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Bob Drake

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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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    Posted: August 19 2010 at 13:55


Bob Drake is a veteran of many notable RIO/Avant-rock acts; a founding member of THINKING PLAGUE and comprising one third of the trio that was 5UU'S classic middle period, Drake is a central and recurring figure in modern experimental rock music. Drake's talents as a solo artist also appear to be limitless; his bass guitar often recalls the ability and sound of Chris Squire, his guitar and banjo playing brings to mind the fast-picking bluegrass-tinged virtuosity of Steve Howe, and his voice (often overdubbed into complex harmonies) bares a striking resemblance to that of Jon Anderson.

Although I've just made him sound like a one-man Yes, that really does not sum up his style at all: rather, imagine the talents of Yes applied to darker, sillier, and generally more complex music. Then throw in the fact that Drake is also an excellent violinist and drummer that, additionally, plays keyboards and records, produces, mixes, and engineers his own albums, and you're starting to get the picture.

Did I mention that his production style is exceptionally masterful and recognizable as well? In fact, Drake's amazing ear has been utilized to mix many albums by other artists (avant and otherwise) over the years.

Phew !! Well, I copied the Bob Drake biography from his PA profile page I got in touch with him for the full story in his own words.

Bio written by Dex F. (penguindf12)


----------------------------


Please tell us more about your musical background and where you were born.

I was born in Cleveland in December 1957 on the full moon, that\'s nice isn\'t it? Growing up at that time and place the music I remember most is the Motown on the radio, and my mother was crazy about the Beatles so I was hearing them right from the start. I don\'t think there were any early indications that I would play any instruments but I was always very interested in the sound of records; not just the music but the way you could hear the room on some records, the way the instruments and voices sounded, I was always really aware of that and had an intuitive understanding about it. When I was 12 we moved to a small town in rural Illinois and there I borrowed a drumkit from a guy down the street. I could play the drums really well in the traditional rock sort of way right from the start, not much different than the way I still play actually, and drummed in many a garage band with my friends. I knew another kid with an electric guitar and amp which he never played, one of those off-brands with loads of switches and buttons on it. Neither of us knew how to tune it, or what the buttons did, it was a completely mysterious object but I loved making noise and feedback with it. How anyone could use one to play a song was a mystery to me, it seemed impossible! My sister had an acoustic guitar and a Mel Bay guitar book with pictures of where to put your fingers to play standard chords, so I struggled with that for a while and it came slowly. I think the first song I managed play was \"Gypsy\" by Uriah Heep, two chords, A major to C major...When I heard Yes\' “Fragile” album in 1972, especially the song \"South Side of the Sky\" with that great one-note bass part, that made me want to play the bass guitar so I saved up my paper route money and bought a cheap Teisco bass, then in 1974 a second-hand Rickenbacker 4001 and Kustom 250 amp, the same bass and amp I still use today. Never had any formal lessons and never learned to read or write music, some might say I never learned to play it either, hahaha. Anyway my musical tastes were pretty ordinary, I\'d grown up on the Beatles and still find inspiration there, and in the early 70\'s I liked Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rare Earth, \"Free Hand\" era Gentle Giant, and any kind of good solid rock you\'d hear on the radio back then. I \"discovered\" Henry Cow in 1975 while browsing through the records in a shop in Kankakee Illinois. Henry Cow - Unrest, it was a good title and had that strange blurry photo of presumably the group inside. I\'d never heard of them so I bought it and loved it from the first notes, I thought aah, here are some people doing something a little closer to the sort of thing I\'d imagined.

Please also tell us more about your involvement in Thinking Plague and 5UU\'s.

In 1978 when I was 21 I hit the road from home looking for people with whom to make the sort of music I wanted to make. My first stop was Denver, because I knew someone there who\'d let me crash on their couch. I put an ad on a music shop bulliten board, it said something like \"bassist wants to start original band inspired by Beatles, Yes, and Henry Cow\" and amazingly the first and only person who responded, maybe the same day I\'d put up the notice, was Mike Johnson! He came over and showed me some of his ideas and we even recorded something on cassette that first night. We worked really well together right from the start, became good friends and played in lots of awful cover bands together, meanwhile always working on our own music. We wanted a name for our project and I suggested \"Pleasant Pestilence\", then Mike came up with \"Thinking Plague\" which I didn\'t think was as funny but that\'s what we stuck with. Around 1982 we started recording the first album in our friend Geoff Landers\' studio, borrowed money from Mike\'s relatives to press 500 copies, sent one to ReR - I didn\'t even know it was Chris Cutler\'s label - and he immediately wrote back asking for 200 copies to distribute! I had to borrow the money to post the albums to London...so that was the start of us being heard anywhere outside of our small circle of friends in Denver, and the beginning of my friendship with Chris Cutler.

