Thanks so much to Julie Cord from Blue Mouth Promotions for setting me up with this interview! She and her brother manage a whole bunch of great artists at BMP. Check them out!
Also special thanks to Lucas Lee for doing the transcription of this interview! I love that people want to help with the work of this site. Thank you, Lucas!!
Interview Audio (Podcast)
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I’d never heard of Teddy Kumpel before Julie recommended I interview him. Once I asked some Facebook friends about him, several chimed in saying they loved what he did. I spent a few hours checking out his incredible and exhaustive YouTube channel featuring his Loopestra, which (as you’ll soon find out) is a band with rotating members that perform different arrangements of songs every time Teddy books a gig. It’s incredibly creative and I can’t even imagine how challenging it must be for Teddy and his compatriots. The only experience I have with this is playing at church, where I never am playing with the same people, but the music isn’t typically challenging or terribly diverse.
Once I checked out Teddy and learned more about him, I knew he’d be a great candidate for an MWM interview. Thanks so much to Teddy for letting me spend time with him during a practice day at the beginning of his 2016 tour with Joe Jackson in Scottsdale.
A: Hi this is Anthony from MakeWeirdMusic.com and I am here with Teddy Kumpel , guitarist for Joe Jackson and man of many musical adventures. Teddy, can you tell us about yourself, and your formation as a musician?
When I was a kid, we sang and played a lot. My mom played tons of classical music and also rags . She loved Scott Joplin and super early jazz stuff, so I was definitely informed by that. I think by the time I got to be maybe in third grade, I was already playing guitar. We should start with guitar, right?
A: Wow! That’s pretty cool!
T: Yeah, so my sister and I would learn harmonies to the barbershop quartets and sing with my parents in the car when driving somewhere. We’d learn how to sing background harmonies at a very young age.
Ukulele, barbershop quartet - that’s the early years. Let’s see… Then we move up to the 3rd grade. So, school band, playing saxophone… I didn’t grow up wealthy or anything, so my summer camp was going to summer school at the local elementary school. This was in the 70s…
And my music teacher, Claire Kahn, was super cool, and since I didn’t really know if I liked the saxophone as I was into the ukulele more, I said, “Hey, I want to try the tuba.” She was like, “Yeah, sure, try the tuba! Take that home!”
She let me take home every band instrument one summer and I tried the viola, cello, tuba, trombone… everything you can think of. French horn, trumpet–I just took them home and messed around with them and I think that kind of informed my guitar playing because just the willingness to go in many different places and try things and make different sounds other than guitar sounds was part of my upbringing.
And then I played in concert bands from 3rd grade until I was a senior, and I played all different instruments. I played baritone horn, tuba, trombone, saxophone… all that stuff, and then also played guitar in the jazz band.
I had an excellent guitar teacher when I was a kid. This guy–Richard Rabatin who was a Berklee composition major–taught me. I guess he recognized when I was like 14 when I started with him that I had a pretty good ear. So he started me on atonal sight-singing right away, which he apologizes for now. Hi Rich! [laughs]
That really opened up my ears I think at a young age and he showed me a lot of stuff that I don’t think any other teacher would have gone there with such a young kid. Yeah. So… There you go.
A: Did you play piano at all with your mother’s influence or anything?
T: My mom was so good at piano that when I watched her play, I was like, “Um, I’ll never be able to do that. I’m sticking with guitar.” [laughs]
A: You obviously were passionate enough about guitar to go to Berkelee College of Music, right?
T: I didn’t go to Berkelee College of Music. I got a scholarship to go there and I decided that I’d rather go to University of Miami, so I went there and that was really great.
In my freshman year there, my roommate was Andy Timmons . I had a bunch of great guitar players around me: Brian Monroney , Mike Abbott , Tim Mitchell , who’s Shakira’s musical director. We were all in it together and started teaching each other stuff as we went along, and it was really great.
A: What did you focus on as part of your guitar instruction?
