JPG: And then, did you just send off a selection of ideas to Mario Caldato Jr.? How did he come into this?
MD: First, all the songs that I put up on Patreon, they were so topical. Our manager had said, “Please, please, please, please don’t put out the album until you can get on the road again.” Then, this happened, I was like, “This is an EP and it’s got to come out and it’s got to come out now.”
So, first I set the drums, just the loop and bassline. Scrap sent it back with a relatively faithful version of the bassline. Then, he would send a version that the fills were really straight. Then, one where it was really weird and then he would send me seven different tracks that are weird noises. I’d put that together. Send it to Lil Pepper. She is our drummer Madden Klass. She lives on Long Island. So, she just went down to the basement and recorded the drums, straight takes. It’s live drums. It’s not loops. Then, Logan Hanna, a guitar player in Memphis came over and sat on the far side of the room, wore a mask and I just put a cable out for her. She plugged in and recorded the guitar parts. I assembled everything then played the sampler parts. Did the vocal. Then, we just sent it to Mario to work the magic. So, this was making a real record. This wasn’t some half-assed home recording that was stretched into a thing. This is a thing.
JPG: Just to make sure. Andrew, were you playing the basslines on the cello or do you have an upright bass and you played them on that?
ASL: I did them all on cello. One of the songs I tried to do on upright bass. I haven’t actually played upright bass with Mike in many years. You can do them on upright bass but it’s not the same.
JPG: Sounds like upright bass. That’s why I asked.
MD: It was written with the upright bass on the GarageBand, the basslines were. The cello sounds…you know the Fania [Records] salsa records in the ’70s? There’s this [instrument] called a Baby Bass. It’s this weird early electronic upright bass and it’s more (demonstrates vocally with a bouncy salsa bassline versus a lower range bassline). For that, I found the cello bass akin to that. He began playing long sawed notes when he started playing cello with me and then eventually he turned into a bass player. It’s such a unique and eccentric sound. Functionally, it really is an “upright bass.”
JPG: Also, making sure on this, the three songs that encompass the EP, they were written for your Patreon.
MD: Yeah. They are up there on Patreon in cruder form.
JPG: The songs that make up the album, are those on Patreon as well?
MD: Yeah. Pretty much everything was up on Patreon. There was one thing that’s Scrap and I did at an improv gig. The bassline was improvised and the vocal was improvised and it was like, “That sounds like the last song on the record.” I turned that into what it was but everything else was in bits and pieces on the Patreon. It was very Soul Coughing in the sense that there were all these different songs. Every song had one or two good parts.
So, I grouped the 90 BPM songs together and the 120 BPM songs and the 80 BPM songs and then took all the good parts and stitched together these kind of Franken-songs. “Super Bon Bon” was written like that. “Rolling” was written like that…”Collapse.” That was a lot of that process.
JPG: What’s interesting with your lyrics is that you get into these repetitive phrases and also with numbers like “Casiotone Nation” with Soul Coughing and now “1918” with Ghost of Vroom. Is there something about you and chanting or affection for repetitiveness?
MD: The number thing, I think that comes directly from “Schoolhouse Rock!,” the influence, Bob Dorough – “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla,” “Conjunction Junction.” When I got to New York, as an 18 year old in the late ‘80s, there was a lot of great house music and techno music and they had a maximum of 12 words apiece in them. I just loved that feeling of a part evolving like a James Brown riff in the sense of it stays steady and the song evolves around it. I love that kind of pulse thing. The nature of the human voice is you can say something over and over and over again but it still is different every time; these little microscopic ways. Small changes that in the context of something that’s very transient, steady, become huge changes. That was what that was all about. Sampling. Sampled vocals. I started trying to be a sampler when I got into hip hop and failed in an interesting way.
JPG: I don’t know about failed but you could have a day where you feel that way.
MD: Failed in the best possible way.
JPG: Failing upwards and onwards. Andrew, when that happens, does that give you the idea to lock into your rhythm or do you want to take it in a different direction and start to go out there and do fills or something? What does that inspire for you?
