Interview - Jesse Krakow

Interview - Jesse Krakow

Jesse Krakow Who the hell is Jesse Krakow?, was my first thought when I held this solo-album "Oceans In The Sun". The many crazy, happy songs on this CD-R made it hard to believe that this same artist plays with the up-and-coming avant proggers Time Of Orchids, the more established Fast n'Bulbous, paying tribute to the greatness of Captain Beefheart, then Ron Anderson's PAK and so many more projects I can't even start to mention here.

Someone who's involved in so many totally different musical activities has to have an interesting story to tell, which is why we decided to make an email interview with him. Instead of answering the whole thing at one, Jesse always sent two answers at a time, which isn't surprising considering the size and love of detail of his accounts.

Sit back and enjoy the wondrous stories of Mr. Krakow.

You are a member of Time of Orchids. You also contribute to Ron Anderson's PAK and Fast 'n Bulbous, a Captain Beefheart tribute band. Furthermore there's We Are The Musk Brigade and your solo album. How do you manage so many different projects? What band is your priority?

The answer to the first question is "well, hopefully". I actually get that question a lot, and the real answer lies somewhere in the fact that I am a ferociously organized workaholic who absolutely loves making music more than anything. Whenever I have a free night (as in not rehearsing, recording, or playing live) I usually am home playing my bass and dancing around to Culture Club. All I ever wanted to do was play music, and I guess I need a large number of groups to satisfy my even larger desire to create. (My good buddy and musical partner Mike Pride is the same way) And not only that, but playing lots of different kinds of music with lots of different kinds of musicians is FUN. Some people think playing video games is fun, I don't. How do I manage? I'm not a poseur, that's how.

Actually, it helps that all of my bands have their own schedules- schedules I take great care in keeping separate from one another. Thus at different times ALL of my bands are my priority. At the moment Time of Orchids is my priority because we start recording our new album very soon. We have all been immersed in the album for so long. But the Fast 'n Bulbous album comes out in December, and the PAK album should be finished by next year, to be followed by a European tour, so my priorities are always shifting. Ti that extent my priority is my self. Or myself.

With Time of Orchids signed to Tzadik and Fast 'n Bulbous to Cuneiform, you release music on two labels with more than just good reputations in the avant-garde scene. Does this feel like a dream come true or rather like a logical development?

Jesse playing crazy bass with ToO Both, actually. It certainly feels like a dream come true when I think back to when I first heard the first Mr. Bungle album and I realize that the guy who produced it has signed my band, ya know? I remember hearing "Speedfreaks" off "Torture Garden" and thinking that it might be one of the most amazing pieces of music ever created, and to think that that the man who composed such a piece really digs my band, well, that just rules.

I've actually known Zorn more or less for a number of years. When I was a severely depressed 21 year old whose music was too weird for everyone I sent him a tape of some of Ribot-influenced instrumentals that no one else seemed to like, and he was kind enough to send me a postcard telling me how good my stuff was and how I should keep at it. That was a HUGE confidence-booster, lemme just say. So over the years I kept sending him tapes of my stuff, and he was always nice enough to write me postcards back. One such card read "Jesse, thanks for sending your music. I'm pleased to report - It's Totally Insane!!!" That was a good moment, hearing that John Zorn thinks MY music is insane. So in that sense, it's definitely like a dream come true.

But on the other hand it makes perfect sense. Time of Orchids is a 4-piece avant-rock band who minutely composes everything, and apparently that craftmanship was apparent to Zorn. We are also good friends and huge fans of Kayo Dot, who have an album ("Choirs Of The Eye") out on The Composer Series on Tzadik, so that connection doesn't hurt either.

Cuneiform is the same thing. I mean, I love Univers Zero and Doctor Nerve and hold them in the highest regard, but then again PAK just did a show with Nerve last year, so by that rationale it makes sense that I find myself in such good company.(And also- Rob Henke is the trumpet player for Fast 'n Bulbous and Doctor Nerve). It all feels like the physical manifestation of a perfectly logical dream.

Do your musical activities allow you already to live off your art, or do you still have to find time for a regular job?

No, I have a job-job. I work in advertising, which is alternately facinating and ridiculous. For a while I was able to coin it just by touring and recording, but then all of a sudden work dried up and I found myself calling the operator and asking them if my phone line was broken, 'cause my phone just stopped ringing. But it's all for the best- I really like the order and structure a job-job gives me, just as long as I can be my other self once I get home. It does get insanely hectic keeping all of my shit organized and forward-moving, but I can't complain, it's my choice. I have a hard time saying no, you see...

