How did you get started playing music?
That's hard to pinpoint. I mean, my parents were both music listeners, but not players really, outside of church choir or high school band. My dad still had his trumpet, though, I think a nephew of mine has it now. He has always had a huge classical music collection on LP and CD, they had many varied LPs I listened to growing up. During the time that I grew up in the 1960s, they actually had music classes in school in elementary school (“da-da-ditdit-da and the like”) and I was already playing songs on recorder by then (wooden flute) and I tried to have piano lessons but had one of those mean teachers who physically mushed your fingers into the correct key to get you to remember it, so I quit at 7 and started messing around with my mom's classical guitar. But I was also already drawing little hairy figures like cousin Itt with electric guitars and bat wings and top hats, listening to my clock-radio alone in my bedroom late at night—I got my own room when I was four or so, that'd be 1967-68, so I'd tune in to an AM station from San Francisco which was mixing in local bands with the bubblegum, so Jefferson Airplane caught my ears early on. I didn't start playing with other people until I was 12 (1975-76) when I got back to Davis after my mom had been on sabbatical in Tucson, which was where I got turned onto much heavier music by the record store dudes on 4th Ave; I'd walk up and down the street after school, they were like, whatcha listening to kid? I said, Beatles, you know, they said, here's some Alice Cooper, (etc.) So when I got back to Davis, I was like, hey have you heard this Led Zeppelin, they're phenomenal! And found a guy in my neighborhood who was into playing bass, and then we met another guy at school whose parents ran a “Pickers and Singers” folk group at their house, so they all played (folk and country music, mostly) and had several instruments, so we formed a band, acoustic at first. Stayed together until we left for college! Mostly covers, but we wrote about a half dozen songs.
Did you try out other instruments besides violin and guitar?
Well, I stayed mostly away from keyboards after that first thing, and in fact developed a thing against keys even for a while in high school, like was not into bands with keys. Except Pink Floyd. (I got over it). But, while I was, say, liking the Queen records where Mercury played piano, I did note that they had liner notes that said “And nobody played the synthesizer!” And when suddenly that liner note was absent was the beginning of them losing me. A lot of the 70s big timers lost me with their later 70s albums, I wasn't that into The Wall or In Through the Out Door by then, in favor of more out-there and DIY stuff that I was hearing on the UCD station, KDVS.
Anyway, yes, I should say that I started playing violin when I was 10, but I quit after 7th and 8th grade Orchestra, I broke my left hand in PE and pretty much stuck with guitar after that until I was in college. I did get a mandolin when I was about 15, as much because of Heart as Led Zeppelin!
You studied music at the University of California, Santa Cruz? I was reading recently about the electronic music laboratory and how they had some of the original modular synthesizers. Was modular synthesis part of the program? Did you get to play with any of these and make recordings??
Yes! So I went to UCSC in 1981 and was initially a philosophy major, but I tested into the second year music theory classes right off the bat and they were intense! Every day at 8:30am for four quarters (3 per year, summer break) 1.25 hrs MWF, 2 hrs T-Th, plus labs, so after that first year, I could get a music major in 3 years, so I switched to Music Comp, minored in Classical Languages. Before you got to go in the studio, you had to pass Gordon Mumma's Mus35 class in the history of electronic music, which was amazing (and all 20th century, an anomaly in all the other music studies) but involved hours of listening in the library basement listening rooms. Then we got to work in the EMS, with Peter Elsea as mother hen for the studios and him and Gordon teaching the classes or seminars. One studio had 4 Revox B-77s, a Tascam 16-channel 8-buss mixer, a modular Moog system and a few awesome rack examples: an Omnipressor, the Eventide Harmonizer, some parametric filter device… an A/DA Stereo Tap Delay, just awesome gear. A big room, and mics (can't remember which). The second room had a Buchla and an Alpha Centauri digital system, these were tougher to control, more code-writing instructions and fed by cassette-modem! The Moog of course was pretty old and drifty, but it was fun, had a 8-step sequencer and the filters and oscillators of course and ADSR units. We did a lot of tape collage stuff too (duh, you can tell by how I work in ProTools…) And then second year you could get to book time in the middle of the night, so we started recording bands and stuff, even though there were obviously other engineering labs in the building. Which reminds me, the stairwell was a great echo chamber, it was concrete, a 5 story building, we could run lines to the top and bottom.
