IDAHOíS JEFF MARTIN and DAN SETA
TITLE: 4-STRING SONIC ARCHITECTURE
Contents Page Title: who said itís all been done with guitars before?
PULL OUT QUOTE 1: As much as Idaho isnít successful in some ways, it is starting at this point to finally get a tangible fan base. Weíve noticed that people are actually traveling to see the shows now. Theyíre not sold out by any means, but weíre reaching a larger number of people, and Iím getting more fan mail. So it seems like something thatís been accumulating over time, and itís becoming worthwhile, so itís definitely worth keeping it alive. Burning the house down and starting over in some other form would be taking a five-year leap backwards.
PULL OUT QUOTE 2: There was a demo that we made that nobody will ever hear, and it was the last thing we did with [the Three Sheets lineup]. We mustíve been insane! Itís this bombastic, ďSoundgarden meets the PoliceĒ sort of thing. Itís so horrible. Iím so glad that we snapped out of it.
PULL OUT QUOTE 3: Thereís a story behind ďAlive Again.Ē Before my parentsí divorce, my mother had some crazy whim that my family should all give each other non-material Christmas presents. So I scrambled to get something done the day before Christmas, and I recorded that. It was a present for my parents and my sister.
PULL OUT QUOTE 4: Itís funny that I keep that side of me [piano-based-songs] hidden: Playing and writing songs on the piano is probably what I can do best. I must have some residual feelings of rebellion, because I was forced to take classical piano lessons during my early teens.
If you are one of those people who thought Idaho disappeared two years agoóthat is the musical group, not the State!óafter parting company with Caroline Records following the release of their third and best LP Three Sheets to the Wind, donít feel out of the loop, as George Bush might have said. The Los Angeles-based group has been laying low on a much smaller label since, Buzz Records. And since they also scaled back their lineup, returning to their original conception as a collaboration between two guitarists, their live work has become sporadic at most.
However, the release of their sparkling new LP for Buzz, Alas, on top of an equally appealing The Forbidden EP, prompted two New York dates in conjunction with the music industry CMJ festival. This in turn brought JEFF MARTIN and DAN SETA trooping up to my happy kitchen before one of their rehearsals, to sit for our second interview with the band (see the back issues page to order the first one with Martin in issue 40). From thought-to-be-dead, to feature article, glory be.
During our chat, Martin said heís seen signs of a growing groundswell of Idaho support, both in terms of mail response, and attendance at their occasional shows. The next night, his contention was substantiated when the tables at New Yorkís Fez club were mostly filled, with devotees from all over the U.S. shouting out requestsódespite the typical CMJ competition of 100 other international touring acts performing the same night. And if the movie Martin has scored, How To Make The Cruelest Month (shown by special screening at CMJ), ever catches on in indie-film circles, some deserved general acclaim would fall on this unique composer and sonic guitar texturalist and his inspired sidekick.
Having only loved the first EP prior to the breakthrough Three Sheetsóthough the first two LPs and other EP are not bad at allóit is safe to say I believe that the emergence of Seta as both a permanent member and creative foil has been as instrumental to Idahoís artistic ascendance in the last four years as Martinís increasingly deft abilities as a writer and now even a producer. So we are glad he took part in the interview this time. Truly, this is an inspired pairing, a friendly duo pushing each other into new areas, working from scratch with their home recorders to craft unusual, polished but moving records, full of depth, substance, and sense of soundtrack behind the catchy-crooned hazy melodies.
In fact, Alas and The Forbidden EP are among the most arresting releases to come out of the West Coast slow-core genre they preceded and transcend. Idaho never lurches nor plods. They just play somewhat quietly to let the atmospherics burble and play more. Nor do they ever seem mournful and desolate, like Red House Painters, sayóthere is a stirring prettiness and direct effervescence in their guitars and moody bass, over which Martin sings like a man on a quiet vacation, thinking and humming contentedly to himself while fishing. In the end the subtle, careful guitarplay between these two enormously creative four-string players dazzles as much as it teases, a world of simple little sounds and odd chords that are as comfortable and as warm as a pillow or a hammock on a summerís evening. Imagine if they played six-string guitars instead of their trademark, custom-built four-string axes!
