by Jeff Fitzgerald
From Aural Innovations #41 (October 2010)
Naked, Stoned and Stabbed
(4 Zero Records 2010, FZ007)
With their diverse and eclectic blend of jazz, space rock, R&B, electronic, ambient, Krautrock and folk music, Pat Thomas and his ever shifting collective of musical explorers known as Mushroom have been producing some of the most exciting music to come out of the San Francisco area for the past 14 years. Once again reflecting the band members' many influences, the band has released their first new album since 2007's Joint Happening, and as ever is the case with Mushroom, it's like nothing that's come before it.
Naked, Stoned and Stabbed finds the band exploring their gentler side, blending folk and ambient textures together, but it's still stamped with their trademark improvisation and experimentalism. Mushroom touched on some British folk influences on the album Glazed Popems, but here on the first half of the new album, they delve into it completely, creating some downright breezy improvisations with strumming and gently picking acoustic guitars but also lilting flute melodies, along with weird atmospherics and freaky effects produced on a variety of different instruments including Minimoog and Vako Orchestron. Although bandleader Pat Thomas stays off the drums for a majority of the album, he does add in occasional bongos and other percussive sounds on many of the tracks, as do several other percussionists. The 60's make several appearances on the album, as they often do with Mushroom, but this time the influences come from more of a pop idiom than that of jazz, like the funky organ on Take Off Your Face and Recover From That Trip You've Been On and the trippy sitar on the song Tariq Ali. The latter half of the album takes a more ambient turn, with songs featuring sounds like softly played kalimba and folksy violin bringing an organic earthiness to swirling, spacey synth and organ soundscapes; a neat juxtaposition of warm and cool sounds, as tracks like the chilly and haunting Walking Barefoot in Babylon dovetail with cheerful musicbox-like pieces like I'll Give You Everything I've Got For a Little Piece of Mind. The album ends on a surprisingly upbeat note with a rousing cover of Kevin Ayers' Singing a Song in the Morning which, despite how odd that may sounds on paper, makes for an ending to the album that couldn't be more perfect.
Is this new direction a shocking one? Perhaps, but then again, long time Mushroom fans have come to expect that from their favourite band. A restless unit Mushroom is indeed, and the world is a better place for it. Naked, Stoned and Stabbed is another terrific album, another milestone on Mushroom's journey, and another slice of sonic space and time for us to become immersed in and thoroughly enjoy.
For more info, visit the Mushroom web site at: http://www.myspace.com/mushroomoakland
Visit the 4 Zero Records web site at: http://www.4zerorecords.com
It had been a while since Aural Innovations had had the chance to chat with bandleader Pat Thomas, so I got in touch and talked not just about the new album, but picked up essentially where the last interview that Jerry did left off, starting here with their collaboration with singer Caroleen Beatty titled You're Only As Pretty As You Feel and following through on each subsequent album right up to the present. And we even have a little surprise exclusive for you towards the end of the interview!
You're Only As Pretty As You Feel (2005)
AI: This album's in a similar vein to Mad Dogs and San Franciscans, being a collaboration with a single vocalist on a number of mainly 60's cover tunes. I notice that that one, with Gary Floyd, was credited on the cover to just Mushroom, and this one is credited to just Caroleen Beatty, whereas your other two 'collaboration' albums are jointly credited (in the reverse from each other). How do you decide how the album will be credited? Was there a specific reason why Mushroom's involvement on You're Only Pretty As You Feel was downplayed?
Pat: Well, I guess I "over-thought" this one a bit. Basically, I had planned to release it as "Caroleen Beatty with Mushroom" - because frankly, that's exactly what this Caroleen album is! In fact - three of those songs were originally recorded and scheduled to be included on Mushroom's Glazed Popems album - but a friend advised me that Glazed Popems should be all original material - no cover songs. So I pulled them off Glazed Popems. Then another person advised me that because Mushroom had released so many CDs around that time (2001-2005), that perhaps I should leave the Mushroom name off. Yes, you are right You're Only Pretty As You Feel is basically a Mushroom album - and in fact that actual song You're Only As Pretty As You Feel - had already been released previously (around 2002) on a various artists compilation of bands playing various 1960's cover songs credited to "Mushroom."
