Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Martians Have Landed!!!

"If Martians landed, and decided to show Earth how to make precise, joyful, original music, it would probably sound like Anton Barbeau." -Fuse, UK

valis: Anton, looking back on In The Village Of The Apple Sun, did you consciously set out to make a full-blown psychedelic record? How much of the influence to do so was due to working with Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond on the prior record? Wasn't there some involvement from a Lucky Bishop/Cheese player, too?

Anton: Yeah, I was in a particularly psychedelic frame of mind at the time, I can admit, and wanted to put that into music. Working with the Frond was certainly a big influence, and I wrote a song or two in Bromley at the recording studio during that time. It's ironic to me, though, that "King of Missouri," the Ant/Frond record, is SO straightforward! It's probably the most normal album either of us has done! So perhaps I was reacting to that a little bit. Anyway, I was also listening to Megan Mundo's Thursday night show on KDVS, the local college station, and she'd play the wildest range of psych and folk etc. I wanted to make a record that felt like her show. But on a deeper level, I was looking at life and the world and beyond in different, and rather vivid, way and felt it was important to express this. It was fantastic time- I was very driven and open to a crazy range of input. Anything could be a song or any sound could find a home with me. My Dad's coffeemaker got its own track. As for the Lucky Bishops connection, yeah, Alan Strawbridge played on two tracks. He added the "beak guitar" to "This is Why They Call Me Guru 7," and he mixed and co-produced the title track. I was in awe of what he did with that track - it just explodes! We used my mix for the first part of the song, the quieter part, and then cut to Al's mix at the point of impact.

valis: You've certainly let us peek behind the curtain with that answer. (The radio show of Ms. Mundo's, did you ever call in and tell her you were enjoying it?) Did this openness to a 'crazy range of input' come as a result of seeing how things worked at Bromley? Or just part of the artist's maturation? I also found it interesting that nine of the tracks are under two minutes. Some would call them throwaways but I'd be hard-pressed to do so to 'Murray Boots Are Conquering The World' ! Was this the extent of each idea, or was it deliberate to keep the ideas that short?

Anton: Megan knows that she's one of the main, early influences on that album, and I'm delighted that she was one of the first DJs at KDVS to push the album.

I had such an unrealistic vision of what the sessions with the Frond would be like! "Valedictory Songs" was the first Bevis Frond album I'd heard, and based on its dark sound I pictured a dingy studio and a wasted band. Turns out that Gold Dust is a lovely studio and the band were SO professional. I've never worked in a more streamlined manner. So, in a way, "Village" was in reaction to that. "Village" was labored and layered and slowly cooked over two years+.

A little bit tricky to talk about certain, crucial aspects of the inspiration behind the record, but there was somewhat of a leap in my head-space at the time. I was tuned in to a source of organic knowledge that I'd not known before, and this was changing my perception of everything within me and around me. To put it another way, the moon in my mind had come somewhat alive, mama! "In the Village of the Apple Sun" contains what I honestly believe to be living information. There is a deliberate balancing of male/female energies, of light and darkness, even of good and evil, to be blunt. There is a squinty-eyed awareness of the politics of our moment, but concealed carefully. I wasn't going to make any statements about the troubled state of the world, but I wanted this record to be there for those who needed it. I hope I'm not TOO pretentious here, but obviously this album holds deep meaning for me.

For all my ramblings about deep meaning and so forth, I think the heart of this record is Sound itself. There's no obvious message in any of this except tone. And the short pieces that I included all have something to say to that. Glad you like "Murray Boots" - it's meant as a "Who Sell Out" type of advert, a little bit of whimsy. But Jaime's violin at the end is cosmic rockery at its finest. I swear that everyone who worked on this record with me was tuned to the same trip, consciously or not, and the shorter pieces are there as much to honor the musicians as they are to link the main songs together. "Village" is such a layered record and I could have made a dozen different albums from all the material that was recorded. But it was important to include these smaller tracks to tell the story of the record itself. "Coffeepot" is literally just that: my Dad's coffee maker. I made most of the album at his house and I was trying to take my microcosmic view and expand it to macro.

valis: I think the draw, for me, to ITVOTAS is the overt sound. What keeps me coming back is the drawing out of the moonlight underneath or beyond the overt. The cool-hearted center, if I can attain it. Funny you mention The Who Sell Out because it's probably the most notorious for the snippets of sound as commercialism, etc....but there are other 60s albums in which there are these interludes-for lack of a better term, which serve as a linkage or signals a change in the album's direction. I'm thinking now about The End - Introspection and the Cockney English bits like 'Linen Draper,' etc....
Anyway. Did you find that, thru' the sounds you wanted to exteriorize from out of your mindscape, you needed to bring in more friends & guest musicians to assist in the achievement of 'sound itself'? (Moreso than prior records.) I'll make a leap here and guess you had melody before lyrics on this album, right?

