Soft Speaker interview with Paul Foreman & Joseph Daley
Thanks for taking the time to sit down. Everyone feeling good today?
Paul Foreman: Pretty good. We had a great show on Friday (September 9, 2011) at Beat Kitchen here in Chicago opening for Ganglians. I may have upped our on-stage dreaminess factor a bit by wearing contacts instead of my usual nerd glasses.
Joseph Daley: I feel good. The universe is a caring mistress.
You seem to be balanced somewhere between psych-rock and neo-psychedelic music. One of the bands that instantly jumped to mind was Audience with their release “House On The Hill” … have you heard the album, and where do you see yourselves musically?
JD: I’m not familiar with Audience. I see the group developing several different musical aspects at once. We have the psychedelic guitar side. We have some definite pop elements which were more pronounced in our earlier stuff. We also have some quieter acoustic moments… but never boring. I think we are going to continue to develop more interesting arrangements. Maybe we’ll start doo-wopping.
PF: I just looked that album up online. It sounds interesting and I dig the artwork. We’ll have to track it down. As far as genres go, I tend to stick to the “psychedelic rock” label, even though the term “psychedelic” is starting to, or perhaps already has, lost a lot of its meaning. To me it’s something along the lines of a swirling, hypnotic otherworldliness or sounds coaxed from the organic compounds of a foreign solar system. How’s that for psychedelic … baby? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
You released two albums rather quickly, why was that?
JD: One issue this band does not have is writing. Nick and Paul are strong songwriters. There has always been new material hanging around. We just wanted to get these songs down. I’ll Tend Your Garden was done for about 4 months before we released it. So, it wasn’t all that new to us by the time it was released and we’re always excited to record the new stuff.
PF: We are prolific. That’s true. We have nearly enough material prepared to record a third album, but it remains to be seen when we’ll be able to do that. Some financial backing would be nice, so please do notify your wealthy uncle.
We put a decent sum of money into promoting ITYG and tried to follow the traditional structure, which meant sending out promo copies well in advance of the release date. That didn’t exactly pan out the way we had hoped, so we’re going back to a grassroots approach, which allows us to release our music quicker. That’s not to say that we don’t care about publicity and reviews. It’s just that we don’t want to sit on a record for months on end waiting for the machine to work its magic.
Is there a collaborative effort, or is there an “idea” person whose vision get expanded and developed?
JD: The initial seed of a song comes from either Paul or Nick. The band usually develops the song together. We work together on the rhythms, arrangements, and sometimes chord progressions.
PF: Nobody fucks with my chord progressions. They are set in stone! I’m sure you have heard this many times before, but the great thing about arranging as a band is the fact that the songs rarely come out the way I had imagined they would.
Vocals seem to be shared, is it difficult singing someone else’s dreams?
JD: Paul and Nick share some of the vocal parts. I don’t think it’s difficult. I think it’s inspiring especially if it’s a really tasty lyric.
PF: It’s no problem. 95% of the time the person singing lead is also the individual who wrote the particular words being sung. We make lyrical suggestions to each other and sometimes even write sections of each other’s songs.
Would you agree that there seems to be a theme that runs though your sound?
JD: The theme seems to be changing with each album. Vortrobos is sort-of reminiscent of altered states of consciousness and mystical places. I’ll Tend Your Garden was, I think, more about people or specific situations. Honestly, most of the time, I don’t know what these songs are about. Sometimes you can tell what Nick is writing about. I never know what Paul is writing about.
PF: Recurring themes? Maybe, but I can’t get on board with blanket statements (ITYG is about this and Vortrobos is about that … sorry, Joe!), which are usually oversimplifications or just plain inaccurate. The lyrics are intricate and we spend a lot of time getting them just right. I don’t like to discuss them in too much detail. As far as I’m concerned, the listener deserves the opportunity to draw his or her own conclusions. I definitely subscribe to the idea that if an artist gives too much away about his or her own interpretations of the lyrics that it can taint the listeners’ experiences.
PF: The same goes for videos. I’m not convinced that they are a good idea: They ingrain specific images into people’s minds in connection with the music, when it really should be, again, up to the listener to conjure those images. Let’s be honest, most videos do not enhance a song and I find that they usually come off as low-budget mini b-movies. Most musicians aren’t good actors, either (Tom Waits is an obvious exception). We were very serious for a while about doing a video for an edited, five and a half minute version of “Pagan Pastimes.” We had a friend of a friend on board to direct and shoot it, a small budget and an interesting concept. The further we went down that road, though, the more worried I got that it was going to wind up looking amateurish and ridiculous. I’m not sure if the rest of the band felt the same way, but ultimately it was a group decision not to shoot it. That song is so powerful on it’s own and I’m glad we decided to scrap the video idea. Admittedly, the cost played a part in the final decision, as well.