And despite the touches of stark, dark production that run through the newest works, Idaho always seem inviting, interesting, and smart. You want ďalternative?Ē No one sounds like this band, even groups such as Acetone working along vaguely similar lines. Think Rise era American Music Club, or ďToday, TodayĒ For Against, and you are at your closest, but not quite there. Do what you can to track down their LPs, though the easiest way is probably straight from Buzz itself. (To order, email email@example.com or phone them at (888) 802-2800.) The new one even makes expert use of R.E.M. drummer JOEY WARONKER throughout the LP and backing vocals from sugar-tongued HOLE bassist MELISSA AUF DER MAUR, a friend and fan of the group. Both should be made permanent fixtures on future recordings, as their contributions are equally enrapturing!
My thanks to MARK SUPPANZ for the snappy transcription.
JR: The last time I saw you, two years ago, with the Three Sheets to the Wind lineup, you were a four-piece, which in itself was a new concept. What happened to the other two guys [bassist TERRY BORDEN and drummer MARK LEWIS]? Were you not really a band, or just ďsort of a band?
DAN: For about a year-and-a-half, we were a real band. But it was almost rudder-less at that point, since none of us really knew how to do a four-person band that well. So it was kind of doomed to failure from the start. Those guys [Borden and Lewis] were expecting to jump into a band that had already been going for a long time, become a 25% member, and be given full songwriting credit. To be fair, they did a lot of songwriting on the other records, but some of the stuff they were asking for was a bit much. Also, they were expecting the band to be their livelihood, while for us it was just about making cool music.
JEFF: Yeah...I think weíd have to be changing the format a little bit!
JR: What band did they think they joined, THE ROLLING STONES? [laughter]
JEFF: There were lifestyle conflicts as well. They were heavily into partying every day, drinking as much as they could.
JR: Ahhhh. Young men on the road.
JEFF: Yeah. Young 32-year-olds on the road! [laughter]
JR: Of course, on your first tour you always revert to being a 17-year-old, right?
JEFF: Thatís true. Back to the future! So yeah, thatís the closest Idaho ever became to being a real band, and itís probably the closest it ever will.
DAN: I think one of the clearest signs that it wasnít working was that the music started to go downhill. There was a demo that we made that nobody will ever hear, and it was the last thing we did with those guys.
JEFF: We mustíve been insane! Itís this bombastic, ďSoundgarden meets the PoliceĒ sort of thing. Itís so horrible. Iím so glad that we snapped out of it. It was right after Three Sheets, and that was the sure sign of the demise. Weíre still friends with those guys, but there was some real bad blood for awhile. Theyíve since created their own band called FLOATILLA, on World Domination. [The sticker on their new, self-titled debut LP says ď11 moody tracks of introspective, Eno-esque space rock.Ē]
JR: I guess, then, you were an autocracy for so many years, then you made a small stab at democracy, and now youíre an autocracy again...or is it a plutocracy?
DAN: A duo-tocracy! [laughter] Whatís weird, is that Iíve never been a front man, and Iíve never even wanted to be a front man in any band. Itís a hateful job in a lot of ways. To be able to hear yourself sing, you have to wear earplugs, and I donít think you get to enjoy it nearly as much. For me, I get to play one thing, do one thing only, and Iím done with it. I guess weíre looking for people who have that same mindset, who donít want to conquer the world, who arenít hanging their hat on every riff they play. Someone who is happy playing something simple and stupid! Thatís what weíve been trying to do with the last two records, to strip the music back to something thatís simple and not hard to play, that captures a feeling.
JEFF: Yeah, this relationship works pretty well. Dan comes up with some really nice stuff that I think balances out my writing style really well.
DAN: And Jeff finishes stuff that Iíve done, which I donít usually tend to do! Like the song ďOnly In The DesertĒ which you said was your favorite on the LP [from Alas]. That was something I started, a little chord thing, and Jeff fleshed it out and added RON JANNELLIís bassoon part, which really makes the song.
JR: Yes, but the best part of that song is the xylophone! [Jeff and Dan laugh]
JEFF: Itís not just the xylophone, do you know what makes it good? Itís JOEY [WARONKER, drummer] hitting metallic objects from my kitchen, and some other stuff he brought in from his bag of tricks! So thereís some dissonance, along with a raw percussive sound. It balances it out a little bit. If you switch over to one speaker, one side will sound like [makes a clanking sound of a spoon hitting a sink]. Also, one trick Iíve discovered is something called Pro tools. It allows you to take anything and lower the pitch an octave, which is really great.
