Monday, August 08, 2005

Silkworm Interview

Tim Midgett & Andy Cohen
interview conducted via e-mail
by Dan Cohoon & T.W. Walsh
(circa 1997)
Sadly Silkworm is no more. Michael Dahlquist, the drummer for the band, was killed by a woman's failed attempt of killing herself in her car by crashing it into his car at a stop light (she managed to kill Michael and two of his friends who were also in bands). This random, pointless, selfish and senseless act brought an end to one of the finest rock band of the last two decades. Tim Midgett has stated that without Michael there could be no more Silkworm--he could not be replaced.

Silkworm (promo photo) Posted by Picasa
This interview was conducted in 1997 by TW Walsh and myself with Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen from Silkworm via e-mail. Sadly Michael did not participate in the interview. Tim Midgett mentions on several occasions in this interview what a great guy Michael was, and according to everything I have read about him it seems to be true. I have only seen Michael in concert, spoken to him briefly after a show, but I will never forget his big shirtless grin from behind his drum kit. Michael and Silkworm will truly be missed. -Dan Cohoon July 2005

Dan Cohoon: Who are your musical heroes? One of them has to be Neil Young.
TM: I told someone just the other day that Neil Young is one of the only musicians who has had a big influence on all of us in the band, so you are right about that. We really don't think much in terms of other people's music. If we are having a difficult time getting a song to turn out well, we might break it down into "the Rolling Stones part" and "the ZZ Top part," or something, but just as often the guidelines are more like "play it like you're out of your mind on heroin."

DC: Andy's guitar playing is amazing. How did he develop his style?
TM: I am referring this question to him. He should send you a response via e-mail pretty soon.
Andy Cohen: You sent Tim an e-mail asking how I developed my guitar style. The answer is through untold hours of practice. When I started playing back in high school, I would practice sort of obsessively, at least an hour a day, and usually four or so when I had extra time. At that point I had a great thirst to improve, and like all rank beginners, I had a lot of room for improvement. The first couple of years are pivotal for any person learning to play; it is during this time that all your attitudes towards playing and habits form. This period was a good one for my playing. I recognized that I had an emotional impact I wanted to convey through my playing, but that I wasn't yet proficient enough to realize that goal. That realization was my primary motivation for practicing and listening; I could hear that other people such as Neil Young, Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, Steve Albini, and Bob Mould (at that point in his career) had the ability to make me feel things in their playing that I couldn't yet match in mine.
When we moved to Seattle I had the technical proficiency to attain my goal--the raw ability to move my fingers over wood and wire--but my ability to project complex emotion therewith still lacked. Luckily for me, we spent our first three years or so practicing as a group as much or more as I had previously practiced as an individual. This was the period when I began to put the pieces together and forge my present style, aided by the example of our former guitarist, Joel Phelps. Joel is a great guitarist, which was more evident back then because he played more and more flamboyantly than he does as a solo artist.

At any rate, I know through the experience of playing with, against, and off of Joel, that nothing can make you better faster that playing a lot with a great player. Those were the building blocks of my style. Of course, frequent touring and seeing other good bands always helps me refine what I do, but the learning experience I describe above provides the foundation for these refinements.

DC: How long has Silkworm been together? Were you in any other bands before Silkworm?
TM: I started playing in bands when I was thirteen, but I've only been in three bands that ever played out, including Silkworm. Andy and I started playing together in a basement-only band called Children of Habit, when I was fourteen and Andy a year younger. Andy, Joel Phelps, and I were all in Ein Heit; our first really good band, it started up in 1983 without Andy and I and broke up in 1987.

Silkworm started without me in late 1987. I joined in January 1990, when the three of us moved to Seattle, soon met Michael Dahlquist, and the rest is history. Michael was in a few other bands, the most notable by my reckoning being Dungpump.

DC: Why did you guys move to Seattle? Do you get tired of saying that you're not one of "those" bands?
TM: Seattle is the closest large city to Missoula, Montana. We knew a few people here, and were sort of familiar with it. We knew it was unlikely to eat us alive and that we could make livings pretty easily. Worse than having to tell people we ain't a grunge band is getting fifty or sixty articles and reviews written about us that have as their only point: "Silkworm: from Seattle--and not grunge!" I think that fact is obvious to anyone who sees one of our record covers, much less happens across more than a half-second of our music. I realized the other day that all the "big" Seattle bands are either broken up or barely in existence, and/or doing far worse that they used to do (exc. Kenny G).

