AUTOreverse #14, Summer 2011
Ian C Stewart
SO……DID YOU MISS AUTOreverse?
In fact I did. I don’t believe you’ve ever received your full due from running autoreverse during those crucial years after Option went south and Sound Choice folded. You and Bryan Baker of Gajoob were essential to keeping the spirit of home taping culture on the map and alive. Plus you are just a damn good writer.
TRICKY QUESTION FIRST: TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT THIS ALBUM THAT NO ONE ELSE KNOWS.
You are referring to my “Far From It” album? Hardly anyone knows anything about what I do so that would be easy. These are songs from never finished projects, outtakes and archival tunes that never made it to “official” releases. Spans genres from rock to experimental.
WHERE/HOW/WHEN DID YOU RECORD YOUR LATEST ALBUM?
Almost always recorded in my garage studio in Santa Rosa. However, since I do so many collaborations many of the tunes may have also been done in those peoples home studios. I have never recorded in a “real”, professional studio or released a commercial, professional CD. Every tape and CDR I have ever done I copied myself, made each individual cover and mailed out.
IS THIS WORK INDICATIVE OF YOUR OTHER RELEASES?
Yes, I think so. “Far From It’ spans a number of years and features with a bunch of people I have loved working with. With an eclectic diversity that pleases me. There is solo work as well and that also includes a wide variety of style from solo acoustic guitar to pop song to freaky far out sounds.
Is there anything you’re feeling particularly mouthy about at the moment?
No more so than usual. I am excited to work on all my projects: my 4 radio shows, my own music, my web site project, The Living Archive Of Underground Music, my 5 grandkids, spending time with my wife Robin, starting a new radio station in my hometown and listening to all sorts of music.
Let’s talk about your musical influences. Who are your biggest influences and why? Who were your early musical influences?
My friend Geoff Alexander because he turned me on to jazz in 1969. My mentor Lorenzo Milam because he gave me my first radio show in 1971 and said “play whatever you like as long as it is in the library I have assembled”, my other mentor John Hayden because he showed me how to remain open minded and also taught us younger kids (at the time) how to play “free music”. Musically, the first record I ever remember buying was “Twist And Shout “ by The Beatles, early Stones singles, avant garde jazz players like Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Derek Bailey, rock like King Crimson, Lou Reed, Talking Heads, other home tapers like Dino DiMuro, Kevyn Dymond, Amy Denio, Robin O’Brien, Russ Stedman, Lord Litter, Hal McGee, Al Margolis, Sack, and too many others to mention here. I also love early , pre-classical music, baroque and avant garde 20th century classical music. I am not that big on romantic or warhorse classical although I do dig Ludwig B. In the early 70s Lorenzo introduced me to world music which, at the time, we called “ethnic music”. This was a huge other world which captivated me and still does. Once at KTAO in Los Gatos we had a 3 day festival of Primitive Music…log beating from Africa, solo vocal howling from Tierra Del Fuego, chants from the Arctic Circle, secret mutterings from Tibet, one string instruments from Japan…that kind of thing. We did not raise much money during this Festival as I recall. That was in 1974.
Where do you see your music heading?
Probably less song oriented and more experimental although that is hard to say. I have a basic contrarian attitude when it comes to being boxed in. In fact, I may just turn out a bunch of two minute pop songs…with bizarre broken glass middle sections.
What music software do you use?
None. I do not currently use a computer to create music. Not against it I just don’t have it.
Is there any other music software you plan on getting?
Perhaps in the future I might. I prefer to play actual instruments although I still like to use the open reel four track to make weird noises.
What’s in your home studio setup?
To record I use a BOSS 1180 digital 8 track. I love it because it limits me. I need limits or I will go nuts. Plus, I am always at least one generation behind in recording platforms. I’ll probably go Pro Tools a decade after everyone else abandons it. I also use my old TEAC 4 track to make backwards and tape manipulated sounds.
Do you write songs on keyboards or guitar?
For rock or pop type songs I rarely “write” them anymore but create them organically after I record my own backing tracks. For me, I am very tired of hearing or doing songs in the traditional way. I am really weary of doing a “Neil Young” and playing the same A minor to F to G chord changes and then crooning changes over the top typically changing every four bars. I prefer doing loopy recurrent motifs that, if I sing, I can glide over the bar lines or measures for a more complex vocal melody and one that I would find hard to do if I played the song live.
Can you describe your songwriting methods?
