There’s a subconscious cut-and-paste going on in our head that doesn’t seem too strange at all. It seems like the most natural thing in the world. It’s the way we live now. It’s certainly what things look like, and increasingly what they sound like.
The songs speak for themselves, so I might as well stop here. But what they don’t say is how they came to be...who, where, when, etc. So here’s the story:
This record was recorded in collaboration with a number of other musicians, bands and producers — Morcheeba in London, the Black Cat Orchestra in Seattle, Devo in L.A., Joe Galdo in Miami, and Hahn Rowe and C’n’A in NYC. There were a fair number of frequent flyer miles racked up, but most of the time we recorded economically, in home-style studios.
A few things occurred to me after having written and made demos of a number of songs: that home studio recordings now sound as good as big-name studio recordings, and that often, the vibe in that environment is more conducive to creativity. Also, that the songs appeared to be in a wide variety of styles that might best be interpreted by different groups of musicians.
In the writing I appear to have mixed musical styles freely...which is always good for a laugh. One song, “The Gates of Paradise” developed into a blend of jungle and country & western with a slight punk attitude. Another song, “Daddy Go Down” mixes Cajun with Indian drones and sitars.
None of this was intentional or premeditated. We all seem to have all these musical styles and reference points floating around in our heads, things we’ve heard at one time or another, that rub off on us — sometimes in small ways, as a feeling in a melodic turn of phrase, other times in the overall style of a song. There’s a subconscious cut-and-paste going in our heads that doesn’t seem strange at all. It seems like the most natural thing in the world. It’s the way we live now. It’s certainly what things look like, and increasingly what they sound like...ad hoc...patchwork. Borrowing from both the past and the future, from here and there.
I’d heard it in Brazil on Chico Science’s record, in Argentina on Illya Kurlfaki’s record, already with Bjork and Portishead in UK, with Beck and Cibo Matto in the U.S.
So, I began working on a few songs at a time, first with Hahn Rowe, a DJ, programmer and musician here in NY (he used to be in a band, Hugo Largo, and now works with the singer from that band, Mimi Goese, whose first solo record will be on Luaka Bop). We worked in my rented apartment/studio in Chelsea, mixing live instruments with samples, loops and affected soundz... recording on fairly basic home equipment. “Soft Seduction” was completed here.
Warner Bros. Records A&R rep Meredith Chinn sent me an advance copy of Morcheeba’s record “Who Can You Trust?” and on it there was a similar impulse to blend musical styles and to mix samples with live instruments in a loose song structure. So I called them up and asked if they wanted to work on a few songs together...and see how it went.
I took a couple of guitars and some pedals to London and we holed up in their “home” studio in Clapham...it went quickly and we got along really well. We all loved the results. In the next few months, when they had breaks from live dates, I’d show up and we’d cut a few more songs, until we’d done half the record.
I’d heard the Black Cat Orchestra during a night out in Seattle...and they naturally came to mind when I imagined the way “They Are In Love” might sound. So I flew out there with my Dobro, which we never used, and we recorded the tune pretty much live.
I’d worked with Andres and Camus (C’n’A) previously on a duet with the Brazilian singer Marisa Monte for the Red Hot + Rio record (doing a herky jerky trip-hop travesty of the classic “Aguas de Março”)...so we did a couple of songs in their Brooklyn apartment/studio.
I met Joe Galdo in Cartagena, Colombia, at a fantastic music festival there. Both of us were knocked out by a lot of the groups there and especially the group Burning Flames, a kind of techno-Caribbean/Calypso/Soca P-Funk! Joe had done an Anjelique Kidjo record which I’d loved...both for the songs and for its joyous blend singing and Afro-techno production... a sound not too dissimilar from what I’d imagined for “Miss America..."in my dreams. So that’s what I was aiming for. The great singer Paula Cole sang backup to the song at my apartment in New York and Joe brought in Betty Wright, best known for her hit “Clean Up Woman.”
I’d met Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale of Devo a while ago. Naturally enough, I’d always admired their robot-gone-haywire sound and their amazing videos...their Akron humor somehow seemed not too distant from my Baltimore upbringing. Mark was recording mostly for film and television in his own home studio. “Wicked Little Doll,” with its obsessive, twisted, robotic riff and mechanical rhythms, seemed particularly Devo-esque, like a marriage already made...in my head, at least. So we consummated it.
So this is it. A schizo version of the inside of my head...as rendered by many different bands and musicians. The Many Sides Of...The Mystic Moods Of...
This was a dream record to make. It was like picturing in your mind how you imagined a song to sound and then hooking up with a group who did just that. Sometimes it worked. And sometimes it was beyond painless...fun even.
It seems to me that with the fairly recent advent of relatively cheap home-type recording equipment with studio quality sound that not only will anybody with two turntables and a microphone be making records, but everyone else too, in an incredible variety of styles and approaches...and everywhere...this stuff is going to put musicians all over the world on an even more equal footing with Western pop/alt/urban musicians. They were always equal as far as playing and writing, but now more and more of us will be able to express what it feels like — the global media atmosphere that we breathe every day.
The cover — he’s a real doll. It was first attempted with computers. I had my head scanned with a laser in Emeryville, Ca., but in the end the Luddites won this round. We ended up, the designer Stephan Sagmeister and I, begging Yuji Yoshimoto who makes giant super realistic plastic candy bars and Cheerios for Saturday morning commercials, to sculpt real dolls of me expressing four of my typical moods — pissed off, crying, stupidly happy and dull gaze. The result had just the right amount of unreality. It was really odd, as you might expect, to see my little self, to hold my little self (no Little Elvis jokes please!) and to see him packed away in his little bubble-wrap coffin.
As is common in this business called show, I’ve often felt like an object, like a product, like a piece of meat, like a walking cartoon. Here the transformation process is complete...my worries are over.