INTERVIEW WITH TOM VERLAINE BY JUTTA KOETHER
From purple magazine issue 15 / Spring Summer 2003
J: What are you? A composer and a musician...what else?
T: It's killing me fast with a glowing badge!
J: Do you play music all day long?
T: Day short for that. Yeah YEAH!!
J: What are you doing when not playing music?
T: Super wow on the slippery.
J: What has been the most inspiring activity for you?
T: Probably traveling.
J: What's your favorite car?
T: Any early 50s American with a diesel Mercedes engine. You can run the engine on a variation of soy or corn oil instead of diesel.
J: How do the sounds of the environment affect you?
T: They are healthfood candy when I can't hear them, and when I do the loud buzz isn't funny for long, but the ebb and flow of cars, especially when it's raining, is soothing sometimes. As for noise...that depends on how I feel like listening. Noise is merely spatial...probably conceptually "important" to 20th century composers. Yeah! the "me" of the me isn't 21st century either?
J: Do you integrate them into your music?
T: Maybe comically, sometimes.
J: Practicing techniques?
T: I wish I had some.
J: Hoe do you craft your music, spontaneously? Through lengthy accumulation? Repetition?
T: Pink monkey buddy-wispers lyrics to me half sleeping! Cute! And then silent golden film of explosion...no damage done. The treeness of the tree yeah yeah! Pretty! Check it out!
J: More practicing techniques?
T: Cool phaser pedal...play lick over and over. Same with echo pedal.
J: Is your music made out of suffering and/or celebrating?
T: Suffer! Celebrate! Be real quiet! Ho ho ho!
J: Do you like the radio?
T: In a car sometimes...It's interesting that a lot of the music on the big oldie stations is more radical and modern than the current-play stations.
J: Are your friends musicians?
T: Got a green plastic brain all wet and shiny... You should see it!
J: Are you like jamming?
T: In the modes. Yeah...in any-note-works, I get kinda bored, but not all the time.
J: What's the relationship between your ideal sources for music --- love, religion, poetry, ideas --- and the materialistic elements of its production --- gear, studio situation?
T: Not interested, except to say you have to have some affection for the equipment... You can name each piece of gear ...like you could call your old tube preamp, "Jackie."
J: Describe your road to excess.
J: What do you love about the guitar?
T: Not sure.
J: What is your favorite guitar?
T: A thrown-together-from-various-parts thing...nice old 60s neck and pickups.
J: Who is your favorite singer right now?
T: What might be strange is that the singers I've always liked...Oum Kalsoum, Amalia Rodoriquez, Terremoto, Babs Reel, and 20 others sing words I don't understand --- in English. I like Chris Kenner, some of Lightnin Hopkins, most of Howlin Wolf, and then there's the McPeake family, and...and...well there's a whole lot to like. And then again if you like the song, the singer doesn't matter all that much, unless it's a complete bozo.
J: When can we expect your symphony, or other grand music?
T: Gotta get to work on that quick!
J: Tell us about the musical projects you have been working on.
T: Television, live concerts. We do shows when somebody calls and wants us. It's easy and thus fun. Film music with Jimmy. We're hoping to release a DVD this year. It's seven silent films by European directors, Man Ray, etc., all under eight minutes, each accompanied by myself and Jimmy Rip on electric guitars...no overdubs. All the music was composed watching the films. It isn't just "play while the film goes by" or "make a tape and drop it in as a soundtrack." Some of it is very electronic sounding and more it is romantic, impressionistic stuff.
J: Other recordings?
T: Well, there is another instrumental record finished, with the fellows from the Warm and Cool sessions and that should be out by June. And there is about one and a half vocal records that need mixing and editing. Maybe they'll get finished soon.
J: Do your daily walks affect your music?
T: I don't know.
J: Would you like to live in New York forever?
T: It would be good to have a place somewhere quieter with fresher air and four seasons, although warm, year-round places have a charm too. There should be lots of green-green-green though.
J: Who have you not met in your life, but always wanted to?
T: It would have been nice to have met the composers Alan Hovhaness and Morton Feldman.
J: Do you like living in our time?
T: Modern conveniences are great...the Internet, the speedy travel, the restaurants from every culture in one city, and probably modern surgery although I have never had any.
J: Who would you like with your sandwich?
T: I don't know, but most-fun books of 2002 are:
Solovyov, The meaning of Love
Cyril Scott, Black Strap Molasses
Enne Moser, The Character of Sound
B. Donofrio, looking for Mary
K. Rexroth, flower Wreath Hill
Eileen Daly, Rocky and Bullwinkle Go to Hollywood
P. Treece, The Sanctified Body
Saramago, Journey to Portugal
Marks, The Holy Order of Water
J: Describe your favorite sounds right now?
T: Let's see... I still love the first wave of the 60s free jazz, "new thing" stuff by Ayler, Dolphy, Coleman...and the 20 esp records. Then there are funny late 50s instrumentals or early 60s sort of kitsch things with twangy guitars by people like Jerry Kennedy and Kelso Herston. And some of Vinny Bell and Al Caiola. Then there's oddball classical pieces that show up on compilation CDs called "Music of the Angels"(laughs) --- or whatever...and some solo harp records.
J: Are you still interested in writing songs or do you prefer instrumental music these days?
T: No preference, but I've probably got 100 hours of instrumental stuff to every hour of songs.
J: Why is that?
T: Lazy probably. But maybe because I began on piano and then played sax for years before even paying attention to songs.
J: Where have you been for the last ten years?
T: Did some visits up to New England, and I like Maine a lot, but not in the summer. Worked at home a lot on various songs and things. I record at random until a collection somehow seems right for a record. Wrote "poems" regularly but they are scattered around on napkins and scraps of paper and various notebooks.
J: Do you want to publish these things?
T: Yeah, but I've got the worlds worst attitude on the so-called poetry scene. i mean there's all these college grads with lit. degrees writing this unreadable whatever, confessional drivel and then there's the rumi faddists who are...gosh I don't know, what they are. I mean rumi is a world top 10 of all time. Then there's the ones attending courses in Boulder, Colorado, at the Buddhist place, Naropa.
J: What annoys you about this?
T: I don't know...Did rumi or, for that matter beatniks(laughs) or Emily Dickinson or Boehme or Basho go to poetry classes?
J: What would you like to do in the next ten years?
T: Get some records out at last... Get a house and a few quiet acres within a mile of the ocean... Throw together some kind of recording studio, with all the old fashioned gear me and my friends have managed to accumulate... See New mexico... Hang out in Montreal a bit... Visit the great cathedrals of Europe!...Boppy boppy boppy!!!
J: Do you still tend to work late at night?
T: Whomp whomp whomp boooom!
J: Do you think it makes a difference what time of day or night you work?
T: Zup zup zip zip zip zooooom!
J: What about New York? Do you think it has the same atmosphere as when you started out?
T: The streets are much safer actually. Where there were drug dealer hangouts there are now overpriced restaurants. There are maybe 50 clubs instead three. But maybe three is better in a way because the chaff gets blown away quicker. I mean there are far more opportunists now than before, which makes things funnier in a way, but also kinda dull, kooky! But then... sunset and rain are still the same! Like that...