Jugalbandi - "The View Is Better From The Top Of The Food Chain" (Great Artiste 89 Records
Jugalbandi - "Yellow Star Mailing List" (Great Artiste 89 Records 2000, GAJG002)
Jugalbandi - "The Cram And Stuff Method" (Great Artiste 89 Records 2000, GAJG003)
Greg Segal - "Always Look On The Dark Side Of Life: Selected Recordings 1984-1993" (Phantom Airship Records 2001, PARGS01)
From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
For many years all I knew of Greg Segal was an album by his 1980's band Paperbag, an improvisational quartet with whom he played guitar and released four albums on the SST label. Interestingly, I first made contact with Segal when he discovered me auctioning my one Paper Bag album, Ticket To Trauma, on Ebay last year. (I'm glad now that it got no bidders.) From an Indian word meaning "music for two players", Jugalbandi is an improvisational duo consisting of Segal on guitar and Hyam Sosnow on drums. Sosnow is new to me but he was an active touring musician in the 1970's and has played with Segal in various bands over the years, including Cold Sky, SOS, and Dog Neutral.
I'll start by saying that these CD's were a great deal of fun to review. Segal and Sosnow take improvisation seriously, as both an art and a process with guidelines. With the CD's (available individually or as a 3-disc set) comes an explanation of Segal and Sosnow's Improvisation Level Classification System which indicates the amount or type of improvisation in a given piece of music. It's worthwhile to repeat the condensed version of the system from the CD liner notes:
IL1: Totally improvised - No pre communication whatsoever between Greg & Hyam
IL2: A ) A few words or song title mentioned prior to starting ("Let's play some funk", or Let's do something that fits 'Moving Toward Kyoto'"), etc. B) One of us began with an idea the other hadn't heard
IL3: Piece based around a newly-composed riff or chord structure. Riff/chords still barely formed; arrangement and solos improvised
IL4: Composed piece with improvised sections or solos. Usually head/improv/head structure, but variations are endless. At one extreme, only the solos are improvised; at another, the arrangement can go completely fluid
IL5: Fully composed piece
Segal and Sosnow go further than most in letting the interested listener into their creative world. Each track shows the date recorded, the system level the musicians agreed the piece was at (e.g., IL2, IL3, etc), and brief notes by both Segal and Sosnow about each track. Does this all sound unnecessarily complicated or academic? Well there's plenty to enjoy in the music alone (which I'll get to), but I found this rare invitation into the creative process allowed me to enjoy the music on two levels. One, an active process whereby I could groove along with the music while reading the music notes and pondering them while listening (and reading the various articles on improvisation that Segal has written, accessible from his web site). The other, the simple act of chilling out with the headphones and hopping on the musical bus as it tours around Jugalbandi town.
So what's the music like? Well there's lots of really solid rock music here. Some might think (without actually hearing the music) something is missing without a bass, but I found that the guitar and drums held their own as a duo just fine. Some might consider that the "full" sound of a band is missing without the bass. But this takes nothing away from the music as the various tracks impressively cover everything from ballsy rock, to brain piercing acidic noise, to all your favorite prog rock styles, including parts where you'd thing keyboards or synths are present, and on to jazz, fusion, and a touch of Blues. The lack of a bass really allows the listener to tune in closely to what each musician is doing. And the interplay between the guitar and drums makes it clear that Segal and Sosnow are in comfortable communication with one another.
Keeping the band's improv classes in mind, it's interesting to listen to music like the title track from The View Is Better From The Top Of The Food Chain, which is a jamming exploratory rocker that's been classed as IL1, versus "Erwin Park" (IL3) which also jams but actually feels like a song. In fact, we also get to hear the IL3 level at work as there are three renditions of "Erwin Park" on the album. (My favorite is the Reprise which features Segal ripping it up nicely on guitar.) "Reciprocal Demonology", "The Toast Beckons", and the 23 minute "Castle Bravo" appear in sequence as part of the "Thermonuclear Suite". "Reciprocal Demonology" is a standout track with some mucho freaked out rockin' guitar sounds, which succeed in their intention to communicate a horror soundtrack feel. The epic "Castle Bravo" begins with Sosnow laying down a marching beat and Segal playing strained, anguished notes. The drumming develops steadily and controls the pace of the music while the guitar handles atmosphere. The musicians do an excellent job of holding my attention for 23 minutes as both drums and guitar evolve smoothly through a variety of sounds and clearly defined themes. The guitar explores sounds that bring to mind Fripp and David Torn, and the styles border on rock, fusion, space and ambient.
