"Tom Waits meets Jim Jarmusch"
From Straight No Chaser (Spring, 1993)
I have known Tom Waits now for over eight years. Tom is not only someone whose work has always, for me, been a source of inspiration, but a man for whom I have a very deep, personal respect. I admire him because he remains true to himself in both his work and his life. He follows his own code, which is not always the same one prescribed by laws, rules or the expectations of other people. He is strong and direct. There is no bullshit surrounding the man.
Tom is, obviously, also a man whose use of language and ability to express himself are completely unique. I spent half the time while with him laughing uncontrollably, and the other half in amazement at the seemingly endless flow of very unusual ideas and observations pouring out of him. The guy is a wild man. Tom lives with his family in a big, strange house hidden away somewhere in California. I think of it as the Tom Waits version of a gangster hide-out; a world in and of itself. For reasons I am very respectful of, its location will remain anonymous. The following conversations were recorded (and accompanying photographs made), during a one week period in October of 1992 in and around Tom’s house, in a nearby chicken-ranch-turned-recording-studio, and most often while driving around in either Tom’s 1964 Cadillac, or his ‘65 Chevy El Camino. Our final conversation was abruptly concluded when the El Camino literally caught on fire while we were driving it (with a full load of furniture in the back). Somehow it was an appropriate ending point for an unpredictable adventure with Tom Waits.
Jim Jarmusch, LA 10/92
~ Tom’s First Vision ~
Jim Jarmusch: Tell me some stuff about when you were a kid.
Tom Waits: I was in the ocean when I was about seven years old. It was getting dark and I heard my father calling, he has a very unique whistle that he could send anywhere I was and I would hear it and I would know that’s my dad whistling and I had to come in.
JJ: My mom had that.
TW: All the kids knew their dad or mom’s whistle or call.
JJ: We’re trained just like dogs. In fact, in our house our dog used to come back to the same whistle.
TW: [laughs] So I was in the water, up to about my chest, and it was summer, and I was out a little deeper than I should be, and I got that feeling on the beach when it’s starting to get dark and you know you’ve gotta go in. And a fog came over this part of the ocean—this was in Mexico. I was about seven, we had a trailer down there. And a pirate ship, an enormous pirate ship came out of the fog. I was close enough to where I could touch the bow of the ship where there was a cannon, and there was smoke coming off the sails that were burning and there were dead pirates hanging on the mast and falling off the deck. And I was stopped, I was just -- because I knew I saw it. It came out of the fog, and I reached to touch it and it turned and it went back into the fog and disappeared. And I told my parents about it, and of course they looked at me like, “Pirate ship, huh? Well, boy. Saw a pirate ship, huh? Honey, Tom saw a pirate ship out there.” And I’m like, okay. But I did, I really did, and it was a death ship with a skull and cross bones, the whole thing.
JJ: That’s a really ancient thing, seeing the death ship.
TW: Because they used to put people on those ship, you know, the crazy people that were insane, debtors, people that had birth defects.
~ Alien Life Forms ~
TW: You know what I’d like to do, I’d like to go into space with a band, have speakers on the outside of our spacecraft, see if we can communicate. Choose a really strange band, develop our own space program where we’re gonna actually go up, because right now the only people who are allowed to go up there, y’know, the way they pick them is just like I guess I’m sure the way they picked explorers.
JJ: Sun Ra has been sending signals for some time into space. That’s his life.
TW: How does he send them? I mean—
JJ: Well, just through his music.
TW: But I mean get in a spacecraft to go into space, and perform in-space music. Because they’re saying that our new program now is to actually find hard evidence of life on other planets. That is the mission and the doctrine of the space program today. And my feeling is that I think that we should communicate through music. We’re sending these little things that show the anatomy of man, and our very simple numerical system, and some of our math, and some of our makeup, scientific makeup, but I think we should go out with a group.
JJ: Which means they’d probably send—
TW: They’d send the wrong group, yeah.
JJ: They’d send Michael Jackson, instead of you or Sun Ra.
TW: But speakers on the outside of the spacecraft, can you imagine?
JJ: It’s like these kids that have their cars with sound systems so hot that—A mechanic told me that those subsonic, sub-woofer bass systems loosen all the bolts and screws in the car, and the whole construction of the car from vibration gradually will just fall apart.
TW: It’s beautiful. We recorded in a room that was not soundproof, you saw the room. When you’re on the set and you’re recording outside you stop for airplanes or trains or cars or kids coming home from school. You have to stop. But I love that. We didn’t stop for anything. I wish we’d had more aircraft flying over on the record because I don’t see the point in keeping other sounds out.
JJ: Supposedly on some of the Sun Studio recordings from Memphis in the early ‘50s you can hear trucks going by outside...
TW: It’s great.
JJ: Do you think there are aliens or life forms from other planets or other solar systems, other galaxies that have visited earth or at least surveilled it? What do you think about UFOs and aliens and stuff?
TW: No, I believe there is intelligent life, but we are the ones who define what intelligence is, so I’m sure it would fall outside of our intelligence or ability to perceive it, which leads me to believe thay they may be here among us and we are unable to see them, or understand that they’re here. So y’kno, where technology is now as far as tracking other life forms, I don’t know. When I was a kid I built radios. My dad was a radio expert in the army, and in addition to bicycle repair, he had me building my own radios and sending away for kits and creating my own little shortwave radios. And I picked up things when I was a child that I swore were extra-terrestrial, and maintain to this day that I made contact, or at least I was on the receiving end of a relationship with an extra-terrestrial but was unable to communicate with him becasue my radio couldn’t transmit.
JJ: Were they voices, or sounds or what?
TW: It was a language that did not exist. It was not Russian, I was picking up Russia and Poland and Hungary and China—
JJ: But this was a language?
TW: It was a language, but it was not from around here. And here I was unable to transmit. On earth, we never acknowledge that they exist becasue it doesn’t fit into our beliefs about the creation of the universe. God made the earth in seven days, then he rested. The idea that there would be creatures out there. The government is apparently keeping creatures they found, and in top secret bunkers in New Mexico, never to be viewed by the public. I believe that.
JJ: Yeah, when we were in Colorado shooting that Burroughs documentary, Burroughs was convinced that they were in that area of the Rockies—there were aliens there mining plutonium in the middle of the night. There were all these reports of people seeing guys with silver suits, masks and helmets on, carrying heavy black boxes in the middle of the night in these ghost towns north of Boulder, Colorado.
TW: Wow. I believe it. We’re here to go.