T: I think the first couple of years in Miami were sort of an eye opener for me, because it showed me how much Richard, my teacher in high school, showed me. I placed out of all the theory classes and I didn’t have to take any of them, but also I realized that I didn’t know a lot of things on the guitar that a lot of other people knew, so it was all about learning all your chord voicings, learning tunes, jazz tunes, and transcribing. It was the Studio Music and Jazz Program.
A: Where did you go from there, once you graduated? What were some of your early opportunities as a musician?
T: Well, while I was in college, I was playing 6 nights a week playing Top 40 music to get myself through it. So, 6 nights a week, 6 sets a night. That was Miami in the 80s. South Florida in the 80s. That’s the thing–you could just play and play and play. You’d join bands and make a couple dollars. And the main thing about that was that you’d be learning tunes constantly, because you had to know whatever was on the radio. And it would get your stamina up. You’d have to play so long every night that if you can’t stand on the stage for that long, if you got tired or didn’t give it your 100%… [laughs]
A: How long did you do that?
T: That was probably a good 3 years.
A: You must have burned through strings. It’s humid in Miami, playing 6 nights a week too…
T: Yeah, true, true, true.
A: 6 sets?
T: 6 sets a night…
A: Oh my goodness…
A: Dance Clubs?
T: It started like 8 o’clock at night and ended like 2 or 3 in the morning.
A: Wow, and you never traveled? You just stayed in Miami doing these clubs?
T: I was sort of like up and down the coast of Florida. I think the farthest north we went was West Palm Beach , but we would also go to Key Largo for a month. If you weren’t in school at the time you could go do that.
A: How long were you in Florida?
T: About 5 years. I took a gig with this band Rare Silk . They were like the weird Manhattan Transfer . They got a Grammy nomination, and they were really a creative band. I toured with them with Ric Fierabracci on bass and Olbin Burgos , who played drums for the Miami Sound Machine for a long time and this amazing producer from Miami, Lester Mendez playing keyboard. We were their band, and we toured for about a year, then we all quit. [laughs]
A: Something happened?
T: I think we wanted more money and they wouldn’t give us more money, something like that.
A: And when was this?
T: It was about 1986.
A: What’s been going on, you know after that, since then?
T: After that, I moved to New York, and did what every young starving musician does in New York in the 80s. At least there were only a few things that you could do to make money and one of the main ones was doing club dates or weddings. So I think between 1988 and 1998, I did about probably 750 weddings.
A: Oh my goodness.
A: You were probably really good at wedding music by then after the Miami dance scene, right?
T: Well, Miami pop music/dance scene was sort of like what’s on the radio, and wedding was in NY are a very specific thing. You’ve got to know your Frank Sinatra , you’ve got to know a couple of standards, some Bossa Novas , you have Jobim , you’ve got to know…
Maybe there’s a set of dance music, maybe there’s a set of oldies dance music like Sly and the Family Stone . So it’s very diverse and you meet a lot of really great players when you do weddings in New York because everybody does them.
If you’re not a producer, or if you’re a musician and you’re only a side man and that’s your job, then you’re gonna probably going to end up in a wedding gig at some point.
A: Yeah, it’s funny Andy West was in a band called Fwap with a guitarist named Joaquin Levano in New York, and my dad recently moved back to NY. He’s been playing and he met Joaquin through the keyboard player that my dad has known for a long time, and Joaquin and Scott [keyboardist] were playing weddings in New York! So that’s just funny talking to my dad. “You know, you’ve got this guitarist named Joaquin Levano” Like, what? He played with Andy West! And my dad played and I with Andy West shortly in Arizona, so…
T: Oh yeah? Cool. Andy’s super cool.
A: Yeah. Everyone plays weddings in New York!
A: So what about your own compositions like Loopestra?