"Gidget Goes Canine" is a highlight track on the Yellow Star Mailing List CD. I like the contrasting interplay between Segal and Sosnow on this tune. It starts with Segal playing very precise notes and Sosnow playing bouncy jazzy rhythms. The guitar notes soon become patterns until Segal gets into a King Crimson mood and kicks out some Frippoid notes that have a harsh noisy edge to them. There's also what sounds like an electronic pattern rumbling in the background providing a low drone base to the music. At nearly 26 minutes this track once again moves steadily through a stream of ideas that are well developed and kept my attention throughout. "Remembering Prerecognition" is similar, though in this case Segal develops some very cool spaced out loop patterns throughout the track, again providing an intriguing contrast with Sosnow's jazzy drumming. "Previously Disenchanted" is a powerful tune with blistering ambient space guitar. Each note is like an entire phrase, and Segal milks them for all they're worth. And like "Erwin Park" on the previous CD, the IL3 level "Valley Plaza", with its recognizable melody, is presented in two versions, with the Reprise once again being the stronger of the two and includes a very tasty solo from Segal.
I've said that Jugalbandi do well with lengthy tracks and the title track to The Cram And Stuff Method is the longest and probably my favorite. Sosnow lets is all go and rocks hard, stating his case with a variety of patterns that range from fluid to controlled chaos. The appeal of this track is that it's like the big extended jam section of a concert where the band just lets it all go for a while, each member letting the creative spirit take them where it will, yet having the whole glom somehow gel beautifully. "Approaching Readiness" also has some interesting atmospherics and sounds. "My Yiddishe Boogie" is a candidate for full song development and has some blistering guitar work and potent drumming. Excellent track. And "La Bionda" is another great jamming tune with shred guitar to rival that on Yiddishe Boogie. There's also a quiet underlying (perhaps looped) guitar pattern that gives a strangely trippy sound to the heavy rock that's thundering over the top of it.
The liner notes to the CD's include a laundry list of effects Segal uses and guitarists who listen closely to these discs will be treated to a banquet of sounds. Jugalbandi do well with keeping lengthy jams interesting, which is good because 20+ minutes tracks are not uncommon. Attentive listening will be rewarded.
Seemingly in another dimension from Jugalbandi is Segal's new Always Look On The Dark Side Of Life CD, a collection of songs from five albums that were previously only released on cassette. The songs are an interesting contrast to Segal's Paper Bag and Jugalbandi projects as those bands focus on improvised instrumental music and Dark Side Of Life mostly features Segal's singer/songwriter tunes, though these are in most cases backed by heavy music that rocks hard but also has a decidedly progressive rock feel. Segal plays all guitars, keyboards, and drums.
The selections from Night Circus feature two songs and two instrumentals. Night Circus is a concept album about the end of civilization being brought about by angry spirits, destruction of humanity, and nice stuff like that, and indeed Segal's lyrics and voice have a dark feel. The opening track, "As The Sky Turns To Fire" is a heavy prog rocking instrumental with a powerful guitar/organ sound. The organ is a standout and I wasn't surprised to read that the Night Circus album it's from is dedicated to Vincent Crane.
Segal states that the intention on his A Man Who Was Here album was to make a record that could have been put out between 1968 and 1973. I suppose the songs themselves have that feel. Regardless, "If I Die Tomorrow" is a cool tune backed by some gorgeously aggressive guitar licks. "King Of Illusion" certainly has a late 60s proggy pop feel, and includes some cool fuzz guitar giving a grungy base to the song. And "A Man Who Was Here" is another heavy guitar/organ track similar to "As The Sky Turns To Fire". I really dig that blend of fuzz guitar and organ.
Only one less-than-two-minute track from Segal's Experimental Guitar Sampler is included here, representing his interests in experimental music. I've got the full cassette release and there's some very cool guitar excursions on it. Though the rest of the CD features his more structured songs, attentive listening to the music backing the songs reveals more guitar work like that heard here.
One of the highlights of this compilation is "The Taker", from the Water From The Moon tracks. The first time I heard this song it scared the shit out of me. The crazed lyrics talk about killing and violence and come from the mouth of a maniac. Reading the notes about the song Segal indicates it was influenced by the Night Stalker serial killer that terrorized Los Angeles some years back. But in addition to the lyrics is some of the most cosmically dark and intricate guitar work on the CD. More dark and ethereal music is heard on the title track to Water From The Moon, another one of this collections standout songs. So just as I'm recovering from the eeriness of some of the Water From The Moon Tracks, the first of the Darkland Express tracks, "Honor", comes roaring out of nowhere and changes the mood and pace dramatically being something of a 60's garage rocker. Along similar lines is the bouncy, bluesy "The Time To Be". And "What Gives You The Right" is an an athemic rocker with some very nice guitar work.
In summary, Always Look On The Dark Side Of Life gives a look into the structured songwriter side of this musician who is so involved in improvisational instrumental music. Dark Side Of Life is similar to the Jugalbandi CD's in that the liner notes include notes about the music, but detailed notes about every track can be found at Segal's web site. Yet in addition to getting into the artists head a bit through his songs, there's lots of interesting and often impressive music backing them. An enjoyable listen.
With such a variety of music and having my curiosity aroused by reading Segal's online writings, questions came up which he was only too happy to answer.
