Continue to enjoy this freewheeling interview as it winds down through parts four, five, and six.
Part Four: Writing and Sidemen
1. I had 90 % of the song "Bittersweet Love Song" written for two years and was very happy with it, but I didn't have a title or a final line for each verse. One day while playing it and trying to finish it, I sang something like "Ida on a mid a mean a mid a be la la". As I sang this over and over, it became "I don't wanna miss a beat of bittersweet love song" and it was finally done. In other words, I used scat singing to actually write a song rather than just embellish it once it was done. Does this ever happen to you?
I make frequent use of placeholder scats when I've got a melody I like, but haven't quite found my words yet. Very similar to what you describe, except I don't think I've ever morphed scat syllables into similar-sounding real words. Dr. Rorschach would be proud. Or appalled. I don't really know what he's like, so I guess I can't say. Also he's dead, so probably less of a reaction from him than I initially imagined in any event.
2. Do you generally write either music or lyrics first or is it a totally different process for every song?
All values of the matrix are represented: lyrics first, music first, both together, and neither music nor lyrics first (I seem to favor that one lately). I write a lot of snippets, both musical and lyrical, that I keep around forever, waiting for the other half of the ripped dollar. Whichever comes first, I often sift through a few snippets and see if I can fit or modify a ready-made idea to fit with the new idea. The most exciting is both together, of course, when it's just a complete idea rolling out, but that's rare, and I can't figure out how to systematically make that occur.
3. Choose one of your songs and take us through the process of its creation.
Wow. Tough question. I Am the Moon: I remember this one fairly well. I had been dreaming that I was Layne Staley (of Alice in Chains) and that I was singing a new song with the band. I woke up with just a tiny fragment of it fresh in my head. The dream fragment was just a drone on the rhythm that I use throughout the song (in 5: 1-&-2-&-3-&..&..&|1&2, etc) with me shouting "I AM THE MOON!" But I liked that rhythm because it struck me as one of those odd-time figures that flies under the radar a little bit without drawing too much attention to the meter. I also liked the phrase, but I hadn't really attached a meaning to it yet. So I scribbled both down and let them sink in for a while. I was in the middle of writing Archaeology, which is largely a cathartic concept album, so I had a lot of ideas already in the soup. I thought the way the moon stabilizes the Earth's "neighborhood" was a convenient metaphor for my standard-issue relationship dysfunction of the time: Friendboy Syndrome (tm). More specifically, I thought that the kind of dysfunctional relationship where a woman is able to sustain a bad boyfriend by virtue of maintaining a non-romantic friendboy (not me! No way!) who provides all the normal "good boyfriend" benefits and may or may not pine for her (read: may) is similar to having a hunk of rock in orbit around you to absorb meteors and such. Something we can all relate to. Next I decided on a tuning (Drop-D) and starting fiddling around with chords to fit the rhythm until I found two sets of changes I liked. In this particular case, I decided not to stray from a standard form, so I knew I was looking for kernels of verse, chorus, and bridge. I programmed the chords into my keyboard's sequencer and started scatting melodies over the loop until I got something I liked. Then I added the melody to the sequence and started turning words over the melody. If I found something I liked, I might stop and refine it with the sequence out of my ears. The concept strayed away from my initial notion of it as I started getting hooked on particular phrases (particularly the chorus) and finding it simpler to equate the song with desires rather than functions, as I mention in the listening log:
Thin metaphor masks theme beaten to death by songwriters (approximately 300 blows coming from me) throughout the ages: "I'm the one who's there for you, but you love someone else, oh why don't you love me, I'm so terribly sad."
The pieces started falling together, and I came up with the bridge, deciding to switch to 4 and get away from the main rhythm. "Let my lunacy light your dark" was a phrase I had tried over the verse without success, but which I liked in the evolving concept of the song. When the final verse came back around, the rest was set to the point that I wanted to return to it in variation (a technique I probably favor too much). Then I started putting together bass & drum parts. I normally don't specifically arrange drums, but in this case I wanted to provide some sort of counterpoint to the vamp --trouble is, that original recorded part is too difficult for me to coordinate live while singing, so it's been largely lost in favor of a grand rhythmic unison. Archaeology was the first 4-track album we did entirely at home, so I laid down the sequence and then we tracked on top of it. In order: bass and guitar bounced down to track 1, 3 backup vocals (with Cat Mayhugh and Speranza performing each line with me) bounced to track 2, sharing the track with misc. percussion (shaker at the beginning and steel tone fan leading into the second chorus) and solo guitar, lead vocal on track 3, and drums on 4. For the Songs You Hate remix, I added an extra rhythm guitar and re-performed the vocals & backup vocals (which were very murky from klutzy bouncing techniques on my part).