JR: To our readers, who might not spend a whole lot of time in the studio, how would you explain that in more layman terms?
JEFF: Protools is kind of a word processor for music. The analog tape deck we use is a lot like a typewriter, so if you want to erase something you have to go through a complicated process. With Protools, the computer allows me to take sound, and manipulate it however I want. Itís a great machine, especially for someone who is not a very good engineer. You can record stuff, then go back and not necessarily correct things, but just smooth out the rough edges, such as in a vocal track. It enables Dan and I to record things quickly, and not worry too much about them. Itís a great songwriting tool too, because we can record parts, then juggle them around and get things to work, and use it as kind of a blueprint. Itís wonderful that way, the only problem is that the technology keeps getting better, and I want to keep upgrading, which can get expensive. Hopefully the one we have will still sound good in three years, because weíre stuck with it!
JR: So you playing these New York shows with a drummer and a bassist...
JEFF: Yeah, a bass player named JOHN GOLDMAN, who toured with us after This Way Out. He went to my high school, Crossroads, but heís a lot younger than me. He lives here, so I called him up. I told him what we were doing, and he said he knew a great drummer, BILL DobrOW We will have had a total of 8 to 12 hours of rehearsal with them, before this show tomorrow at Fez. Itís a little jazz-rock sounding, which I donít want to become a habit. But the songs are good, and if we can just represent them, it will be OK.
DAN: Right before this, we got invited to North By Northwest [West Coast music conference, held in Portland, OR], and we quickly booked three other shows around that, and did the same kind of thing in Los Angeles, with friends JERRY DIRIENZO on bass and Joey on drums.
JEFF: We had to steal Joey from all his big R.E.M.-corporate-band-type jobs! It was so hard, because heíd show up for 20 minutes of rehearsal, then heíd have to leave. But heís so good live, it didnít really matter.
DAN: Weíre getting more experience at organizing these quick and frantic gigs, so itís given us a sort of casualness about it! Weíre kind of like conductors, in that we have to direct people and say, ďOK, do this, do that!Ē But itís also liberating in a sense because we realize it can be done, pretty simply, itís just a matter of finding the right people.
JR: Why didnít you record another song on Alas with just you and a piano, like ďAlive AgainĒ on Three Sheets! Thatís a real standout.
JEFF: I think Iím saving my piano songs for when I possibly decide to do a non-rock solo record. Iíd love to do it, but I just donít seem to have time. I scored a film, called How To Make The Cruelest Month, which is playing at the CMJ Film Festival. That kind of happened when I was going to start doing some solo stuff.
JR: I thought ďAlive AgainĒ was probably the most haunting song on that album. [Jack starts to sing the words, ďLate DecemberĒ doing a minor croak like Martin does on that song when his voice cracks momentarily. Martin takes no notice.]
JEFF: Thereís a story behind that song. Before my parentsí divorce, my mother had some crazy whim that my family should all give each other non-material Christmas presents. So I scrambled to get something done the day before Christmas, and I recorded that.
JR: That song was a present for somebody?
JEFF: Yeah, it was a present for my parents and my sister.
JR: [impressed] Thatís actually pretty interesting! Itís definitely a facet of your arsenal I didnít know you had! I would love to get a present like that instead of a sweater or a CD.
JEFF: ďAlive AgainĒ was the first song I recorded on Protools. I didnít write it all out at once. I just wrote a piano part, and then Iíd record a neat part to follow that, and finally I just appended them all together. But the whole file got destroyed, so MARTY [BRUMBAUGH, Three Sheets producer] had to go into the computer and literally rebuild the whole song. Yeah, itís funny that I keep that side of me hidden. Playing and writing songs on the piano is probably what I can do best. I must have some residual feelings of rebellion, because I was forced to take classical piano lessons during my early teens.
JR: Itís the classic rock Ďní roll story! ďMommy, Iím sick of MOZART, Iím gonna play my new Rolling Stones album!Ē Then when you get older you think theyíre about equal, [laughter] Did you know thereís a house piano at Fez? You might want to add that song to your repertoire tonight.
