I visited London for a week, what an enchanting city! I liked the people there best of all, and perhaps because Iím a vegetarian, I thought the food was marvelous. There was a pub that served a wonderful chopped mushroom on toast appetizer that I loved! Wish I had known you then, I travelled alone, and it got lonesome at times.
Would you ever consider a reunion gig for any of your previous bands? Sure! I donít know the venue that would be willing to accept the responsibility for the massive crowds that sort of reunion would attract, though ;-).
What's your favourite Game Theory album & song?
Favorite Album: Lolita Nation, favorite song: all of Lolita Nation. I played Lolita Nation for Steve shortly after it came out, and he liked it very much. He complained about how he would never be able to put out a sprawling record like that, much as he would have liked to. He said that his project was being restricted by Greg Ladanyi to the guitar song format, and he had to stick with archetypal pop songs like ďUnder the Milky WayĒ on his unassuming little record ďStarfishĒ. Poor Steve. (To be fair, Steve also credited Greg Ladanyi at that time with having an amazing amount of music savvy, and had a sense that the work they were doing on Starfish would take him for quite a ride.)
Who or what is your greatest inspiration with regards to songwriting?
Scott Miller taught me how to write music that holds up in court (so to speak). Because of his direction, I donít write lyrics that I canít publish on their own, hoping that the music will carry them. Steve taught me how to groove; his objection to Game Theory was that the minute we caught a groove, we would be off on something else (and indeed most Game Theory songs had about sixty zillion chords, forty bridges and two hundred different verses). Grooving is hard for me. I like billions of chords, it makes me feel safe and accomplished, and in a way that creates a kind of a groove/nongroove Zen thing. But my main influences have always been my muses. Iíve given it some thought and have developed a list of methods of approaching your muse:
1. Await the Muse:
Get up in the morning with a cup of coffee and go to your workstation (guitar, keyboard, pen and paper, computer - one or all) and fiddle around for a given length of time. If the muse is unwilling, you can quit after the amount of time allotted. If she comes down and gives you a visit, youíll forget that there is such a silly thing as time. This is the most effective method of attracting the muse. But it can be wearying, disheartening, and downright frightening to face the creative void this way. Thatís why every artist always also tries the following unreliable methods:
2. Dream the Muse:
This is where you inform your subconscious that you will write a song or a story in your sleep. You grandly tell yourself just prior to sleeping that you will write a hit pop song or whatever specific creation you have in mind. Then, if you encounter a dream that fills the bill you get up RIGHT AWAY and record it as it rapidly subsides into the ether. Problems here are if you are lazy or really tired, it wonít work. If you donít dream much, of course it probably wonít work, though if you pay attention to your dreams they will become more prominent in your mind. Then also, something from a dream might work in the dream, but not in reality. I came up with a fabulous equation for equanimity that made all kinds of sense to me in my dream and incorporated elements of Buddhism, relativity, organic farming and witchcraft. Now I still have the equation, but I'm damned if I can remember how it was supposed to work. Another fella I knew got up in the middle of the night to record a song he dreamed that he was sure would be a hit; he woke up excited to play back the song he wrote and it turned out to be ďHard Dayís NightĒ.
3. Kidnap the Muse:
This is where you take a song you like and do a half-assed job of learning it, then try to remember it a couple of days later and realize that youíve written a song because even though you arenít anywhere close to the real song, youíve got something kinda cool. Other unreputable types just go ahead and steal stuff, which is plagiarism and doesnít involve muses at all, so Iím not including that technique. People really seem to like stuff that is plagiarized, though. I donít get that, cause I canít touch that man in black.
4. Date Rape the Muse:
As you might suspect, this technique involves imbibing lots and lots of some intoxicant and stumbling upon a song or a delivery technique. This procedure was used very successfully by Howling Wolf when he sang ďYou Put A Spell On MeĒ; he says that he was so drunk at the time he doesnít even remember recording the song at all. This can be a useful technique for beginners, but it obviously limits the intellectual and the more subtle emotional content of your work, and you run the risk of rusting your strings or shorting out your keyboard with drool or urine. If you choose heroin as your intoxicant, I hope you like songs and prose about heroin because thatís all youíll get - probably for the rest of your life. Boring! But somewhat tidier than a drunken rampage. Cocaine makes for a fun songwriting fest, but you end up with songs that have a lot of bar chords played really fast that you canít remember later because they suck. At least with cocaine thereís a reasonable chance that you might write seventeen bad songs and still get those dishes washed.
Seriously, the best thing I have ever done to ensure productive creativity is to keep a journal every single day. And to work work work work work work work. Thatís it!
And is it true that you did an album with him?
