Most metal fans know Chris Poland from his work
as the original guitar player in Megadeth, playing superbly tasteful lead
guitar on the band's first two albums. After he left the band, Chris released a
solo instrumental album, Return to Metalopolis, a progressive metal
record with Damn the Machine, as well as various demos under his name and
with the bizarro project Mumbo's Brain. His current project, Ohm,
a high-energy, melodic instrumental metal/fusion trio, is arguably his best
music to date, not least because of the high caliber of the other musicians in
the band: David Eagle, a muscular drummer with an ever-evolving drum kit, and
his old pal Robert Pagliari, a soft-spoken 6-string fretless bass monster.
I first saw Ohm live at one of their early shows in 1998. It was the most exciting, fulfilling, beautiful music I have ever heard, and they have not ceased refining their compositions and their live chops since then. I had a chat with the band and their co-producer in their studio a few weeks ago, as they were about to start mixing their upcoming album. As Robert Pagliari was out of town, I caught up with him a week later.
Interview by Rog "the Frog" Billerey-Mosier, except where noted
Dave: I'm the Ginger Baker of the group.
SSMT: You are? I guess technically, since you play drums...
Chris: I think I'm gonna have a beer [opens a can of Diet Pepsi right next to the tape recorder]
Dave: Is that a real beer?
SSMT: It's a diet beer.
Chris: Oohhhh yeeeaaahhhh, it's a really good beer.
SSMT: So I gotta do the rock and roll interview, where you throw stuff at me?
Dave: Depends on the questions, I guess, doesn't it. Geraldo?
SSMT: I don't have the mustache, David. The site is primarily metal and punk, so I thought you'd be appropriate for that kind of audience. There's a little metal and a little punk here...
Dave: Hmm, there's a little of everything, a little Wagner in there too.
SSMT: The guy who runs the site suggested this question to ask you individually: How does it feel to be the weakest link in the band? [to Dave] You wanna start?
Dave: It's a good question... It makes me wanna grow. I look at these guys and I say to myself, if I left this band, where would I go? These guys are my strength... I look at them as an inspiration, they're the best band I've ever been in, that's because ... these guys are just my idols.
Chris: I agree with him [smiling].
SSMT: You feel the same way, or you agree about him?
Chris: No, no, that's such a weird question, let me see, the weakest link, let me see...
SSMT: It's not a serious question...
Chris: Well it feels terrible! [laughs] That I'm the weakest link, that I'm totally crutched on my rack, always worried about tone and money and but that's why we have a therapist as our engineer, it works out better that way, so you know... I'll get over it.[laughs]
Dave: He's our therapist and our bodyguard.
SSMT: How does it feel to be the weakest therapist?
Petar: I'm not so much the weakest therapist as I am the most experienced patient...
Chris: [laughs] That's good!
SSMT: How does that help you handle these three... persons?
Petar: It's not really about that for me, it's more about trying to be of service whenever I can.
SSMT: He's taking this very seriously...
Petar: It's because I have no sense of humor [laughs]
[Chris is waving his hand over the tape recorder]
SSMT: Are you trying to influence the recording?
Chris: [Indian accent] No, I'm trying to flange...
Dave: It's a Theremin, isn't it?
SSMT: Yes, it's a little one... I remember seeing the band back in 1998 in a little dive in Hollywood...
Chris: The Blue Saloon.
SSMT: You guys had a different drummer [Koko Bermejo]. How did you meet this one?
Chris: He put a note underneath our door when the word went out that our old drummer was leaving the band.
Dave: And I got the word from his [Chris'] brother [Mark, a.k.a.] Mr Fester.
Chris: So all of a sudden I got this letter that said "I'm the perfect drummer for your band, dude, so I'll be down on Tuesday".
SSMT: Had you heard them before?
Dave: For a year, I had the studio right next to them. I'd hear them through the walls, in fact they'd vibrate my room when they rehearsed, and every song that went by, some of the time I'd jam along with them. Every song that went by, I'd listen and I'd go "I wouldn't really have played that song that way". But of course I'm not into stealing anybody's gig, so I had to wait until the opportunity came along. I talked to Koko in the hallway. Koko of all the people was the guy I talked to the most, he's a great guy, there's no question about it. I was fortunate that he had other things to do in the world, so it was perfect.
SSMT: Is he still in the Philippines?
Chris: Yeah, I guess he's got a jazz club in the Philippines, and he owns a really big apartment complex that has a mall on the first floor, he's doing really good.
SSMT: And how did you meet him?
Chris: I was out in the valley, at ARP studios, and I needed a drummer. I was playing with [bass player] Dave Randi from Damn the Machine, and one day I was sitting in my room going "Where am I gonna find a drummer?" And there was nothing but drummers in the building, woodshedding all the time, and he was the only drummer that I'd listen to and I'd say "Wow, that guy's a great drummer!" I mean the other guys were good, but this guy was different, because every once in a while he'd do a Latin thing, but mostly he would just work out like Tony Williams. So one day I knocked on his door and I said "Hey, wanna join the band?" And he said "OK", like that.
SSMT: Finding drummers is kinda informal then.
Chris: It was the only time I'd ever done anything like that. And the only thing that was in his room was a drum set, a piano, and an ashtray like this [4 foot tall gesture] full of cigarettes and smoke everywhere, and a picture of John Coltrane on the wall, and that was it. That was IT. And maybe a Starbucks coffee cup somewhere, and I couldn't even stand in the room because there was so much smoke. I had to have him come outside, and I said "Hey man, blahblahblahblahblah, we're gonna do this, we're gonna do that, maybe we could get together and just jam and see if we like the way we all play together", and that was that.
Dave: He played great piano.
SSMT: And how did you meet your therapist?
Chris: We were playing shows at the little [Baked] Potato, it was the first time we met Petar. Some of our songs had strange titles, like we have a song called "Came To Believe" [reference to step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program], and that's kinda how it started, I think we spoke before then, and he kinda was like, "You guys are sober, right?" – no, "You're friends with Bill from AA?" and we're like "Yeah", and that was kinda like the thread we all had. And then he was a music fan and we're music fans of all the same people, and then it led to this.
SSMT: [smiling] Is that true?
Petar: [laughs] I think the music was really the thing that really [did it], because we just started naming the people that we'd listened to.
Chris: Yeah, everybody in the band listened to most of the same music he listened to. Yeah that's how we met Petar, and then eventually it got to the point where Petar had seen us so many times live, that when he knew we were going to record, he was like "Well I'd better engineer it because I'm the only one that knows how you should sound!"
SSMT: How much time have you spent in the studio working on this album?
Chris: We've been doing it for about a year, working a couple of days every week.
Dave: You know there's something fascinating, I've been coming in just recently and noticing that the equipment is always on, which isn't something that used to be, and I'm fascinated by what Chris said. He discovered that if he didn't do that, once he turned it on, it would take forever to start sounding good, because it had to get to that humming stage where everything was at its optimal heat point.
Chris: I don't turn it off anymore at all. Every studio I've ever been in, everything is on all the time. And they're worried about when it shuts off. Like if something happens and an SSL [mixing] board shuts off, half the time all the channels will come up but four of them, and you have to repair them to get them to turn back on. So the abuse that's going on in there from me turning everything on and off and on and off and on and off is worse than just leaving it on. Then I noticed after I'd left it on for a week, Petar came in and we were listening and he goes "God, that sounds good!", and I knew he would hear it like I heard it, so I'll leave it on until we're done mixing and shut it off until we record something again.
SSMT: How many songs do you have?
Chris: I don't know, I think we have 14 songs.
Petar: We originally started with 14.
