An interview with Todd Tamanend Clark
Some artists were just too young to catch the first wave of psychedelic rock, but that didn’t stop them to record in the mid to late ’70s when Disco emerged and washed away most of the ’60s groups. Todd Tamanend Clark released a nice selection of albums. His music is very experimental and touches ground with “classic” psychedelia, and with occasional freak-out on synth (in United State Of America and Silver Apples style) and there is also this post punk edge to it. It’s hard to explain. You better check it out.
In an interview you gave a while back, I noticed that besides music you are also influenced by multiple interests including comic books, b-movies, and various genres of literature, especially sci-fi. Now I would like to stop here and talk a bit more about this, since I myself am a huge fan of b-movies and literature. Can you name a few titles of all the things above and tell us how they influenced you from the 1950s onward until now. What do you like these days? Can you name a few lesser known stuff that we might want to check out, as well?
My favorite film from the 1950s is Forbidden Planet directed by Fred Wilcox. It was the first film to have an all-electronic soundtrack. Louis Barron and Bebe Barron built their own oscillators and spliced many multiple tape snippets together. Other favorites include Attack Of The Fifty-Foot Woman, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer Space, Kronos, Terror From The Year 5000, The Flame Barrier, and War Of The Colossal Beast.
My favorite comic books from the 1950s and 1960s include The Haunt Of Fear, Strange Suspenstories, Strange Adventures, Strange Tales (which eventually morphed into Doctor Strange), Turok: Son Of Stone (which was also the favorite comic book of Jimi Hendrix), Challengers Of The Unknown, The Flash, The Fantastic Four, and The Doom Patrol.
My favorite comic books from 1970 to the present include Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Love And Rockets, Coyote, Aztec Ace, Scout, and Animal Man.
My favorite authors include Harlan Ellison, William Burroughs, and Leslie Marmon Silko.
How about musically? What influenced you back then, and what does the trick today?
My favorite musicians from the 1960s include Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Fugs, The Mothers Of Invention, Love, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Music Machine, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Spirit, The United States Of America, and The MC5, among many others.
Some of my more modern favorites are Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine, Marilyn Manson, Saint Vincent, and Crystal Castles.
When did you start learning instruments? Were you in any bands in late ’60s or early ’70s before your solo endeavors?
My maternal grandmother Mona Gabler Harvey (whose name is visible on the tombstone on the cover of the second Crystal Castles album in my photograph of my son X Tecumseh Clark) was an accomplished keyboard player, but she had retired by the time I was born and no longer owned a piano or organ. She would sometimes show me things on a keyboard whenever we would be around one at another location. When I was nine, my neighbour Wanita Shipley bought an organ and got me started playing it. After I caught on, I would sit there for hours and improvise. Then when I was twelve, my seventh grade music teacher Marilyn Hughes started me writing sheet music.
Several of my friends at Waynesburg High School had a band called The Velvet Myst, and I would design their graphics, run their lights, and get up and perform with them. In 1975-1976, I had a band called The Stars, and in 1977, I had a band called The Eyes.
There is not much known about your albums from the 1970s and 1980s, so let me take this opportunity to share the stories about making them.
1976 A Deathguard Sampler
A Deathguard Sampler was available only on eight-track cartridge. Section one is instrumental; section two is original vocal songs; section three is vocal re-makes; and section four is spoken word pieces with ambient soundscapes. These were a preview of the four aspects of my audio endeavors. I no longer record re-makes, but I’ve performed a version of “Indian Reservation” in concert with improved lyrics and a long original poetic introduction that eventually evolves into the song proper. Jamming at home, I sometimes play a greatly extended version of “My Country Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying” by Buffy Sainte-Marie. All of the pieces of A Deathguard Sampler are currently available between Nova Psychedelia and The Deathguard Remnants.
1977 New Gods: Aardvark Through Zymurgy
This album was recorded on a four-channel reel-to-reel tape machine basically by my live band The Eyes from the summer of 1977. We then added keyboard overdubs and poetry. I was really pushing the psychedelic edge of trippiness on the tenth anniversary of The Summer Of Love! Plus my Chiller Theater 1950s monster movie influences were prominent!
1979 We’re Not Safe
This album was also recorded on a four-channel reel-to-reel tape machine but with a different guitarist and bass player. I kept the same drummer Mark Cosco from the previous album. The album is still very psychedelic, but we made a conscious effort to rock harder! This is the beginning of my longtime association with virtuoso guitarist Chuck Moses.
