Friday, September 07, 2007

The following interview was conducted in Bill Taft’s basement in the latter part of 2006. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, but we did the interview because I was fishing for ideas to use when writing the liner notes to go inside the Superlocalhellfreakride CD.

Chad Radford: You’ve described Superlocalhellfreakride in terms of it being like a tour of Atlanta. Can you tell me more about this?

Bill Taft: I’ve always been interested in prison literature and the idea of escape. I always liked stories about tunneling out of the Nazi prison camps when I was in middle school. Then the idea of being stuck in a neighborhood, or in a sense that I have to stay in one town as a dad, I saw my neighborhood, in some sense as being like a prison. So I thought ‘how do I tunnel out?’ And I got the idea to explore my prison, rather than just complain about it.

But also, Thoreau had his pond, and I have this city. And there’s that movie Il Postino. It’s about a guy, who wants to be a poet, but he doesn’t know how and he meets Pablo Neuruda. The guy who wants to be a poet takes Pablo’s advice and explores his own town. It’s very powerful the way he did that, so I thought there’s a way to explore my own small part of the world and discover that it is just as complex as the world itself.

So you’ve done a tour of Atlanta?

Yes, that’s the idea, to find strange or interesting places around town to play. It’s an on-going process. Places with interesting sounds, ambiance, fingerprints. I don’t know what the right term is, but some places sound better than others and the environment will affect you in subtle ways and that becomes a big part of the recording process, or the tour. When I was able to leave town on a whim, Kelly and I toured all over the country with the Jody Grind, having a great time playing music. And Smoke traveled around the country, too. We went to Texas, Seattle, New York lots of times. I also really love the idea of Lewis and Clark exploring, so the idea of going to record in the “Faster Moustache” building [R.I.P.] on Memorial is like touring. You have to pack stuff up and take supplies with you. Like a tour it gives you a transcendent experience. You rise above the mundane, and it’s very important to do that.

Did you have a Neruda-like character in your life who taught you to do this?

No, but I did read a couple of anthologies of prison literature and the idea was always that you have to find a way to write. So as a musician I have to find a way to record. And then I learned how a mini-disc recorder worked. I thought this is amazing, much better than a cassette because it’s easier to track. The mini-disc recorder became a big part of the tour. Because then we could go to a place, explore and document the results and easily organize it and archive it.

Would you describe Superlocalhellfreakride as a concept album? It is conceptual, but it’s not like The Wall or Tommy or something in the sense that there’s a story at work and repeating musical phrases and those sorts of thing…

I think the story is the process itself. The individual pieces don’t connect. What connects it all together is the process through which they were recorded. The tour idea. Field recordings.

This was all recorded with just one microphone?

Yes, well actually two microphones. Stereo mics. My original minidisk recorder just had one mic but I replaced that with a stereo mic system. It uses two little condenser mics. The philosophy is the same.

Does this come out of the idea for an album that you once told me about, called A Town Called Malice?

Oh, hey that’s a song by the Jam, “A Town Called Malice.” I first saw it scrawled in black sharpie in the Krog St. tunnel. I thought wow. That’s brilliant, like I’d discovered something. “A Town Called Malice.” I kept trying to figure it out. I’d ask people if they’d ever heard of it and no one did. Later on, at a show somewhere, this girl told me it was a Jam song and I got instantly depressed because it was no longer mysterious. I’m keeping the idea it inspired but I’m gonna have to lose the title.

Tell me about the idea it inspired?

I want to get people to write stories about a town, like an imagined history of a place. It’s not hoax and it’s not fraud, more like a surreal history of areas in the city. Things that happened there or they feel like they happened there. Historical impressionism. Is there such a thing?

Do you mean like the mutant mill boar that stalks the abandoned Whitier Mill that you talk about on your blog (

Right, when I wrote the story to tell people about the mutant mill boar that would be an example of historical impressionism.

Was there really ever a mutant mill boar?

No. I felt that there really could have been a mutant mill boar at one time.

Recently I’ve overheard people comparing Hubcap City to Smoke, which is a little strange to me. HC is the logical equivalent of Smoke, but the music is totally different. Smoke, to me, was very much rooted in this sort of outsider aesthetic. Even the documentary has the slug line “What is the sound of queer Southern blues?” The visual representation of the group seems kind of freakish, but when you listen to the music it’s very straight forward. Even the documentary seems to say, never mind Benjamin’s freakish presence, this guy is a great, honest-to-goodness songwriter. There are a few songs, like “Curtains” that contain the seed of Hubcap City, but one of the most unsettling things about the music was how straight forward and normal it was trying to be. Hubcap City is not like that. It is very experimental and the group embraces the noise aesthetic and the weirdo aesthetic. When I listen to HC I can hear Smoke, especially in your horn playing. It gives an uplifting counterpart to the more brooding elements of the music. Have you considered this?

I’ve always liked improvisation, noise, jazz, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor. I’ve always liked that kind of music and no one in Smoke did really. It was always kind of a rock group, like the Beastie Boys or something. Whereas in Hubcap City we are less into the Beastie Boys and more into the kind of music you would hear at Eyedrum, so the group takes it into more of that direction.

Do mean that Smoke was more rooted in pop culture?

No, I think both groups are rooted in pop culture, at least enough to rebel against it. Both groups took a lot of inspiration from the Destroy All Music festivals. Benjamin was a big part of Destroy All Music. But in Smoke, Ben was really interested in song form, he was always talking about Kris Kristofferson and Vic Chestnut so we kinda all needed to tighten up the sound to give him what he needed.

Tell me about the Destroy All Music festival era of the late ‘80s in Atlanta and how it affected Hubcap City.

The Destroy All Music festivals were a big deal for me. I got to see people redefining the nature of music, songs and performance. It was all kinds of noise. Sometimes it was a guy with a contact mic glued to a metal pipe. He ran the mic through an amp and it was loud and everyone left the room. Other times it was acoustic but not in a folkie way.

The big revelation for me was that a lot of the performers were from Atlanta. They were doing incredible things and they weren't from New York or LA or Berlin or Moscow. This got me thinking about what I could do, too. Like it wasn't hopeless to play music if you didn't know famous people or live in the East Village and spend your nights hanging out at shows there.

Medicine Suite and whatever Tracy Terril was doing were the big performers for me. They always tapped into this deep, primitive wail, and they had songs with lots of words. Plus, they rolled around on the floor and played a fur-covered guitar and sometimes made their own instruments like a plank of wood with pot lids bolted to it.

The DAM festivals created a definition of music that Hubcap City has always believed in and followed and tried to keep going--mixing in to it other stuff we've picked up over the years.