Your area of the country [Chicago] is known for Blues and R&B, have these genres influenced your musical visions or structures?
JD: Yes. Definitely. The Blues kind-of seeps into Rock & Roll music whether you intend it or not. I’m deeply influenced by R&B rhythms. The rhythm section gets into some pretty deep grooves on Vortrobos. Recently, my musical obsession has been The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield. Chicago soul brothers!
PF: I am guilty of paying very little attention to Chicago blues or the blues in general. I recently acquired some Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf material and while I do appreciate it, it’s just not the kind of thing I find myself drawn to. I will burn at the stake one day, I suppose, but I enjoy what most people refer to as soul much more (Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Sam Cooke, O.V. Wright, etc.). I’ve actually becoming fairly obsessed with James Brown and Joe and I still need to find time to hash out our differing opinions over the Hot Pants LP.
I wanted to jump here from the get-go, [laughing] but I didn’t think it would be cool, so let me put it this way. There’s a mythology regarding each of the members of Spacemen 3, and Asteroid #4 certainly have their own mystery, but Soft Speaker has an evolving backstory of sorts, do you want to go into to that, or shall we let the liner-notes speak for themselves?
JD: Paul’s done all the research on this. I’ll let him answer.
PF: If it weren’t for Englebert Dollfuss’s endorsement of the original Sanftsprecher, we probably wouldn’t be having this electronic conversation. He is a misunderstood figure, in my opinion.
Could I get the band to introduce themselves? And please feel free to air any dirty laundry.
PF: Paul Foreman: voice, guitar, organ and other assorted cajiggers. I don’t know about dirty laundry, but I’ve been trying to convince Blair to have an onstage wardrobe malfunction since day one and so far it hasn’t happened. Nick Rocchio (voice, guitar, organ) and Blair (electric bass) are not currently available to contribute. My understanding is that Nick has taken on a part time job as John C. Reilly’s personal chauffeur. Blair is teaching dogs to do yoga, which is very time-intensive.
JD: I’m Joe Daley. I play sloppy Slingerland drums with Soft Speaker (I don’t understand why Joe has such an affinity for the term “sloppy drums,” but it appears in nearly every interview we do. Maybe it’s a reference to something I’m not familiar with. – PF). I’m not sure what dirty laundry you’re referring to. I know Nick has some jeans that smell of garlic and a hint of spice.
How did you all meet?
JD: We met through the interactions of musicians, friends, and Craig’s List.
PF: That’s not how I remember it. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Nick took a room next to Mothra’s cocoon on the outskirts of Ukranian Village. It was filthy. He didn’t have any shoes, so I gave him a pair of boots and asked him if he wanted to join a band. The rest is a bit fuzzy.
[Joseph Daley: Drums, Blair Douglas: Electric Bass, Paul Foreman: Guitar, Organ, Vocals, Nicholas Rocchio: Guitar, Organ, Vocals]
Now that that’s out of the way, let me ask you about stage presence, would you like to expand on that part of your performance?
JD: Our recent goal with the live performance is to blow the audience’s mind with a musical experience that DOES NOT STOP. So, we’ve tried to minimize all breaks between songs and silly banter. We’re turned on by this music. We want to share that feeling with the audience.
Our introduction was rather circuitous, by way of a green Cheval Sombre 7 inch, have you seen him live?
PF: No, I haven’t seen him live, but I did see his buddy, Sonic Boom, with Spectrum a few years ago and I’ve seen Luna and Dean & Britta a number of times. I haven’t been able to get out to see too many shows over the past few years, but I am going to correct that. CAVE are playing again soon, as they just released a new LP on Drag City, so I’m going to check that out. I’ve got tickets to see Morrissey in November, too.
Who do you wish you could have seen live, and what was the last show you attended?
JD: The early Pink Floyd shows with their psychedelic light show would have been pretty far out or so I’ve read. The last show I attended as a regular jack-off in the audience was probably CAVE at The Empty Bottle.
PF: I wish I had been old enough to see The Smiths and Spacemen 3 live. Both of those would have been very exciting, I can imagine. I’m pretty sure my last show was CAVE at Empty Bottle, too, so perhaps I’m not doing enough to broaden my horizons. I will take issue with laptop performances. So goddamn boring. I love listening to Four Tet, for example, but when I saw him open for Super Furry Animals, he just stood behind a folding table with a laptop and a few other gizmos. It’s just not a performance at all. Maybe it wasn’t his fault, but the way I see it, if you’re going to open for band as awesome as SFA, you better bring something more exiting than your bellbottoms and a computer.
All of your album art is rather interesting, could we talk about that for a few minutes?
JD: First impressions are important. We want to express our artistic and far out inclinations with the album covers.
