Carl King: This is Carl King talking on the Carl King Podcast. To support this podcast and my other creative projects, head over to Patreon.com/CarlKing and join. You will get access to my musical analysis videos, exclusive music I only release there, stems of some of my previous hit songs, random demos and my incoherent stream of consciousness thought journals. Patreon.com/CarlKing.
After taking a long break to focus on my music education and personal responsibilities, I am back with an interview with Free Salamander Exhibit. Those paying attention will know them as a sort of continuation of the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum tradition but with some changes in the membership. This is an outrageous group of musicians and artists and I recommend you work your way through their entire catalog, starting with the earliest incarnation known as Idiot Flesh from 1985. This interview was recorded on August 9th, 2017. That’s almost an entire year ago. I’m sorry I’m so late with this, but I am slowly catching up. I promise I have several other episodes already in the works.
A quick thank you to my equipment endorsements, Ernie Ball Strings, Fractal Audio, Toontrack and the latest edition, Millennia Media Preamps. And maybe someday I can mention Schecter Guitars here. Anyway, I recorded this interview at a picnic table surrounded by all the members of the band, and I have to admit, I was totally intimidated to be in their midst.
The audio quality during some moments is not so great, as we were in a park outside next to a freeway and had plenty of loud LA macho man cars zooming by. We had multiple microphones with multiple technical problems, but I did my best to make it listenable just for you. We discuss their process, their theatrical mystique and what it’s like to be a part of such a Free Salamander Exhibit.
Wow. Well, I am here in a park with some members of Free Salamander Exhibit, who just serenaded us intro music with a … looks like some sort of flute?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, this is a Norwegian flute called a [foreign language 00:03:19] which is a mountain flute that I picked up over there in Norway last summer, and Dave …
Dave: I’m playing a Yamaha soprano recorder that has pretty nice tone.
Yeah, it seems to blend well with your flute.
We were just prior to your arrival exploring the pitch-relatedness of these couple different flutes, seeing if maybe we can get up an act.
Carl King: See if you guys can get a gig in LA.
Free Salamander Exhibit: See if we can get a gig in LA. Here we are in LA, California, a lot of stars here.
Carl King: We have a lot of road noise going on right now so we’re just out in the world with cars going by in a park.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, Griffith Park [inaudible 00:04:05].
Carl King: And David and Nils are willing to let me ask some questions, and here comes Drew as well. I don’t know how you guys will answer this because I’ve never really been able to talk to any of you about your process, and I don’t know if you want to let people behind the curtain.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Oh, sure.
Carl King: How does your process work?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Which part of the process?
Carl King: Well, the music.
Free Salamander Exhibit: The writing of the music?
Carl King: Yeah, let’s say the writing and the music.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Well, in some different ways, but one of the ways is individual composer within the band writing parts for everyone. That’s one of the ways we’ve done it. And another way, and that is a way that David typically works, he’ll write and make up a demo mock-up of a tune, pretty thoroughly composed. Some of those, then, I have gone and added a vocal part to. Things that started out as instrumentals-
Carl King: [crosstalk 00:05:12]
Free Salamander Exhibit: … Dan, who just is joining us now-
Carl King: Dan has just arrived. Dan Rathbun.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Fresh from bus improvements. I assume the bus is better for it, and Michael has arrived.
Michael: Hello, hello, hello, podcasting.
Michael is going to be podcasting from Hawaii because he prefers Hawaii for some reason.
Michael: The climate lends itself to a silky baritone sort of voice.
Right, it’s for the voice.
Carl King: I hear that they’re preparing for nuclear war in Hawaii.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Well, I hope so. We should all be preparing for nuclear war.
Dan: I’m not.
That’s just because you’re lazy. You’re good for nothing, Dan.
Carl King: Okay, so you have different processes for writing the music.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, one of them being through composition, another being a way that I tend to work more, which is song-based but also then trying to generate material with the group in the room. So, sort of the old, “Well if I play this and sing this, what would you do, Drew?” So, particularly involving the homemade instruments, I feel like I’m always happier with what happens out of the hands of the players than some melodic line or something that I could think of necessarily myself.
Carl King: I think that I heard it said in another interview … it might have been with you, you said that you’ll basically all just sort of be making a slight sound or building something. Is that-
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, and that may have been in an interview about Sleepytime material and definitely some of that material was sort of generated that way, where we would-
… be jamming.
