Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Victor Krummenacher-three interviews spanning over a decade

Part One from Hartbeat magazine.
Victor. Immediately after the end of the Monks Of Doom I started doing solo stuff I had wanted to do this for a long time, I was not sure what I was going to do, but I had the songs. The first line-up was called, Mr. Krummenacher's Fifth Business. It was me, Jonathan Segel, and junked out guitarist Jason Fessel (a great and completely inconsistent player) a Japanese Zen bassist narned Shido and two different drummers: first Ben James then later Joe Byrnes, who went on to be in Tarnation briefly. We were an awkward lot, trying to do the best we could with what we had. Played a lot of shitty clubs again I was drinking a lot too, as at this point I pretty much figured out I would do the good washed rockstar thing and try and crash my Moto Guzzi into a concrete wall while I was drunk. Despite our imperfections the band had its moments, some very strange live shows that were beautifully drunk and out of tune, but it didn’t seem to be clicking. Jonathan had started up Magnetic to but out his own music and I joined on board as soon as I
had something to put out.

I did the single which I still have about five hundred copies of in my basement and from then on we did Magnetic to document our art. It’s a strictly money losing proposition, which I’m sure you know all about.
I began work on some totally solo stuff at this time produced by Bruce Kaphan from American Music Club. I was working at a bar where Mark Eitzel, used to drink a lot. I had known Mark for awhile and given him some tape of solo stuff which he was quite encouraging about. He suggested I work with Bruce and set us up. We recorded five songs in the August and September of 94. Some of the best recordings I’ve ever done. Out In The Heat, Clean As Filth And Finesse, Not An Inch, New Mexico and As Real as your Dreams. Bruce is a monster musician.
Great pedal. steel playing, great engineering.. If I could afford to work with him on a record, I would in a second.

Bruce Kaphan

Chris Xefos and I had known each other since the Monks had toured with King Missile. He was queer he was a good bass player, he could party like a wild man and he wanted to play. About that time John Nelson turned up in San Francisco. I had known him from Poi Dog Pondering, and he was a much better drummer than I had been used to working with. Not on a par with Chris, but very good. Lots of good jazz chops. I fired Fifth Business and replaced everyone except Jason.

We christened the band A Great Laugh and started playing on Halloween eve 1994. We started recording the rest of what would become Out In The Heat in January of I995 and kept on rolling. We were playing infrequently building a little following; and people were beginning to say nice things about my writing. We were playing with people like Richard Buckner and the Loud Family, part of the circuit of intellectual singer/songwriters that I like being involved in. I had learned how to write fairly well and since I was living my death wish to the fullest degree, infinitely inspired by my great drinking buddy Denise Leitzel and a group of motorcycle riding maniacs I felt oddly fulfilled. I was a wreck, driven by crisis and the documentation of it.

My lyrics for much of this stuff came from a variety of sources. A lot of the stuff has to do with desire, sexual desire, spiritual desire. That would be "Out In The Heat and New Mexico. I was spending time going out to visit our friends Dave and Anne Costanza in Questa, New Mexico. (They're old friends who are the other halt of Dent with Jonathan and myself). I know much of this is kind of clichéd, but, New Mexico is a really transforming spot. The Southwest of the United States is where I'm from, and it's an infinitely inspiring landscape, because it's both very violent and very peaceful at the same time. The desert is extreme.
Other stuff comes from death, and getting older, and the fact that a lot of people close to me have died or significantly damaged themselves at a very young age.
That would be things like Clean as Filth and Finesse. ‘48 Or ’47 was me trying to write a song that used Emily Dickinson in it for my housemate. I write mostly just to keep from going insane, and because I love words and love to turn a phrase. I think lyrically.