JJ: We’re all here to go. Burroughs says we have no reason to expect them to be benevolent, you know. Why should we? They’re part of the same universe.
TW: Yeah. They come down here and pick us up and suck the blood out of us like plastic juice containers.
~ Operating on a flamingo ~
JJ: Tell me about recording. You just recorded the score for ‘The Black Rider?’
TW: Yeah. The songs were done, most of them were recorded very crudely in Hamburg in a studio, and then we brought ‘em here. So some of ‘em are real crude, which I like. I like to hear things real crude, cruder. I think if I pursue it, I don’t know where it’ll take me, but y’know, its’ getting more and more like that. I just like to hear it dirty. It’s a natural reaction to where we are in technology, becuz things swing in and swing back. That’s normal. And I like to step on it, scratch it up, break it. I wanna go further into that world of texture. That train thing that I played for you came from taking nine pieces and improvising something really quickly, like lining up children and having ‘em march and scream out some word. “Real quick, we gotta make it happen right now,” it was like real fast sketch, which is real hard to do when people come from (high) music, because that’s high music. People who play in all those symphony orchestras, like some guy who plays contra bassoon, it’s rare that he’s gonna get to do anything. Where it’s just free, do something free, y’know, with structure and planning, but very spontaneously from the depths. That’s something you don’t really get from an orchestra, so I loved doing that. It gave everybody a great feeling. You know that expression “go out to the meadow”...orchestra goes out to the meadow?
JJ: I don’t know that expression.
TW: You know, when you leave the room, you leave the music, everyone is just like a ship, a strange ship, and everyone feels essential to it...I love that. And those are the things I keep looking for in the studio, and how to do it. There are certain variables that are possible to control, but that’s what frustrates me when I’m in there all the time, becuz I’m thinking about something in here that was alive an hour ago, and now it’s just...blood is all over the walls, and the fucking thing will never breathe again, and then who’s responsible? You! And you point to one of the musicians, and you accuse him of murder. And then we have little mock trials where the guy is found guilty of, whatever, murdering a particular song, and sometimes there’s a punishment, and it’s a little too high for some of these guys to pay. I’ve taken fingers off. I’m not proud of it, but it’s just part of—One accordionist I worked with just eats the music. He eats the music, and you find him, it’s all over his shirt, down his chin, it’s just been murdered...Accordionists will sometimes take a part and they’ll just play the hell out of it until it’s dead. But y’know you’re always fighting those things, the same thing on a film set. You’ve got to turn it around. You’re responsible for navigating through strange places. I’ve had these terrible dramas about the expedition, and they remind me of music, of operations where sometimes you lose a patient, and I’m despondent over it, I’m so fucking mad about it. I leave the room like a doctor must feel after he’s lost a patient. Of course it’s not that bad, but—
JJ: During the recording stage of the performing stage?
TW: Both. And it frustrates me. I don’t mean to say that it’s like somebody dying, I’m just using that. But that’s how it feels sometimes, that it’s an expedition and we fail. Other times we really soar. You know how that feels. It’s a great feeling. It can’t happen every time, and if it did you’d probably (stop doing it)...The democratic approach to sound expedition is always a mystery where you’re going to wind up. But the best thing is to work with people who respond to suggestions, just like you would tell actors, you have to know something about them, and you have to share some common desire for mystery and danger, and then you can say things to them that they will take you someplace. We’ll all go someplace together.
JJ: But you’re kind of like the navigator, right? You sort of set up the direction where the ship’s gonna go, and then you have the other sailors on board.
TW: It’s a ship. It’s a ship of men. It’s different every time. There’s always a collective unconscious that happens in a group if the soldiers are open to confrontation. Sometimes you have to confront your own limitations and smash them and go on. That’s when you end up in a place that’s new. And I have to do it myself. You usually do it by working with people that maybe you are a little bit intimidated by. You want to challenge your own limitations. I still have a very crude approach to music. I don’t read music and I don’t write traditional notation. I developed my own crude shorthand or hieroglyphics that I can respond to if I’m writing on a plane or train or in a car, and I’m not around an instrument, just use your voice. But it’s also I think helpful to sit down at an instrument you have no history with, and then you approach it more like a kid. There’s no right and wrong about it, and it frees you from it. But then the other side of that is that the fingers also have an intelligence, and places that they want to go. Before you get there they’ve already gotten there, so it’s...like writing sitting at a typewriter. Sometimes it’s just you and the machine.
JJ: Do you sometimes sketch out your songs with other musicians?
TW: Yeah. We had a session a week ago where we took just viola, double bass and cello, and we created a pointillist kind of ant colony. It just happened very spontaneous and thrilling. Conceptually, working with suggestions is usually the best way for me. We made up a train, a monster -- Sometimes it’s good to combine high music with low music, orchestral guys with guys that play in the train station. Then, through the conflict of background you go to a new place. And there’s a lot of orchestral guys who rarely get an opportunity to just, to abandon their history on the instrument, just play free, go to a totally free zone, and you fall into these Bermuda Triangles of rhythm, melody. And lately those are the places that I like to go to. But most of the songs I write are very simple. They’re three-legged chairs, and you make ‘em very fast. You provide just enough for them to be able to stand up...You paint ‘em, let ‘em dry and move on to the next one. I mean the songs on ‘Bone Machine’ are all really simple songs, “Murder in the Red Barn”, “That Feel”, “In the Coliseum”, “Earth Died Screaming”, mostly written with just a drum in a room, and my voice, just hollering it out, until—like the other day when we were in there making photos.
JJ: There was song right on that tape. When I was cleaning up the room I rewound it and listened to it.
TW: Enough ectoplasm to construct an organism.
JJ: You collect a lot of wild sounds, and sound effects, right?
TW: Yeah. There are so many sounds I want to record. Carnival stuff. All the sounds on the (midway), you know...I still haven’t got a really good metal sound—when you see like swords in a real sword fight, or a real anvil with a real hammer. I’m still looking for the ultimate sound of a real stress metal clang. I wanna hear, really hear, really the clang of all clangs. Real clang.
JJ: I used to work in a sheet metal factory, and there were some great sounds, tossing the stuff around, moving it, the metal scraps and stuff.
TW: Yeah, right. I gotta collect those sounds. Tchad Blake, my engineer (on ‘Bone Machine’), oh man, he’s got a -- (He’d) got into India, a street, and stand in a fish market with his mike on, and record the bicycles, the bells on the handlebars. Ching-a-ching! Ching-a-ching! And the chings are coming in and ching-ing out, and it’s a wonderful movie for the ears. You can just reach out and like, you can see the fish. Whoa! And trains, I’ve got a lot of trains on tape. Real chugs that are like a rhythmic chug, you just can’t believe it. Like you pee your paints. And the TING ting ting as the bell’s coming up.