But these are not just … they’re not free improvs. They’re really directed improved.
And they’re carefully directed improvs where typically Nils will have a song idea and he’ll say, “Okay, here’s this section we’re working on,” and everyone will start jamming on it. Then he’ll say, “Okay, that thing you’re doing, Michael, let’s focus on that and let’s all … let’s push in that direction,” and then we’ll jam some more and then Nils will say, “Okay, I like what’s going on over here now. Let’s incorporate that more.” So he’s constantly shoving the improv in the direction that he wants it to go, and tweaking it.
Right, so a little sonic editing, particularly with writing for timbre and texture and mood more than sort of vertical and horizontal harmonic and melodic interactions.
Carl King: I’m curious about that. You went to college for music, didn’t you?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Carl King: How many of you went to college for music? Three? Four?
Free Salamander Exhibit: I think we have four of the five of us.
Carl King: Four of the five.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Michael was in Hawaii most of the time.
Michael. Yeah, [crosstalk 00:08:31]-
He already knew it all so it didn’t have to go.
Peeling grapes, peeling grapes.
In the peeling of grapes …
Yes, the musical institutions didn’t offer grape peeling in the way that could benefit me or anyone else, really, so …
But I don’t think we should overestimate the influence of college or that type of education on our musical sensibilities and how we work. I’ve encountered a lot of bands that put the same type of discipline and thought and similar compositional processes without having gone to college. So, I think that that may have given us some perspective on what we’re doing and where we might fit in but it doesn’t necessarily … it’s not the end all in terms of directing us in terms of how we write.
Certainly not, but three of us did meet in college.
That’s true, that’s true, which is a different point that … Dan and Nils and I met each other in college, partially because we were in the music department. Dan was actually, what, a physics major? But we were living in the same student co-op, so we met each other and played in a band in college together, so that was kind of the beginning of a long relationship and a continuous relationship for Nils and Dan.
Carl King: Yeah, I’m curious, how would your music, I don’t know, be influenced by what is called 20th century composition, and how aware are you of doing those types of techniques? You mention timbre and texture and …
Free Salamander Exhibit: Sure, yeah. Well, certainly that is something that most of us … Yeah, we all share an interest in that music, chamber music and classical music coming out of …
Yeah, particularly the 20th … 21st century, I’m done with it.
Carl King: Yeah, forget it.
Free Salamander Exhibit: No, I was definitely very excited about a lot of the music before getting to college. I liked that music, and actually the music department was hard for me because we had to spend a lot of time back in the … work out way up through the classical era and the romantic era. Yeah, I didn’t have much interest in that side of that music. I couldn’t wait to at least get up to Stravinsky and … yeah, because I was already just … As a teenager, I was looking for the most … as teenagers will, I wanted more extreme, more noisy, more …
Not me, man. I was way into Hayden. That was my jam, dude. Hayden’s the shit, bro.
Carl King: Do any of you notate your parts at all during the process?
Free Salamander Exhibit: All of us-
I would say everybody.
… at many times during the process.
All of us.
Carl King: Wow.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Some of us, not me, of course, but some of us are even sight-readers.
Whoa, that’s a stretch.
Well, some of us are.
I can read. [crosstalk 00:11:37]
Yeah, we do distribute scores.
Yeah, we have scores for all of them-
Carl King: Really? You actually have scores for them.
Free Salamander Exhibit: The scores serve as not so much … we’re not reading the score as we play the song, but it is a memory device where if you forget a little bit of a little section, you could just glance at the score and remind yourself what’s happening there.
So our rehearsal process, because it is intermittent with a somewhat dispersed … We don’t all live in the same part of Northern California right now, we’ll all get together and we all rehearse up the set of material as we have it for several days, and we do that by … and we all bring out our scores and we work through each … reading through sometimes, although now it’s finally getting to the point where I think this time I only cursorily glanced at a couple of the passages.
For the most part we didn’t have to pull them out, but up until pretty recently, we pretty much had to get our music stands out and read through each piece and then get so we could play it without the music again and go through that process. So it is a good, helpful way of keeping it all down without having to hold it all in your head.
I feel like it’s particularly necessary for me because I don’t play a melody instrument well enough to show the parts to the other guys, so it’s helpful for me, when I’m writing, to write it down on paper to show the other guys, or I’ll make a MIDI sketch of something and play it for them as an additional learning tool.