Chris: We have 13 then.
Petar: We have 13 then and we also have the drums.
Dave: Which one did we let go?
Chris: "Point Omega". We didn't let it go...
Dave: Yeah, it didn't fit with the others.
Chris: I didn't think it did anyway.
Dave: I agree.
SSMT: So do you think all 14 are going to make it to the album, or are you gonna keep a few?
Chris: I don't know, I don't know, I don't see why not, unless some of them just seem to lean towards each other, then maybe I'll take one out and use it as an extra track for something else. I don't know, it's hard to say.
SSMT: What about the way you recorded the album... Live, you tear the club down as a three-piece. Did you track everything?
Chris: Yeah, we tracked everything to a live drum track. Dave is the guy that played live.
SSMT: Was that an aesthetic decision, a practical decision?
Chris: It was something I wanted to do because you always have to compromise bleed everywhere, and then there's always ... a 3 piece kinda gets... for what I wanted these songs to become, and what I envisioned them to be, it would have just been too empty, it would have been too three-piece for me. Even though people say we don't sound three-piece, but when the song's there, all of a sudden you're like "Well it needs this and it needs that and it needs this", and unless you have the drums where they're isolated, and you can change the song, that's one of the things I wanna be able to do, I love to do that, I'll change something right in the middle. Even though he's playing the same drum part, I can change any section I want, any time I want.
Dave: He can fool me.
Chris: But I think that for someone who's never heard it before, when they go hear it, that's how it should be heard, you know what I mean? Live we'll do it however we do it live, the same way. Not that we're Hendrix, but Hendrix is the perfect example of somebody that in the studio didn't give a shit what he did in there, he did it whatever he wanted, and then when he played it live, he did whatever he wanted then too, so...
Petar: That makes me think of something I really hope that people will get to learn about, how this process was done. All the drums that we recorded, all the percussion on this thing, is all done at one time, there's no punches on the drums, and it's one guy, through the whole thing!
Dave: I'm just used to it, I listen to it and I go "It just sounds like one guy" but...
Chris: There's a lot going on in there...
Dave: Anyway, you know, I'm used to it. I just wanted to say, as far as the way we recorded the thing, though, given the nature of the building and given the size of this room and the shape, and the way it's laid out, I don't think we could have achieved the kind of control separation that we really needed if we had tried to [record the album live].
Chris: We did try to do it live in here, I had baffles up and everything, we played something live, and you know what, if something happens in the lows, in the mids, and you can't take it out later, then you have that big "bvvvoooovvooooo" going on.
SSMT: [to Dave] So you play a lot so that people can't hear the other bands rehearsing in the building?
Dave: I play as fast and as obnoxious as I can so that I don't have to hear the din of the other stuff.
Dave: I let them tell me if it's ok, and take out the parts that don't...
SSMT: Live, when he's not playing, he's advertising the Pocket Fisherman...
Dave: I think it's right here, I'll go get it while you're talking, you need to be able to hold it while you're talking!
SSMT: ... and all this wacky stuff, and at the same time while you're playing, my impression from the audience is that you're very serious, very concentrated.
[Dave brings the Pocket Fisherman, a telescopic fishing rod]
Dave: You need to be able to hold that, point to people when you want to ask them a question.
SSMT: I'll do that.
[we fiddle with it]
SSMT: So tell me about this difference between the Pocket Fisherman salesman and the Ohm drummer playing.
Dave: There are many facets to a man, there are those that are quite serious and those that are quite whimsical. You know, I don't think you can have one without the other. And then there's also the other side that yells in echoey hallways at invisible demons. I just have crazy sides to my personality, that's all.
SSMT: How do you come up with your drum parts?
Dave: From the music. I play entirely different things if I just sit there without a song idea in my head. I'll just sit down and play beats, it's just beats, but with the music, it speaks, and I kinda go into a trance-like state sometimes, and it tells me what it wants, so to speak. I don't play exactly the same part every time, I mean it's close, in most cases it's very close, but in certain sections, Chris will tell you "Hey, how come...", he'll tell me that I should zero in and play, but there are times when it says something different to me, it calls me a different name, sometimes four-letter words...
SSMT: [to Chris] How do the songs come about, how does the writing process start, are you like Steve Morse bringing every single part written out?
Chris: No. A lot of these songs I write really late at night on an acoustic guitar at my house, and then it's whether or not I can come in and play them on my electric, because sometimes it doesn't work. But when it does work, then I go ok, I have these ideas, and I show them to Pag and Dave, and they go "oh, ok" and then they pretty much come up with whatever they're gonna come up with, and then if I think that Pag should play a different root or something on a certain section, or whatever, if I think it gets in the way, then I say so, and if it's not, then I just don't say anything.
Dave: And sometimes when we play, it sends you off in a different direction too.
Chris: Oh yeah, a lot of the times, a lot of the solo sections, Pag writes them. Because I don't ever write a solo section. I just write a verse-bridge-chorus kind of idea, maybe I'll have a C section, but by the time I bring it in, I'm not even thinking about the solo section, I'm like "Let's get a song arrangement together", and then usually that's the last thing that comes up. Are we gonna do a solo? and Who's gonna do the solo? or whatever, and so Pag is really good at that. Pag's really good at... me and Dave are really good, when we want Pag to play a melody, at yelling at him and telling him "No! Not that note!" [laughs] A lot of it is sketched out in my head, and then I play it for these guys, and then we jam it, and then it becomes something.
"I can't solo for 10 minutes without even just hating myself."
"... we've been calling it tension/release music. So there's a lot of tension that we like to build up, and then we like to release it in the song."
SSMT: It sounds kind of like the reverse of jazz, where you have the head that's written out and the rest is just 5 minutes of solos.
Chris: Oh no, solos are really the last thing that matters. I really like to solo and I want it to be a good solo...
Dave: ... but that's not the reason for being there.
Chris: Yeah, when you're a three-piece band, if you can't get them to get past the second verse, then you might as well forget about it. And we don't write just a head, then a solo, and then back to the head, because I don't solo good enough to do that.
SSMT: Some people might disagree...
Chris: Well, I can't solo for 10 minutes without even just hating myself.
Dave: Who wants to?
SSMT: I don't think anybody can, they're just pretending.
Chris: Well, we do that, we've given people jams that they've released and stuff, but it's not about that. When we do a song, it's more about, when the song is over, are you going "Wow, that was a good song!"?
Dave: That's one of the things I like foremost about this band, is that the songs are sculpted. They're songs. It's a piece of music, it's a sculpture, and it says something, it's not just an excuse to get to the jack-off section.
Chris: Yeah, and we do that, when we're all in here and we're honing it, everybody knows when it's bullshit, you know. Everybody's like "No, no, that's bullshit there", and then we go try it out at the Potato, and usually that's when we know.
Dave: [vaguely smarmy] But the jam thing, I hope there's a question in there about our ability to jam because that's very important.
SSMT: I can fit one in...
Chris: We've never written a song out of a jam before, ever.
Dave: We do these jams, we just warm up at rehearsal, or we're just there to jam, but we can go for 40 minutes, and go through 20 different permutations of something that nobody ever discussed, we just go. But the weird thing is that when there's a change in the atmosphere of whatever it is, we're all just right there with it, we just instantly, as if we're all on the same clairvoyant vibration...
Chris: Well that's what we think anyway [laughs]
Dave: Of course [laughs] But when we taped them, there are those 20 different sections and you listen back to them and a good percentage of them are like tunes in a way, they are very... they grab you, because there's something about them that's hook-y.
