THE BIG TAKEOVER # 44 - 1999

big takeover # 44



Contents Page Title: who said it’s all been done with guitars before?

PULL OUT QUOTE 1: As much as Idaho isn’t successful in some ways, it is starting at this point to finally get a tangible fan base. We’ve noticed that people are actually traveling to see the shows now. They’re not sold out by any means, but we’re reaching a larger number of people, and I’m getting more fan mail. So it seems like something that’s been accumulating over time, and it’s becoming worthwhile, so it’s 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 must’ve been insane! It’s this bombastic, “Soundgarden meets the Police” sort of thing. It’s so horrible. I’m so glad that we snapped out of it.

PULL OUT QUOTE 3: There’s a story behind “Alive Again.” Before my parents’ 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: It’s 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 ago—that is the musical group, not the State!—after parting company with Caroline Records following the release of their third and best LP Three Sheets to the Wind, don’t 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 he’s 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 York’s Fez club were mostly filled, with devotees from all over the U.S. shouting out requests—despite 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 Sheets—though the first two LPs and other EP are not bad at all—it is safe to say I believe that the emergence of Seta as both a permanent member and creative foil has been as instrumental to Idaho’s artistic ascendance in the last four years as Martin’s 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, say—there 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 summer’s 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 “alternative?” No one sounds like this band, even groups such as Acetone working along vaguely similar lines. Think Rise era American Music Club, or “Today, Today” 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 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 “sort 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 we’d 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: That’s true. Back to the future! So yeah, that’s the closest Idaho ever became to being a real band, and it’s probably the closest it ever will.

DAN: I think one of the clearest signs that it wasn’t 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 must’ve been insane! It’s this bombastic, “Soundgarden meets the Police” sort of thing. It’s so horrible. I’m so glad that we snapped out of it. It was right after Three Sheets, and that was the sure sign of the demise. We’re still friends with those guys, but there was some real bad blood for awhile. They’ve since created their own band called FLOATILLA, on World Domination. [The sticker on their new, self-titled debut LP says “11 moody tracks of introspective, Eno-esque space rock.”]

JR: I guess, then, you were an autocracy for so many years, then you made a small stab at democracy, and now you’re an autocracy again...or is it a plutocracy?

DAN: A duo-tocracy! [laughter] What’s weird, is that I’ve never been a front man, and I’ve never even wanted to be a front man in any band. It’s a hateful job in a lot of ways. To be able to hear yourself sing, you have to wear earplugs, and I don’t think you get to enjoy it nearly as much. For me, I get to play one thing, do one thing only, and I’m done with it. I guess we’re looking for people who have that same mindset, who don’t want to conquer the world, who aren’t hanging their hat on every riff they play. Someone who is happy playing something simple and stupid! That’s what we’ve been trying to do with the last two records, to strip the music back to something that’s 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 I’ve done, which I don’t usually tend to do! Like the song “Only In The Desert” 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 JANNELLI’s bassoon part, which really makes the song.

JR: Yes, but the best part of that song is the xylophone! [Jeff and Dan laugh]

JEFF: It’s not just the xylophone, do you know what makes it good? It’s JOEY [WARONKER, drummer] hitting metallic objects from my kitchen, and some other stuff he brought in from his bag of tricks! So there’s 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 I’ve 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. It’s 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. It’s 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. It’s 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 we’re 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 he’s 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. It’s a little jazz-rock sounding, which I don’t 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 he’d show up for 20 minutes of rehearsal, then he’d have to leave. But he’s so good live, it didn’t really matter.

DAN: We’re getting more experience at organizing these quick and frantic gigs, so it’s given us a sort of casualness about it! We’re kind of like conductors, in that we have to direct people and say, “OK, do this, do that!” But it’s also liberating in a sense because we realize it can be done, pretty simply, it’s just a matter of finding the right people.

JR: Why didn’t you record another song on Alas with just you and a piano, like “Alive Again” on Three Sheets! That’s a real standout.

