Tossing The Ball with Dave Schools (Ten Years On)
DB- What led you to tour Europe with Jerry earlier this year?
DS- That’s something we’d always been talking about for a while. I wanted to learn how to sing harmony better and the best place for me to learn anything is on stage but maybe not necessarily in front of 10,000 people. And we wanted to write some songs and hang out. The idea originally was to do to Australia and have gigs that were a couple of days apart. And then, even if it took two days to drive to the next city which it generally will in Australia, we would be able to stop in some little bar and play or just stop at some hostel and sit in the room and write a couple of songs.
It just worked out that we could go to Europe in the timeframe and do it and it was easy. He already had a couple of gigs booked and we got in touch with the promoters and they were like, "Sure, you and Dave, whatever, bring it on." So we did manage to write a couple of songs and we had some great experiences. We played in smoky little dives to respectful German audiences, we did a gig in Paris, a gig in Amsterdam, a couple gigs in Switzerland and we had a great time. And we were able to get out of there before the US invaded Iraq so we were happy.
DB- Do you have any plans for the music you wrote together?
DS- He’s been playing a couple of them. I’ve seen him play one by himself opening up for us and I know the Jackmormons have played both of them. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to do it again and write some more songs. I’d really like to put a supergroup together and maybe write a bunch of songs. Then go back to Berlin where he has some friends, some German musicians. He also has a label over there so we could hang out in Berlin and also write some songs together. It’s a whole different scene over there, it’s really cool.
DB- Whom would you pick?
DS- There is a German guy named Danny Dziuks who played on Jerry’s record called Oil which is just now available here in the states. He plays in a band whose name I can’t pronounce [Dziuks K They’re huge over there but he sat in with us one night and he’s an amazingly talented keyboard player. Since we had no drums that night it got very early Pink Floydish like "Saucerful of Secrets," "Interstellar Overdrive," kind of layering of textures and things. It was kind of a neat place to go when you’ve been doing this sort of folky thing so I would like to have him on keyboards. And this guy in Athens named Kyle Spence is basically the reincarnation of John Bonham, an unbelievable drummer. He can play like Keith Moon at the height of his prowess. He can do anything. He’s a great session guy, he’s young and full of energy and he’s the one who came to mind. That’s just a possibility. Nothing against the Jackmormons whatsoever but I know Jerry needs to delve into other mediums and it’s really good for the creative process and anything that he does on the side by himself or with other people comes back and serves the Jackmormons very well. So that’s really kind of a far out idea, and a chance to go back to Berlin and hand out.
DB- Speaking of textures, will your next Slang record have a layered approach similar to the first one?
DS- I think it’s going to be a lot deeper. The original idea of this one was to start out with a quartet. So I put together myself and Matt Abts on drums, Ray Paczowski on keyboards and Knox Chandler on guitar- he’s played with Siouxsie & the Banshees and Cindy Lauper’s’ live band, he’s a really creative guy, a great guy. We just went into Good and Evil Studios in Brooklyn and cut loose with Layng at the control board. We put in fourteen hours of jamming. That’s when the hard work really begins of sorting through all that stuff finding little pieces where the four of us really connected in an improv sense and cutting small building blocks out of those and then starting the Slang process by building arrangements, creating loops and rhythms. Sometimes we’d use me and Matt, sometimes we’d use all four of us. It was difficult for Layng because usually you find a drum loop and build it from there pretty easily but this was different, with a kind of Bitches Brew feel for things. We sliced and diced but once we had these song forms built we’d bring in people like Eric McFadden who has been playing guitar with P-funk- he’s great on acoustic flamenco guitar and he’s all over the first record . Jay Rodriguez from Groove Collective came in and basically became this whole horn section. Hopefully Vic Chesnutt add vocals. Lori Carson is doing a lot of vocals too.
DB- She was on a couple tracks on first Slang disc, right?
DS- She was. This time I asked her to write a torch song for me. I had this torch song blues thing and I told he to write something that would make a high school football coach cry and she did. She’s got some great vocals on this.
Another cool things is I asked DJ logic if he wanted to participate. We were thinking maybe we’d get him scratching on four or five tracks but he did about eighteen them in four hours, it was amazing. We went out to Brooklyn and we were all just amazed standing around watching him work. He’d find that groove and dig in and do his thing. It was great. So right now that is being translated and tracked. Layng is an extreme perfectionist and it takes a long time to get the stuff to where he feels like it’s focussed and pointed in the right direction.