AI: What are some of the differences in your experience improvising as part of Jugalbandi vs. Paper Bag? Paper Bag feels composed, very thought out, while Jugalbandi has a looser feel that is more recognizably improvised.
Greg Segal (GS): Despite both bands being improvisational, in many ways the two situations couldn't be more different. Paper Bag got that composed, thought-out feel in a number of ways. First off there was the fact that we were basically playing by a rule book - one of our own devising, but a rule book just the same. Jugalbandi doesn't have one. Paper Bag frequently worked from some premise, musical or non-musical. These were brought up by the "conductor", the band member whose turn it was to guide the piece, just before the piece began. Usually the information would be very scant - a time signature, a statement of mood ("slow and dark", "light and airy"), a concept ("you're in a burning city and you can't get out!"), etc. The conductor says, there's your info, now play off it. We do that sometimes in Jugalbandi, but not often, it's not what we do the majority of the time, whereas with PB it was. In Jugalbandi, there is no conductor, we play and listen and follow each other, both of us building the piece in the process of playing it. Paper Bag did that too but there was always someone in charge in case things got out of hand, or guiding the concept of the piece. Often the conductor just started playing and nodded people in, one at a time or, with a different head motion, everybody. That's another thing: PB had hand and body signals to communicate changes. All kinds of changes; meter, tempo, style, dynamics, arrangement. This resulted in the ability to structure things on the fly in a way that really sounded composed, it allowed us to do things which you wouldn't imagine could be improvised. With Jugalbandi we just follow the music. And pretty often I think we come up with things that sound very composed too. But the approach is much more Zen, much more Taoist. I've been interested in Taoism for many years and so this kind of improvisation holds a special allure for me. I was usually the guy who would throw in a piece during a Paper Bag session with the least amount of communicated structure, sometimes just starting to play and not gesturing or saying a thing to anybody except maybe "follow me". But I also did my share of firmly conducted pieces, and in fact contributed very heavily to the structured approach and techniques of the band - a good bit of that rule book came out of me. The goals of the two bands are different. Paper Bag was about pioneering and defining an approach to improvisation, that was as important as the music our method produced. Jugalbandi is simply about the music. I don't think one is necessarily a better approach than the other. They just serve different purposes, in the larger scheme of things. In the smaller scheme of things, they're both music and you either enjoy it or you don't. I think both situations have produced some very enjoyable stuff, certainly stuff I'm proud of.
AI: All the tracks on Ticket To Trauma are surprisingly short for improvised music, yet they clearly work as concise statements. On the other hand it's common for Jugalbandi to stretch out for up to 20 minutes or more.
GS: The shorter tracks really were typical for Paper Bag, it was part of our rule book: don't let things go too long, not much longer than 4 minutes, but go as short as you want, we had pieces as short as 20 seconds. One of the reasons for this was that it wasn't what people expected out of improvisation, and we were all about trying to screw with people's expectations of that. The other is that M. really despised what he thought of as bad drunken blues jams and aimless noodling, and he really wanted to make it clear to people that that's not what we did. The longest piece we released was "Because I Care" off "Music To Trash", which went to 8 minutes. The next closest one was around 6 minutes, but our average was probably more like 2 to 3.
As for Jugalbandi... the improvisation I've done with Hyam since the late 80's has never had any kind of ceiling on it as far as length. Whether it was Cold Sky, SOS, Dog Neutral or Jugalbandi, we never imposed that kind of limit, we just went for it. I like the challenge of improvising larger structures and the freedom to attempt it, it was something I always missed doing when I was in Paper Bag. While I agreed with M. that all too often this kind of thing goes bad, I also knew that sometimes it worked very, very well, and I saw no reason to assume that just because there were other people who routinely sucked at it, that I would. You can't be afraid of things like that if you want to push your limits as an artist, and this was a challenge I really wanted, because I knew when it worked it was mind-blowing. I think a lot of the big-scale pieces I've done with Hyam in those previous situations have been excellent. But with Jugalbandi we reached a new level of quality. I'm as proud of a lot of it as I am of anything I've done. One of the great things for me about this set is how many of the best pieces were IL1s, meaning they were completely improvised with no pre-communication whatsoever. All of those ended up being long pieces. We just started playing and out came "The View Is Better From The Top Of The Food Chain" or "Castle Bravo" or "Get Out And Walk". All IL1s. To me that's the essence of improvisation, that's pure. That's as literally pulled out of thin air as you can get.
I have to say though, I think it's a good idea to fill up on structural information and concepts so that you can take them "into the field" with you when the time comes to play. When Paper Bag rehearsed, that's what we rehearsed. And this is still part of my approach. Before I went down to do the set I spent a lot of time - months - considering what made improvised music good, for me, anyway. I tried to bring all of that to the session with me. What I hope we ended up with is something that functions on many levels and really holds up well to repeated listenings. I think it sounds composed fairly often. It also surprises you at times, does the unexpected, in ways that I think composed music rarely does. I hope there are points where people will be listening and have to go back a few minutes in the piece to discover how the music got where it went. In UFO literature there are a lot of examples of craft suddenly changing shape seamlessly, or dividing or merging, doing things that shouldn't be physically possible. Good improv should be able to do that.
