Howe Gelb is verging on becoming an institution. Having been an active part
of the American music scene now for decades, he is held in high esteem by
listeners and fellow musicians alike and is rather prolific in his song
writing. This said though itís been along wait for new material from his
most famous outing, Giant Sand, but thankfully the wait will soon be over.
As the release date of the next instalment into the Giant Sand saga, ĎItís
all OverÖthe Mapí, draws gradually closer, Tasty was given the opportunity
of catching up with Howe on a recent visit to London so with great
trepidation and nervy demeanour thatís exactly what it did.
Youíre obviously a busy
man. You have quite a range of musical projects on the go including Giant
Sand. I was wondering how you balance the pressures of your music with that
of your family commitments. How do the two combined leave you feeling at the
Yeah, I kind of come to terms with that on a daily basis. It definitely
depends on the day, butÖdo you have kids?
I donít actually, no. My
friend has a one year old daughter though.
How old is he?
Thatís young. Yeah thereís no sleep for a while. Father shock lasts at
least a year (laughs)
Iíll let him know. Itís
obviously been quite a while since ĎCovers Magazineí and then before that
ĎChore of Enchantmentí, so this is the first album of all new Giant Sand
material for some time. Any particular reason for such a long hiatus?
Well I, errÖ I donít make a decent enough game plan ever. So I get
occupied and I guess Iíve been real occupied with the children, thereís
three of them. Iím in my late forties now, So they Öthe music kinda is there
and you think it handles itself and you sorta get in and out of it when you
can, but children are always needing stuff. In the old days the music needed
stuff and now that just kinda takes a backseat but you just get focused in
on whatís in front of you that needs your attention. The kids are turning
out pretty good though.
Am I right in thinking
youíre a painter as well?
Yeah but Iíve had no time for that.
It must be difficult to
balance all the aspects of your life.
Yeah and then thereís the energy equation. Thatís why I asked how old
your friend was cause as you get older, and what Iím finding here in your
late forties, is your energy kinda dilapidates in the way that you donít
have the imagination it would in your thirties, let alone twenties. So at
the end of the day when the kids are down, your kinda wasted, you donít have
much going on, but then in the middle of the day or anytime youíll get this
notion for a song and youíve got to find a corner to hide away in. You just
put the phone down real quick, virtually shove it away and just get on with
it for five minutes, ten minutes and then just put it away and get on with
your other stuff.
So the new album, ĎItís all
OverÖthe Mapí, is out this autumn in the UK. How do feel itís turned out
compared to your previous works?
I donít let them go until I really love them. So Iím never sure what
itís going to be until itís over and then I kinda get entertained by how
itís shaped up and try to figure out whatís going on exactly myself. It
makes sense to me; the whole thing makes a lot of sense to me. Have you
heard it yet?
Iíve only heard the track
on the Thrill Jockey website.
Oh yeah ĎNYC of Timeí. Well I guess it sounds like, when I step back
form it, I think it sounds a lot like the last five years all wrapped up.
There are some rockers in there and thereís some piano songs and some guitar
So whoís in the Giant Sand
line up for this album?
Itís become the Danes that Iíve been playing with for the last couple,
of years. Theyíre the guys who seem to be around me the most and hang out so
theyíre ready to make music when Iím ready to make it. And itís beginning
the third decade of Giant Sand so itís fair enough, thatís where itís
supposed to go.
So itís verging on an
odyssey now then?
Yeah, I, err (laughs). Odyssey?
I think itís a fitting word
to describe it. Thatís huge, three decades.
Yeah but it seems like itís always lacked a healthy quota of ambition.
Which when I step back and think about it on occasion I wonder about the
foundation of such a lack and it comes from, you know, the given nature of
whatever you wanted it to be. I think what I wanted was something other than
whatever was, reality wise. So thatís what its stuck being, something
So in terms of the tour
thatís coming up soon, who is coming over with you this time?
Itíll be the guys on the record which are Anders on slide work and
ThÝger on bass and Peter on drums. For the London show weíre talking John
Parish and, or even playing with, his new band heís putting together, and
Scout Niblett maybe. Sheís my favourite band at the moment. She ALONE is my
favourite rock band. I love her.
So no Joey and John then
for the moment? Are you still in close contact with those guys?
Yeah Johns coming up to Denmark in a few weeksÖcan you hold on a second?
Thereís another line, Iíll just beep it in. I hope this works. If not youíll
need to call me right back.
(Put on hold for a short time
before the phone goes dead. I call-back)
Its Luke again
Sorry about that Luke. So when the phone beeps it means I can go over to
another call but I lose you I guess. Where were we?
Joey and John.
Yeah. Johns coming over to Denmark where we live in ht e summer and then
weíll travel back to Tucson together. I think it comes down to, as life has
changed through the years, thereís this common bond that comes back to
having children. John having a child still seems close because he goes
through the rigors of dealing with being a father. And all our children have
become so tight with each other like theyíre brothers and sisters, between
Johnís daughter and my daughter and Rainerís daughter. Plus thereís the
younger ones as well so that whole family thin has taken over and become
more of a bonding issue between us then the music.
They were with you on the
last Blacky Ranchette record though werenít they?