DB- When will that be released?
DS- Early next year. If we had gotten it finished a week ago it would have been out before Christmas but that was a pipe dream.
DB- Given the nature of what you do, do you think that Slang would be able to play out?
DS- I think it would be cost-prohibitive to take it on tour but the record company likes the idea of doing a couple of showcase gigs when the record comes out in the kind of towns where that music is really appreciated. We could do a gig at the Knitting Factory, we could do a gig somewhere in San Francisco like at the Elbow Room, maybe one in Chicago. We have distribution in Germany and the U.K. so maybe a couple of cities over there.
DB- In some respect you would be altering the nature of what you do with Slang but there certainly are some intriguing possibilities as well.
DS- It would be tough because the things originally came out of improv jams so it’s a matter of learning the new constructs. But it could be cool because with these constructs we’d have a leaping off point. It’s not like these players can’t jam [laughs]. So I’m really excited about it and the three or four songs that are done are pretty impressive and they’re very deep and it’s definitely the next step forward. If you liked the first one you’re going to be blown away by the second one.
DB- Let’s move to Ball. What led the band to record the disc as it did, with all new material rather than songs that had been developed in the live setting?
DS- There are manifold reasons for that. First and foremost, that was the direction we had to go after dealing with loss of Mike Houser. We didn’t even have George in there for the first two weeks. We actually went in before our fall tour and we just threw down ideas. Anything was game to sort of get over the fact that Mike wasn’t there.
The second reason, following that logic, was to bring George in and let John Keane have some free reign. That way we could just go into the studio with no expectations, with all completely fresh ideas.
This also allowed us to do what we always wanted to do which was make a studio record from scratch in the studio. On every record there’s been a song or two done that way like "Surprise Valley" and "Bear’s Gone Fishin’" from Medicine. In a lot of cases we’ve found they’re our favorite tracks. So we thought why not try the whole record this way. There were a myriad of methods used in coming up with the songs and the arrangements. And then when we got down to building the songs, learning them and then going in and cutting them as a whole band it was like Mikey was there. Actually I think we all assumed a piece of Mike’s personality. When you’ve lived that closely with someone for that long, part of making sure that there’re still around forever is everybody integrates some part of his personality so it was kind of funny to watch.
But also sometimes you’d hear a phantom sound in your headphones while you were cutting a track and it would almost make you stop playing- "What was that?" I’m sure it was just a trick of the mind but it happened to everybody at some point or another.
DB- I had heard that happened but I wasn’t sure how literally to take it. I also would imagine that it must be difficult heading out on tour because even if you’ve worked through some of your own issues, there are thousands of people out there on a given night dealing with their own emotions.
DS- It’s been tough and it’s not over yet obviously. We needed to deal with that old clichnd get back on the horse. That’s what he wanted us to do and I doubt he spent much very much time thinking about what that was going to mean. But he made it perfectly clear that the train should keep rolling. There might have been things we would have done differently, it’s all hindsight. It doesn’t matter. It’s almost been a year now, the magic is starting to come back and it’s working out great. It’s tough, some of the songs of his that we felt we could so without him and still could be strong on stage, sometimes an emotion hits. You’re in the middle of playing "Ain’t Life Grand" and you get choked up. One that’s been tough on me is the song "Traveling Man" that he wrote for the record, which was the last song he wrote. He showed it to us when we were teaching George and Randall songs for the summer tour, sort of rehearsing as this big huge conglomerate. That was weird enough as it was but it was necessary and it was just a great song. We had a demo on tape that we used to work it up in the studio. When I’m playing that song sometimes it’s almost like he’s sitting on my shoulder and it kind of freaks me out.
DB- You didn’t perform "Traveling Man" until well into the spring tour. Was that a conscious or an unconscious decision?
DS- It was unconscious. I think we just decided to play the easiest ones first. We’re still working on songs that we felt we needed to keep from the old repertoire. There’s a lot going on and we need take baby steps. We love taking chances but it’s a lot easier taking chances with a jam than with a song where you didn’t even write the words and I think that had a lot to do with it.