Yes, my sister (Meg Thayer - screenwriter and actress) and I sang ambient vocals on the delectable ďPercussive EnvironmentsĒ, Jimís first release. Jimmer told me that this record was inspired by the work he was doing at meditation retreats where he would play drums for hours at a time while people meditated, and this over the course of several days. If youíve ever been involved in something like this, you know that things can get pretty weird that way, boundaries defining reality and separate entity begin to blur and dissolve. This record really captures that feel, and is great to play while concentrating on some non-musical creative endeavor. Meg and I sang harmonies on some chanting parts I wrote that I thought were just random syllables, but apparently there are some who say I was actually singing a love chant in some Carribean pidgin! Who woulda thunk it!
After Vast Halos, I wanted to take a break from the music business, so I went on an archeological dig in the area surrounding San Martin, Mexico, just for fun as an assistant - I helped catalogue the relics. While there, I became friendly with a *curandera* (healer) who became very ill and was convinced that a local witch had stolen her soul. She asked me to enter Talocan (the most holy earth - the underworld - accessible only in dreams) to search for her soul. Why this woman decided a gringa would be able or willing to save her soul, I do not know. I do know that I suspected foul play, and I had heard of locals using bat guano to send an evil wind, so I disinfected her house (using my favorite magic potion - bleach) in one of my ceremonies. She was cagey, though, and not satisfied with my Western ritual, and insisted that I learn with my heart, and not just my head. I became fascinated with the rituals and practices of her art, and spent quite a lot of time as her apprentice. My little grandmother is still alive and well, at age 87 years.
[Brian : Did I mention Donnette "lied through her teeth" about that answer ? :-)]
Yay ! a Scott fan. He is certainly one of the true geniuses I have known in my lifetime. Though one wonders what he might choose to say if The Church ever came up in a casual conversation. Should he divulge the sordid particulars over a beer in a smoke-filled bar? I think not; besides thatís one of the purposes of song writing - to tell the whole story in all of its gruesome detail and then claim poetic license. Another possibility involves a lackadaisical mention of this connection, one which caused him great pain in many ways. Unlikely that any one would want to initiate such a conversation, certainly not a man as reserved as Scott. His best possible course of action would be to smilingly acknowledge such a comment, and let it pass. And yes, I have been in limited contact with Scott, he seems to be doing very well. Gil Ray, who was the drummer when I was in Game Theory now plays for Scottís band the Loud Family. They tour regularly, I hope to see them soon.
While you're writing and recording it, as you said, everything is possible - try this or that, sing this or that etc. But once the song has been released, it will never change again ! Why is this ? Have you ever looked at something you wrote five years ago and said "this verse sucks, I've got a much better one", or would fans boo you off the stage for modifying your own song; a song which, for no better reason than musical tradition, become frozen and immutable once put onto CD ?
Any song writer hopes that a song will transcend itself, and mean much more to people than anything one single person could have ever instilled in it. Songs, if they are lucky, become a context that holds a personís life, they become a frame of reference for a period of time, and that way they are always a part of that particular life, and thus (my opinion) more deeply embedded in the fabric of the universal consciousness. To want to change a song that has undergone such a transformation is pretty close to profane, I think.
Usually when youíve got a song where some part sucks, it will curl up quietly in a corner and not bother any one ever again. If some one else does the song, they might get rid of the sucky part, or maybe even make it work somehow. Itís better to work on stuff until it doesnít suck though. I edit edit edit my stuff. Steve doesnít do that, and it makes you really respect his genius to work with him and watch him whip this stuff up out of the thin air. I forced him to edit sometimes anyway, and he was usually glad we did.
Making music seemed like such a decidedly straightforward method of engaging in the creative process that it really appealed to me. In theatre, you have to recite someone elseís words, in art you have to go to a lot of openings and stuff, know all the right people (theatre was like that too). But in the music business, the less of that taking tea with the Dean type of thing that you did, the better rock and roll seemed to like you (though I may have been mistaken). I started out in a college town that had a lot of interesting alternative bands, and I took up bass, partly because someone gave me one, and partly because if you played bass, you could always get a gig in a working band no matter how lame you were.
I had a lot of initial success, and I got hooked. I loved all the attention and photographers and parties. Somewhere along the line, I realized that the real fun was in the writing, that the chore I had engaged in at first as a sort of test of spiritual strength was at the core of it all.
25th November 1997
When Donnette said she was thinking of changing the album cover I suggested getting input from visitors to these pages. She replied :
Sounds great ! It also goes along with my original concept for this group which was that it was supposed to be a vehicle for creativity for any one who wanted to be involved. It was completely democratic, I offered everybody opportunities to write and arrange, write their own parts, etc. My philosophy was something like in order to transcend hierarchical social arrangements, alternate methods of leadership need to be employed. Even in the smallest way, if I could not boss people, I wouldnít. Boy, bosses come out of the woodwork when you do that, itís unbelievable how difficult a non-hierarchical situation is for people to accept, much as they may complain about injustice in any other circumstances.
