Screaming Bones | Interview
Mike Ludwig aka Screaming Bones lives near Darmstadt in Germany. His music takes the listener on a journey through psychedelic guitar sounds, modulated in many ways and layered in beautiful sonic walls.
I got to ask him a few questions which coincided with the release of his new album ‘It’ll All Come In Time’.
“Making music is like painting, you generate a musical canvas, on which you paint your emotions, one after another. Finding your own sound is a journey that never ends. Try to explore, experiment, don’t get restrained by too much theory.”
Let’s start off by telling the readers what sort of music you make and how long you’ve been working at it ?
Mike Ludwig: I tend to have a hard time sticking labels to music in general. I’d stick to the term “psychedelic” in the widest sense. Maybe some tracks deserve an “experimental” tag on them. The music consists of (digital) drums, guitars, some synth sounds and all sorts of modulated effects that generate my overall sound.
It took me a while to find my sound, the vibe on the album ‘With Yourself’ was about a year in the making. On Bandcamp, I also have an album called ‘Be Patient’, which was very early days, trying things out, experimenting and finding my way… While I am still doing it, I see my musical journey as an ongoing process, but I think I have the proper direction now, see how much I swivel to the left and right sometimes.
How do you record your music?
I work with a four-track looper which is set up in my bedroom. I don’t record with mics and a traditional guitar amp, the sound goes from the guitar into the looper and later from there into my DAW on the laptop, where I tweak the arrangements and further sculpt the sounds. That’s for the general technical setup. As for body and mind, I love to generate musical ideas with enhanced mind and enhanced sense of hearing, if you know what I mean. The real work starts the following days, when I start putting these ideas together. It’s good fun.
What guitars and equipment do you use?
I mainly play on a Hagstrom Swede. I have a Fender Strat as well, which somehow got hijacked by my wife a while back. Never mind, I’m on the lookout for another Strat anyway. Besides that, my only other instrument is a Moog Theremini, which is great for generating the sonic backgrounds, as you can hear on the track ‘Weird Afternoon’ for example. It’s generally a simple synth sound which I chase through a chain of effects.
I use a Headrush Gigboard, which gives me a multitude of digital effects and makes it ever so easy to experiment without having to stick cables anywhere. From there, everything goes into a Headrush looper board, which is essentially a four-track recorder and also provides a number of basic drum tracks to play to. For more complex drums I have been using an Alesis SR18 drum computer since recently. On top of that, I use a selection of analog guitar pedals, wah, envelope filter, modulation pedals, tremolo et cetera, most of them from Electro-Harmonix… I somehow fell in love with their pedals.
“I have a multitude of sounds going round in my head all the time”
Who are your biggest influences, past and present?
In my mind I’m stuck somewhere between Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Velvet Underground… even though I grew up in the eighties. That music, most of all The Velvet Underground, has been a big part of my life for the last thirty years. A big influence in my teenage years and beyond have been The Ramones, Joy Division, Neil Young and Massive Attack, to name a few. During the last ten years or so, I found it increasingly difficult to find new good music, many new bands sound so… heard a thousand times in different colours, know what I mean? I do love the Thievery Corporation sound or All Them Witches, Lightning Dust or Black Mountain, but I think my biggest influence in recent years comes from psychedelic bands like Kungens Män, Electric Moon, Causa Sui, Mythic Sunship. Throw all of those names in one pot, plus a lot more that line my record shelves and I have a multitude of sounds going round in my head all the time.
Apart from the music you make, what do you listen to?
Well, it does rotate throughout the year. The Ramones, Sex Pistols or Exploited will entertain the neighbours at times as well as Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Songs: Ohia, The Kills, Mark Lanegan, White Stripes, Jimi Hendrix, Alice In Chains, My Sleeping Karma, The Pixies, Parquet Courts, Cinematic Orchestra, The Pack A.D. plus the stuff I mentioned before… I don’t know where to stop, really. It’s a general alternative, psychedelic and rock. But the music needs to have something in it, you know? Some kind of emotion, some vibe that was captured a long time ago and then pressed on vinyl. There are so many bands outside that play by the books and miss the vibe entirely. Others get it and manage to put it in their music…that’s the stuff I love to listen to. Since recently, your “Too Rare To Die” podcast on Mixcloud has replaced a lot of the internet radio we were listening to. Those mixes are a true hidden gem! Please never take them off there.
You have a new album about to come out, can you tell us about it?
The album‚ ‘It’ll All Come In Time’ has grown organically since last November. When putting stuff down, I don’t really have a concept or a clear route I’m following. I have some loose theoretical constructs in my head, but I tend to break them quickly once I start playing. I try not to overthink things, just let the music flow. In my head, I’ve got music playing all the time. Sometimes a rhythm or melody comes when I’m out for a walk with my dog, sometimes I drop everything I’m doing at that moment and rush to my equipment to try to reproduce what my mind jukebox is playing… doesn’t always work, though.
The tracks‚ ‘Journey through your inner Cosmos, Pt.1 and Pt-2′ kind of frame the whole album. I don’t know how often I listened to them myself, every time I put the headphones on, they take me off into my headspace and sadly they end after a while.
For ‘Open The Doors’, I had the skeleton sitting for weeks, but I couldn’t seem to be able to finish it, it was the last track I recorded for that album.
‘Eve’, I recorded the raw version of that song on the day when that insane murderer in Russia set his nuclear forces to high alert.