Anyhow I was a major part of Thinking Plague - drums, bass, even some guitar and violin and keyboards, all of the engineering etc and as Mike describes it, a kind of \"filter\" for his ideas, until 1994 when I decided for various reasons to drop out of TP.

My involvement with 5UUs started after I\'d moved to LA in 1989. I\'d spent ten years starving in Denver - I mean real poverty and hunger and nothing coming down the line but more temporary minimum wage \"unskilled labor\" jobs and hiding from landlords and looking for quarters along East Colfax in holey shoes for the rest of my life, decided to take my chances in LA looking for engineering gigs, bummed a ride out there and sure enough started working as first engineer at the first studio I walked into, on the same day! So there I was in LA. I had never heard of 5UUs or Motor Totemist Guild or any of that scene before, but Dave Kerman, who lived in LA then, was aware of Thinking Plague and when he found out I\'d moved to town he looked me up and asked me to do something with him and keyboardist Sanjay Kumar. They played me some of the stuff they\'d been involved with and it was great, we all immediately liked each other so I said sure let\'s do something. One thing I wanted to do from the start was to make the vocals more of a significant feature than they\'d been on the previous 5UUs albums. I\'d always had a knack for arranging vocal harmonies and would suggest vocal ideas to bands I was recording and add background or harmony vocals myself, but still had never been the lone singer on any records yet. I wanted to try it because I thought I could do it. In the end it wasn\'t too bad considering this and my first solo album which I was recording around the same time were my first singing attempts. My bass playing is much more aggressive than the bassists Dave and Sanjay had worked with before and that was also a good addition, and my approach to recording wasn\'t so gentle so it helped bring out the edge and energy in their playing as well. Anyway so we did \"Well...Not Chickensh*t\" and that turned out good so we kept going until we had enough for an album, sent it to Chris Cutler at ReR and he liked it, released it and that was \"Hunger\'s Teeth\".


Then Crisis in Clay....it\'s a long convoluted story so forgive me if it seems to ramble on. In 1992 or 93 I was on tour in Europe playing bass with the either Hail or the Nudes, I don\'t remember which, but Chris Cutler was on drums and the sound engineer was Maggie Thomas. Just chatting with them one day on the road I mentioned that one of my fantasies was to live in a house in the country with some recording gear where I could make my own records and record various bands who didn\'t like normal studios or who wanted a different sound. They told me they\'d bought an old house years before in the south of France and no one lived there. So the three of us decided right then why not put a studio there for our own projects? I meant of course my kind of studio, not a fancy soundproofed carpeted acoustical treatment sort of place, just put some good recording gear in a big room. We all liked that idea so when I got back home to LA I told Dave Kerman about it and we decided we\'d go there and record a new 5UUs album. I was about to go on tour for six months with a theatre group doing the sound for Peter Sellars\' \"The Merchant of Venice\" and in the meantime Dave moved into the house in France, and along with Maggie started making it liveable as it had been empty and neglected for many years. In winter of 1994 I finished up the Peter Sellars tour in Paris, flew down to the south and by that time Dave had all the basic song ideas for the new album and he and Maggie had made most of the house at least inhabitable. We all put our money together and borrowed a bit from friends to buy an ADAT machine (one of the first 8-track digital recorders) borrowed Maggie\'s mixing desk and microphones, and then spent a couple of months recording, just me and Dave in the big empty dilapidated house and a bare minimum of recording gear, just the sort of thing I love. We had a great time, lots of laughs and recording things like bashing a huge steel barn door with a log, using all the junk that was around the old place, recording in all the different rooms, outside, it\'s all on the album. Sanjay came for a few days towards the end after Dave and I had pretty much done most of it, and added his keyboard parts. Then Dave moved to Tel Aviv, I stayed in France and finished up the album and that was Crisis in Clay. That was the beginning of the studio too, Maggie and I kept putting our various little bits of money together, improving the gear over the years, and working on the house which we now own. We had no money for a long time, we were so poor if we needed some nails to work on the house we had to go out and find old pallets and pull the nails out of them!

Let us concentrate on your solo career in this interview. Please give me your (long or brief) thoughts and lowdowns on.......



