Μία συνέντευξη/ ενδοσκόπηση των Volcano The Bear
Από τον Rui Eduardo Paes, για το brainwashed.com, το «φαινόμενο» Volcano The Bear:
«Compared to This Heat, Nurse With Wound, Faust or Amon Duul, the British group Volcano The Bear are changing our views about experimentalism, pop music and all the attempts made until now to cross both fields. They record everything they play and use it somehow, in concert or in CD’s which are an assemblage of very disparate situations, in the way Faust used to do it. Great listeners, they’re equally interested in experimental rock, jazz, free improvisation, classical contemporary music, electronics, even pop songs. Elements of all those sound worlds are present in the Volcano The Bear albums, but it’s not fusion or anything «post-modern». Theirs is a «no-style» music, defying the frontiers of established «schools», even the one VTB is identified with, alongside Jackie-O Motherfucker or Vibracathedral Orchestra. Daniel Padden and Aaron Moore show us their game cards…
Rui Eduardo Paes : Volcano The Bear are included in a group of bands where we can find Jackie-O Motherfucker, No-Neck Blues band or Vibracathedral Orchestra, among others, with the justification that you all play a kind of distorted rock with a great folk presence and a radical/experimental approach. Do you really think that there’s a new tendency going on, that a new music «movement» is rising up in the margins of popular music, or the similarities between these bands are just a coincidence?
Daniel Padden : I don’t feel a strong bond with the bands you mention anymore than with any other musicians throughout history – I certainly don’t feel we’re part of a movement or a scene. I quite like some of the music of the bands you mention, but touring with Jackie-O, for instance, made me very aware of the musical differences between us rather than any similarities. The idea of «influences» is a difficult subject – we are of course very familiar with the bands and scenes you mention, but they really form a small part of the music we are influenced by. If you believed what’s sometimes written about us, you’d think that all we listened to was The Residents, This Heat, Faust and Robert Wyatt. It’s more likely that we listen to similar music that those bands listened to. Between the four of us, we get through a huge amount of music, and have deliberately gone out of our way to discover (and often by chance) odd bits and pieces of musical history from all over the world. All these bits and pieces probably turn up in our music, though we never deliberately attempt to recreate any of them. Its no surprise that some bits will remind you of this or that. I imagine every band goes through a period of finding their own music, and there probably have been times early on in the band’s history when we tried to do «a style» of music, and it completely failed. Nowadays, we don’t even try. In fact, that was one of the original ideas behind the band – to create a boundless and uncompromised music, where musical expression mattered rather than a type or style of music. We simply wanted to see what happened if we tried to ignore all conventional musical ideas and just hit things, sang and shouted and blew things. Plugged things into other things, broke things and then mixed them all together and listened to them. Even though we now have more «musicality» and maybe «ability», I think we still approach things in a similar way.
Aaron Moore : There are vague similarities between Volcano The Bear and Jackie-O Motherfucker and Vibracathedral Orchestra (I know little of No-Neck Blues Band, so cannot compare). Our musics are based in the principles of freedom and I believe that that is where any similarities end. We toured with Jackie-O last October/ November and it was a great pleasure to hang out with them but I feel our music and our approach to it is drastically different. Jackie-O Motherfucker operated as a jamming ensemble, trancing out on the same collective mission, whereas we are more confrontational, of course in a collective way, but I feel our goals are different. We allow each other to express ourselves in whatever way, as united or disparate with each other as the mood takes us whilst also retaining our goal of coherent communication between us and our audience in a live situation. Getting back to the point of your question – like Daniel, I do not believe there is a «new tendency» going on, that a «new movement» is rising in the margins. I believe that there’s a large group of musicians/bands perhaps bored with the constraints of «regular» music who have been thoroughly digesting the music of the past, whether it be free jazz, primitive folk, experimental rock, the classical avant-garde etc., etc., and with the advent of self-produced music, starting with the DIY punk boom of the late 70’s and with the ease of producing one’s own music through the CD-R revolution that inevitably, without having the difficulty of finding a label to release one’s experiments, we can do what we please. I am a complete lover of vinyl but through the wealth of CD reissues of «unavailable» music to inspire and the ease of releasing one’s own to the public has created the «new movement» you talk about. Although I’m loath to say it, all hail the digital revolution.