4. The first album of yours I have is 1992's "Less Yackin' More Snackin', an extremely sophisticated sounding album for a bunch of high school seniors. I could not have made that album when I was that age. What guidance and educational experience with music had you had by then? Piano lessons? High school theory classes? Did you just play constantly?
Thanks. Although I started out by learning on my own, by that point, I'd had some organized theory in high school and a couple years of private drum lessons. But insofar as influencing the direction of the band, I think I fit into the "played constantly" camp more than anything else. I practiced drums every day, sat down to write or arrange every day, and rehearsed with the band for 2-3 hours a week. Outside the band, I got involved in every project that would have me, and learned a lot that way, particularly about jazz. I was the drummer for the high school jazz choir, the jazz band, the pit orchestra, a handful of community musicals and choirs, and various singer-songwriters needing cheap studio drumming. As for music lessons within the band, Neil MacPherson had something like 10 years of piano lessons under his belt, Nick Walsh had been taking guitar lessons for four years, Speranza & I two years each, and Fried had been entirely self-taught.
I definitely regard that album as one of our benchmarks. This was certainly the first album where we went into the studio with the right plan and came out of with what we meant to. By then, we as a band had cut 5 other albums (2 in commercial studios), and I personally had been in commercial studios a total of 10-15 times with other projects. I had seen the perils of coming unprepared, and I had seen some really effective production techniques for getting the right kind of performances on a dime. We laid down as many things as possible in the first take, and had practiced playing without vocals. All the overdubs were known, all the guitar sounds were picked, all the solos had kernels already established, etc. We marched right through the checklist and the timeline and let the engineer do his job. I don't think anything took more than a few takes to get through. We used that same strategy for every subsequent album we recorded in a commercial studio (culminating with Guitool in 1995).
5. Did Fried and/or Speranza ever write any entire songs on their own or were they instrumental geniuses with no desire to write entire songs (A type of person I have met several of)?
Neither John wrote songs on their own for Flip Nasty (or anyone else, as far as I know). Speranza & I collaborated a handful of times, typically writing in a spontaneous fashion. The fruits of these labors include "Do It," "Grip of the Pete," "The Machine," and "Salad Shooter." His primary creative contribution to the material was as a soloist, where he had free reign. He also was very involved in production decisions. He has a better ear than I do for getting good sounds. My "strength" as a producer is more in the realm of getting good performances, but I often find that I struggle with dialing in a great instrument sound. Speranza picked up a lot of my slack, especially when it came to guitars.
6. Where are Fried and Speranza now?
Fried currently lives in Tokyo with his wife and two daughters. As alluded to in the band history, he spent a good portion of the Archaeology and River Dreams years (1996-97) living in Japan. He hasn't been playing bass since the band broke up. Speranza lives in San Francisco, where he played guitar for the now-defunct Plus Ones, whose site "will live on as long as the internet stays plugged in." He claims to have retired from music and also has a day gig editing a travel website. I'm pretty sure he's been watching the Bachelor, but that's unconfirmed. His official response: "I don't know, tell them I died or something." Also notable, Neil MacPherson, the keyboard player on the aforementioned Less Yackin', More Snackin' album, is doing very well as a member of Tubby (which made it to the top 8 of "Star Tomorrow" before recently disbanding) and DB3 in San Diego.
7. Was the live show with you, Fried, and Ozias recorded and were any other recordings made by that short-lived version of Flip Nasty?
The show was recorded, but Kevin's drums are very quiet (a mic got moved and forgotten). The version of "China, Present Day/Leave Me Be" from Tongue Meets Eyeball is from that show, augmented with a new, more audible drum track that I overdubbed. Some other tracks from that show are slated for potential release as part of an upcoming augmented-live album, tentatively-titled "If Flip Nasty Fell In The Forest...." Unfortunately, we made no other recordings in the short time we were together.
Part Five: deep questions
1. When and why did you switch to a much, much shorter hairstyle? The contrast between, say, the River Dreams cover and the Least Significant Failures cover is striking.
Two phases, affectionately labeled (1)"it was getting old" and (2)"I was getting old." I cut it like this in 2000 to gussy myself up for the ladies. Mission accomplished! Whoo-hoo! But these days, I keep it even shorter because I'm punishing it for falling out on me.
2. Personally I am not bothered in the least by profanity and vulgarity in the service of art or comedy. But I know some people are. Have you ever had someone stumble across your website's more "blue" material and complain?
No one has complained --possibly because very few people stumble across my website in the first place-- but I can absolutely see it happening. It's a head-scratcher for me because the site has come to be this big sinewous entity that connects nearly twenty years of my life into a single read. I don't really want to alter my earlier writing --which is undeniably more profane-- but I also know that leaving it up there may alienate people who would otherwise not be turned off by my current oeuvre.