1984 Into The Vision
This album was recorded in a professional studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is a solo album without a backing band. I used a Linndrum and a Prophet-5 sequencer for the rhythm section. Cheetah Chrome plays guitar on three songs, and Allen Ravenstine plays a modular synthesizer on one song. With the permission of William Burroughs, I took one of his readings from his novel Nova Express and edited it into the bridge of the title song. William Burroughs and I had very interesting telephone calls and correspondence during and after this period.
Is there any original concept to your music, or does the concept change from album to album?
The individual concept definitely changes from album to album, but there is an overarching continuity, as well. My albums from 2000 to the present form an interlocking piece. Some of my older songs from the 1970s and 1980s could conceivably be colated into the narrative.
I have an unfinished two-disc album that I’ve been working on composing for forty years. It’s a treatise on the deleterious effects of forcing Native Americans to think and speak in English called Iron Alphabet, and it’s so incredibly complex, both lyrically and musically, that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to complete it. But seeing Brian Wilson complete Smile after all that time gives me some degree of hope!
You are incredible good at making interesting sounds out of your synths. You must have owned a lot of them?
In the past, I’ve had many classic American-made synthesizers including three Minimoog Model Ds, the ARP 2600, the ARP Odyssey, the ARP Quadra, the Polymoog, the Micromoog, the Syndrum Quad, the Prophet-Five, the Memorymoog, first edition Taurus bass pedals, and more. Currently, I have two Minimoog Voyagers (a keyboard and a rack mount), Taurus 3 pedals, a modified Etherwave Plus Theremin, a Prophet-Eight, two Oberheims (an Xpander and a Matrix-1000), an E-mu E-synth keyboard controlling five E-mu modules (Morpheus, Orbit, Planet Earth, Vintage Keys, and Xtreme Lead), and three Ensoniqs (MR-61, MR-Rack, and TS-10).
My four main guitars are a Steinberger GM5T, a Parker Fly deluxe Vibrato, a Paul Reed Smith Custom, and a customized BC Rich USA Warlock Seven-String. I use two high-tech guitar amplifiers connected by MIDI: a Rocktron Taboo and a Johnson Millennium. My main effects pedals include a Moogerfooger Ring Modulator, a Digitech Synth Wah, a Morley Echo-Chorus-Vibrato, and a Digitech Whammy, among others.
What happened next after the 80s and 90s. The first album after the early 1980s came out in 2000 and was called Owls In Obsidian; the next one was Staff, Mask, Rattle two years later, and in 2004 you released Monongahela Riverrun. What can you tell us about these three releases?
All three of them are instrumental. I was in a Sun Ra/Miles Davis phase. Five of my six children also played various instruments on a number of the songs. My son Sachem Orenda Clark plays some of the guitar on all three instrumental albums and my latest vocal album. Sachem was the keyboardist and a guitarist with the hardcore metal band Seven Second Suicide. He is currently working on his fourth solo techno album on which he plays all the instruments and does all the vocals.
Most of the people got to know your music better through a compilation entitled Nova Psychedelia made by Anopheles Records back in 2005. This is a compilation of all your previous albums. How did Karl Ikola (owner of Anopheles) come in contact with you, and what are your thoughts about this compilation?
Karl Ikola (who lives in San Francisco) was introduced to collecting my original vinyl recordings, both albums and singles, by a friend of his in Ohio. He send me an e-mail one day in early 2005 asking if I was THE Todd Clark of underground infamy. After insuring him that I indeed was, we began negotiating the reissue of my vinyl on compact disc. Karl did an excellent job, and I’m very grateful for the boost it gave my career!
How does the songwriting process look, and what inspires you?
If it’s a vocal song, the lyrics are almost always written first and then edited multiple times until I am satisfied with them as poetry, and then I design the music around them. If it’s an instrumental song, I usually start with the percussion score, then go to the bass score, then the rhythm guitar chords, then the higher melody, and lastly the improvised solos.
Did you ever take any psychedelic drugs, and if so did they have any impact on your music?
I experimented with psychedelic drugs as a teenager in 1969 and 1970, both in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania where I attended high school and in San Francisco, California where I attended college. I did LSD one last time in April of 1975. I also did mescaline and peyote, but my favorite drug by far was psilocybin. If psilocybin were made legal and available in scientifically controlled doses, I would still take it today every now and then for shamanic purposes. Various verses from my various songs were inspired by these experiences, as was pretty much the whole epic-length song of “The Grim Rider”!
Silver Apples and The United States Of America must have had a great impact on you, and I myself made an interview with Joe Byrd of The U.S. of A. How did you get in contact with Dorothy Moskowitz?
