Monday, June 18, 2007

Eugene Chadbourne again!

Eugene Chadbourne, left, Allan MacInnis, right. Photo by Dan Kibke

In addition to his tenure at the VCMI, which has already begun, Eugene Chadbourne will play three shows in Vancouver, starting Wednesday with a Dick Dale tribute band from Calgary at the Cobalt, for Fake Jazz night. Expect surf rock with a twist - Dr. Chad tells me that he played with this unit once before and it was a hoot. Then there's his Friday 5:30 PM show with Paul Lovens on June 22nd, followed that evening at the Culch, where he'll be singing and providing guitar and banjo accompaniment with Aki Takase's Fats Waller Project. My current print interview with Dr. Chad is findable at the Nerve online (check the archives if you're viewing this after June 2007) - we talk about Phil Ochs and his fondness for covering country tunes, and sort of neglect his "protest-song" side. The meat of the interview is below, without my interspersed prose:

On Phil Ochs:

I saw him several times when I was a teenager, I
always had to go alone because all my friends hated
his voice. He was a huge inspiration. One thing that is
interesting is in Boulder, Colorado, he did his rock
and roll shtick and nobody objected at all. I thought
it was weird when that "Gunfight in Carnegie Hall"
disc came out with the audience getting upset, I
thought New Yorkers must be really uptight. His life
of course ends with a horrible tragedy, including
several stupid biographies that came out after he
killed himself.

Reacting to my observation that "I don't like country music that much, but I love
your recordings of country music," and my request for his theory of how that works:

I don't know the answers to any of this for sure but I
do hear alot of it. In the '80s I would hear that
albums such as There'll be No Tears TOnight and
Country Protest "turned on" punkers to country music.
I just assumed they hadn't heard anything they liked
yet in the genre and I just happened to be that. In
the beginning there was a split between the avant
garde fans that liked the combination and those that
didn't, a split that has continued.

On the spontaneity of his shows - does he plan the set in advance?

I would rather not but I sometimes have to just to
make sure the show is going to move comfortably. Paul
and I might plan the first number and during the show
we may discuss what is coming next, but most of it is
On the origins of his duo work with Paul Lovens:

Ironically the duo with him came up when the chef of
the Victoriaville fest turned down my duo with Jimmy
Carl Black, saying there was too much rock and country
and the festival crowd would not see what a great
guitarist I am in this context. This is of course the
opposite of the usual public reaction to free music.
So Paul Lovens and I had been talking about playing
together as he was getting attracted to the banjo
playing and picking he had heard in other contexts
involving me at festivals.
The Victoriaville fest went with the new combination
based on the idea that we would tour on the way up and
not present "the first meeting." Still expecting a
largely free improv set, the festival was surprised
that Paul had encouraged me to play all the country
and rock stuff, because he wanted to play it too. He
is like a big fan of drummers such as Charlie Watts,
Gary Chester, Earl Palmer. We also play together in
two other groups right now, one of which is also
playing in Vancouver, the Aki Takase Fats Waller
Project. Another is called New Directions in
Appalachian Music and involves Phil Minton, Mike
Cooper and others.

On how he seemed a lot more normal than I expected when I met him at the airport last time, then magically turned into a Looney Tunes character onstage:

I am not really in control of any of these perceptions
and think they are stupid to talk about. Why would you
expect someone to act the same way at an airport then
they do at a concert performance? My wife gets alot of
this from local yokels who think I sit around the
house playing the electric rake all the time or

Another funny variation was the guy running a college
radio festival in Cleveland: he wanted to be assured I
would actually show up since "your music is so weird,
how do I know you will?"

On how he feels about "Outsider Music" as a term and phenomenon, and if he ever gets stuck in that box:

Another dumb label, I prefer the kind that relate to
buildings, garage rock, chamber music, loft jazz,
bedroom tapers.

I have been part of the "Outside Music" festival at
Chicago's Intuit Gallery, which shows outsider art.
My inclusion was controversial: it is true, I am not
an outsider in the sense of these artists because I
work profesionally as a musician. But many of them
survive from their professions too. In the art world
it is mostly employed as a term so collectors can keep
the price down on various types of work, a control
mechanism. In the music business they couldn't get the
price down any lower so I am not sure what the fuck
they are doing.

Does he have any labels for himself?