Jason Fessel

A Great Laugh continued to play through 1995 and into 1996. "Out In The Heat" came out in October of 1995, and we were given some opening spots with Poi Dog Pondering through John Nelson's connection not long after that. We left on tour at the end of February 1996. We had recorded some new material... six songs, right before we left. The best stuff we never released. The tour went OK, not great, but not horrible, but featuring the best NYC show I ever played, until we got to Saint Louis. Jason had left on the road with a very out of control heroin habit. We were all doing tons of drugs, so we figured everything would be fine... we were wrong. Jason was too sick to finish the tour and had to be sent home. He was a drag at that point, and I was pissed at him and happy to see him leave. We figured we'd finish the tour as a fourpiece, as Greg Lisher had gone on tour with us. Two days later, as we were preparing to make a photograph in front of my Uncle's Krummenacher Pharmacy in St. Louis, John was nearly killed when he as hit by a car trying to cross the street. It was the end of the tour and the end of the band. Chris, Greg and I limped home, and I had a nervous breakdown.
I continued to play bass in a band called Lava, featuring Lincoln Allen and Michelle Cernuto from Tarnation, working to a degree with them to see if we could get the band signed. Not much has happened, as our management are inept. They're fun, but being in a band is not really too much what playing music is about to me. I figure at this point I've been playing with them long enough to want to document it (i.e. make a CD), but I am not interested in pursuing it much further. In order to get me on the road these days it has to fit into my schedule and you have to pay me. Music will kill you if you're not careful, and I've come close enough a couple of times. I've had a couple of drug related hospitalisations, and am not interested in doing any more.
I've learned how to make solo recordings well, for not much money. That is what I'd like to pursue doing artistically. I'll continue to work for other people playing bass as time reasonably permits, but unless there's a ton of money to be made (hahahahahaha) I'm not able to commit for long periods of time.

I've gotten a lot of feedback from people who are interested in hearing these recordings because of the presence of the ex-Monks, and a lot of people who love the last album who are interested in hearing what comes next. This is really not entirely the album I planned on being next... there is still a chunk of raw, more guitar based stuff from the last Great Laugh sessions that I'd like to either finish up or re-record. I thought that stuff would be the next batch of songs after "Out In The Heat", but circumstances (i.e. A Great Laugh wiping out) got in the way. I wrote this album at a point when I was drying out. I quit drinking and was diagnosed with panic disorder. I was going kind of crazy after a bad period of time... writing this record was kind of my mental safety net, something to do to alleviate anxiety. But for those reasons I think that it's very continuous very cogent, and stronger in its execution than the last album, so it'll be maybe a little easier to appreciate what I'm going on about because it's a little more obvious. It's more of an album, in fact the most album-like recording I've made in years. It was all written at one point, the earliest stuff was March '96, the last November '96, so it's all of a piece. "Out In The Heat" was written and recorded over the course of a couple of years.

Chris Pedersen

I had run into Chris Pedersen again after a long period of being out of communication, and he wanted to play drums, so I jumped at the chance, knowing he would make it really easy. I gave him the same tape. We rehearsed once for the studio, and that was it. We did the basics with Chris on bass and me on guitar, and for any songs I wanted to play bass on, I just overdubbed it. Basics were done in two days, April 25&26 1997.1 tried to be very natural and spontaneous as far a my own playing, but I had a really good idea of what I wanted to do both tonally and part wise as far as my playing. I'm not much of a guitarist next to David Immergluck or Greg, but I have my trip, so I just try to make it distinctive sounding. I've been singing regularly enough -for a while that I'm pretty happy about what I do. I'm not much of a belter, it’s all very subdued and controlled for the most part, but that’s what I think I do best. The natural qualities of my voice are very distinctive to begin with, it just took me a while to figure of how to use it. I wasn't very confident of it back in CVB/Monks days, and I think that the Monks records could've been very different had I been able to sing better at the time. But what can you do? I was growing up in public. Besides, everybody whose singing I love has a really weird voice. Tom Verlaine, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris... I like the fact that my voice is distinctive... I don't sound like anyone else.
Writing lyrics is always a bit of a chore for me, but the best songs always take five minutes. As long as they're real, and as long as I can deliver them in a way that seems to impart real emotion, I'm satisfied. The hardest thing with writing songs strictly to record is that lyrics aren't alive as much. If I'm playing a song live, I'll change the lyrics slightly, but frequently. Never quite the same twice. I've lived most of these lyrics in one way or another...
I just want to write good stuff. I like the fact it's personal. I just like going offon the world with songs, it keeps me from going crazy. It's the process morethan the completed product in fact. The fact that it's personal just means that I'm putting my perspective on things out there. I think I've lived hard enough that I can do that without sounding too naive anymore, that the music I make has got some soul too it. It's pretty old fashioned folk music, really. This whole CD is really about just finding faith to continue living despite the fact thatthings are disappointing. It's about redeeming ones selves to themselves through the process of enduring and being content to accept living within the confines of life's harsher realities. I finda lot of beauty in that. Accept your reality. Don't distort it, don't wax. nostalgic on it. Just take it where it takes you. When you're open to it makes life a lot more interesting.