So to answer your previous question, while a teenager I played guitar, bass, mandolin and violin, but when I started the music major, I had to pass a “keyboard proficiency” exam which meant lessons and playing Bach and stuff, which I muddled my way through. But also I was studying composition so I tried to learn how all the instruments worked and felt, I've gone through numbers of instruments and attempted to learn what I could, clarinet, trumpet, flute, organ, cello, contrabass, marimba, vibraphone, etc. I don't know if I'd say I can really play them, but I have a better understanding of them. I've recorded myself playing any one of these things at some point or another to use in some recorded music somewhere.
UCSC was known as a really cool school. I went to UC Berkeley but it was 30,000 students, where as UCSC was much smaller and tucked away in forest! What are your best memories of going to school there. You could have gone to UC Davis which was much closer to home.
Oh, I have so many intense and interesting memories of UCSC, I was at school 1981-85, started playing with Camper Van Beethoven in '83 and our first album came out the day I graduated in 85. I lived on campus the first year, then moved to a little town called Felton in the mountains behind the school for two years, about 45 minutes to get to school by road but we could also walk across the forest in the same amount of time, then eventually moved back into the town. The campus is on a hill overlooking the northwestern part of the town, so it's very separated from the town in that you have to expend energy of some sort to get up there one way or another. But it's beautiful all around that area, the cliffs over the ocean are incredible, the redwood forests above the University are incredible. Definitely some tripping events took place out there. There were lots of very creative people living there when I was, like in my second year of school the music theory class had tons of jazz guys, (most of whom are still playing, in whatever capacity professional musicians play in these days. That is to say, I see their names around still.) That was a little daunting to me (I was 19 or so) as I wasn't super into jazz, I was listening to a lot of classical to try to basically ingest music history as I learned about it, and a lot of avant garde/20th century “western art music”—which included the minimalists—shit all these are long stories—and weird 70s stuff like Can and Art Bears when at home, and other prog rock, and then my high school girlfriend was also at UCSC and on the radio KZSC doing a punk show, so that too. But that year, the jazz cats won and the theory had a lot of Coltrane or Miles as examples...
So anyway, there were always people interested in or doing all kinds of music, so I went to a wide variety of shows. On campus was one thing, but in downtown Santa Cruz there were rock and jazz clubs, and you could go up to San Francisco to see all sorts of things if you were committed to driving back in the middle of the night (about an hour and a quarter.) From Sun Ra at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz, next night a gamelan ensemble, then later that week Philip Glass or Robert Ashley in SF, or maybe a punk show or a concert of baroque music on campus. And then in the dorms there were tons of kids who were typical Santa Cruz deadheads, so I saw the Dead several times too. A band called King O-San that I played with in high school, the guitar players were super deadheads, so they would teach us Dead songs for when the singer “took a break” (i.e. went for a coke bump or whatever) so I played a lot more Dead in the dorm lounges that first year, despite the antagonism between punks in the other campus bands and the Dead world. I was sort of oblivious, I just liked to improvise. There were several bands on campus or students that lived off campus but practiced on campus, so CVB also had our own shows there too. And when I graduated, Camper made a record and even toured out to Texas and back later in the year, but we lived and got jobs in town for another 5 years and played at parties there for a few of those years. By the late 1980s, CVB would tour the whole United States twice or more every year, even Europe and the UK, and then come home to sleepy old Santa Cruz, like, whew we're home, but then after a few weeks you'd get restless, wonder what's going on in the real world out there? Santa Cruz is sort of a whirlpool, I think it's one of those places that people get caught in and maybe don't escape. I moved to SF in 1989, the earthquake hit and SC really changed after that too.
What was the first band you played in? What is the last band you have played with?
