FAQ Animation


Surf's Up!

Your albums have always strong concepts, strong ideas behind them. What's the concept, the idea you have developed with the lyrics of "Surf's Up!"?
I am a pointillist. Every song I've ever recorded is a separate dot of color on a larger canvas. Every album is a focused spray of such dots. The impact of each dot is important, sure, but the image on the canvas as it is revealed is far more important. If I could summarize what I am doing with my music in an answer for an interview what would be the point of doing the music at all? Everything I do points directly at the meaning of my work. I wrote the Mirror Man "opera" to act as an outline of my work, as a set of cheat notes to my work. I sit here and explain it as best as I can. I answer questions and post the important ideas at the website. I can do no more. The work exists in a form that can only be communicated with music and sound. It does not exist in a form that can be communicated with words or pictures or colors or shapes or blocks of marble or lumps of paint or shadows on a wall.

In which way the Beach Boys cover of "Surf's Up" is part of this idea?
I see no point to re-invent the wheel. Parks & Wilson described perfectly an image and set of ideas that exist at the point where the irresistible Westward Urge meets the Immovable Pacific Object, where a separate peace must be negotiated in the final chapter of the Great American Novel.

Have you ever thought to make easier music so that could be reached by a bigger audience?
Have you ever wondered why you have to interview inscrutable people like me when it would be much more fun to write about Robbie WIlliams and more people would be interested in what you write?

Is the improvisation part of your daily working on music or is it a long-time-experienced attitude to the avant-garde?
It's because above all things I hate rehearsing. Rehearsing is a waste of inspiration. Singing without inspiration is a waste of life. So all my career has been a search for a path that involves the least amount of rehearsal and the greatest amount of inspiration.

You're continually searching for new ways of playing rock, blues, folk... Does it still make sense having a differentiation among different kind of music?
It doesn't really matter if it makes sense or not because people will continue to make these distinctions for a range of reasons. For example, everything I do I consider to be rock music. I define rock music in a very particular way that has to do with American culture and my own history and prejudices, as well as my own ambitions for the form.

Aside from the musicians and the time you spent, what is the difference in the the approach and modality from Bay City, for example, and Surf's Up!?
Nothing. The musicians I work with determine the shape of a project. My own work as a writer and producer is constantly evolving, of course, and that bears on the outcome but people and the chemistry within the group is what my methodology depends on. My ideas are never good enough. They need to be challenged and tempered-- they need to struggle to find a voice within a stew of conflicting intentions.

Do you need to compare yourself with different musicians or do you express yourself better changing often your collaborators or are there other reasons for this choice?
I like to work with different groups of people for the same reason that you presumably like to talk to different people. It is the difference in people that's interesting not the sameness. Because I am not a pop musician I do not need to satisfy the kind of public that is buying a commodity. I do not have to crank out cheeseburgers or tennis shoes that are identical each and every time. I sell soul not clothes.

When you start thinking to an album do you have clearly in mind with which band/musicians you are going to record it?
Projects come around in turn. I finish a Pere Ubu album and then it's time to record another kind of album. It's like a bus schedule. As for the things I'm writing about, however, that does not change. I write about the same thing regardless of who I am working with. I am the same singer. I am the same musician. I follow the same methodology. My methodology is founded on exploiting the chemistry that arises whenever a group of talented people decide to collaborate on a creative project. I do not try to force anything or anyone. I allow the organism to move according to its own processes and as necessary I gently nudge it here or there.

What make you think if the album you have in mind is going to be a Pere Ubu album or a David Thomas album?
The sole determining factor, as I stated above, is whose turn it is. It's like standing at a bus stop. I take the next bus that's coming. Wherever it's going can be made to work for me.

What are the differences between a Pere Ubu record and a David Thomas record?
A Pere Ubu record is recorded with people who are identified as members of the band Pere Ubu and who have a historical and conceptual connection with the continuing line of groups of that name. A David Thomas record doesn't. The answer really is that simple. The only caveat is that because Pere Ubu is a guitar - bass - and - drums outfit I tend to not use that line-up for David Thomas albums. But it's not a hard-fast rule.

How dangerous are improvisation and mannerism in your needs of composing and executive rigour?
It's hard, I think, for outsiders to appreciate how much of my work is based on an improbable synthesis of serendipity, inspiration, chance, hard work, laziness, discipline, lack of talent, and the flaring of maybe, even, accidental "genius"-- all of which is fused together by a personal vision in pursuit of a Unified Theory. People like to work with me because the whole experience is a roller coaster ride-- alternatively terrifying and thrilling. I am a laissez-faire perfectionist. I despise rehearsing above all things and yet I demand perfection in a performance.

Electronics and technology are eighty percent of the results of your records. Why don't you find more exciting playing with "true" instruments? In fact the recognition of the trumpet of Andy Diagram is sort of a quiet isle amidst some tour-de-force here and there. So is the banjo flavour of "Runaway," for example.
Almost all the parts you hear are being played in real time by "true" instruments. Keith generates 4 midi voices at any one time (including the banjo sample on Runaway) from his guitar, a "true" instrument. Andy generates 2 voices with the trumpet except one of the two can be a complex loop he assembles piece by piece from his trumpet in real time while the other can be a series of layers of sound. The melodeon is a "true" instrument. We do it this way because I want a trio. I want a trio because that is the optimum number of people for an improvising group. All the electronics you hear are being played. They are not sequenced or programmed or pre-recorded. We are a synthesis of "true" and electronic voices. That's what I wanted. And the percentage you quote is much nearer 50/50 than you realize.
Furthermore, most of the album is recorded live. Andy & Keith recorded their parts together with very minimal overdubs. I recorded the vocals within 6 passes. I took the tapes and re-recorded them to get the sound the way I wanted it but the performances themselves were in real time, standing there next to each other and playing. There are usually no more than 4-6 instrument tracks in any one song but I do alot of re-amping in the studio, generating 4-6 "copies" of every one of those original tracks. I spend time getting the space to sound right. I use a number of different mics. I don't use EQ at all. Instead Paul Hamann and I have invented a range of unconventional mics to achieve a banding effect across the frequency range that not only gives us good scale info but also allows us to bypass the eq stage. I only use spring reverbs and echo plates. I look for any chance to use passive filters. The album was recorded more live and with fewer studio digital effects (actually none!), I suggest, than the overwhelming number of "real" bands you might be thinking of. You may be mistaking the many voices we generate for overdubs or technical tricks. They aren't. We use the technology that others use for tricks but we use it in REAL time and we don't play tricks with it. Other musicians who see what we're doing are startled.

Do you consider the songs of the new record as an expression of folk music?
Rock music is the folk music of the American continent so, in that way, yes I consider it folk music. I have always been attracted to rock music as folk expression. It is a vehicle of great subtlety and depth. It is capable of just about anything. What excited me most at an early age were that these qualities could be accessible in a true and MODERN folk form that bypassed media priests and social arbiters. It was non-hierarchical art yet still firmly rooted in a classical Master / Apprentice paradigm and connected to the history of American high arts, as well as American technology, as well as American folk history.

Do you think that David Thomas And Two Pale Boys are more minimalist than Pere Ubu and David Thomas And Foreigners?
No. In the 2pbs we're making as much noise at once as we're capable of-- Keith generates 4 different instrumental voices live, and Andy at least 2 but one of them can be a complex loop. We don't try to make less noise than those other groups. There's just fewer people involved. More is ALWAYS better. It is one of few universal laws to which there are no exceptions.