Yeah, and so when Dave makes a MIDI sketch, I’ll often learn my parts from the MIDI sketch, but then I’ll look at the music to remind me of them, so that I don’t forget them.
Carl King: That’s an interesting answer, because I always wondered behind the curtain with your music building, how it actually … the process works, so that’s-
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, to varying degrees, some of the pieces are very thoroughly scored and mine typically will be less thoroughly scored. My scores will have … will usually not be multi-part scores whereas Dave’s and Dan’s and, to the lesser extent Michael’s, will be multi-part scores where you have one, two, three and four lines all written out.
Yeah, I’m sort of in between maybe [crosstalk 00:14:15] David and you. It’s like the ladder of scoreage or something.
Right, whereas my pieces will have sections that are four-part scored and then they’ll just drop into a single line with lyrics over it or something to remind us where we are.
Carl King: I’m very curious, also, about the sort of performance art aspect, because you guys, from the previous band and this band, have a mystique onstage. Costumes, sort of-
Free Salamander Exhibit: That’s “mistake”.
Carl King: Mistakes, lots of mistakes. Can you talk about that? What that is like, and how you view-
Free Salamander Exhibit: I just really can’t hit the stage without a steak. I need to have one, preferably raw.
You don’t want to be around this motherfucker when he doesn’t get a steak, because I’m telling you something, man. Yeah, there have been some blowups on this tour specifically where we couldn’t find any steak.
It seems like you should address that [crosstalk 00:15:16] that was an early …
… aspect of all the groups that you’ve-
Carl King: You guys could just walk onstage in regular clothes and boring lighting and just play the music, but you don’t.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Right, yeah. Let’s see, why is it that way? I know that for me it just feels right in hitting the stage to be in some kind of character, as it were. To not be presenting it as if it was a collection of individual people bringing their personalities to the stage, which of course it inevitably is actually, but to try and present a theatrical experience where the audience has to be in a state of trying to figure out how much of this is characters that are presented, where the line is between the act and the everyday personality, and there’s not … For the most part, the material is not … the music, the lyrics, all throughout these various groups, in particular these groups, is not personal material. It’s not songs about details of my love life or something, you know?
Now, clearly, biographical elements are influential and it does reflect strong feelings that we have about things, about the world, but it’s not about my own biography. So it’s not important to portray myself as who I might be offstage.
I’ll also add that any show that you go see is a theatrical performance. It’s just, you know, there’s lights, there’s a stage. It’s this presentation and you might as well hack into that to a way that you’re on top of it, controlling it, rather than just kind of saying, “Oh, we’re just these guys playing this song.” Yeah, there’s no reason not to capitalize on that aspect because it’s inescapable.
Carl King: But it’s also not a rock star thing you guys are doing, because you could … other bands like maybe Steve Vai will go onstage and be like, “Here’s my theatrical show making me just look cool.” You guys are-
Free Salamander Exhibit: None of us are cool enough so we had to come up with something else.
Carl King: Right, but it’s not about making you guys look cool, it’s about fusing the … being creative with visuals and music.
Free Salamander Exhibit: We have deliberately downplayed the individual.
Carl King: Okay.
Free Salamander Exhibit: You’ve seen our most recent band picture, I imagine.
Carl King: That, I’m not sure.
Free Salamander Exhibit: It looks like five mummies hanging from a tree.
Carl King: Oh, yes, I did see it.
Free Salamander Exhibit: It’s impossible to tell who’s who.
Carl King: But what makes you specifically-
Free Salamander Exhibit: Actually I’ve asked many people, “Guess which one’s me.” They’ll always get it. They’ll always get it.
Carl King: Really?
Free Salamander Exhibit: It’s weird.
I guess if I were going to do that test, I’d have to know which one was me first. I’m not sure I do.
Carl King: But why specifically do you try to downplay the individual? Is there something behind that? Is that an intention?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Well, I think part of it is as simple as the belief that the whole reason to have a band is because the sum of the parts is greater than any of the individual parts, and we are orchestration junkies. We say, “Why have a single instrument play a melody when you can break it up and tag team it between three different instruments? Why do it with one instrument when you can spread it over a whole bunch of instruments?” And I think that that principle sort of goes for the persona of the people.
