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interviews - nov 2004


Howe Gelb
12/07/04
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 moment?
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? 

Heís 23
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 songs. 

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 Ďotherí. 

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) 

Hello 

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 years old. 

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 year
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 albumÖ
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. 

Excellent
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 kinda not.  

Youíre just stockpiling it somewhere?
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 records. 

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 be presentableí. 

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. 

Okay 

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 was. 

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 harmless.
Iím still in Tucson for 8 months of the year and then I go to Denmark for 4. So yeah, itís pretty fucking dusty.

Luke Drozd


THE WONDERSTUFF - GIVE GIVE GIVE ME MORE MORE F**'`*"G MORE'?
If your a fan of the "Stuffies" then nowís a perfect excuse to crack open a bottle of Cava and smoke a cigar or two. The Wonderstuff are back!!! Or so they claim.

However if your one of the minority for one reason or another that are finding themselves saying The Wonder-who? Donít feel ashamed... I will enlighhten you. September 2004 saw the release of there first studio album in eleven years. Three and a half years since reforming to play live shows only, the two remaining founders of the Stourbridge four better known as The Wonderstuff, got their collective arses into gear to reform with a new drummer and bassist to record some new tunes. The result is cutely titled "Escape from Rubbish Island". For the fans who remain loyal to their brothers you would be hard pushed to find a tune on this lp that comes anything close to their epic ĎEight Legged Groove Machineí and ĎHupí era... but several listens later it confirmed my suspicions, those being; you need patience and lots of it.... oh yeah and maybe a prayer or two for a hit.

Miles Hunt vocals and guitar-, Malc Treece guitar and vocals are still front and centre and still performing their job as one of the UKís best duos.. well not since Morrisey and Marr, Jimbob and Fruit bat and Renee and Renata have two musicians stood the test of time so well. Indeed it was only last December that they played to 17,000 people in just three nights.

But it's not just the live performances that keep the fans ever loyal ... 22 singles, 17 of them top 20 including a number one - four UK top twenty a1btlllls, a five night run at Brixton Academy - they didnít want to steal The Clash's record, out of respect - a further five night run at Kentish Town's Forum and head line slots at both Reading and Phoenix festivals - these are just some of the things that The Wonderstuff- fans can brag about. Incidently it was the Phoenix festival that actually saw The Wonderstuff appear on stage with freshly shaven heads claiming "this is the last gig we are ever going to do so god bless the fucking lot of yer!" There were a lot of tears that day some maybe of sheer happiness that they would not be gracing us with there presence again, but for the majority perhaps just inconsolable grieving.

So here they are, a tour to combine with there newly released album. I asked Miles why. "The reasons for a new album were a necessity" he explained. "The support we have been shown by our fans over the years is phenomenal, particularly these last three years. I've felt humbled and grateful and blessed with loyal audiences and I think if we'd have carried on wheeling ourselves out every Christmas like the Gary Glitter Gang Show with no new releases then we'd been taking the piss. This record is as much a thank you to those people as it is a necessity for us to write, record and play". 

Since the other old band members had departed, was it a hard task to pick up the pieces and start again?

"When I was living with Clint from Pop will Eat Itself last year in California I asked him for advice on what the vibe on this album should be. As well as speaking with Malc and confirming that I wouldnít let him down with the re-birth of The Wonderstuff, I decided basically that we should go back to what we were all about in the beginning.... gags, humour and basically a whinge with a smile on our faces".

"I new Mark McCarthy from way back and he hadnít done anything for three years so after jamming with him I could see the vibe that he was giving out was like "this is what it's fucking all about" and as for Luke Johnson the drummer ( I've known him from my time of living in L.A) and at the time we were getting this together he was whiling away the hours in his L.A recording studio and he was like "Of coarse ill be in your band, do you think I wanna be stuck here recording god awful metal bands for the rest of my life?!" So after asking Matt Terry to do the additional backing vocals on the studio album I found the three disciples, Mark, Matt and Luke. We rehearsed well over thirty songs and got gig tight in six weeks! Also I think that it's the personality's of this band that also make this work. 