I listened to a ton of classical before going down to record. If you examine some of the Jugalbandi pieces in depth, you find that there are a lot of recurring motifs. I usually tried for a large number of them, especially in the longer pieces, some popping up many times, some coming up maybe just two or three times. And also there are very strong thematic lines that only come up once, things that you almost wish had been developed further or repeated - I found this over and over again in the classical pieces I picked apart. I listened to a lot of soundtrack music too, which is great inspiration for this type of thing, and of course some jazz. I tried to integrate all of that. But you know, none of this is really obvious on the surface when you're doing it with a fuzzy electric guitar. People think it's all just rock jamming. It was really important to me to have those kinds of structural concepts being integrated, because with a long sampling delay it can be really tempting to get loop-oriented and let that be the structure. That's just been done too much and while I like it when it's done well, I can personally only see bringing it in as an element along with other methods for structuring. I like it to be obvious that there is an active intelligence behind the repetition. I know all of this sounds like I sat there and worked it all out ahead of time with each piece, but that's not the case. You just have to get some abstract concepts about the structure of music really well in your head beforehand so that when you're actually out there doing it, you can keep things interesting and sounding good. I always try to bring something of the opposite into whatever the situation is, to temper it. In a seemingly chaotic situation like pure improvisation, it helps to be aware of structure. And in structured situations, without a sense of the spontaneous, you end up just parroting parts and there's no life to them, there has to be a sense of experiencing the moment or your performance goes wooden.
AI: Regarding the ILCS, what is the purpose of having a classification system? Is it to set guidelines prior to playing, or are you classifying the music afterward? And whichever the case, what is the benefit of doing so?
GS: The ILCS is used afterwards to classify pieces, although for future recordings I can't say it won't influence the way we work. That remains to be seen. This was the first time it was used, in fact it was created for this set, after recording was finished. We were putting together the liner notes and it kept coming up that we had to explain how much of something was improvised. I thought, rather than just having to explain this over and over, couldn't we come up with some kind of rating system to tell people at a glance what they're listening to? So I wrote up the basic classification system and e-mailed it to Hyam. He liked the idea and we spent the next couple of months ironing out the details until we had something we both felt worked. Then we classified all the new material with a couple of letters and a number, and put that and an explanation of the basic 5-level system in the liner notes. I had originally figured that it would be picked up by other improvising musicians. I don't know if this will occur, but I have to say I've been finding it useful to my way of thinking about improvisation. It gives me a vocabulary that wasn't there before. It brings something into consciousness that was previously unconscious. I thought the benefits would primarily be for the listeners, but also for musicians to quickly explain something about what they've done. For people who don't care to know about the creation of the music, or aren't musicians in need of such a tool, I imagine it doesn't serve much of a purpose. They are free to ignore it.
AI: Along similar lines, you've mentioned Paper Bag having lots of "rules" about improvisation. Is this simply to provide guidance or structure, or is there more to it?
GS: Both. It enabled us to make music that many people couldn't believe was improvised, and it also was aimed at defining a new approach to improvisation. All sorts of musical philosophy and personal opinions about the validity (or non-validity) of various forms and approaches figured in as well. One simple purpose this served was to set us apart from common conceptions of improvising. We were very concerned about this. Improvisation at that point in history was something of a joke to most people, outside a few hardcore devotees, and if people heard you were improvising they figured they knew just what you were up to - pick from one of a handful of cliches, but obviously it couldn't be anything other than that. We wanted an edge and this gave us one. I also think it legitimately defined something unique. We wanted to create something that couldn't be pigeonholed. I think we succeeded.
AI: Always Look On The Dark Side Of Life came as a surprise to me. After hearing Paper Bag, Jugalbandi, and the experimental guitar cassette, all improvised instrumental music, here comes a collection of songs, in which the lyrics, much of them seeming to be quite personal, are central. Can you comment on Greg Segal the songwriter vs. the improvisational guitarist? Does one predominate over the other as far as the projects you'd like to be doing?
