Friday, 21 November 2014

破地獄 Scattered Purgatory Interview with Li-Yang Lu!

The Temple of the Drone demands sacrifice, and so cometh Scattered Purgatory to deliver us from our sonic hunger, rising out of the earth with ambient brilliance. Or something like that. Either way, it is with much pleasure we are invited to share this improvisational trio's brain space, discussing the ins-and-outs of their music, and delving into the space behind the Drone. - Interview conducted by Daniel Sharman.

Dan: Where are you from, and who are the musicians in the band?

Li-yang: We’re all from Taipei, Taiwan, a country famous of it’s excessively long working hours.

Scattered Purgatory on this album are:

Lu – guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, e-bow
Li-Yang – bass, guitar, percussion, chant
Lobo – synthesizer, computer programming, percussion

Dan: Scattered Purgatory is a fantastic name, and your latest record's name is also rather puzzling. What are their respective origins?

Li-yang: Our band name actually has no meaning in English, but in Chinese, 破地獄 (po-di-yu) it is taken from a Taoist ritual. Right after our first jam, Lobo showed us the ritual’s video clip on Youtube and it looked very, very cultist, easy to memorize, and resembles our music in some way, that’s it. And, for the album title, it’s quite geopolitical and historical. In short, there’s a volcano called Mt. Grass located in the north part of the region we’re living in. During The Ching dynasty in the 17th century, an ambassador 郁永河 (Yu-yong-he) was sent there to mine sulfur and other natural resources, he then wrote a book 稗海遊記, which means “Journal of the Miscanthus Ocean”, you can see our album as the soundtrack of his journalism or an expansion upon it. But, why “Miscanthus Ocean”? Literally there is sea of silver-grass during the autumn time on Mt. Grass, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Dan: What are some of the group's influences?

Li-Yang: Doom, drone, sludge metal, traditional folk, krautrock bands like Popol Vuh, and I was listening to Shinichiro Ikebe’s movie soundtrack before recording.

Lu: We have some similar music taste like kraut-rock, japanese psychedeliic. but we also listen to very different stuff, it's quite interesting.

Lobo : Cluster, Harmonia, Sunn O))), Kyuss, Alva Noto, Anouar Brahem.

Dan: How would you describe your music's sound?

Lu: Heavy and haunting... but I would say it sounds more like film soundtracks, and each song describes different stories.

Li-Yang : deep, hazy, brown note.

Dan: Some people upon hearing your latest record might just listen and think ''I just don't get it''. What do you think it is in your music that appeals to your listener's, in spite of its lack of conventionality?

Lu: Lots of people ask us why don't we find a drummer, but what we want is to create massive sounding without being disturbed by drums. so... I think it's more like psychedelic rock without drums??

Li-yang: Our existence in our local scene has always been controversial hahaha. We don’t care if people understand our music or not, because there’s no synthesis or purpose inside, though we called ourselves “Eastern Cult Drone Trio”. Yet we’ve seen some reviews and the comments are like “I saw a temple after I hit the bong listening to this”. Letting others tell you why your music appealed to them is always interesting.

Dan: What is the writing process for the band like? Is it a totally free-form ordeal or semi-improvised within a pre-written structure?

Li-yang: There’s no SOP for composing, it depends, sometimes riffs or ideas come up while testing new pedalboard settings, but sometimes we share stuff we found on web/in book as a vague concept for what it will sound like.

Dan: What guitars were used on your latest record, Lost Ethnography of the Miscanthus Ocean?

Li-yang: Fender American Precision bass special loaded with Lace Sensor “Man O’War” pickups + badass bridge, Standard A tuning. And Lobo’s own Fender Telecaster, all maple, drop C tuning.

Lu: I used a Gibson SG, and a acoustic guitar with some weird modifications, haha.

Dan: How about amps and effects? And how about synthesisers/keyboards (with addendum to other instruments)?

Li-Yang: In studio I use a vintage SWR bass amp and Ampeg SS-150. For pedals, I used Taipei’s local boutique pedal maker, 3Why FX’s, a Green Russian muff clone and a Proco Rat mod, oh, and  one of Mr. Black’s supermoon modulated reverb and some electro-harmonix pedals.

Lu: The main amp I used was a Vox Bruno, unlike the typical Vox amps, this one has lots of bass and it sounded really good. I used Mr. Black's supermoon as my core pedal all the time, it's an awesome reverb!

Dan: And how about synthesisers/keyboards (with addendum to other instruments)? 

Lobo: MicroBrute & Ableton, separately but all goes in to my own mixer, and send to reverb, delay, also multistop pedal then return, mixing the dry/wet.

Another interesting thing is I also used was a contact mic to make more free-improvised sound, especially when doing live shows, it’s more physical, one time I grabbed a plastic bottle and clipped the mic on it, then I used all my effort to tear it apart, it turned out pretty good.

Dan: Additionally, where was the album recorded?

Li-Yang: This album was recorded in Soundkiss studio, recorded and mastered by Alex Ives.