Chris: Well that's because David and Pag both listened in the old days to Cream, and he listened to that kind of jam stuff and so did Pag, so Pag can follow him or not follow him, whatever they choose to do, play off each other, and then I get to be like Eric Clapton, so it doesn't matter if I'm playing or not, it's always interesting.
Dave: But we're all always there, even if one decides to stop playing, it's sympathy.
SSMT: Back to other questions that have been kind of ordered from me. [to Chris] The guy from the site is a punk rock fan, and he's heard that you played with Circle Jerks. How did that happen?
Chris: When I was in Megadeth, we had the same agent, Andy Somers, and right after I got out of rehab, I'd left Megadeth, and went around for a little while, and I was lucky enough to get sober. And then he sent somebody out to check me out, to make sure I was sober, and then after he realized I was sober, he called me up and asked me if I wanted to play bass, because Zander had joined Joe Strummer's band, so they needed a bass player. Their first tour was really good. They sold out everywhere, and I made really decent money for just having fun. I never made a dime when I was in Megadeth, then, when we were first touring, it was all about buses and custom made clothes, and this and that, all this crap. I came home from 6 weeks on tour [with Circle Jerks] with six grand! And I was like, damn, that's a lot of money for a punk rock band! These guys are Republicans...
Chris: So then they're like "Hey, we're going out again, and we want you to come with us". And this time I was like "You're paying me more, man!" Because you wouldn't believe what those guys do out on the road, they stop at every guitar shop in America, and buy every old guitar with every dime they make on the road, and then when they come home, they take them down the street and sell them at that place in Hollywood for twice what they paid for them, and that's why the drummer is doing well. They're smart, you know? John Ingram just plays them, but the other guy sells them. I don't know what [Keith Morris] does with his money.
SSMT: How did that end?
Chris: I recorded [Return to] Metalopolis. I did the second tour and I think ON that tour I started writing songs. And when I got home I made a little money, I bought a little 4-track, and rented a studio, paid my brother to play drums with me, because he had bills and stuff. I think I was paying him $350 a week or something. Because about then all my Megadeth money rolled in that they had owed me, and so...
Dave: He sounded really good on that record, too.
Chris: That was a rough record to make. Jeez.
SSMT: How did you work out the guitar-drum-bass unison parts?
Chris: Because we had already done that. Once already on cassette. So he knew exactly what I wanted.
SSMT: I didn't want to bring questions about the old stuff you've done, because it's more an interview about what's coming out, but do you want to say something about why Damn the Machine didn't work out too well?
[Unfortunately, this is where tape stopped, and nobody noticed. Chris tells a story about being signed to A&M, the label taking them to a private room with waiters in tuxedoes, and telling the band they would make them the new Rush, but reneging on everything shortly afterwards.]
SSMT: You were dropped after what?
Chris: First the album was released, then we toured Europe with Dream Theater, and 2 months later they dropped us. We got dropped because they fired our A&R guy, and then they dropped every band that wasn't making a lot of money.
SSMT: I remember when the album came out, there was a huge promotional campaign.
Chris: That's because at the time my manager was my girlfriend, and we worked on it all the time. I lived and breathed that with her.
Petar: That campaign was how I started following your solo career. I don't know if you know what we're talking about, they had one of those phone numbers, they'd taken out a full-page ad that said "Here's a new record, these cats that were in these bands" or whatever, and I called the number to listen to the new record, and it played a little chunk of a song.
SSMT: How do you feel about the record itself?
Chris: About the Damn the Machine record? I like it. [laughs]
SSMT: Dave, tell us about what you've done before, musically.
Dave: I don't remember, after playing with these guys, I don't remember what I've done before.
SSMT: I know you've been on a Gary Hoey record [instrumental guitar album].
Dave: Yeah, I was.
Dave: He did the music for the rollercoaster at that new Disney park.
Chris: [suddenly remembering something] Oh my god! ... Ok, go on...
Dave: What's that?
Chris: I just found out that in Disneyland, their Space ride, or whatever, Space race...
Dave: Space Mountain?
Chris: Space Race is in Disneyland.
Dave: What is Space Race?
Chris: It's the thing that me and Fester did a long time ago.
Dave: What is it?
Chris: It's the virtual ride.
Dave: And you did the music for it?
Chris: I didn't even know, somebody told me the other day they were on it. And they go "That's you, isn't it?"
SSMT: Is there a record?
Chris: No, it's not a record, it's just the music for the ride. But anyway, I interrupted you.
Dave: How funny! What was your check? [all laugh] Did you get residuals?
Chris: No, I got paid once
Dave: I once did a recording session, it was supposed to be for a fashion show, it was gonna be used once. It was supposed to be for a fashion show, for Miller's Outpost or something. They ended up playing for 3 years on a Miller's Outpost commercial. Three years in a row!
Chris: You never got paid!
Dave: Because it was a fashion show thing, it was under the table, it was not a union thing, so we just took money under the table. Three...!! What commercial runs for three years in a row! Nothing.
SSMT: Commercials with really good drums, though.
Dave: Could you imagine the residuals, man? That's true, it was probably the drums that kept it going.
SSMT: So is that ride thing the ultimate Chris Poland collector's item?
Chris: Naaaah... Well, maybe. It's very thought out. It was like [dumb music executive voice] "Right here what we need is a little bit of this..."
Dave: We gotta go on the ride now, we all gotta go on that ride.
Chris: They tell Mark [dumb music executive voice] "Right here do that double kick drum thing they're doing in the speed metal genre right now, you know what I'm talking about?" [all laugh] And Fester'd go "Yeah, I know what you mean..."
Dave: He sits on the toilet now. Fester doesn't need a drum stool anymore, he has a toilet that he brings. He sits on a toilet.
SSMT: So he can practice 24 hours a day?
Dave: Yes! He doesn't even have to leave, they bring him his food, he has pretty much everything he needs.
Chris: I wanna see that ride, because there's that one thing where we did the music when they show inside the space ship, where the little green men are watching you, and there's like a Miles Davis..., right when he started playing fusion, this kind of weird Miles Davis thing that we just made up off the top of our heads. This guy's name is Kurt Sobel, he was like "yeah!", but I never got to hear it again because he never gave me that tape. He gave me the tape of the .... anyway.
Dave: They use all of it? So they use everything you recorded on that ride? We have to go! That's a good reason to go to Disneyland!
Petar: [to Dave] What about the other stuff that you had done, though?
Dave: I did a Crystal Vanish commercial, with Ian Underwood [keyboard player with Frank Zappa].
Chris: No way!
Dave: You know, one of the original Mothers?
Chris: What do you mean, you used to play with Willie Bobo [Latin percussionist], man!
Dave: Yeah, I played with Willie Bobo, but he wasn't...
Chris: Alphonso Johnson [fusion bass player]!
Dave: Alphonso Johnson, and Oingo Boingo.
Chris: He's all embarrassed, he's like "yeah, I played with all those fusion guys".
Dave: You know what I did on this Crystal Vanish commercial? You know what I did? I set up all of this stuff, and the guy says "Can you do the sound of water bubbling over?" And I go "wwssshhhh" on this little tiny [inaudible] and he said "That's it!" And all this stuff was set up, man [all laugh] and Ian was on [inaudible] have you ever seen one of those synthesizers that has all these slide bars on it with no reference lines on it, and you just have to know by feel where those sounds are? And the guy says "I need that sound of water bubbling over", [Ian Underwood] says "How about this?", he says "Yeah, but maybe with a little sizzling on top" "How about this?" He says "Yeah, that's perfect!" That was the extent of the commercial for him and me, those two sounds, and we had all this stuff we'd set up.
Chris: Did they give you $500 apiece?
