How did this record come to have such an open,
Nichtern: These kitchen jams, which were
generally either two guitars or guitar and mandolin,
crossed over a bunch of styles: bluegrass,
jazz, Americana, and floaty stuff. My label,
Dharma Moon, is prominent in the yoga world,
and I thought we could do something with an
Americana vibe that would have that openness
and spaciousness with all the wonderful flavors
of the improv we do.
Guest: David and CJ have written movie
scores. That’s not something I do, but I agree
it has that feel. It’s reminiscent of something
very visual. When we sat down to do this,
this stuff kind of just came out. It had a longform
feel that was open and had these twists
and turns. It wasn’t conceived as being cinematic
but I think ultimately it is.
Nichtern: We’d come up with an A section,
a B section, and so on, then we would
map those out. Then CJ would come up with
some kind of groove that we would cut basics
over. CJ would ornament it and develop the
arrangements after that. We didn’t want it
to be too much in the traditional song form.
We wanted it to be like acoustic chill music.
Nichtern: No. Once it was planned out
we would record from beginning to end.
Guest: I am. I played my 1954 Fender
lap-steel that I bought some years ago. They
have amazing pickups—a lot of people take
those out and put them into other guitars.
When I bought this instrument, I didn’t have
any interest in playing it in the conventional
way, I just thought I could get some interesting
sounds out of it. I did that track at
home and recorded it direct—no amp—just
straight into Logic. I played it through a Fulltone
Clyde wah pedal and it has this haunting
Guest: Well, I don’t see myself all that
often [laughs]. I do play some guitar on the
record, some electric and some lap-steel wah
tracks, but mostly mandolin. In the last 20
years or so I’ve been playing a lot of mandola.
I especially enjoy the mandola and you
don’t hear it very often in bluegrass, because
they tend to use mandolin. The mandola has
typically been buried in these mandolin
orchestras. It felt like a warm thing to add
to these songs. My mandocello is a Gibson
from 1916. The mandola is a Gibson from
1924, which is a key date for Gibson instruments
because it falls within the Lloyd Loar
era, and his instruments are very sought
after. I play modern mandolins: a Collings
and a Monteleone.
In a typical string quartet you have the
violin on top, then viola, then cello. In the
mandolin world, you have mandolin, which
is tuned the same as a violin. Then, a fifth
below that you have the mandola, then an
octave and a fifth below you have the mandocello,
which is usually used as a singlenote
instrument. They’re all double-string
Nichtern: Chris has this tradition of giving
me guitars for my birthday, and I played
a little Papoose acoustic that he gave me for
that slide part. Slide is one of my favorite
things ever, but I never thought I could do
it. Four or five years ago I started doing it
without really knowing how, and now every
once in a while I’ll whip out a bottleneck to
give a certain flavor to a melody.
Guest: I prefer to mic them, even though
my Collings has a Sunrise soundhole pickup,
which I think is the best, as far as those
things go. I like old Neumanns, the U84s
and U87s. At home I have some Shure mics,
a KSM32 and a KSM44, which are surprisingly
good for acoustic instruments.
Nichtern: It was delightful, energizing,
and fun. It was an uncompromising tune,
and it came out very spontaneously. I was
Maria Muldaur’s musical director at that
point and I helped produce part of her first
record. For it to take off was really great.
Amos’ solo is so unique. He constructs his
solos. He gets the first line and the second
line and he strings them together. That solo
was about four hours’ worth of work in the
studio. The song has lived on in a beautiful
way, and Chris was kind enough to use it in
Waiting for Guffman.
Guest: It’s a very schizophrenic situation.
It’s difficult to explain how I got into
this mess. I had been a writer, an actor, and
a musician at the same time. When we did
This Is Spinal Tap, we had the opportunity to
not only create that story but also to actually
write music and act it as these people. That
eventually turned into four tours all over the
world, playing to very large audiences as these
characters. Now they’re real entities. It turned
into this real thing where we got to experience
the joy of playing at these amazing
venues. And we played as Tap would play,
meaning it has to be good enough so that people
will sit there for a couple of hours, but
there are all these interior musical jokes that
guitarists get and all these musical decisions
that may not be the best in terms of taste. It’s
not that they play badly—it’s their pomposity.
It’s very different than what any of us
would do as ourselves.
Nichtern: I think that’s an important
footnote here. Chris is a wonderful musician,
but there’s never been a context where
he has been himself. This record is the first
instance of that.
Guest: I’ll keep that in mind.
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