Carl King: Yeah, and so why can’t every instrument be interesting, instead of just a soloist with a backing band, kind of thing?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, that is definitely part of our philosophy of music.
Carl King: Yeah, and so you all consider yourselves equals in the bad? Democratic type of thing?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yes, yeah.
Pretty democratic situation.
And one of the reasons that it works is that we have a kind of … a leader hat that gets passed around, so it’s not always everybody voting. We’re not voting. We hardly ever vote. There’s usually someone who sort of is in charge of a certain kind of decision of certain kinds of … It’s someone who has started the song and has the vision for it. Even though everyone else is free to have lots of ideas, that one person will kind of shepherd the song along, or we’re working-
Or somebody else will come in and say, “Oh, about this song,” which we’ve been doing for a while, “I’ve got a new idea about a way to approach this section or [crosstalk 00:20:37]-“
Or we’re working on the packaging for a new album and Nils typically is the one who’s spearheading that, and other people have opinions, but Nils is kind of the guy.
People take initiative where-
Or we’re working on our new bus and I’m pretty much doing that.
Carl King: Exactly, so-
Free Salamander Exhibit: People can have ideas but we’re not like … we don’t sort of vote.
In fact, we can hardly pull Dan away from working on the bus to come over here and talk to us.
Carl King: And so I notice that Drew seems to be the one doing a lot of social media.
Free Salamander Exhibit: The interface, and in general all forms of interface with the world, these days seem to be going through Drew.
Drew: Yeah, I seem to be the only one who’s actually on social media, so that works, or, you know, I have some minimal sort of web development skills, so I built the website. So I think it all kind of just divides up by who’s good at doing what, and everyone here is so very agreeable and ego-free that it all just works out great. Except when there is not enough steak, and then there are fights.
Carl King: Yeah, that’s a great answer. I was very curious about how you divide up the tasks outside, and I like the idea of the leader hat being passed around in the group for various things. I heard years ago that Mr. Bungle, the person who wrote the song would be responsible for bringing the song to the band and rehearsing it, and then they would kind of be in charge of that song, sort of, and everyone else would get behind it and play it, something like that.
Free Salamander Exhibit: For many years I was a recording engineer and producer, and so I worked with a lot of bands in the recording studio, and I’ve seen bands that I thought frankly really shot themselves in the foot with too much democracy.
Carl King: Oh, I thought you were going to say the opposite.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Right, no, I wasn’t. Where I felt like there were songs that were the brainchild of a particular person and everybody had equal say in how that song was going, and I feel like often they diluted the power of the song, so I’m fully in favor of a single person having a sort of a primacy for a single piece of music.
I’ve heard some bands refer to this type of arrangement as the rotating dictatorship where each person gets a turn to … each person has a song or ideas for a song. They bring it in and it’s pretty much their brainchild and it might be modified in the course of working on it. That’s probably most true of Nils’s pieces, but … So there are different ways of being democratic. We each get out turn to exercise our … flex our compositional muscles with our pieces, but I wanted to also just add that compositionally, we’re all completely open to, and encouraging of everyone to write music for the band, but I think there’s no question that for anyone who sees us live, that Nils has a certain charisma and a rapport with the audience, and so that Nils, to my mind, does stand out … not necessarily the leader compositionally in the band. Certainly one of the strong forces, but almost a personality of the band in our live shows.
The rest of us don’t do much talking with the audience, and Nils is really good at that.
Nils: Sometimes I do a lot of the talking.
Sometimes he does, but-
Nils: One night in particular we had several string breakages.
Sometimes his jaw falls open and out it comes.
Right, and Nils has a theatrical background which has served really well in that regard, and so I enjoy that and I find myself back there behind the drum set when Nils is rambling on … it’s hard for me not to crack up. I’m just enjoying it so much, because of Nils’s natural sort of flamboyant personality. The combination of Dave’s … I think you already talked about it. Dave always writes instrumentals and we’ve now been with two of them, Nils has put vocals on them so that allows us to keep from having too many instrumentals in our set. It also allows Nils to sing a higher percentage of songs than he writes, which I think is also good for the general balance of our product.
But yeah, because of my penchant for storytelling at the shows, the audience might get a different impression of what the band dynamic in the whole sort of writing and rehearsal process is like. They might get the idea that I’m somehow directing this whole thing, which is not the case and in the actual rehearsal process, it’s very much everybody’s … it’s not like my band.