JEFF: I think that song is a little corny to play at a club. Iíd rather people hear it in their own houses, by themselves!
JR: Too bad! Oh well, you canít blame a guy for asking!
JEFF: Someday Iíll do it. Itís in the future, for sure. I canít keep writing rock songs. I mean, I can sing a lot better when I play piano. When Iím holding a guitar, Iím not connected as much to the song and the performance, and I have to sort of sing by the numbers. I have to think about the pitch, and I tend to follow my voice around. †By contrast, I feel connected to the piano when Iím playing it, and I feel I can sing really, really well. Though Iím getting more and more fascinated by the [rock] format, strangely enough. I still think that thereís a lot that can be done with it.
DAN: In a weird way, weíre kind of turning toward pop songs. Itís not as if weíre going out and trying to write a pop song, but it seems like a simple melody will turn our ears more now than almost anything. It doesnít have to be that cock rock stuff!
JEFF: [agreeing] Weíre starting to throw away some of the distortion pedals, and itís my goal now to record a record that sounds really good. I think all the Idaho records have had a really strange, brash, kind of harsh sound to them, but people might disagree.
JR: The last time I interviewed you, you were promoting your final record [Three Sheets], as it turned out, for Caroline Records. It seems like the two records [The Forbidden EP, Alas] youíve released since have had more of a bass tone to them. I donít know if you would agree with that, but they seem like darker records in some ways. They sound more organic and simple as well.
DAN: BILL [SANKE, co-engineer] had a lot to do with that.
JR: Did he mix the Forbidden EP too?
DAN: Yeah, that was our first experiment with him. That EP was so cobbled together, and it didnít sound that great before he got it, so he really did a lot to make it sound great.
JEFF: Yeah, he helped that record a lot. That EP was recorded in a room which was a little smaller than this [Jackís modest kitchen], and it was sort of pieced together on the computer. I think we were trying to take a few steps back and rediscover what Idaho was, to start the band off on a new direction.
DAN: Also, all the bass parts before that had been almost overwhelmingly melodic. Terry was just a phenomenal bass player in a lot of regards, but also unable to be anything other than phenomenal.
JEFF: That (RECORD)was the first time I let somebody else (Terry) take the bass over, for the most part. I mean, I played a lot of bass on(Three Sheets to the Wind) too. check
DAN: Yeah, so this was a way to back down from that and take things at a simple level.
JEFF: [to Jack] Fm surprised you think theyíre darker records. Thatís funny.
DAN: Well, ďBass CrawlĒ is really dark!
JR: Thereís a certain mood to the last two records that are very different from the ones Iíd heard before.
JEFF: Theyíre starker, in a way, more hollow.
JR: Maybe thatís a better description.
JEFF: I think Dan writes great bass linesóďBass CrawlĒ is an exampleóand between the two of us, we donít need another bass player.
DAN: Yeah, we almost need someone to come in and just do the parts we write. There are some drummers who weíd love to play with, but until we had money to pay them, it would be pretty absurd. For example, thereís a guy named DANNY FRANKEL whoís really great, and I think he would bring something good to our music.
JR: So Joey Waronkerís just doing you a favor? He has to be rather expensive otherwise.
JEFF: Well, he was paid very wellómost of the money that went to making this record went to him! Which is unfortunate, but true. In many ways, he could be the perfect drummer for us, if we could play a lot with him, just sit in a room and go. He really has a wonderful sense of minimalism, and really great taste, and heís a really great guy. But he has to make a living being a studio drummer.
JR: What was he doing before this? BECK, right?
JEFF: He was Beckís drummer, and played with WALT MINK before that. And now heís R.E.M.ís touring drummer [he also played on Up}.
JR: We did an interview last issue with a band from Los Angeles you probably know, called ACETONE
DAN: We did a big show with Acetone at South By Southwest [music conference in Austin, TX], the first tour with Terry and Mark for Three Sheets. For some reason, I figured that based on their music, we wouldíve got along and hung out with them, but we never did. We crossed paths a couple times with them on other tours.
JR: The reason for my mentioning them, is that Idaho has been at this, in some form or another, for a good six or seven years, right? And it almost seems like youíve got company, with the sort of music that you make, do you agree?