At first we really didn’t know who we could work with, but then we found Soundkiss studio, which is the only studio that do everything on tape in Taipei, since we wanted the sound texture of Bobby Beausoleil’s “Lucifer Rising” so we chose Soundkiss. Alex is a very careful person on sound, who gave us all kinds of advice and was willing to explore new ways of recording in the meantime.

Dan: You've released Lost Ethnography on Guruguru Brain. What was that like?

Li-Yang: We got the message from Go (of Kikagaku Moyo) through our mutual friend Molly back in March this year, they’re seeking bands who want to tour Japan or release an album on Guruguru Brain. And I was on a personal trip to Japan in April, so we hung out for a night in Tokyo, that’s how we met. Working on this album together has been smooth; the connection between us is rather strong compared to our previous label, so we can work in a very efficient way.

Dan: What's next for Scattered Purgatory? You have a show planned with Tolchock?

Li-Yang: We’ve been working on new materials and will start recording soon – this will sound very different from this album. And we definitely will be touring somewhere else in 2015. We recently started “Sub-Tropical Flashback”, you can check this out on Facebook, Tolchock & Minami-Deustch are the first two bands we arranged for touring Taiwan in December, which is also Tolchock's first tour abroad ever.

Dan: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Lobo: “Untill we see sound, hear light.” I really like this saying.

Li-Yang: I don’t play bass now.

Lu: ohh I think our first tape still have few copies left, if you are interested you can go to get one!

You can find Scattered Purgatory's latest release, Lost Ethnography of the Miscanthus Ocean, here.

Make sure to like the band's Facebook page to stay up to date, here

Friday, 14 November 2014

Sun Zoom Spark, and Fuck You Too: The Problem With the New Beefheart Release (Editorial)

Recently, you may of heard of the new Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band's release on Rhino Records, Sun Zoom Spark, which is essentially a reissue package featuring classic Beefheart albums that were released between 1970 and 1972. However, amidst all the glee and jubilation of a new dose of the Captain, a darker, more familiar side of the music industry is rearing its ugly head - a classic case of artistic use and abuse. 

The abuse in question was brought to my attention yesterday when I saw that the legendary John French, better known as Drumbo in some circles, had posted an update via the Magic Band's official Facebook page. The update follows a series of similarly enraged posts by French, all of which highlight the gross wrongdoings done onto him and the whole of the original Magic Band line-up in general.

The tale is a familiar one in the cut-throat, amoral business of the music industry, Rhino Records, whom are releasing the reissue, shown to be essentially stealing from French and the rest of the original Magic Band by paying no royalties from the music to any of these musicians, whom were responsible for the recordings being released in Sun Zoom Spark. 

This is a story of innumerable tragedies, one which highlights how even the most revered of history's musicians are taken in and churned out by the uncaring, capitalist machine. In my own mind's eye, what I find to be perhaps the most saddening aspect of this situation is the total lack of respect shown to the men whose input is the only reason for their being any music to reissue in the first place.

Furthermore, it doesn't matter if you've crafted, and played on, records which international media barons like Rolling Stone (corrupt and trite as it may be) have included on their list of top 500 albums of all time, you may not necessarily have the capital to support your music even in to this day. 

The Magic Band have, historically, always been poor, especially when creating their most respected works, such as Trout Mask Replica, and not much changes today. John French, and his current incarnation of the Magic Band, are not turning down how-ever-many millions like Robert Plant. They are just honest musicians trying to create the music they and their fans love, and so it is made even more painful for musicians, like French, when records they created are pulling in expensive pre-orders and the like, whilst they must sleep in moth-eaten motels 7 days a week.

So please, abstain from buying this latest corporate attempt to milk the love of honest Beefheart-loving fans for monetary gain, continuing the saga of successfully cashing in on the now almost otherworldly persona of the dead Don Van Vliet, and go and see the Magic Band when you can, buy John French's new autobiography, and try and support the true men anyway you can. 

Make sure to the like the genuine Facebook pages here:
- The Magic Band
The Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band Appreciation Society
The Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band

Aside from that, spread the word of the Rhino Records' transgressions, and make it clear in anyway you can that you don't agree with their treatment of the Magic Band's musicians.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ray Russell Interview: Inside the Mind of Legendary Jazz Guitarist Ray Russell!

Boasting a career of more than 45 years of creative endeavour, Ray Russell's innovative and distinctly unique style of jazz fusion guitar work has inspired countless musicians and has produced a back-catalogue of work still appreciated today by jazz, rock, and folk, lovers around the world. I caught up with this living-legend to delve into his influences, playing, output, collaborations, and more. Interview conducted by Daniel Sharman.   

Dan: You mesh the influences of jazz and rock so seamlessly and have a tremendously distinct style of playing, who influences you and how do you allow these to culminate in your own playing?

Ray: The first three bands I was in professionally (John Barry 7, Georgie Fame and the Blue flames, Graham Bond organization) were all made up of  great musicians that played R&B and Jazz. The other common denominator is guitar! It's very hard not to influenced by modern music as the guitar is the main instrument in nearly everything.

Dan: Furthermore, were you directly influenced by any specific free, abstract jazz (or rock, etc.) musicians?

