Yeah. So I had heard of Dump, the bass player from Yo La Tengo, who did these great songs he recorded at home on 4 track. But I had never stumbled across any of his CD's until a bunch showed up in the mail a while back. Well damn, they're good, and the new one is called A Plea For Tenderness (Brinkman Records). So, I set up an interview to see where this guy was coming from and boy, was he a nice fellow.
Is the new album the same kind of thing where you recorded it all on your 4 track?
Yeah, and mostly at home.
What kind of machine is it?
A Tascam Porta 5 I got in '86. It's still the same one. I've had a couple of bands replaced inside it. There must be something wrong with it 'cause it still works. I saw one exactly like mine in a pawn shop in Florida a couple of weeks ago and I almost bought it. A friend for my old one! There've been times when I've thought about upgrading, but I just can't. Until this one catches fire and melts into a ball of goo I don't think I can replace it.
Upgrading to what?
A better four track. This guy, Peter Walsh, who really helped me mix the last couple of things I've done, knows all about real, actual recording equipment and he was trying to talk me into the minidisc thing. "You should do it." Maybe eventually, one day.
But it's not analog. You wouldn't get those tape drop outs and things.
I know. I've become quite an expert at those. I am sort of scared of that "cold-crisp" sound.
You should be. So your first record, was that stuff you'd been putting together over the years?
A little bit of it was. I put out a single before the first CD that came out on the 18 Wheeler label in 1992. I'd sorta been using the 4 track for a long time and my friend Tom, who runs the label, suggested putting out a single. I was pretty happy with that. It was stuff I'd done over the last year or two prior to that. I recorded almost all of it in Providence actually. Brinkman Records got a hold of that single and called me and asked if I wanted to make a record. I said I'd rather make a single and then I got a scathing letter from Brinkman saying, "NO! Make an album. What are you, chicken?" So that's what I did. Superpowerless was recorded almost all in New York, mostly in the apartment.
That's what I was gonna ask you. You do a lot of real drums...
Yeah, that stuff I do at the Yo La Tengo practice place.
So you'd track that down there and then go home and add guitars and vocals.
Yeah, pretty much.
Ever the other way around?
No. I can do the drums at practice and piece it together. Mostly, I like to do as much of it as I can at home. I'm always kinda happy with the sounds I can get. It seems to work out okay. It's much easier to bounce stuff down, being at home and able to concentrate. The playback is the stereo in my bedroom. I've really gotten used to the sound of it and how to interpret it.
Do you do a lot of bouncing down?
Oh yeah. The new record, I took it a lot further than I usually do. I tried to make more of a production out of it. There's lots more tracks and tricks and stuff like that. On a lot of the stuff, I just tried to go as far as I could. I think it came out really great. It took me a really long time, two years, to make.
Well, you've been busy with Yo La Tengo.
Yeah, but... I really have been working on it. I finally got it together, sequenced it, and got it the hell out. I just got my copies of the record and it's a nice feeling to know that it's done. I gotta get on with my life.
You don't have any room mates I assume...
Uhhh, my girlfriend and I live together.
Does she get tired of hearing the stuff?
She almost never hears it.
You try to do it when she's away?
There is some stuff that I've recorded while she's asleep. Any keyboard and really quiet guitar stuff. There's at least one whole song, on the new record, that was recorded in the middle of the night, not to her knowledge.
That's kind of a common occurrence. People recording stuff real quiet...
I've done that a couple of times, recording an electric guitar being played without an amp and then just crank up the volume so it has this really crazy windy-day quality to it. When I do stuff like that, on occasion you can actually hear the television on or something else going on in the house. There was one thing I recorded where I was watching a basketball game and some of the commentary made it onto the end of the track.
Do you ever have trouble with the other people living around you?
We just moved, and at our old place there was never any problem with volume and I just had everything turned up really loud all the time. For a while, I was used to the other people's schedules in the building but then, after a while, I didn't care. Just let it fly! They never said anything. So we moved, and I'm in that kind of paranoid, good neighbor thing. I don't know how noisy I can be yet.
What kind of microphones do you use at home?