JJ: Explain the Chamberlain. The first keyboard sampling instrument. The Chamberlain 2000.
TW: It’s a 70-voice tape loop, it’s a tape recorder, an elaborate tape recorder with a keyboard.
JJ: What year was it made?
TW: I think maybe ‘60, ‘61 or ‘62. Musicians were afraid it was gonna put ‘em out of business, because it was too real. It was like, oh my god...And if somebody had one of these, why ever hire a band? It’s too perfect...
JJ: Yeah, but that’s what they say about synthesizers now. And people would still rather hear the real instruments.
TW: A lot of scores are done on a synthesizer.
JJ: I like the Chamberlain because it sounds like it breathes somehow. Maybe it’s the action of the keys that you once showed me that cause a delay, so that it changed the way you played.
TW: It changes the physicality of your approach to the instrument, because the keyboard is not easy (to play). It goes down too far, your fingers get stuck down there and can’t get back up.
JJ: They were made in L.A.?
TW: Yeah. By Richard Chamberlain. Not the actor (laughs). There’s a bicycle chain in it, and if the tape gets on the other side of the chain it can damage the tape. Tchad Blake actually spent four or five hours working on it, repairing it. (That’s why I say) there are no gamblers in ‘Chamberlain Pass’. You get decorated for valor. It’s like operating on a flamingo. You don’t even know where the heart is, nothing. If you touch there, you know, the world will end. If you touch this tape here, I dunno, you may lose your hand. It has that kind of danger about it.
JJ: How do you program tapes on it?
TW: They just move to a different place on the tape. They give you about a 12-second sample that’s the length of time it takes for the tape to move through the head, and give you about three feet of quarter-inch tape.
JJ: You’ve got two of them, right?
TW: I’ve got one Mellotron and one Chamberlain, and the Chamberlain I have is a prototype. So it’s made with found electronic objects.
JJ: How many were made?
TW: Well, ultimately it was mass produced, and they were out there like Fender Rhodes, only on a much smaller scale. But they were marketed, advertised and sold in music stores, and they had displays, and everyone heard this name Chamberlain.
JJ: Did you use it on ‘Bone Machine’?
TW: Only on two songs, on “The Earth Died Screaming” and “The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me”.
JJ: What other stuff did you use it on previously?
TW: I used it a lot on “Frank’s Wild Years”.
~ A Proscenium of Beat-Boxes ~
JJ: Have you played live recently?
TW: We played on a bill with Fishbone in L.A., and I was worried, that oh god, I’m gonna have to play for their audience and they’re gonna have to play for mine, and I think they’re two totally different audiences, because they have a mosh pit and the whole thing, they’re hanging off the rafters. I was afraid to play on the bill with them, and I got there I met ‘em and they were great. The show they did just changed me, it really changed me. It was so loud, it was so electric, it was just loaded. Really, it combed my hair and gave me a sunburn. They fly, yeah. That’s when you realize that music, it does something physically to you. It can actually lift you and throw you around.
JJ: If you take Fishbone, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Public Enemy, or a lot of groups that are strong now, they synthesize a lot of different things that connect with a lot of people...The Chili Peppers’ music is funk and hip-hop and punk and metal synthesized somehow. Whereas you’re way out there, you’re synthesizing a pneumatic jack hammer with somebody raking leaves amplified a hundred times, or the rhythm of an insect walking across a metal plate.
TW: Well, I’m not as far as I would like to go with those things. I feel impulses to go further into those worlds, and then I have certain, I still have to deal with the commerce of it, y’know.
JJ: Also, some songs of yours are well-suited to a simple, say slightly country-tinged backdrop, songs that don’t need to have radio signals from Mars coming into them. You seem to find what’s appropriate for the worlds you create. A lot of your songs are like little films for me.
TW: Oh, how about this, Jim. You know sound systems in theaters? I hate ‘em. Get beat boxes, just start collecting ‘em, a wide variety of ‘em, and use their speaker systems, and make a proscenium of beat boxes, you know, your own sound system, it’s all wired into a main box, and you just, you create this whole world of sound, but it’s all found stuff, because people throw those things out. And it’s just dirt plastic, the lowest material, the cheapest material, cheaper and cheaper to them. They’re getting worse and worse, but they’re getting on another level, better and better. But they vanish after they’ve been around awhile.
JJ: They’re disposable.
TW: People throw ‘em away like cigarette lighters.
JJ: But the speakers usually still work.
TW: Yeah. So mount all these speakers in this strange thing and travel with that. Travel with your own sound system. You don’t use any of these Marshall stacks or any of this bullshit.
JJ: Not only that, but you could build a proscenium of the boxes, like an arch.
TW: Yeah. And that’s what becomes your stage set. And you walk out, and the curtain comes down off of that. It’s just like making the theater go away. You make everything smaller and go into that world.
JJ: That’s a great idea.
TW: That could work. Then if you blow a speaker it still doesn’t matter. I really want to create a stage environment for me that (gives me) confidence. And not use all this stuff that is thrust upon me, these things become like shovels and picks, you know. The standard proscenium lighting truss, the front curtain side fills, the super trooper, and you know the risers, and the drums in the middle and the band around...(front light) downstage, and you know, I hate the convention (that it’s come to). And I’m not sure how to, what to do with that. I hate the feeling of it.
JJ: The (‘Frank’s Wild Years’) tour (in smaller) theaters was really strong.
TW: We had the light boxes?
TW: Yeah. The nightclub.
JJ: You had the refrigerator, too.
TW: I liked that. And the bubble machine...I rebel against all these conventions. I’m going on the road this spring and I’m having to think about it. You know, I think I’m gonna ask Robert Wilson maybe also his opinions because he has a wonderful sense—he has no limitations when it comes to his understanding of the limits of theater.
~ Keith Richards, Mule Patterson, Kathleen Brennan and other strange collaborators ~
JJ: Did you write “That Feel” with Keith Richards or did he just play on it?
TW: No, we wrote it together.
JJ: You’ve written stuff with him before.
