Jason Simon interview
Jason Simon, guitarist and vocalist from Washington D.C psych-rockers Dead Meadow, returns to his solo endeavours with a pristine and bucolic album that guides his versatile guitar signature through a dreamy and yearning lyrical universe.
In one of his clearest efforts to date, A Venerable Wreck brings together ideas from his band’s records displayed on a new instrumental dimension inhabiting lands lying somewhere between cosmic psychedelia, backwoods Americana, and intimate folk.
It’s great to have you again Jason. How are you? What’s going on in your city?
Hello! Thanks for having me back!
Well not much is happening in my city as I imagine is much the same across the land. I’ve gone through various stages of being productive at home, recording a lot and being creative, to being quite depressed on the current situation and the lack of any chance for live music in the foreseeable future. Not being able to perform live hurts in that it is both what I enjoy and feel fulfilled doing and also what I primarily do to support myself so it’s doubly troublesome. I’m trying to make the most of all of this and work on various projects that have fallen to the wayside. It does seem the city is slowly coming out again. The traffic is starting to return and the parks are filling small groups, masked and unmasked. We shall see how it all plays out.
A Venerable Wreck is your upcoming album. What’s the story behind it?
I’m constantly writing and recording music. Eventually I amass a large number of songs in various stages of completion and start to think go how to put it together for release. Some songs were recorded entirely at home on a Tascam 388 with no one but me on them. Others I recorded at a studio in downtown LA called Ultrasound. I would do live take there with guitar, bass, and drums and then bring it home to mess with to my hearts content. Some song on this record are very recent, others are a few years old. They are the songs that I am proud of and felt the world should hear.
The previous solo LP Familiar Haunts I mixed hear at my house. I’m happy with it but man, I drove myself crazy and pretty much everyone near me as well by getting lost in the depths of solo mixing insanity… lost in my head, making minuscule changes again and again. For this record I took all the songs I wanted for the record and went to a friend’s studio, Kyle Malarkey, and mixed there with him. He’s got a good ear and good gear but a major part of it was to get out of my house and to attempt to avoid the mixing madness I can sink into. It helped though I think I drove Kyle a bit mad I’m sure. I brought the finished mixes to Howie Weinberg to master. Dead Meadow has known him for a few years and we have him master all our stuff. He adds a certain magic to everything, a nice finishing touch. As for the title, I can’t quite remember when it first came up but I knew it was the next album title. It ’s a title that seem to fit so many close friends, writers, and musicians I look up to. They’re so full of wisdom and creative energy yet most of life remains a mystery to them that they can’t seem to make heads or tales of. I find myself feeling the same more often than not.
“My ideal situation is to capture something live, something with character and energy”
Can you share some further details how the album was recorded?
This record was primarily recorded by myself at a home studio I’ve put together affectionately dubbed “The Blasted Heath”. A number of the full band songs were initially tracked in down town LA at a friend’s place but then brought home to complete. My ideal situation is to capture something live, something with character and energy, then keep as much of that as I can and add to it here at home. I also enjoy doing some songs entirely on my own… getting stoned with an old drum machine and building up a song from that. “Snowflakes are Dancing”, “The Old Ones”, and “A Venerable Wreck” are examples of that.
How did collaboration with Chile’s BYM Records come about?
I’ve known the guys from BYM for a few years now. They’re great guys. We’ve played shows with a number of bands from the Label, Föllakzoid, Holy Drug Couple, and La Hell Gang. We’ve always had a blast. We also did a festival in Chile called “En Orbita”. On a night off Dead Meadow played a party at the BYM house and that was a blast as well. We seem get along really well with the Chilean psych scene. I randomly mention to Nes from BYM label that I had a new record done and he was into it. They’ve been great with all of it.
Dead Meadow played a festival and some shows in Chile. Is the release of A Venerable Wreck directly inspired by your visit? What’s the concept behind it?
Ha, I keep answering the following question in the previous response. Yes, that festival was a blast. A Venerable Wreck has nothing to do with Chile in particular. I just feel that I’ve always got along great with the BYM record folks and we seem to get what each other are doing. There’s no grand concept behind the record. It’s a collection of songs I dig. A lot of what I do is shaped by small decisions… something grabs my attention and I follow the thread. I keep messing with it until it becomes a song or it doesn’t. The title refers to so many of my idols and so many friends I love dearly and very likely myself as well. I know so many people filled with such wonderful ideas, creative energy, and love yet the rest of life remains an utter mystery that they can rarely make heads or tails of and seem to never have much success in dealing with.
You worked with Nate Ryan and Jason “Plucky” Anchondo from The Warlocks. Would you like to share a few words about your collaboration?
Yes, that is a joy of the solo stuff I do. Dead Meadow is very insular and we like it that way. We rarely bring in guest musicians so as to keep everything as idiosyncratic and unique to us as possible. A lot of that has to do with coming from DC where there were so few musicians and almost none that had any idea of what we were doing or where we were coming from. The only option was to do it all ourselves. Here in LA I’m surrounded by so many talented musicians and friends.