GS: That's true, you really did hear things in that order. Well, great example, this was the reason why releasing this disc was probably the most important thing I could do at this time. Most people have never been exposed to this side of my work and it's fully as important to me as the improvisational side, in fact I think a number of people I've worked with would say it's much more so. If you look at the creation dates, you'll see all of this material is old, and a fair portion of it even pre-dates Paper Bag. The earliest writing date is... early 1980. I've been making composed music all along. My first band was semi-improvisational - at my insistence - but we mostly played composed material, about half to two thirds of which was mine. I have a few rehearsal recordings but that's about it. I was playing drums and singing lead in that band, and it was about 6 months after we broke up that Paper Bag formed and I switched to guitar full time. By then I'd already sent out my first demos, with me playing all the instruments. But what happened pretty consistently over the last 20 years was that I'd find it tough going to do everything myself - the financial aspect, gigs, finding and keeping a band - and I'd let my stuff slide over to the back burner while I participated in whatever around me was moving ahead at the time. I continued to record my songs, and to try to form bands, and to attempt to get labels to pick these completed albums up. But this was L.A. in the 80s and I kept getting blocked by one thing or another. Auditioning musicians would realize I wasn't doing something likely to land them on Sunset Strip or a deal with a major label as the next U2, and they wouldn't get involved. Labels were looking for things which neatly fit one niche or another, and while some elements of my stuff may remind you of certain people, in total it really doesn't sound like anyone else but me; to make matters worse, the few recognizable elements were reminiscent of the late 60s, early '70s, which despite having a loyal and starved following had become something of a joke at the time. Companies wouldn't release a record if you weren't playing live but many musicians wouldn't play with a solo artist unless he had a record contract (or unless you could afford to hire them, which I couldn't). And so on. The cost of putting out an album myself was always just out of reach. Nonetheless I kept recording the material, believing that it was wrong to let it go simply because I couldn't get some outside interest in it. I felt it deserved to exist. I ended up distributing these albums on tape. Some of them, like Water From The Moon, got a lot of airplay on college radio, especially "The Taker", which I know got playlisted in Boston and Idaho and Northern California and I think Boulder and a few other places. By the time I recorded Darkland Express in the early 90s, I was so burnt on the industry that I made very little effort to get it picked up, even though I felt it was the best thing I'd ever done. Meanwhile the intention was always to have this stuff released in a more permanant form, and a more widespread fashion. It's only now that I've been able to do this, although I've had to do a compilation to give people an overview, rather than release the whole catalog. That's OK, for now. This disc really tells the story. Reaction has been very good and after all this time I have to tell you, that's a nice feeling.
As far as GS songwriter vs. GS improv guitarist... they're just different aspects of what I do. If I were bankrolled tomorrow and could hire a band, you would see that distinction disappear very quickly. I have always wanted to pursue a more integrated approach but have been unable to either find the right people for the job, or to afford hiring them. Most musicians I have known are either deathly afraid of that kind of musical integration, believing that it can't work, or they simply don't enjoy it. Thinking that it just won't work is, to my mind, dead wrong; musical history is full of instances where it has worked, and no, I don't care if many of the best examples are from 30 years ago. People still listen to that music. It's still good. And if you get to the soul of it, to the motivating force and concepts rather than mimicking old surface and fashion, it still works. Ah, but is there an audience that will follow you there? This is where I've scared most people off because honestly, I don't care. I just want to make music that's important to me. Nonetheless the truth has been obvious for some time: the audience was waiting all along, never went away, more of 'em coming every day. The real problem is not whether or not they exist, but how to reach them.
I really enjoy the freedom of being a solo artist. It allows me to go in any direction I please musically. I dislike being limited to one approach. It's not about "hey, look at me, I'm the star". It's about not having to haggle with people to get what's in my head into some concrete form. And yet I really enjoy working with people too. I can see myself being solo and project oriented in the future, but probably not band oriented again unless it was a short term commitment. Right now I think it's important I get across to people that I do all these different things because I think my future work will encompass all of it.
In a way this isn't really anything new. On pretty much all my solo albums there are short, singable songs and longer, spacier, more progressive pieces where large sections of the music was improvised in the studio. Those types of things are barely represented on the compilation because I felt it was necessary to showcase the songwriting and vocal aspect. But they are definitely there in the complete albums, and that will continue to be the pattern. A CD of new composed, mostly song-oriented material is something I need to look into doing again soon.
Something you've got to bear in mind about the improvised stuff is how quickly it can be produced. It's the difference between showing up to jam somewhere and taping it, and joining a band. One is a lot less time-intensive for the artist. Because of this, and because I enjoy doing it so much, I really see no reason why I can't show up here or there for an afternoon or a few days, and do an improv album or three. I don't think this represents the main direction in my music so much as it represents something fun I like to do. In terms of what's been recorded, the improv stuff already outweighs the composed stuff by a huge margin, Paper Bag alone has something like 400 hours of tape and Dog Neutral isn't far behind. This is not because I prefer it but because it was a lot easier to produce. Look at how much live Hendrix there is vs. the studio stuff. That may be the best example I can think of.
AI: You and I exchanged comments about this, but the title, Always Look On The Dark Side Of Life, is an interesting one. There are certainly dark themes (and The Taker scared the piss out of me), but the title seems to be a play on the Monty Python song from Life of Brian. Is the message as simple as, "don't take this too seriously"?