Ray: The first influence that comes to mind is John Coltrane. I wanted to recreate the sound and harmonic structures. I didn't see guitar as a softer sounding instrument. My take on J.C. Was that the guitar version would be a fiery full sound. Miles Davis, Jimmy Hendrix, Archie Shepp, lots of influences but apart from the harmonic knowledge is the Sonic signature. Gil Evans would say that “Everyone has their cry” . This means that people know it's you playing. Make things your own.

Dan: A large part of your discography was released as part of a 8 record deal you had with CBS, how did this come about and what caused them to sign you for 8 whole LPs?

Ray: I owe this to a forward thinking A&R man – David Howells. Unlike these days, the record companies would give the A&R guys a free hand.
David was really into starting the CBS realm label. This was his way of representing the new wave of British Jazz musicians. He did a great job In promoting the music, he was a true fan. Those albums have been re released and are still selling so the shelf life is still valid now.

Rock Workshop was a result of my R&B/rock influences. Again David heard a radio show we did for the BBC. It was a ten piece band that started with the late Alex Harvey as the vocalist. The solos could be very wild and break free of the rock format. This was a unique part of the bands identity.

Dan: You first stepped into the world of recording with your fantastic début album, 'Turn Circle', released in 1968. The album touched on cool modal jazz, and was much more restrained when compared to what was happening in the wider guitar scene at the time - Musicians like Jimi Hendrix trying to be anything but restrained. What motivated this album and can you describe the process of its creation?

Ray: Circle was a mix of styles. I was asked to play Footprints as it was a well known 'Jazz standard'. Some of the more 'cool' tunes were things we would play on BBC Jazz club. The programme felt more comfortable with a cooler approach. The album was a mix of both the older styles and a glimpse of things to come even though I might not have been aware of where it would go. It was music in flux.

Dan: The period of the seventies was a very creative time for you. 1971 saw one of your, in my opinion, best collaborations, which was with Bill Fay on his 'Time of Last Persecution'' LP. Can you tell us a bit about what your working with Bill on album was like, and how it came to happen?

Ray: That album has become legendary. You never think that thirty years later, people still love the way that album sounds. Bill encouraged us to play outside the circle and extend his songs. We recorded it over a weekend at Decca studios in North London. All live. I have just finished a new album with Bill for the Dead Oceans label. He writes great songs from the heart.

Dan: Furthermore, as you moved into the early seventies, your inclination on albums such as Dragon Hill, Rites and Rituals, and so on, became more angled towards crazy, free jazz. Can you tell what started this trend towards the abstract and how do you feel about your playing of this period?

Ray: How do I feel? It was a time of great learning. Playing that kind of music marginalised me with some of the Jazz community whereas the rock guys used to love it. I am proud of the albums produced then. Live at the ICA was a good album. RCA records reproduced a similar situation to CBS when Olav Wyper the head of A&R, made the ICA record and also an album by a more 'commercial' band we had at that time called 'Running man'.

Dan: Your playing repertoire of the time didn't just focus on free jazz, your 1972 band/album 'The Running Man' incorporated rock quite firmly into the mix. What inspired this album and did it allow you to express your rock influences in a way you hadn't had a chance to before that point?

Ray: The first sessions we did at Trident took a while to get the songs into the simulator feeling we had at rehearsals. We got there when we started to record All the fallen teen angels with Medicine Head. It was an interesting mix. We experimented with tracking a lot, going for a sound with lots of presence. I wasn't sure about some the outcomes originally but in retrospect, there was some good tracks. That record started with us being the Running men with a few arrows in our backs but by the end of a mix that was extremely loud, the wounds had healed.

Dan: Did you ever feel like you were ever going against the established mainstream jazz archetype over the course of your own releases? How do you feel about the state of modern jazz and free music?

Ray: An open approach to music would never cause a problem to the established or traditional way of things but living in the dark makes you question the light.

Dan: Speaking technologically for a moment, you've not always been the most conventional in your choice of music gear - for example, you are seen touting a Burns model guitar on front of your début 'Turn Circle' - How has your instrumental gear changed throughout your career? 

Ray: A Burns Trisonic which was my first solid body guitar. We went through a lot of great times together. Just guitar and amp at that time. I use a strat now. I have a great Bogner amp and some delay pedals for extra soundscaping. I have a few guitars but I seem to gravitate to the Fender as it just love the way it sounds even when it's unplugged you can tell by the wood it's going to be an empowering creative tool.

Dan: One last question that I've been dying to ask... On your 'Turn Circle' album, where does the 'A Day in the Life of a Slave of Lower Egypt' saga originate from?

Ray: I was reading about the pyramids and just thought that the music would depict some kind of ancient scene. It was a little tongue in cheek and the music was written first. Finding titles can be fun!

Do You Even Psychedelic? would like to issue a huge thank you to Ray for taking the time to complete this interview, and I would also like to wish him all the best on his and Bill Fay's new album.

Make sure to check out any of Ray's fantastic bands. These include: Nucleus, The Ray Russell Quartet, The Running Man, Ray's collaboration with Bill Fay, and his various other albums and works (especially those released as part of the CBS series).

Full discography of Ray's records with him as the main artist here, and make sure to look out for his and Bill Fay's new album.