Interview © Shak N Stir.co.UK
Congratulations on your new album, BRING ME BARABBAS. lt seems to me from the record that you have music in the blood, so how and when did it get there?
That‘s a tough question, really. lt‘s been there as long as I know. I was a Beatles fan when I was like four years old. My taste used to run pretty pedestrian; usually what sold a lot is what I like. The Stone, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and Aerosmith getting into the early 70‘s. Then I was a prog freak in the early 70‘s with Yes, Jethro Tull, and learned how to play the acoustic guitar from a lot of the folkier side of English music and English bands. Like Led Zeppelin 3 and .Jethro Tul records. Somebody told me yesterday the Englishmen are trying to forget Jethro Tull! And you know lt‘s so not fair because the first three or four records were amazing, and lt‘s really funny in this country how something that can be held in such high esteem for five minutes is then trampled on later on.
Well, it‘s even worse than that now because great music is never broadcast, never heard, never seen so nobody of genuine talent even gets that five minutes... How did Masters Of Reality come about?
I‘ll give you the very abbreviated version. Punk rock and 1977... I‘m in my mid- forties right now and so I was just in time to be a punk rocker in New York City, which changed my aesthetic from being a hard rock fan (you know, the Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith thing), and the next thing I was listening to was the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Television, Talking Heads, as weIl as the dance music in New York in the 70‘s. So after about five years of being turned onto the existentialist rock at the time which was a change for me because I‘m pretty much as born as a dumb-arse as far as finding out for myself; I was lucky enough to have some smart friends who turned me on to good music. And then with punk rock I discovered punk rock heroin, and wasted about five years having fun with lots of drugs, which I don‘t regret. I guess lt was a part of growing up. Then right after that five year period in 1982 I start:ed writing music with a drum machine and synthesizer and that‘s what started Masters Of Reality.
Who are the other band members?
There‘s been about probably fifteen to eighteen different members over the years. At the moment lt‘s myself and the drummer is John Leeny who has been involved since a long time ago. And this coming tour in the Fall, I think lt will be Tweedy Ramirez playing bass because we also have another side project and he said he would also fill in with Masters when I tour. So we‘ll be touring over in the UK in the Fall, around October.
There‘s a heavy bias on BRING ME BARABBAS on folk-orientated music, with some having an almost medieval feel. How did you pick what to put on this album which is made up of previous Masters work? And what was the aim of the album?
You partialiy answered your own question in spotting the folky/medieval feel. If I‘d added lt to any of the other records, I think I would have been crucified — mixing this and hard rock usually means Jethro Tull. And when I did try to mix this material on other albums lt was too light for lt. And there‘s this mythological folk quality that I really like in music — Steeieye Span was one of my favourite bands growing up too. I don‘t knaw man, I‘m a weirdo, a lot of that stuff I like, a lot of my friends hate. So I‘m probably wrong you know, I really don‘t know if anyone gonna like this record or not...
Besides the acoustic ambience, something really screams out which is the strong feel for melody. What do you try to create in your music?
The excitement. The feeling of when I put on a record I really like and try to da that for other people. And present lt in a slightly different manner so that initial rush that you get when you put on a fantastic record — you almost feel you‘re climbing an a ride in an amusement park. And you get to go an this ride.
We‘re an era though with a very short attention span. I mean one of my favourite records is TALES OF TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, the Yes album with four sides to lt. I used to listen to that every day, all four sides for a few years an end when I was a kid. There probably are freaks out there like that still, but I just felt that I was going an that trip, like as a kid being obsessed with reading the same storybook over and over again... Watching the same film over and over again now. That was what lt was like for me. Still, when I get stuck an a record — I don‘t go out and buy lots of records all the time - I get stuck an one record. All I can claim an the melodic aspect Tany is that I‘m an antennae and I hear melady. lt prabably sounds like a line of shit, but like Ginger Baker would lay down a drum beat and I would hear a blues riff in my head that‘s over the drum beat and I‘d have ta run to my guitar and pick up my guitar... Just a drum groove usually makes me hear a melody or a riff in my head. I‘m like an antennae and there‘s stuff flaating aut in the atmasphere and sometimes I‘m lucky enough to grab them.
You seem to me to like a photographer snapping away at things you see and experience. Maybe that also appiies in the number of people you work with because your name seems to crop up everywhere. For example, I played the first track from the album on Wrexham FM a couple of weeks ago, and then later on I played you together with Polly Harvey on a track from THE DESERT SESSIONS album. Plus looking through the bio, you‘ve played with a lot of musicians as weil as produce them. How do you pick and choose... because I‘m sure that there must be some sort of selection process going on...