3. In a similar vein, you've listed "When" as one of your songs that gets attention at shows. As someone who has been blacklisted from certain venues due to concerns over lyrical content, I have to ask - Has any of that attention been negative, related to the rather prominent f bomb that kicks off the lyrics?
No, I've never had that sense. I think you're referring to my response to a question that Scott Farr asked me in a different interview. I feel --and I know lots of other coffee shop/bar musicians share in this-- that my goal in playing these venues is to subtly lure the predominantly passive audience into actively listening to me. As you're well aware, the patrons often do not come to the venue specifically to see music, but rather to socialize or relax or use the free WiFi or whatever. I, however, come to the venue wanting to connect with an audience. I want them to pay attention to me, and I want them to like me, and I want them to buy my cheap CD, and I want them to listen to it, and I want them to forward my name to their Congressperson immediately in glowing prose. None of that stuff happens routinely, but that's what I'm after. Nonetheless, in watching others play, or reviewing tapes of shows I've done, I've concluded that the only way to do it is by a.) playing my tuckus off b.) graciously speaking between songs (I'm terrible at this) and c.) playing my tuckus off. I think "When" is a song where I can consistently play my tuckus off, and I notice that it --among others I list in my response to Scott's question-- is one that will make people decide to tune in to what I'm doing.... if they're inclined to do so at all.
As far as profanity is concerned, if I have the feeling that it's not going to go over, or be otherwise inappropriate, I censor myself and sing clean versions of the few songs I have that contain it. This is similar to deciding how loud or restrained to play. Sometimes the audience will respond better to a quiet, intense Cody, and sometimes they'll prefer an edgier Cody. Usually, I just get a sense of who's in the crowd, and make a gut decision gig by gig, but there are some consistent factors that always sway me, as well. At gigs, I won't curse in front of children, for instance. Incidentally, since having kids, I've markedly toned down the casual profanity in my speech, and so too, have I become more discerning in its lyrical use --though I do still sometimes find it appropriate. Beyond the audience, I've never had a venue have an issue with my language. I've had more venue problems with the apparently frightening size of my PA (in advance of turning it on) than anything else. Well, that and my lack of draw. What's up with that :) ?
4. The cover of Splat Monkey's 1993 "Drive By" depicts you and Speranza falling down on a lawn. I remember "drive by shootings" were a prominent part of our culture at the time. The album title suggests perhaps you were pretending you had just been shot. Were you pretending to depict a drive by shooting?
Yes. Obviously, you've never been to my parents' house or else you would recognize that it is actually a median. We use another picture from that photo shoot for Drive By's live companion album, Suck Pumpkin, which more clearly shows that we are playing in traffic, against the advice of our respective mothers. The album title was not terribly meaningful or well-thought, but arose from a.) the prevalence of drive-by shootings at that time (as you surmise), and in particular, their ridiculous portrayal in films and TV and b.) the very rushed nature of the preparation for and recording of that album.
5. From 1989 to 2005 you were extremely prolific, releasing 31 albums in only 17 years. Did you spend a little bit of time each day working at music or was it more like giant blocks of time every once in a while?
I was constantly whittling away. I sat down at the piano practically every day from 89-95. And I had a lot of pent-up little nerd feelings wanting shouting. Any time I got a little grain of a lyric going, I was already in the mindset to say more. I was very driven to burn through my projects back then.
6. From 2005 to now you appear to have released no new material. I assume this is just a function of starting a family. Correct?
You got it; that's a huge part of it. With two little girls, my free time has to be their time first and foremost. I also have to adjust my writing to my happier life. I got very used to constantly turning over the same miserable stone, finding new things to say about it, but now I have a different life that inspires different kinds of feelings in me. I still write songs, and I still have lots of projects on the drawing board, but it takes a lot longer to see them to completion.