GS: First, let me say, very glad to hear The Taker did its job, I consider that a high compliment. The CD title was chosen because, after figuring out what songs I was going to put on, I thought, man, what a dark, depressing and heavy bunch of songs. And probably because it was so overwhelmingly heavy my sense of humor immediately kicked in and I flashed on the Python song. And just turning that one word around seemed to say it all. It's accurate and at the same time it's a joke. I wouldn't say it's a message not to take the contents seriously, but then again... it does serve as a reminder that a sense of humor is a valuable tool against having to live with the types of things that inspired most of the songs. I generally don't view serial killers as funny, or suicidal tendencies, or the end of the world.... I'm running through the songs and really I can't think of one that's humorous. Even the CD's token light song, "The Time To Be", has very serious lyrics, despite sounding like Spanky and Our Gang as done by Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets" recording band. I always thought the Who had a great sense of humor but could also be very serious, and in fact were most of the time. I'd say it's kind of like that. Some people who were unaware of the Python song thought I meant the title literally, like it was my personal philosophy. There's some truth to that, but only some. I do think people need to be aware of the dark parts of life and within themselves because it would be like a child not knowing about rabid dogs - lack of knowledge will get you hurt. Or hurt others, in the case of not knowing your own dark side, what Jung calls the Shadow. In regard to the title though, this is a second-level truth. The first level is that I thought it was a fun comment on the CD's contents.
AI: I recently revisited Ticket To Trauma for the first time in years and was struck by how powerful the music is, with nods to King Crimson, jazz, and some space/psych influences which recall all these things, but seem uniquely your own. And then, seemingly in contrast to these styles, there's a track with rap dialog on it.
GS: Thank you. I'm really fond of that album. Yeah, the rap dialogue.... That's really just M.'s manic vocal delivery. He sounded like that a lot when he read, unless it was a more quiet piece in which case... you got a quieter version of that. I really don't know if the similarity to rap vocals was intentional or not. Certainly he knew about them and had heard them but frankly when I listen to him I hear Jim Morrison doing the Soft Parade back there in seminary school, or Celebration of the Lizard. We were both really influenced by that. But I honestly can't tell you where that vocal style comes from, I think only he would know that for sure. And he might not either.
Something else you have to remember though, and that's that one of our rules was to bring in as many types of music as possible, and to combine them in ways you wouldn't expect. That's really an important clue to what we did, where we were coming from. I think the piece you're referring to is "What More Do You Want?" If you listen to that, you'll hear that the background sounds like some insane cross between early Musique Concrete and Harry Partch. (Actually the best description I can remember hearing was from George Radai, who described it as sounding like a bunch of half-empty spraycans thrown into a big dryer at the laundromat, tumbling around.) So, not exactly what you would think of as a backing track for a rap vocal - or any other kind of vocal, really. I don't recall that we set out to do a rap piece. But his vocals, especially on that one, are pretty close. If you listen to the words, the character is an ex-con on the street who is at the end of his patience, he's tired and hungry and he's about to turn to crime again if nobody helps him out. So he may purposely have put more of that edge in his voice for this piece. Compare it to his reading on "Ambient Languages" on side 2, I think there's quite a difference.
The poetry aspect of what we did really threw a lot of people and it was probably the least popular aspect of what we did, if that's possible. At least with some people. There were others who thought it was really an exciting thing and just loved it. When the band was in its infancy, M. and I were plotting out its basic form, and he thought we should have some kind of vocal so that it would be palatable to more people. Since we knew we were going to be improvising all the time, we were both wondering if this would be possible. Improvised singing, for something other than jazz, didn't seem to have been done much. Most of what I'd heard didn't seem to work too well. So both of us were skeptical of bringing that in. I had been working on Night Circus for a few years by then and had written a bunch of pieces that were spoken poetry set to music. I had been inspired by the Doors and Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the Moody Blues and even Eric Burden with "Spill The Wine". So I suggested this and he thought that really might work. However I made it pretty clear that I didn't want to be the one doing it, since I had a hard enough time liking my spoken delivery under very controlled circumstances, let alone one-take, that's it. So he figured he'd try it, and he developed his own style.
AI: Were the Paper Bag albums your one experience with a label? Was it valuable?
GS: They were my one experience with a label, but M. went on to get seriously screwed over by an MCA subsidiary in his next project. I watched most of that go down and it was one of the most infuriating things I'd ever witnessed. SST, despite being "indie", were in many ways no different. My feelings about labels in general at this point are negative, and it's difficult for me to imagine a situation where the advantages of doing business with them would ultimately outweigh the losses. This is why my stuff is out on my own label, and Jugalbandi's label is run by Hyam and I with some help from our resident pwcca, Jerry Riddle. The expense and legwork may be mine but so are the profits and the creative control. I can certainly live with that.
AI: I see that you did the soundtrack to a video project. Have you done, or would you like to do, any others? Your music strikes me as having lots of possibilities for being paired up with soundtracks.
