AUTODISCOGRAPHY: Howe Gelb/Giant Sand

 

 

Companion piece to
today’s “The Story of Giant Sand’s
Chore Of Enchantment” feature – consult Britain’s Sa-Wa-Ro website for
even more in-depth discographical details.

 

BY HOWE GELB (as told
to Fred Mills
)

Giant Sandworms: Giant
Sandworms
EP (1980, Boneless)
It’s really a bad sounding record. I’m totally embarrassed by this whole sort of
David Byrne style of singing that I was latching onto. It was 1980, and in Tucson, that kind of
erratic crap was big. But at the time it was a process of elimination, getting
rid of the .38 Special and stuff. Rainer and I had started Giant Sandworms and
got the two other guys [David
Seger
, Billy
Sed
] and it became a four-headed beast.

Giant Sand: Valley Of Rain (1985, Enigma)
‘Desert rock’… that was an accident of geographics. I like the contrast: ‘valley
of rain,’ there in the desert with no water, but that one time of year — the
summer monsoons — when things seem to pour. First records are always so
important because you have all this ‘stuff.’ That took 28 years to make; it was
recorded in ’84. But the next one only took eight months to a year! The
greatest compliment is that if you can still put it on and it’s not embarrassing,
it has good sounds, and the energy still comes through – how many years after
the fact, sixteen?

The Band of Blacky Ranchette: The
Band Of Blacky Ranchette
(1985, New Rose,
France)
Dan
Stuart
‘s girlfriend had moved out to L.A.
and was going to put together a real country-punk record. [The Don’t Shoot compilation
featuring John Doe, Divine Horsemen, the Giant Sand side project Blacky
Ranchette and various members of Green On Red and the Long
Ryders
, on Zippo, 1986.] She turned us on to this studio and we went out
there and did this in a day and a half for 400 dollars. This French guy offered
me a thousand dollars for it and that’s what began the formula: to record for
half of whatever the front money was gonna be and split up the difference. I
took Rainer out there and did his Barefoot Rock album the same way! At any
rate, Rainer had quit Giant Sandworms but I had wanted to get back playing with
him. I had started doing this thing with Van
Christian
, but he eventually wanted to do his thing with Naked Prey, so I got Rainer and this great, straight-ahead
rhythm section. This was in ’84. I moved out to L.A., and the first night out
there, I had the tapes of both Blacky and Valley Of Rain in the van and I
had a feeling it was gonna get ripped off so I’d taken everything out of the
van but I forgot the tapes! We had the pre-mix and the rough-mix of each
session, and we got back and sure enough, they’d ripped off the van — they’d
somehow stolen one reel of each, leaving me with the rough mix of Blacky and
the pre-mix masters of Valley Of Rain. Those tapes became the two albums. The
next day we went down to this ghetto area and suddenly Scott
Garber
[G.S. bassist] goes, “Did you see the shit that guy was
wearing?” And it was a Giant Sandworms shirt that he must have stolen.

Band of Blacky Ranchette: Ballad
Of A Thin Line Man
(1986, Enigma) and Heartland (1986, Zippo,
England)
These came out the same day. Thin Line was
recorded in L.A. and Heartland was done in Venice and in Reno. At that time, back
in the ’80s, I was so free that I wanted to have five or six different bands
all playing different music. Then when I started getting acclaim for any one of
them, I started to feel the weight of each, and it began to make less sense to
go off starting something new. Why not just do Giant Sand since they know this
name now, so with the following record I just combined both.

Giant Sand: Storm (1988, What Goes On)
We’ve got Paula [Paula
Jean Brown
, ex-Go Gos, and Gelb’s first wife] on bass — she was pregnant
there — and Neil
Harry
on pedal steel. It made sense just to combine the attitudes, of the
country stuff as well, and just call it Giant Sand. I was trying to get Tom [Tom
Larkins
, drummer, now with Jonathan Richman] to play with brushes then.