You have been touring Europe already with the Captain Beefheart tribute band, and if my memory serves me right, you even played a show in Luxembourg with Ron Anderson's PAK two years ago (which I missed even though it was only 5 miles from home, I'm ashamed to admit). How did you like playing in Europe? Is there any chance we might to see one of your bands again any time soon?

Jesse, on the right, with PAK in front of the Intro pub in Dudelange There is no comparison between playing in Europe and in the US, especially for the kind of music I do. There is a VERY healthy avant-garde scene in Europe (duh), but what facinates me more is that there doesn't seem to be any distinction between "out" music and "in" music. For example, when PAK played at Fruits de Mehr a few years back there were a bunch of 5 year old girls blissfully dancing in the front of the stage, completely oblivious to the fact that we were playing in 17/8 or whatever. THAT'S the shit right there, those girls will one day release an album that dwarfs us all. They don't think of PAK music as weird music, they just hear it as music-music, no labels involved. And I find that most Americans are hopelessly caught up in labeling themselves.

Every time I've been to Europe I've had an incredible time. Of course, I've only gone abroad to play music and never as a vacationer, and touring is almost always fun. It's kind of a shame that I've never really spent enough time in any one European location to get a good feel of it, I'd really like to be able to spend a week or so in Berlin or Paris or Rotterdam just hanging out, but until then I'm regulated to one-nighters. In fact, Fast 'N Bulbous just got back from Frankfurt where we played the Frankfurt Jazz Festival, where we spent approximately 36 hours before returning home.

One of the other things I really love about going to Europe is the different types of hangs I have with different types of people in different types of places. With Fast 'N Bulbous we stay at nice hotels where we each get our own rooms, and it's a very lovely and individual experience. With PAK though we stay at people's flats, on their floors, and when we wake up we get to check out their personal CD collections and usually get fed a homemade breakfast. We get to meet their kids and play with their dogs too. It's always an intimate treat.

Like when PAK played on a docked fishing boat in Rostock, Germany. A real fishing boat - The Stubnitz. It was incredibly beyond punk.

As far as the future, PAK will definitely be coming to Europe next year to promote our new album "Hotel". No dates have been set, but I have already started packing, for some odd reason.

Comparing your sound from Time of Orchids to your new solo album "Oceans In The Sun" is like night and day. Are these the two faces of Jesse Krakow?

I wouldn't say that T.o.O and "Oceans..." are night and day, I would say they're more like high school and elementary school. Sonically of course Orchids is in a completely different area and on a completely different level then my solo stuff, and part of this reason is that Time of Orchids is a band made up of four people who each have their own brains and their own taste-buds, making it impossible for all of us to love the same exact thing(s) in the same exact way(s), and Jesse Krakow is a single person who likes the same things I like.

To tell you the truth, there's A LOT of stuff on "Oceans..." that was inspired by Time of Orchids. The keyboard stuff especially. And there are musical sections/transitions that are similiar to some of the ones Orchids uses, the phrasing, the (sometimes) classy use of odd-time signatures, etc.. But Time of Orchids is an extraordinarily subtle, intentionally vague, lightly annoying, and overtly ambiguous band, I am an extremely literal maker of silly music.

And just to answer your question, I have thousands of faces, and some of them have nothing to do with music.

"Oceans In The Sun" is a very peculiar album: 31 songs in 42 minutes, with more perfect pop songs that most bands write in their whole career. While the album grows on me more and more, the more I listen to it, its lo-fi sound will scare off lots of people. Is that intended or an unlucky side effect?

Fast 'n Blubous, Gary Lucas (ex-Beefheart member) on the left, Jesse Krakow on the right Definitely an unlucky side-effect. While I love ultra lo-fi stuff ("Loud" by Half Japanese is absolutely one of my favorite albums ever) I certainly never made a choice to be a lo-fi artist. The truth is that my only piece of recording machinery is a 4-track cassette machine, and it is a piece of machinery that does not change with the trends. I love it because it's so simple to use, and when you make mistake you know exactly how to fix it, unlike all these new computer problems where shit happens and you're not sure if you just completely fried your harddrive or if you just didn't plug in a cord all the way.

But then again, that's my solo stuff you're talking about. All the Time of Orchids, PAK, and Fast 'N Bulbous stuff has been recorded extremely well in incredible studios with fantastic producers and engineers, something I could never afford for my solo stuff. If I could then I would, you know? I know a lot of people give Ween shit for apparently "selling out" by going "hi-fi" on every record since "The Pod", and I hear what they're saying, but I think these people miss the point of Ween's music completely. Ween had no intention of being a lo-fi band, they wanted to be sound as big as everyone else, they just didn't have great gear yet. For me it's kind of the same thing - I think "Oceans..." would sound good as a "real" record with "real" production. It just so happens that it sounds pretty cool without it.