JEFF: I think I’m saving my piano songs for when I possibly decide to do a non-rock solo record. I’d love to do it, but I just don’t 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 “Alive Again” was probably the most haunting song on that album. [Jack starts to sing the words, “Late December” doing a minor croak like Martin does on that song when his voice cracks momentarily. Martin takes no notice.]

JEFF: There’s a story behind that song. Before my parents’ 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] That’s actually pretty interesting! It’s definitely a facet of your arsenal I didn’t know you had! I would love to get a present like that instead of a sweater or a CD.

JEFF: “Alive Again” was the first song I recorded on Protools. I didn’t write it all out at once. I just wrote a piano part, and then I’d 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, it’s 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: It’s the classic rock ‘n’ roll story! “Mommy, I’m sick of MOZART, I’m gonna play my new Rolling Stones album!” Then when you get older you think they’re about equal, [laughter] Did you know there’s 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. I’d rather people hear it in their own houses, by themselves!

JR: Too bad! Oh well, you can’t blame a guy for asking!

JEFF: Someday I’ll do it. It’s in the future, for sure. I can’t keep writing rock songs. I mean, I can sing a lot better when I play piano. When I’m holding a guitar, I’m 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 I’m playing it, and I feel I can sing really, really well. Though I’m getting more and more fascinated by the [rock] format, strangely enough. I still think that there’s a lot that can be done with it.

DAN: In a weird way, we’re kind of turning toward pop songs. It’s not as if we’re 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 doesn’t have to be that cock rock stuff!

JEFF: [agreeing] We’re starting to throw away some of the distortion pedals, and it’s 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] you’ve released since have had more of a bass tone to them. I don’t 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 didn’t 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 [Jack’s 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 they’re darker records. That’s funny.

DAN: Well, “Bass Crawl” is really dark!

JR: There’s a certain mood to the last two records that are very different from the ones I’d heard before.

JEFF: They’re starker, in a way, more hollow.

JR: Maybe that’s a better description.

JEFF: I think Dan writes great bass lines—“Bass Crawl” is an example—and between the two of us, we don’t 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 we’d love to play with, but until we had money to pay them, it would be pretty absurd. For example, there’s a guy named DANNY FRANKEL who’s really great, and I think he would bring something good to our music.

JR: So Joey Waronker’s just doing you a favor? He has to be rather expensive otherwise.

JEFF: Well, he was paid very well—most 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 he’s 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 Beck’s drummer, and played with WALT MINK before that. And now he’s R.E.M.’s 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 would’ve 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 you’ve got company, with the sort of music that you make, do you agree?

DAN: I think there’s definitely people out there who are tapping into the same things [we’re 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 “no”] 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 they’re going to do next, they do something a little bit different. I hope we’re always doing something like that.

JEFF: Yeah, I haven’t been listening to a lot of music. When we’re recording, I don’t 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 didn’t.

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 weren’t dropped, but I don’t know if we were or weren’t.

JR: Your contract wasn’t renewed.

JEFF: It wasn’t renewed, and it never would have been, the way the record company was changing. I even felt after Three Sheets, they weren’t really interested anymore.

JR: We had the same experience with SPRINGHOUSE with the personnel changes they had, with KEITH WOOD leaving [he’s back now].

DAN: Towards the end we were getting nibbles from another label, I can’t remember which one. I guess we just figured that something else like that would come around.

JEFF: I didn’t 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 wasn’t even clear that we were gonna go on, and we didn’t 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 didn’t do anything for over six months.

JEFF: And remember, there was also a point after the Forbidden EP when I didn’t want to do anything, either.

DAN: Which is when you did the film soundtrack.

JEFF: And somehow, I woke up one day and said, “This is crazy.” Because as much as Idaho isn’t successful in some ways, it is starting at this point to finally get a tangible fan base. We’ve noticed that people are actually traveling to see the shows now. They’re not sold out by any means, but we’re reaching a larger number of people, and I’m getting more fan mail. So it seems like something that’s been accumulating over time, and it’s becoming worthwhile, so it’s 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 don’t have. We have the ability to record with the computer and the 16-track, although they’re not the best, they’re 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, we’re going to try to make the next record very cheaply, like maybe $500 for tape costs. We’ll 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 we’re [Springhouse] recording now has only cost us $800.