PF: We have worked with a number of very talented artists. Brian Cannon did the sleeve for I’ll Tend Your Garden. He is responsible for all of the iconic sleeves for Oasis and Verve in the 90’s, amongst others, so it was very exciting to work with him. Mark Milic of Modularlab did Stranger In The Alps and A Violent Parade. Jason Brammer, who has been a good friend of mine for years, is a brilliant Chicago-based artist and painted the sleeve for Vortrobos.
And of course I’d be rather remiss if I didn’t ask if drugs had a hand in influencing your visions? Or perhaps this interview?
JD: I think people get in trouble when they concern themselves with the drug in and of itself rather than finding something creative to do with the trip they’re on.
PF: Everybody likes to have a good time, but we’re not raging maniacs smoking crack behind a dumpster in an alley. We stick primarily to moon gas and sofa zingers.
Tell me, where there any “Ah-Ha” moments after the first playback, something that you feel you got just right? And anything you rolled your eyes at, knowing you need to revisit?
JD: There are many examples of each on every record. Nick recorded the backwards guitar solo on “A Troubled Summer” once. We just flipped out listening to that the first time. Blair’s fuzz bass on “Vortrobos” was a total “that’s the one” moment. On the other hand, there was a section in “Forty Acres Surrounded” when the kick-drum mic cut out. We knew we’d have to re-do that bit.
PF: When we mixed “Pagan Pastimes” I remember being completely blown away. The majority of that track was done as a live take, so hearing it properly mixed for the first time was a revelation. ITYG was the first album we took from beginning to end in a professional studio and I think you can really tell when you listen to it. Some people will tell you that studios are no longer necessary, but I think that with all of the garbage, lo-fi digital home recordings being released these days, they are just as relevant as they’ve ever been, if not more so.
The new album “Vortrobos” is rather linear, did you record it in that fashion?
JD: All the basic tracks: drums, bass, guitars were record in a live session. That fact probably lends to the linear sound.
PF: We didn’t record the songs in the order that they appear on the album, if that’s what you mean. The sequencing worked out quite well, though, so I will take your question as a compliment.
Jenell: “Vortrobos” has a very bright crystal sound, almost chilling at times, how did you achieve this?
JD: The crystalline sound is due to Mr. Brian Zieske and his talents with the knobs including, most likely, the Chandler Curve Bender.
PF: Gallery of Carpet, where we recorded ITYG and Vortrobos, has a formidable collection of fantastic analog gear. I think that makes a big difference in the final product. However, without Brian Zieske’s engineering/mixing/mastering talents, it would just be a bunch of old glass, rubber and metal.
Would you consider covering the material of any other artist?
JD: We, in fact, did cover Buddy Holly at our first Gallery of Carpet session. We’ve considered a number of cover songs. Generally we don’t do covers because we’re too busy working on our own material.
PF: We’ve been talking about doing the song “Held For Questioning,” which I discovered on a Gene Vincent compilation, but we’ve never gotten around to working it out. I still want to do that. We also talked about doing a mellow, acoustic version of “Ace of Spades,” but there is now a beer commercial (Kronenbourg, perhaps) with fucking Lemmy in it doing that exact thing, so that’s out of the question now.
“Jeju Island” is a superlative bit of wanderlust, where is “Jeju Island”?
JD: My understanding is that Jeju Island is part of the Japanese archipelago. Jeju Island is that magic place in your mind where you escape to and fuck off with your friends.
PF: Actually, Jeju (pronounced “Che-ju”) Island is a Korean island located south of the mainland. Tangerines are plentiful there. I believe they also have a sex museum.
“Ask The Guild” is a tour de force, is there a point in the show where you look at each other knowing the moment’s right to play this one?
JD: The moment is usually preordained in our set list. But, there are knowing looks because it is a great song.
PF: The Daley is correct. It’s rare that we stray from our setlists, but they do change with every show and often times quite radically.
Am I wrong, or do I hear twin solos at times?
JD: You are hearing harmonized guitar solos.
PF: Nick and I definitely go for dual lead guitar lines from time to time. I’m not sure that we ever actually solo at the same time, but that depends on your definition of the word. We try to compliment what the other is doing, as illustrated on the jams at the end of “Three Beggars” and “Fiend”.
Any plans for touring?
JD: Yes. We haven’t had much of a chance to get on the road this year. But, yes, we are planning more touring for next spring.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me, is there anything I’ve missed, or anything you want to say?
PF: We greatly appreciate you taking the time to do the interview and listening to the records. There are plans within plans for future releases and we don’t intend to go afro-beat, at least for a while. The nimble beetle avoids the grasp of the woodsman’s hand.
JD: Thank you, Jenell. The release date for Vortrobos is Nov. 8th, 2011. It’s the sound of your mind transforming vibrations into mystical lands and foreign creatures.
Where can folks find you on the net, and score your albums?
PF: Don’t forget iTunes and numerous other digital outlets, if what I’m led to believe is accurate.
Interview made by Jenell Kesler / 2011
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