TW: Yeah, he’s all intuition. I mostly play drums, he plays guitar. He stands out in the middle of the room and does those Chuck Berry splits, y’know, and leans over and turns it up on 10 and just grungg! I mostly just play drums. He plays drums, too, he plays everything. It was good. I’m just recently starting to collaborate in writing and find it to be really thrilling. And Keith is great ‘cause he’s like a vulture, he circles it and then he goes in and takes the eyes out. It was great. I guess we maybe wrote enough for a record, but everything didn’t get finished, so—There was one called “Good Dogwood”, about the carpenter that made the cross that Jesus hung on. (Sings:) “Made the other two out of pretty good pine, they all seemed to be doing just fine, but I hung my lord on good dogwood, huh! (40 ton)...And I made my house myself, and I know he likes the workmanship ‘cause he’s a carpenter himself, and I made the other two out of pretty good pine, they all seemed to be doing just fine, but I hung my lord on good dogwood.” Dogwood is what the cross was made out of. And they say after Jesus went up to heaven that the blossoms on the dogwood developed a red cross in the bloom, and you can see it in the dogwood blossom. And that wasn’t until after He had risen. So, uh, that was a good one.
JJ: Man, you have so many songs. There are other songs you played for me that aren’t on ‘Bone Machine’, like “Filipino Box Spring Hog”.
TW: Yeah, and “Tell It to Me”, and “Mexican Song”, “In the Reeperbahn”, one called “Shall We Die Tonight”, a suicide pact ballad, and then a couple for John Hammond at the same time, one called “Down There By the Train”.
JJ: Did he record it?
TW: No, nobody did. And we couldn’t find a way to do it either that felt good, so we just left it, and it’s just sitting there.
JJ: You’ve collaborated on a lot of songs with Kathleen (Brennan).
TW: Oh yeah. She has a real daring—and also sometimes when you sit down and write by yourself you find yourself falling into the same patterns that you’ve been falling into before. You develop these little cowpaths through the music that are well worn by other journeys, so sometimes it really helps to be working with somebody that wants to go to a totally new place. She has more, she has a lot of biblical imagery that she keeps coming back to. She raised Catholic, and—Well, Kathleen is a lapsed Catholic. She still knows all of her novenas and Hail Marys, and the whole bit. But they give her a very deep sense of questioning and spirituality.
JJ: There’s a lot of strange religious imagery in your house. But on a kind of grotesque level.
TW: Yeah, “The Earth Died Screaming” was an attempt at some of that. “Rudy’s on the midway, Jacob’s in the hole,” that’s all from the Book of Rudy, which is one of the lost books of the Bible, the Book of Rudy.
JJ: I’m not familiar with the Book of Rudy.
TW: No, it’s the uh, it’s still being held in a library in Russia. Give ‘em back, give ‘em back! So it’s great to go into a room with somebody you really love and have known for a long time.
JJ: What songs on ‘Bone Machine’ did you collaborate with Kathleen on?
TW: About half of ‘em. I don’t know which ones, they all seem mixed up to me. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, “The Earth Died Screaming”. “All Stripped Down” is kind of a religious song, ‘cause you can’t get into heaven until you’re all stripped down.
JJ: Tell me about the drummer you used on the ‘Night on Earth’ score.
TW: Mule Patterson?
JJ: Yeah. How’d you meet Mule?
TW: Well, for a man who has not bathed ever in his life, studio work with him has started to become a problem and people just won’t play with him.
JJ: He’s the first drummer I’ve seen who shows up (with no instruments) and says, “Whaddya got?”
TW: Whaddya got. Mule “Whaddya got” Patterson.
JJ: And the gun thing kind of made me nervous.
TW: Yeah, y’know, I’ve talked to him, and we can’t seem to reach him on that. That it’s just no, y’know, you’re gonna lose work.
JJ: Yeah, the loaded gun...
TW: The waving of guns around in the...studio, and you have people there...
JJ: The gun in the gym bag just kind of made me nervous.
TW: Yeah. The gun in the gym bag.
JJ: There’s a couple of beers in there an a loaded .38.
JJ: And some of those dry roasted peanuts, but in the small bags that you can’t really buy, the ones that you get on the train or a plane or a bus.
TW: And that was his dinner.
JJ: That’s what he had in the bag. No drumsticks.
TW: And the gun was also held together with string. There was a place where the whole handle mechanism was coming off the handle, and the hammer was loose.
JJ: I know that the grip was just electrical tape.
TW: Just tape, there was no more wood.
JJ: And also that the studio was way out in the middle of nowhere, but he didn’t drive.
TW: He has no car.
JJ: Then he left.
TW: Some men fear him. Others admire him. Because he steals his promise, he’ll steal his promise from being there. He’ll show up, and if he doesn’t like what’s going on in the session, he’ll walk out. He won’t work it.
JJ: Right in the middle of a take?
TW: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. You hope, you wanna keep him happy. That becomes the whole point of the session. Larry Taylor (from Canned Heat) is the same way. He’ll just walk away, “Hey man, I just don’t get it. I’m sorry,” and he’ll just walk away. That’s it, he’ll just give up...He had a gig the night after we finished the album, and his bass broke. It was just, it was like John Henry, the whole neck snapped and the strings came out, it was in the middle of the first song, he ended up finishing it on electric, but—
JJ: What about working with guitarist Marc Ribot?
TW: Well, he’s big on the devices. Appliances, guitar appliances. And a lot of ‘em look like they’re made out of tinfoil and, y’know, it’s like he would take a blender, part of a blender, take the whole thing out and put it on the side of his guitar and it looks like a medical show...that look. And the sound seemed to come from, the way it looked and the way it sounded seemed to be the same. (He works with) alternative sound sources, he turns his guitar into an adventure.
JJ: Yeah, nobody plays like Ribot. Maybe that’s a good thing.
TW: Yeah, he also gets himself whipped up into a voodoo frenzy. He gets the look in his eye that makes you want to back off. Y’know? It’s like, “goddamn!” We were in some after hours place in, I dunno, Holland, in the corner, there was no stage, it was a club with normally no live music. We just got into the corner and plugged in and started to play. And everybody just pushed the tables and chairs back and it was real wild. And Ribot banged into a speaker box, and there was a bottle of Vat 69 on it, and it tipped over, and it was full, and it just kept spilling out onto the floor, and he was getting under the stream of liquor, which was splashing onto the floor, and liquor was going everywhere, and you looked at his face and it was like an animal, he’d been, like worked up—
JJ: Whipped up.
TW: Whipped up, whipped up into a place where he was gonna do something. He was gonna bite somebody, he was gonna do surgery without knives. Like those guys who can reach into your chest and pull your heart out, he went (big grunt) and then put it back in. There’s guys that say they can do that.
JJ: They do that in martial arts films, kung fu movies...