7. When might we look forward to a new release from Checkmate?
There are three things that are actually underway in one form or another, and several others I'm interested in starting. First, I'm in the middle of recording Cinema, the new, second Sunhouse Branch album. Like the first album from that band, this is another collaboration with my friend Cat Mayhugh (poet, author, artist, scientist, farmer). He came up with the concept (a song cycle based on 4 of his favorite Werner Herzog films --The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Aguirre, Heart of Glass, and Lessons of Darkness) and sent me four complete lyrics. I wrote lyrics for six additional songs based either on the same films or on my reaction to Cat's lyrics. Then I came up with the musical concept (an uninterrupted, palindromic segue of the eight core concept songs 12344321 written exclusively in odd time or mixed meter, followed by a second, looser "act" of additional material) and wrote music for the entire suite. Finally, I wrote an additional song in reaction to Herzog's Grizzly Man and Cat sent me an additional lyric ("Personal Mythology"), which I set to music improvised by my daughters and myself ("La Musique Naive"). I also re-recorded two earlier Flip Nasty odd-time songs, "You Can Wait" (originally on Archaeology) and "Magic Box 4-5-6" (a specific version of a song from Drive By which was slapped together live, and is currently only available on Suck Pumpkin). My most immediate challenge was the fact that I --up to that point-- did not particularly like Herzog's films, and struggled to forge a connection to the material. But as I kept at it, I got very excited about how it was all coming together. The main holdup in production is that the music is a little bit on the difficult side. As of right now, the lead vocals and guitars are complete, and the remaining elements are coming along slowly but surely. This will be a much heavier-sounding album than my other recent work, and will continue --as with the first Sunhouse album-- to disguise my lead vocal on playback.
I'm also in the middle of writing my own album of new material (under increasing pressure from Eric Rorem). The workingtitle is Haardvark and, as the name suggests, it will be a harder-rock album.
Finally, as I mentioned in your earlier question about Kevin Ozias, I've been kicking around the idea of doing an augmented live album of Flip Nasty songs that --for one reason or another-- need an inaudible element to be re-dubbed or would otherwise benefit from some additional instruments. It would be called If Flip Nasty Falls In the Forest since that title has already appeared numerous places in print, and I wouldn't want to disappoint my fan(s). Both samplers have augmented live tracks ("Make Still Your Wings" and "China Present Day/Leave Me Be"), and I like how they turned out, but I think it's a hard sell. Nonetheless, I already have a ton of songs picked out for the project, and some sense of how I want to treat each of them, ranging from no augmentation whatsoever to extensive re-tracking.
8. I saw on your website (I don't remember where) that you believe you and Ms. Weathers were brought together by the Lord. What can you tell us about your faith and what role does it play in your music?
Yumpin' yimminy, I had to dig to find that, myself. It's in the listening log entry for the song "M" off the sampler "Monkey Eat Monkey":
....Fortunately, I was able to crank out a song in the approximately one week between getting Mimi's [phone] # and being told to not use it except for in medical emergencies. Truly, these fascinating stories of unparalleled rejection juxtaposed against finally finding true love are clinching proof for the existence of God. The Lord had a plan for me, and I'm not even joking. I have beautiful daughters and a fantastic wife and will never be loveless again. Who would've bet on that in 1998? Not me, that's for sure. I was busy spooking friends of friends.
Historically, I've been extremely private about my religious beliefs, so much so that most of the people who know me are probably unaware that I believe at all. Since getting married, I've relaxed that armor somewhat, leading predictably to outbursts like the one above :). I'm very calm and secure in my belief in God, and furthermore in the general divine purposefulness of things. I don't write directly about it very much in song, though it is a more present --though clumsy-- aspect of my "serious fiction." It may be a thematic touchstone for Haardvark, though it remains to be seen exactly how many songs emerge from that seam --a couple so far. I'm a huge fan of King's X, and have always admired the way they personally come to grips with their very different relationships with God through their material. I'd love to write about the subject that gracefully, but haven't really settled into that voice very well yet.
Part Six: dumb questions
1. How do you answer the ultimate dumb question musicians face, "What kind of music do you play?"
I still struggle with how to answer this effectively, as do most of the musicians I know. And although it's tempting for me to feel like "it is what it is" and somehow labeling it cheapens it, I also know that the answer to this question is what most persuades me to listen to something I'm reading about, so I'd better get it right. "Acoustic Scat Rock" is the current label I use for marketing. This, however, leads to the bigger question, What are the top 5 ultimate dumb questions musicians face? I'd like to hear your take on this, too, but here's my preliminary list:
2. How did you decide to name the band Flip Nasty?
We liked the sound of it. We're horrible. Speranza's roommate suggested it for John's adult film pseudonym. That was enough for us to hop aboard. Previously, we had been changing our name practically every time we played, but with this, the roulette wheel just stopped. Less lewdly, he also coined the phrase "secret microphone" as a misnomer for "hidden microphone." We are thieves, and your ideas are not safe with us.
3. How did you decide to name the band UFO Catcher?
Crap, you're onto me. I.... um.... liked the sound of it. As discovered by Fried in his travels, it's the Japanese name for arcade plush-toy claw vending machines, which I still maintain is both hilarious and exactly as it should be.
4. Feel free to comment on any other band names.
The general pattern is exposed.... we liked the sound of it. Yee-haw!
[Back to Impenetrable Wall of Force ! The Unofficial Cody Weathers/UFO Catcher/Flip Nasty Fan Site please]