Dave: At least! Maybe it was thousands, I don't remember.
SSMT: Speaking of setting up, that huge kit, what possesses you to bring new stuff to it? Every time I see it there's something new.
Dave: Oh yeah, and not only that but I got at least a dozen other ideas, like pulling on my pants leg could be next [chipmunk voice, left leg speaking] "Hey, how about me?" [other leg] "No, what about me?" There's been a bunch of things that went on it and that didn't make the cut for one reason or another, and then... How long have we been together now? Almost 3 ½ years? Something like that. This did not exist before I was involved with Ohm. It had things that I had done over the years, like this little thing, or this little thing, but I was never motivated to do anything like this. There was some kind of a burr in the back of my brain that got implanted years back by Airto [Moreira, jazz percussionist] inadvertently, because I was inspired by him, and I didn't even realize it until recently, when I met him. But the greatest thing that was ever on this drum set, and it chose not to make the cut, was the Snapple bottle. I had a Snapple bottle on there, you know, their high-end line, that has the long skinny neck and is named things like "Energy" and...
Petar: "Volcano", and...
Chris: I remember that, they used to explode!
Dave: Yeah! So I had one of those Snapple bottles because it had a long neck and it was the perfect diameter for one of those clamps from a Tama rack system. So I had it right there, above the snare drum, below the toms, for about a month. Because the glass was so thick I thought "This will never break!" and it sounded so good, it cut through the band, it would cut through anything, it was beautiful. And then one day at rehearsal, the thing exploded in my face, practically. It vaporized. I think all that was left was where the label was.
Petar: Did you use that glass to put it in the Christmas tree stand [on the kit]?
Dave: That's right [all laugh] No there's no glass in there, it's all pieces of metal. The Christmas tree stand has suspended pieces of metal in there, it sounds like broken glass, breaking glass, when you hit it. I was lucky that that thing didn't get into my eyes, because the glass flew everywhere.
"And then one day at rehearsal, the thing exploded in my face, practically."
"...after playing with these guys, I don't remember what I've done before."
SSMT: I remember when you first had the Medusa [an 8-ft-tall pedal-activated contraption], at the Potato, it almost didn't make it out of the club, because it was too tall.
Dave: It barely clears the ceiling by inches. It's about 8 feet tall.
SSMT: So it's there to stay?
Dave: Oh yeah, that fits in the room. Now I have that gong, I play it with a pedal from the floor, there's a pedal on the floor that plays that gong six feet up in the air.
Chris: Yeah, that sounds good.
Dave: I don't have to put the sticks down to play his gong. I can play gong swells or a pattern with the gong, I don't have to stop, to put the sticks down and grab a gong mallet and go over there and hit something. It's all part of the charade!
Chris: I played a really nice gong today, man. I'm gonna get it just to hang on the wall, then if we ever need it it'll be around.
Dave: There's nothing like magical instruments. Every once in a while, you know, they're great instruments, and then that company accidentally made this one instrument that has a soul in there somewhere, it's like a person trying to get out. Who can figure it, it's a fluke. I have a cymbal that sounds like it has a little Chinese choir in it or something. A little tiny splash [all laugh] It's about 12 inches, when you hit it it's just hhahahahhawawwwwwwwww [all laugh]
SSMT: It's not here.
Dave: No, it's delicate, it's the kind of thing I wanna save for recording, because I don't want to beat it up. I can show it to you. It's not in this room, though. [silly voice] I'm thinking of a number in this room!
SSMT: How would you describe the music you just recorded to people who have never heard you?
Chris: I don't know, we've been calling it tension/release music. So there's a lot of tension that we like to build up, and then we like to release it in the song. Almost all of our songs have a peak and a valley, and a peak and a valley, or maybe a little valley and then a big peak, but it always has to have the yin and the yang, so to speak, I guess. But to describe it... I heard it the other day and I still can't describe it. When I listen to "Peanut Buddha" that got mastered for the [promotional] EMG CD thing, whatever artists they wanted, they got a bunch of artists together to demonstrate their pickups, and they had a guy in San Francisco master it, and I'm listening to it, and I listened to all this other music too, and then when I heard us, we honestly don't sound like anything I've ever heard before.
Dave: It's a great feeling, eh
Chris: You know, you can tell that guy is into certain guitar players, and maybe that drummer listened to this or that, and that bass player is playing a fretless bass, but you're not going "Yeah, they're lifting this and they're lifting that" – we're not lifting anything from anywhere. So that's kinda cool.
Petar: Except for "Tin Man"... That was brilliant, man
Chris: Yeah, the intro to the solo on "Tin Man" is "If I Only Had a Heart".
Dave: Which is what it's meant to be.
SSMT: For a while, I don't know if you're still doing it, but the drum intro sounded like the tin man.
Dave: Oh yeah... Lots of tin.
"You can't Rush them, Damn the Machine them, Lifetime them or Holdsworth them. It's just not that kind of stuff."
Petar Sardelich, engineer
"They're bona fide real beautiful melodies, with the kind of intricacy that Mahavishnu had."
Petar Sardelich, engineer
SSMT: What do they play, how would you describe it, Petar?
Petar: It truly is not comparable to anything. You can't Rush them, Damn the Machine them, [seminal fusion band Tony Williams] Lifetime them or Holdsworth them. It's just not that kind of stuff. The closest thing that it comes to is like Fire Merchants or Brand X or something like that, but the reason why it's different from that stuff is what Dave was talking about, which is the song structure, there's bona fide melodies, stuff that when you go to bed -- there's a hook, but they're not dumb hooks, they're not Power 106, KLOS kind of hooks. They're bona fide real beautiful melodies, with the kind of intricacy that Mahavishnu had.
Dave: And they have depth, the average person can walk out singing that song.
Petar: And that's why it doesn't matter that you guys don't have a vocalist. And the way that we talk about the songs when we record them, there's the verse here, there's the C section here, there's the chorus here, and you can really hear that sort of a structure, and even though it's technical and even though you guys are such amazing players, it's not just blowing either. I'm not trying to be evasive, I'm not trying to say that it dances on some fine line, but at least for me the melody lines are really long and original, the time is very original, the changes are really original, but they really manage to keep a soul. It goes back to the kind of stuff you were talking about before, when you were saying that you'd seen a lot of guys that play in fusion bands, progressive bands, and that sort of thing, and at some point it kind of becomes a blur, and that doesn't happen with these guys.
Dave: [makes a victorious noise] I came up with a word a long time ago, "inspirimental", which is "inspirational", "experimental", and "instrumental" all together in one word. [laughs] Which says practically nothing. But really the thing about this band too is that even though sometimes you're stuck for a way to explain it because you want somebody who hasn't heard it to be motivated enough to want to hear it or to come to a show, you find yourself [saying] "Well it's a mixture of rock and jazz and Latin", which ends up sounding like it's fusion, except that most of the fusion things that I can conjure up...
Chris: ... sound like fusion.
Dave: They sound like fusion, they sound more like Return to Forever and Mahavishnu. Those were jazz guys trying to lean toward rock, and it sounded like that, even the greatest ones. Whereas we have an understanding of complex forms, jazz approaches and chord changes, but yet we understand rock too, we can play real rock, it's not like an approximation [silly voice] an incredible simulation! [all laugh]
SSMT: Digital modeling of rock!
Dave: Yeah! That's it! To my mind it's maybe the closest thing that's been sort of a fusion band, I guess, it's been the closest thing to a rock thing. I think this is the kind of thing that can cross over to a rock audience. And they can understand it and they can dig it for what it is.