Not really, I like that comment of Capt. Beefheart's,
"my bottle doesn't have a label on it."
On what is a Eugene Chadbourne fan is like:

A sincere, socially conscious and usually brilliant
individual who has no time for crap.

On his daughters:

All three of the daughters actually are pretty
involved from time to time, Lizzie as a lyricist and
Jenny as an organizer and driver.

On Molly's future music career and how having Eugene Chadbourne for a father will affect her:

You are assuming she will have a music career. I am
not sure what she will do but she has a research grant
this summer to conduct an oral history related to the
establishing of Ladyslipper Music, a distribution
company for women's music founded in the Carrboro area
in the '70s. She graduates from college in the fall
and has been studying Spanish, semantics, literature,
women's studies, among other things.
She is very serious about music. She tends to talk
about things like sounding out of tune, kind of a
forbidden subject in the Chad world but I let her get
away with it.

Does Dr. Chad have more serious projects and more frivolous ones? Is there a hierarchy of importance in his musical world?

Almost anything has equal promise in my opinion. At
the same time if I decide to do a gig with two
teenagers backing me up I might expect less then if it was Paul
Lovens I was playing with. I try to put the same
amount of my own bravura and aesthetic into everything
I do, though, even if I am playing a song or two for a
class of little kids, I want to be playing in such a
way that if a hip jazz fan walked in they would freak
out and say "wow!"

What 3 CDs would he advise people to buy?

As you may have seen when I lord over my KKK mart
(explanatory note: when he sits onstage with a bunch of
his homemade CDs in a guitar case after a show), I
steer people toward whatever sides of my music they
are most interested in, and then it would also depend
on the nature of their collection. "There'll be No Tears
Tonight" is a groundbreaking record in some ways so
many people would like to have that. The CD version of
"The English Channel" is such a crazy assortment of
noise that I think every household should have one. I
am currently quite fond of "Horror Part 10: Concert
Band Massacre by Evil Spell" in which a pile of rare
vinyl recordings by the Grimsley Stage Band in
Greensboro get mutilated in my lab. Paul Lovens thinks
the debut recording of New Directions in Applachian
Music is the greatest CD ever and won't stop listening
to it. Collections such as "Duck Chad" and "Doc Chad
Coffee Cure" present good examples of what I am up to
currently. In some cases the best documentation is not
home made by me. The Get out of Iraq Now quartet
(GOIN) is represented in my catalog but I prefer the
new DVD production by the Straw into Gold company.

Does he still have family in Canada?

Yes, father, father in law, sister in law, brother in
law... I am stopping off to visit my dad.

On what he does in his freetime when in Canada:

Most often it has something to do with nature...

Any funny stories about visiting Canada?

No, but it isn't that Canada isn't funny. Most
performers would tell you a story about a border
search. Shockabilly was held up at the Winnipeg border
for hours and hours, they really thought we were
troublemakers and idiots and would have no resources
to raise a bond or make anything happen that would get
us across the border. Meanwhile we called my brother in law, who owned
several clothing stores in Calgary and could arrange a
bond even with the Stampede in progress. The promoter'
father turned out to be a retired colonel, he called
the customs people and apparently tore a hole in them.
When they allowed us through, the guy in charge said
"I am impressed, I had no idea you guys knew anybody
like that."

On Dr. Chad and Lenny Breau

I interviewed him and both that piece and the review
of his gig ran in the Calgary Herald in the early
'70s. He was doing some nice modal playing in the McCoy
Tyner style at the time.
How do you feel about yourself as an AMERICAN musician?

I don't even see myself as an American person.

It seems to me that you are intractably American - I don't think any other country could have produced you.

I am not sure if that is a compliment or what. There
are many Americas.

You're obviously often very critical of your country (like Phil Ochs). How do you feel about being an American?
I must be like everyone else, able to distinguish the people from the politics, that is really important.

Probably a lot of the Shimmy Disc bands doing a sort of playful psychedelia (King Missile and Bongwater and such) were kind of derivatives of the "Eugene Chadbourne genre" - would they have existed without Dr. Chad? Who does he see as a peer group?

Shockabilly was so influenced by so many other
psychedelic bands, however, that accepting what you
are saying is kind of ignoring history (editor: he read me
wrong, really!). Bongwater was
clearly an attempt to continue what Shockabilly was
doing, minus me, but then it evolved due to Ann
Magnusson's influence more than anything else. I
don't see any connection with King Missile...A peer
group for me is musicians in general, all of them, all

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