Many people really loved "Out In The Heat" the way I hope they would, as a collection of interesting, diverse, honest songs. I do this because I like to do it. If I worried too much about it, I wouldn't get anything done. I hope people like it, it's made to make them feel better about themselves (not better about the world, just hopefully somebody will be screaming about the same things I am and we find some simpatico). I think "St. John's Mercy" will have a slightly larger audience than the last one, and who knows. Maybe somebody will actually pay for me to make the next recording. I really wish it was easier to do, and that I had more money to do it, but that's part of why I built my own studio. My recording costs went way down. There has been some great interest, and if it grows in any way that will support me making more recordings or playing more shows, I will respond."(NB: Saint John's Mercy was the hospital that John Nelson was taken to when he got hit. Loretta was the woman who witnessed the accident and prayed for him when we thought he was dead. She hung out with John and his wife Eleanor he was in hospital. She is what Saint John's Mercy is about.)

Part 2 From Bucketfull Of Brains

Way back in the mid eighties, Victor Krummenacher was bass player in and founding member of the legendary San Francisco band CamperVan Beethoven. When that uniquely wonderful band imploded with the departure of David Lowery to Cracker,Victor and fellow Campers Chris Pederson and Greg Lisher formed the majestic Monks Of Doom along with David Immergluck for a number of brilliant and brutal albums before collapsing in the early nineties.Victor then started up the Magnetic label along with his former Camper cohort Jonathan Segel and released his first classic solo album, Out In The Heat. A beautiful swirling epic collection of dark dusty laments and emotion bruising lost love songs that lift the spirits and burn like candle flames of hope in the gloom. Victor had become a major and highly literate song writing talent and his second more intimate outing St. john's Mercy effortlessly confirms this. Now with Bittersweet, possibly his finest effort yet, a recent reunion with David Lowery and a whole slew of archive material emerging into the light, the time seems right to catch up with Mr Krummenacher

So what response did you get from the last album?

Saint John's Mercy did pretty good. It sold well for me (pushing the 2,000 mark) and seemed to bolster my name a bit. Musicians have always been respectful, but I prefer it when people let you know your art has some emotional resonance for them, and that's what I really started to get after Saint John's. Response has been really strong to Bittersweet so far, and it's seemed to notch my profile up a little bit as well. Ultimately I'm in a place with many of my peers where we're 30-40 and we just make art, that's what we do. If you look around, there are a lot of talented folks in this arena. I still get the odd comment that I could be marketed like a David Gray or something, but I don't think anybody in the industry would take a risk on me at this point... I'm older than most label presidents by now.

I hear you did a Monks of Doom reunion concert to say goodbye to Chris Pederson when he went to live in Australia?
We did that Monks show in sept. of '98 and we recorded it and I put it away and didn't listen to it because I don't like to listen to old stuff. I was talking with David Immergluck recently and we discussed breaking open the vaults and putting out a covers record we had wanted to do years ago. I had to listen to the live show to try to find a version of Oh Well and Calvary (by Quicksilver Messenger Service), and despite my hope that it would be awful and I could forget about it, it was really good. And not only was it good, we have it in digital multi-track form, so we're going to be able to clean it up, mix it well and release it as a fine live testament to the band's ability. That's slated to be done by the end of the year.The first thing to come out will be the covers record, and that will be late summer or so. It's about half done, there's still a little recording to do on it.

So what was it like playing together again?
I like working with all those guys. It's nothing I want to do all the time, but they make really good music. I wouldn't rule out playing with them again. If Chris is in the US and available we may play to celebrate the release of the live album.

You've also did a CVB/Cracker tour recently. What was the thoughts behind that and how did that go?
The Travelling Apothecary Rolling Blunder and Review tours were not initially too planned out, it really kind of happened. Cracker had quit working with Bob Rupe, and were in need of a bassist for some shows, David asked me if I'd be interested, and I was. Jonathan Segel, David and I had just done the CVB is Dead recording, and it seemed like the right time. It was pretty crazy, and pretty exciting, and pretty exhausting as well, as I wound up doing a CamperVan Chadbourne tour right around the same time. It was a lot of music, but I like it when things get really busy (at least for a while). All in all I had a very good time. Many of the shows were really good, and it was confusing enough to people because it wasn't a total CVB reunion (which I thought was good). It was nice to work with the Cracker guys, good musicians, put me through the paces pretty well, good hard work.

Let's put the past back on the shelf and talk of the present.The new album is possibly your best yet. How did you approach making it?