Anton: I've done a couple records prior that had loads of musicians. I think
"A Splendid Tray" has 17 guests! With "Village" I was very open to
trying out all sorts of things, musically. Sometimes it was practical
and playful at the same time. Sharon Kraus had come to town to work
on a record with Christian Keifer, and I was basically keeping her
company until Christian was off work and could pick her up. My
girlfriend at the time suggested I ask Sharron to be on the record. I
didn't even know Sharron's music at all yet, but she said "sure" and
added some brilliant penny whistle to the title track. We met up a
few more times and she sang on a few tunes. Really nice way to work -
just ask and then see what happens. And with Christian himself, I had
a specific melodic part in mind that i knew should be played on
sitar, but that felt too obvious so I had him do it on banjo. But I
left room for him to improvise also, and his bits are excellent.
Jaime Smith played violin on several tracks. I've been friends with
her for years and have watched her grow into an astonishing player.
She dropped all her classical training and is living in Greece now
doing crazy folk stuff. I knew with her i could say "ok, gimme a solo
here in an Indian style, lots of micro-tones" and she'd nail it. Then
I could pull out another song and say "can you play something Turkish
here?" Sometimes it was wanting so-and-so because I knew no matter
what they did, it would be right. Kevin Allison had been in my band
for years, but was going through a rough patch when he played on
"Village." His guitar parts reflect this, yet everything he did fit
like magic. I could go on about each person who played on the record,
but instead I'll sum up with a mention of Gabe Nelson and Rick
Lotter, bassist and drummer respectively, for many songs on the
record. Most of the album was done at my Dad's house, as I said. But
with a rhythm section as powerful as those two guys, I booked time at
the Hangar, my favorite studio in the Universe. We tracked their
parts on 2" 16-track tape with Eric Broyhill engineering. I never
have much money to spend on record-making, but it had to be done
right for these songs and I'm just so in love with the sound we came
away with.

I think a real failing of mine is that I can work a bit carelessly.
I'm fast, but also sometimes lazy. I hope this is changing now, but
at least with this album, I knew it had to be done right, and I was I
was given the gift of a rare patience I normally don't have. That
plus the feedback and encouragement of the whole cast and crew kept
me focused and forward-moving.

As for lyrics and melody, it's very unlikely that I'd get a tune
before a title or a lyrical phrase. I'm a wordy guy, obviously(!),
but typically it's sorta hand-in-hand. A lyrical phrase jumps out and
has a rhythm which in turn suggests a tune. I then go back and forth,
guitar in hand or whatever. That said, I wrote a lot of this album
driving back and forth on the causeway between Sacramento and Davis,
where my girlfriend at the time lived. Doesn't sound like a car
record, but in ways it is!

valis: Interesting how musicians work differently to arrive at the creation of a song. I was reading an interview this past weekend in which the Green Pajamas actually thanked the interviewer for NOT digging deeper for explanations about their lyrical content. This is cropping up in other interviews I'm reading, too. This not wanting to divulge or demystify lyrics. Why do you think that is? What about your feelings on the subject?