TW: Yeah (laughs)...
JJ: ...pull your heart right out.
TW: And you just see it.
JJ: But there’s a certain protocol thing that goes with it. (String of Chinese-style grunts.)
TW: It was pretty scary...
JJ: What about the sax player Ralph Carney? Like me, he’s from Akron, so we’re like brothers.
TW: Yeah, well, you’ll always be bound together by Akron. Ralph’s parents still live there, so when we played there...
JJ: You played in (Akron)?
TW: Yeah. It was a good night, it was a real good night. Next day Ralph wouldn’t come to sound check and when he finally did show up, it was about 15 minutes before the show. And I said, “What happened, where you been?” And he said, “Well, I went home. I haven’t been home in a couplf of years.” He said, “My dad had me rakin’ leaves...” (laughs) He had to rake leaves all fucking day.
JJ: How would you describe your artistic relationship with Francis Thumm?
TW: Oh. Frannie’s um—
JJ: He was around for the recording of ‘Bone Machine’, right?
TW: Yeah. Security guard. He did a lot of security on the album because there were a lot of kids in the area that were coming out, curious, and we normally, we bring somebody from out of town. Frannie got security guard. No, seriously. He wasn’t sure how he was going to be involved, so he stayed on the edge and waited to find out how he might be used. He has a very regimented background. He comes from discipline. I come from the opposite, which gets me in trouble sometimes. Frannie comes from the discipline which gets him in trouble sometimes, so it’s like if two people had come from the same background, one of them is unnecessary. Like I bring something to the music that I couldn’t bring if I had the same kind of background that he has. I curse it sometimes, y’know...
JJ: We talked about Ribot, we talked about Ralph Carney, we talked about Francis Thumm. How about Greg Cohen, you’ve worked a lot with Greg Cohen, too, the bass player.
TW: Greg’s also an arranger and a stamp collector. He has a strong, very peculiar personal mythology he brings to all of his musical exploits. It’s really great to watch Greg play both bass and drums at the same time. That’s really something. His left hand on the fingering board, his right hand has two drumsticks in it, and he has the little kit he puts together, and he hits the one on the drums and the two on the bass, goes back and forth, and creates an independent sound board with four legs.
~ Cuban-Chinese Music ~
TW: I remember once I asked you about this: if there’s Cuban-Chinese (food), then there must be Cuban-Chinese music. But Cuban must be like the dominant trait. If two people marry and have a child, the dominant genes till prevail in appearance and personality sometimes. It must be the same with music, right? So if Cuban-Chinese music is more Cuban music, the Chinese did not win in the war of music between those two cultures. Somewhere there are Chinese guys playing in Cuban bands.
JJ: Then what’s the musical equivalent of nouvelle cuisine? New age music?
TW: New age-elle, I guess. It’s a little tasty, and looks nice on a plate.
JJ: It’s decorative.
TW: Decorative, it’s like food elevated to a place where it never should have been allowed.
JJ: It’s like wallpaper.
TW: It’s part of an interior design. (pause) Hey, that pygmy stuff that you sent me really flipped me! It really got me listening, because we struggled for a couple days with getting the sound of a stick orchestra inside the studio for “Earth Died Screaming”. We tried every configuration and position of the microphone, and finally I said, “Well, why don’t we go outside, isn’t that where all these recordings are made?” And five minutes later we had a mike up, we were hitting it, it was there. It was that simple.
JJ: Like out in the parking lot of the studio?
TW: ...Right outside the door, yeah.
JJ: What kind of sticks were you using?
TW: Just 2 by 4’s, anything we could find, logs from the firewood. About nine people. Just different people walking by. We’d say, “Come on, play some sticks!” But that pygmy music really sent me. There were a couple of rhythms on there that I listened to...that just really, boy, I went into a Bermuda Triangle of rhythm, where you vanish in some—You feel the power of it, and you realize why there are no drums in church, you know? There are no drums in church music...Gospel people...They don’t like drums...There’s certainly no tribal drums. If there are, there’s a country-western high hat, cornball—kit drums, like a red-headed stepchild. I went through Mississippi when I was 23 playing a tour, and they (the radio station) wouldn’t play anything with saxophone on Sunday. You know, those Bible Belt things. Forget about it. You had to deal with it, you know.
JJ: In a lot of counties in southern states there’s no dancing on Sunday. Blue laws. It’s still illegal.
~ Between ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ and ‘Bone Machine’ ~
JJ: The record company is promoting ‘Bone Machine’ as your “first studio album in 5 years,” so I just wanted to list all the things you’ve done since ‘Frank’s Wild Years’. You did the soundtrack to ‘Night on Earth’, which is an entire album’s worth of material, even more, really, ‘cause we didn’t even use it all. You did a cover of a Fats Waller song for another film.
TW: ‘American Heart’.
JJ: Directed by the guy who did ‘Streetwise’, Martin Bell. What’s the Fats Waller song?
TW: “Crazy About My Baby”. Then we wrote a closing song for the film, also, called “I’ll Never Let Go of Your Hand”. And I did a play at the LATC, downtown LA, called ‘Demon Wine’, that was written by Thomas Babe, it’s kind of a gangster play.
JJ: Was Carol Kane in that one?
TW: Yeah, she was. Bill Pullman. And also Philip Baker Hall was in it, who played my father.
JJ: And you acted in ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord’ with Aidan Quinn and Tom Berenger, directed by Hector Babenco, who you’d previously worked with in ‘Ironweed’. You just acted in the new Robert Altman film which is still in production.
TW: Yeah, I play a limo driver who’s married to Lily Tomlin, and I live in a trailer. It was a great experience.
JJ: You acted in ‘Queen’s Logic’.
TW: Yeah, with Joe Mantegna. Then ‘Dracula’.
JJ: You play Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ and you did the voice of the DJ for ‘Mystery Train’.
TW: Oh right, let’s not forget that.
JJ: You did ‘The Fisher King’, the Terry Gilliam film. You also composed the music for, and collaborated with Robert Wilson and William Burroughs on ‘The Black Rider’, for which you just recently recorded the score.
TW: The songs from ‘Black Rider’ are now finished. They will be out in the spring.
JJ: You’re also preparing now to do another collaboration with Robert Wilson for his ‘Alice in Wonderland’, composing the music for that, which you are already starting on. And there’s even more.
TW: Oh yeah, a song for John Hammond called, uh, what the hell’s the name of that? Oh. “No One Can Forgive Me But My Baby”. Then I did two songs on Teddy Edwards’ album. One was called “Little Man”, and the other one was called “I’m Not Your Fool Anymore”.