GS: I'd love to do more soundtrack work. My interest was in film before I became a musician, and I studied it (and other visual arts) for years before deciding to make a goal switch. I've never gotten it out of my system. Music has always been very visual to me. Back when I used to write scripts, I'd brainstorm to music and visualize scenes, constructing stories from the impressions made on me by the music. I'd like to get my songs used in that way, and I really think a lot of the Jugalbandi stuff would work well. For about the first month or so after we recorded the set, I'd get up in the middle of the night with snatches of "Get Out And Walk" in my head, with scenes that looked like an animation by Bill Plympton. I'd still like to look him up, get him a CD and see if I can interest him in animating something to one of our pieces. Our music morphs the way his animation does, I think it would be perfect.
AI: Reading about them on your web site, Cold Sky, SOS, and Dog Neutral all seem like the evolution of a single band. Your hard rock/prog/psych descriptions of this music sounds mighty tasty. Any plans to release any of this music?
GS: I suppose in a way it was the evolution of a single band, and if you want to draw that a little further the end product is actually Jugalbandi. Hyam and I are the common thread through all those projects. But I would have to say that Cold Sky, while having some carryover to Dog Neutral as far as personnel and even material, was really very different than all the other projects that followed. Cold Sky was based around my solo material, and the majority of the pieces had vocals. There were extended jams in a couple of pieces, and indeterminate solo lengths in most of the songs. Cold Sky was the closest I ever came to putting together the kind of band I've always wanted. But the people involved made it impossible to pursue the situation with any serious intent. For everyone involved besides myself, it was a hobby and not a serious pursuit. A serious hobby, maybe, but not a serious pursuit. This created a lot of friction and eventually I decided that while I enjoyed working with them in a non-goal-oriented context, continuing with them in a more traditionally structured project was not a good idea. I broke up Cold Sky but continued playing with the nucleus of the band. I told them that since they were most interested in the improvisational progressive stuff, we'd focus on that and change the name. The intention was always to find myself a band to replace Cold Sky, eventually, and put these experimentations on the back burner. Easier said than done; I kept auditioning people and running into the same problems mentioned earlier, so ultimately, that never happened. Meanwhile I stayed busy with the as yet unnamed experimental band. We made the decision to focus solely on instrumentals. This was because Hyam disliked the presence of vocals, or perhaps more accurately the presence of lyrics and a vocalist, which made the music "about something". O.K. Out they went, and out they stayed, along with a whopping big batch of my solo material. Right there you have a huge difference separating Cold Sky from the 3 projects that followed. Then, the ratio of improvisation to composed material reversed from 25/75 in Cold Sky to 75/25 by Dog Neutral. The structures of many of the pieces were born out of taped improvisations, a lot of them came out of the few SOS sessions. Dog Neutral and even Jugalbandi continued to do some of my instrumental pieces, and I can think of at least one, "Clear Day" from Water From The Moon, that was played by Cold Sky, Dog Neutral and Jugalbandi.
Eventually I recorded Darkland Express, which actually features Dog Neutral as the backing band on one cut. There was so much good material here that, after a few years of letting it slide, I felt I had to once again attempt to put all my efforts into putting a band together to play my solo stuff. I left Dog Neutral and they continued for a few months without me before calling it quits. Meanwhile I had the usual lousy luck finding people and Hyam was going through withdrawals from not playing. One day he told me he'd actually deal with having vocals again if it meant us working together. I was very happy about that and we started getting together to learn the new material while we continued to search for other musicians. We couldn't find anybody. Hundreds of musician ads in the paper each week and no luck at all. Meanwhile it started to occur to us that maybe we should try to do it as a two piece, and that was the birth of Jugalbandi. Early Jugalbandi had vocals. But most of what ended up on tape was instrumental and featured a lot of improvisation, and the recordings we plan to put out from that period (Jugalbandi Classic) cover only that.
As far as releasing this stuff, I'd love to, and there is a lot worth putting out; at this point it's just a question of budget. But the plan is to remaster everything and eventually get it out. You wouldn't believe how much stuff there is. Not that much for Cold Sky, maybe around 2 CDs, same with SOS. But with Dog Neutral you're looking at... at least 5, possibly a lot more, depending on where the line is drawn. And I also have a lot of uncollected solo material, besides what's on the 5 main albums. So there could end up being a very big catalog, eventually. I'm hoping to at least get sound clips of these bands up on my web site sometime in the coming year.
AI: How did you happen to get involved with Antiworld, a punk band playing songs about horror movies? Sounds interesting, yet a bit 360 degrees from all your other projects. And you were the drummer rather than guitarist?
GS: I met them through my roommate. The band was just in the talking stages, the concept wasn't fully formed. I hadn't been doing anything for a while and they wanted a drummer, not a guitarist, so I obliged. I still had my kit, and even though I hadn't been a full time drummer in 13 years, it seemed like a really fun idea. I like a fair amount of punk, and it's a blast to play, especially on drums. On the surface it does seem different from my other projects, but listen to something like "So Far" off "Always" and you can see that I ventured into that territory before, there are actually quite a few examples on "A Man Who Was Here". With Antiworld I thought I could do something that worked and was distinctive by bringing a progressive edge to the drumming while keeping it simple where it needed to be. I love all kinds of music, simple, complex, hard, soft. I happen to appreciate rough edges, I like the sound of precision seriously threatened by passion, to the point where the music often sounds as if it could fly apart at any second. I've often had fun playing with musicians who weren't "pro", sometimes they were just starting out. There's a real energy there that you can't fake, and most people lose that after they've been playing a few years if they're not careful.