They‘re usually people that I like. I think there has ta be someone that‘s making music that there‘s something abaut it I like or did like at a particular time. There‘s an interesting little stary behind the Polly Harvey tracks. I was recording Mark Lanegan‘s record and Polly came in ta cut a track for that, and then she was in the high desert daing DESERT SESSIONS with Josh Homme and I stopped by. The twa tracks that I wrote with Polly an that record we wrote and recarded them in two hours. And they were done. That one-take sang was only performed once, that‘s absolutely true. lt was never rehearsed. I was playing same chords and Polly sat down back scene with her notebook, and I said ‘weIl‘ should we go give lt a shot?‘ And we walked into the studio and sat in front of the microphone and ran through lt. And the run-thraugh was the take! lt had never, ever been rehearsed for ten seconds before that. And after we finished that take, I heard all this applause coming from the studio and my first questian was, ‘was the tape running?‘ and they said yes. And I was very happy, and I think it was a testament to Polly whose power as a poet and a singer, an that particular track was something else. She was throwing her vaice around the room, and moving back from the microphone and projecting her voice inta a different corner of the room. And I swear lt sounds like two vocal tracks being overlaid over each other. I mean lt was a magic moment. lt might be a cIich ~ but lt was sheer magic. lt was like we had accomplished something pretty unusual.
You mentioned Josh Homme. You seem to do a lot of work with him...
Yes, for the last fourteen years.
So he‘s obviously a guy you like...
Yes. He always surprises me, the little bastard!
And he‘s like you in working with a lot of other people...
Yes, he‘s modelled his career after me. . ..!
Now I‘m a fan of Masters Of Reality, and want to do the normal thing of buying my second album. Which one should I buy?
(without hesitation) SUNRISE ON THE SUFFERBUS, the record with Ginger Baker. lt‘s a very simple blues record. In the re-release of that record — Spitfire Records put lt out in the States (I don‘t know if the release made its way over here to Europe), they asked for a story about the record. And the simplicity of lt is such that I was listening to the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Ginger one day at my house. There was Billy Cobham playing with other fantastic musicians. So I said, ‘these guys were gurus weren‘t they Ginger. . . ‘ I was kind of digging at being sarcastic to se what he‘s reacti~on was. And he just looked over at me, very stoned as usual, and he said, ‘they were gurus Chris. . . ‘ And then there was a pause, then he said, ‘but I like a good boogie. ‘ And there lt was, and that‘s the simplicity of that record. lt‘s very simple little blues songs for the most part, but something different about them; the way Cream rnythologized the blues. The way Cream and Led Zeppelin made the blues sound as though lt was written in the Mediterranean from Greek mythology. And so being able to take music that was created in Africa and then add in Western mythology to lt and come up with something called ‘hard rock‘... there‘s something going on there, and a bunch of us are still trying to put our finger on It, I think.
You‘ve also gone down the production work route quite heavily. I wondered how this came about. . . I suppose it could be just money...? I can‘t do lt for just money. lt‘s physiologically impossible for me to just do lt for the money, I‘d be yawning and vorniting. Officially, besides producing my own music, from being in a basement as a kid, in 1990 I saw a band called Kyuss play. There were about five people in the crowd and I‘d never heard heavy music like that, ever.
They were tuned down lower than Black Sabbath, and in 1990 no-one was tuned down to a C. And lt was wonderful, lt was the rawest, the heaviest, most swinging- est blob I‘ve ever heard. I went and saw them a subsequent number of times and said ‘hi, I‘m Chris, I‘m going to produce you.‘ And the reason was because at thatmoment in time heavy metal and hard rock was starting to become very sterile and anal-retentive, staccato style of picking, no swing, dick machine on the drums; people trying to make perfect metal which is the worst nightmare. lt sounds like people trying to spray deodorant out of cans in a syncopated manner, like a high-end scratchiness that doesn‘t swing. I just didn‘t want a ‘producer‘ to get a hold of Kyuss and do that. They were sixteeri/seventeen years old at the time and I dreaded some ‘producer‘ bullshitting them into doing, like, ‘no, you have to tune up or the tape recorder won‘t work,‘ type of thing, and ‘you‘d better do this, and oh, that little mistake there is really bad,‘ you know someone who would just be an anal bastard and ruin lt for want of a ‘hit‘ record. I wanted a record that sounded like Kyuss, the frequencies, the out-of-tuneness that crossed over when they were playing in a live room which was gigantic.
These huge sound waves because they were tuned down so bw which were just like, not only would you‘re body be rocking but your eyes would be crossed, and at the same time. . . lt was like some orgasmatron therapy, for me. And as Ioud as fuck and wonderful! And John Garcia who had this voice that could break glass, just struggling to be heard over lt all. And lt was one of the best musical experiences ever. My wife actually got the demo first and starting playing lt. At first I didn‘t get lt but after a day or two of her playing lt consistently. I said ‘holy shit! There‘s something going on here. ‘ And that‘s when I went and saw them play. And that‘s how I became a producer. I produced three Kyuss albums — BLUES TO THE RED SUN, WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY and THE CIRCUS LEAVES TOWN.
I have got one final question for you Chris, and lt‘s probably the hardest oneto answer. Choose a track for me to play tomorrow on Wrexham FM from the new album and teil me why. Remember I‘ve already played the first track.
Play Brown House On The Green Road, because it took me twenty years to finish that song. I think everyone knows someone, either a family member of a friend, who has a broken heart but you love that person dearly and there‘s not that much you can do about lt. lt‘s a npd to all of those people. .
That‘s a nice way to end this interview Chris. Thanks and all the best.