First band I played with was with those guys in Davis, we called ourselves Bürnt Toäst. At that same time, or between times when Bürnt Toäst had a drummer, I also played in other cover bands in Davis, including King O-San (whatta name!) who were older dudes in their late 20s who played guitar and even older (oh my god) singer with a moustache who crooned the “Tuesday's Gone” type stuff, I played bass and another guy I knew in high school played piano. The drummer was a ex-biker who would freak out about gigs and drink too much, so we'd call in another high school guy we knew, we got to play in bars, have beer, so we stuck with it just to get beer and play music… um, pretty much still doing that now.
It is well known that Camper Van Beethoven has been your main band for the last 30+ years. How does that work these days with you being in Sweden for the last many years?
Well, we had a schedule up until early this year where we would play the West Coast between Christmas and New Year's, then do some middle US or the South or Texas, and the East Coast by President's Day weekend in January, later adding in a festival (called Camp-In) in clubs in Athens, GA for the end of the month. As well, we started an indoor/outdoor stage festival in 2004 in Pioneertown (the Camp-Out) near Joshua Tree in California, which usually ran four days in late August or early September, so we'd tour to it or from it in the Southwest or Midwest, say, Chicago to Minneapolis, then south through Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, NM, AZ, to the Joshua Tree thing, or vice versa. So it was pretty easy when I moved here in 2012 to just fly to the US twice or three times a year and tour for a month or six weeks. In that time, we played in the UK once and in Germany/Austria. Since the singer also fronts Cracker, we almost always (except for the UK/EU) played with Cracker headlining. They had big 90s radio hits and are still the bigger draw, of course, more publicly recognised and accepted. At the festivals in Pioneertown and Athens, each band got headlining nights, and we all got solo sets to do songs or improvise, which I built a tradition of at the Camp-Out festivals, and then brought it indoors at the Flicker Bar in Athens for the past 4 or 5 years. I turned a lot of listeners on to the Øresund Space Collective in that way too, and Sista Maj. The truth is that even straight rock music listeners (like the Cracker fans, who are a little country, a little rock n roll, like a lot of 70s bands) like to hear a good jam, and the CVB rhythm section—who just happen to be half of the Monks of Doom—with me wailing on guitar, we can jam out some decent stuff now and again, so they were interested in hearing more, which was really cool to see happen. I'm sort of the “weirdo” of the band family, which is fine I guess.
It has been quite a few years since the last CVB studio album. Anything in the pipeline??
To be honest, I have no idea. We've each been on our own this year, there have been a couple attempts to work on things over the internet but it hasn't amounted to much. Mostly concept album ideas that petered out, but damned if I didn't try to write outlines for several songs based on North Korean popular propaganda song titles… Everybody in the band worked on solo projects, and Victor Krummenacher (bassist) also had band with Dave Alvin and David Immerglück called “The Third Mind” which put out a record of songs and jams, very cool stuff like covering Alice Coltrane or Butterfield Blues Band, and they were going to tour last spring, all cancelled.
That band went through two distinct lineups, the first before it was even really named was with Berkeley guys from Barrington where we practiced, with David Immerglück (also Monks of Doom, in the Ophelias at the time. Later with Counting Crows, which he has stayed with as a career… ick, but what can you do. He's an amazing guitarist, can play anything at all.) Immerglück got hired to make up for my absence in non-violin things after I got essentially kicked out of CVB in 1989 and they hired Morgan Fichter to play violin, so Hieronymus Firebrain v1 dissolved and I advertised in local mags (BAM, maybe? I can't remember) and a Berkeley student named Russ Blackmar auditioned to play drums, and played everything off the HF tapes I sent him perfectly right off the bat, and a bass player from Oakland named Ted Ellison (later of then band Fuck) and then my then-roommate in SF Mark Bartlett played guitar and sang also. Mark was the person who convinced me to continue the band, and he's a great player (look up Four and a Half Pounds of Sunlight sometime, if it's even on the internet anywhere!) but what happened was that he and Ted got more and more proggy over the 90s while Russ and I got more Can and simpler. Eventually we broke up and Russ and I got his roommate, Jane Thompson, to play bass and formed a classic pop rock trio.
Dent was a project that came after HF broke up and you guys were living in rural New Mexico. What was life like for you there compared to the intense SF bay area? What was a day like? Did you guys just sit around and get stoned and play music?? The two CDs you made are quite interesting. One is more poppy mainstream while Verstärter, more experimental in someways. I always loved the title, There must be less to life than this!