What Day Is It? From 1994

As stated earlier I moved from Denver to LA in 1989, working as a freelance engineer in the Hollywood studios. I was making a very decent living but just wanted time to do my own stuff. In Denver I had always been working with people who were the songwriters - Susanne Lewis, Mike Johnson, Bruce Odland, and so many others. I was a good arranger, engineer/producer, as Mike Johnson says interpreter of other people\'s ideas, and of course a good player but since I\'d always had so many songwriters to work with I never even tried writing my own songs until I was in LA, far away from all those songwriting friends. I was itching to have some songs to mess around with so figured it was time to try it myself, so in 1992 I bought a 4 track cassette recorder and was surprised to find that song ideas came easily, and that they had a distinct character with a bit of country or bluegrass flavor even though I hadn\'t really listened to that sort of music up till then. Once I had a few song ideas I wondered what to do with them, show them to Thinking Plague or 5UU\'s? That didn\'t feel right and in fact shortly before I dropped out of TP we did mess around with a couple of my ideas but that didn\'t work, they couldn\'t help treating my ideas as a bit of a joke. It seemed obvious it was time make a solo album, really \"solo\" and do it all by myself. So \"What Day is it\" was the first time I tried to write \"songs\" and lyrics and was still just starting out being the singer so it does have some of those obvious \"first time\" qualities about it, but it\'s not terrible! I also went for a deliberately clean, crisp sort of production without a lot of effects, to help separate the album from the 5UUs/Thinking Plague sound which people were expecting from me. And it worked, I sent the album to some friends and a couple of distributors and every one of them said \"this is not at all what I was expecting from you\", which in some cases was NOT meant in a complimentary way!  But in general people were pleasantly surprised, as was I actually.


Little Black Train from 1996

To make it different from the previous album this one was meant to be completely instrumental but ended up with a few vocal tunes anyway. And because the production on What Day is it was intentionally tidy and clean sounding, I wanted to make this one more dirty and a little less clear, more use of effects and noises. I wanted to release it with no title, probably because I just couldn\'t think of one, but Chris Cutler, whose label was going to release it, said no it really should have a name, so I said OK what would you call it? He answered without a moment\'s hesitation: \"it should be something like... Little Black Train...\"  And so it was! Of course that\'s also the title of a Woody Guthrie song and a short story by Manly Wade Wellman so I was in good company.  


Medallion Animal Carpet from 1999

The main idea was to come up with a lot of unrelated ideas and string them all together into one long medley with really obvious edits, even messier and dirtier than Little Black Train. I managed to do about 20 minutes worth of that before it felt like that was enough, so I stopped there and called it “Part 1“. Some time earlier I\'d recorded just for fun a medley of cajun and country tunes performed by myself which I\'d always loved because it was so chaotic and noisy, so I put that on there and called it \"Part 2\". Around the time of making this album I was tired of hearing people say \"the vocals are too low in the mix\" and moaning about how important and meaningful their lyrics are, how song lyrics have to \"mean something\", you know, everyone wants us to know how deep and sensitive they are or deliver some allegedly profound message...so I used a random sentence generator to write the lyrics and deliberately put the vocals REALLY far away and distorted, sometimes barely audible in the mixes. For the title I picked up the first book nearest me which happened to be a book about oriental carpets, opened at random, pointed to a page without looking and my finger had alighted upon \"...medallion animal carpet...\" and so it was. Funnily enough the album cover was already done, with the bear on a carpet...  


The Skull Mailbox and Other Horrors from 2001

To make an album of songs based around nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, recorded in a large open barn, with a dusty, rural, eldritch, yet comic horror theme, which is the thing that comes most naturally for me. I used a lot of trash for drumkits; metal tubs, barrels, buckets of broken glass, boxes full of rusty nuts and bolts...but they always end up sounding like regular drums!  


13 Songs and a Thing from 2003

Longer songs, and recorded all indoors to give it a different flavor than Skull Mailbox. There were some guests on it, and a couple of covers, like a bit of music from the 60\'s Outer Limits TV show and a piece written by Stevan Tickmayer. It also has the “Thing\", which is constructed from hundreds of cassette recordings of all sorts of things I\'d made since the early 70\'s.  


Shunned Country from 2005

To make songs as short and condensed as possible, and continue the humorous rural horror theme in the lyrics which started with The Skull Mailbox.

What happened after the release of this album and what are you up to now ?