REP : There are so many allusions, reminiscences and even style quotations in Volcano The Bear’s music that we can’t avoid to try to detect and name it while listening to you. What I don’t know is if it’s intentional or just happens accidentally.
DP : As I said, we have all listened to an enormous amount of music, and yes, that music will occasionally surface, but is there a band where that doesn’t happen? In fact, very little about Volcano The Bear music is planned at all. We very rarely even discuss our music. Maybe because we don’t play a specific style of music we are accused of sounding like little bits of all different kinds of music? I like the idea of a music that makes people think of 101 other musics. We dislike the idea of musical parody and pastiche.
AM : It’s inevitable that the music we listen is inspiring to us, but never would we set out to make a piece of music in the style of someone else. I remember Nick and I listening to Nurse With Wound and Dome for the first time. The first thing we said to each other was «this sounds like us». I’m trying to say that perhaps we share the same spirit of experimenting with music and sound with many other artists, contemporary or fifty years ago. You could have listed Bowie and Bartok to Battiato and Doc Boggs and you may find elements of all these in our music but it’s all the same to me. If you choose to play music that is free of constrictions and boundaries like Volcano The Bear, then you’re bound to tread on the same paths as others. All paths are valid and may be crossed at any time in our music. I also find it rather fruitless to list supposed influences, it seems to be very genre specific and between the four of us I doubt whether there’s a genre of music we wouldn’t enjoy.
REP : Let’s try to go even deeper. Someone said that Volcano The Bear plays the music of the «day after» and it really seems to be that way. You use fragments, spoils, memories of very different elements. It’s a music made with the «ruins» of genres and styles of the past, recent or not, not similar to what we hear in turntablism, sampling music, DJing, plunderphonics or plagiarism, but included in the same phenomena. It makes us suspect that all this is planned and even programmatic. It would be very, very strange if it isn’t.
AM : We are four very different people with different backgrounds experimenting with each other and ourselves. Experimenting in and out of the confines of music making. All sound is valid to us, in whatever context. We do not use «ruins». All things have a purpose in our music, whether they are key to a particular track, or are aural decoration, or perhaps even deliberately placed (or left in) to confuse or to raise questions (like the one you’ve raised) about what music is, or more importantly, what can music be. There is no deliberate «planning or programming» in what we do or how we do it. Each new piece can be conceived and created completely differently to the last. I feel that what we do is very organic, in a constant state or rearrangement and evolvement. Everything is given a chance. There is no leader, no manifesto, and ideally no rules. We try and have a trust in each other’s convictions and for the most part allow each other to operate within the music how they see fit. This obviously leads to one occasionally not being happy with a certain product of our output but we try to operate so that if one of us is adamant that «this» is the way it should be then so be it.
REP : It seems to me that your approach to music as «recollectors» is complemented by your attitude. Volcano The Bear uses the mystic of the «garage band» and even a punk attitude. You struggle for imperfection (if I compare Volcano The Bear «anti-songs» with the more conventional songs of the One Ensemble Of Daniel Padden it’s obvious that you really know how to make a song), you even seem to use a kind of indulgency with the only purpose not to do things right. You don’t dismantle the song form, unlike others, but try to play it wrongly (poor pop writers, they’ll never understand that!). Well, I hope that you’re not going to say to me that you don’t know how to play correctly.
DP : We «struggle for imperfection» and «try to play it wrongly»? I don’t agree, though I understand why you say it. It’s hard to describe. Our approach to music-making is a very open, honest one, and it puts expression way above technique. When you hear field recordings of, for instance, European folk musicians, they are filled with such a spirit despite the fact that they are often out of time and out of tune with each other. This isn’t because they aren’t able to play properly, but probably because they are either having too much fun to worry, or are playing whilst dancing, or they’re drunk, or all three. But the music is so much more alive because of it. You hear it on the Harry Smith anthology too – technique is second to expression. So ,we don’t struggle for imperfection or try to play things wrongly, we just play. We very rarely record second takes, and we then use the studio to play with what we just recorded. We are all very confident with instruments, but none of us has outstanding technique. I am happy to stand on stage and play clarinet for 40 minutes, but I couldn’t tell you which note is G. It’s true we like the sound of wayward music and things that aren’t quite right, but we don’t manufacture that effect.
