Volta is often described as a progressive rock band. Are you comfortable with
that or would you prefer to be pigeonholed in some other way?
matter to me. As long as I don’t try to define my music I’ll be fine. People
will always try to pigeonhole music because it’s a natural human instinct to
look around and try to make sense out of everything by putting it into some
sort of order. But to me, the moment you can define something it’s lost its
charm. From the moment you say “I am …” then it’s past and you’re dead because
you’ve arrived somewhere. You are something and you’re stuck in that.
Do you feel
any kinship with the progressive rock bands from the ’70s?
I like a lot
of those groups, particularly King Crimson and early Genesis, because
progressive rock was one of the many genres I grew up listening to as a kid—but
that music isn’t what I primarily listen to anymore. All those genres have
blended together because that’s what we are as people—we are the sum of all our
experiences. So, when I hear my music I might think, “Oh yeah, there’s that
sort of Black Flag Greg Ginn thing there, there’s a little influence from when
I used to listen to King Crimson a lot, there’s that Fellini influence, and
there’s a little bit of Robert De Nero, and some Salvador Dali.”
be an example of a Fellini influence?
There was a
lot of Fellini and Ennio Morricone on the Frances the Mute album. I really like
that grandiose and very stylized storytelling.
So you mean
the actual soundtracks to the Fellini films?
When I said
Morricone I was thinking of that, but no I mostly mean the characters in the
films. For example, I thought a lot about the main character in Satyricon while
I was making Frances. But I was also thinking of the polar opposite of that
film’s heavily stylized and art-driven scenery, namely, the neo-realism of the
Pasolini film Accattone. So it’s all these blends, and they definitely
contradict each other—and contradiction is a major thing for me. I have to
exist in contradiction. I think every human being does. People don’t admit it
to themselves, but we exist in contradiction and without that you can’t have a
whole truth—you only have half a truth.
is credited as mixing Octahedron, but you were also deeply involved in the mixing, right?
course. My input plays a huge part, especially because I’m coming from a
conceptual place and not a technical place, but the role is his. I spent a lot
of hours in there with him, but he’s the real genius. That’s his craft. I go in
there and I butcher his craft [laughs]. I’ll listen to his great mix and say
things like, “Turn that up and take that out and change the EQ on that, and in
this part we should bury the drums, and in this part the drums should bury
everything else.” In my role as the producer I provide the conceptual approach
to what makes something sound the way it does, just like the director of a film
does. But if you’re not cutting the film yourself then you’re not the editor,
and you’re not going to take or try to share the credit with the person whose
craft it is to do that.
extent are you involved in technical matters such as mic selection and
placement while you are recording?
When I feel
it calls for it I’ll mess with things like that—but for the most part I have a
very factory approach to the recording process. For example, I like to use
Neumann U-67s as overheads, I like AKG C-12s as room mics, and I like to put
Shure SM57s on snares and guitar amps. And when I’m just trying to get a song
down I not only don’t take the time to get involved, my engineers complain that
I don’t give them enough time. I’ll just say, “Get the mics up—okay good, close
enough. I’m very impatient, and that’s one of my biggest flaws. And of course
that’s also why I like musicians that can get parts right away, and when they
can’t I put a lot of pressure on them, which obviously makes things worse. Your
creative process and emotional outlet—what people call art—is not separate from
your personality and your life. So in my life with my family and with others,
this is something that I have to work on. That said, I’ve also gotten used to
the fact that I tend to pervert sounds so much that I’ll often take a really
pristine and beautiful sound the engineer has labored over and mess with it so
much that you can’t even hear the original sound anymore.
quickly you work I’m guessing serendipity and happy accidents play a big role
in your creative process.
Most people try to avoid accidents, but I welcome them. They make me excited.
So, sometimes we’ll do something wrong technically and I’ll say, “No, it sounds
cool. Leave that.” And the engineer will object that is out of phase or
something and I’ll say, “Yeah I know. I like it.”
important is it to recreate studio sounds when you’re playing live?
It’s not so
much a matter of re-creating them as it is having a live interpretation of
them, and it’s the same with the compositions. My philosophy is that they are
two completely different mediums and I just try to do what is best for each
one. It’s like the difference between a play and a film: One’s happening right
there in the moment, and the other you get to do over and over and change the
lighting and whatnot until it’s perfect.
least I think I practice. I used to practice a lot more.
like you’re playing all the time, which is a form of practicing.
I do play a
lot. I have guitars all over the house, not just in the studio. My problem—or
my strength, depending on your perspective—is that I don’t assign the guitar
that much importance. It’s strange because I think people perceive me as some
kid who’s in his bedroom all the time rehearsing, and because a lot of people
think I know theory they imagine that I’m intentionally writing difficult music
and guitar parts. But I’m just writing what sounds appealing and then later I
might realize, “Oh yeah, that’s some f**ked up time signature.” For the most
part I’ll just be in my room having a conversation or reading a book or
watching TV and the guitar’s in my hand because it’s fun and that’s what I’m
doing and it’s not that important to me. In that particular sense it’s part of
Do you ever
think, “I’m going to learn how to play these Brent Mason country licks,” or “Boy,
I wish I could play like Django Reinhardt,” or something?
sometimes. But when I realize it’s taking this much work to barely become a
rock guitarist. But, yeah, Django Reinhardt or Segovia, those are my true
heroes. My biggest hero as far as a guitar-like instrument is Yomo Toro, who is
a cuatro player. But with any of the other players, it’s like, again, that
takes everything I don’t have—finesse, sophistication, and an understanding of
how music works and why it works.
You did some
film soundtracks and you’re actually making a film too. Is that right?
Yeah. I made
four films to date and I’ve done three soundtracks.
something you want to explore more deeply in the future?
definitely. I like exploring anything that’s challenging. Going back to Segovia
and Django Reinhardt and all this stuff—I have classical guitars at home, and
I have friends who play like that. I try to have them teach me things because
I’m always learning. I just never developed like a guitar player—like a bona
fide guitar player—which is why it’s been really interesting to get recognition
as a guitarist. It’s a really interesting contradiction.
How do you
make the transition from the hotel room to being “on” for performing?
thing is that I like to spend an hour together with the whole band. Everybody
can be doing whatever it is that they are doing, but I always arrange for us to
be in the dressing room together warming up. The main thing is just being
together and having that day-to-day exchange.
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