T: Yeah, it’s my own music. Composition-wise, started composing, and I would say when I was in high school I was writing instrumental rock tunes. Then in Miami, I started writing a lot more, branching out, writing lyrics, and putting together little productions of things on a 4-track recorder, trying to figure out how to do that. Then I had a band in the early 90s called Nome Sane? with Tony Scherr , who’s the bass player for Bill Frisell and Andy Middleton , who’s an amazing sax player, and Brian Dunne who’s the drummer for Hall and Oates now.
A: Oh wow.
T: We had a funk band. That was pretty fun.
A: Nome Sane?
T: Nome Sane? You can find that on iTunes …
A: Oh cool.
T: It has a question mark at the end. Nome Sane, question mark. We did some touring. We played in Europe. We had a really good time and I think I learned a lot about being a bandleader from doing that for four strong personalities, trying to figure that out. It’s good and then as time went on, people kind of drifted off and we disbanded and I started writing a lot of pop songs. So I wrote a lot of pop songs with some artists who got signed and I got a publishing deal with EMI.
A: Oh cool.
T: Um.. which, you know, that and $2.50 will get you on a subway.
A: Great, Right! Yeah. [laughs]
T: So I have a lot of experience demoing and writing pop songs and I guess that does inform my weird music making too.
A: Yeah I bet!
T: Because I know how to craft something into something that’s listenable but I also like weird things, so I like to marry those two things together.
A: Who are some of the weird influences that you’ve got?
T: Oh man, well weird influences–let’s see. That’s a good question. I listened to a lot of early Bill Frisell - Rambler . That album where they had 2 brass instruments. He had Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn and he had tuba player and he had electric bass and him and the drummer so like… high and low strings and high and low brass and a drummer. I like that.
T: No, I’m more into the harmonic stuff, like (Erik) Satie .
A: Parade ?
A: Jimmy Page ?
A: I don’t meet many musicians who’d do that with Jimmy Page.
T: Jimmy Page… I mean I love Led Zeppelin . I’m not like the guy who listen to Led Zeppelin and goes “Wow! I want to play all those guitar licks,” you know? But, I played them.
A: Of course. 6 nights a week…
T: Oh Yeah?
A: Awesome show in New York.
T: Yeah. I love Mark. Mark has done the Loopestra.
A: That’s right! Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. So the Loopestra–how did that get started? Did you first with the electronics, and get an idea, or…
T: Loopestra kind of came about because I wanted to have a band where I could write open ended songs that didn’t have a lot of changes and I wanted to get another guitar player who would just play rhythm and I could make weird noises over that and sing songs, but I couldn’t find anybody who would just play rhythm. Everybody wanted to have other roles and as great as that could have been, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. And right about that time, Boss came out with a looper. [laughs]
T: So I was like, “Well, sorry dude, you’re fired. I’m getting a looper!” and it turns out that worked well for me. I was able to exercise my production brain live with that, which isn’t to say that I do a lot of electronics stuff because sometimes it’s very organic and basic. Sometimes I can make it sound like James Brown , sometimes I can be totally bizarre.
A: How did you get in touch with the roster of people you’ve played with? Is just the years of working as a musician playing gigs that you’ve built that network? Or are you seeking out these people for specific sounds or talents?
T: I think it started out–I wanted to have a set band when I started that, and then it’s New York city. Sometimes people can’t make $50 gigs, so I had to start mixing it up and then that became a thing. It became interesting to have a different drummer and bass player on the gig every time, because you’re making loops–and it’s not a lot of changes and there’s no rehearsal, so it ends up that they just had to bring their own personalities to the table and they don’t know what’s going to happen either, so it’s exciting for them. They don’t have to have any preconceived notion of what’s going to happen. I try to tailor what I’m doing to what I think they’re going to bring, but then sometimes they surprise me and bring in something completely different than what I thought they were going to bring, so it’s really fun for me to get to play with all these guys and mix it up with that.
A: Yeah it seems less like music performance and more like musical communication between 3 or 4 people at a time.
A: You don’t play the songs for the other guys beforehand generally unless they’ve done a gig with you before? Then they’re unfamiliar with what you’re going to do?
T: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, I think when somebody wants to know what they should check out, I say, “Just go check yourself out. Check out your personality, alone in your apartment and meditate a little bit or something. I don’t know what to tell you, pal.” [laughs] That’s a really New York answer, sorry.
T: Yeah, but as far as the people who have done this… You’re doing this on a Monday night in New York, where all musicians have a day off and people come out, so they see it and they want to be part of it. Or I think, “Oh you know those 2 guys played with blah-blah-blah together. Maybe it’d be cool if they did it ‘cause they have a thing together.” I try to keep people together that have “a thing.” Then sometimes you can’t get people to play together a lot, so you have to put people together that never play together, then they evolve into having “a thing” also.
A: Is this live dynamic performance a response to anything in your past? Like playing through-composed music by other people for so much of your career as a paid musician, doing these wedding gigs, club gigs and that kind of thing? Were you just craving this kind of live improvisation? Or is that always been part of your musical…
T: Good question. I would say, I’ve been jamming like that with my mom since I was a kid, where she would play organ and I would play piano. Even though I don’t really know how to play piano, I have ears and fingers, so I can kind of find and play in between and we would have these epic half hour long jams that would just go from totally bizarro world –but very reactionary.
She would play something, I’d answer. And she doesn’t really consider herself an improviser necessarily. She’s got great ears, but she’s a classical musician, so everything she’s drawing from is something that has been played before. But I had no idea what that was most of the time, so I was just sort of hearing my way through it. And I guess, that’s always been part of my M.O.–jamming and playing extended things as it’s always been fun for me. But equally I like the set forms too, so thankfully I get to do both.
A: Yeah! Are your sets unplanned with the Loopestra?
T: I don’t even think about it. I just go on stage and sort of go, “Ok, what song do I have here? Maybe I’ll sing that song.” You know? Start something and go, “Nah, I don’t want to sing that song for this. It sounds like this other song.” Because it could go either way. I have some preconceived little loopy ideas that I do for some songs, but instead probably a third of the time, I’ll sing something else over it, just to mix it up and push the thing into an unknown territory.
A: We didn’t actually say what the Loopestra was! We didn’t talk about it. What IS the Loopestra and how do you tell people about it?
T: The Loopestra is a band that has a rotating cast and rotating guitar parts [laughs] via loopers. So the way it works is, you get a couple of people playing bass and drums. You get a looper, you make a loop. The drummer goes, “Oh, I know what to play with that.” He does it and then the bass player says, “Oh I don’t really like that chord. I’m going to play something totally to wrong make it into another chord.” Hopefully he’ll do that.
A: Yeah. I watched one of your gigs. Most of them are on your Youtube channel. Or many of them… I don’t know.
T: It’s extensive, the library.
A: It is!
T: They run screaming. [laughs]
A: What’s amazing to me is, you’d play a loop and my ears think, “Oh I get it.” And then the drummer would come in and do something totally off the wall, like…
A: And it completely changes the direction of the song. Even just for 8 or 16 measures. Do you get a thrill out of that?
A: It’s not confusing for you or anything? [laughs]
T: I hope it’s confusing. I love it when it goes to the edge of the cliff and you really have to pay attention. It just makes you pay attention when they do that.
A: So tell me about the edge of the cliff.
T: Okay… well if you’re playing a gig where you know everything that you’re going to play, you’re not on the edge of the cliff, which is fine ‘cause you have thing that you’re going to do and that’s a performance. It’s a different kind of edge of the cliff, let’s say, because there are subtleties that could come out in a live performance that don’t come up every time, but you kind of have to cover the bases of what the thing is, right? Like with Joe [Jackson], he’d have set parts, and then with Loopestra, since you have no idea what it’s going to be, basically, it forces you to listen, I guess, that’s the only way to… you’re all sort of holding hands and jumping off.
A: I’m assuming these other musicians also enjoy being on the edge of the cliff.
T: Some more than the others. [laughs] Yes. Some of them have gone “Was that good? I don’t even know.” When they say that, I’m like, “That means it was good.” When you think you don’t know, that’s where you want to live for this gig.
A: I love that, oh man, that’s good… and what about audiences?
T: Well… that’s an interesting point, because it can get self indulgent if a drummer, let’s say, decides that he’s going to be Mr. Odd-time-weirdo-loud-non-dynamic-guy, the ladies in the audience would not be happy.
However, if the drummer decides that he’s going to be Mr. Pay-attention-to-the-room, look around, see who’s holding their ears, very dynamic, super groove oriented, sometimes a little bit spicy, weird for taste, then the ladies will hang. [laughs]
A: And your gigs are… I mean I watched one at the Smithtown public library. I was born in Smithtown, so it was like, “oh!”…. and my aunt does a lot of political work there.
T: There you go.
A: So it was cool, but you could tell, at least, listening, there seemed to be a lot of older women in the audience.
T: Those older women loved it!
T: I think partially, because of Shawn Pelton, the guy who’s playing drums with me… He’s good.
A: He’s great.
T: He’s the master at it. He knows how to make it happen. They’re eating it up.
A: And you had no bass player. It was just the two of you.
T: Yeah, yeah. I played some bass parts in that show.
A: So what is your… has your electronics rig kind of grown into something to support the Loopestra?
T: Yeah, because it’s all about sort of on-the-fly access to a wide variety of sounds. I’ve cultivated, you know of, an array of probably… I don’t know, I have never counted them, but maybe there’s 40 levels of little tidbits of information there that could be turned on and off and I’m generally a one-at-a-time kind of guy. I’m not a big fan of turning on 17 different effects at the same time and seeing what happens… I’m more of a very specific and, you know, “Let’s get a delay” makes sounds, “rock guitar chord on a down beat,” “let’s get another thing”… and then you just build a vocabulary within the framework. So it’s… in that respect, it’s not completely improvised, because you do have you know, when you’re speaking words, you know words and they’re going to come up in sentences, right?
A: Yep. But you’re pretty busy. I mean, when you’re playing, it’s not just the guy playing guitar. I mean, you’re turning loops on and off, you’re changing the pitch, you’re shifting the pitch of what you’re playing. What are some of the tools of your trade in the Loopestra?
T: That’s the looping aspect of it, yeah. The previous thing I talked about was the sound element, where you have a variety of sound. But for the looping aspect, I have a rig set up to go through 2 diff amps in stereo, so one thing can come out in the right and one thing can come out in the left. I’m not a fan of stereo effects necessarily, where things are like ping-ponging back and forth between 2 amps. I’m more of a fan of it sounding like a record where there’s a rhythm guitar player on the right and a bass guitar player on the left. Those things can go away.
So I have a way of turning off a whole side of information. I have a way of turning off a specific loop, so I have access to making 4 loops at a time and they can all be on both sides.
A: Oh, ok. So you’re signal routing in addition to thinking about what you’re playing, in addition to thinking about what instrument your guitar’s going to be sounding like.
A: So you’re thinking texturally, sonically, spatially…
A: Was that super difficult at first?
T: I mean, it took me about 2 years to develop the rig to the point where I liked it. So, yeah. When I first started out, I had a Boss looper that had a guide track in it and I would experiment with it by putting the guide track through an amp, so it was sort of like a drum machine playing all the time through this amp that the drummer could hear and it was just–that had to always be there. It was annoying. So I figured, “Ok, I have to figure out a way to have a click track,” because otherwise how are you going to stay in time with the loops?
Now, that’s an interesting point, because some people would say, “Well, why don’t you just have a basic rhythm loop going to the drummer’s headphones and then he could always hear that and play along with it, right?”. Is that something that somebody would say?
A: Somebody would say that.
T: I’ve heard that many times.
A: I believe you’re correct.
T: So, I tried that and recorded it and listened to it and I decided that - A) I don’t always want to have the beginning of the song have rhythm guitar, sometimes I want it to be ambient. B) When I’m in a recording session with the drummer and I’m playing funky guitar, that thing is not metronomically correct necessarily. It sounds funkier when the rhythm guitar, at least my style of it, is sort of behind the beat, or sort of messing around with the beat, or…
A: Kind of what Ben Levin was talking about where he’d find an equal amount of time and it doesn’t have to be accurate, that’s what it gives it interest?
T: Right, exactly. So I mean if I’m playing a reggae groove… I’m going to go “um click um click um click…”. I’m going to go, ““um (slight delay) click (shorter delay)um (slight delay) click (shorter delay)um (shorter delay) click.” Like swinging a little bit, or doing something weird with it, or play a 32nd note behind just for one of them. And the drummer knows what’s going on, because he could hear the click and me doing that against the click. So he can go “Oh, I see” right away.
And these guys are pros. They’re not messing around. So they’re not going to hear that and go, “Oh no, what’s going on?” They’d hear it and go, “I see, Teddy’s being weird. Ok, cool.”
A: That’s interesting. So do you find that, or did you find when you’re doing the rhythmic looping in the ears… was that introducing bias into your choices while you were performing?
T: Bias in terms of…?
A: Well, you might hear something and go “Oh well, that’s what I’m hearing in my hears and just going to play to that, or was that constraining you at all, in the choices you were making…
T: Hearing the click?
A: It sounded like you had at some point kind of a rhythm or drum or something before the click.
T: Oh THAT thing.
T: Yeah, well with that thing, it was like a beat that would always be on, so you couldn’t turn it off and you couldn’t get away from it and it sounded really gross and it wasn’t helpful.
A: And it was always in 4/4?
T: No. The Boss has many different time signatures that all sound equally terrible. They designed that thing for a guy who’s playing by himself at a Holiday Inn lobby who is going to play his Bossanova, you know, (sings) “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and he needs a Bossa beat and he’s going to play like a little guitar and solo over it and maybe he’ll loop some background vocals later in the song or something. So they design it for that. They didn’t design it for somebody who’s going to get weird.
A: Right. You’re exploiting the tech.
A: I’m seeing a lot of people do this kind of one-man-band kind of thing and layering percussion, salt shakers, whatever, but it seems that you’re primary sticking to the guitar and your loops. Have you explored building loops in that just aren’t guitar?
T: I used to play kazoo or sing some stuff into the looper. I like that. It can be fun. That makes the setup bigger, which in New York isn’t necessarily good. But sometimes I still do that. I really don’t have any interest in being a 1-man band at all, so my thinking was never along those lines and how to get good at that. I always wanted it to be bass player and drummer and guitar trio with the extra stuff.
A: Do you ever, or are you inspired by any particular people doing looping?
T: The most inspiring guy to me is the guy who does this most simplest and the most one-man band, which is Reggie Watts . He is so good. The guy–just his feel, like how he can make something quarter notes so amazing. I’m a huge fan of him.
A: I’m trying to get him for this site at some point.
T: He’d be great. I know his bass player really well.
A: Oh. I’ll have to reach out.
T: Might have to talk.
A: Yeah! Did you ever try something like Abelton , which is built a lot around song structure, components, pieces?
T: I’ve tried that and I’ve found, for me, the foot pedal thing, is more solid as a tech on a gig for me. I know a lot of people that use that live and that’s fine. But I guess something with computers and me on a stage just doesn’t work really well.
It kind of makes one more thing to bring and it does open up a lot more possibilities of what you can actually do, but that doesn’t necessarily help me. I think the limitations in my rig help. I think it’s good that I can only turn off one side at a time, or, you know, it’s…
A: I agree. Constraints are a good thing.