AI: Who decided what songs would be covered for this album?
Pat: I did. I'm normally the one who comes up with these wacky ideas for cover songs. In the case of the album with Gary Floyd - Gary and I kind of tossed around song ideas together, but with the Caroleen project, I just said "learn these" and she did! They are songs that Caroleen probably would never have chosen for herself - but she's a good sport, a real team player and agreed without argument or discussion.
AI: Can you give me some insight on how the songs are chosen?
Pat: I generally like to find things that other people wouldn't do anymore (like Let The Sunshine In or songs that nobody has ever re-done (like Toady by Ginger Baker's Airforce)
AI: Obviously doing an album like this is different from doing one that is wholly improvised. Which do you find more challenging and why?
Pat: Both offer their own challenges. For a "cover song" - it's a challenge to bring something new to the song and/or just play a half-way decent version of it in the first place. With Mushroom's own improvised material, it's a challenge to come up with "good material" or edit out the crap from the tasty bits. I enjoy both. Sometimes I get "bored" with improvised stuff and just want to play covers, I want to play a "song" - other times, I want the freedom and expression to just do improvised stuff, to really let myself go emotionally and musically.
AI: There's some very creative arrangements on You're Only As Pretty As You Feel, which I like. I hate when a band covers a song and it sounds pretty much like the original did. What kind of process did you go through to come up with the arrangements? How much improvisation was involved?
Pat: Thanks! I can't take credit for the creative arrangements, that has to go to the rest of the band! We generally just invent a new arrangement in the studio, everybody learns the song on their own - and then we jam on it a few times in the studio before hitting the "record" button.
Really Don't Mind If You Sit This One Out (2006)
AI: I loved this album for the glimpse it gave into the early years of Mushroom.
Pat: Yes, I agree. Mushroom has been through so many changes in style and sound - especially during the years when we used a fair amount of horns; trumpets, trombones, saxophones and flutes - as we dove into more jazz or even funk grooves, I wanted to go back and check out what we originally set out to do - which was to be more psychedelic/Krautrock/etc. (with keyboards as one of the main instruments). So it's fun to hear that really early stuff.
AI: What made you decide to release some of those early performances instead of something more contemporary?
Pat: Well, the other thing about those early days of Mushroom - we used to actually play "songs" during our live shows - in other words, we'd re-learn songs we'd recorded in the studio and perform them live. Since the CDs containing the studio versions of those songs; (songs like The Reeperbahn, On the Corner, Kyle loves a funny bunny, etc) were on CDs that were long out of print and only released in certain countries like Holland and Germany; the Alive and in Full Bloom CD (which is a studio album despite its title) and Cream of Mushroom CD - I thought it would be cool to release a CD in the USA and the UK that had some of those same "songs" on it - but live versions, much longer and diverse than the studio counterparts. And of course, there were some "songs" that were never recorded in the studio during those early days - so there was some new/unreleased stuff for even the hardcore Mushroom fan to sink their teeth into.
AI: You must have had a lot of recordings stored away in the vaults. How did you choose which ones would make the final cut?
Pat: Well, I listened to a ton of live stuff - but I really focused on our very few first live shows, so that I'd be sure to capture the essence of the early days of the band as well as trying to find "live" versions of studio songs. Also, despite having played hundreds of shows over the past 12 years or so - I still can remember certain shows having some cool on the spot improvisational jams that are worthy of release - so I went back and located those tapes - and my memory served me well, there was cool stuff that I remembered some 10 years later and said, yeah, I want to put this out for sure.
AI: If I read the liner notes correctly, the performances of Kyle Loves a Funny Bunny and The Reeperbahn were from your first show ever. Did that show come before you recorded the studio versions or after?
Pat: Yes, that's correct there are some songs from our very first show ever, I feel lucky that we recorded that first show in sound quality that was worthy of releasing some 10 years later. But to answer your question - yes, the studio versions came first. The studio versions of those songs were recorded in November 1997 and the first live show from which that CD was created was in May or June of 1998 as I remember. I should go back and check the CD liner notes as I'm answering your questions!
AI: What was it like that first night?