SSMT: For somebody who needs 4 or 5 references, like "band X kinda sounds like bands Y and W, with a little bit of band Z thrown in", how would you feel about Mahavishnu for the chord changes, Al DiMeola for the composed aspect, and Shawn Lane and Eric Johnson for the melody aspect? Would that be a reasonably fair assessment?
Chris: I think everybody's gonna have their own... they're gonna hear what they hear about where the influences come from or how they might explain what we might sound like, but I guess anything... I would say that it comes from [Jeff Beck's] Blow by Blow, it comes from... and not like... I mean you listen to Blow by Blow now, and you're like "yeah, the guitar playing isn't like what it used to be" because our guitar playing is so radical nowadays, but any of those records, the Wired record [by Jeff Beck], there's something about the songs that sucks you in, and that's all that we wanna go for. If you're not sucked in by the song, we're not playing it. And that's how these guys are. If they don't like the song, and they don't feel like it's sucking them in, usually I don't bring it up again.
Dave: But also when you listen to a tune like "Mountain", for instance, there's an atmosphere. I've told Chris this before and you were all "aww shucks"... there's a guitar solo in that song that has such an atmosphere, and it picks you up at the beginning, it's very sparse at the beginning, and it picks you up and literally lifts you and carries you where it goes, and I'm trying to think of another guitar player that could have created that atmosphere on that record on that song. And I can't think of a single one. The songs, you hear the titles of the song and you listen to the song, and it is that. And another one like "Brandenburg Gate", this song, when you think about what the Brandenburg Gate is, and the wall coming down and all of that stuff, and you listen to all the different aspects of the song, and there are all those things in the song that are that! There are parts where there's a different counterpoint, meters going against each other, the East and the West, that's all there, whether it developed consciously or unconsciously, I don't know, it's the best thing I've ever done, the best thing I've ever been involved in.
Petar: The only thing here that's missing is that there's an aggressive quality to it, there's a real power behind it, and I don't know who I'd match that with.
SSMT: Maybe [Chris' solo record] "Return to Metalopolis"?
Dave: Aha, that's right!
Dave: Compare it to itself? Well that's because we're three... four young angry men.
SSMT: Are you guys gonna tour?
Chris: Hopefully, if everything works out right with whoever picks it up, the people we've been talking to have been talking about bringing us over to Europe. I'm hoping that somebody here will want to take the record, maybe we can do a worldwide deal with somebody in the States, that way we could tour here too.
Dave: It'd be great if we did Europe first and we came back.
Chris: Yeah, I've been told so many times that we're a European band, and I totally believe it. I don't wanna believe it, but I have a feeling that kind of music we play there's only a handful of people in America that'd listen to that. Not that I... If I wanted to be like Nirvana, I guess that's the kind of tune I'd be in a band doing.
Dave: I don't know if I mentioned it to you... I took a CD of some rough mixes to the NAMM show, with some headphones, a little CD walkman, and I put it on for two different people, and a couple of those guys, they're reps at these different companies, you know they hear all this stuff, they're hearing crap constantly, and the guy's got this big smile on his face, and he goes "This is my kind of music! I can't tell you how long I've been waiting to hear this! When is it coming out? I want it!" There's a lot of people waiting for this exact kind of thing, and you can't find it, except, [silly voice] Well, we have it for only $7.95! $9.95! $14.95!
SSMT: I remember I had that very same reaction the first time I heard you, it's never happened to me before, but I was sitting on my bar stool and I couldn't move, I was attached to the table.
Chris: Oh my god!
SSMT: And I was sitting there and my jaw just hit the table, I was completely traumatized by it. I haven't wanted to go see another band since I saw you in 1998.
SSMT: I don't think I'm the only person like that. Do you have a timeline for the record?
Chris: Hopefully we can get it mixed in the next couple of months.
Dave: There's the mixing and then the mastering, too, bringing another guy in to master it.
Chris: I've been thinking about this guy in San Francisco, to do the mastering.
SSMT: But it's definitely coming out this year?
Chris: Yeah, it's gonna be out soon. It should be done and ready to go with artwork in a couple of months. That's a guess, because the artwork's on its way right now.
SSMT: Who's doing it?
Chris: Some friends of mine in Rochester are throwing ideas at me, but Petar has a friend who has a friend who has really incredible art that I saw 2 or 3 years ago. Luckily I think I saw his stuff in one thing since then, I can't remember if it was in a magazine or on TV, or I think it was him or someone that was in his style. Luckily the guy hasn't gotten big, but he's that kind of... it's hard to describe, you'd have to see it, but it's very Ohm-like.
SSMT: Does "Ohm" really mean "Old Hairy Musicians"?
Chris: Oh yeah, or was it "Otto's Hair Mart"?
Dave: It's gotta mean something new now, right?
Chris: "Olivia's Horny Muffin"? Uh...
Dave: These guys spent so much time just figuring out what it means! Pag's got a million of them.
SSMT: Thank you, guys.
Ohm's bass player, Robert Pagliari, like his acolytes, is a very warm, friendly man, whose self-effacing demeanor hardly betrays his furiously talented 6-string fretless bass playing, which helps make Ohm sound more like a 4- or 5-piece band than the trio it actually is. As Robby was out of town when I interviewed the rest of the band, we had a long chat in Hollywood a few days later.
SSMT: Maybe we can start with the first question I asked the others: How does it feel to be the weakest link in the band?
Robert: Gee, I didn't know I was the weakest link... [laughs] No, I'm just kidding... But, to be honest, these guys, when you play with Chris and Dave, it makes you play better, and so it's ok to be the weakest link, because as good as they are, they make you sound better.
SSMT: It's as elegant an answer as I got from the other two.
Robert: Diplomacy [laughs].
SSMT: Yes, very gracious. How did you meet Chris?
Robert: I met Chris in 1978, 1977, in South Central, I was in a band, we a played progressive rock thing. It was [on] Hoover Street, in the back apartment, a garage apartment. There were two apartments in the garage. I knew a lot of guys from down there, from high school and stuff. Chris was playing in the next room and I was playing with a guy named Ricky Timas -- he wrote that song "Cool it Now" for Bobby Brown's band New Edition, he was just on the verge of breaking that song, and he always had producers... he used to tell me about Chris and these guys that were playing in the next room, but different guys came in to play bass. And he used to say "You should meet him." So Chris was playing by himself in the middle of the afternoon, and Rick says "Come on in here!", and of course Chris said "Yeah, what's up?" [laughs] So we met, we hit it off, and he was playing with another guitar player, Stu Samuelson. [original Megadeth drummer] Gar Samuelson was on drums. We got together and the next couple of days we started playing and writing, and we became the New Yorkers. They were dubbed that because they were from the Buffalo area, the affluent Buffalo area [laughs] and we just hit it off and we started a band, and Chris and I have been friends since.
SSMT: What kind of music did you play at the time?
Robert: It was very similar to what we're doing now, it had a horn section as well... in and out. Sometimes we had horns, when they were available. If not, we just played as a four-piece. It was two guitars, bass, drums, very high-energy fusion, all instrumental. It was kinda like Brand X meets McLaughlin, real intense. The horns enhanced everything. They were doing a lot of the melodies and harmonies, some melodies had the guitars in harmony with the horns, two horns and the guitar, Chris was doing a melody with two horns, with a rhythm guitar underneath and a bass line. So it was a magical band, it was really a lot of fun. We played just about every rock club that would have us. We teamed up with a couple of other fusion bands at the time, [...] and a band called the Fence, which was [keyboardist] Alan Holzman's band, and we did a lot of shows together, the three of us, and we played the Troubadour. We had a huge following. We used to play the Ice House in Pasadena all the time. And it was great, it ran for about four years, and then it just disbanded, Gar went off to play with Megadeth, with Chris soon to follow.
