Cosmic Wheels interview
With the uncompleted Cosmic Wheels tracks by brothers Paul and Vincent Marrone seeing an official digital release last week, Klemen, owner of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine, asked me if it’d be interested in interviewing the two siblings. I jumped at the opportunity and eagerly accepted, not least because I’ve been an avid Marrone enthusiast ever since a random MySpace browsing session landed me on their page back in late 2009.
I’d go ever further and say they’re firmly up there as being my favourite modern bass player and drummer (Vincent and Paul respectively, that is.). A collection of songs any lover of late ’60s to early ’70s riff-based rock owes it to themselves to check out; they’ve set the bar very high. As one reviewer nicely put it, “Cosmic Wheels will make you rethink your stature as a musician, especially if you’re a drummer.”. Ever since first being uploaded to MySpace, the album has long been shrouded in a veil of mystery, however, as to why it has stayed in demo status for so long (going on 6 years now) and little was known of the story behind its conception.
It was with great excitement, therefore, that I caught the both of them online for a chat; a conversation which ended up lasting four hours (Paul was typing on his phone though; very hardcore)! Here’s what they had to say.
I started by asking them at what age they really started to get into music and which bands they enjoyed listening to back then.
Vincent: Age 10. Oldies radio for me.
Paul: We always loved music but really didn’t take it serious till about 15. Nuggets box set and when we heard King Crimson and a friend showed us early Yes.
Vincent: We got our first instruments when we were 10 and 12.
Remember what they were?
Vincent: A Mexican jazz bass.
Paul: My parents got me a white Pearl kit.
Did your parents’ listening habits have an influence on you?
Vincent: Yeah, they always had oldies playing.
Paul: They always supported our music habits. Our dad told me he loved Black Sabbath’s Paranoid record and our mom was into more ethereal music, world music and folk stuff.
I read somewhere recently in an interview you did, Paul, that you were in some kind of Ska Punk band – is that right?
Paul: That’s right, horrible music.
That was pre-Moon Shakers then? Were you a part of it [the Ska Punk band], Vincent?
Paul: Yeah, way before.
What name did you go by?
Vincent: Show Of Hands, haha.
Paul: We got kicked out of our own band because we were too rowdy, I think.
Vincent: Because I got kicked out first because I threw a bible and Paul was rowdy.
Paul: The bible throwing really happened!
I should bring it to the attention of our readers that Show Of Hands was a quasi-Christian band and hence bible throwing was generally frowned upon. And so I learnt that Show Of Hands was made up of Vincent on bass and Paul on drums, with the addition of one guitar and one conga player, as well as a brass section comprised of trumpet and trombone. Paul and Vincent helped start the band but as Paul recalls, they didn’t enjoy playing that kind of music even back then.
I then asked them what happened next.
Paul: I’m pretty sure Vinny and I got really into Santana at that point and Tyranny and Mutation by Blue Öyster Cult.
Vincent: That is true; we loved Santana and early Blue Öyster Cult. What did we do after Show Of Hands? I forget. Paul? I think we started practicing a lot more rock ‘n’ roll-ish stuff.
Paul: We built this jam room off the back of our dad’s shop and just listened to a lot of records like Santana, Blue Öyster Cult, Grand Funk and just jammed every day. We started to really get into collecting vinyl at this point.
Vincent: It was a shop on our property. He kept tools and work-related things in it.
Paul: It was just like a storage shop, not like an actual business. Fragile by Yes was a big influence on us as well I remember…and King Crimson. We couldn’t believe people could play like that.
Vincent: It was amazing.
How’d you start to hear about those more underground bands then? Through the power of the Internet?
Vincent: MySpace for me, and Paul too.
Paul: I remember our friend Charlie found a Haystacks Balboa record and a few other gems. He found them on vinyl is what I mean. That was when I realized there was a whole other world of underground music.
Vincent: Yeah, there is a cool place over on the other side of the lake Paul would go to and find stuff like…
This was a shop? A music shop?
Vincent: Yeah, it was called Rick’s Relic Shack I think.
Paul: Yeah, it was called Rick’s Relic Shack and they sold everything from fur, nazi memorabilia, shark fetuses in a jar and swords and stuff.
Vincent: Deer antlers, baby sharks in a jar, that kind of stuff haha.