Very carefully I sat on my hands until I knew I had enough songs. When the song Bittersweet got written (March 1999), I knew it was about time, that the collection of songs was full and strong. Saint John's was very concise and very quick. When I did it, I knew what order the songs would go in and how I was going to record it, with whom, where etc. With Bittersweet I just kind of started at one point, with a couple of demos, Rose I Found and Hands OfThe Healer, that seemed complete enough to be on the record. I mixed them and they seemed cool, had a good vibe.They were very small home recordings that seemed kind of big, and I was thinking about having a record that sounded pretty big and didn't know how I could afford it, but we'd been recording a lot at the house and when I started to mix the first batch of drums, and compared it to the recording of Rocket Fuel that we'd done at a larger studio (Tiny Telephone in SF), then I knew we'd be rocking. Lyrically, I wanted to do the dreaded "love song" album... but I had fallen in love, and had some good love songs from not so happy days sitting around, and these made the piece whole, as I wasn't interested in it being too one sided. I really did want to embrace the whole bittersweet aspect, the whole grass is always greener discontent that I'm so prone to feeling.That was the concept to the whole thing, but Bittersweet itself was the last song written.The concept kind of congealed last minute and I was able to fit things into it. But it was a good organic process. We recorded the whole record at home with the exception of Rocket Fuel and a couple of overdubs (Carla Bozulich was recorded in her living room). We borrowed a little bit of gear, but mostly Chris Xefos and I knew what we wanted and how to get it. It was really actually not too difficult to record. It was a bit piecemeal, but the results we got were very strong. The drums were recorded in my kitchen or my living room, depending on the sound we wanted. We worked hard and late, did most of the stuff with Mike Musberger (of the Posies) in about two days. It was a good time.

I notice David Alvin turns up on a few tracks.
I've known Dave Alvin since I met him in Oklahoma City in 1985 or 1986, he was on tour with the Blasters after Hollywood Fats had died and he was sitting in with a Greek rockabilly band. I had been out of touch, but I have some friends in the band Red Meat, and they knew Dave, and Jill gave me his number. He was gracious and happy to do it, and came by the house while he was in town with the Knitters. We were supposed to get together on Sunday, but he was hungover from the show, so we did it Monday morning. He was a trooper, y'know? Recording guitar at 9 am isn't the easiest thing to do, but he did fine.

Dave Alvin

So what's you favourite song and which is the most personal?
They're all pretty personal. Some more so than others, but it's all from living a life. I'm pretty happy with this record (today), so it's hard to say what's a favourite... Bittersweet for personal reasons, but y'know this CD is really good. Which feels good because I'm writing a lot right now and that's when my self-confidence is lowest.

It's fair to say that after the intimacy of St John's Mercy that the musical horizons of Bittersweet are closer once more to Out in The Heat. Was this apparent to you or was it just the way it flowed with you?
Out in the Heat was a really hard record to make, much more so than these last two, because it was my first solo thing and I only knew how to think as a band, and I had a hard time taking responsibility for things. Saint John's was really rooted in trying to exorcise a particular period of time, using writing as a positive thing. And it was a positive thing, very move forward. I was and am a little wary of elements of Out in the Heat because I was so desperate at the time, but there were really good things that happened from being spontaneous. And that's what we did with Bittersweet, to be spontaneous and edit the results, that and I had a rule on this which was, that if the part didn't absolutely need to be there we took it off, and we took off a lot of things, edited out small parts. And the strange thing that happened was that the record wound up sounding bigger... and that I think is the way to go. Out In The Heat has some expansiveness rooted in overdubs and being uptight, Bittersweet has expansiveness rooted in taking parts out and relaxing. It wasn't at all apparent that it was going to be as big sounding as it was when we were doing it, it really just flowed out of me and the musicians the way it did. It was a really easy record to make (if they're ever easy...).

You mentioned when last we spoke that there was some stuff in the can from another session after Out In The Heat, whatever happened to that stuff?

A lot of that stuff wound up on Bittersweet. I didn't use a few of the most kind of angry, desperate songs, because I just didn't feel they were right, but Angel Tattoo, Blind, Radio Tower and Rocket Fuel all date from 1995-96.I recorded them with A Great Laugh, but they never really came together well.The new versions are far superior.