JJ: Then you wrote that stuff with Keith Richards, too. You recorded a song with Primus.
TW: Oh yeah. “Tommy the Cat” with Les Claypool. He’s really jungalian, primitivo.
JJ: I saw on MTV or somewhere a little documentary and interview with him. It was great. I’m sure there’s more stuff we’re forgetting, even more things. But it just shocked me to see, “first studio album in 5 years”, and me knowing you I knew I didn’t even know all the things you did, but even knowing half of them, it made me laugh, like people thinking, “What’s he been up to?” Your productivity in the last few years, plus with your family, is quite amazing to me.
TW: Make hay while the sun shines. Well, I had a good vein, and so it always—You know, when it’s really coming down there’s not enough to catch it in, and then you go through dry spells, too, y’know.
JJ: Yeah, while we were driving to San Francisco yesterday you were making up songs and I wish I’d had a recorder. There were songs you were making up –
TW: In the car?
JJ: Yeah, that song about tobacco, about smoking. That was a great song you were writing. They just seem to pour out of you these days.
TW: Well, it’s been a good period. So I’m anxious to start work on another original album of new songs. I’ve got backed up with material for new songs.
JJ: I think you should put some EPs out, some short things with collections of those. You did a version of “Sea of Love” for the film. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, that version. I carry it with me, I have it here on that cassette.
TW: Oh, thanks.
JJ: And I’m sure we’re forgetting other things. Ken Nordine. Did you do some stuff with Ken Nordine?
TW: Yeah. He’s most known for his records, ‘Word Jazz’, ‘Sound of Word Jazz’, ‘Colors’. He worked with a small jazz group and made records in the ‘50s, and they’re really stories, those strange little stories, little Twilight Zones from the dark recesses of his brain. Little worlds you go into. He has little conversations with himself, as if he’s got the little guy with the pitchfork on his shoulder that’s telling him, “Yeah, kiss her.” “Well, I don’t know.” “Go ahead, kiss her.”
JJ: ...and the voices overlap.
TW: Yeah, Ken Nordine.
JJ: Yeah, Ken Nordine. Where does he live, in LA?
JJ: He’s a strange little addition to American culture.
TW: Yeah, he’s really remarkable.
JJ: An overlooked one for most people.
TW: Yeah, he is. So they put out that album, and we did a little kind of word duet. I don’t know how else to describe it. I did a little story and he talked in the pauses, and I talked in his pauses, and it was kind of a little woven duet.
JJ: And how can one find that stuff, is it out?
TW: Yeah, let’s see, I’ve forgotten the title of it.
JJ: It is released, though?
TW: Oh yeah.
JJ: ...Even his name, Ken Nordine, makes you hear his voice right away.
TW: “Hi, it’s Ken.” On the phone, “Nordine here, how are you? In town for a couple of days, hope we can get together. Later.”
JJ: I’m sure we’re forgetting other things you’ve done. In any case the point is that you’ve been so amazingly prolific recently, and people aren’t aware of it because you don’t necessarily choose things according to how high profile, or mainstream they might be. You are, for a lot of people, very important just because your sensibility doesn’t fall in the mainstream. It’s who you are, the kind of things that strike you about life on this planet, the kind of characters that you write song about, and the way you live yourself. You inspired me long before I met you. Then there are things you’ve done that have become mainstream in a way because of the soul of them, like the song “Jersey Girl”, the Springsteen cover of that, or “Downtown Train” covered by Rod Stewart.
TW: I’m in shoe repair, really, Jim. I’m like a cobbler, they come in, they’ve worn ‘em out. I work on the instep.
~ Acting ~
JJ: What things draw you to roles you play as an actor?
TW: Well, I’m not really in a position where I make all of those choices myself. I mean actors get to a point where their involvement immediately insures the film will be both financed and distributed and seen. So, I’m not at that position in acting, so it’s usually smaller parts that I’m thought of for. Sometimes it’s smaller parts that I’m interested in. Y’know, they say there’s no small parts just small actors. But believe me, there are small parts. (laughs)
JJ: I think that sometimes smaller parts are much more difficult because you don’t have time to develop the character. To create a character in three minutes on screen is not an easy thing.
TW: It’s true. You don’t have 15 scenes with a character where it’s like, if I drop it here I can pick it up later, or if I didn’t get a chance to develop that aspect, I have a much fuller realized scene later on that I get to do those things in. Sometimes it’s like sending your design to a big toy company, and it may end up you’re just the ears and the feet, and you don’t get the full anatomically correct character. But you still have to pursue it, you have to do a lot in a few scenes. I like limitations. If I don’t have limitations I’ll impose them on myself naturally, just to narrow it down. Immediately time is always an element. If we were going to write a song right here now, and we had only a half an hour to do it it would take on certain characteristics. I find myself usually having more in common with the directors than maybe sometimes the actors. A lot of directors look at actors as insecurities with arms and legs, they’re just children, and they need to be constantly reassured and directed and given rewards and discipline.
JJ: That’s part of them, though. I think that actors that don’t have a childish quality are dangerous.
TW: Yeah. That’s where a lot of those things live. You can’t approach them intellectually with the tools that you use for other things in your life. You can’t see the tools that you need to use in order to massage the ideas out of it. It’s sometimes in the most obvious place, and you’re looking right at it and you can’t see it. You have to use truthful behavior, and you have to use what’s in your life. You have to use what you’re going through right now, and out of that comes, you say, “Oh my god I can’t do this, I’m having all these problems in my life and I can’t handle this right now,” and you say, “Well, use all those things, ‘cause those are the things you’ll use to make this. Don’t think they’re encroaching on your work. They are your work, or whatever.” You find ways of integrating your other struggles into it. Then it gets like a tributary, and you realize it gets like an irrigation system, and if you water here it’ll also water this, also water that, so it’s always good, it always feeds you, and it always shows up in other areas. If you make a breakthrough as an actor it’ll help you make a breakthrough in music. Because I think all things really do aspire to this condition of music. Everyone keeps saying, well, it has a musical quality to it, or want to find the music in this. You do it yourself in film, you’re very sensitive to music, to finding the music in the pictures. So I’m always ready to incorporate all those things into making it have balance and life.
~ Language ~
JJ: Have you ever written stuff that would end up being like a text, that would exist as a book or as writing rather than as music or as acting?