Carl King: So I have not seen this group play yet. I’ve heard the records, but I’m going to base this sort of next topic on my experience of Sleepytime, and what I always found when I would go to a Sleepytime performance is that there was a different dynamic of, that you were inviting the audience into your world instead of begging to be a part of the audience’s world. Does that make any sense to you?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Interesting.
Carl King: Or, is intentional?
Free Salamander Exhibit: That makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know about intentionality, but that, as a former Sleepytime fan who went to a bunch of the shows, yeah, I think that that makes a lot of sense.
This may be interpreting it somewhat differently than you meant it, but we are making a kind of music that is not very common, and a lot of people who might think they would like to make music like this but don’t, would say, “Well, it’s because people just don’t … There’s no market for it. People don’t get it.” And our position has been, “Well, let’s make the music we want to make, and through patience and perseverance, let’s invite the audience to come over to our side.” We don’t have to bend our music to be what we think the audience will understand or like. We can just patiently sort of invite them to come over and come to appreciate-
Yeah, through these other elements, through these theatrical elements, through costume and storytelling, make it a welcome thing rather than purely off putting, jarring dissonance, or this sort of …
And it is music that, for a lot of people, requires multiple listenings before they find their way into it. So, we would like to invite them … We would like to find a way to make those multiple listenings fun and painless.
Our music might be a bit intimidating sometimes, but we’re all very approachable people, and I hope that we put across an impression of welcoming as we’re performing and inviting.
Carl King: Yeah, and when the show would start to begin, you weren’t quite sure the show was beginning because you guys would be walking in with incense and starting to surround the audience with this aura, and-
Free Salamander Exhibit: Right. We’ve been doing processions in … in various ways for a long time, and it just feels … that just feels right and natural to me as a way to sort of initiate things by moving through the audience itself, so you’re not just … have that immediate barrier, a stage, audience, but yeah, we’re coming out of the audience and why don’t you come along?
Carl King: Yeah, it was never a feeling of … and maybe you do say this occasionally, but the whole, “How are you guys doing tonight? All right.”
Free Salamander Exhibit: Right. The familiar tropes of rock and roll, yeah. We’re definitely trying to buck that, and one of the ways of doing that is to keep people guessing. Keep the bastards guessing, I always say.
Carl King: Yeah, and it makes … Whatever you guys are doing, when you’re in the audience, you’re like, “What is happening?” The whole time, you’re like, “What’s going on?”
Free Salamander Exhibit: Right. “Was that intentional or …”
Carl King: So it makes you curious while you’re watching, what’s going to happen next and what is happening and what am I seeing?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah, I’ve heard of … You know, during the string break songs that we have to just kind of, “Look over here, everyone. Somebody broke a string.” But we have to keep the entertainment a-flowing, of course, and then after that, talking to people at the end of the show, I’ve heard so many times, “What was that one song you guys … That’s a new song or something?” [inaudible 00:30:21] “Wait, no, dude. We just came up with that because we broke a string.” So it’s working, definitely, the seamlessness, string breakage kind of distraction act. It’s just like an invitation to get loose.
I’ll add that last night when we were performing during a string break, I wasn’t aware that it was a string break because I was so enthralled with Nils’s story and I finally realized right before we started the next song that it was due to a string break that we had that verbal interlude.
Yeah, I like to have a character that often is there for me at the outset of sort of the initial beginning of the show and the adrenaline rush of getting things off the ground. A lot of my initial talking to the audience is very wasted, very … like I might be really out of control on a lot of drugs or quite drunk or something like … I like to get people guessing as to my mental health right out the gate.
Carl King: But there’s sometimes-
Free Salamander Exhibit: “Wait a minute, is this guy out of control? Is this show going to fall apart?” Then that pulls them in further because they have to figure out, “What is going on? Is this going to-”
Carl King: I remember this strange voice you would use sometimes [inaudible 00:31:59] … I don’t even know how to do it but it was … but it makes you wonder, “Is he really like that? Is that how he talks?”
