Posted by flotz on Friday, October 1, 2010 | Interview

The Mommyheads just released Finest Specimans.  Got a chance to catch up with Adam.

Artofthemix: What’s going on? How’s New York City?

Adam: The weather is changing.


Artofthemix: Fall is upon us.


Adam: Yeah more root vegetables in my food.


Artofthemix: Well you guys got this record coming out so that’s kind of exciting: Finest Specimens.


Adam: It is cool. Actually wasn’t even our idea, we were sort of ‘brought’ over to Sweden. There’s a group of people there that got into the band in the 90’s and were waiting like 10 years to see us. They just were like, “you need to get back together and come play here and we will set some shows up. We will have interviews ready for you and we will take pictures.” So we did that.


Part of that whole package was the concept hey we will make a greatest hits record. We will find a label, etc. It was nuts. It was sort of their socialist upbringing of getting things done. You know as a community, where everybody puts in to make a project happen. We never experienced that before and it was amazing.


And so then basically now we are reissuing it here [in the states] because it just ends up being kind of a cool record. It’s a good introduction to a lot of people who don’t even know the band here.


Artofthemix: I was wondering who picked the songs. It feels like a mixed tape you would make if you were trying to turn your friend on to the band.


Adam: Well, this guy Burt, he works at a cultural agency there in Sweden. It’s adult education organization that gets funded, I think by the government. I am not totally sure but it’s sort of like a free standing government organization for the arts and they have 4,000 bands that are part of the organization and they can put shows on. They said well come on over and teach some clinics and so we each spoke for about an hour on different subjects and that paid our airfare and lodging to some degree. And so this guy Burt, who always liked us, basically masterminded it. He basically would send me emails saying “if I have my way, this would be the record” and I said “well you know you don’t know one or two of the records as much as I do, let me suggest some stuff” so I would send him my ideas. It just went back and forth until he agreed it was good and the band agreed it was good. So it ended up being like the mixed tape that you want to send somebody to introduce them to the band you know.


Artofthemix: I listened to your stuff back in the day so it was fun for me to listen to it. I haven’t listened to some of those songs for years!


Adam: Me too![laughes]


Artofthemix: The stuff from Acorn was sounding really good, I got to say.


Adam: Well I did my own mastering on this because there were so many songs it would have cost too much. I tried to equal the quality of the last record, which is sort of modern and has a lot of like sound qualities that we couldn’t achieve back in the day. So I just tried to make it even and actually some of the older tracks started to really come alive you know, some of the songs from Acorn especially.


We definitely didn’t go for radio ready Bob Broderick mastering job, we just wanted to even it out. It’s kind of a cool record. Just to see the different years all the way to 2008 and hear it all together. It’s just weird because for like 10 years, or at least 8 years, I didn’t think about the band at all. And now it’s like it’s been the year of Mommyheads. It’s insane!


Artofthemix: I remember when Acorn started making the circles among my buddies. It was like this cult thing like, “hey do you know The Mommyheads? They are amazing!” So it’s really exciting to see this come out. What I am curious to see is if you will pickup new fans?


Adam: It’s a crap shoot, there’s a lot of stuff happening. We are in a commercial right now.


Artofthemix: Really! [And here it is]


Artofthemix: So the Matador 21 birthday party show just happened. All these bands from the 90s. And you guys are back. Is there something in the water, what’s going on?


Adam: Well 10 years is a good break for people to have.


Artofthemix: I hear Babe The Blue Ox is back together.


Adam: Oh totally we played some shows with them, they are awesome. They are still better than ever. All these bands are better than ever in my opinion you know.


I got two opinions about that, one is back in the day you had to play in tour and you had to be really good and so when those bands get together, if they just play their catalog, it’s fun, it’s like a good show. Now bands spend too much time on Twitter or their iPhone, they spend too much time making videos, too much time doing content and they don’t just woodshed. You know so it’s kind of like a weird syrupy pleasure to see these bands get back together that woodsheded and toured for 10 years in the 90’s and had no distraction. Because you are just like “wow their material, it’s different. There’s something about it.” It’s about playing together and it’s not about being cool or being hip or you know, it’s a different vibe those bands have from the 90’s you know.


And they have catalogue, you don’t get bored during the set if a band put out 10 records and they took a break for 8 years, you know there’s going to be 45 minutes set of almost complete sound and music you know – no clunkers.


Artofthemix: So if we get nostalgic can we go back, can you talk a little bit about when you guys recorded Acorn and sort of what was the context, where did Acorn com out of?


Adam: Well New York was full like a hotbed of same music, I mean there was, the downtown scene, it’s like the weirder your work was, the cooler it was. The Knitting Factory was a little place that was turning out crazy music you know, people screeching on horns, trying to be Ornette Colman but they were white! I mean it was like and New York was a different place, it was edgy and tough, there were no Whole Foods in the lower east side.It was just very eclectic, the bills were nuts you know, there was no theme nights, it was pretty insane. And Acorn just came out of sort of like that John Cage meets Pop you know. We wanted to make our own instruments like the original drummer Yon passed away was playing hub caps! There was a shock value.


