father had signed us - we were his pet project. It is a long story and a situation in which we got caught in the middle. I don't know how much the other guys really know about the situation, but I knew everything, as most of the communication was done between the father and me personally.
What gear did you use?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: All I had at that time was a Hammond B3 Organ.
Marty Horne: Except for my guitar and Gus Hernandez' bass, we used the studio's equipment. My guitar was a mid 60's Gibson SG and Gus had an old Fender Jazz Bass.
What can you say about the cover artwork?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: Not much. We did not have much say in anything.
Side A of the album was recorded "live" in a quadraphonic studio, which gave a very interesting edge to it…Side two is only 11 minutes long, what can you tell me about that?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: It was our live show of our original music - we just went in and recorded it live, and the album was distributed "raw".
How about concept behind the album?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: It was just after the 60s with all the changes going on in our generation and the Viet Nam war, etc., and my personal thoughts about life. "I'M ONLY ONE MAN" - inner thoughts of life and changing things. It was my first attempt at writing anything, and I was contemplating how is one man supposed to change anything in a world that is so bent on killing each other over greed - and I was dreaming of a better world.
How many copies were made? There was also some 45s singles pressed…do you know how many and which? Did you get any radio play?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: I don't really know how many albums and 45s were distributed, and, "Yes", we did get some airplay.
Did you tour? I would love if you could share a story about some interesting concerts and with who all did you shared the stage?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: We never had the chance to tour in big venues but played many, many clubs, large and small, and did our own concerts.
There was some lineup changes around 1972?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: Yes, we let the singer and bass player go, and Tom Gillis took over the bass playing and David I Feder became the singer. We started to get very progressive in our writing and playing, heading more into ELP and British prog style. At this time I got my first synth, and, well, that is a whole different story, as I played my synth and in a very different style than most. I wanted to play it like a guitar, as well as explore the virtually limitless capabilitiles of the synth, and that led to a whole new part of my life that changed everything for me - musically, personally and professionally.
What happened next for you guys?
George Robert Wolff: We all went in different directions in 1972. As a Micah member I can tell you I am thrilled that so many people are enjoying our efforts. It only took 41 years to get the word out about Micah, it's better late than never.
I moved shortly after to Louisville KY to join friends I knew from College. We formed RAVEN, the band gained success and toured the Midwest and East Coast. We recorded a record at the SoundPit in Atlanta GA. in 1976. As with many bands things came to and end when the market turned to DISCO music.
I then traveled as a hired drummer throughout the South and moved for good to the Atlanta area in 1979 where I reside today. I have done some modest recordings and live performances in the Atlanta area. Most recently I did some tracks on a CD named "Hello" by Doug Mason in 2009.
There is some really good news to all of this:
The members of MICAH have decided to pick up the pieces and record more music together. I personally can't wait to see what Gary and Marty have up their sleeves for a new release. This time the members will have total control of the project.
Gary Taylor Ohlson: After Micah split up I went on with Great Speckled Byrd (GSB), and we opened some pro concerts on the east coast. Then I went on to play on the Dick Clark Show and tour with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars - doing his New Year's Eve show, etc. I played with tons and tons of people from Chubby Checker to Chuck Berry and tons of the 50-60s-70s stars. That band opened for and backed up a lot of name groups. We played Madison Square Garden in NYC and a lot of other big venues around the USA, tons of clubs and Vegas.
Marty Horne: After Micah, I joined Tommorrow Morning in New York City and recorded an album on Casablanca Records. We did 2 TV specials from NYC and toured the US and Europe. After that, I spent 2 years in Cyndi Lauper's Blue Angel Band. While living in NYC I did some session work. I played on jazz percussionist Candido's album "Candi's Funk", and J.J. Mack's album "You Can Make It Dancing". I also wrote the music and played guitar for 2 adult movies.
Bob Rowe: After Micah, I returned to Terre Haute area and played with regional acts. I then moved to Arizona for about 20 years, only to return to Indiana where I now reside. In 2011 I was inducted in the Wabash Music Hall of Fame. I am retired but still loves getting up and singing with many local bands.
Axis, Hardstone Farm, Shades of Brass any of this names sound familiar? They are noted as being connected with Micah and I would like to know how, and if any of this bands released something?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: I was the keyboards player and did vocals with Hardstone Farm before forming Micah. I was not in those other bands, but some of my Hardstone Farm and Micah band mates were. Hardstone Farm did not release an album.
Why did you choose the name Micah?
Gary Taylor Ohlson: From the Bible.
Well, thank you very much for taking your time to answer and clarify history of Micah. We are really thrilled Shadoks is doing official reissue of your LP. I'm sure it will be done fantastic! How does it feel that after so many years your music will be reissued?
George Robert Wolff: Keep your eyes and ears open. YOU ARE NEVER TO OLD TO ROCK...Thank you to all the MICAH fans for your support, REMEMBER good music never dies.
G. Robert Wolff
Gary Taylor Ohlson: I think it is a wonderful thing and appreciate all the interest. It looks like a Micah reunion is taking shape, as I own a recording studio and we are all getting together again. David Feder and I have been working on music together for years, and we are also releasing our old and new work, individually and as joint collaborators.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2012