SSMT: Are there any recordings?
Robert: There's a lot of rehearsal tapes and some live footage, but the late 70s, you recorded on a boombox, you know... I think we have an 8-track demo that we recorded on Hollywood Boulevard at 4am. We did a 3- or 5-song demo that I have somewhere. Chris and I spoke about maybe digging out a couple of those tunes that we might be able to do without offending Stuey, the remaining member, because we wrote songs together. But Chris wrote a big part of the songs, and I wrote part of those songs as well, so some day we'd like to pull them out of the hat, just for laughs. Because we had a lot of really good stuff.
SSMT: So between the NY and Ohm, what happened with you?
Robert: Well, a lot of substance abuse [laughs]... I was very depressed for a good year after that band fell out. [There were] guys that were calling me up to play power pop, hard rock, which was not really what I wanted to do. So as far as I was concerned the whole fusion thing was over. I never got into any cliques. I could have, but drinking too much kept me from pursuing anything. I was probably the weakest link in that band too [laughs]. I bounced in and out of a lot of bands. The most notable was 1986-88, when I finally cleaned up, I got into [guitarist Randy Pevler's band] Divine Rite, which was a metal band. They had a record out on Greenworld and they had a record pending. There was Warner Brothers... a lot of interest. But they wanted a fretted bass player. So a friend of mine, Donny [Sarian, drummer in Divine Rite], bought me a fretted bass, because I didn't have any at the time, and I hooked up with them and played, and it was fun. I figured that if we could get a deal, make some contacts... meantime Chris was with Megadeth... as time goes on, maybe we could hook up again. But it didn't happen [laughs]. So we played for a couple of years and then the drummer of that band left, we got another singer, Tommy Gunn, who's in a band currently called Laidlaw. We kind of went from metal to more of a hard rock, bluesier side. We changed the name of the band to Nomad Railway, where I went back to exclusive fretless. With Divine Rite I used both. Then I started a band called August Kurley, with Tommy Gunn and [guitarist] Bobby Robles, a good friend of mine and Chris'. And I did countless demo recordings. All three bands were really great, but unfortunately we didn't get any record deals.
SSMT: What about the 6 string fretless?
Robert: I started playing fretless in 1975. I don't know the reason why, it wasn't anyone turning me on to Jaco [Pastorius]. I was a big Jack Bruce fan, and I used to have an old Vox teardrop bass, and of course I learned how to play listening to Jack Bruce. I never had any formal training, so just one day I pulled the frets out. I brought it to a guy and said "Pull all the frets out". It was more of a ... I could say what I wanted to say. Speaking with a fretted bass was speaking... what someone else had already said, I guess. It was more me with fretless, it still is, it's just who I am. It's more a... I'm trying to find a word I could say... I'm the weakest link in English too [laughs].
SSMT: You sound very different from other players who play in the same genre. Usually what you hear is playing a mile a minute, but I've never heard anyone play a 6 string fretless bass in this environment, so it sounds really distinctive.
Robert: For me, playing bass was always kinda orchestrated, you wanna enhance the melody, you wanna lock in with the drums, go a step further than the drums, or lay under the drums. It's just a way of kind of orchestrating, conducting everything that's going on around you, whether it's your rhythm pattern, your guitar pattern, your melody... and I guess I got a lot of that from listening to tons of opera and stuff, classical music, when I was growing up, because my mom is an opera singer, heavy into classical. And I remember reading a Jack Bruce interview when I was just starting out, it was in one of the old Melody Makers - I'm kind of giving away my age, I guess... where he talked about if you listen to Bach, listen to the great composers, listen to the bass clef instruments. That's what it's all about. It's not about the melody, it's not about this. If you hear all that's going on underneath, all that it's doing is enhancing everything around it. You could fart over stuff like that and it's musical, you know? As long as you've got movement, without getting in the way of what's being expressed. So I guess it's just more of a natural feeling, it's more instinctive. What I hear at the moment is what I do. It may be right, it may be wrong, technically it can be really wrong [laughs] but I didn't go to school, so I have every excuse in the book [laughs].
SSMT: Since you didn't go to school, how do you work out the arrangements, the unisons, all those complicated parts?
Robert: With the band? You hear something in your head and you try to put it forth, put it out there. And it might sound good, it might sound bad... Chris might have a line and we'll play it, and there might be a note or two that I might want to add or subtract, that he might want to add or subtract, depending on who comes up with the line. I will play it, and if it sounds good, we do it, and if it doesn't sound good, we'll find the note in the line that makes it sound bad, and we'll change it. Or we'll just scrap the whole thing and come up with something else [laughs] It is frustrating when you can't say or write down exactly how [inaudible], so you're going to come up with it a certain way and then we go from there. That's how we do all our writing, whether it's one single chord in any of the songs, whatever it may be. If it sounds good to us, we'll keep it, if we can live with it. If we can't, that's it. We don't get attached to anything. It's just the way it is.
SSMT: Chris said something interesting about the dynamic, says that all three of you know instantly when something is bullshit in a song...
SSMT:... whether it's the guitar bullshit, or the bass bullshit, or the drum bullshit. And Dave said that the two of them are really good at yelling at you and making you change a note. On the other hand, Chris said that you were really good at writing certain sections that he won't write.
Robert: Right. I think it's just the chemistry that Chris and I have. We were born a week apart. His mother was an opera singer, my mother was an opera singer. We have identical influences, they might not be in the same order, for instance my biggest influence starting out was Cream, his may have been Hendrix. But my number 2 influence would be Hendrix, and his number two would be Cream. My number 3 would be Weather Report, his would be Mahavishnu Orchestra.
SSMT: He mentions Jeff Beck a lot, too.
Robert: Beck, of course. So if we each made a top ten list of what were our 10 biggest inspirational records, or bands, or moments, our lists would probably be identical. They might not be in the same order, but I bet you in the top 10, 9 of the 10 would be the same. And I think that has a lot to do with... I know Chris real well, and I know his approach, I guess, so every now and then it gets to the point where it sort of stagnates, so this is where I have to go my repertoire in my head of these things that popped up when I was messing around on the bass, "This might work here", or something that comes to me automatically, it all depends.
SSMT: So this record that is being mixed, that's kind of a miracle that's been 25 years in the making?
SSMT: With a lot of stuff happening between the New Yorkers and now, but it sounds like a logical continuation of that.
Robert: Yeah, in a way. I believe this band is far better than the New Yorkers, partly because we're more mature, we're not loaded [laughs], or we may not think we're loaded... You go through a lot of hard knocks over the years, it's just that now we're doing something that we like to do, regardless of the success or lack of success it has. It's not gonna matter. We do what we really like to do, it's not to appeal to any group or any person. It's like "What do you like? What do I like? What does David like? Do we like it? Good. Good enough." If someone doesn't like it, well it's too bad... A dime a dozen musicians are in bands, go get your rocks off with them. We hope people like it, but we're not out to get people to sit there and go "Oh God!" It would be great if it does that, but we're not expecting...
SSMT: That's the effect it had on me the first time I saw Ohm...
Robert: I remember! Sitting right in front! I thought "This guy must be loaded, he's sitting right in front of us and he's not moving!"
SSMT: I wasn't moving because I was transfixed. I was traumatized, because it was the exact kind of stuff I had been wanting to hear. I was getting my fix of musicianship with fusion/metal bands and there was always something missing, either the rock part or most often the melody. I was listening to bands like Tribal Tech, where the musicianship is great...
