Tuesday, February 22, 2005

David Grubbs Interview

David Grubbs (photo: Dan Cohoon) Posted by Hello
David Grubbs interviewed @ T.T. the Bears 1999 by John Cohoon
Photos by Dan Cohoon @ The Middle East 1997
(Cambridge, MA)

John Cohoon: What is your history of your projects?
David Grubbs: I was in a band called Squirrel Bait that put out a couple of records, those were my teenage years. That was my high school band. I was in a new wave band before that called the Happy Cadavers. Whose single just sold for four dollars on E-Bay (laughs). A completely terrible record. I ran into some one from Washington DC. who said ‘“what are you going to do when some one puts out the Happy Cadavers on MP3? It’s bound to happen. What can I do? I grew up in Louisville, went to college in Washington DC. Moved to Chicago in 1990 to go to graduate school. I just moved to Brooklyn, New York a couple of months ago.

JC: How did Gastr Del Sol come about?
DG: Gastr Del Sol came out of Bastro when I was on hiatus. I had taken a semester off from grad school. I was touring. It look like it was stagnation time again. There was general dissent. I thought maybe this should reconvene under different circumstances and it did. It started with Bundy Brown & my self. John McIntyre got back in the picture and Jim O’Rourke did. The remainder of Gastr Del Sol was mainly Jim and I and whomever clamped on.

JC: Thorough out the whole thing have you always done solo things?
DG: NO I never really played (solo) ...except for very strange sporadic things. The first time I did it on tour was when Gastr Del Sol was supposed to go on tour with the Red Krayola 3 or four years ago. Jim decided at the last minute that he wasn’t going to do that. That was when we were still working on Camefluer. So the show must go on. That is the first time I did that.

JC: How did you hook up with Jim?
DG: Chicago is not such a large town. You’re bound to run into people. I had heard a couple of his records by Jim like Tamper & Remove the Need, which I liked a whole lot. We just had a couple of friends in common. It was inevitable that we would meet. and given our personalities it was also inevitable that we would work together.

Upgrade & Afterlife (cover art) Posted by Picasa
JC: Most of your stuff is on Drag City. Do you do stuff for other lables?
DG: The first solo record that I did was for Table of the Elements, called Banana, Cabbage, Potato, Lettuce, Orange. In general Drag City is my home. That is where my e-mail account is , it’s where the royalty checks come from. I have a lot of friends who are making interesting labels. I like to do things for them. Rectangle is a label from Paris. I made a record called Cox Comb for them. It came out six months ago. Albert Erlin who was in the Red Krayola does a label. I just did something for a compilation for him. Conversely he just did a record for my record label which is called Blue Chopsticks which DRAG CITY is manufacturing.

JC: Where did you study?
DG: Georgetown under grad, University of Chicago grad, I am still technically still a student at the University of Chicago.

JC: Is your solo work taking on a new direction?
DG: (laughs).....From?

DG: The working process is completely different. The end result is not as severely different as the working process. It is hard to say. I am smack dab in the middle of a record right now that I have been working on in Brooklyn. I can’t tell you how it is going to turn out. It will sound like a full band. John Mc Entire is playing drums on it. It won’t be so similar to what you’ll see tonight which is the solo guitar....If that gives you any clues into the working process..... I have to be dirty up to my elbows before I know what I am doing.

JC: Do you do allot of home recording before you go into the studio? Who have you been recorded or produced by?
DG: Jim did most of the engineering on the Gastr Records. Phil did the last couple of records. He died of an aneurysm six months ago. Which is incredibly sad, a really incredibly sweet person. I have never had a producer for a record. I have never really seen the need for one. I guess you would say that all the records I have done have been either self produced or co-produced with people in the groups. That seems like an unnecessary designation. I can’t see the function of a producer as being so separate from an instrumentalist or a writer. I would really enjoy producing other people’s records. I know other people like to come in with skeletons of songs and have other people flesh them out. Jim does that all the time for people’s records. That is a little of what we did with Stephen Prina. We made arecord for Drag City that Jim and I produced. Stephen just came in with tapes of things. We just sat down and hammered it out in a couple of weeks. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that process of collaboration very much. Forwhatever reason I haven’t found it necessary for my self. I can’t imagine what a producer would do if I were to hire one. I think he would have a bunch of suggestions and I would be like....uh...No (laughs)

JC: Do you see yourself doing more of that kind of thing with your new label?
DG: The new label is super low budget. It is mainly reissues or records that people have made at home. I can’t imagine getting people to record for the label then producing them. It is not like Phil Specter starting a record label.

JC: Do you think home recording has strong benefits?
DG: Oh yeah, vastly, vastly. I primarily make records in studios. Don’t think I don’t kick myself all the time for not taking the reins more fully.

JC: Did you start out making records in studios?
DG: Yeah, as a teenager.

JC: You never put out four track tapes?
DG: I’ll put out the odd thing that I just recorded at home on a DAT machine.

David Grubbs @ The Middle East (photo: Dan Cohoon) Posted by Hello
JC: Do you have a home studio?
DG: I have a computer and I have the software; I ditz around with that some. Some parts of the new record will be assembled on that. The new record is all acoustic recordings. Guitar, drum kit, piano, stuff like that.

JC: What is your musical background?
DG: Classical piano, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. I should have practiced more.

JC: What would you be interested in doing in the future?
DG: I would like to write more. I was in grad school so I was writing papers. I have kind of fell away from that. I taught at the Art Institute of Chicago for a couple of years. I just moved to New York and my only job now is making records and touring... Just for the sheer fact that I am saying this in an interview maybe I am obliging myself to follow through but I would like to return to writing. I would like to write about music. I have been kind of shy about it.... Oh I would get bored doing one thing or the other. I think there is some truth inthat. I think I should just bite the bullet and start writing about music more. I have always felt that I had to keep these things separate. I make music and write about this other thing. It’s putting my cards on the table to early. There are so many things that are killed by explaining. I am a person who likes to write, likes to read and believes strongly in the power of explanation. I always felt that if I blabbed in writing about things I feel strongly about in terms of music, that would some how de-mystify the records I make. Okay I have given it way now. Clearly this is not the case.

JC: How important are lyrics to you?
DG: For me very important. I assume that with most people they are lessimportant than they are to me. Then there is the occasional weirdo who attaches allot of importance to it. For me it is an integral part of the puzzle on how to make a record. It would be very easy for me to write poetry and make instrumental records. Nobody would get there toes stepped upon. It would be very easy to keep them separate. But one of the challenges and one of the rewarding things is to do these things together.

JC: Is that important the marriage of lyrics and music?
DG: Sure but it is so hard to do. Singing is the least natural thing in the world to do as far as I am concerned. Some people just open there mouths and sing, but I don’t know. I write things on the guitar and think how in the world am I going to sing to this.

JC: Is that something you have gotten more comfortable with?
DG: Yeah I have gotten more comfortable and natural in the actual execution ofit. I am speaking to someone who is in the midst of writing a record. They have nearly all the music for the record written and most of the lyrics. One is on tape. One is in the note book. I haven’t fit these things together at all.

JC: So they start as completely separate entities? Are they fully developed before?
DG: OH yeah pretty much. (laughs)

JC: It seems like allot of your records are done at the same time as the music.
DG: No, No very separate. For me it is fairly possible for me to go into the studio and record an entire record and then still be tinkering with the lyrics.

Drag City
David Grubbs
Blue Chopsticks