Posted by flotz on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | Interview

Cuong Vu plays The Triple Door on Tuesday, August 24th, 2010.  Should be a killer show. Got a chance to do an interview with him, in which we discuss jazz in academia, jazz/rock fusion and lots of other topics. Vu goes off!  Check it out:

artofthemix: Who are you playing with these days?

Cuong Vu: While I do a lot of sideman gigs, traveling to Europe, Canada, and Mexico, I primarily have two group that I'm focusing on at the moment.

I'm still working with my band which is now the trio with added bassist, Luke Bergman.  So it's with Ted Poor on drums and Stomu Takeishi on bass as well.

I'm also starting up another group with Andrew D'Angelo, Luke Bergman, and Evan Woodle.

artofthemix:  How is life as a UW faculty member?

Cuong Vu: I like the job very much.  It consumes me too much sometimes but I am very energized and excited by the relationships and exchanges with the students and the amazing progress that they make.  And I'm learning from the experience.

artofthemix: How important is academia and the university system to the perpetuation of jazz?

Cuong Vu: The way that it's been codified and generally done in the majority of the schools (at least in the U.S.) is actually and has been snuffing the life out of jazz.  Much of the music that is being made these days is either a poor carbon copy of what happened decades ago or is a completely superficial and is attempt at commercialism that shoots for the lowest common denominator.  I find that most jazz musicians (well most musicians in general) only know of the music that they do and haven't checked out as much music from other genres or cultures (or even the cultures and trends of their surroundings) as possible so the music sounds singular in dimension.  The understanding of music then isn't universal in it's fundamentals and is instead an understanding of a music that is a caricature of itself, which then makes it harder for the audience to deeply connect with (not that that's the only problem).  I mean Radiohead, Bjork, Sigur Ros are all edge pushers whose music is complex and yet they have a huge followings.  It probably wouldn't be nearly as big without the vocals but I think that even if they did instrumental music, they'd still have a wider reach than the musicians who aren't as diverse in their musical research.

I put the blame squarely on the lame educational system that systemized jazz where it's teachers for the most part have forgotten that jazz was and should be about innovation and searching to push the music further and further while maintaining their connection to the undercurrents and trends of the present.  But now, the idea of the arts as something that is crucial to humanity is quickly dying off so many of the finest musicians who had been out in the world doing their thing, have to luck into a good teaching position in order to survive.  These world travelers are now bringing that experience that breadth of vision into the classrooms and it's breathing life into jazz education.

Now that these people are in academia and if more and more infiltrate, then things will start to drastically change for the better.  We need this to happen in the Jr. Highs and Highs School in order to really change things around.  Unfortunately the teachers in the grade school - high school are even less stellar than the ones I'm complaining about so that will be a harder barrier to penetrate.

So...wrapping this up, I think educating the future musicians is crucial.  But the other half that we have to take on is educating the future audiences as well.

artofthemix:  One of the defining aspects of the jazz/rock fusion I've been hearing these days (James Farm, Speak come to mind as far as shows I've seen lately) is the drummer playing on the beat instead of around the beat. Do you think our ear hungers for that cadence?

Cuong Vu: I'm not sure that I understand.  What is playing around the beat?  When I think of Lester Young or Louis Armstrong, I think of hard grooving swing and not about avoiding or blurring the beat.  They play with where the phrasing resolves and where they insinuate the one, but I hear them as playing "on the beat". Or do you mean that it's less syncopated these days and the beat is always spelled out, like 4 on the floor?

Anyway I'll assume that I understand and answer this way - I think that it's about the music.  Rock isn't about playing around the beat.  However, when it comes to the improvisation at least in Speak or in my groups or any of the great bands out there, I challenge you to find one. So...playing with time is still a part of the language as long as it fits into the narrative of the improv.

artofthemix:  Rock is kind of like electric folk -- it doesn't take a ton of talent or training to play rock. 3 chords, an amp and a backbeat.  And some attitude. Of course, that's a reduction, but hopefully you see what I'm getting at. Jazz, however, requires both talent and training.  So fusing them can make for a curious mix. Thoughts?

Cuong Vu: I think that in rock music, it's more likely that you can get away with not having a high level of mastery of musical skills.  But if you think of the greatest bands, they were bad asses that have technique.  Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Deerhoof, Meshuggah, Frank Zappa's bands, the list goes on and on.  Having a great groove/backbeat is not simple.  Making 3 chords sound interesting is not easy.  Getting a good sound out of an amp that is your own sound isn't something that just happens most of the time (requires great ears and understanding of the music and the musician's role in each piece and each section).  U2's guitarist, the Edge, is a master of getting sounds.