As you see by the release dates of those six albums, as soon as I had finished one I would have a clear idea for the next and start immediately on it, however the Shunned Country really drained me, it was an incredible amount of work doing all those short, intensely concentrated songs. When it was finished I had no idea about the direction to go next so I decided to stop there and not even think about writing songs for a while. I\'d done those six albums right in a row after all, and was happy with their evolution and flavors so I could afford to stop for a while, and felt I probably should. In the meantime I was of course still recording and mixing and playing with all sorts of other groups, look at my discography on my website - there must be at least 30 different projects I worked on in some way since 2005:  NIMBY, The Rude Staircase, Hail, Miriodor, Thinking Plague, Condor Moments, Dick el Demasiado, Vril, Hamster Theatre, a couple of Vialka albums, remastering the Art Bears box and the gigantic Henry Cow box, it goes on and on. Then in 2007 I started doing live shows of my own music for the first time with what became knows as “Bob Drake\'s Cabinet of Curiosities”, playing a selection of tunes from the six albums and a couple of new songs too. The first gig was at NEARfest 2007 and then a livingroom/garage tour in the USA in 2008. Once that was over I really got the urge to start writing songs again for a new album, and more importantly had a really clear idea about the direction, it would be my \"pop\" album! That\'s to say, evolving from the pop music I heard and liked in the 60\'s, in my own way of course, not being nostalgic or imitating, just using that as an obvious starting point. Not whatever pop music might be today, I have no idea about that. So between late 2008 and early 2010 I came up with an album\'s worth of tunes which I\'ll record late this year (2010) playing all the instruments and singing myself as usual. Haven\'t got a title for it yet, but I do have the title and concept for the album I want to do AFTER finishing the current one: \"Bob Drake\'s Overproduced Album\"! Just overdo it to a ludicrous degree. Probably because with the current album I\'m going for a minimal, very uncluttered production, a good solid sound but never too much going on at once. I\'d also like to do an album sometime where I play only instruments I don\'t know how to play or can just barely play.


How would you describe your music and which bands would you compare your music with ?

You can guess my answer - I really don\'t know and never think about that. I did see a great description from someone named Harold who hated my set at NEARfest, it actually seemed to make him angry - he called it, and I quote verbatim even including the three exclamation points: “Way off-kilter Americana, singer-songwriter, fingerstyle, alt-rockabilly pretentious crap!!!” I should get him to write the liner notes for the new album. Anyway I thought that was a not a bad description of a good deal of my music, especially up to Shunned Country. Not sure if my latest batch of songs will quite fit into the WOKASSFARPC!!! category though, we\'ll have to wait for the reviews to find out.

How is your writing and creative processes ?

Just like everyone else\'s: find a little idea and take it from there, other times a nearly complete song comes along and everything inbetween.

You have also contributed on some other projects. Please tell us more about this.

That\'s more than 30 years worth of stuff, there are so many projects you\'d have to ask me about specific ones.


There is a picture of you on your homepage in a polar bear costume. Have you ever managed to play your guitar in that costume or is it just for fun ?

Both of course! I designed the suit and had it built in 2007, something I\'d always fantasized about as I have been crazy about anthropomorphic animals all my life. Of course I can\'t really play guitar too well with those big furry paws, I just did that for the photo, but I have done gigs drumming with Thinking Plague, and played bass with What\'s Wrong With Us in costume, both in 2008. There are videos of those events on Youtube. To play the drums I had to make a special set of paws with holes in them between the thumb and first finger, so I could insert the drumsticks and hold them in my hands, otherwise the sticks would fly out of the paws after a few seconds, which looked funny but tended to cause some disruption of the groove. Anyway I am sure Beardog will be turning up on stages now and then in years to come.

Just to wrap this interview up; do you have any regrets in your music career ?

I guess not, can\'t think of any.

What is your five alltime favourite albums ?

That\'s impossible, as soon as I think of one there are 100 others!

Anything you want to add to this interview ?

A witty closing comment, alas.




Thank you to Bob for this interview.

His homepage is here







Edited by toroddfuglesteg - August 19 2010 at 13:56
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SaltyJon View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote SaltyJon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 19 2010 at 14:33
Great interview, as usual!  Glad (but not surprised) to see that Bob has a good sense of humor. 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote The Hemulen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 20 2010 at 04:37
Nice one! I really need to check out more of Bob's solo albums. I have 13 Songs and a Thing but that's it so far.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote SaltyJon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 20 2010 at 13:49
^ That's one more than I have so far.  I think, actually, that I only have his work mastering/remastering stuff. Embarrassed
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Post Options Post Options   Quote SaltyJon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2010 at 19:25
I'm surprised to see such a small amount of interest from fans of the avant side of things here.  
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Post Options Post Options   Quote avestin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 08 2010 at 08:55
I have all his solo output, as well as the various groups he's been in, I'm a big fan of his music and the way he does so much in so short songs (as he does do wonderfully in The Shunned Country).
Great interview


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Post Options Post Options   Quote playaa Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 02 2010 at 03:18
Good interview! Bob Drake is such a nice person... I love all his bands/projects. Last few months I am addicted to both AA Kismet albums, listening them over and over. Those albums are usually getting me to very positive and pleasant mood.
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