JEFF: But you’re 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 don’t have to pay for a drummer, but we only have a home studio and we can’t 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 we’ve never done before, but on the other hand, I did make a few mistakes! [laughter] And they’re staying in this time!

JEFF: But don’t you notice that with any mistakes you’ve made, you can listen to the songs a year later, and you can’t 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: That’s true, you don’t have the momentum on your side, or the velocity.

DAN: It’s also a lot harder to pull off quieter songs live, and a lot of people don’t realize that. People get more impressed when a band pummels songs live and plays really loud.

JR: [agreeing] There’s so much more touch involved and so many more places you can screw up.

DAN: You’re a lot more naked up there.

JEFF: That’s 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 you’re 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. I’m not saying that it puts you to sleep, but it reminds me of the state where you’re just about to fall asleep.

JEFF: Right. I find that when I do a good vocal take in the studio, I’m just on that edge of going down a frequency in consciousness. It is really a “between sleep and awake” state, because you get to that point and the mind doesn’t get in the way anymore. It’s not my conscious mind singing, it’s that much vaster part of me that comes in and takes over. But it’s 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 I’m a little choked.

DAN: Yeah, but on Alas you’re completely at ease. It’s almost like you’re just sitting there, not even conscious, at the microphone while recording it. That’s kind of cool. [Jeff makes a sound like he’s spooked out] I’m sure that’s not actually the case!

JEFF: We created the illusion a lot better this time.

JR: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the new record? What songs really strike you as being new for the band? Certainly the xylophone’s new!

JEFF: The first song [”Jump Up”] and the last song [”Leaves Upon The Water”] 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 “Jump Up,” 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. That’s 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 Dan’s guitar, because we knew we weren’t gonna keep that. So I sat upstairs and put all the other parts of the song together down in about an hour, minus Dan’s atmospheric stuff, which he put on later, and I wrote the melody too. It’s fun to build songs unconventionally like that, especially from the drums up.

DAN: And you also tricked Joey, because there’s no drummer that would play that kind of drum part to that sort of song, ever.

JEFF: It’s a very BRIAN ENO-ish approach, especially with his pop songs. He didn’t let people hear what they were playing to.

DAN: On “Leaves Upon The Water,” 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 “What are you doing?” 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 weren’t the standard guitar-bass-drums.

JR: For example?

DAN: There’s 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 didn’t 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: She’s actually going out with a 60-year-old architect, and she just had a kid.

JR: A 60-year-old architect?

JEFF: Well, I’m 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, “You know, this is great, but I want to hear something more,” and that kind of sparked it. So it helps sometimes to play your music for other people.

JR: That’s why I think you should use more piano. It’s 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 I’m too conventional. I can even do [SERGEI] RACHMANINOFF [1873-1943 Russian classical pianist whose work was celebrated in the movie Shine]. I’m 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 you’re 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] “Leaves On The Water” has them, did you hear them?

JR: I’ve only had the CD for a week, so no I didn’t!

DAN: It was fun playing all those instruments.

JEFF: Yeah, it would be great to have a warehouse filled with instruments, because they’re 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: It’s 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 don’t 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, well—heard 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, that’s 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 she’s really one of my best friends. She lives right down the street. I found her a little house, which she rents. And she’s 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, I’ve got to let you go, as your rehearsal looms, but I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t 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 didn’t screen too well there, and has since been bouncing around between different distributors, who are possibly going to release it. It’s showing here in New York at the CMJ Film Festival. I scored all of Kip’s student films, so I was automatically the shoo-in composer for this. It’s 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: We’ll see you next year at the Oscars, you’ll be next year’s ELLIOTT SMITH! Photographed standing next to CELINE DION!

JEFF: Right! [shakes his head, much laughter] -