TW: No, I haven’t. I’ve got some lyric books of my lyrics out in Spain and Italy and a few other places. I don’t know; you see I’m always going for the sound of things, even like recently when I was trying to write down different little memories for an article. I was going to do an interview, and I told the interviewer to go home. I couldn’t talk to him, I couldn’t even look at him. I said just leave the questions and I’ll deal with them, and I’m doing that at night. But I have a hard time just writing things out, I have to hear them first. Sometimes I put it on a tape recorder, but then I transcribe it and it’s lost its music.
JJ: When I was a kid and first read Jack Kerouac, when I was 15 or something, I read ‘On the Road’, and it didn’t speak to me. I didn’t get it. I mean I liked the adventure of it, but the language of it seemed slapped together and shoddy to me. And four or five years later I hear Kerouac on tape reading stuff, and suddenly I got it, immediately I got it, and I went back and I read that and ‘The Subterraneans’, and I understood. But without that first understanding his voice and his way of hearing language, it was hard for me to get it off the page. Now it’s permanently in me, I can read it, I can pick up Kerouac and I hear his voice. Breathing and phrasing and be-bop and sound influenced his way of thinking about language.
TW: Yeah, I agree. It’s like for Robert Wilson, words are like tacks or like broken glass. He doesn’t know what to do with them. He lays down on them and it’s always uncomfortable. He wants to melt them down or just line ‘em up and use ‘em as design, or whatever, because he doesn’t like to deal with them. I love reference books that help me with words, dictionaries of slang or the ‘Dictionary of Superstition’, or the ‘Phrase and Fable, Book of Knowledge’, things that help me find words that have a musicality to them. Sometimes that’s all you’re looking for. Or to make sounds that aren’t words, necessarily. They’re just sounds and they have a nice shape to them. They’re big at the end and then they come down to a little point that curls. Words, y’know, for me are really, I love ‘em, I’m always lookin’ for ‘em, I’m always writin’ ‘em down, always writin’ down stuff. Language is always evolving. I love slang, prison slang and street idioms and—
JJ: You like rap music because of that, right?
TW: Oh yeah, I love it. It’s so, it’s a real underground railroad.
JJ: It keeps American English living. Rap, hip-hop culture and street slang is to me what keeps it alive, and keeps it from being a dead thing.
TW: Yeah, it happens real fast, too. It’s....and it moves on, in like three weeks maybe something that was very current is now very passe. As soon as they adopt it, they have to move on.
JJ: It’s an outsider’s code, in a way.
TW: Well, it’s all that dope talk that came because you had to have conversations, that whole underground railroad thing where you had to be able to talk to somebody in the presence of law enforcement, and have law enforcement totally unable to understand anything of what you were saying. I don’t know if people really acknowledge as much as they should how the whole Afro-American experience, how it has given music and lyricism, poetry to daily life. It’s so engrained that most people don’t even give it credit. A lot of those Alan Lomax records that he did, song collecting in the ‘30s, captures that. He also captured just sounds, sounds that we will no longer be hearing, eventually, like he captured just the sound of a cash register that you really don’t hear anymore.
JJ: Yeah, manual typewriters will be obsolete. Certain things that we’re so accustomed to now, most phones don’t ring anymore, they have that electronic beep beep beep. That ringing sound will be archaic. It almost is already.
TW: Yeah, that’s true. But, yeah, I love language. Like you yourself do, and put it into the dialogue of the characters in your films as well.
JJ: What writers do you like?
TW: ‘Course Bukowski, the new collection is great, the ‘Last Night of the Earth’ poems. The one called “You Know and I Know and Thee Know”...there’s some beautiful things in there, very mature, and (with an) end of the world sadness. And Cormac McCarthy I like. He has a new novel called ‘All the Pretty Horses’.
JJ: You worked with William Burroughs on ‘The Black Rider’. What do you think about Burroughs? Burroughs has always incorporated the language of criminals and junkies and street stuff into that like process that he runs the words through.
TW: Yeah, I love Burroughs. He’s like a metal desk. He’s like a still, and everything that comes out of him is already whiskey.
~ Tom’s Wedding Photo ~
TW: These are our champagne glasses from the night we got married. She’s carrying me in hers because mine broke and fell over. So the bride is carrying the groom. And I broke a piece out of hers. She didn’t want me to get ‘em. She thought we’d be wasting our money, to get a bride and groom champagne thing. It was the night we got married, she said, “What, are you nuts, you’re gonna spend that kind of money?” We were gonna spend like $30.
JJ: Where were you?
TW: In Watts, in L.A., about 1am. She said don’t do it, and I did.
JJ: Did it say “groom” in black, or in white?
TW: “Groom”, just like this in white. You know, bride, groom. Kathleen calls it “blind gloom.” The bride and groom are from the cake. They gave us a little bag, too, that had a novel in it called ‘The Vanishing Bride’, a tampax, a couple of rubbers, you know, some Snowy bleach.
JJ: Come on!
TW: To wash out, so you start clean, as a couple. It was nice. It was like your trouble bag. In this bag is everything you’ll ever need to stay together.
~ A Few of Tom’s Memories ~
TW: I had a midget prostitute climb up on a barstool and sit in my lap when I was about 18 in Tijuana. I drank with her for about an hour. It was something. Changed me. Tender, very tender. It was like I didn’t go off to the room with her. She just sat in my lap.
JJ: Have you ever been arrested in Mexico?
TW: Oh many times, yeah. Bought my way out. As a kid, as a teenager down there raising hell. It was such a place of total abandon and lawlessness, it was like a Western town, going back 200 years. It was such a, mud streets, the church bells, the goats, the mud, the lurid, torrid signs. It was a wonderland, really, for me, and it changed me. I used to go down there for haircuts with my dad, and he would go into the bars and drink, and I would sit on those stools with him and have a special Coke.
JJ: What do you mean special Coke?
TW: You know, just a Coca-Cola with some lemon juice in it, a cherry. But I had a lot of fun, saw a lot of things down there that stayed with me. Mexican carnivals are the best. You find the rides are driven by car engines that are mounted on just these wood blocks. And old guy, mentally ill, covered with tattoos, drinking, running a stick shift on an old truck motor. Laughing, speeding up and slowing down.
JJ: Where else have you been arrested? Of course in L.A.