Pat: Really fun! We were having a blast, playing our asses off - and the crowd seemed to be digging us - even though only about ½ the people there had any idea of who we were.
AI: Had the musicians played together much before that?
Pat: Well, we'd played in the studio of course, but the only big difference (compared to the next decade or so of Mushroom), was that we actually rehearsed in advance of that live show - to make sure we had those studio "songs" down! Mushroom has rarely rehearsed for live shows, ever. So, yeah, those early days were a rare case of Mushroom getting together playing in a rehearsal room and working out some ideas, chord changes, etc.
AI: What kind of directions did you give the band, or did you just let it go wherever it wanted to go?
Pat: That very first show and a couple more after that - were some of the few times, we ever had a "set list" - we knew in advance what/when we'd be playing that night. After those days, we generally never had a set list. But even having a set list - it's obvious from the live recordings, that we were letting go and letting the song take a natural direction at times. It wasn't like playing "pop music" and sticking to a specific structure.
Yesterday, I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers (2007)
AI: Alison had been an on again off again part of the Mushroom collective since almost the beginning. And from the liner notes, I see that the tracks from this album were all recorded at different times, going back to as early as 2002, some live, some studio. What went behind the decision to make this an "Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom" album, instead of just a Mushroom album?
Pat: The truth can now be told - the studio recordings on that Alison album actually go back as far as like October 1999! We just didn't want to tell people that in the liner notes (if you look at the CD, as I remember, we did not "date" the studio recordings) - if people think that there are previously unreleased studio recordings that go back some 5 or 10 years, then they view those studio songs as less than quality - "oh, these must be inferior 'old' out-takes." Actually they were "out-takes" from the Foxy Music sessions. The reason at the time, they didn't get used for the Foxy Music CD was a) I did think at the time, that perhaps those songs were inferior (obviously I changed my mind many years later when I heard them again). And b) frankly, we had a ton of really interesting stuff for the Foxy Music CD - so I just couldn't fit it all on the original release, so it wound up on the Alison CD much later. But to get back to your original question - I decided to release it with Alison's name to pay tribute to her, to bring attention to the fact she's done some really cool vocals with us - and we're generally known as an "instrumental" band, so I wanted to draw some attention to her - as well as let people know - "hey, this CD has vocals!"
AI: From what I've heard of Alison's own music, it's quite different from what Mushroom does.
Pat: Yes, her own music is more in the "singer/songwriter" style - often piano ballads like classic Carole King or something like that. Although she's now stopped doing that - and her own music now - in a band called "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" - she's more like Janis Joplin meets Robert Plant (she can really belt it out) with a touch of Sandy Denny and the folk sounds of Fairport Convention and The Band thrown in. Check out their CD, it's wonderful.
AI: How much influence do you think she brought to the recordings?
Pat: Alison is the ONLY singer I've worked with - who can do "improv" vocals - she can make up lyrics and sounds on the spot, on the fly - so she's the perfect singer for Mushroom in a live (or studio) situation when we're not playing pre-determined "songs." She's a true JAZZ vocalist!
AI: Speaking of titles, actually, what was the thought behind the title of this album?
Pat: That title is taken from the lyric of a really folky beautiful mellow song on Led Zep III. I'll leave it up to the listener to figure out which one.
AI: I was intrigued by the artistic choice to cover David Bowie's Memory of a Free Festival but to only do the final sing-a-long part. How did that come about?
Pat: Just for fun, for a couple of shows during that time period, we actually "opened" some Mushroom shows,- with just that "sing along part" of that classic Bowie song - just as a way to capture the audience's attention before we went into some long weirdo jams that might be more difficult for the audience to follow. That song/version seemed like a nice way to close that Alison CD.
AI: I think this album more than any of them shows just how diverse yet how consistent Mushroom can be. Honestly, when I first listened to it, before reading any of the liner notes, I found it quite seamless. I had no idea this was a mixture of live and studio recordings made over a period of eight years.