AM : Essentially, Volcano The Bear deal with spontaneity. We’re trying to capture the moment. Half of the time we record VTB music away from each other, but when we are in the studio together we are creating «instant compositions». We spend far more time at the mixing desk than recording. This leads us to the other aspect of VTB. Our live work. Take a track from a record, «Egg Knowledge» from «Yak Folks Y’Are» for instance. This was conceived in rehearsals for a gig. Immediately after the gig, we recorded it live in a studio, perhaps a defined article? well, no. We then took it back to a live situation and played it in our set for a couple of years, where it evolved. Parts were lost, parts were added, but the essence of the track remained. We do this with a lot of our music. We do not «struggle for imperfection». Rather we «strive for definition», which I don’t believe we can or want to achieve. Mankind is not defined, the world, the universe is not defined. Once it is, it is completed, it is finished. If Volcano The Bear were to be defined we would be finished. In regard to whether we know how «to play correctly» or not, there are some instruments I know how to play. I I’ve been playing the drums for 15 years and am a competent drummer, but depending on what else is being played, what vibe we are creating, determines how I feel like playing. The same can be said for my vocal work. More often than not, my natural voice will not fit the music that’s being played, so I will create a vocal character to suit it. I have also been taking trumpet and music theory lessons for two years, but it is dependent on what we are doing musically as a group as to whether or not this knowledge is used. As Volcano The Bear we do not conform to conventional song form or structures, we are more inclined to place a «song» over disparate music or sounds. Not because we can’t make a song, but because we don’t feel it necessary to do so. We don’t work that way. Listen to the recent project of mine and Laurence’s with Jeremy Barnes, Guignol, you will hear that in this situation we are more inclined to play «songs».
DP : Regarding my One Ensemble album – I’ve been asked several times about performing it live, but I couldn’t, as much of the music came about by chance, and was arranged by collaging and editing. I couldn’t play most of it now if you asked me. My technical ability is limited, though I hopefully make the most of it. The music has very simple foundations, over which I play all manner of instruments (with very few second takes) and then piece it all together. I certainly didn’t write a lot of the music before playing it. I played it, and then played with it.
REP : That’s another aspect of my previous question – your anti-virtuosistic playing. Your multi-instrumentalism seems not to have as a purpose only to extend Volcano The Bear’s timbral spectrum – it’s a way to go beyond the instruments, to make these non-important. Sometimes it’s even difficult to identify what instruments you’re using. You play the instruments «against» themselves. It’s a way to go even further anti-academism. Am I right?
AM : Instruments, to Volcano The Bear, are an endless source of sound and experimentation whether we can play them conventionally or not. We are not here to present musical perfection or virtuosity. Yes, it is totally a way to go beyond the instruments but not to be «anti-academic». I don’t care about the academic side of music when I ‘m playing with The Bear. You can’t compare academic music with what VTB do. We’re always acquiring or making new instruments for new sounds. There’s no way we can dedicate time to learning how to play them all how they were intended. All our instruments, from violin to drinking straws, are there to be manipulated for sounds, textures, timbres, rhythms, tunes.
DP : The instruments are a means to expression, and so yes, they are unimportant in that respect. We never list them on albums, though it would take all day and we probably forget what has been used anyway. It makes sense that we have a large number of instruments to use, as otherwise we would get very bored very quickly. Each instrument allows us to express ourselves in a different way, and can add a new colour to the music. So we like our instruments, but they’re not important. It’s good to free yourself from the tyranny of the electric guitar. We also try and get the most out of instruments, try to play them in different ways. We are always tapping and blowing things, everyday objects, junk, just in case they sound nice. Balloons and drinking straws sound good.
REP : You told me that Volcano The Bear use to record everything you do, for a possible future use. Your records are collages of materials improvised in different circumstances, very similarly to what Faust used to do. Everything is made useful. Improvisation stops being ephemerous and is transformed into… A data bank. So, you have a different behaviour on stage (where you mostly improvise, I suppose) and in the studio. Why?