Well Iíve gotÖwhat Iíve been doing the last five years is Iíve been
making music whenever I fin a spare minute. I just do it like that and at
the end of the year or so, when the place gets cluttered up, Iíll determine
whatís going on here. Do I have a Blacky album that needs to be just topped
off or what? And that kinda how it goes, so Iíll have like five different
possibilities or stuff that could fit into various camps. So some of the
stuff, like the stuff that they were on (Joey and John) was a couple of
Right, cause I remember
reading an interview a while ago where you said you didnít imagine another
Blacky Ranchette album rearing its head but we had Ďstill looking Goodí last
And I didnít even think that was a real record at the time. I thought
that was going to be, well, I like to make these records, these anti
records, these tour only records and thatís what I thought that was and then
Thrill Jockey heard it and said they wanted to put it to the top of the heap
of what I was working on.
I think it turned out to be
some of the strongest songs weíve heard from you in a while though. How did
the song with Kurt Wagner and you in the car come about?
I was at Kurtís house. Iíd been invited over to Nashville to record with
St.Thomas and he was being produced by a guy named Marky Nevers who plays
for Lambchop and does the production for Will OldhamÖ
And Andrew Birds last
Oh yeah, Andrew Bird, right. Thereís like this coincidental circle,
thereís been this weather, this climate of coincidence around all things
Giant Sand thatís always permeated everything and thatís how these things
sort of lend themselves. For instance Bird and I just got off tour together
in November and I didnít even realise the Marky Nevers connection. When I
hooked up with Mark it was by accident through St. Thomas and I loved his
studios, theyíre very similar to the criteria of recording, you know the
sixteen track, kind of a home studio, and I like his method of madness, how
quickly he works. Itís similar to the way I work. But it was Kurt that put
me up at his house for those few days and the song that he sang on I
happened to be writing in his living room Kurt would get up every morning
and go into his room and write
His song a day
Right (chuckles). And he reminded me later that he has me in there, I
guess I went in there one morning with and went on at length about a dream
or something and he taped it all so he says heís gonna do the same thing
where he uses that in something, I donít know, like a rock opera or
something. But anyway, he was dropping me off at the airport and I hadnít
gotten around to asking, cause at the house we never had time, if he wanted
to sing on it so I just pulled out the minidisk therein the front seat of
his truck before I had to get out for my plane. The funny part was of course
that while heís attempting it the state trooper came to ask us to move along
which is sorta better than any solo.
So youíve mentioned being
on tour with Andrew Bird and your love of Scout Niblett. Is there anyone
else that youíre listening to or have been on tour with that you think
deserves a mention?
Thereís a women youíve never heard of yet called Katie Maki, sheís a
young 26 year old singer songwriter from Canada, and another woman, a rocker
whoís an Inuit and an amazing singer, great, great rockin stuff, named Lucy
Idlout and sheís pretty fantastic. I was spending, ahh, I have like a
follow-up record to this giant sand record finished already and I ended up
doing it up in Canada and thatís why I was running into these people there.
So is it a Giant Sand
record or a Howe Gelb one orÖ
I think itís gonna be a Howe Gelb because itís very simple. Its mostly
just guitar and drums but with a ten piece gospel choir.
Yeah, so that was really, really fun to do and I found myself being more
excited than Iíve been in a long time about recording.
When are we likely to be
seeing that released?
You know itís in its holding pattern waiting for this one to do its job
so probably not till spring 2005 or so, because you tell me, but Iím told by
the record company that if I keep putting these things out too often then
the writers canít make room to write about each record thereís so many.
Thereís only so much space a magazines gonna give you. So thatís the
problem. You can put it out but nobodyís going to be able to touch it or
write about it so the record company has to be concerned with that and Iím
Youíre just stockpiling it
Yeah I donít know it seems like that more than ever. Iíve got these
Grandaddy sessions Iíve done and that means thatís the third record thatís
half done and I have no idea what to do with them. And then Iíve just
completed another tour only CD like the Blacky one turned into and Iíve just
finished it and I was listening to it on the plane over. That will be a tour
only CD but itís a pretty good record. it almost sounds better than the real
I think thatís what a lot
of the Blacky stuff ended up sounding like as well. Its kind of, I donít
know, maybe if you sit there and just make music and donít really consider
if its going anywhere thenÖ
Exactly yeah, you donít think about it in terms of presenting it and so
it has that nice cloaked, I donít know what kind of atmosphere you call it,
but itís sort of in your room kind of vibe a lot of it. Youíre not looking
like, Ďoh I'm going to present thisí or ĎI've got to clean it up enough to
Iíve just got a couple of
final questions off a friend of mine whoís a big fan. Bearing in mind he
could ask you any question in the world and this is what he wants to know.
ĎHave you seen Mark Linkous
recently and is he okay?í because he worries about him you see?
No I havenít. I havenít seen him in overÖ Paulie was keeping in touch
with him for a while and then she hadnít heard from him for a while so that
might be, ermÖ(pauses) but then I heard something good about him. I heard
something, I canít remember what it was. Maybe she told me he resurfaced or
he did something. It ended on a positive note but I canít remember what it
Thatís okay then, Iíll let
my friend know. The other question was ĎWhere are you living currently and
is it dusty?í. I promise he wonít stalk you. He sounds odd but heís
Iím still in Tucson for 8 months of the year and then I go to Denmark
for 4. So yeah, itís pretty fucking dusty.