Anton: I imagine they're happy with the lyrics sitting in a mysterious, not-
quite-knowable space, maybe wanting the words only to add intrigue
but not to pull focus too far from the music. I remember hearing an
interview with Eno where he explained how so many songwriters feel
they have "something to say." You know, as in some sort of message.
"We are Rock Band and what we will tell you now is IMPORTANT." He
said he was much more interested in hearing or writing lyrics that
raised more questions than they answered. And sometimes, to be blunt,
I've been so disappointed when I finally had the words to a song
clarified. The song can sit just fine with the words working as part
of the texture. Did we ever REALLY want to know what the Cocteau
Twins were on about? It's a question of what serves the song. I DO
want to know, on the other hand, what Dylan is saying every single
time I hear him sing. He's not playing in a cloud of purple swirl,
he's always singing something fascinating and I want to know what and
why and how. I've got to add that many of us start out thinking
whatever we write IS a big deal, but I'm so glad we couldn't afford
to do lyric sheets for my first several albums! Every song has at
least one cringe-worthy moment. I hope my lyric writing is a little
more stable these days, but half the time even I haven't got a clue
what I'm on about!

valis: Well-said! Though Eno comes from a generation where entertainers from the "Old Guard" were notorious for lambasting the lyrics of the popular songs of the 60s. Especially Peter Sellers and Steve Allen. (The latter seemed so bitter he looks like an ass hat, imho, when you see the replays of it now.)

So, in wrapping this up, did In The Village Of The Apple Sun accomplish what you set out for sonically-speaking? Will the next Anton Barbeau album be in a similar vein or do you have another genre-bender you need to get out of your system? Will it be recorded in England? (Are you moving there? Permanently?)

Anton: I"m pretty happy with how "Village" turned out. Any issues I have
with it, sonically, are forgivable by me knowing what I had to work
with. I did my best, and there are moments when you have to let some
things go. My living room isn't Abbey Road and I'm not George Martin!

I've released three records since "Village." The first was "Drug
Free," what we've been calling the "sister-disk" to "Village." It's
got some songs written/recorded at the same time, and some songs
written after "Village" was complete. "Drug Free" is a much easier/
lazier record, and it has a more overtly paranoid vibe, but it's also
got more personal elements, references to my mother and my father,
ponderings on death and such. The heart of that album is the 11-minute
+ "In a Boat on the Sea," which was written and recorded in
celebration of my finishing "Village." I'd worked patiently for over
two years on that album and needed to blow off steam, so I booked a
night in a cheap (but great) studio on downtown Sacramento. I'd been
immersing myself in a heavy Krautrock vibe by then, and I wanted to
do something more communal and loose, after the incredibly detailed,
layered experience I'd been having. There really is something
spiritual for me in "Village," and I honored that whilst working on
the album. But that's hard to maintain for so long, and I was ready
to just have fun and make a stoned mess with some good players. We
got a team of people who'd never worked together before, set our gear
up and knocked through a couple sloppy songs. But within the first 30
seconds of "In a Boat on the Sea," we were all tuned to a very
Righteous Vibe, and it really comes across in the track.

My most recently released disk is "The Automatic Door," out in
England on Shifty Disco. It's a much tighter and brighter (sounding)
record than "Village" or "Drug Free," and the songs were written with
the harmonies of my Oxford singing partner Su Jordan in mind. It's a
clean sounding disk, very crisp, not a lot of tripadelic production
values! It was recorded half in England and half in Sacramento. And
I've just mastered the follow-up to that album, which was also made
in two countries. This next one is a little darker again, and more
tonally varied. I can't say how it'll strike the true psych-heads.
But I always have it in mind to dig deep and do another really full-
on record. I've had such support for "Village," but it came from a
very inspired time/place, and you can't will that into action again.
The tracks I've come up with since I've been back in California are
weird, electro-disco songs, unlike anything I've tried before. God
only knows where this all leads!

I'd like to end up living in England, but I'm grateful to have been
able to work in both countries. I pay no rent at my Dad's house here,
and I have my Pro Tools recording stuff set up with my drums and
piano and synths and toys. I've now got a laptop in England with Pro
Tools, and much of the latest album was done in my girlfriend's
living room in Cambridge. I came back to California pushing "The
Automatic Door," but it's been delightful to see a new wave of
interest in "In the Village of the Apple Sun," and I want to thank
you much for taking time to ask me all these questions. I've enjoyed
this very!


French Connection said...

Thanks for this Valis, what a fascinating insight into the making of such a superb album. anton sounds like a really decent bloke, so much so I can even forgive him for liking Dylan!

Anonymous said...

Very well done. Very insightful (to steal FC's comment). Always love reading about the process of creating art.


sr-71, ye olde blackbird of doom said...

that quote about cocteau twins lyrics is right on the money!