I cybermet Dorothy Moskowitz through the internet in 2003. I asked her questions for an article I was writing about the forthcoming re-issue of the United States Of America album by Sundazed. Dorothy has a theater company in San Francisco, and they used my song “Wahuhu” (from Owls In Obsidian) in a musical.
In addition to the various persons mentioned throughout this interview, I’ve also met and/or had adventures with David Thomas (Pere Ubu), Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), Exene Cervenka (X), Frank Secich (Blue Ash), Frank Zappa, Herbert Khaury (Tiny Tim), Iggy Pop (The Stooges), Jack Kirby, Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), Jim Steranko, Laurie Anderson, Ray Manzarek (The Doors), Roy Loney (The Flamin’ Groovies), Russell Means, Spain Rodriguez, Stiv Bators (The Dead Boys, The Lords Of The New Church), Ted Nugent (The Amboy Dukes), The Residents, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Vaughn Bode, and Wilma Mankiller, among many others.
When I was a teenager, I had a conversation with Jim Morrison about my theories on synthesizers and the future of electronic music, which he then mentioned in an interview on PBS. Years later, I was one of the contenders to play Jim Morrison in The Doors movie, but they ended up going with Val Kilmer, instead.
You’ve been an avid collector of vinyl records and also all kind of other stuff including comic books. I noticed you have a RYM page, and I checked what you like. I noticed stuff like C.A. Quintet, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, etc. What are some other perhaps less known psych or outsider stuff you like and would like to recommend?
I collected vinyl from 1959 to 1989, and I collected comic books from 1959 to 1999. Today, I collect compact discs, DVDs, action figures, and graphic novels. Some albums I recommend are Voice Of The Xtabay by Yma Sumac, The Parable Of Arable Land by The Red Krayola, Rotary Connection by Rotary Connection, Space Hymn by Lothar And The Hand People, Lick My Decals Off Baby by Captain Beefheart, Astro Black by Sun Ra, Agharta and Pangaea by Miles Davis, Eskimo by The Residents, Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass, United States Live by Laurie Anderson, Thrak and Thrakattak by King Crimson, Five Hundred Nations by Peter Buffett, and Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy by Robbie Robertson.
What are you currently listening to, and what are you reading?
Newer albums that I have had in recent rotation in my CD player include Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free by Buck Satan And The Six-Six-Six Shooters, Venomous Rat Regenerator Vendor by Rob Zombie, Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails, Weapon by Skinny Puppy, Saint Vincent by Saint Vincent, Animism by Tanya Tagaq, We Will Reign by The Last Internationale, and The Pale Emperor by Marilyn Manson. I also have a collection of over one hundred Nuggets style psych comps that I play frequently.
I often read multiple books in any given period. Bookmarked on my bedroom dresser at the moment are Aztec Philosophy by James Maffie, Iroquoia: The Development Of A Native World by William Engelbrecht, and Psychedelic Sex by Dian Hanson. In my to read pile is a huge stack of mostly Batman graphic novels (along with various volumes of The Flash, The Fantastic Four, the original team X-Men, and miscellaneous others including a lot of pre-code horror collections) that has built up while I was working on my Dancing Through The Side Worlds album.
That’s a new album that you recently finished, which came out in December 2014. Can you tell us about it?
The new album is a double-disc set entitled Dancing Through The Side Worlds. (The side worlds are the extraordinary dimensions that surround us but that are only visible and/or audible through heightened levels of mind expansion.) It has eighteen songs, fifteen of which have vocals and three of which are instrumentals. It’s a musical autobiography, and the songs are set in different time periods of my life. I had open heart bypass surgery right in the middle of the eighteen months that it took to record and was only a day away from dying, but I was determined to finish what many friends and critics have called my very best album!
I had originally hoped to make it a four-disc box set but was forced by financial and temporal constraints to divide it into two two-disc projects. The next phase is tentatively entitled Black On Black and has a projected release date of late 2016.
You’re also a Native American activist, right?
Yes, I am the Minister Of Information for the Autonomous American Indian Movement of Pennsylvania. I have Onodowaga ancestry on my mother’s side and Lenape ancestry on my father’s side. I have been involved with Native American civil rights ever since the Alcatraz occupation in 1970 in San Francisco when I was attending art school there.
Thank you very much for taking your time. Would you like to share anything else? Perhaps a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers or your fans in general?
In whatever spare time I can manage to extract from my busy schedule, I’m writing two books. One is an autobiography entitled Translucent Third Eyelid (a reference to the optic structure of owls), and the other is a poetry compilation entitled Dark Thunder.
To quote Grace Slick, “Feed your head!”
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2015
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