But I love the idea of "Oceans..." scaring off people because of its fidelity. It's such a positive album, but because of the harshness of some of the tones some people get put off by the whole thing. Huh. I wonder what would happen to these people if they ever heard "Trout Mask Replica". I'm sure they would have an involuntary messy accident of some kind...

It is also a concept album about the difficulties of making good friends (if I understood correctly). What drove you to that topic?

You're kinda right. "Good Warm Friends" is about the recognition of the futility of making friends, and how said futility is ultimately meaningless because nothing is more important than having and making friends. The key to that song is that the protagonist starts off bemoaning the fact that so many people want to be his friend that they're becoming a nuisance to him, because he already has enough friends and doesn't need any more. But by the end of the song he realizes that he's kinda of an asshole and is extremely lucky to have so many friends, let alone have other people wish to become his friend. And because it is the listener (you) who he is telling this important new self-realization to, he automatically claims them (you) as his friend. His good warm friend.

But the concept behind "Oceans in the Sun" as a whole is not limited to friendship but in fact extended to love. Namely the love of a good female. In my case my cat. I kinda wish that that wasn't the case, but it is the truth, and you can hear it in the music. I don't think any one thing drove me to the topic of love, it just kinda popped out of my mouth on to the tape and there it stayed. And I saw no need to change it, because it made me laugh.

In your info letter, you wrote that it's a prog rock album for children and their pets, and you dedicate the album to your cat Gidget. The colourful cover artwork emphasises the juvenile nature of the album. How do these three facts fit into the musical vision of Jesse Krakow.

Gorgeous cover artwork, always cheering me up again! Well, I'm a huge fan of prog rock, I'm as much influenced by Yes and Crimson as I am by Captain Beefheart and Friends Forever. I am not ashamed to admit this, I love that kind of music, it really changed my life as a musician.

I also love children, though I don't have any of my own. I want to, one day, but for now kids are little bundles of fun with big fat chubby cheeks, and I love me some big fat chubby cheeks. Huh, and not just on the face.

I adore all animals, especially dogs, cats, and pigeons. If I had a big enough house I would have 8,000 pets, but unfortunately I only have a one-bedroom apt and therefore one cat. But my cat Gidget is an exceptional animal. She's really dumb, has horrible breath, and is mind-boggingly needy and co-dependent. But her most favorite thing in the whole wide world is to curl up into a little ball next to me on the couch, and that's all that matters to me.

The cover art for "Oceans..." was done by one of my best and oldest friends Max Maslansky. Max and I have known each other forever and he knows me very well as a maker of silly music, just as I know him as an artist of true fun. I told him what the album was about, told him the vibe I was thinking, and a few weeks later he showed me what he came up with, and it was so happy that I felt like crying.

So when you take all these things into consideration and then put them together side by side or on top of one another, eventually you would piece together something that sounded like me, looked like me, and enjoyed the same things I do. Looking at these things individually gives great insight to my personal musical vision. MY being the operative word. My total and complete musical vision is much more vast and mysterious and practically impossible to chart.

My first impression when listening to your solo album was: Half Japanese, Ween, Shaggs. How did these artists influence you (and if not, who did)?

I'm enormously into Half Japanese, Ween, and The Shaggs, and I'm happy that you heard them in my music. They all rock in many ways. Half Japanese I love because they're fierce, super-ambitious, and sassy as hell. They also get angry about the most curious things - demanding that you turn up the feedback so that the baby can sleep ("Baby Wants Music").

Ween I love because they're always on the cusp of being totally sincere and totally full of shit, Deen's an amazing guitar player, and they're versatile as fuck. They're also not afraid to be silly. They're not trying to be silly, they just are sometimes. Like on "Pollo Asaso" - one of the greatest recordings ever.

And The Shaggs I love because they are the purest band ever to exist. I think "Philosophy Of The World" is, in every way, equal to "Trout Mask Replica". They weren't trying to be strange, but they unknowingly made one of the most mysterious albums ever. The joy, the joy!!!

I also love The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Björk, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Cheer Accident, The B-52's, Shudder To Think, Eric Dolphy, and Talking Heads, among many others.

The digital age allows musicians to record their music on 100 tracks without having to own a big studio. Was choosing only 4 tracks to record a reaction to over-polished sounds or was it a budget decision?