Nate Ryan is the primary contributor on this record and plays bass on at least half the record. He adds some organ as well. He’s also a fabulous harmony singer. As for drummers, I think there are four on the record. Ryan Rapsys, who played with me on the Old Testament LP is on three songs. He’s great. Mark Laughlin from Dead Meadow is on the first track. James Acton from Spindrift and Jason Anchondo each play a bit of brushes. Another great contribution is made by Connor “Catfish” Gallagher. He’s a phenomenal pedal steel player and can be heard on “See What it Takes”, “Moments of Peace”, and “No Entrance No Exit”. Finally Glenn Brigman from the up and coming bands “The Triptides” and “Frankie and the Witch Fingers” adds some Hammond B3.
Is it more difficult to make songs in the band or solo?
At this point, Dead Meadow songs usually take a great deal more time and effort. I think that comes from the twenty years of history behind the band. We have a certain sound and characteristic that we want to embrace yet we equally want to push forward and expand on that. It’s often tricky or rather just takes a good deal of messing about to find something that both feels like Dead Meadow and feels fresh. I rarely start out trying to write any type of song. Something catches my ear and I mess with it and see what comes. Anything I come up with I usually think, “Can this work for Dead Meadow?” More often than not these days the answer is no probably not so it becomes a solo track or something I work with outside of Dead Meadow. There is a great freedom to not have the weighted history of Dead Meadow. I’ll try something like a soul song, then follow that with a country-esque folk number, followed by my own version of a dub tune.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
Hmmm, that’s a huge question. These songs come from a number of sessions over the past few years or so. Here’s some info on a few of them.
The record begins with a banjo tune, “ The Same Dream”. I use an old Appalachian tuning of G,D,G,C,D. that I’ve always found to be strangely compelling and eerie. It’s a tuning used by Clarence Ashley, and some of Dock Boggs tunes. “Snowflakes are Dancing” is actually a tune I wrote when I was 19. It’s been sitting around all these years. I finally recorded a few years back. I played all the instruments except for the brushes. I layered it up over an old Maestro drum machine beat. “A Venerable Wreck” is also over a Maestro beat and is me exploring my love of dub while hopefully avoiding any of the cliche’s of reggae. “Moments of Peace” is my humble attempt to touch upon the gospel guitar of Rev. Utah Smith and Rev. Lonnie Farris. “Red Dust” is a hypnotic droning rock and roll boogie with a nod to the great JJ Cale. “Door Won’t Shut Blues” is an ode to a particularly powerful moon that held me in its sway one clear skied desert evening. “Hollow Lands” is for someone very close to me for many years. I’m not sure how to put this properly into words… perhaps I could say that it seems some people are doomed from the very start and try as you might you can’t alter a course seemingly set out for them by the very stars themselves.
Are you planning on working on any new Dead Meadow material?
A new Dead Meadow LP is in the works. Dead Meadow works slowly these days. We all have other projects and like I said above it takes time and a great deal of trial and error to come up with something we feel is new and exciting. I don’t want to redo what we’ve done in the past nor do I want to be abandon our history and the sound we have created. It just takes time to create something we feel does justice to both of those goals. That being said we have about half an album’s worth of material written. The Virus has slowed us down some but I’m always trying to write and record. I would say early next year we could have a new Dead Meadow LP out hopefully.
Any plans for a solo/band tour after the pandemic?
There was a number of plans for solo as well as Dead Meadow shows. They’ve all been cancelled. Right now there are Dead Meadow dates for the Fall lined up, USA and abroad. They way things are looking though I can easily see all of those not happening. I was planning shows in support of this record as well…a number of solo dates and some with the backing band. They’ve all been pushed forward or abandoned. I’m working on some live stream type things as that is really the only option currently available.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
A new discovery is a guy named Don Heffington. I had the privilege of seeing him perform live recently. He’s an older cat, probably in his 60’s and I think has played drums on a number of country records including Emmylou Harris. His last two records, Gloryland and Contemporary Abstractions in Folk Song and Dance are amazing. If you can imagine John Prine (may he rest in peace) combined with the Albert Ayler or Cecil Taylor singing dark songs about desert storm and aging in this torn up world. His beautifully traditional and far out avant-garde at the same time. That is always something I enjoy, when you can see and feel the traditional being warped and pulled into something new. A perfect example being what Captain Beefheart did to the blues of Howlin’ Wolf… I love it.
I’m currently recording and producing a band called Flash Hits. The record will be called Growths. The principle song writer is an old friend from DC and I think this record is going turn out real fine. Noisy guitars, distorted bass, driving repetitive drums, and beautiful vocal melodies come together in acid-drenched perfection. Their first record, Recognitions , is already available on streaming platforms so check it out. This is probably the first record I am producing and recording entirely on my own and I’m looking forward to doing more of that.
– Klemen Breznikar
A Venerable Wreck is out 22nd May on BYM Records. Pre-order here!