I only own one. A lot of stuff that I use, including the only "proper" microphone, a Shure SM 58, is borrowed. A lot of it's borrowed from my friend Dave who used to be in the group Hypnolovewheel and was my neighbor for a long time. I just keep borrowing his stuff and I'm sure he'll want it back, someday. He's busy with a real job and two daughters and he doesn't have time for his equipment anymore. I like to keep his equipment happy. The only microphone that I have Rick Brown (Run On) gave to me. He found it in Chinatown. It's sort of an old reel-to-reel type microphone, really bizarre looking little thing. A Unichord or something. It's the greatest sounding thing. It gives you that Headcoats sound! The Billy Childish-a-phone! I use that almost exclusively and I just love the way it sounds.
What about effects?
I did one upgrade recently. Peter talked me into getting a little one-channel tube preamp.
Is it one of those Art Tube MP's?
Yeah. It makes all the difference and sounds terrific. You can really screw around with them and overload them. That's been just about the biggest addition to the family. I found a Realistic reverb unit for $15 at a flea market in Denver. It's a screwy analog, Lee Perry-in-a-box kind of thing. I've been having fun with that. I've gotten a really good collection of effects and things I use for all of the wrong reasons. There's a Dunlop RotoVibe that I use a lot. I bought a tremolo pedal made by Voodoo Labs and it sounds really good. It's really crazy. It has that Mission Of Burma non-Fender tremolo. It sounds exactly like that.
I've always thought that stuff sounded so great. It has a sharp attack and decay.
Yeah. Plus the rate can go tons slower or faster. I use that a lot. I bought an E Bow. Those are fun. I love the E Bow. I've come up with a couple more keyboards that I've found on the road. I've had a Moog for a really long time. There's a single that came out last year that I recorded right after I bought it and it sounds exactly like that. I try to use it so that it doesn't sound like a Moog synthesizer.
There's a lot of people using them that don't know how to.
Yeah, I agree. I found a keyboard bass made by the Rheem company. I think they make air conditioners. It's really great. My friend Mark from this group called Medicine Ball (in Providence) plays one. In the "Whip It" video, one of the Devo guys is playing one. I found one for really cheap but it's out of tune and I opened it up to fix it but I have no idea. I've never seen anything like it. It's powered by fireflies or something. It's kind of useless right now. If I write to the Rheem company they're just gonna say, "We have no idea what you're talking about." Maybe if I can get an air conditioner guy out to the house he can service it!
Do all the notes play out of tune from each other?
Yeah. Every note is out of tune in a different way. It looks beautiful. I just bought a Roland organ and string ensemble synthesizer for $100 and it's very "Goth" sounding like the Pornography era Cure sound. I was playing it and I started laughing. It sounds really great.
I always feel like instead of buying a $5000 synthesizer you could buy 20 funny little keyboards that all have a unique sound for a lot less.
I'm beginning to understand the logic behind all of the modern stuff, in that, when you want to play, you don't have to bring all 40 of them and hope that they all work. But they're so cool.
Do you mix your recordings with someone else?
This was the first time a new record was mixed almost all by someone else (Peter).
What did you mix to before?
I would just borrow somebody else's DAT. Fred Brockman, who did some demos with Yo La Tengo and ran an 8 track studio in Hoboken for a while, had a board and a DAT and some outboard gear. That's how I mixed the first two records and a bunch of singles. I'd hook up the 4 track to the board, just 2 channels out, and ran it to the DAT and that's it! I set levels through the board and mixed everything on the 4 track. The mixing for the new record was a much fancier approach but I wasn't there for a lot of it. I thought he did a really terrific job. It was a whole new approach but it sounded almost exactly like I wanted it to sound.
He didn't add tons of reverb...
Nah! He was very true to the project.
Do you think you'll ever record a Dump record not on a 4 track?
Probably not. It's not a group, so I don't think so. I think the equipment is a large part of the group. The most important part of the group! Someday I'm gonna get a letter from the 4 track's lawyer! That's the fun of it... having it at home for me to do it whenever I want it.
DUMP, PO Box 6028, Hoboken, NJ 07030