Free Salamander Exhibit: Exactly, and so you have to guess, and just all these sort of elements of using the room in some way. We do it to varying degrees, but I always like to have elements that break that third wall, that have part of a show. The most we ever did that was back in Idiot Flesh, when we were little more than teenagers, and were, in the way teenagers are, sort of collectively living with, in and around groups of people that are on the periphery, and like, “Why don’t you guys come in wearing that on your head and beating a drum at the far corner of the room at this moment?” So to break the wall and keep people off kilter, because there’s … Well there is the show going on here, but it might go on behind me. Is that supposed to be happening? Did that guy just start doing something? That’s annoying. Or wait, oh no, it’s intentional. So it just makes people more awake during the show, more not fall into the sort of fall asleep of, “Yeah, all right, we’re here, Houston.”
Carl King: Mike Stone has submitted a question. He says, “I would like to know if they have any theories about why so much Jerry on the creative music down the San Francisco/Oakland area?” Any thoughts on that?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Not sure what that means.
Is he referencing Jerry Garcia?
We don’t understand the question, Jerry.
We don’t care too much for Jerry. I think I can speak for the band, so-
I don’t have anything against Jerry.
Right, I don’t have anything against him either. I just don’t think that he’s-
It doesn’t necessarily figure into our-
I think it’s got to be a typo. To ask a question of us that centers on Jerry Garcia would be ridiculous, so I think we should just … Let’s just forget about that question.
Carl King: The next question is about Jerry Garcia actually. No, it says-
Free Salamander Exhibit: What color was Jerry Garcia’s-
Carl King: He would like to know how you settled upon the band name.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Well, the Free Salamander Exhibit band name appears on the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum Grand Opening and Closing album in the liner notes, there’s a photo prominently displayed in there of the Free Salamander Exhibit of 1916 which was essentially a bake sale undertaken by-
Carl King: Seems like a good name for a bake sale.
Free Salamander Exhibit: … a group of sort of … a mixed group of American and European writer-artists who had taken over a publishing warehouse, a defunct publishing warehouse in I believe it was New York, and had had an intentional fire that they advertised as the Free Salamander Exhibit. When people got there, there was a fire and they sold baked goods. So that was, yeah, a long time ago and it’s not anybody that I ever met, but … In fact I can’t find a whole lot of information about that organization, so it’s tied in to the … it was an event put forth by the Sleepytime Gorilla Press in 1916, and I was just charmed by the unlikely combination of words and could go into various reasons that the salamander in particular is charming. That might be a long winded answer if I get in too far to the salamander.
Was the idea of the exhibit part of that or was that something that came about, the exhibit aspect?
Right, well that was … the exhibit being … the four of the five of us were in Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, but rather than holding onto that name with the shift from Carla and Mathias, but in particular Carla being a founding member of Sleepytime, I thought having her not in the band, it would feel like sort of a Pink Floyd move to have such a foregrounded sort of character as far as the stage persona of the band not be in the group and still call it that, but the Free Salamander Exhibit, I thought because it was already in the material, it was already in the Sleepytime literature, and is somewhat similar to … it’s a three-word name, it’s an exhibit instead of a museum, but I thought for those that are paying attention, they might immediately recognize it as, “Oh, this must be those folks. I liked that one song they did back … I like that song about cheese that they wrote.”
Carl King: That song about partying.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Yeah. “I like partying. I’ll go see this band again if it’s some of them. They must be some real partiers, particularly that grape peeling fellow.”
Carl King: Do the members of this group consider themselves mystics or mystical? Spiritual?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Well that would vary from person to person, but in that we are … I don’t think anyone in the group is seeking a-
Carl King: Dictatorship?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Well, a dissolution of self into the … which I think the mystical path in some sense implies that you’re going to be overcoming yourself, sort of subsuming yourself into the greater oneness of the universe, I don’t think that’s the particular spiritual path of anyone in the ensemble. So without trying to speak for everyone, I would say … but there may be other connotations of mystical that are meant by that. But when I hear mystical, I think of a sort of an overcoming of individuality in the face of the all, and … yeah. I have sort of a different feeling about the spiritual aspects of this path.
Carl King: How is the bus functioning that I bought for you recently?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Great.
Really well. Totally functional. The challenges are that it’s not completely set up. We’ve got a pretty nice kitchen and eating situation.
Oh yeah, we haven’t eaten out on this tour. We’ve just been cooking away on our little stove in there and washing our dishes.
Carl King: No Applebee’s takeout?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Nope, nope.
No diner food.
Not once on this tour actually. We didn’t discuss that as a police.