TW: L.A. many times, yeah. Once I was jumped by four plain-clothes policemen. They all looked like they were from Iowa, wearing corduroy Levi jackets, tennis shoes, off duty. Grabbed me and a buddy of mine, threw us into the back of a Toyota pickup with guns to our temples. Guy says, “Do you know what one of these things does to your head when you fire it at close range?” He said, “Your head will explode like a cantaloupe.” I thought about that. I was very still. They marched us down to the car, threw us in the back. I thought they were going to take us out to a vacant lot and shoot us in the head. They took us to the station where we spent the night. We’d been kind of mouthing off. But they were real belligerent, they’d taken over the tables of some people that we knew at the restaurant. They’d bullied their way into a table. We let ‘em know that we didn’t think it was the kind of thing that we do around here, and they didn’t like that. Now I’m trying to learn how to be invisible. I haven’t been pulled over since I moved out of L.A. I think it is possible to be invisible, certainly more in an area like this than it is in Los Angeles or New York City.
JJ: Any other strange memories?
TW: Well, I bought some coke one night about four in the morning from a guy in an apartment building in Miami, real down apartment, and he had a gunshot wound in his chest and he was bleeding through the bandage, you know, and we were counting out the money on a glass table and he was, he kept (grabbing for his shoulder), and that was a really scary night. And the lighting in there was like whoa! God! All low light, desk light, nothing above the knees. The place was like a black swimming pool at night. This was some hellish scene. Somebody had a phone number, and it was after a concert, and we had to drive over there. Real gangster stuff. Y’know, with a gun on the table and everything. Bad Scene: Black guy with suspenders and a terrible wound. “No cops, no cops, no doctors. I’ll ride it out.” But you’re burnin’ up, you’re runnin’ a 106, it’s off the map, I can’t even record your fuckin’ fever it’s so high! “No cops.” That could be the third scene in ‘They All Died Singing’.
~ Tom and Jim take a drive ~
JJ: (Car interior) What’s that instrument in your studio that looks like a vacuum cleaner with horns attached to it?
TW: Airhorn from a train.
JJ: It’s one chord?
TW: One chord, yeah. I pick up junk when I find it. I wanna get a thing that I can do a stick sound with like eight sticks mounted on a frame, almost like a pitchfork, only the forks would be wood, and on a spring base, so that when you hit it against the ground you get a flam, a stick flam of eight characters. You get the clack, clack, clack, but you’d be able to do it with just one stick, hitting the stick and hitting the sound of eight sticks. I dunno...
JJ: And that metal frame with the metal pieces on it that you were playing yesterday?
TW: The conundrum.
JJ: The conundrum? It’s something you built?
TW: No, Serge Etienne, a guy that lives right here. (points out the car window)
JJ: In fact is that Serge right there?
TW: That’s Serge.
JJ: The guy in the t-shirt?
JJ: He’s got some motor bikes back there, too.
TW: Yeah, he drives motorcycles. He created a car out of a motorbike. He built a car frame around a...motorcycle. Out of fiberglass and styrofoam, and it’s very light. It looks like those cars that we saw at the carnival the other night going around on the little track.
JJ: And the conundrum...did you find those metal pieces and have him make it for you, or did he build the instrument himself?
TW: He built it and gave it to me as a gift. I said I need some sounds I can use in the studio that are just metal sounds, a variety and range of vibrations I can use. It really does sound like a jail door closing if you hit it right.
JJ: Yeah. It sounded amazing. So many different sounds out of it. You have several accordions.
TW: One that Roberto Benigni gave me. I don’t really play accordion. I can play one-handed passages, with the left hand, but the button side is, uh, I’m lost.
JJ: It always seemed real complicated to me.
TW: I always remember that accordion player in ‘Amarcord’ at the end, remember that blind accordion player on the beach?
TW: The way he played and threw his head back, the little smoked glasses.
JJ: Roberto taught himself to play but he taught himself wrong, so now he’s been going to a teacher for a few years trying to correct himself. I think you have a little (bandoneon) in your house, too. A little squeeze box?
TW: Concertina. Bandoneon I don’t have.
JJ: You have a harmonium, right? That was in the studio.
TW: I have several.
JJ: Those are beautiful. You have a Mellotron, and of course, the Chamberlain 2000.
TW: Ah, the Chamberlain. It has a full sound effects bank that’s thrilling. It has the sound of Superman leaving the window. It has storms. It has wind, rain and thunder. There are three keys right next to each other. What I have is a prototype, so its got whatever he discovered. In fact on some of ‘em even, at the end of the sample you hear, “Okay, that’s enough.” You hear the engineer.
JJ: Seriously? Where did you find it?
TW: I bought it from three surfers who lived in Westwood who had a full state of the art room filled with every current—they had decambodeizers --
TW: They had the Tascam 299 with a 300 count back—
JJ: With a hertz shifter.
JJ: Hooker Headers on it.
TW: They were laughing at the Chamberlain. I would have none of it.
JJ: Ridiculing it?
TW: Ridiculing it. I said, “I will take this from you.” I got it for three grand.
JJ: They know who you were?
TW: No. I was just a guy. They were playing it and laughing at all the sounds it made, and I let them laugh knowing it would soon be mine and I would treat it better.
JJ: They probably laughed that you paid that much for it.
JJ: Little did they know. But then, they’ll never know.
TW: They’ll never know. It’s got a variety of trains, it’s a sound that I’ve become obsessed with, getting an orchestra to sound like a train, actual train sounds. I have a guy in Los Angeles who collected not only the sound of the Stinson band organ, which is a carnival organ that’s in all the carousels, the sound from that we used on ‘Night on Earth’, but he also has pitched four octaves of train whistles so that I can play the train whistle organ, which sounds like a calliope. It’s a great sound. You know, a lot of the first, earliest experiments in sound, in creating illusions with sound and manipulating sound happened with mediums that created this matrix of pipe configurations in their homes. Mediums that were doing seance work, contacting the dead, and they would outfit the room where they would conduct the seance with this whole matrix of pipes and things they could send voices into and have come out in unusual places. All of a sudden the sound of an old man snoring would come from under your chair. And you’re in a dark room holding hands, and this was all an elaborate ruse to convince you that the spirits were visiting the room.
So a lot of the sounds that we know, the things we can do in the studio now, with chaning the shape of the voice, or the resonance, or the tonality or the frequency response, or the EQ of it, was first explored with these pipes. You’d hear a woman singing, and it’s coming from behind a picture that’s on the wall. The pipe just came up through the wall, there’s a hole in the wall, the pipe came out and the sound came out.
Who would ever think that anybody would ever do that? So they actually believed that they were hearing the voice of their mother, or all of a sudden they’re hearing a woman singing, or...Oh shit the car is smoking! It’s on fire, Jim.
JJ: From the exhaust or from the engine?
TW: I don’t know, we better pull over.