Paul: But they had records everywhere upstairs and I would spend hours looking through them.
And they were reasonably cheap, were they? As in a few bucks?
Paul: Hell no! They didn’t know how to price records. A typical record like say Grand Funk’s red album they would want $30 for. They didn’t know what they were doing….anyways.
We then got talking about how they teamed up with their older brother Joe and formed the Moon Shakers.
Vincent: I was living in Springfield, Missouri at the time and got asked to do a show. So me and Paul got started on writing some songs. Paul was playing guitar a lot then so we asked Joe to join and help us out.
Paul: Yeah, he was a really good drummer so it seemed to fit.
Vincent: I made Paul write the lyrics because I hated it.
You were drumming too up to this point, Paul, so when did you pick up the guitar?
Paul: Probably when I was sixteen; I really wanted to take guitar serious.
Vincent: I hated when he first started playing guitar.
Paul: I had no idea what I was doing. Vinny taught me like notes and stuff and after a while I just started to get the hang of it.
Vincent: He got really good one day out of the blue!
So, you let your brother Joe take up drumming duties, Paul played guitar, you played bass, Vinny, and the Moon Shakers were born?
Vincent: Yeah, they moved up to Springfield after a bit because people were loving us.
It was decided that Paul must have been around 19 at this time, which would have made Vincent 21 (ish)
Paul: Moon Shakers were okay but Vinny and I still weren’t really doing exactly what we wanted to do.
But it was your band so how come you weren’t really doing what you wanted to do?
Paul: Because me, personally, I wasn’t capable of playing guitar the way I really wanted to, so I would settle for what I could do at the time ya know?
Vincent: Not me; I rocked.
The conversation then shifted to the Moon Shakers’ output – namely an EP which was featured on their MySpace page – and the band’s demise.
Vincent: We did it kinda fast. We never got time to do anything slow.
Paul: We burnt some CDs and gave them away at shows, I think.
Vincent: Yeah, we sold some and t-shirts too.
Paul: We never tried to send it to labels or anything.
So, how did it all come to an end then?
Paul: I remember around this time we started to get into listening to more jazzy/fusion stuff.
Vincent: Colosseum, Frank Zappa,…
Paul: It basically imploded. We wanted to just jam more I think too instead of doing the same stupid Moon Shakers songs.
Vincent: Yeah, Springfield turned into a big drink fest and we started fighting a lot and Joe couldn’t do gigs.
Paul: Exactly. It was a nightmare.
With tensions rising between band members, Vincent recalls – in a bout of anger – suggesting Paul join Radio Moscow, who were looking for a new drummer. This was late 2007, with the Moon Shakers and Radio Moscow having done a show together not too long before.
Paul: And I did!
Must have been around the time this picture was taken then?
Paul: Yeah, that was from the second tour I did with them when we went out West for the first time. The first tour I did with them was just a Midwest tour.
You weren’t their first drummer, were you?
Paul: No, they had one other drummer before me, Keith Rich, who was Parker’s high school buddy who was helping them out on tour but I don’t think he was really into playing that heavy psych stuff. Really good, solid drummer though. Then he quit.
So, after you’d finished touring with Radio Moscow, Paul, you went back and decided to form Cosmic Wheels with Vincent?
Paul: Yeah, after I left Moscow the first time that’s when Vinny and I started writing stuff for Cosmic Wheels.
Vincent: Yeah, we started playing like the old days – bass and drums – and coming up with fast jazzy stuff.
Paul: Yeah, we were literally playing and jamming every second when we weren’t working. I’d switch back and forth on drums and guitar – it was fun.
We then proceeded to go through each track off their bandcamp page, discussing influences in particular songs, interesting anecdotes surrounding the recording process and anything else. It’s worth noting that nearly all the tracks were recorded bass and drums first, and no click track might I add. Vocals were planned too (for the songs that don’t have any), as well as additional overdubbed guitar solos, but the brothers never got to add those, sadly.
Paul: We wanted some sort of build-up into the next track [speaking of the introduction to “Untitled 1”, originally posted as a separate track but uploaded on bandcamp with the main song].
So, that organ-drenched intro for build-up and then bam, bass and drums hit ya!
Paul: Yeah! We always loved albums that started like that.