Pat: Thank you! I think that your comment/feelings - shows the magic of Mushroom - that despite the diverse sounds/styles and even years separating the songs - it still works as a whole. I guess I kind of consider Mushroom like King Crimson was between 1969 and 1985. Even if you add/subtract members - it still sounds and feels like King Crimson. I will pat myself on the back, only in the sense that I think I'm good at deciding what/which songs should be included on any given Mushroom album - from all the recorded sources I have at hand. I also try to take a page out of Miles Davis' book - always make sure that every other person in the band is a better musician than myself - so that 1) it's the best possible band it can be and 2) I can learn from being around and playing with musicians better than me!
Joint Happening (2007)
AI: Wow, this was just a fantastic album, one of the high points of Mushroom's career, in my opinion. How did the collaboration with Eddie Gale come about?
Pat: For many years, I was working as a "reissue producer" - discovering "lost" albums from the 1960's and 1970's - that had originally been released on labels like Blue Note, Warner Brothers, Elektra, and Atlantic but that had never been reissued on CD. Through some friends, I discovered these amazing 1968-1969 albums by Eddie Gale released on Blue Note back in the day - but had never been on reissued CD. I was working for a reissue label called Water Records and I helped put those out on CD for the first time. Because I was in Oakland and Eddie lived down the road in San Jose - we met and became friends.
AI: What was it like working with such a legendary jazz man?
Pat: Amazing. During rehearsals, he'd light up a nice fat joint and tell us some amazing story about John Coltrane. Also - there was a real musical/cross-cultural exchange between Mushroom and him. Classic & free jazz meets progressive rock and psychedelica.
AI: Like the Alison Faith Levy album, it sounds like some of the tracks here were recorded live and others in the studio. Was this album, like Yesterday I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers a sort of long term collaboration, or did it happen in a shorter amount of time?
Pat: Yes, it is a blend of live and studio recordings - although in this case, we didn't want to push forward the idea that some of it was live - as we didn't want it marketed as a "live" album. Unlike the Alison album which contained some very vintage studio recordings with a cross-section of live material spanning several years as well, all of the Eddie Gale material (live and studio) is basically from a one year span or less. There is a great live video of us recording some of the material used on the Eddie Gale album on youtube - at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z9dz9mxlaU
AI: Eddie Gale is no stranger to modern sounds, as evidenced by his work with artists like The Coup, but some reviewers of Joint Happening (including myself, I guess) noted a late 60's jazz vibe to the proceedings. Eddie Gale played on some seminal recordings in the late 60's, and late 60's era. Miles Davis has been one of Mushroom's influences since the early days. Was there any kind of conscious effort to get back to certain roots, to capture the essence of that era, or did that just kind of happen?
Pat: Oh man, for us - Mushroom never needs to consciously try to capture that late 1960's vibe, it's just in our DNA. We just plug in and out it comes, I think that's what Eddie loved about us, as he hadn't done that kind of "1960's freak thing" for decades, ever since he'd played with Sun Ra in the mid-1970's.
AI: I think one of my favorite tracks on the album is I Was Torn Down At the Dance Place - Shaved Head at the Organ. You've just got to tell me how that name came about!
Pat: I am a huge Van Morrison fan. Especially of his 1970's albums including one called Hard Nose The Highway. On the title song from that album, Van sings the lyric; "I was tore down at the dead's place / Shaved head at the organ." Van is supposedly referring to an evening he spent at the Grateful Dead's house or studio or whatever. But I always heard the "Dead" reference as "Dance", so that's where I got that line. Only one person (Mushroom's percussionist Dave Mihaly) ever figured out that I'd taken that song title from Van Morrison and he's one who pointed out that it was "Dead" as in Grateful Dead and not "dance." I have no idea who the shaved head at the organ is or was (the Dead weren't known for their short hair!) - but Mushroom's original organ player Graham Connah has often switched between long hair and a brush cut, so I always think of him when I hear that line.
Naked, Stoned and Stabbed
AI: While still bearing the distinctive elements that make it Mushroom, there's a much more folksy, breezier feel to this album than you've had before.