DAN: I think thereís definitely people out there who are tapping into the same things [weíre doing]. I see weird sides of it too. I just saw that LYLE LOVETT tour, of all things, and he had this guitar player along with him that was doing similar stuff to what I do, with feedback. It was bizarre. I mean, maybe not exactly in that vein, but still. I think there are other bands who are encroaching on that real estate.
JR: Do you feel a kinship with anybody? [Jeff and Dan both say ďnoĒ] Even just musically, as opposed to being friends?
DAN: I adore a lot of bands. I mean, I really loved YO LA TENGO throughout their career. I think they dodge every now and then: When you think you know what theyíre going to do next, they do something a little bit different. I hope weíre always doing something like that.
JEFF: Yeah, I havenít been listening to a lot of music. When weíre recording, I donít need to muddy the pond.
JR: So how did you manage to keep the band together after your record deal at Caroline expired? Most bands will just quit when
something like that happens.
JEFF: [to Dan] Did we even consider not doing it anymore?
DAN: Well, those guys [Terry and Mark] had dollar signs in their eyes, they thought for sure we were going to get signed. We did too, actually.
JEFF: Yeah, we were glad we didnít.
DAN: The weird thing with Caroline, is it had been a four-record deal, and that was scaled back when JOHN [BERRY, original
guitarist] left. We always like to think that we werenít dropped, but I donít know if we were or werenít.
JR: Your contract wasnít renewed.
JEFF: It wasnít renewed, and it never would have been, the way the record company was changing. I even felt after Three Sheets, they werenít really interested anymore.
JR: We had the same experience with SPRINGHOUSE with the personnel changes they had, with KEITH WOOD leaving [heís back now].
DAN: Towards the end we were getting nibbles from another label, I canít remember which one. I guess we just figured that something else like that would come around.
JEFF: I didnít really like what we were doing after Three Sheets, so I was feeling a little uninspired. I had to regain that inspiration to even consider committing the band to making music.
DAN: I actually think a bigger change than the record deal expiring was the decision not to work with Mark and Terry anymore. After that happened, it wasnít even clear that we were gonna go on, and we didnít know exactly what to do. We traded tapes for awhile, then we both kind of let it cool down for a really long time. We didnít do anything for over six months.
JEFF: And remember, there was also a point after the Forbidden EP when I didnít want to do anything, either.
DAN: Which is when you did the film soundtrack.
JEFF: And somehow, I woke up one day and said, ďThis is crazy.Ē Because as much as Idaho isnít successful in some ways, it is starting at this point to finally get a tangible fan base. Weíve noticed that people are actually traveling to see the shows now. Theyíre not sold out by any means, but weíre reaching a larger number of people, and Iím getting more fan mail. So it seems like something thatís been accumulating over time, and itís becoming worthwhile, so itís definitely worth keeping it alive. I mean, burning the house down and starting over in some other form would be taking a five-year leap backwards.
DAN: And I think we have the luxury that a lot of bands donít have. We have the ability to record with the computer and the 16-track, although theyíre not the best, theyíre way better than necessary. There are ways that we can make a record with very little money, if we choose not to use expensive stuff, like drummers!
JEFF: Yeah, I think if there are no new developments in the near future, weíre going to try to make the next record very cheaply, like maybe $500 for tape costs. Weíll take some hits in quality here and there, but ultimately the record could end up being a lot better, I think.
JR: Yeah, the album weíre [Springhouse] recording now has only cost us $800.
JEFF: But youíre a real band, though.
JR: No, not really. We quit in 1993.
DAN: But you have all the same people, at least.
JR: True, we donít have to pay for a drummer, but we only have a home studio and we canít record drums there. So we did all my drum parts in another studio which cost $800. We did them all in one day. It was nice to be able to record the album in a day, something weíve never done before, but on the other hand, I did make a few mistakes! [laughter] And theyíre staying in this time!
JEFF: But donít you notice that with any mistakes youíve made, you can listen to the songs a year later, and you canít hear them [the mistakes] anymore.
JR: I will this time! [more laughter] We were only doing three takes of a song instead of ten, and for us it usually took seven or eight takes of a song to get it perfect. Sometimes it takes awhile for you to really hit a groove when recording music. [Jeff and Dan agree] This album is really quieter for us too, while the first two were louder, so it was a little harder for me to play perfectly when I was just kind of tapping softly.