The title of the album sounds like a typical Miles rant. Has the state of the British government got anything to do with this?

"Absolutely. I spent five months with Clint in L.A and being out of the UK and looking at things from an American perspective I felt disgraced and ashamed, it was around the time the Iraq war kicked off and the ass licking of Blair with Bush. I felt anti-home and was not looking forward to going back to England. It was actually the drummer Luke who coined the phrase " Escape from rubbish island". But it was when I met some guys I played with when I went to Ireland before heading home that I picked up some optimism. Also discovering that I had a three year old daughter in Devon made me want to base myself in England and that in turn made me a more responsible person. Its changed my life but I'm not allowed to sing to her.... I get told off!" 

Is cracking the top 40 still an importance to you?

"In a word, NO! I have no interest in Top of the Pops and never did before. Way back when the likes of ĎSize of a Cowí and ĎCheap Seatsí hit the charts we spent years just getting drunk and picking outfits out of a box and wearing them not realising that this was the image that kids would portray of us. I think we've all grown up now. Besides John Peel was more our era cause thatís what we grew up with". 

And the tartan?

"That was my homage to Noddy and The Clash"

With the state of the UK charts at the moment filled with Pop idol wanna-be's and Robbie, have you ever felt the urge to write another version of ĎAstley in the Noose?

"YES ...what Williams in the noose? Hmmm very tempting. He's like a younger version of Tommy Steel but worse! No, I think I'm older and more aware of getting wound up and I would rather put my energy into the things I love". 

What would you say to anyone who hasnít seen a Wonderstuff gig yet'?

" Well I'm not a good salesman but basically it's a good fucking show! The band was born out of the late 80's when I was into The Waterboys and gobshite front men and Malc was into The Jesus and Mary Chain and bouncy headbanging guitar heroes, so basically were just trying to be our favourite  band and working hard at it". 

Personally, have you fulfilled your dreams and ambitions to date, there must be room for a book, Charles Bukowski style?

"Post Office is a fantastic book and it has been known for me to steal a title or two from his short stories. I love song writing and get lost in it. I think I am extremely lucky indeed to be doing what I love the most. I usually write on a lap-top but purposely left it at home on this tour so I could give myself a break but I found I was scribbling on bits of paper and getting them lost so I've had to go out and buy another one! I love getting sentences word perfect and can spend ages writing until it sounds just right. I love the acoustic shows I do cause it's more intimate and the Rescue room gig I did in Nottingham last year was great cause I didn't play a thing for the first hour through verbal diarrhea  but still got paid stupid amounts to perform. I have also just started writing in a Nottingham monthly called Left Lion so yeah things are busy at the moment.Ē 

 So finally, what does the future hold in store for The Wonderstuff?

"More writing, more gigging, and more tours, we've actually pencilled in a tour of America next year".

So would I be right in saying The Wonderstuff are back for good this time? "Oh yeah most definitley...and when you see the gig later you'll see little illuminated babies on stage to signify the re-birth of the band" 

Thoughts at this stage were of sheer horror. Whose babies were wired up on stage and isnít this starting to sound like a Spinal Tap gig?

And so with my guess pass to the gig that night at Rock City in hand and an invite from Miles to go on the lash with him and the band later, I head toward the exit of his dressing room where I had just spent the last hour talking to one of only two of my all time heroes! (the other being Frank.W Spencer).

By the way the gig that night was brilliant and no I did'nt go on the piss with them..

I spent the money on a Some Mothers Do Have Them rental just to round the evening off nicely! However they never disappoint live with their back catalogue of favourites like ĎRed Berry Joy Towní, ĎDon't Let Me Downí, ĎTen Trenches Deepí and so on and so forth .... the new stuff ...well it sits in there nicely and it obviously sounds more energetic and raw live so if you want some advice for free then it's simply this - don't write the album off until you see them live cause you might just change your mind.  

Paul Noble