Scott Grimm, for the uninformed, is the ex-bassist of the Mike Gunn. Having forsaken the outside world whenever possible Scott has found an outlet via his home computer as The Dunlavy to express his musical ideas. Since getting him out of the house was impossible the following interview was done via e-mail. What you think the Howard Hughes of Houston is gonna get off his duff for us?
WG: In one interview you said that (paraphrase) what you hated about being in a band was you would have an idea in your head and by the time the band got a hold of it it was totally different. I tend to go by the view that having some Platonic ideal of what a song is and then trying to achieve it will inevitably fail to live up to that ideal. Secondly, many times if one is open to it the unexpected (mistakes or other outside influences) can actually drive you into interesting territory you'd never expected. How do you allow for indeterminacy in a closed environment of a solo studio?
SG: I've never denied that my music would be better (much, much better) if I was working within the context of a band, or at least with one or two other people. While it's true that the Mike Gunn butchered some of my better ideas, I always thought that John added a great deal to anything he played on. He was (and is) capable of making the stupidest riff at least sound musical, and it was nice to know you could throw something vague and unformed at him and he could turn it into a song. On the other hand, the Mike Gunn was always a rock band, so no matter what you wanted to do, it would turn into a rock song. But the reason I quit really didn't have much to do with music. In fact, I think that the last couple of songs we did ("Holger", "Clean") were among the best. It just came down to the fact that I hated leaving my house so much. I love being able to wake up, lay down a few tracks, eat breakfast, play around with the drums, walk the dog, etc. I hated having to go to the practice space every Thursday. "It is 7:00, Thursday. Now I will make music." It was unnatural.
You know, the thing is, I'm way too inept to be able to improvise in any kind of live setting, so I actually improvise now more than I ever did. Of course, the great thing about being so inept is that I can never play the same thing twice, so chaos is an integral part of my playing style. There are songs that I map out, and I know pretty much everything I'm going to do before I do it, and you know, you're right: those songs never even come close to what I hear in my head, and I always end up hating them. At least with another person playing, there would be some kind of distraction. But I also do a lot of stuff where I just start recording and hope for the best, and I actually like those songs. There's very little that's pre-determined about them, and I'll hear stuff that I don't even remember playing at all.
The Mike Gunn had a pretty similar approach. We would use a chart so that we would know which part to play next, but within the song there would be parts where we would play whatever (I believe it's called "jamming"). 99% of the time, though, we would be studiously ignoring each other, so, really, what was the point? For that matter, what's the point of this little aside? I don't know, other than maybe the idea that having other people to play with can be bad just as easily as it can be good, and why take the chance if you don't even have to leave your house? Hell, man, if you want indeterminacy, just hook up a couple distortion boxes and wah-wah pedals. There's no telling what sound you're going to get.
By the way, I thought of (or maybe stole, although I can't remember seeing it anywhere) an interesting metaphor for making music alone, instead of with a band. It's like painting with only one color. You can do a lot with red, and there are an infinite variety of shades of red, but you've still only got red, and you'll never quite achieve the impact you would with the full spectrum. Here's another metaphor: it's like writing with a limited vocabulary- ah, you get the idea.
Seriously, one of my goals is to get Jim Otterson into using his computer to record with, and then we can exchange data over the Internet, and I can work with him and still never have to leave my house. Have you figured out yet that never leaving my house is one of my big goals in life?
WG: One of the reasons you left the Mike Gunn was playing live shows. I know that Project Grimm (John Cramer's new band) plays more than any band I know in Houston which I guess was what John always wanted to do but totally at odds with your feelings. While playing live does help tighten a band up, I find it to be the least satisfying part of being a band since it takes away time from the creative process. I go by the old idea that once a song is written it is dead. Once you are ready for a show the song's main structure is done and you have a set road map as to what is going to happen. Secondly, since you have to practice these completed songs there is no time to just mess around and create new stuff (via jamming) thus making practice mechanical. What is the point of creating music and where does playing live fit into this scheme?
SG: There's that famous rock cliche that recording is like masturbating, and playing live is like having sex. Well, I agree with the recording part, but I always thought that playing live was more like masturbating in public. Sure, I can see the appeal, but... Really, playing live is, at best, a sporting event. You're watching these guys and waiting for something amazing to happen, something you've never seen or heard before, and usually it doesn't happen. You may not know the exact ending, but you've got a pretty good idea. This can still be a valid experience; you can dance around, "mosh" (as the kids say), fall into a catatonic dream state or whatever it is you do, but you can do all that to an aerobics tape and never have to leave the house. At worst, playing live means money. Money to pay for equipment, practice spaces, recording, etc., but money just the same.
You know what? Live music sucks. The sound is always bad (there's always that one guy who's too damn loud), there's so much smoke you can't breathe, that drunken imbecile decides you're his new best friend, it's always way too late, and who cares, really? When Linus played at Sound Exchange, I kept getting jostled out of the way by people shopping, for Christ's sake. No one gives a shit about music. People just go to hang out, because they've got nothing better to do with their pathetic, miserable little lives.
I hated that whole fucking experience of getting up on a stage and looking out at the three or four wretched rejects who would show up to see the Mike Gunn because they had nothing better to do. Can you imagine having nothing better to do than seeing the Mike Gunn? It boggles the mind. I remember when we played in Dallas with Lithium Christmas, and nobody watched us. Nobody! The fucking sound man got up and left! And we wouldn't stop playing! What did we think, that maybe if we played a good enough song, the sound man might come back? And those shows in Austin! God, I hate those people. What a tremendously depressing waste of time and energy.