I think that the skill set can be really different from the one needed to play jazz but any band/musician that transcends and make impactful music, there has to have been a great deal of time, commitment and intensity spent on their craft.  And lots of jazz musicians would sound pretty stupid playing rock goes both ways.

artofthemix: What did you have for breakfast?

Cuong Vu: My breakfast is coffee and the trumpet in my face for a few hours.  Today, it's coffee and an e-mail to you.

Posted by flotzam on Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Interview

Hidden Number was interviewed after their show at the Sunset on July 19th, 2009. Download the whole interview here: HiddenNumber.mp3 (6.93 mb) or, read the transcript below.

I: So have you guys been interviewed much?

Josh: Well, Walter Cronkite interviewed us, He's pretty quiet. 

Kai: And we were once interviewed by a Portland radio DJ.

Dean: He wanted us to play some standards.

Joe: The dude had a boner for us. He asked us to play standards and I was like shut up!

Dean: What are the standards anyway?

Joe: Anything by Coltrane.

Kai: We need to learn some standards.

Joe: Now Walter Kronkite, he can play standards. He can play Skynard. Damn. Okay, I'm making that up. I never met him. Got rest his soul.

I: So what is the official Hidden Number response to the Michael Jackson thing?  I haven't heard anything.

Joe: Well, we found out how he died. There's been a lot of cover ups in the media. It was food poisoning. He ate a nine year old weiner. And that's the final say. Hey put in there "parenthesis, Kai wipes brow, end parenthesis."


Kai: We used to tell a lot of Michael Jackson jokes.

Joe: But not anymore. We're going up for reelection and we don't want to bring these issues out, you know? 

Josh:Here's one: Michael Jackson took a kid out into the woods and left breadcrumbs so they could get back. And the kid says, "Well, the birds are eating the breadcrumbs, Michael. How are we going to get back?" Michael responds, "Nobody cares about you getting out of the woods."

I: Any more?

Joe: Oh, you are opening the floodgates.

[Listen to podcast for more.]

I: How do you feel about people calling you The Hidden Number instead of Hidden Number.

Joe: If we were a Spanish band, we'd be El Numero Obscuro. You have to have the "el" in there.

Josh: The Hidden Number is better than Hidden Number, The.

Joe: But don't fuckin call us The Hidden Number. That's not what we're going for. You haven't read the liner notes.

Josh: It is like we are each a number and then collectively we are hidden number, like a wave form.

Joe: Anyone that would call us The Hidden Number doesn't know how to play hidden number.

Dean: When the board game comes out, all will be clear.

Joe: We just need Milton Bradley to support us. We could get that board game out. We've got the music thing but the board game is more of our forte.

I: I never really got that. Tell me about the board game.

Joe: Ah...I'll explain. A number of players of indeterminate number sit around and there is a screen of obfuscation that blocks the view of the number they roll on their die. There is one player who sits above everyone -- you know those tennis referee chairs? --

Dean: Or like a throne.

Joe: That person is the overseer. He can see all the numbers. So, the first rule is that overseer always wins.  The second rule is that only the overseer knows all the rules. The third rule is that the overseer needs to let other people think they can win. The fourth rule is that the overseer always wins. The fifth rule is to always follow the first and fourth rules.

Kai: So, you've got the screen of obfuscation. You've got the eleven sided die. Everybody roles their die behind the screen and then you try to guess the number that they roled. And then whoever guesses it right loses to the overseer.

Dean: So there are levels of losing.

Joe: It is like the game of life simplified. You lose.

Kai: Another interesting thing is that the overseers are playing as well. That's the expansion pack.

Joe: And the overseer gets a magnum 45 loaded...wait take that out!  They aren't supposed to know!

Kai: The point is you never look at the overseer. If you look at the overseer, you lose automatically.

Joe: It is that simple.  Milton Bradley, dude.

Josh: At what point did you become aware of what a theremin is? And why did you feel like you had to get one?

Dean: Well, it was kind of an impulse buy.  I always loved Bob Moog and synthesiseers and electronic music and that led to the theremin, which is the first version of an electronic instrument.

Josh: Had you heard it before?

Dean: Well, everyone's heard it. You've probably heard it on sci-fi movies from the 50s. The Day The Earth Stood Still! An amazing soundtrack. I think my first encounter was with Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, which was a Tannerin, not a theremin, [also known as an electrotheremin]. It is basically a different style of theremin. That one you do touch. You can put notes on there.

Joe: And how'd you learn to play the bass? Well, I'm the best bass player on earth.
Wow! I'm extremely modest.

[Person drops off a 5 dollar bill to Dean.]

Kai: So what was our take for the evening.

Dean: We have just received 5 dollars for our evening's performance.

Joe: We're going straight to the top!