SSMT: ... and I would listen to a song and I can't tell if I've heard it before. Then I saw Ohm and my jaw hit the table and stayed there for the whole show...
Robert: Wow! Thank you.
SSMT: ... and I think I've heard a number of people have similar reactions. Do you have any explanations for this effect that you have on people?
Robert: Why we do to you what we do? [laughs] Oh God! [laughs] Well... I think what it is is that we want to cut out a lot of the bullshit. We're not the kind of guys that say "I wanna do an 18-minute guitar solo here and we're gonna do a 14-minute bass solo, and then we go back to the head, and then we do a drum solo, and that'll be the end of that tune. Then we do the next tune, and just do it the same way, with a bunch of solos, we'll just change the order..." We want to write tunes that are about what we're all about... the whole vibe, the whole aura of what it is. That essentially happened with Koko, when we first got together and played, we thought "Yeah, this is gonna work", because there's just a chemistry, a vibe, whatever the words are, it was so meant to be. I hate to sound cliché... But the whole thing was "Let's not make songs 8 minutes long where there's a lot of jiving going on" because we're a trio and that jive is gonna get old. I mean, there's always gonna be guys there who just love to see Chris solo all night, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not what it's all about. We can do a series of songs, a series of different solos, ambiences, different things going on, and not... It's pretty much what you see. Not to take anything away – guys like Scott Henderson and Gary Willis can solo their ass off, they can solo for a whole weekend and people are just gonna piss on themselves and dig it. But we kinda want to keep things in the ballpark where it's listenable, we like to just get in and get out. Kind of like the old AC/DC concerts, they just rock, start to finish, good night everybody. It's like the Jackie Gleason show [laughs]. I've heard people say about our tunes, too, there's a section that you just want to hear one more time in the song, and it's not there... It could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing... I don't know, we're not the greatest composers yet. Maybe as time goes on, we'll evolve [in our] writing and maybe write a few more epics. It doesn't hurt to have one or two long songs... but you know, we're getting there, there's still a lot of music left in us. This has been a long haul with these tunes getting to where we are now, but as we move on, I think they'll come a little quicker... I hope everybody likes it [laughs] but we're gonna do it anyway [laughs].
SSMT: Following your shows from 1998 to 2001, it was really interesting to see the new tunes coming in, the old ones coming out, or coming back with different arrangements, so I'm sure you there's a lot more.
Robert: Some of the stuff we did with Koko, we're probably gonna go back to some of those, maybe a little tweak on the arrangements, a couple of things here and there, because I miss some of those tunes a lot, they were good tunes, and we didn't really play them out enough. We just did them a few times, and Koko left, and Dave came in, and it was another entity, a whole other thing going on. We'll probably look at some of them and see what's worth salvaging. Who knows.
SSMT: Speaking of Koko and Dave, they're really different drummers...
SSMT: What is it like to work with one and the other?
Robert: Because they're completely different, I totally enjoy playing with both of them. With Koko... being a guy who's played with a lot of drummers... none of the caliber of David or Koko. I don't want to offend anybody... The first time I played with Koko, automatically I felt so at ease, where I didn't have to worry about time as much... You know what I mean? Because when you work as a unit, you cover each other's back [and you can both keep] good time, but when you're playing with drummers that lose time, that drop beats, you're constantly focused on the time, you're stifled, because there's things you want to do, but in the meantime you have to keep wandering around the foot of the drummer or whatever he's doing, because you know he's gonna drop beats. So it's like "Ok, if I'm gonna solo here, I'm not gonna be able to completely free myself and just fly. I have to kinda fly real low ground, because if I go way up without a net, I'm gonna come down flat on my face", and they're always gonna blame the bass player, they never blame the drummer for fucking dropping the beat [smiles]... so playing with Koko was being free, so free I can't even tell you. Playing with David is free, too, but it's more complicated. With David and myself, there's a lot of counterpoint going on, there's a lot of feeding off of each other, a lot of back and forth going on, which is phenomenal. It's hard to play with anybody else. If I was to play with another drummer, it would have to be Koko. If David can't do it, it should be Koko. Because these two guys are by far the two best guys I've ever played with.
SSMT: They sound very different, Koko reminds me more of people like Tony Williams, more of a supple, jazzy sort of beat...
SSMT: ... and David is more... I don't know how to describe it, because I'm not a drummer.
Robert: Eagle is a machine. He's got all cylinders going. He's like a big V12 Lamborghini. When he gets it all going, it is mind-boggling. With Koko, everything he did had swing, everything he does swings. No matter how heavy or hot it gets, it's gonna swing, no matter what, it swings. No matter how rigid or how out of control you get, there's this element of swing to it throughout. And with David, it's pure muscle. You know what I mean? There's so much going on... I mean, you've seen his kit [laughs]. There's so much going on it just blows my mind, I can't watch him, because I get so blown away...
SSMT: ... and you'll drop the beat [laughs].
Robert: [laughs] Yeah, I'll be dropping beats. He's really phenomenal to watch. They're two so different players, but I love playing with both of them. They do so much for everything Chris and I have written, that we've written as a band... It goes either way, if Koko were to fill David's spot now, it would have the same juice, but it would swing more, but it wouldn't be as exciting, orchestral as David because he's got so many sounds, so many gadgets going on. I know I poke fun at him all the time seeing his Home Depot kit, but I mean it sincerely, he's like my older brother or something.
SSMT: I thought it was the Sam OSH kit.
Robert: Yeah [laughs] the Sam OSH kit. Yeah, he's got a few hoses, a few rakes going on...
SSMT: A Christmas tree stand...
Robert: ...and it changes seasonally [laughs]. Like right now I bet he's picking up lawn furniture, some outdoor sprinkler systems, stuff like that. He could get a few sprinkler heads and put them on a chain or something. But it's totally colorful, what he's doing.
SSMT: It's always appropriate, it's not like he's adding new stuff that doesn't work...
SSMT: Because he's always creative and subtle.
Robert: And he sounds like two guys. He sounds like three guys. He sounds like 3 percussionists playing with a drummer. If you listen to that track, "Peanut Buddha", it sounds like there's a little drum doing on and then there's a percussionist... it sounds like a drummer and a percussionist playing off each other, but it's one guy.
SSMT: Did you ever listen to Rush?
"There's only three guys that made me do cartwheels, and that was Jack Bruce, Stanley Clarke and Percy Jones. "
"But the whole thing was, 'Let's not make songs 8 minutes long where there's a lot of jiving going on,' because we're a trio and that jive is gonna get old."
Robert: Yes, but I was never a huge Rush fan. After being so in love with Cream in my early years, I jumped right into fusion, there was nowhere else to go. Rush was coming out, but Cream was much different. Cream was kind of the Ohm thing, if you listen to the live improvisations and stuff, it very much reminds me of what goes on in some of those Ohm moments. The drums could take the lead, or the bass could take the lead, as well as the guitar. Mostly in their live performances. The big thing with Cream was live, all the improv stuff. I have a lot of bootlegs of Cream, it's kind of like something I studied. Not studied, but I know all about what's going on. Rush is a great band, don't get me wrong... I heard them when they came out and I thought "Yeah, this is great!" Geddy Lee is a great player. But there's really only three guys that made me do cartwheels, and that was Jack Bruce, Stanley Clarke and [Brand X's] Percy Jones. The first time I heard Jack Bruce was in the live version of "Crossroads". I was just stupefied. And the first time I heard Return to Forever, the "Where Have I Known You Before" record, the opening track, I think it's called "Vulcan Worlds" or something, the bass playing, it's like "Wow!" And the first time... 1976 I guess, [there was a record store in Hollywood], it used to be called Music Plus. I walked in there one day, on an early Tuesday morning, I was the first guy in the store, there was nobody in the store, and the guy was just opening up the joint, and all you heard was that opening riff to the first Brand X record [sings the riff]. I was listening, I went up to the counter, and I said "Who was that?", and he said "It's Phil Collins' new offshoot band, Brand X". So those were the three things that totally... when I first heard them, I was just dumbfounded, stupefied, it was like "Wow!".