Vincent: Yes, and then hide your kids, hide your mother. I think that Deep Purple live with the Philharmonic was an influence. We used a Dr Pepper® bottle filled with candy to make a shaker because we left ours at home.
Paul: Candy! Yoghurt balls to be exact.
Vincent: Haha, oh yeah, then they turned into soup.
So, track 2: slide guitar, bluesy all the way, very riff-y.
Paul: Yeah, track 2 was influenced by Captain Beefheart, I believe.
Vincent: Yeah, we were listening to Beefheart a lot; I was anyway. I was just starting to play guitar and slide.
Paul: Me too! That song is in open G.
Track 3: probably my favourite with “Untitled 1” – JAZZY! Laying down those jazzy drums, Paul, just how I like ’em!
Paul: Ha, thanks man. Probably my favorite to play. I believe I recorded organ first.
Vincent: Yeah, that one is fun. Can’t hear my bass, though.
Paul: I can, Vincent! Sounds great!
Bringing in some of your jazzy influences?
Vincent: Yeah, I was really into Jaco Pastorius; he’s an amazing bass player.
Paul: Yeah, and the way Deep Purple would jazz up songs.
Deep Purple’s “Black Night” an influence on this song, I’m guessing?
Paul: Actually, I believe it was Blues Magoos’ “Tobacco Road”.
Vincent: I don’t think that “Black Night” was an influence on that one; that is a riff we had in the bag for a bit.
That drum solo: hearing that sealed it for me that you were my favourite modern drummer. Is that whole track one take, as in no editing in the drum solo afterwards?
Paul: Yeah, I believe it was drum solo and everything. We practiced the songs over and over again before we went to record so we knew them by heart and could play them in our sleep.
I hear some Blue Cheer coming through on this one.
Paul: The funny thing is I was more into Outsideinside by Blue Cheer than their first album and didn’t know that the riff was somewhat similar to “Parchment Farm”. Maybe it subconsciously stayed with me when I heard it.
You must have been playing the riff on bass I guess, Vincent?
Vincent: Yeah, it was just an old blues thing. Lots of bands did it. The rest is all mine.
Paul: That riff’s quite a finger workout. That song was fun to play too.
Paul: Track 6 is personally my favorite; very different from the rest. I remember having T2 in mind as an influence on the build-up. I tuned my B and E strings to G to get that weird guitar sound.
Vincent: I had that second riff in the bag for a bit too.
Yeah, that track does sound different from the rest of the songs; lots of rhythm and riff changes.
Vincent: We love doing those.
Paul: Track 7 is a heavy groover; I think we wanted a tough riff. I believe some of it was inspired by Black Cat Bones.
Vincent: That guitar effect when it gets real crazy [starts at the 3:57 mark] was recorded forward and put in reverse.
Paul: I love that bit too; a lot of people don’t notice but if you listen it’s so badass.
On track 8, “Save My Love” by Black Cat Bones comes to mind – one of my favourite songs ever – then some “My Eyes Are Getting Heavy” by Parish Hall.
Paul: [We were] Listening to a lot of the first Sabbath album and Parish Hall.
I can hear some “It Came on Sunday” by Writing on the Wall in there too.
Paul: Hell yeah, Writing on the Wall was a big influence as well. Love that album sooooo much.
I love how you took all those influences and put them in there.
Paul: That’s the best music, in my opinion.
Vincent: The blues stomp song.
Who’s playing guitar on that one? Paul?
Vincent: Yeah, I didn’t play guitar much then; I was still learning. That’s me stomping and playing the drum sticks.
“12 O’Clock Groove Street”
Paul: I personally don’t really like that song or “Untitled 9”; it’s good for what it is, I guess. “12 O’Clock Groove Street” was just a ‘mess around’ song that we wrote after listening to The Beacon Street Union and it’s just not what I’m really into. We literally wrote it in 3 minutes.
You’ve got that reverse tape thing going on at the beginning, right? Sounds like pigeons, sort of.
Paul and Vincent: Yeah, haha.
And the lyrics, who wrote those?
Paul: I think Vinny wrote most of them and I wrote a little bit, so I guess both of us.
And then there’s that bit where you kind of scream and go crazy, shaking keys [starts at 4:03].