Our friends in the band The Whitefronts, who were a psychedelic art collective, several of them moved out there to Questa and built a studio out of adobe, so we went there. We'd mostly just play when the mood struck us, work on things right there in the studio to record, make it up as we went along. In 1997, I moved to LA to work in a studio there, (film sound, doing sound effects and that sort of thing) so I just took the tapes and mixed them at home. Dent was whoever was around, which was often me or Victor (from CVB, Monks, etc) and the Whitefronts/Lords of Howling/Art of Flying people (go look them up!) but also sometime somebody coming off their drugs heading out in NM to dry out, but could play a lead somewhere, that sort of thing.
Obviously with the Covid 19 lockdown your normal life of a few tours in the USA with Camper, one tour with Øresund Space Collective and local gigs was highly disrupted (as was your income). How have you dealt with this? As many musicians, I guess you made a lot of new music, dug into the archives?? What was the most interesting thing you found in the archives??
It's been a tough year! Last year, the LAST of the Camp-Out festivals (number 15!) happened in early August, we had toured from Chicago to it, then I did three weeks of solo shows playing songs I had written over the course of the previous 25 years and then one last CVB show, headed home, went back for the winter tour, ended that by playing improv sets at the Camp-In, came back and did two solo shows with Donald Lupo in Finland in February and then wham! nothing.
At the very end of the time I was in Athens, I got together with Bryan Howard and Carlton Owens, the rhythm section from Cracker, cuz Bryan was setting up a studio at his house, so we jammed, just on what instruments he had there, which was fun—unfamiliar guitars, a ES335 and a set-bridge Strat with heavy strings! Anyway, the first thing I did was work on those, and that came out as the Transatlantic Space Connection.
And I thought, hey, last summer I played tons of songs and sang and shit, I can do a streamed live show. It took a few tries to figure out how to, and the time zone differences between Sweden and the bulk of what audience might listen in the crowded world of the internet was in the US, but eventually I got it down and did a couple shows and one at Larry's Corner, with an audience of Larry. I made a few attempts at playing songs from my first solo album, Storytelling, from1988, so I got it into my head to try it in its entirety. It was a double album from late 1988, even more on the cassette I think. Remastered by Myles Boysen in 2011 on 2-CDs. I did streamed live sessions of side 1&2 first, then 3&4 and then the whole thing and then only the “Thinksong” parts as a suite, the improvisable-with-set-arrival-progressions stuff. Then I started burning out on songs, and singing to nobody in my living room, staring at my phone, so I did a couple instrumental improv things in between these, then I sorta stopped. I had been working for a couple years on a bunch of weird recordings I'd made of recorded environments and/or field recordings worked into music, so I just continued with that. That one came out finally in August of this year, called Outside Inside. It's esoteric, but I was very isolated (am still) and that was what was going on in my head, I think there'd be some people who must relate to it. Not sure still, but it's out there for you. Then also, the rights to Superfluity ceded to me earlier in the year (3 years on Floating World UK) so I had to wait for the “sell off period” and the contract was over. Luckily for me, they had 100 2-CD sets with 4-panel artwork by Richard Gann (one of the people I've worked with since forever, he did all the HF CD covers, all the Sista Maj CD covers, etc. The other person is Edie Winograde, who's been photographing us all since the 80s, lots of the CVB covers, and several of my albums have her photographs) so I got to buy those and finally release the album on Bandcamp, using the 48khz 24bit masters! Yeah! Released this last week! Please take a listen all you readers, it's like the bookend for Storytelling. We're moving onto a different shelf now.