ASL: We’re such a live thing. We both love performing a lot. One of the things about the whole time we’ve been working together is we throw each other punches because that’s just what happens. There’s a lot of songs that don’t really have a set of anything and even the ones that do I play with his voice a lot. We’ve done so much that I can’t even remember to articulate how but I know that we do question-and-answer stuff all over the place.
JPG: This EP is called “Ghost of Vroom 2.” When I first heard that, I thought, “Did I miss the first one?” Then, I started thinking that maybe you were being clever because there are two of you. Then, I read that this is your debut release but it is actually your second recording and you are just confusing people.
MD: Yeah. It was July when it was finished and the single came out in late August. So that was some pressure put on a manager, “Hey bud, guess what? (laughs) We’re putting out an EP next month.” “Ghost of Vroom 1” is complete. Cover art complete. It’s a done deal. We’re gonna have to put it out before people can get back on the road. We’ve both been working on and we have a headstart on “Ghost of Vroom 3.” So, putting out two before one that’s defensible. Putting out three before one, it’s a little untoward.
JPG: At what point did you get hold of Andrew and say, “Hey, let’s work on this,” and at what point did you decide it was done and you called your manager and said, “We need to put this out.”
MD: I send Andrew Patreon stuff, sometimes. “I want this to sound more lifelike. Can you redo this bass with the cello?” or, like he said, at the end of the tours we’ll sit down and concoct a bunch of basslines, some of which I’ve written, some of which are improvised with future songs to be written around.
I called up everybody. Started with Andrew and then saw if Lil Pep was available and then Logan Hanna, and it wasn’t complete before I went to the manager. I didn’t just throw the pie in his hand and tell him to put it in the glass case. He had ample warning. He knew we were making it.
JPG: Timeline-wise, I wondered if it would change at all because you’re sending stuff back and forth. I imagine for the album you might have sent some things back and forth but at some point you were in the studio together.
MD: The album was made entirely at Mario Caldato’s house in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. We did the basics with a drummer named Gene Coye, jazz drummer based in LA. Then, we went instrument to instrument to instrument improvising. I improvised guitar parts. We invented rules for the album, which was I was the guitar player and the sampler player and Scrap was the keyboard player as well as the cello player. So, he would put down the bass cello and then he would put down sawing parts and noisy parts. Then, he would go to the piano and then he would go to the Hammond [organ] and then he would go to some weird K-Tel keyboard that Mario had laying around and then to the clavinet.
So, we just improvised and improvised and improvised. Handed it to Mario and he chose. He didn’t do a lot of cut and paste. It was mostly like, “Of all the improvised parts in this particular section — this chorus and this verse — these are the parts that hang well together.” So, he would make those choices. Occasionally, it’d be like, “What happened to that one organ part?” and he’d put it back in, but he really was the maestro.
ASL: That was probably the most fun making of a record that I’ve ever had because every day…even the first day we made so much progress so fast that it was just one of those things that’s right. I have a belief that you hear the vibe that’s in the studio comes through the record, and it was really a discovery, fun. It was a good vibe. I can’t wait for people to hear “Ghost of Vroom 1.”
JPG: As far as the artwork for “Ghost of Vroom 2.” In the video for “1918” it looked like one of the Spy vs. Spy characters appeared in it. Even the band artwork reminds me of that. You remember them from “MAD” magazine?
MD: Sure. Well, the idea is like the plague mask. That’s what it is. It’s not Spy vs. Spy. I didn’t realize it looked like that.
JPG: I thought of those characters due to a couple spots in the “1918” video. Those are black crows on the cover of the EP?
MD: No. It’s a two-headed monster, one head is a riot cop and the other head is a plague doctor.
JPG: Was that referencing something during the 1918 influenza pandemic?
MD: The lyrical current running through it is about not just the unrest, not just the plague, but the feeling of paranoia, the feeling of disruption and the feeling of disunity. We worked with Tony Aguero, a graphic artist. I sketched out literally something — I can’t draw — it was a triangle and there was a head here with a triangle sticking out of it and a head here with a gas mask was sticking out and I was like, “Can you turn this into a real image?” He’s been doing a lot of apocalyptic looking work lately, looking like 17th century German woodcuts but about TV and gas, all of the crazy stuff. So, he turned it into a thing.
It is of the moment. That is why I wanted to get it out. I would have put it out in a day if it was physically possible.