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Topic ClosedGuapo/Miasma & the CoHH, Oct 2005

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Guapo/Miasma & the CoHH, Oct 2005
    Posted: October 12 2005 at 15:55

Our esteemed member Syzygy recently interviewed members of  Guapo and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses .

The following is an interview with Dave Smith (DS) and David Ledden (DL), drummer and bassist respectively for both Guapo and Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses. The interview was conducted in one of the few proper pubs left in London's West End, a stone's throw from Denmark Street (once London's Tin Pan Alley and still a home to many well stocked but over priced instrument shops) and on the fringes of what were the Rookeries, the darkest and most dangerous of the old London slums. Thanks to a malfunctioning dictaphone what follows is reconstructed from my notes. Apart from the non functioning dictaphone, failing to recognise the interviewees when I arrived (despite having met one of them before), talking where I should have been listening and digressing from the point at every available opportunity, things were conducted in a thoroughly professional manner. My thanks to messrs. Smith and Ledden for their time and for a highly enjoyable and informative evening (for me at any rate).

The interview was based around 4 main questions, with diversions and digressions where unnecessary (including exploding harmoniums), starting with:

Guapo: Some early history

PA: Where did the name come from?

DS: There are many versions of the story, but we generally go with the film A Bullet for the General (Damiano Damiani, 1966). El Guapo is the name of the villain.

DL: You actually sampled his voice on one record...

DS: Yeah, we used samples from the film on one of our early singles. Or was that from Django? Some cool western anyhow!

PA: I thought of the Steve Martin film 3 Amigos, the villain has the same name.

DS: We sometimes go with that one as well! "You can kiss me on the veranda if you want to"- what a classic line!!

PA: Early Guapo had quite a hardcore sound. What were your influences at that time?

DS: We were into the underground indie/noise rock scene of the late 80s/early 90s, plus a lot of Japanese acts like the Boredoms, Ground Zero, Ruins, and Zeni Geva mixed with some knowledge of groups like Henry Cow, Art Bears, Magma ....

PA: Some people (myself included) detect similarities between the current Guapo sound and post rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Is that also an influence?

DL: We're not as angular as a lot of the post rock bands ... I suppose there's the same epic scale.

DS: Not consciously.

PA: Which musicians influenced the way you play?

DS: Christian Vander, Keith Moon and Robert Wyatt are gods.

DL: I don't really listen to bassists, I guess Geezer Butler ... I was a teenage metalhead, and so was he (DS), though he sometimes denies it!

DS: Maybe a little bit...

DL: You were doing Bill Ward that time! .... I suppose Jaco Pastorious as well, but only like a god influences you. I listen more to guitarists.

Guapo: The 5 Suns trilogy

PA: The Guapo sound changed quite dramatically when Daniel O'Sullivan joined. How did that come about?

DS: Daniel happened to be at one of our gigs and we got talking afterwards. He was looking for a drummer for his new band at the time( soon to become Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses) and invited me to join. At the same time myself and Matt had reduced ourselves to just a rhythm section, which was a bit limiting ... we'd worked with other musicians, like Caroline Kraabel, saxophonist from The Shock Exchange, but nothing really long term. Daniel joining really opened things up for us.

PA: 5 Suns is a huge piece. How was it written?

DS: Most of it came about in the rehearsal room. We are pretty rehearsal intensive. We worked out the basic arrangement, demo'd it to 4 track in sections and developed the additional arragements/overdubs from there. We then repeat this in the studio, but it's very much an organic process, rearranging and writing new parts during the recording process all the time.

DL: Yes, a lot of the structure comes about during the production phase, when you realise that what was originally part 2 works best as part 4, for example. It's very much about using the studio as a compositional tool.

PA: Do you use notation?

DL: Daniel and I use scraps of notation as reference points, but we don't write out detailed scores.

DS: I have my own numerical system for working out where I am in a piece from time to time, but otherwise not at all.

PA: How about Black Oni?

DS: It was written pretty much the same way. It's a much more composed piece than 5 Suns though ... there are parts of 5 Suns that actually sound quite crude to me now, Black Oni is much better realised in that respect.

PA: There's a lot of harmonium on Black Oni.

DS: Yeah, it was one of Dan's recent aquisitions and a fine addition to our sound. We're working with it quite a bit on our new record. Drawing on the folk influences a lot more....

DL: I played the harmonium parts in concert. It's a delicate instrument, as I found out. I use an ampeg 8 x 10 cab and the harmonium used to sit on top of that. It fell off the top of the 8 x 10 during a soundcheck once and we thought it was a gonner! but it still works.

PA: 5 Suns makes me think of underground tunnels, and Black Oni is more like dense forest with occasional clearings.

DS: That's a reasonable description. Glad the coverart works!!!

PA: So what's in store for part 3, and who's involved?

DS: After Black Oni Matt was beginning to express personal doubts regarding the direction the band was taking. We began writing new material with Matt but this did not work out for various reasons. So, half of the new record was created by Dan and I, with David joining us to write the rest of the album and add his magic to the existing material.

DL: There's more musicality, Dan and I write more melodically and there's more space between the notes. It's not going to be a single piece - there are 4 individual tracks at least.

DS: Yeah, it will be a very different beast to Five Suns and Black Oni...wait and see

Guapo: The Future

PA: How is the new line up different to the previous one?

DS: As well as the changes to our musical style on the new album, we're a lot more visual on stage. Matt was quite a purist and didn't like anything theatrical in the presentation, but now we have more fun when we're playing live.

PA: A friend of mine told me that Dan had his face painted blue when he saw you in Brussels.

DS: That was at L'Ancienne. We've also started entering the room through the audience where we can, we have this kind of gamelan opening and me and Dan walk through the audience with gongs, holding them up to people's ears, passing them through peoples legs etc..... this helps set the tone of the concert.

DL: Yeah, more of a Sun Ra vibe. At the same time there'll be these bass loops running and I'll be standing on stage, not really doing anything but acting as a focus for all this noise. When Dave and Dan come out with the gongs people are quite confused, they don't know exactly where the sound is coming from.

DS: It really gets people's attention and alters the band's relationship with the audience.

DL: When we play live we really have to be at the top of our game the whole time. With only 3 of us and with the music being so complex it demands total concentration. There's never a time when Dave can just hold down the beat and take a look at what's going on around him, for example. That's particularly the case when we're not topping the bill. At a recent gig in Sheffield we decided to play our entire set - basically 5 Suns and Black Oni back to back - in 40 minutes. We had to be extremely tight!

DS: We're are going to be working as a quartet live for our next tour though, which is bringing us closer to recreating the music as it was recorded. We're rehearsing with a guitarist called Kavus Torabi, who used to be with The Monsoon Bassoon and currently plays with The Cardiacs. The original plan was to work as a 5 piece with 2 drummers actually.

PA: Did you have anyone in mind for the second drum stool?

DS: We asked Charles Hayward (Quiet Sun/This Heat. My jaw dropped.) but unfortunately he has declined. Hope to invite him to record with us a some point though.

DL: Same with Mike Patton, we'll be doing something with him, a one off festival show or something.

Miasma and the Carousel of HeadlessHorses

PA: As well as Guapo, you're both also members of Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses. How are the two bands different?

DL: Miasma uses a lot more traditional structures, there's a lot more of a folky influence.

PA: Parts of the album have an East European feel.

DL: We're also trying to incorporate some of the Jewish musical tradition.

PA: Daniel seems to play more guitar, with a very clean tone.

DL: He concentrates on guitar almost exclusively. His tone was something which evolved gradually, he used to play with a cleaner sound but it wasn't always appropriate for the type of music we play. He's brought in a wider spectrum of tone from the very clean to the punishingly heavy. I also play with some low frequencies, tuning down to C and that sort of thing.

DS: He does that in mid song on stage..... smart arse.

DL: I use 5 string bass as well. You don't so much hear those frequencies as feel them, it's more like sub bass.

Prog rock

PA: How do you feel about the prog rock label?

DS: We're fine with it, in the last couple of years it seems to have lost a lot of its negative connotations in this country. It seems like there's loads of kids who've grown up with their parent's music collections and so it's alright to admit that you like Yes again.

DL: We're not so keen on the more conservative aspects of the prog scene, there are some bands that seem to be stuck in a kind of 70s time warp which really isn't progressive at all.

DS: We're big Magma fans, obviously, and Kavus is a real Magma fan as well. He knows Steve Davis too (English snooker champion and well known Magma fan), so I hope he comes along to a concert some day.

DL: I think it's pretty obvious to anyone who hears us that we're into things like Magma and '72 - '74 King Crimson, but there are many other influences as well.

DS: I think it's important that progressive rock remains progressive, there's no point in simply reproducing the sounds of 30 years ago.

PA: On behalf of the Progarchives team, thank you for your time and patience.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 13 2005 at 04:07
That was very interesting Syzygy, thanks!    I've been listening to 5 Suns a lot lately, and it's truly a great album!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 13 2005 at 05:33
Very good interview, Syz! It's made me want to give them another crack o' the whip.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 13 2005 at 05:50
that's the reason I still like PA.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 13 2005 at 08:35

Hi Syz,

Great job!!! 5* if you ask me!

Bravo for remembering the O'Sullivan blue face anecdote I had given you!

Somehow , something I did not catch (and is hinted but not explained)......  Has the bassist Matt Thompson left the group since you mention Ledden as bassist of both groups? If it is so, it is a terrible blow to them because he was the only guy being able to add some motion. All three of them are absolutely manic and frantic players , but O'sullivan and Smith are riveted to their stools! And Thompson played the Harmonium in concert!

I can imagine your face at the naming of Charles Hayward!!!!...... you should've seen mine when I read your interview

And it is almost confirmed now , Prog Rock is cool again!!!!!!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 13 2005 at 17:04
When you saw them, Hugues, it was Dave Ledden on bass - I think only the second gig since he took over from Matt Thompson, who left after Black Oni was completed. It was Ledden who played the harmonium and added the dynamism, so if you see them again they should be even more exciting.
'Like so many of you
I've got my doubts about how much to contribute
to the already rich among us...'

Robert Wyatt, Gloria Gloom


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 13 2005 at 18:01
Amazing, congratulations... 
And above all, is punk
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 14 2005 at 03:22

WOW Syz ,

Now I will have to change my reviews where I talk of the concert!

But I must say that I like the latter Guapo era than their first although their first was definitely more original!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 14 2005 at 15:36
Well done old chap
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 20 2005 at 12:08
Nice... Sys.. thanks.
...this is called....BleedingGum ... !
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 23 2005 at 21:29
Im just discovering Guapo and I must say that I find them pretty interesting and this interview makes me want to know more about them.
"You want me to play what, Robert?"
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