I am going to start off by stating that I love Tomahawk. I have been a big fan of the band since their first album came out in 2001. Since then I have been a devoted follower and once I saw the clip of Mike Patton using some sort of gas mask contraption as a microphone and then re-witnessed it live, I became downright obsessed. Also, how could you not be in love with a band that contains former member’s of Faith No More (Patton), Helmet (John Stainer), and The Jesus Lizard (Duane Denison). That’s like a the greatest
experimental noise rock, metal, post hardcore pants party of all time! In the past few years the band had been lying low and I was beginning to become concerned that they had called it quits. So I was pleasantly surprised when information about the bands fourth album began circulating. I was even more pleased when I discovered that Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.) was taking up bass duties for the band. Now with Oddfellows being set for release next Tuesday (01/29) , I took a complete shot in the dark and requested an interview with the band. When they accepted and I was told that I would get to interview Dunn, I went into a geeked out excitement coma, then immediately after became extremely nervous about the questions I was going to ask. So after hours of sleepless nights and countless revisions to my questions, along with some spectacular answers from Dunn. May I present to the greatest interview of all time.
How did joining up with Tomahawk come about?
I’m on a short list of bass players who are not considered unhinged. I pay my taxes and empty the bathroom trash when guests are on their way over. I can also just as easily play odd metered compli-core as drone on three notes for 20 minutes. But more importantly the fellows in Tomahawk recognized my tolerance for insanity and in this business, that is key.
Tomahawk has more of a straight forward rock oriented sound than you are known for (with the exception of MadLove). Do you prefer playing this stuff as opposed to the more experimental style?
Preference is not a big word in my vocabulary. What I prefer is diversity. I’m often asked which I like playing more, upright or electric bass. I prefer being able to go back and forth. As stable as I am as a human being, I’ve never been able to settle with one thing musically. I don’t listen to the same style of music all the time so why would I want to play the same thing all the time?
Tomahawk has been at it off and on for awhile now, how was it joining a band with Duane Denison and John Stanier? Was there any difficulty learning to play together?
None whatsoever. I really dig Duane’s style of writing. His use of tight intervals and counterpoint is all too rare in rock music. And Stanier is a machine, very easy to play with. The three of us got together for the first time in a rehearsal studio to learn what would become Oddfellows and were pretty much “studio ready” in about three days. I’m too old to feel awkward around musicians anymore. We are professionals and showed up to get a job done. At the end of the day one can always have a little whiskey and talk about one’s upbringing.
Are you a fan of Denison’s or Stanier’s other work?
I sort of missed the boat on alternative rock in the ’90s, but I did see The Jesus Lizard and Helmet play back in my days in San Francisco. There were certain things I appreciated about both of those bands, but at the time I was deeper into other things. “Fan” is a word I’m not too comfortable using, but suffice it to say that I appreciate everything those guys do.
You’ve known Mike Patton for a really long time. What’s your relationship like with him? Is it different now that you are in Tomahawk?
Indeed I’ve been buddies with Patton for 30 years, just a couple years shy of the length of time I’ve been a professional musician. Our relationship is like a brotherhood. We have a history that is far too vast and personal to talk to the public about. Since, at the time of this writing, Tomahawk has only spent one week on the road I can’t say if it’s any different or not. We certainly have never ceased making music together in all of those years whether it was in a collaborative band (Mr. Bungle), under his leadership (Fantômas) or as two hired hands (John Zorn’s Moonchild). Ultimately I would say the dynamic of Tomahawk has no bearing on our personal relationship. It’s pretty easy music to play and we can have fun with it. I’m looking forward to being on the road with this guy cuz we don’t get to spend a lot of time together these days.
Is this a long term fit for you with Tomahawk?
I don’t see why not. The band is Patton and Duane’s child and I’m the “new guy”. The last time I got kicked out of a band was in 1987 and that’s because I didn’t know how to play Latin jazz. As long as they keep cutting me checks I’ll keep showing up for soundcheck.
What was the writing process like for Oddfellows? Was it a group effort or did someone come in with the songs already mapped out?
Duane wrote everything, made demos with guitar, bass and drum machine, then handed it over to Patton who wrote the melodies, words and added some orchestration. Stanier and I came in at the rehearsal stage and filtered in our nuances. All of this was refined in the recording and mixing process.
Do you feel that you have changed or influenced Tomahawk’s sound?
The short answer is yes. I think any musician has that affect however subtle and however intentional or not. There are minute factors, one’s personality being probably the most important, that make their way into the music almost unconsciously. Those guys respect me and have open ears when it comes to suggestions. But I would also say that any bass player in this situation would have some influence and I will go even further and say that everything influences everything.
Do you have a favorite song or songs from the new album?
It’s very hard to be objective with this sort of thing, but if I had to I’d say “Choke Neck”. At least half of our live set consists of older material, which is in essence new material for me and I quite enjoy playing a lot of those songs.
Are there any bands or artists that inspired the songs on Oddfellows?
For my contribution, I would have to say previous Tomahawk records.
Are there any main musical influences or artists that everyone in the band agrees on or really enjoys?
We are playing a couple of Bad Brains cover songs as well as a tune by Duane Eddy. But aside from that, we are all into a lot of different kinds of music.
Any plans to do a full US tour?
Not exactly. Due to time constraints we are covering the US in spurts. So far we’ve done part of the South and in February we cover the West Coast. There are plans of doing a week in the Mid West before heading to Europe for a brief stint.
Are there any Tomahawk songs from their previous albums that you really enjoy listening to or playing live?
In particular I like “Point and Click”.
What is your favorite / most inspirational musical act of the past five years?
I can’t name one. Britney Spears, Lyenn, Buke & Gase, Little Women, Paul Desmond, Chopin.
Favorite band or album of all time?
Erik Sanko: Past Imperfect, Present Tense.
What was your experience playing in Melvins Lite? How was the 51 day 50 States tour?
Playing in the Melvins is like having the World Series going into overtime in your left ear while weight training with………..in your right. The 51 day tour was easier than most people perceived. Once a tour falls into a monotonous sense of routine, especially if it is routed smartly, it’s just a matter of maintaining common sense and hygiene. Not a lot of people are good at those two things, especially musicians. But I took care of myself. After getting over the initial threshold of pain I evolved in to a flesh sledge hammer, a calloused existentialist, a forager, a roaming mammal capable of destroying anything in my path.
Any plans for a new MadLove album?
No immediate plans. I’m currently sorting ideas for a new trio-convulsant project, but the idea of MadLove remains and I hope write another record once I find the time.
Petty sure that after this interview Trevor Dunn and I became best friends. I hope to one day evolve into a flesh sledge hammer as well and I’m glad that Dunn and I agree on the inspirational qualities of Ms. Britney Spears. I wish I could have been there for the Oddfellows rehearsals. I bet it was like watching the most badass robot build another badass robot. Right now the band, doesn’t currently have any plans to make their way to SLC, but I hope their upcoming plans of touring a week in the Midwest includes a stop in my hometown. Because I really need to see that gas mask thing in action one more time. Also, if you know whats good for you, you should make it a priority to get yourself a copy of Oddfellows. I have probably listened to it a dozen times now and it does not disappoint.
Read Phil’s review of Oddfellows here.