It was great to be back playing drums full time, especially in music that's energetic. One thing I was hoping to do through this situation was to clearly establish myself as a serious drummer. If you listen to "Always", you can hear how serious I've always been towards it. But I felt that being the drummer in a band, not just to sit in but full time, really proved the case. Most multi-instrumentalists I've known about don't really specialize in drums, they just play them to keep the beat or have a little fun at jams. You usually don't hear of them joining a band to do it full time.
AI: What kind of music (styles, bands, etc) do you find yourself listening to these days?
GS: Mostly old stuff, I hate to admit it but it's true. Lots of old prog, psych, hard rock; some jazz; some classical; some punk, various roots type music. It just goes on like that. I've got a very diverse collection and I just go with my moods. I try to delve into new stuff whenever it comes my way, which these days doesn't happen as often as I'd like.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy playing a wide range of music is, that's what I listen to. The other day for example I filled up my disc changer with Procol Harum's Shine On Brightly, Clifton Chenier, Il Volo, an early punk sampler, and disc one of Arthur Rubinstein playing the Chopin nocturnes. Later that night while making dinner it was Goblin, Blind Faith, Tangerine Dream (Sorcerer), some early Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, and Joe Farrell's Moon Germs. Groundhogs to Gounod, no problem. Steamhammer to the Sex Pistols, no problem. All of these styles and approaches have earned a place of enjoyment and respect in my head, and when I go to make music I feel free to use the vocabulary of any or all of them. I've also absorbed a lot of the Nonesuch Explorer recordings of "world" music. I'm talking about the really raw field recordings, some guy in a hut with a microphone pointed at him. When you read the liner notes and find out about those approaches to music, then you hear them do it, that can be really liberating. Scales with 36 tones? Totally different mindsets towards what music even is? Again, all of this has been thrown into the stew in my head over the years and I pull concepts from it frequently. There are a lot of both non-western and avante-garde concepts in even the most normal sounding stuff I do, let alone in Jugalbandi where I dip into it constantly. Sometimes this isn't obvious but it penetrates down to very subtle levels- vibrato, timing, attack, pitch.
AI: I know you and Hyam live some distance from one another but have there been any Jugalbandi live performances, or any plans for some in the future?
GS: There was a live Jugalbandi performance in May of '99, which we taped on DAT. There are a lot of studio recordings from that week too, and a combination of these is planned to be released, possibly next year, as "Jugalbandi: 1999!" As for future gigs, I spoke to Hyam very recently and brought up the idea of looking into playing some of these festivals, prog and space gatherings. He's still unsure but would be more likely to do it if the event in question were to take place somewhere on the west coast.
AI: Any other current or upcoming projects we should be aware of?
GS: Yes, there are a few. I'm currently working on a duets disc with Bret Hart, who should be familiar to readers and listeners of AI. In fact I found him through the links page at AI, which I know I mentioned to you privately but I thought I'd make sure the readers knew it too. I'm really looking forward to this.
And early next year I plan to release the remastered "Experimental Guitar" on CD. It will be minus a few of the shorter or redundant pieces (there are a few things on there which are part of other albums and so will be released in their proper place), but all the major ones will be there. I may be looking to do support shows for this release, and likely will look into making some solo appearances at festivals.
I plan to remaster my solo stuff and a fair amount of band stuff and have that available. This may be a slow process but it's one I'm committed to seeing through, especially the solo albums. How quickly this occurs will depend in part on how well "Always" sells. The better the music pays for itself, the more I can make available. I'd like to try to release 2 a year but that may not be possible. We'll see how it goes.
[Late breaking news: Greg has recorded a collaboration with Bret Hart as part of Bret's Duets series. Keep your eyes peeled on the InstrumenTales web site at http://hartsongs.tripod.com/bret_hart_page1.htm for availability. Inspired by this, Greg also recorded a CD's worth of solo experimentations, music in a similar vein to early Tangerine Dream and Amon Düül II, Hawkwind's spacier instrumental music, early Ralph Lundsten, etc. At the moment he is planning to release this early in 2002 and push "Experimental Guitar" CD release back for the time being, though the tape of EXPG will still be available for purchase for a while.]
For more information you can visit Greg Segal's web site at: http://www.gregsegal.com/. There's a wealth of information at this site and I'd encourage you to explore.
Visit the Jugalbandi web site at: http://www.jugalbandi-music.com/.
Read about Greg's longtime band Paper Bag at: http://www.paperbagtheory.com.
Contact via snail mail c/o Greg Segal; PO Box 82525; Portland, OR 97282-0525.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz