joel wosk meets one of Tomahawk’s ‘oddfellows’….
Fans of experimental rock have good reason to rejoice as of late. On January 29th, Tomahawk released their newest album, Oddfellows, via Ipecac Recordings. For those unfamiliar with Tomahawk, they are an experimental rock super group of sorts featuring Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, etc.), Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard, Unsemble), John Stanier (Helmet, Battles), and Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Secret Chiefs 3,). Oddfellows displays the band’s ability to produce a haunting mix of musical styles ranging from hard rock, improvisational jazz, lounge, and funhouse style musical freak-outs.
Recently, I had the pleasure of taking some time to speak with Tomahawk bass player, Trevor Dunn. Over the course of the conversation, we discussed many topics including (but not limited to): the intricacies of the recording process, the inherent challenges of coordinating schedules with a group of very busy musicians, and the early works of Marvin Gaye.
Pop-Break: Oddfellows was recorded over a period of six days in Nashville. That seems like a relatively short period of time to put an album together, especially one as layered and experimental in nature as Oddfellows. Did the band record the tracks live, or did you each come in separately with your individual parts already worked out?
Trevor Dunn: In general, it was basically recorded live. John (Stanier), Duane (Denison), and I got together and rehearsed for a few days before we went in. Then we nailed the basic tracks in a couple of days: the bass and drums and a lot of the guitar parts too. And then Duane started overdubbing the guitar parts, which took a few days. (Mike) Patton came in later and worked on his vocal parts and additional orchestrations at his studio in San Francisco, so it’s not entirely true that the album was recorded in six days. I’m not entirely sure how long Patton worked on his parts because he was able to do it at his leisure at his own studio.
JW: How does the band manage to make the recording process work with all of you being involved in different projects aside from Tomahawk? For example, it seems as though Mike is involved in several projects all of the time, in addition to running his record label, Ipecac. John is involved with Battles, and you’re a member of Secret Chiefs 3, and more recently, toured with Melvins Lite.
TD: Usually we all try to meet in the same place, but because we are based in different locations, there are a lot of e-mails exchanged between us involving scheduling. In fact, I’m dealing with that right now with trying to do two tours back to back. I’m going to be doing a tour with Tomahawk and then the day after that tour ends, I will be doing a show with John Zorn. So basically, each member of the group has to be on top of his own schedule if we are going to make this work. It can certainly be tricky and a lot of times its first come first serve. Being a freelance musician basically means I work with whoever gets a hold of me first. It can be a weird little juggling game.
PB: Nashville obviously has some musical history of it’s own. It seems like lately it’s become a popular place for rock records to be produced. Easy Eye Sound (Owned By Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys), where you recorded Oddfellows, is located there. Jack White has his Third Man Records headquarters there too. What’s the attraction? Is it nice to get out of California? Is there a different vibe?
TD: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Duane lives there and has worked with the engineer we used on Oddfellows previously. He may have even used this studio before, so Nashville is kind of his home base. John and I both live in New York, and it probably would have been more expensive to record there. Since Duane lives in Nashville and has worked with the engineer before, it made sense logistically to record there. There’s not a particular attraction to Nashville or any kind of scene going on there. I think on past Tomahawk records, members have recorded in their own places individually and used file-sharing techniques, going back and forth with one another sharing tracks.
PB: On the band’s previous album, Anonymous, Tomahawk stuck to an overall theme (in that case, Traditional Native American Songs). Was there an overlying theme on Oddfellows?
TD: No, not really. Initially, Duane wrote all of the music and I think he had the idea of keeping things concise and a little more on the “poppy side,” getting back to the style of writing that was prevalent on the first two Tomahawk albums (Tomahawk and Mit Gas). So that was the only overlying theme on this record. But when Patton started developing his own lyrical ideas, I think he developed some themes there as far as his input was concerned.
PB: You’ve known Mike Patton since high school and you have been involved in several projects together. What’s the secret to making a creative relationship work for that many years? How much liberty do you take with your playing versus how much of an executive roll does Mike have in the direction of the music?
TD: It’s all about compromise. It’s the same with having a romantic relationship and making that work. You have to take care of the people you love. Sometimes you have to take the backseat, and sometimes you have to lead people forward. It’s about learning how people clique and how to make things work as best you can for everyone. Mike and I have played in various bands together and the hierarchy of power within each of those individual bands has been different. Whether it was more of a collaborative effort like Mr. Bungle, or with Fantomas where Mike was the sole leader, the dynamic is always changing. The music has always been different too, and as long as I’ve known him we’ve always been passionate about music. I think that’s the key to it right there, and that’s what we’re going for: creating something that we like.
PB: Time for a personal question: what do you like to do when you’re not recording or touring?
TD: (Laughs) Actually, a lot of what I do when I’m not making music is also involves making music. Whether that means finding time to write my own music, which can be difficult, or hanging out with my girlfriend which I don’t get to do enough. Right now I’m hanging out for a few days after doing a run in the Bay Area, not really doing anything, which is nice.
PB: Right on, Man. Getting back to the album: I think my favorite track on the new album would have to be “South Paw.” I think it’s a perfect blend of all the styles that make the group so interesting. With it’s quiet and loud dynamics as well as the eerie-layered vocals and sound effects in the background. Do you have a personal favorite song on Oddfellows?
TD: Hmmm…that’s a good question. I don’t really know if I have a favorite song in particular. I view the project as a whole. For example, I might change a bass tone on a particular song, but that’s based on what we’re working on at the specific moment. I have to say; I’ve enjoyed playing some of the older Tomahawk songs that are still new to me because there is none of the weight of recording attached to them. It almost like playing cover songs.
PB: Where do you plan to tour for the album? Do you prefer to tour in the states or in Europe? Why?
TD: We will be doing some sporadic touring. In a couple of weeks we will be doing a run on the west coast for about a week, and then we’ll be heading to Australia for about ten days. After that, we’ll be hitting Europe and then maybe back to the Northeast and Central United States for a short run. We’re not really doing it all at once because of everyone’s individual schedules.
It’s nice to be able to go back and forth between the United States and overseas. In the US, I know what to expect more. Overseas, there’s changing countries and languages all the time, which can be a little discombobulating. I do enjoy Southern Europe quite a bit. I think we are going to visiting some places I haven’t been to that much. I know we’re looking into playing some shows in Israel and the Czech Republic. We are also going to be doing a short run down in South America too, where I’ve started doing shows in the past couple of years, and I really like it down there. I especially like Santiago, Chile and Argentina.
PB: Final question. Are there any newer bands are you currently interested in?
PB: Oh man. I can’t really say that I’ve been listening to that much new stuff. Although there is a band, a duo from Brooklyn, called Buke and Gase. It’s a really cool band; one guy plays this guitar/bass hybrid instrument that he built, and then the other plays a baritone ukulele and she also sings. In addition to that, one of them plays a bass drum and they both have tambourines attached to their feet. It actually takes up a lot more space than you would think. Other than that, I’ve been listening to some doo-wop era Marvin Gaye stuff and some older Los Lobos records.