Of course when some bonehead started bossing people (usually starting with me), I would have to assert myself as the real boss, which was exactly what I was trying so hard to avoid, and in my mind, negated all of the work that I had accomplished up to that point. I donít know why I had to make it into a social movement. I wanted to change the world, literally, if just by 0.001%. Maybe I did. Who knows.
Nothing is currently scheduled, you never know, though!
Yes, you guys have been debating this one quite hotly [Donnette read the archives of the Seance mailing list.] This is an interesting question in that it really seeks to do several things at once. Youíre asking are we simply chemical beings? Is there a consciousness beyond the accumulation of memories and desires of which we are comprised? Is there a greater consciousness that can be attained by altering the chemicals we use to perceive it ? How does this pertain to The Church?
1. Well, I guess we are chemical beings, that much we know, and we will alter our consciousness any chance we get. And so will birds eat the fermented berries and carouse and fight with each other, and the lab rat keep pressing the lever for more cocaine instead of more food. Itís not our fault that we like drugs, weíre wired that way. Scientists have been trying to get at the root of the desire to alter consciousness for a long time. Thereís something immensely attractive about it that must have provided some incredibly powerful evolutionary bonus that nailed it into all of us animals so deeply. Nobody knows what that reason is.
2. What exactly is consciousness? For a long time, science and spiritualism have been split, and science would have it that we are $5 worth of chemicals and some water. Lately however, some interesting experiments have been performed involving fields, and it turns out that there is something that we canít detect that has a discernible influence on atomic behavior. An interesting experiment was performed where a World War II vet was shown war footage while his skin was monitored for galvanic response (this is in Deepak Chopraís Ageless Body Timeless Mind). Naturally, he became quite agitated by the footage. Hereís the funny thing: cellular material scraped from his mouth was monitored also, and exhibited the same response - although it was seven miles away. Similar experiments have been performed on atoms, Iíve read the abstracts of these studies, but I canít tell you what they said except that atoms that have been bonded react to stimulus in an identical manner regardless of the distance between them. So I believe that there must be some force or law or something that is causing this. Is it part of what we call consciousness? Why not? This certainly is not disproven by the new findings. Could it be a greater consciousness? Why not? Who knows? What an exciting time to be alive!
3. If I get High enough, will the songs just come to me involuntarily from the void? I have to say I would do anything to chase down the elusive creative moment, and using drugs (which in my mind includes coffee, alcohol and cigarettes) to achieve this was perfectly acceptable to me. Except that it kind of doesnít work. Drugs seem to be a shortcut to the euphoria that puts a sock in the mouth of the critic that tells you to shut up and sit down or at least for godís sake go and do the dishes. So you whoop it up and kill off half your brain cells in the process, get carried home on a stretcher made from coats and umbrellas and spend the next two days regretting ever being born.
And you know what you get? A start. Thatís all you needed in the first place. Just an ugly blob that you can trim a little off of here and chip that thing off - what the hell was that supposed to be? and then next thing you know itís all coming together, and soon it looks like itís always been the beautiful finished piece you see before you, and you canít believe this thing of beauty was brought about by your hand. So you say, ha! It wasnít! It was the drugs!! Must Have More Drugs. Then everything you do is somehow related to drugs and it all becomes very tedious and single minded like a million jokes that all have the same punch line, and you hang out with only people who Get It and then you canít get out of It because of Them. Sad, sad, sad. And completely unnecessary, in my opinion. I donít know about a greater consciousness per se, but I do know that my muses like it when I just sit down and invite them to come inside without fanfare or ceremony.
As for Steve and his writing music for The Church, he has always used whatever tools he had available to bring you the finest music he could offer you. If he believed that that involved sacrificing himself to drugs, he willingly did so. And Iím sure some of those creative moments was mighty fine.
In 1982 I led a band called The Veil; we put out a record called 1000 Dreams in 1983. I can only say I was very young and the printing was (thankfully) very limited. Produced by Scott Miller (now of the Loud Family), this record did have some pretty good moments I guess, and featured a couple of very good guitar performances by Brian Marnell of the group SVT. He also played with Jim Carroll, and SVT had Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) on bass. After that I played with Zach Smith (later a member of the Louds) in a really short lived group called No Matter What.
And some more info regarding her new album (esp. where I can lay my hands on one! :-)
You can send $10.00 (U.S.) $12.00 (Australia) (no cash please) plus $4.95 shipping and handling to:
P.O. Box 1354 (Incidentally the day of the month and the year of Steve's birth)
Hollywood, CA 90028