T: Yeah, so I use an Infinity Looper .
A: What’s that?
T: That’s a Pigtronix looper. It has stereo in and stereo out and it has reverse pitch, has undo, has many, many different functions I think probably all the same ones that Ableton has, except instead of the foot pedal. Then I use the TC Electronic Ditto 4 , that has some kind of weird–like, you can do stutter effects makes sounds. You can do tape slow down makes sounds stuff. [laughs]
A: That’s cool.
T: I always like to sing the effect when I’m telling the person. Is that ok? [laughs]
A: Yeah! Absolutely. That’s why we’re here.
T: This stems from a New York session that I got called for once, where my friend Joey called me up and goes (in New Yorker accent) “Hey Teddy, I need you to come down here. I need you to bring your guitar and need you to bring a (makes sounds) phase shifter and I need you to bring a makes sounds wah wah.” This is a phone message that I got… it was just the classic.
A: I know so many people that talk just like that! [laughs] That’s awesome! How did you get hooked up with Joe Jackson?
T: Joe Jackson sent out an email to probably 20 of his ex-bandmates, or people he knew in the music business to try to find a guitar player who could sing and was good with effects. So one of them who used to play with him, Andy Ezrin , this keyboard player guy I know from college, got the email and he sent it to me and said, “Hey, you should do this, audition for Joe!” and I said, “Oh yeah, I love Joe!” So I sent Joe an email and 6 other people recommended me and then I got to audition for him and he was super cool and we hit it off right away! There you go.
A: When was this?
T: This was last summer, about a year ago
A: Oh wow, this was pretty recent for you. You’ve been touring with him on and off from the past year?
T: Yeah, this is our third tour. We did a US tour in October and November and we did an European tour in the Winter.
A: Do you play with any other acts?
T: Right now? No, I’m busy enough with Joe and…
A: I mean in recent years.
T: Oh, yeah, sure I’ve done a lot of stuff. I mean, played with Rickie Lee Jones for a month on the road.
A: That must have been fun.
T: You know, I grew up listening to her and I think kind of learned how to sing from her. So for me, it was a really spiritual experience to be with her and sing backgrounds with her and she liked my singing. She was really nice to me about that. But then right after that she went on to do another kind of project that she had a band up in California for, so we lost touch. But, yeah, I really enjoyed playing with her. She’s great–really freaky, kind of free-spirit. I did a background vocals gig for Nine Inch Nails once, that was pretty amazing.
A: In studio, or live?
T: It was MTV Music Awards 1999. So it was at the Metropolitan Opera House and it was 6 days of rehearsal for one song and it was pretty deep, man. Trent really–he’s some detailed oriented stuff. Really amazing, and to watch him work and be control in every aspect.. lights, movement on stage, every single little detail he was into. It was very eye opening. It watched the dedication and hard work he put into it. It was pretty amazing.
A: My wife LOVES Feist.
T: Feist is great. I knew her before she was famous too and she’s been fun to watch her to do her thing. She’s so great.
A: Yeah. We found out about her through Kings of Convenience . Do you know them?
A: Simon and Garfunkel -type out of Norway. She did several songs with them on their albums but no one knew who she was. Great voice.
T: Yeah, amazing. I did a lot of playing with this guy, Chris Brown , who’s a Canadian producer. Actually him and Kate Fenner , his song writing partner and band mate - they were in this band called the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir in the, I guess the 80s.
A: Great name!
T: That band, became Broken Social Scene , so Chris and Kate split off as their own thing and the rest of the people kind of went on to be involved with Broken Social Scene, which is where Feist came from.
A: Okay, interesting.
T: So it’s like a whole Canadian contingent.
A: You mentioned that you sang with your family growing up. But then, focused primarily on guitar after that. But I’m sure, obviously that you sing and play guitar. Anything about your vocal development - is that something you’ve focused on particularly hard or is it just natural coming from your family?