SSMT: It's interesting, because I don't hear a lot of Stanley Clarke in your playing, except maybe his upright bass playing.
Robert: Yeah, I think the three things that those 3 guys have in common, especially on those three tracks, if you listen to "Crossroads", or a track called "Nuclear Burn" on that Brand X record, and "Vulcan Worlds", there's something about the bass playing in those three songs that sums up what it's all about to me. And that's the freedom, it's so free, it's not over the top, it's not getting in anybody's way, but there's so much movement going on, and it's a complete entity of its own, it's not holding down time, it's not what you hear from a lot of guys.
SSMT: These guys were also the loudest bass players on the planet.
Robert: [laughs] But they were really in the forefront as well, and it's for me what it's all about. They came at three different periods of my life, "Crossroads" was '68, and then Return to Forever I think was '73 or '74, and then '76 was [Brand X]. And those were all in my evolution, the years of my evolving as a player, and those there the three things that totally knocked me on my ass. Jaco [Pastorius] too, but the first thing I heard from Jaco, just like everybody, was "Donna Lee", where he really came in your face, and he was really great as a soloist, but I never set out to be a pure soloist. It was about bass playing, and about what you do in a band. So those three guys really blew my mind. Jaco too, there's no question about it. I saw all three guys at the Roxy several times. Stanley Clarke was at the Roxy for a week, two shows a night, '74 or '76. I saw him every show, mistakes and all. And the way he handled those mistakes! He was doing an upright thing all by himself, and he hit two of the most sour notes you ever heard, it sounded like erratic bowel movements, and he just threw his arms in the air and said [inaudible], and he went right back to work. He was so honest about it all. I saw Percy Jones twice with Brand X at the Roxy.
SSMT: How about the Ohm record, anything you can tell us about the recording process?
Robert: It was all new, it was a learning experience as we went. I don't have much file space left in my head for complicated issues like tweaking and stuff like that. I'm just a guy who likes to just plug in and go, not sit around and get a tone.
SSMT: Chris gets pretty intense when it comes to tweaking.
Robert: Totally. But where would I be without him, because he tweaked my stuff. I'll just play, and he'll turn knobs until I say "Yeah, that's what I like". So I don't know what I'd do without Chris. And he was always that way, even when I met him then, he was a tweak monster, and he still is. My buddy Rick Fierabracci, a great bass player, he's a tweak monster. He's all into the tweak. But the proof is in the pudding, they have great tone, they're great players. It all pays off. I don't have the patience, I really don't. And that's just from years of plugging into an amp without effects and competing with guitar players with too many Marshalls. So that's where it all comes from for me. I used to say, why am I wasting time with a tweak, I'm getting blown out of the water, I just gotta be loud. The tone all comes from my hands anyway. For bass, anyway.
SSMT: Did you wind up playing direct most of the time, or did you mike your rig?
Robert: We went direct a lot, through an Avalon [preamp], and some tracks we went through the Avalon as well as one cabinet, with a direct line and a cabinet on two tracks, and we blended them together. You get a nice, warmer sound that way. So we pretty much did it that way, and of course everything was compressed. And I must say it's a pretty simple way of doing it, nothing real complicated. Effects will be added later. Probably the worst part of recording when you record bass [is that] you're not recording with effects. Like if you have a song where you might have a little chorus on it or a little delay, you don't have it, you're just getting this dry sound coming out of those godawful NS-10s [studio monitors], which are so unforgiving, and you have no inspiration [laughs], because it's like "I know I don't sound like this!" So you're holding back tears [laughs], you just get through with it, you keep telling yourself it's gonna sound better once it's [mixed].
SSMT: I have one question that I asked Petar, Chris and Dave. I don't think anybody who goes to the site has ever heard you, so how would you (or could you?) describe Ohm's music?
Robert: I try to say, it's like you take the vibe of [Jeff Beck's] "Blow by Blow", with the vibe of the second or the third Brand X record, some of the intensity of Mahavishnu Orchestra, take out the keyboards, stuff like that, try to listen to it in a bare frame of mind, it's kind of what I tell people. It's kind of like "Blow by Blow" meets Brand X meets John McLaughlin... in a way [laughs]. I can't pinpoint it either.
SSMT: With melodies that really set you guys apart.
Robert: Yeah, it's melodic, it's shorter tunes, as if we had a vocalist, let's put it that way. The melody is the verse, the chorus, and then we're in and out. It's pretty much designed as if there was a vocalist that would do the melodies.
SSMT: Except it's nothing like Kenny G.
Robert: Not at all! [laughs]
SSMT: I just want to make sure that nobody gets the idea that it's like...
Robert: Yeah, we don't want that [laughs] It's not happy jazz, that's for sure. There's nothing happy about it [laughs].
SSMT: It's a little jazz, but it's not very jazzy.
Robert: It's more of a rock/fusion thing, because we all come from it. We're all rock guys from the beginning, rock, blues, rhythm'n'blues, and we got into jazz, but jazz was too complicated, in a way... But we're more of a rock fusion. We're not jazz guys rocking out, we're rock guys... Whatever we're trying to say, this is the only way we can say it. It like sometimes when you get a little frustrated, it comes out that way.
SSMT: It's funny, because that's exactly what Dave said [I read David Eagle's quote about Ohm and fusion above]
Robert: See? That's the chemistry, that's why we play well together. We think alike, see? What did Chris say?
SSMT: He said that everybody's gonna hear what they're gonna hear.
Robert: Yeah, you gotta draw your own conclusion. If you pinpoint us, even if you say "It's like 'Blow by Blow' and Brand X and...", people will go in with that anticipation, and they go "Wait a minute, they're nothing like Brand X!" So scratch that [laughs]. It's more like Earl Scruggs...
SSMT: And Johnny Cash.
Robert: Yeah! And Johnny Carson. [laughs] I've tried to pinpoint it too to people when I'm trying to describe it, but it's its own little thing, it's like the stars, it's unique in its own way. And whether you love it or hate it, it's what it is.
SSMT: I think one of the reasons it's hard to make references to fusion is that in fusion, they have a lot of key changes and chord changes, but their individual chords are really, really complicated. You guys have a lot of chord changes, but the chords themselves are not like those crazy augmented 11th chords and things that only John McLaughlin understands.
SSMT: I think it's one of the main differences from fusion.
Robert: That's a big difference, yeah. because those chords that those guys use, the bass lines have to be in a completely different key sometimes, it completely takes away... "hey, wait a minute, it's not what I'm trying to say here!", you know... So yeah, Chris just has a way of putting things together with some of his chords that works. And I can put a bassline to it, and it sounds like he's changing a lot of chords, but he's really not. Or vice versa [laughs].
SSMT: Last question: What does Ohm stand for?
Robert: Old Hungry Men is one. Olive's Head Mannequins was another one. It was a device we used for home security, a head mannequin you'd put in the window to look like somebody is peering out. And there was... [Damn the Machine bass player] Dave Randi had a good one too... Aw man, I used to say them at the show all the time when we first started out. I'm trying to think. You got me on the spot now... [laughs] Ah! There was Old Hamster Mix, Octopus Hand Mitten, Obscene Hair Mound, Odorless Heel Metal...
SSMT: Thanks for your time!
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