I like to surprise myself. Thats why I try to play other instruments other than guitar. I mean, I still play and love guitar but I tend to fall into predictable ways of playing, especially in standard tuning. Although that can be fun for me and I still do it I find I learn more about myself and can surprise myself but playing percussion, kalimba, harmonica, wind chimes, triangle, lap steel guitar with effects,etc.
For me, I have never been able to be play in a restrained fashion and I aspire to that. Instead of playing one crucial note I have always played a thousand. I long to be more minimal but also more meaningful.
What made you decide to start making music of your own?
It was fun I guess. Especially after I got my own 4 track in 1981. It meant I did not have to rely on finding other musicians to play parts. Plus I was always insecure and shy. The only “band” I’ve ever been in was The Roots Of Madness, a bizarre and wacky conglomeration of friends influenced by Stockhausen, Albert Ayler, The Fugs and Capt Beefheart. That was from 1969-76. I have been solo ever since. Of course I have done dozens and dozens of collabs so that is not strictly solo.
Are you active in your local music scene?
Not really since I do not perform live. Of course I do have bands and artists play live on my radio shows so I do have a local angle occasionally. Not with my own music however.
Who would you like to collaborate with on new music?
That’s a really good question because there are some incredibly talented people out there who might be fun to work with. Currently I am doing a project with Bryan Baker, thats been fun. Let me stew on this for awhile, Stew.
What other bands are you’re excited by?
Man, where do I start with this? Currently I am in a phase of ambient, drone and minimal music, much of it improvised. Tuba player Tom Heasley is fantastic, so is prepared electric pianist Eric Glick Rieman. For more song and rock type material I like Sarah Fimm, Lonny Ziblat, Evan Peta, and my wife Robin O’Brien’s new songs. That’s only the tip of the iceberg though. For experimental music I would say Eric Hausmann, Noveller, Yan Jun, C.G. Gross, Francisco Lopez, dangerlamb (Alan Davidson) …the list is quite long. I didn’t even mention jazz and world music preferences.
What’s next for you, musically speaking?
Well, the album with Bryan Baker, maybe some stuff with Gypsy (electronica music with vocals), more experimental stuff with The Tape Germ Collective, and perhaps a few rock songs of my own. I’m sure there will be other stuff as soon as this gets published.
What did I forget to ask you?
Well, we did’t even talk about my radio show, “No Pigeonholes” and also my new spin off called “No Pigeonholes EXP”. I always welcome people’s home recorded music in all genres for the show. Go here for details:
and there is also the big history project about Cassette Culture that I am working on, The Living Archive Of Underground Music:
OVER THE YEARS I’VE NOTICED THAT YOUR WORK HAS A CERTAIN … (INSERT PROVOCATIVE-SOUNDING WORD HERE)…. HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THAT?
As Sammy Davis Jr. (or was that Sinatra?) said “I’ve gotta be me”. I think being just slightly out of step with modern technology actually helps me maintain a distinctive sound. Of course, like almost everyone else I am simply an amalgam of my influences. My own brother Chris showed me how to sing from my own heart back in the early 70s. I was always trying to be someone else when singing. That helped me because I was embarrassed to be me.
WHERE CAN PEEPS FIND YOUR MUSIC ONLINE TO PURCHASE OR WHATEVER?
Simply go to
and follow the links if you want.
WHAT SERVICES DO YOU USE FOR PEOPLE TO DOWNLOAD YER STUFF, AND DO YOU LIKE IT? SHOULD I USE IT?
I use archive.org and soundcloud primarily now. I do not like last.fm or reverbnation very much. Bandcamp looks cool although I have not personally tried. The two I mentioned are plenty for me and work great.
WHERE DO YOU FIND THE ENERGY TO KEEP CREATING AFTER ALL THIS TIME?
It comes naturally, I am a hyper kind of guy. Plus, after you have had 3 kids and been a single Dad for a few years this music stuff is pretty easy. Of course that was many years ago now and I have slowed a bit with old age. However, I have never been busier or have enjoyed life more. Of course I have the Dream Wife, great friends and family…,and now 5 grandchildren. I feel very lucky and would like to ride this train for a long time.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
A continuation of all the things I work with now.I would like to expand on these things and see where they lead. My aspiration is to stay open.
What’s the URL for your website?
And give me a full discography.
Well, not totally complete but I think it will suffice for most people including both of my “fans”:
thank you, Don!