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Thursday, October 19, 2006

PoPINIONS: GRAND MAL'S BILL WHITTEN

Grand Mal's new album - Love is the Best Con in Town - is a bit of a shift in direction for Bill Whitten, featuring as it does greater emphasis on the piano. Whitten is a bit of a wordsmith as this 'short' interview will attest. You will agree that the man is brilliant...

What is it about the early 70s Beach Boys (specifically Holland/Carl and the Passions) and Todd Rundgren (Runt, Ballad of Todd R) that inspired the sonic approach on Love is the Best Con in Town?

Oh I don’t know. I think my initial reason for ‘getting into’ those albums was my desire to find some music that didn’t sound drug influenced and might even be ‘positive’. Then I got into the ‘sound’ of those records: muddy and warm…homely in fact. I began making recordings using an upright piano and it sounded good to my ears; like it made up for the sonic shortcomings of my primitive gear.. So it seemed to me that the sound of say the lo-fi “the ballad of Todd” was a worthwhile goal to shoot for…I’m not saying I achieved my goal but…
And the above mentioned records are all flawed albums; that makes them endearing on the one hand and reasonable as inspiration.
And oh yeah I didn’t really become a full-fledged Beach Boys geek until late in life…in 2001 I saw Brian Wilson and the Wondermints at Radio City Music hall…they were backed by the Harlem Boys Choir and the Radio City Symphony (among many others) and it was pretty mind blowing /eye opening…I was at a personal crossroads so it was a welcome epiphany…in regards to music as a positive, joyful sort of thing…
On the other hand referencing the b.boys and todd r. might just have been a necessity of Bio writing: “why is the new album special” or something…it was probably a mistake to mention them…now the album will be pigeonholed…when it comes to writing bio’s and self-promotion in general I have many shortcomings…

What were the main challenges in recording Love is the Best Con in Town?

Finishing the words to a song is always a challenge…singing on pitch is always a challenge…getting rich meyer (of Hopewell) to come over to my house to sing his soaring, amazing back-up vocals was often a challenge (but mostly it wasn’t)... it was mainly a fun and agreeable experience…all my friends were very generous with their time and talent…I was really lucky to get them all to play on the album…and I love to sit on my couch and listen to music coming out of my 2 speakers…even if it’s my own music (while it is in the process of being made that is)..
I’m working on some new shit now whenever I have the chance…making music is fun…getting people to actually listen to it is slightly more difficult…

How has the music scene changed for you in the last 16 years? For better or worse?

There are more bands of course and more venues for a person’s music to be heard…digital etc… Perhaps a way to take a snapshot of the music scene in terms of now and then is to look at the supply and demand for drummers…back in the ‘90’s I think it was fairly uncommon for a New York City drummer to be in more than say two bands simultaneously…now you often find drummers in like 6 or 7 bands…sometimes more!
Also nowadays young people (‘the kids’) seem to enjoy music more than they used to…they are less blasé than they were in the ‘90’s it seems to me…they like to rawk way more than they used to…
And then again it seems similar; sonic youth is still around and still influential…I guess in general older rockers are allowed to hang around longer and continue making music...yo la tengo, luna, guided by voices etc….perhaps people no longer grow up and move on…also in the 90’s there was nirvana as the trend-setter who opened the floodgates for a bunch of like minded or copycat bands…in this century it was the Strokes/the White Stripes…
And yet today indie rock seems to be much more a pursuit of the affluent…I have met many young men and women who never worked a day in their life…and instead have spent their adolescence studying rock and perfecting their wardrobes and hairstyles…canny young people who upon graduation from Oberlin etc take up rock as a career and do well and make passable music…They are, however, usually are following in the footsteps of working class visionaries like jack white or kurt cobain etc…but anyways...that’s just an aside... maybe it’s the result of the neo-liberal policies that have been hollowing out American society since the Reagan Revolution…and it is probably magnified in the rarified sectors of the ‘indie’ world...if I want to listen to working class rock I can just tune in to the nu-metal scene (no thanks) or listen to hip-hop..

In your blog (http://redpatentleather.blogspot.com/) you make pointed observations of the world around you. (I loved your assessment of the 'new' NY Dolls eg.) Is your blog writing as vital a creative expression as music making?

No, my blog is a joke …pretty worthless I think…I had been periodically writing for a Swedish publication so one of my friends suggested I should put some or all of the stuff I wrote for them on a blog ..
For some reason I listened to him…I must have got hit on the head that day or something…I didn’t end up putting the shit I wrote for the Swedish magazine…most of the stuff I just wrote at work when I was bored…like all bloggers…I should take it down but for some reason I haven’t…but actually if you want to read something I co-wrote that is pretty decent check out the interview with Brian Godding (of the lost ‘70’s band B.B. Blunder) on www.newyorknighttrain.com.

What does the future hold for Grand Mal? Which song on Love is the Best Con in Town will you base the next album on?

I think the direction of the next Grand Mal album can be found on a song we recorded recently (we being Mike Fadem-drums, Kevin Thaxton-bass, Mike Robertson-guitar, Dave Sherman-piano) for a Swedish record label called www.grooverrecordings.com …It’s for a tribute comp for Gene Clark of all people…we covered a song called ‘winter in’ which was an outtake from his record ‘White Light’ …our cover sounds nothing like his song…it’s the best recording I’ve engineered/produced etc…it will be out on import any day now..

Check out www.powerofpop.com for the review.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bill Whitten is amazing!