Aside from all that, I've done lots of individual tracks for people, a couple Astral Magic albums, Spirits Burning with Michael Moorcock, couple of Buck Down's songs, some on albums by Taperecorder, and we finished a bunch of the ØSC live and studio stuff, just today finished a mix of a friend's cover of a hokey Swedish song he wants to put out for Solstice ...and I did finally do a Dead cover, Here Comes Sunshine. In other words, not getting a job, going way up and down, trying to continue, not playing as much as I want to nor feel I should do. Trying to keep recording chops up but I feel self conscious in an apartment building when many people are home most of the time now. I have this cool little Vox AC4 and an AC15 but they're both so loud! Crazy. So mostly if I need to play electric I use the Princeton Reverb with a cleaner signal at lower volumes into the mic, then use amp and effects stuff in the computer! I feel like it's cheating, but especially in context if you're doing something for somebody else, it's quick to get controllable tracks with the Universal Audio guitar amp emulators or Native Instruments' Guitar Rig or even Amplitube. If I practice at night, I do pedalboard directly into the UA interface with their amp plugins, or Softubes' Amp emulators. I love NI's Guitar Rig (still on 5) for mixing guitar signals into mixes, so many weird choices. I guess one day I'll have to get a real job.
The last 6 years or so you have been quite active with the Scandinavian music collective or supergroup called Øresund Space Collective. For those not familiar with ØSC, it is a totally improvised rock music collective with lots of different members. How did this all start?
….Well sonny, back in abouts 1992 or so, if'n I recall… I think Scott Heller was at the Starry Plough taping a Hieronymus Firebrain show? Local music head, maybe you knew Russ Blackmar (from HF, J&J) from KALX? I think he's still on KALX now does a metal show? Anyhoo.
Yes.. I was at the Starry Plow and recording the show. I probably won tickets to the show on KALX as i usually did to some show every week. I did visit Russ once at his apartment in Oakland, I think.
I moved from Oakland to Stockholm in 2012. Backstory is that I married a Swede in 2003 and we lived in Oakland, I taught music theory and computer music at College of Marin and Ohlone College, probably unsuccessfully but who knows, and worked at used book stores in SF, until that financial crisis in 2008, so while in Sweden in the summer of 2009 I learned that the colleges couldn't keep the part timers' contracts, so I had to get a new job. I had musician friends who worked for Pandora doing “analysis” where they multi-choice a piece of music or song for its component parts, to build a database that matches specific elements to suggest new music to you. I thought, cool! So I got a recommendation, but they didn't need any more music analysts, so they sent me to the listener support team. See, customer support is actually for the ad department, the customers are the advertisers, the listeners are the people that pull the sausage through the pipe. But the interview was mostly about how computers work, which I knew from using computers since the 80s, and using them in sound studios or record labels, and then in graduate school at Mills, doing computer music, so sound issues, I thought, I could handle. And handling sound problems for people was mostly ok, if it was just computer fuck ups, like, scripted responses to people. But if the algorithm fucked up, tracking it down was really funny. For example there's a band called Anal Cunt from Rhode Island, and their song titles are misspelled version of, say “Pavorotti” or “Greatful Dead”, so the hapless listener would misspell something they wanted to hear and suddenly have this horrific noise, as they would say. But I also got complaints about ads, so I started checking into what sort of things were being advertised to whom, and found several rightist/christian/homophobic groups were targeting midwest colleges, and I complained to the company… and this went on for a while, I had arguments with the head of the engineering about the ethics of tracking people's phone to target ads, about whether they should accept political ads, then these same arguments with Tim Westergren, which was useless obviously, because one day I came into work and they were like, take your shit and go. On the way out the elevator (big building in downtown Oakland) I see David Immerglück coming out because the Counting Crows were gonna do a noon concert for the employees…
So I was fired and we had a kid who was 1. The only choice was to barge in on my wife's parents in Stockholm, so we lived in their apartment till we found our own.
Thanks Jonathan.. the Collective have changed a lot since you have been part of it and we have released some of our best recordings ever...The band is known for playing quite long concerts for the fans. How do you and the others approach, getting up on stage with no songs and just creating music for 2-3hrs? How do you come up with the next idea? Do you often lead the jams?