Pat: Well, that was on purpose, over the past decade or so, there's been this "thing" called the "Freak Folk" or "Weird Old America" movement amongst indie-rock musicians in the United States and many of them have cited various "folk music" artists of the 1960's as influences (everyone from Fairport Convention to Fred Neil to Sandy Bull to Davy Graham and many points in-between), many of these indie rock kids, are exactly that, kids who've been listening to this vintage "folk music" for perhaps 5 years maximum, while some of the people in Mushroom, such as myself and Erik have been listening to this stuff for about 25 years, so we decided it was time for us to "have a go" at this, and show everyone else what we were capable of in this genre.
AI: The promo materials mention that these sessions were both planned and spontaneous. How much was planned?
Pat: Naked, Stoned and Stabbed had perhaps the most discussion "in advance" of the recording sessions than any other Mushroom album we've done. The discussion was centered around the types of "sounds" that we wanted to go for, the approach that we wanted to take, the instruments that we wanted to use, etc. In this particular case, I encouraged people to show up with pre-written or pre-arranged pieces of music and in this case, Erik showed up with a couple of songs that he'd already sketched out, hence his "individual" songwriting credit on these two songs, which is a bit unusual for Mushroom, as we usually write more "collectively" on the spot.
AI: Was there a particular concept and or process with which you went into these sessions?
Pat: Ah, some of that I just addressed, but in terms of what was happening in the studio during the sessions, more than any other Mushroom album, in the role of the "producer", I was pulling people in and out of the studio a lot more than usual. In other words, I would say, ok, let's record some stuff with just these 3 people for awhile, then after half an hour, ok, let's remove 2 of those people and add in these other 2 guys. That type of thing, so this time around, I was often "behind the glass", in the room with the soundboard and a bit less behind the drum kit in some cases. There's a more diverse selection of various duos, trios, quartets, etc of various Mushroom members than other records. It's rarely "the whole band" all playing at once!
AI: On the cover are some very specific musicians that influenced the music on this album. What is it about these artists that binds them and provided inspiration for this particular album? Would you say all those names were an inspiration to the music as a whole, or did certain pieces bear more influence from certain musicians?
Pat: Some of those people listed, like Davy Graham (a 1960's British folk rock/raga guitarist) is someone who I had in my head before we went into the studio and I encouraged the other guys to check him out as well. Other musicians listed on the "sticker" on the front of the CD, were more "after the fact" marketing ideas. In other words, we never, ever, set out to make some Fela Kuti style music, but somehow, we did record one or two songs that had that kind of early 1970's Nigeria on acid kind of sound. Ned is especially fond of that kind of groove. The more ambient (sort of ENO) type stuff towards the end of the album, we'd been experimenting with that kind of thing for awhile in a live setting (especially with Josh doing weird processed vocal sounds instead of guitar playing), so it seemed natural to carry those ideas into the studio. Matt, is a keyboard guru, he's got dozens of vintage analog instruments in his collection, some electric, some acoustic and he certainly brings a lot to the table on this album as well as in a live setting.
AI: Singing A Song in the Morning...it's such a fun little song, quite different from the rest of the album, yet it works in the same way Sun Machine worked as a closer for Yesterday I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers. What made you decide to cover it to close the album?
Pat: That was my idea, I wanted one "real" song with vocals on the album (or least I thought I did), somehow it came out way better than I could have ever imagined and it made for a real organic way to finish the album. Some people suggested since it was a "pop" song that we should open the record with it, capture the listener's ear from the beginning, but that seemed too obvious and not a natural way to kick off the album.
AI: Eleven years ago in the first interview AI did with you, you said you were feeling a tentative sense of community amongst emerging musicians in the San Francisco area, like playing some shows with Beyond-O-Matic, but you felt there was little support from the musicians of SF's classic era. Over the past decade, has that changed?
Pat: Well, I still haven't seen members of the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplane or Moby Grape at any Mushroom shows, but Matt Cunitz (our keyboard player) has recently played with bassist Phil Lesh of the Dead, and guitarist Henry Kaiser (who I guess is sort of the missing link generation between those 1960's bands and us "young folks") has jammed on stage with Mushroom. Henry has previously worked with members of the Dead, Capt. Beefhart's band, Richard Thompson, Fred Frith, etc. So perhaps we've closed that link a bit, but not much.
AI: What about the community of musicians and bands of the current era?