See answer #6. And just to get you salivating now (as opposed to later), my new band We Are The Musk Brigade only exists by four-track tape machines. It is a band that features amazing musicians from all over the world, and it is a band that will never exist. Each band forms for the duration of an album, and most fof the members of the band will never meet each other. All music is recorded on cassette and sent by mail. None of the collaborations or improvisations will happen in real time. So far the members inculde people from Half Japanese, Friends Forever, Cantwell Gomez & Jordan, Ahleuchatistas, Pattern Is Movement, Rated R, Giggle The Ozone, PAK, some people I've never met before, and Time of Orchids. At the moment we have 5 albums under construction, and it is my hope that by the summer of next year I will have another 5 completed so I can release We Are The Musk Brigade's debut 10-CD box set, to be immediately followed by the news that we just broke up, never to play with each other again. Which is a steaming hot plate of bullshit, which makes me laugh, which is why I formed the band in the first place.

The album was released on the CD-R label Public Eyesore. A lot of famous artists use this label to release their more experimental material. In what ways do they help you sell your music?

Well first off, Bryan Day is an awesome guy who truly loves new music. Case in point: if you think "Oceans..." sounds a little raw NOW then you shoulda heard it months ago when there was more hiss than there was music. It was painful to listen to, but I thought it was good enough to send out and see if a label would pick it up. Some people said it was too noisy, some said it was too lo-fi, but Bryan listened past the hiss and heard the music and decided to put it out. That's a good guy right there, that's a guy with huge ears and a big heart to match. He's really helped me out in sending my album to places all over the world and getting my name out to people who have never heard my name before.

Just being on a label that puts out records by Jad Fair, Nels Cline, and Lee Renaldo is an honor, you know? It's a treat to be connected, however loosely, to such artists. I think that being on Public Eyesore with its reputation for putting out daring releases only helps me sell my music, not that one could get rich off this kind of thing, but still, its the principle of the thing that counts.

The Internet is used by a lot of artists to promote their music. How come I didn't find a Jesse Krakow website?

You didn't find a Jesse Krakow website because there isn't a Jesse Krakow website. And there isn't a Jesse Krakow website because Jesse Krakow intensely dislikes computers. Jesse Krakow can barely operate a computer, though there are occasions where he is asked to use one to do something that cannot be achieved with a typewriter of a blow to the face.

No really, computers baffle the fuck out of me, downloading shit is like rocket science, and I could literally give a shit about jpegs and M-Boxes and gigabytes and maxibytes and all the rest of that junk. I have had to learn just enough to be able to turn one on and press the keys so that letters appear and get sent to someone else, but that's about it. And I have no problem with this limitation.

But yes, I have made inquiries into having my very own website, but I've been so busy doing other things that I haven't had any time to sit down and focus on what I'd want my site to be. It's a lot of work (and $) and I just don't have the time right now, though I do have the need. Maybe in a little while, but just not now.

So in answer to your question, there is no Jesse Krakow website because I'm a lazy and surly bastard, okay?

If I forgot to ask anything vital, here's the space to add it.

If I may, I'd like to offer an apology to world on behalf of America. As I write these words now it is the day after the people of America voted George Bush to run a second term as President of The United States. I was not one of these people, nor were the people I call my friends and loved ones. The sheer magnitude of people who could look at George Bush, at all of his infinite faults, and think "That's the man I want in charge of the country I live in" is simply astonishing, staggering, and most of all - depressing. I have never felt so detached from so many people as I do now, and I know of about 54 million people who feel the exact same way. I cannot accept the fact that there are people in America who want to take away a woman's right to have an abortion, I just cannot. I think it's the most disgusting thing I can think of, and yet I know it's gonna happen. Whatever progress we've made as human beings who do not go to church, do not have white skin, do not sleep with people of the opposite sex, and do not have enough money to take a vacation whenever we feel like it has been taken away from us. And the majority of people in America not only think that that's okay, they think that its the way to go!

I am horrified by the mass stupidity and am ashamed to call myself an American, and I'm still trying to figure out what I and millions of other people did to deserve this. Believe me, we know how dumb we look. And this time we have no excuse.

Regardless, thanks for the chat......jesse

Places to go:

Public Eyesore Records, who released Jesse Krakow's "Oceans In The Sun"

Time Of Orchids, Jesse's avant prog band, just signed to John Zorn's Tzadik Records

Ron Anderson's homepage, in whose band Jesse Krakow plays the bass

Fast 'n Bulbous, the Captain Beefheart tribute band where Jesse also plays the bass

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