The answer to these questions is impossible to put into words, and I think that's why we play it as music. Often when we start I think it has as much to do with where the first person to make a noise has put their fingers. You hear it and find where you are in relation to the other sounds. Sometimes we have to step back and listen is someone is making sounds to find how it's going and how we might fit, sometimes, your fingers just do a thing in response. When we're live, jamming with Jiri on bass, for example, I remember so many times when he and I would be standing next to each other on the last tour and just occasionally look to the other person, fingers, eyes, then change the music. Often, for me, improvising music is a combination of some sort of hearing in my head all the things that people are playing (at best, in live situations) and having my ears add in many parts that I could hear going along with it, (probably just tinnitus), and my fingers doing something that compliments it or makes sense. (and pedals). Sometimes your fingers just play and you just listen. It's hard to describe it: where does music come from? Some people say it's there already and we just play the notes.
I guess it is similar for all of us.. Listen, listen to all the sounds and let your mind and body flow and hope your skills adapt! At least for me, as the least skilled one in the collective. You have been on quite a number of releases, many of which you have mixed yourself… Describe how ØSC goes about making a record from recording totally improvised music in the studio creating a record?
The sessions that I have been involved in have happened in either the Black Tornado studio in Copenhagen or on the road in the EU, captured either on the band's digital recorder (*) or the house's system or digital mixer—which, btw, as much as live engineers seem to rag on them, they are great for this. I have plugged the USB cable directly into these boards and recorded 32 tracks all night long, direct, using Logic to record with the 2013 Macbook Pro plugged in. One night even with it projecting video. Anyway, that was impressive.
So, in either case, I continuously harangue the recording engineers for all files and abscond with them after the tour/session. Then safely at home in the Magnetic Satellite, I can transfer the raw audio data into ProTools on my Mac Pro from 2010 with Universal Audio Apollo I/O and a couple UAD-2 cards.
The mixes are mapped out then, I usually do the classic left-to-right drums, bass, keyboards, guitars, violin, (banjo, etc), (vocals, in the case of Scott's vocal mic live), then Aux sends for reverb, delay, other effects—often another reverb, like a plate for some things when there was a convolution of a physical space for the main reverb—then a master buss, then the output. I've had sessions so big and long that I had to make stereo master busses for section on the extreme right, but in the virtual/screen space world, that ends up confusing me. In a real mixer, you could just use your hand and no eye.
So I could go on and on about eq and compression and effects. I usually end up putting some of Scott's modular synth into a moving spatial field, and I've ended up using mostly Melda Production plugins for that. There are free ones, I've bought a few of their modulators, they have amazing pan/trem/rotary plug ins, you can change the waveform that it uses across the stereo spectrum to have little loops in the middle instead of just back and forth, for example (e.g. modular synth on some ØSC album…)
Sometimes I add VCAs to control overall levels of groups like drums or guitars, usually I use the bass signal as a line with a compressor (Empirical Distressor) and the amped signal with Softubes' Bass Amp room to put it in a world. Lotta UA Neve stuff, or Helios EQ for guitar (especially Vemund), UA channel strips for keyboards. I use Altiverb for primary reverb space and to set the band into a specific environment, on a lot of ØSC I've used the EP-34 tape echo, or SoundToys delays. And sometimes a UA Plate Reverb for snares or other things. The Altiverb convolution reverb has such an amazing library of mapped spaces that I play around with it a lot, several ØSC mixes live in old churches or halls, even outdoors like the Austerlitz Forest. Some of the live ones in specific clubs (like Paradiso in Amsterdam) or concert halls. On “Experiments in the Subconscious” the last track “Hieroglyphic Smell” resides in the main room of Alcatraz Prison!
So many. I loved all of Different Creatures, that was the first thing I was involved in, so many great musicians and great musics happening. And Kybalion is amazing, just cuz it's so weird, the weirdest tracks. And the Ode to a Black Hole.
So what do you think 2021 will hold in store for you?? Will CVB tour the USA again? Do you have other releases planned??
I honestly have no idea. I don't have more planned, I wrote some songs, but I don't feel them right now. Not sure what music I should be working on, I really miss playing with other people!
I want to see what happens in the world, I think. I'm pretty disappointed in humanity, especially the US, even though they (we) finally voted Trump out, there's damage that will take decades to fix if ever, and the world political landscape gives lip service to things like climate change but doesn't do a fucking thing, I don't even know if I can count on any of us being around for any lengthy period of time.
Anything else you would like to mention??
I've said too much already! Most of the music we spoke about can be found on the bandcamp sites.