Vincent: That was this dude we know; he had a janitor set of keys. I think it’s a fun song; not our finest but fun.
With the tracks covered, Paul wisely decided we all needed to take a breather from the interview and proclaimed his love for Steve Hillage and Peter Green. A nerdy discussion ensued covering Khan, Steve Hillage’s Fish Rising, Nicholas Greenwood and Peter Green’s The End of the Game. We eventually regained our focus and the subject of studio equipment and gear was brought up.
Vincent: I played a Fender Jazz Bass through an Ampeg SVT.
Paul: I used my ’71 Ludwig kit and the cymbals were vintage ’60s, 22″ Zildjians, which I ended up breaking on tour 🙁
Vincent (speaking for his brother): And a Gibson Les Paul.
The way you mic-ed the drums up with toms in different channels, was that intentional or was that just how the studio had them set up?
Paul: That was definitely intentional; I liked the way it sounded. The key is to put an overhead mic behind the throne.
We then got to why the tracks were never finished and some thoughts on the album:
Paul: We had a falling out with the guy whose equipment we were using to record and the album just got put on the back burner. By this time Vinny and I were already writing new songs and going in a more prog direction. We recorded and engineered all the tracks ourselves even though that was what we were paying him to do.
Vincent: He never helped us with the recording first off; he showed us a few things.
Paul: He was very lazy and we are very productive people; it didn’t gel.
Vincent: There is a lot of stuff I hate and like about this album. We kind of rushed it too; I booked studio time way too early.
Paul: At that time a lot of bands weren’t doing what we were trying to do and I feel we could have really gone somewhere with this album.
And so Paul and Vincent went their separate ways, as Paul remembers:
Paul: Yeah, I was getting bored of Missouri and Moscow asked me to join them again so I did and we all moved out to California together as a band.
Vincent: We needed time to grow up.
(Question directed at Paul): Now you’ve got this thing going with Psicomagia and Shaking Pyramid. You played with Red Octopus a bit too, right?
Paul: Yeah, after I quit Moscow for a second time I joined up with my buddy Gabe’s band Red Octopus and played some shows and festivals. Red Octopus stopped playing after a while and so I started jamming with this band called Joy. The guitar player of Joy and myself were asked by my good friend Mike from Earthless to start a heavy psych band with prog tendencies. That’s how Shaking Pyramid came about.
Do you still play in Artifact? Am I right in thinking you played guitar in that band?
Paul: Artifact was started by my good friend Taylor who wanted me to play guitar in his band ’cause he knew I was itching to get back on guitar. It was a fun project while it lasted but it is no more. The drummer and him had a falling out so the band broke up. I didn’t really like the name of the band to be honest.
And Psicomagia, how did that come about?
Paul: My buddy Tyler [Daughn] and I started the band as a two-piece, organ and drums. We would jam every day. Eventually my friend Trevor Mast asked if he could join on bass. So we started writing songs influenced by our love for Canterbury bands like Egg, Soft Machine, Khan, as well as European jazz prog bands like Magma, Ange, etc.. Long story short we have an album coming out in July on El Paraiso Records out of Denmark – it’s gonna blow people away. I can’t wait for the world to hear it.
Vincent is currently living in Missouri with a load of material waiting to be recorded. He plans to head out West to San Diego in the summer to jam with Paul and hopefully get some new songs down on tape.
OK, guys! Last word is yours!
Vincent: I would just like to say thanks to everyone that digs on it and hopefully I’ll get to work with Paul again in the near future; I had fun making it with him. Oh and please buy the album on bandcamp in support of a new record!
Paul: I’m really proud of it even though it’s not finished; it is what it is. It was great to record with my brother and a lot of people have told me they really enjoy it and that Cosmic Wheels has influenced them, which is quite surprising. We really appreciate people like you, Sébastien, who understand what we were trying to do musically.
– Sébastien Métens
Note to our readers:
As well as the just-made-available digital release, vinyl and CD product of the (unfinished) Cosmic Wheels album is in the works! Keep an eye on their bandcamp page here: http://cosmicwheels1.bandcamp.com/.
The excerpt from the Cosmic Wheels review – “Cosmic Wheels will make you rethink your stature as a musician, especially if you’re a drummer.” – credited to Taylor Charter.