The only times we’ve eaten food other than what we cooked ourselves is when the … sometimes the venues will feed us.
Or the promoter will.
There have been a couple of really generous fans who had us over to their house and made us some delicious food.
Smoked mac and cheese.
Carl King: Wow.
Free Salamander Exhibit: Thanks, Cheryl.
Yeah, thanks, Cheryl. Thanks to Nick and Anya in Indianapolis for the borscht. The traditional borscht, I might add. This is not the first time that we’ve had borscht in Indianapolis.
Carl King: I was amazed by that campaign to fund the bus. What was that like for you to experience everyone coming together and making that happen?
Free Salamander Exhibit: We didn’t. Drew made it happen all by himself.
Carl King: Thank you, Drew.
Drew: Yeah, it was pretty amazing and I’m very, very grateful to everyone who contributed to this thing. There’s a long bus story that involved trying to get the old Sleepytime bus up and running and …
Carl King: Just grab that mic?
Drew: Oh yeah, I’d be happy to. I was enjoying you holding it for me. It’s a rock star kind of move. Yeah, so we had sort of tried to get the old bus up and running and just was not … weren’t able to make it happen. Really wanted to get something new, and so we started kind of looking at … Dan and I mostly did a lot of talking looking at some options, and I thought, “Well hey, why don’t we … People like this band. Why don’t we ask people, maybe they can kick in some. Maybe we can get a couple grand and just get something that’s going to be closer to running than what we can afford right now.” People really, really stepped up and it was amazing and I certainly was dangling as a carrot this idea of, “Hey, if we make more than X amount of money, we’ll have some stuff to throw towards all of this unfinished business of Sleepytime and Idiot Flesh,” and yeah, apparently that was the right manipulative tactic to use, because I feel I really, really … I didn’t sucker anybody. I was going to say I suckered people, but no, we made some extra money. We’re going to definitely put it towards those products and this bus has been a fantastic thing for us. So yeah, it’s been great. Thanks, everybody. You’re the best.
Yeah, I’m blown away. I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did. We’ve had thoughts of doing some kind of fundraising campaign like this for quite a while since the dissolution of Sleepytime and then realized, “Wait a minute, if we’re not playing live then we don’t have a budget to finish all these projects that we wanted to do.” And we’d just been intimidated. We had a friend who was going to maybe take on such a campaign and we had meetings about it and what we could offer and how much do we need? We’ve been through that a couple of times and just never got it off the ground because no one in the group, until Drew came along … no one in the group was … we were intimidated by the notion of trying to run such a campaign.
Aside from Drew, the rest of us aren’t particularly social media savvy. I mean, to generalize.
Yeah, so it all seemed kind of foreign, and how does it work? And yes, we should do it, but how? So it’s been going on for years, and then I almost … the thing was up and running before I even … Drew was like, “Yeah, well we should have like a … So I already did it and there’s the website.” I was like, “Really? What?” And then a short while, “And it worked out and we got the funds and let’s get the bus.” It was like, “Oh really? It’s just that easy?” That’s how the world is now. So the world is a much better place now than I thought it was. I thought the world is a terrible place now. I thought it was better in the ’90s, but it turns out I was wrong.
Carl King: I’m going to check Facebook because I asked for people to submit some questions in case anybody does here. Let’s see what happens, and then I have one final question of my own.
Free Salamander Exhibit: All right.
Carl King: Marina Organ asks, “Are you still haunted by banana slugs?”
Free Salamander Exhibit: Of course we are, Marina.
Carl King: I have one last question myself. From my own point of view, what you guys are doing seems to be miraculous or almost … it seems like a miracle to be able to put five people together and play this type of music. Is it seen that way for you? Playing this difficult of music, this challenging of music? What is that like?
Free Salamander Exhibit: I fairly regularly am amazed that there are people out there who like this music, and I can very easily tap into my 17-year-old self who can hardly imagine getting more than a dozen of my friends to listen to the songs that I’m working on, and so yeah, fairly regularly I’m just blown away that it’s been a good chunk of a lifetime now of this. It’s been going on for longer than I can remember, and that we all have sort of found each other and that we have the complementary skills to live together in a bus for a little chunk of time and go out and bring it from town to town. All the different things that that takes, and having had various combinations of personalities, I feel like this combination feels very functional. It feels like we could do this.