Honestly, when we played live, most of the time I was just in a constant state of humiliation. "Hey, look at me, I'm retarded!" Man, I should have just pulled my pants down and been done with it. It would have been far more entertaining. You know damn well that the only people who are paying attention at all are going, "Hey, my band's better than these idiots." And the worst part is, they're probably right.
Anyway, as far as what purpose music serves, for me, it's just a hobby. It is an incredibly important part of my life, but it is something that I do only for myself, which is why I consider it a hobby. I feel more of a kinship with the guy who has that amazingly elaborate train set in his garage than I do with some idiot pursuing a "career" in rock music. I don't give a damn if anyone listens. I'm not creating art, I don't have a unique vision, and I'm not trying to connect with anyone. I enjoy the process of recording music, music that I know I'll also enjoy lying on my couch and listening to. That's it. I have absolutely no desire to work really hard to gain a wider audience. Fuck 'em. In fact, I have absolutely no desire to work really hard, period. While I am very happy that September Gurls is interested in releasing my stuff, I'm even happier that I don't have to do any work other than mailing the DAT and the artwork to them. Very, very happy. That whole Worship Guitars, "hey, let's get together and do a thousand inserts for our new CD" thing is for the birds. No offense. You know, I respect it and all, I just don't want to actually have to do it.
WG: Well, you kinda railed on the Live thing a bit more than you discussed the creative side of music. I mean when you (or the general abstract musician) try to come up with a completed piece do you think there is something beyond just simple entertainment that is happening? I mean I love bad Michael Moorcock sci-fi but it doesn't take an idiot to see that something like oh say "Frankenstein" has much more depth. I love crap like "Independence Day" but obviously a film like say "Aguirre" go so much farther. It almost seems that Music has been reduced to so much pathetic entertainment (ala MTV/VH1) that it has been robbed of any of its depth. When crap like say Joan Osbourne or Alanis Morisette are discussed in rags as deep statements......I mean what the fuck does that tell you music has come to? or discussion of music to be more precise? Which brings up, something. When I read a review about music its always a lot of lyrics being quoted. What is your take on lyrics, their relationship to the song, and their importance in music? How do you take to the myth that a song IS ABOUT the lyrics? I wholeheartedly disagree. Do you recall the whole child abuse pop song thing? 10,000 Maniacs and Suzanne Vega had these pop hits in major keys and 1-4-5 progressions and they were about kids getting smacked. I mean when some frat guy was singing those songs was he going "Oh, yea child abuse is bad." No, they were getting fucked up and cracking Coors light cans on their heads. My take on the whole thing is lyrics are totally separate from the actual experience of interacting with a song and are at best a conceit of the songwriter which is why folk music is so fucking dismal!
SG: I subscribe to the Vaughan Boone Theory of Art: It's all pure luck. Would Aguirre have been as great without Kinski? Not a chance, and if memory serves, he sort of just lucked into the role. If it were possible to always create Great Art, then everything Joseph Heller ever wrote would be as good as Catch-22. It ain't. Why? Because he got lucky once, and, unfortunately for him, only once. It is tempting to assign some kind of meaning to his one unqualified success. He was inspired. He was working out his angst and pathos over a cruel, unforgiving world. It is tempting to do this because it is easy to talk or write about, and talking or writing about art is big business. But it's all bullshit. He got lucky.
I don't know if I even believe in creativity. The coolest things seem to happen by accident, not by any kind of design. When I'm composing or recording, most of the time I'll just try as many different things as I can think of, and then I'll go with whatever I happen to like best. If I can't think of anything, I'll just haul out the effects and go from there. But I don't really have any goals as far as making music goes, and I certainly don't aspire to make Great Music.
The thing is, and I know you probably don't agree with me, I think it's all entertainment. It's really all just a matter of degree, and it's different for every person. I think Moorcock is much better than Frankenstein, man, but so what? The thing I hate about modern journalism is that everything gets reduced to a contest. Is Mudhoney better than Nirvana? Who fucking cares? There's a time to listen to Mudhoney and there's a time to listen to Nirvana. End of story. I don't think there's any distinction between Great Art and mere entertainment, buddy. The concept of Great Art is an invention of pompous, empty-headed "Fine Fucking Arts" academic-types trying desperately to justify the money college universities waste on them, and they in turn foist their worthless ideas on people who turn around and write for vapid mass-media outlets. Of course, that whole veneer of "Art" has pretty much eroded away, and I think everyone understands the only two reasons most people make "Art" these days: the at-least-understandable desire for money, or the truly pathetic desire for fame.
As far as lyrics go, all I've got to say is this: If I wanted to hear a fucking poem, I would listen to a fucking poet. Now, this is just me, but I never really "got" poetry. It all sounds like Rod McKuen to me ("I am a sad fish... so sad. So very, very sad. Sad sad sad sad sad."). The only reason I still have vocals in my music is that I still wind up writing riffs that need the sound of a voice to make them complete. I have no message. I neither need nor want a message. As far as the myth that lyrics ARE the song, or even the idea that they're as important as the music, it certainly helps explain the proliferation of shitty music.
My next e-mail to Scott attempted to clarify some of my points but all that I got was the following:
Here's everything you sent me. My reply: "I understand what you're trying to say. I just disagree." Please mention "Thaumaticron" (the upcoming CD on Fleece which is almost done) and the radio play, if you can. Thanks. Scott
I guess it was a bit too much interaction with the outside for Scott by this time.
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