DP : Live performances are a different challenge. They are a mixture of composition and improvisation, and rely on the trust between the four of us. We usually have a rough idea of what music will happen, though we are all free to play what we like. It makes it exciting on stage. We start and play for an hour without stopping, trying to thread all sorts of ideas together. It is only ever a slice of Volcano The Bear at any particular time. It might not be representational of VTB at all. It might not feature any VTB music you have heard before, but it will certainly be interesting. We also like the performance – we like to engage the audience and put on a show. People remember a Volcano The Bear show. And again, its about confidence – in the studio we can play around with what we’ve recorded, but on stage we have the confidence to perform for that moment. We always record live performances, that we can then use again in another context, either in another live performance, or in the studio. Sound is sound, and is there to be used again and again if necessary. We have an enormous archive of sounds, tracks and noises that are all there to use. By taking them out of their original context they are heard differently and sometimes form the seed of a new piece. We very rarely use sounds that we haven’t created ourselves. A piece may involve me playing piano over a recording of me playing piano three years ago. Some of our own music falls through the cracks and we only uncover it years later, when we realize how much we like it. Then we use it for something else. We could stop recording new music now and have seven or eight albums comprised of archive recordings. But we probably won’t.
AM : Yes, we do have a different behaviour on stage. Personally, I find myself in a state of catharsis. As soon as the music begins I enter a zone, a play area. I expend an enormous amount of energy on stage, it can take me days to recover. I’ve not experienced anything similar to how I feel or behave on stage. I love it. At any point this thing could fall apart and occasionally it does, which is exciting. To maintain a balance, so it doesn’t descend into chaos. Each band member holding this thing together, pulling it this way, pushing it that way, expanding it, retracting from it. It’s a wonderful experience and judging from their reaction the audience sees all this going on and understands, and gains from it also. I’d go as far to say that seeing Volcano The Bear live is a completely unique musical and performance experience. No band does it the way we do it.
REP : If Volcano The Bear have a more direct connection with anyone, is with Steve Stapleton. Or not? Anyhow, you don’t assume the occultist, dark world which is distinctive of Stapleton’s music. We even can say that your music is very light and full of humour. Is that intended too, or simply an effect of your attitude towards music?
DP : We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we know that music can be very funny. In fact, the only time we do need to record second or third takes is when we’re incapable of singing/playing because we can’t stop laughing. There’s probably hours of me and Aaron unable to finish a vocal because neither could stop themselves laughing. So yes, humour is important. Maybe not comedy, but humour.
AM : Our connection with Stapleton is simple – he liked our music and offered to release it on his label. However, I do think we share the same maverick spirit. We have attempted a collaboration, which as yet hasn’t really gelled, but I hope that in the future we can get the proposition off the ground. As for Volcano The Bear’s humorous side, I think it’s a very important aspect. A lot of «experimental» music is played so deadpan that an audience can have difficulty engaging with the music and the musicians on stage, staring at their shoes. This isn’t a problem with The Bear. To make an audience smile and laugh with you is very special, though amazingly some members of the audience come up to us after a show saying that they really wanted to laugh but didn’t know if it was allowed!
REP : There’s a collective spirit in Volcano The Bear that is not common nowadays. Something that you also recover is the ritualistic dimension of music. Are you trying to bring back those good principles of the 60s and 70s (without the hippy mannerisms, of course)?
AM : The «collective spirit» of bands like Faust and Can, living together and recording where they lived and, in Faust’s case, how they lived, appeals to me, though I don’t think it could work with Volcano The Bear. Ironically, I’d say that we produce some of our most interesting music apart, working with each others sounds but individually making decisions about how the finished product should sound.
DP : There is a collective spirit in that we are trying to produce music greater than the individuals that make it. There are many Volcano The Bear tracks that only two or three of us play on. We’re not collective in the sense that we’re not so democratic that we all have our 25% of music on each track, as that would damage the music. But there is a thing called Volcano The Bear that we try and fuel through collective efforts. And yes, ritual is important, and there isn’t enough of it around these days. Give me that old-time religion. I think some people are taken aback by VTB performances because of the drama/ritual aspect. It is maybe emphasized by the nature of the music we perform – we don’t quite know how it will turn out and we are constantly shaping it, so a lot of concentration and listening is required. The smallest sounds or actions can turn a performance in a particular way, so we need to be really tuned in to what’s going on on stage. Being «tuned in» goes way beyond any crass notion of «hippy».»