Pat: Sadly, Beyond-O-Matic is long gone, although Kurt Stenzel is still around and still a pal and still making music in San Francisco. At this point, Mushroom has been going for 13 years (amazing, when I think about it!) and so we're kind of one of the old guard bands now. We don't really have a bond with any particular "psychedelic" or "prog" or "jazz" bands in the San Francisco Bay Area, but we've outlasted just about everyone else at this point, and of course know a lot of bands and musicians around town in general.
AI: Listening to some of your recent live shows, I can definitely here some of the spirit of Naked, Stoned and Stabbed in there, but new ideas emerging as well. What does the future hold for Mushroom? Do you have any concrete ideas? Things you'd like to try someday? Dreams?
Pat: As you know, the one thing about Mushroom is, we're always changing, not so much band members, we've had a fairly overall consistent line-up since about 2004 (with some guests coming and going), but we do keep "changing" up the sound and approach. I see us eventually doing another album with vocals, another "covers" album like the one we did with Gary Floyd. Ideally, we'd like to make another album eventually with Eddie Gale. We will continue to dig thru the old live recordings and make more of those available as time goes on. The only real dream at this point that we haven't been able to make happen thus far, is a tour of the American West Coast; Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Santa Cruz, etc.
AI: Thanks Pat!
Words From Some Of the Other Mushrooms!
As an exclusive, for the very first time in a Mushroom interview, some of the other members of the band, including bassist Ned Doherty (bass), Matt Cunitz (analog keyboards of all kinds including; Moog, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond B-3 organ, Hohner Melodica, Vako Orchestron, et al) and co-founding member Erik Pearson (guitar, flute, sax, violin, sitar) speak out about what it's like playing in Mushroom!
AI: Erik and Matt, you both play multiple different types of instruments in Mushroom. Being that the majority of Mushroom's music is improvisational, what kind of thought goes into which instrument or instruments you'll be playing in any given piece, whether in the studio or live?
Erik: The choice of instruments varies from what I feel like in the moment, to what I brought that day, to specifics like creating a certain sound we might have in mind for a given tune. On the new album I was very excited to bring my electric sitar into the fold. It's a super cool instrument - designed after the strings on an actual sitar, rather than simply a guitar modified to sound like a sitar. It's pretty funky and was made by someone who was studying sitar and wanted to cross over, apparently. I had to search around a bit to find the music in it and came prepared with some concepts into the studio. The violin is something Pat always has to cajole me into doing, because I feel I'm not very good at it. At the end of the day, I really like the tracks that have me on fiddle. As Yogi Berra said: "yaneverknow"... I always feel that the instrument I'm playing at a given moment is less important than WHAT it is I play. Usually I try to be a uniter in the course of an improvisation. I try to listen to what's going on and do something that somehow melds it all together - often that translates to some kind of melodic element that we can all latch on to - a soaring melody above the overall texture. Or maybe I'll try to do something that takes what's happening and alters it in a surprising way - something that changes the tonality or the pulse. This often leads me to a specific instrument, something that will do that thing that I'm looking for in a given moment.
Matt: When we are recording in the studio, I usually have several instruments set up around me in a circle so that I can grab for whatever the moment inspires. I know my sounds, so I try to get into a place where I'm not thinking about it at all - so it's a visceral reaction to the music coming out of the other Mushrooms. In live situations I have to consider the size of the venue as well as the other individuals in the ensemble. More often than not, Mushroom is the same group of people from show to show, but the line up can vary sometimes. So, with certain combinations I will want percussive keyboards like Pianos or Clavinet. While others call for the sustaining qualities of Organ or Orchestron.
AI: Ned...as the other half of Mushroom's rhythm section, what kind of interplay and/or communication goes on between you and Pat during a performance?
Ned: Sounds simple, but I always stand next to the drums. If there are two drummers, or drums and percussion, I stand next to both of them. It gets tricky when vibes or marimbas are included in the mix (they are played by the percussion guys, Dave Brandt, and on occasion Dave Mihaly, sometimes both!), because the size of those instruments often relegates them to parts of the stage where the bass can't really be. I wind up making a lot of eye contact, maybe more than in other bands. Pat is good at cueing, so that is a great help. Often, I can sense when we're ready to move from a spacey thing into a groove thing by the way the drums build, or telegraph a build, and we have gotten good, I think, at making those transitions seem more planned than they are. Remember that there might be nine people on stage, so if you're trying to change the direction from the rhythm section seat, you need to be pretty assertive, and collaboration helps. We have been doing this for quite a while now, so freaky subliminal stuff is going on all the time, I'm sure. We may also exchange verbal info, like "I think we have time for one more..."