JEFF: Thatís true, you donít have the momentum on your side, or the velocity.
DAN: Itís also a lot harder to pull off quieter songs live, and a lot of people donít realize that. People get more impressed when a band pummels songs live and plays really loud.
JR: [agreeing] Thereís so much more touch involved and so many more places you can screw up.
DAN: Youíre a lot more naked up there.
JEFF: Thatís true with singing, too. I noticed that last night after a couple of go-throughs of the set, my voice was really struggling. I finally got so relaxed and comfortable, that I fell into this sort of haze, and I was able to sing so quietly and really hit the notes just right. Playing really quietly can actually be really easy if youíre in the right state of mind.
JR: Particularly with the sort of voice you have. It sometimes seems like your voice reminds me of the quality of sleep. Iím not saying that it puts you to sleep, but it reminds me of the state where youíre just about to fall asleep.
JEFF: Right. I find that when I do a good vocal take in the studio, Iím just on that edge of going down a frequency in consciousness. It is really a ďbetween sleep and awakeĒ state, because you get to that point and the mind doesnít get in the way anymore. Itís not my conscious mind singing, itís that much vaster part of me that comes in and takes over. But itís a real difficult place to find.
DAN: [to Jack] I think the one thing you said about the last two records being dark, or more hollow, is partly due to that. I think the vocals are much more at ease on these last two records.
JEFF: Especially on Alas. I listen to the Forbidden EP and I can tell Iím a little choked.
DAN: Yeah, but on Alas youíre completely at ease. Itís almost like youíre just sitting there, not even conscious, at the microphone while recording it. Thatís kind of cool. [Jeff makes a sound like heís spooked out] Iím sure thatís not actually the case!
JEFF: We created the illusion a lot better this time.
JR: Anything else youíd like to tell us about the new record? What songs really strike you as being new for the band? Certainly the xylophoneís new!
JEFF: The first song [ĒJump UpĒ] and the last song [ĒLeaves Upon The WaterĒ] are two songs on which Joey just played drums, before having any idea yet of what the songs were going to be.
JR: Those are my other two
favorites on the LP, coincidentally.
JEFF: On ďJump Up,Ē Dan and Joey were just
futzing around downstairs, and Dan was playing this funny SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES-type
guitar thing, and that inspired Joey to do a funny BUDGIE-beat. Thatís why the
first song sounds like it has a Siouxsie-ish drum
JEFF: On ďJump Up,Ē Dan and Joey were just futzing around downstairs, and Dan was playing this funny SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES-type guitar thing, and that inspired Joey to do a funny BUDGIE-beat. Thatís why the first song sounds like it has a Siouxsie-ish drum beat.
JR: Circa Juju or something like that, right?
JEFF: Yeah. And after they did that, we erased Danís guitar, because we knew we werenít gonna keep that. So I sat upstairs and put all the other parts of the song together down in about an hour, minus Danís atmospheric stuff, which he put on later, and I wrote the melody too. Itís fun to build songs unconventionally like that, especially from the drums up.
DAN: And you also tricked Joey, because thereís no drummer that would play that kind of drum part to that sort of song, ever.
JEFF: Itís a very BRIAN ENO-ish approach, especially with his pop songs. He didnít let people hear what they were playing to.
DAN: On ďLeaves Upon The Water,Ē we just let Joey do anything he wanted to do, since we had extra tape. And he did this beat that just had us rolling, it was very comical, if you listen to it by itself. He would suddenly stop, and then start tapping, and we were like ďWhat are you doing?Ē Then I had this little fragment of a song that I had been messing with for awhile, and Jeff put a really great bass line to it. We worked it so that was the final thing you came to at the end of the song, you get to this one chorus at the end after hinting at it a bunch of times throughout the song. And then it finally plays itself out and ends the song. So we did experiment a lot on this record, and we were pretty conscious of putting different things on there that werenít the standard guitar-bass-drums.
JR: For example?
DAN: Thereís all kinds of instruments, like the marimba and the bassoon. And we got real people to play these things. That, and Joey played all kinds of weird little things that he had brought. We even tried some things that never made it onto the record.
JEFF: We didnít really credit exactly what some of the other instruments are. I ran into CLAUDIA PARDUCCI, an old girl( take out girlfriend) I was madly in love with replace with(had a Crush on) in high school at Crossroads, on the street and had her come in and play violin.