This tour we’re doing right now being at just two and a half weeks or so, not a long one, but the longest one that this group has done, really our first venture off of the West Coast, but yeah, every now and then I’m struck by this … “Gee, we’re playing this crazy stuff and there’s some people in Indianapolis that care.” I’m amazed. But then, I see developments going on in music all over the place, like younger bands coming along or some of the folks that inspired us that are still going and that they have audiences and that’s … So it’s very hopeful, I think, artistically. There’s a lot of amazing music going on out there, and so I don’t feel like we’re doing this in some kind of vacuum of sort of taking rock music and making a sort of challenging art music out of … with the bones of rock music. I think it’s going on in different ways, in different genres, but there’s a lot of ambition out there in the states and in the rest of the world also.
And keep discovering things, like from the ’70s or ’60s that were going on in France or somewhere, like, “Oh man, they were getting completely crazy and dedicated to this impossible thing.” And thanks to recorded media-
Like The Stretchheads.
Carl King: But is it difficult for you guys to do this?
Free Salamander Exhibit: I would say it is difficult, and as we get older, for me it gets more difficult. It gets more difficult to live on tour without sleep. It gets more difficult to leave our families, who are dependent on us for daily … our daily part in being a part of our families, so that puts a strain on all the members of our families. If I was simply doing what was easiest for my family, I wouldn’t do it at all.
Carl King: Wow.
Free Salamander Exhibit: It requires some sacrifice on the part of at least my family.
Yeah, I would say if there’s anything miraculous, it’s the fact that, at our age, we’re doing this in a functional way, that we’re compatible, we get along well, we have a similar work ethic and that our home situations allow us to occasionally go out and make music and bring it to people rather than the type of music that we’re making. I think that the miraculous part is that we’re doing it and we’re enjoying it and it seems to work well.
Yeah, that’s something that stood out when we went to Europe, say, with Sleepytime. One of the things that had … when we went to the festival in France, the Rock in Opposition Festival that Salamander will be doing next year in Europe, one of the things that had us really stand out is that, at the time, we were a regular touring road machine and we had a show and we were … There’s a certain level of performance that you can only get to by playing every night, and almost all the other bands in that festival were projects that had gotten up their act for that festival alone and would not play again til the next festival that could support them and provide an audience for this kind of music, whereas we … and they were amazed at how you can do this in America. You can drive around and tour with this kind of music.
I think we will go and play in Memphis for a dozen people as we did on this tour a week ago, and just sort of the pounding the road and not having to … and I think that at a very sort of early level, it hurts a lot of … Not hurts, but it confines musicians to their home base, to their comfort place by not being of the sort of disposition that allows them to just sort of take a leap of faith and get a vehicle, get a van, jump in and drive for a day and go play for a handful of people who may or may not be interested.
Those aspects of touring that you have to sort of accept, the discomfort and the ignoramus circumstances that you might find yourself in, but we’ve sort of, from the get go, we sort of agreed that that was something we enjoyed, the process itself, and we’re willing to take the risks to do it for-
Suffer the indignities.
Yeah, for a kind of music that may not sell big numbers out there. We were never doing it to get rich, and just were aware that we’re going to have to deal with that.
Yeah, I wanted to speak sort of maybe directly to what I thought your question was, about the actual process of getting the music together. I came into this band after a long time of really not playing guitar very much, and it took me like a year to learn these tunes even at a basic level of adequacy. So I was going to have an anti-miracle argument, but maybe the somewhat miraculous thing is being with a group of people who are willing to work on, say, a five to ten second passage of music for four or five hours in a rehearsal, and that’s not an exaggeration, you know? We’re willing to take on very, very difficult music and just pound away at it until we can do it, and that’s kind of miraculous because I think a lot of people would probably just tear out their hair and say, “Fuck it. This isn’t worth it.” But I think we all think it’s worth it and I think that we are willing to put in whatever ridiculous amount of work it takes. And yeah, so maybe that’s kind of miraculous.
Carl King: All right, well, thank you for doing this and would you like to play us out with another lullaby?
Free Salamander Exhibit: Sure, yeah, yeah. It’s been a pleasure. Been a pleasure sitting under these beautiful California live oak trees-
This is a lovely oak tree.
Great to be back here, this most home-like of places for me. If I had to pick a single favorite tree, it would be the California live oak.
Carl King: Bye.