T: Both, I think. I always sang when I was a kid. I was in the all-state choir. Chorus in high school, I was always singing. I never really sang pop songs until college, when I did those top-40 gigs. I sort of just learned by listening to Stevie Wonder , Peter Gabriel , and Rickie Lee, kind of emulating my heroes. I used to always joke that my warm up was a hamburger and a cigarette for singing.
This was back in the old days. Now I think it’s just drinking a lot of water and humming a lot helps, but I don’t have any real philosophy of singing, except to… it’s sort of the same on the guitar. I’m not a… I studied the guitar a lot and come to realization that being yourself is the most important thing - so… doesn’t require thought to do that necessarily. It’s more like getting.. you can study a lot and get a lot of things together on the guitar, but really what you want… what I want to do is to have a direct connection between my emotions, I guess, or soul, or whatever you want to call it to the instrument. So there’s no filter between those things. Just whatever you come up with on the spot is what you’re going to do.
A: Tell me how you developed to that.
T: I think just doing it. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way to develop that except by–you can’t think that through. You can have that philosophy and say that’s what I’m going to do and then you do it, then realize, “Oh, it takes a lot more relaxation than sort of mind over matter kind of focus to get to that than you think it does.” You’re sort of getting into your own way, right?
A: Absolutely! Yeah. You study technique. You study other people’s music, but there’s no real instruction on who you are.
A: Do you feel like that you found yourself musically a long time ago, or has that been fairly recent?
T: I think by the early 90s, I was fairly well in myself, yeah. I’ve learned how to do that better over the years and I think playing with other people and being a side man helps me find my voice within other music, which helps me find my own voice within my music too, you know. So they all kind of go hand in hand. There’s no real one moment when I said, “Oh yeah, now I’m who I’m supposed to be.”
T: I know people who’ve had that and I’m always like, “Wow.” Sometimes through drugs and I’m like, “Wow, well, I’m glad I didn’t have to do THAT to get there!”
A: Yeah, no kidding. What about relaxation? What makes you emphasize that as one of your key points?
T: I think when your mind is focused and relaxed, you can let more of yourself through, you know. You’re not uptight about what’s going to happen, or pre-thinking what’s going to happen, necessarily, even if it’s set music, if it’s something that’s pre-decided or prearranged, you’ve got to be in the moment. You can’t be thinking, “Oh, here it comes! That part… oh geez! [laughs] makes Groan noise”
A: “There it went!”
T: Brace for it! [laughs]
A: The word “weird” in Make Weird Music is more about that, like finding your voice and realizing that you’re not someone else, musically - that if you’re trying to be somebody else, then you’re not being weird. Everyone’s weird. Can you tell me your take on “weird” and why we’re here?
T: Dave Liebman , you know who that is? Saxophone player? Played with Miles Davis , really amazing teacher and player. I was lucky enough to sit in on one of his saxophone clinics for Dave, because I drove my friend there and he said something that blew me away. He said that there’s 3 stages… real New York guy, (in New York accent,) “3 stages to every musician’s career. You’ve got imitator, everybody starts out imitating - gotta do it. 2nd stage. Stylist. You became yourself within a style of music. Very good for you. 3rd stage. Innovator - nobody gets there. Couple of guys.”
So like.. wow, that’s brilliant and sort of like encapsulates the whole thing, you know. I’d be happy to be myself within a style of music, whatever that style is. I guess my style is sort of incorporating a lot of styles together, which you’d like to think it makes a new style, but really it’s a bunch of things mixed together. So, it’s up to the critics to decide if it’s a new style or not, I suppose. Did I answer your question? [laughs]
A: Sure. Whatever [laughs]
T: Question shmestion.
A: I don’t even know why I’m here.
A: So, I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us all about yourself.
T: I appreciate you coming all the way over here!
A: Thanks a lot Teddy!
T: Thanks for having me! Appreciate it!
A: Thanks man.
T: Alright! Thanks Conan!