DC: How do you guys go about songwriting?
TM: Andy and I write songs individually. Sometimes we bring songs into the band fully arranged, and even more rarely have specific parts for the other two to play. Most often, the material is arranged as a band and often it is dramatically changed. Michael's input, in particular, shouldn't be underestimated. It is a true cliché that bands are only as good as their drummers.

L'ajre (cover art) Posted by Picasa
DC: I love the last two tracks on l'ajre. Are there any plans for a live album?
TM: No. There's not much point in us doing a live record per se, since the way we do things in the studio now is essentially live. Vocals get overdubbed almost always, but it is rare for us to add instrumental tracks over our basic recordings; any such work is done to rectify mistakes that we don’t feel comfortable leaving on the finished track. Also plenty of technical limitations are involved in recording live shows, and we like the flexibility of the studio; recording in a controlled setting allows us to capitalize on the expertise of the engineer with whom we work. I really do like those tracks on l'ajre, though. I think they are the most successful things on that record; we were inexperienced in the studio and doing the songs live made them at once looser and more urgent. A few other unreleased tracks from that live session will likely end up on a compilation of old stuff we are putting together for Matador.

DC: What does l'ajre mean? It took me three years to fail two years of French (let's just say French ain't my strong point).
TM: Don't waste your time looking it up. I long ago checked French, Italian and a few other foreign-to-English dictionaries and the word does not seem to exist.

The full story is: Michael came to practice one day, told us all about this guy he saw walking down Broadway, wearing a beret, little goatee, smoking a cigarette in a holder. This dandy had on a homemade T-shirt with the word “L’ajre" painted on the front. We thought it was a ludicrous example of pretension, so naturally the term ended up as the title of our fist album. We almost called the record our days in ‘nam because we really like the idea of an album so named being released by a bunch of young dorks who were barely out of the womb when the war was on. Often people read satires of pretension as pretension themselves, so it's probably good we didn't do it, though we will be forever stuck with the word l'ajre.

DC: Are there any Silkworm side projects we should know about?
TM: There's a great Ein Heit record in the can. It features all of us, Joel, and two of our mentors who were the founding members of the band. It's a damn shame it's not out yet. With any luck it will be available for public consumption at some future date.

Silkworm (promo photo) Posted by Picasa
Tim Midgett: Laying it down in full view
as interviewed by TW Walsh

TW Walsh: At your show in Boston with Kelly Deal 6000, I interrupted you while you were making some phone calls just to meet you and you were really nice. I definitely appreciate it when bands are nice to their fans. Is that a conscious effort on your part, or are you just great guys?
Tim Midgett: Oh, stop. There are more than a few people I can think of who think we are assholes, so you must have caught me on a good night. Come to think of it, no one dislikes Michael, except his boss, unfortunately.

TW: Tell me a little about Missoula, Montana...
TM: Well, it's a town-city of twenty-some thousand people, not including the outlying areas or the non resident students at the university. It can seem bucolic in spots, but it is warped in many subtle ways, some of them uncommon.

Hard place to describe in a nutshell: full of truck drivers, waitresses, acid casualties, disaffected youth, ex-hippies turned entrepreneurs, all kept there by aggressive inertia and the fact that it is an easy place to bet by. If you saw Blue Velvet, Lumberton has a lot in common with Missoula.

TW: I know that's where Steve Albini's from too. When and where did you meet, and what's your relationship with him like now? Who wins your high-stakes nine ball games?
TM: Met Steve briefly on a couple of occasions during my college years, first recording with him October 1992. We are all big pals now. Steve is a good pool player. He almost always wins, against us anyway. Michael can beat him occasionally; I might have once or twice on lucky shots or if Steve beat himself.

TW: Do you do any recording engineering?
I wouldn't say so. I've helped with the recording and mixing of a couple things not including Silkworm, but my knowledge of the process is mainly on the playing and listening ends: what isn't happening with the playing that needs to happen, or what needs to be changed in the mix to make the recording work. It’s the in-between (read: hard) stuff that I don't know much about.