AI: And a couple of questions for all of you. First, which Mushroom album or albums is/are your favorites, and why?
Ned: Naked Stoned & Stabbed and Glazed Popems are my faves, and the tracks we cut with Caroleen Beatty for the Pretty As You Feel EP. I like the whole catalog, but these are the ones I listen to most often. Yep, I'm on these, so I hope I'm being objective here, but before the CD release shows this summer, I did a KUSF radio guest DJ spot, and revisited Glazed Popems for the occasion. I was pretty blown away by much of the stuff there. Naked Stoned & Stabbed is just a cool thing. Folks I'd been telling about it were surprised by it, I think they found it to be mellower than expected, but I think it is a pretty consistent piece, and sonically, seems to really capture the vibe of the weekend it was recorded. I guess it is somewhat understated, but I think that just makes it more effective. The instrumentation varies tune to tune, and the number of instruments used is remarkable. There are two tracks with two basses on them! I know people don't necessarily catch that, but I love it. It is as cool to hear as it was to do. Those were just great sessions, and it's a really honest document. Caroleen and Mushroom's CD: Pretty As You Feel I just love, the vocals, the choice of covers, and the production just work for me.
Matt: I don't really listen to Mushroom's records. However, I do record almost all of our live shows and will listen to them occasionally. One of my favorites is from the first time we played with Sun Ra trumpeter Eddie Gale. Excerpts of that show were included in the Joint Happening album. The latest record Naked, Stoned, and Stabbed has some pretty cool stuff on it, but the outtakes from those sessions contain some of my favorite mushroom studio creations. These may get released eventually though, so I suppose the next album could be my favorite!
Erik: I love Naked Stoned and Stabbed. I think it touches on some familiar places and goes many new places. There are ways in which it achieves things I've long wanted in a Mushroom album - a harnessing and modulating of the mushroom sound that we've never done before, All the guitar players... is a great example. This was a "composition" that I brought to the recording session and in classic fashion there was disagreement on the outcome, but I love it. It's exactly what I hoped it would be, and more! The record is really like a travelogue. I'm always amazed at the different sounds we've been able to come up with from record to record, without being at all contrived about it. We never go in with an idea of what the end product will sound like. Pat has some control at the outset in choosing who some of the people are on the recording session, and of course at the end in the track selection, but much of the recording process is just what happens in the studio. That's why my answer to the initial question has been "whatever record we just did". I've really enjoyed the way the music's grown and changed over time. I also love listening to the old stuff!
AI: What do each of you enjoy the most about making Mushroom music?
Ned: The freedom, the edginess of getting on stage and inventing. I also like the players and the instruments: it is a dream to be part of two guitars, one or two saxes, a trombone, two drums, maybe a dozen gongs, vibes and or marimba, many keyboards (maybe two sets of hands) and bass, especially when they are well handled. It's like a cool road trip in a well appointed vehicle with no map, but a general agreement about what good scenery is.
Matt: I am lucky to have a few different types of musical projects going on at any one time. I do a lot of session work for other people which often involves a lot of analytical listening, practice, and then recording the parts until the perfect sonic moment is achieved. Other bands can have me playing the same set of songs identically on stage night after night. What I enjoy most about playing in Mushroom is that I can just show up and play!
Erik: I have to say that we have a really great group of folks. I always love playing music with these guys, and sometimes gals. There's a certain chemistry that is very rare and almost always incredible to tap into. The funny thing is that we may have vastly different opinions about things: about the music we're making, how to do what we do, what's good, what's bad, but in the end, it's often an unspoken and beautiful thing that is beyond what any of us imagined it would be. I came from a music composition background and Mushroom is the opposite of that - you don't have control, you don't want control. Trust your friends. It's a beautiful thing.
AI: Thanks guys!