JR: [laughing] When she was done did you get her phone number?
JEFF: Sheís actually going out with a 60-year-old architect, and she just had a kid.
JR: A 60-year-old architect?
JEFF: Well, Iím 14 years older than my girlfriend! Strangely enough, I brought some rough mixes of the songs to my friend KIP KOENIG, who directed the film that I scored. At that stage, none of the extra instruments were on there, and he said, ďYou know, this is great, but I want to hear something more,Ē and that kind of sparked it. So it helps sometimes to play your music for other people.
JR: Thatís why I think you should use more piano. Itís just another sound.
JEFF: Everyone else tells me this as well. To me I got too good on piano, to the point where I feel Iím too conventional. I can even do [SERGEI] RACHMANINOFF [1873-1943 Russian classical pianist whose work was celebrated in the movie Shine]. Iím still a spaz on the four-string guitar, although I have a lot of feel on it. Strangely enough, Dan is a really good piano player, too.
DAN: [humbly] Not as good as you!
JEFF: But youíre really good though, and you can improvise, just like I can.
JR: [to Dan] Oh, good, then you can play the piano!
DAN: Well, the plucked violin parts that Claudia did were almost going to be a piano too, and there actually are plucked piano strings on the last album.
JEFF: [to Jack] ďLeaves On The WaterĒ has them, did you hear them?
JR: Iíve only had the CD for a week, so no I didnít!
DAN: It was fun playing all those instruments.
JEFF: Yeah, it would be great to have a warehouse filled with instruments, because theyíre so expensive to rent.
JR: Or else you need eight people in your band like BELLE & SEBASTIAN, all of whom are talented musicians who play several instruments. During their live show, they were shuffling around the stage like it was a recital. I loved it.
JEFF: Yeah, we just saw TORTOISE play, and they were running all over the place too.
JR: The other thing I said in my review of Alas was that I discovered that HOLE has the wrong singer [referring to MELISSA AUF DER MAUR, Hole bassist whose backing vocals appear on Alas].
JEFF: [laughing] Good point! Yeah, Melissa has a lot of character in her voice, she really is a funny girl, and very smart, and it shows in her performance on Alas.
JR: What a pretty voice! I would never have guessed!
DAN: Itís very playful and childlike.
JEFF: Oh, she has a great voice, I would love to do another record with her. Her four-track stuff is very inventive, and odd. I mean, she walks around with a little tape deck, and just records sounds and her voice, and cuts and pastes them brilliantly into song form. I donít know how she does it. But I was thinking that Protools would be a good tool for her to do that, and maybe it would be a good way for me to get a song out there that could be, wellóheard by more people!!!
JR: Of course, if you really wanted to do that you would have asked COURTNEY [LOVE] to sing on your record!
JEFF: Yeah, thatís true!
JR: To ruin your record with her shrill whine! How did she [Auf Der Maur] get involved?
JEFF: I ran into her at a Japanese restaurant a year and a half ago, and we just started talking, and we had a lot in common, strangely enough. And now sheís really one of my best friends. She lives right down the street. I found her a little house, which she rents. And sheís a big fan of Idaho too, she loved the EP so much, and she was so happy to work with us.
JR: How interesting! Well, Iíve got to let you go, as your rehearsal looms, but I think Iíd be remiss if I didnít ask you quickly about this movie How To Make The Cruelest Month. How did that come about and what is it exactly?
JEFF: Well, I went to high school with Kip Koenig, and he got some financing to make this movie. It went to the Sundance Film Festival, but it didnít screen too well there, and has since been bouncing around between different distributors, who are possibly going to release it. Itís showing here in New York at the CMJ Film Festival. I scored all of Kipís student films, so I was automatically the shoo-in composer for this. Itís very experimental, a romantic comedy, so I had to work in an area which was not very comfortable for me. But I used accordion, marimbas, piano, and even my voice as an instrument. If the film does get distribution, and it looks like it could, then maybe Buzz [Records] would put out the film score.
JR: Weíll see you next year at the Oscars, youíll be next yearís ELLIOTT SMITH! Photographed standing next to CELINE DION!
JEFF: Right! [shakes his head, much laughter]