‘Destruction’ followed shortly after, I think the song speaks for itself.
‘And Make It Sound Good’ kind of completes ‘Open The Doors’.
The ‘Outro’ is just an outro, that was just me licking my wounds.
Ah, and, yes, I do like long fade-outs [laughs]. I always hate it when being catapulted out of my headspace abruptly.
When I hit the “Stop recording” button and turned all the knobs down after recording the last notes, I just sat down and cried, honestly. Admittedly, I was high as a kite when I did the last bits, but it sort of all came out at that point. All the shit going on in the world at the moment, my personal issues during the last year, burnout, depression and some really, really dark thoughts…all getting better now. And I came to sit and think how grateful I am for everything I have in my life, my wife, my dog, our home, family and friends. And most of all, I am grateful for all the wonderful people I met so far on the Screaming Bones journey. There’s of course yourself, The Night Tripper, there’s the amazing Billy Tsounis, my teacher, there’s the sound wizard Patrick Burkholder, who did the most fabulous job on the mixing and mastering, there’s people like Clint Beed and his famous Stoned Meadow of Doom YouTube channel who spread the Screaming Bones sound around the world. And lots of others that like the Screaming Bones tunes… play them loud, dance to them, have sex to them, get fucking high to them, all united in a love for music.
Do you always work alone on your music?
I do, yes. I have been thinking about trying to look for band members, but I abandoned that thought for now after a few half-hearted attempts. Thing is, I live in a very rural area and it is next to impossible to find somebody like-minded who plays an instrument and enjoys the same music. It would be interesting to experience the dynamics in a band. But, to be honest, I am kind of a natural hermit in my regular life anyway and I have an idea about how the Screaming Bones music should sound like and I don’t think I would be any good in making compromises. That’s just the way I am wired, I suppose. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future, but for now, the whole SB thing is a one-man project from beginning to end.
Top 5 artists of all time?
1. Ramones (old love never dies!)
2. The Velvet Underground (had to re-buy some records already as the old ones had worn out).
3. Pink Floyd (the early stuff… what a talent!).
4. Joy Division (the most hypnotizing music I can think of).
5. Sorry, I need to split number 5. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and Massive Attack (for their complete works).
How is the music scene in Germany recovering from the pandemic?
It seems that things are inching towards some sort of normality again. According to the newsletters, many gigs are planned for this year, I hope they will happen. We had a brief glimpse of hope towards the end of last year when vaccinated folks were allowed into some venues, my wife and her cousin were lucky enough to see the Dead South in a venue nearby. But the winter hit and everything was closed again, well, well. Anyways, I tend to look forward and try not to get pulled down by all the shit happening in the world. Things need to be ok in your own head first, otherwise you go nuts in these crazy times.
What was the last live gig you saw pre-pandemic ? And what will be the next gig you plan to attend now that things are returning to normal?
The last gig before the virus hit was Lightning Dust in a very small venue in Hamburg in November 2019. We had to travel five hours by train and stayed over a couple of nights, it was so worth it. The venue was original, just a bar kind of thing with a little stage next to it, maybe a hundred people would fit in, tops. Folks were even allowed to smoke there. Anyways, my headspace got hit just at the right moment when they came on stage. What a voice the singer had, we were blown away!
We still have tickets for Madness in Cologne and All Them Witches in Amsterdam, hopefully the gigs will happen this year.
Any plans on playing live yourself in the near future?
I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t think I’m the stage kind of type, see my “hermit” remark further up. Secondly, the way the songs are constructed, it would be impossible for me to play them live on stage in the looper. Alternatively, I would have to play some pre-recorded stuff and then join in, which is not what I myself would expect from a live performance. But, hey, see how far the journey will go in the future.
Where’s the best place for our readers to listen to your stuff?
Screaming Bones is on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer and all sorts of smaller streaming services. I’m amazed how the numbers started to climb up after the first tracks were featured on your fabulous It’s Psychedelic Baby! Magazine podcast and the Stoned Meadow of Doom channel on YouTube.
I understand you have a working relationship with Billy Tsounis who has featured on our monthly podcast before, tell us how that came about?
That’s one of these things where everything in the world just works out perfectly fine. The story goes like this: I had a local guy giving me guitar lessons for a while, but at some point before the pandemic he just vanished and hadn’t been seen again. Don’t know what pissed him off, but I think he got a bit spooked when I played some of my vinyl to him and told him that was the kind of music I am going to make. I guess he was more of the traditional kind of guy.
As it happened, in one of your monthly It’s Psychedelic Baby podcasts you played a track by Billy Tsounis, I think it was ‘Robot Bunny Needs A Hug’. I loved it. And as I usually do when I hear something I like, I consult Mr. Google for more of the same, that’s how I found Billy’s website. Besides the music he features on there, he also has a simple link called “lessons”. So, I contacted him and he agreed to take me as one of his students… one of the best things that happened to me. Billy is the most amazing teacher I have met, he is ever so knowledgeable and he listens to what you say. He doesn’t try to push you in a specific direction but helps you to create your own music, whatever that might be. Even though he lives in California and we do everything online, it works seamlessly, can’t recommend him enough.
If given the chance, who in the current world of music would you like to collaborate with?
Tough question. But I think, even though they play a couple leagues higher than I do currently, I would love to meet the guys from Kungens Män at some point. I just love their music, such great psychedelic stuff, such great tunes!