TW: What do you think of the northeast?
TM: I like it up there pretty well. I've never had much of an affinity for Boston I have to say, though Matt and Tench of Bedhead really like it, so maybe I missed something. New York City is a nice place to visit, not live. Maine reminds me of Montana, so I like it for that reason. I don't know how you put up with all those tolls, All in all, we've seen the entire country more than once, and I'm convinced no place in the US is as impressive all-around as the Northwest (snooty).

TW: What's your relationship with Joel right now?
TM: We don't see each other often. When we do, it is on unfailingly pleasant terms. He's a gentleman and I do my best.

TW: What do you think of his record?
TM: Parts of it are really great. I heard an EP, supposed to be out sometime soon, that is something of a departure for him (piano, horns) and I believe he's making a new record starting the end of this week.

TW: The band has only one publishing company. Did you do this to ensure even royalty splitting?
TM: Regardless of how the money is split up, there is really no need for band members to each have their little individual pub. comp. Some bands do that, but it's more of a territorial issue than anything else. All the publishing money goes back into the band, pretty much.

TW: I heard that Matador is pretty "hands off" when it comes to tours and promotion. I also read an interview where you guys said you were pretty happy with how things were going with the label, but has that changed at all?
TM: I wouldn't say they are hands off when it comes to promotion. They employ many people for the purpose of promoting bands to press, radio, and in record stores. It is true that they don't meddle in their bands' affairs when it isn't necessary, for which all of us are grateful, I'm sure. We are happy with Matador.

Firewater (cover art) Posted by Picasa

Firewater did well; not unbelievably great but far better than any other record we've put out. I think we came to terms long ago with the fact that we aren't likely to ever set the world on fire with our record sales. We work hard, but selling hasn't been a big goal of ours, and Matador seems capable of getting the most that we can out of the records we make.

TW: When is the re-release of l'ajre and his absence is a blessing? What kind of work does this entail?
TM: A bunch of shit work. I don't know when it will come out. I have been telling people late 1997/ early 1998 but last year at this time I was saying late '96. I need to get a hold of all the master tapes, compile them, and go get them mastered. It sounds easy. I say "I need to" because I think the other guys are even less likely to perform those tasks anytime soon. I would like to be able to wave a magic wand and have it all done, but last I checked Billy Corgan has cornered the market on wands designed for that purpose.

TW: The "Slipstream/Inside Out" 7-inch sounds really slick. I haven't been able to get my hands on "l'ajre" and "his absence is a blessing," and I was wondering if they have a similar sound?
TM: Way, though it's even cleaner--interesting that you call our first single slick since a local reviewer thought it had more of a sonically "abysmal" quality. "his absence" was the first thing we did with Steve Albini, so naturally it sounds "noisy."

TW: On the back of the single for "never met a man I didn't like," there's a picture of all three of you guys’ taxi drivers’ licenses. Are you really all cabbies in Seattle?
TM: Andy shit-canned his hack licenses--too scared of getting killed; oddly enough Michael has one and did it for many years, but works a slave temp job at Adobe Software at the moment. I drive three times a week. Too bad I don't have a cell phone number to give all the Boston tourists.

TW: This may sound corny, but you guys definitely have a "timeless" sound. I mean, there are quite a few perfectly valid bands out there (say like Pavement) that just seem to have impermanence to them. Clearly, however, the rock is eternal. Because you play a more "rock" version of rock music, I can see how you might feel a little separated from both popular and underground music. Is this the case?
TM: Most of the music we listen to isn't particularly current. I don't believe in wearing clueless-ness as a badge of honor; I wasn't proud when I tried to think of my favorite albums of 1996 and came up with four--three by bands we know.

It's just that between doing what we do together and trying not to get evicted, and not having (or wanting) a record store job anymore, I don't have the time or energy to wade through the effluvia and dig into the silt to find most of the good music that is out there. It is undoubtedly out there, but there's an extra lot of shit at the moment. The shit is real easy to find. Have to disagree with you about Pavement's "impermanence." Maybe I'm misreading you, but long after Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins have gone the way of Grand Funk Railroad people will be gleaning enjoyment from Pavement records. Also, I don't know what you mean by a more "rock" version of rock music. I think there are distinctions between "rock" and "rock and roll," but I don't know if that's what you are talking about.