Or… "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Machine."As I write this I'm in Scotland heading towards the final dates of the tour. Touring is tiring but it's been going great. I've been reminded again that when talking to people after my shows, or in interviews and so on, without a doubt the one question I get asked more than any other is:
"What in the world inspired you to start building your own instruments (or whatever you call these crazy things)?"
My answer is pretty straightforward: it basically started with getting fed-up after years of being in a long line of band situations where the drummer (it's always the drummer isn't it?) wasn't showing up for rehearsal, or canceled on shows last minute or just quit the band, and so on. Finally I decided to build my own mechanical drummer that I could always rely on. And I haven't looked back since.
This is basically true and looks good in print, but it's also an oversimplification of what was actually a combination of things that transpired gradually, and probably puts too much blame on some of those drummers, who were (and in most cases still are) good friends and musicians that I respect and feel lucky to have worked with.
In addition to music, I've always had a fascination with machines and moving parts, and things that want to get out of skips and make noise, which I keep an eye out for and try to rescue. I have some history as a stop-motion animator, which I started doing as a kid, building puppets and models and shooting them one frame at a time on an old 8mm camera. Later it became my final day-job (before I was able to scrape a full time living playing music) most notably on shows like MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch and Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken. Much earlier I also spent some time doing magic shows for kid's birthday parties, and I ran off with the Toby Tyler Circus for a while and I think there are a lot of elements in these experiences that had a big influence on what I do now.
|Toby Tyler Circus|
I definitely was a little burned out by the band thing. I never thought I'd enjoy being a 'solo' artist, I saw it as potentially being too lonely, but I'd never done an open mic before and I thought I eventually had to do it just to see how it felt, kind of as a rite of passage. So I did the famous 'Antihoot' one night in NYC at a place called Sidewalk (run by antifolk kingpin Lach). It was rough. I thought I played terrible and that that would be the end of that, but Lach seemed to think otherwise and immediately offered me a gig. Since gigs in New York City don't usually come at you like that, I agreed, and then thought in a panic "what the hell have I done?" I really didn't have any other solo acoustic songs down yet and didn't know how I'd fill up the half hour time slot.
But I had been working on the Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel, I had practically abandoned it because it just wasn't coming together without falling apart, but I decided I'd drag that along and play some old stuff I had with that as my drummer. I made flyers that billed it an "Experimental Electro-Acoustic Rhythm Contraption and Romantic Song Demonstration".
|Early gig poster NYC probably 2002|
But that was really the turning point for me where I realized I was on to something a little different, and that really stems from just having let my imagination run wild instead of trying to do it by the rule book. I realized I'd been compartmentalizing my talents and interests with music/bands in the one drawer and my love of building things in another drawer and my storytelling and movie-maker selves in other drawers, and there was a kind of internal battle over which of these sides would eventually win out and what I'd eventually "become". But when I let all of them collide it felt a lot more like I'd loosened the reigns on myself and had something much more unique to offer as an artist.
So it all started with the drum machines, of which now I've designed an built a good handful, culminating in my current road-partner Mother Superior.
|with The Hornicator - photo by Chris Saunders|
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