I hear that you and Jonathan Segel have a band going together?
Jonathan and I have a band known as the Magnetic Motorworks, which is the ensemble that he, Greg and I do when we're opening for Cracker It's the best way to present the material by all three of us at the same time. It's not the same as me playing solo or with my band, but a pragmatic way to take care of things on the road

Have you been playing live yet with this new material?
I have a really nice live band for this material, although I haven't played out that much in town since the record came out, in part due to laziness, in part due to being busy with other things, in part due to it being expensive to pay the band and me being poor, and in part because I'm trying to play solo these days. But the band is great, with Chris Xefos, Bruce Kaphan, Steve Perrone on guitar and John Hanes on drums. We're really good

I swear I believe you Victor I really do. As to the rest of you, besides Victor's own brilliant trio of albums, there's a whole new world of musical wonderment to be found on the Magnetic roster at I suggest you investigate at your soonest opportunity and give yourselves a reason for living.

part three from Bucketfull Of Brains

So how was the response to Bittersweet?
Dave Alvin told me he thought he was the worst part of the record, which was really nice of him. The response was nice… garnered some nice critical praise. I don’t know if it was any more or less than Saint John’s Mercy, but I got a lot of response from people I admired, who’s opinions I trust, that they thought this record was really good.

Are you happy with the latest album Nocturne?
I really happy with it but it will freak people out, I am sure. It’s not really very twangy, and it’s pretty down. The chord progressions are “hard.” The playing is really stellar… the sound is great… a lot of the songs are long and slow… several songs have no real chorus to speak of, structures are weird. Some of it maybe has more to do with the Monks of Doom than any alt country stuff… so I’m really happy with it, but I don’t have a clue what people will think. It doesn’t fit into any box I know of at all. I have a really nice band that gets together from time to time… Chirs Xefos on bass, Bruce Kaphan on steel, John Hanes on drums, Steve Perrone on guitar…down to earth people who play really well together. I wish we could play more, but it’s hard. They have a unique chemistry. That’s really what much of this recording was about was getting them together in the studio and letting them go… most of the recording is live, the takes are live, edited together… not many overdubs… and the work is good. I’ve learned a lot from working with them, and definitely am not ever going to make a recording for myself where I’m not playing and singing like I do live… there’s no point not too… the energy of a group of people playing together is so palpable… I can work well all by myself, but when I’m bringing people in, I want them all there, feeding off of each other… I have come to hate the overdub, and technically any more I don’t have to worry about that much. And this band basically was the band that made me realize that after 20 years of making records that it really was the way to go… for broke…

Review of the next album

Victor Krummenacher The Cock Crows At Sunrise. Magnetic/MVD
In the few years since his last magnificent album Nocturne our Victor has been a very busy man, touring and recording constantly as bass player, not only in his beloved Camper Van Beethoven but latterly with the sister combo Cracker. After putting his solo career on the backburner for so long in the fall of last year he decided to embrace his own muse once more. Produced by long term collaborator, American Music Clubber Bruce Kaplin, The Cock Crows At Sunrise is a radical departure from the progressive Americana leanings of his previous four albums. The musical landscape it inhabits so confidently is Memphis soul and rock. Imagine Richard Thompson dipped in Tupelo Honey then add to that the unmistakable individuality of Krummenacher’s beautiful songwriting. As with the previous outing much of this album is recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs by a band that includes Kaplin, drummer John Haines, the mighty David Immergluck and the ever faithful Chris Xefos. So the playing is alive and organic with quality musicianship of the highest order. This time there’s a wonderfully effective horn section splashing colour around, some great rolling piano work from John R. Burr and the Moore Brothers delivering up some great back up vocals. At the centre of this musical melee sits Victor obviously having a wonderful time and vocally at the top of his game. The songs have all the hallmarks of what makes him an important songwriter, darkly romantic gothic country blues with the power of those soaring melody lines flickering like a candle of hope in the slow majesty unfolding. I hesitate to call this a concept album or even a song cycle because each song stands on its own, but the feel and the themes interlace throughout. The lyrics are narrative in nature, sepia evocations of times long past, dustbowl ballads of mice and men, loves lost and broken betrayals. Uplifting, passionate and quietly epic The Cock Crows At Sunrise is another classic from this hugely talented and criminally underrated songwriter and musician.

News Update 2008
The McCabe and Mrs. Miller project with Alison Faith Levy is nearly complete, only mixing and a few songs to go. Some rough mixes will be posted upon my return from Italy. Alison has contributed some beautiful vocals to this, it should be a very nice recording. Intimate and quiet.
The Patriarch's Blues was recorded in two days at Fantasy Studios in Berkely. 10 new pieces of music, mostly tracked live, featuring Jonathan Segel, Greg Lisher, David Immerglück, Doug Hilsinger, Alison Faith Levy, John Hanes, Paul Olguin and John R. Burr. At one point we had eight people recording at the same time... it was pretty insane, but the results are really energetic and full of life. Which is pretty good for a record about death. Expect copies in time for Pioneertown.
Finally for this year, it is, believe it or not, Camper Van Beethoven's 25th anniversary in June. Expect some recordings and shows to coincide with this.

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