Giant Sand: The Love Songs and Long
Stem Rant
(1988 and 1989, Homestead)
This is when John came in. We were living in the same building, which is how we
met him, and when we went down to record Love
Songs
he was playing in the Insect Surfers and was really, really good in
that. He only had 45 minutes so we hurried through the songs, sometimes playing
faster than normal so we could get them done! Paula and I were living in Hollywood and had just had
our baby, Patsy; she’d had a hit with “Mad About You” with Belinda
Carlisle and that was paying our bills. I was barely making anything and had to
get side jobs. I was trying to get this job at RCA working the phones. At that time
Paula and I weren’t getting along, Chris
Cacavas
who’s on the album was going off to do his solo thing, and in the
meantime Craig Marks at Homestead was setting up this tour, and I asked John if
he wanted to go on the road. It came down to whether or not the RCA job came
through; I was gonna piss off Homestead
and say, “That’s it, I’m gonna get a steady gig and not make records!”
If that job didn’t come through I was gonna hit the road.

      That Friday it
didn’t, and by the weekend we were on a plane. Craig picks us up, bought us a
$2000 ’81 Honda Accord with his credit card, bought me that amp [points at
amplifier in the room], and that was our tour support. We would show up
everywhere as a two-piece five minutes before we were supposed to play and
they’d give us hell because they were expecting a band! But they’d see how
little gear we had and the soundmen loved us — I just said, “Make it sound
like Hendrix!” It was great; that was some of the happiest times. It was
on that tour that we first went to South By Southwest and we met this guy Dusty
Wakeman and his partner Michael Dumas. They invited us up to this little place
near Joshua Tree where they were gonna build a studio. When we got there they
hadn’t gotten it finished, so our friend Eric Westfall, who has worked with us
on most of our records, dragged an eight-track up there to that barn [pictured
on the sleeve]. It was after that when Dusty called me and said he needed a
caretaker to live there, in one of the four little cabins nearby. It was very,
very remote and I loved it. I was fresh from a divorce, and I’d had enough of Hollywood.

Giant Sand: Giant Sandwich (1989, Homestead); Giant Songs: The Best Of Giant Sand (1989, Demon); Giant
Songs Two
(1995, Demon)
Sandwich was an excuse to put out some
unreleased stuff and some remixes. The others are “sort of” best
of’s, not chronological in order. With compilations it’s all about flavor;
anything that has to do with lists on paper is probably the last thing you
should do.

The Band Of Blacky Ranchette: Sage Advice (1990, Demon,
UK; reissued 1993, Restless)
I had the notion to drive back to Tucson
and hang out. So I thought I would record while I was there. I didn’t have any
songs at the time for it, so I wrote a few on the drive down from Rimrock. Not
so hard when you’re alone on a 7 hour drive in a ’66 ‘cuda. You kind of need
that sort of exercise to eat a few miles. And in that car, you felt every one
of them. It was fun finding folks to record, some of the same people that did
the first 2 Blacky records. Rainer of course,  Neil Harry on steel, Tom
Larkins [now with Jonathan Richman] on drums, Bridget Keating on violin…
Later when I got back to California,
I added Lucinda Williams to one of the tracks for a duet thing.

Giant Sand: Swerve (1990, Amazing Black Sand)
That was also written up in Joshua Tree. There are a lot of people on it [Steve
Wynn
, Chris Cacavas, Mark Walton, Falling James, Juliana Hatfield, Poi Dog
Pondering, etc.] because while we were on the two-piece tour we met Poi Dog
Pondering and another band whose singer I became totally enamored of. That was
Juliana Hatfield and the Blake Babies. We recorded some in Boston
and she came in, then again later in L.A.
when she had come into town to do something with Susanna Hoffs. And Steve had
become a friend, met him in Europe, and it was
fun just to come in and cut something fast. Falling James was nothing but
great. I had put it out in Europe, which is
where I got the financing to have it done, and then I put it out in the States
myself. (Later, Restless picked it up.) It was a cottage industry we had in our
one-room cabin. Me and John would do it and would answer the phones as
“Big Julie.” That was great. Big Julie would talk about the band like
we were assholes! The reason the records have a Tucson address on them is
because I hadn’t stayed in one place for more than two years so having that
mail drop seemed as good an address as any.

Howe Gelb: Dreaded Brown Recluse (solo album, 1991, Houses In Motion, Germany;
reissued ’93, Restless)
I ended up hating the art on that, stupid pink-purple cover. Part of the problem
with dealing with Europe and get things done
quick. When Restless picked it up I was able to do the cover better. Ultimately
a solo record was only an excuse not to do a Giant Sand record because we’d
been putting them out every six to eight months and they were saying,
“Please, can you wait longer between releases!” It could just as well
be a Giant Sand record. By then we had Joey… John’s on there, Paula, Rainer,
Victoria Williams…

Giant Sand: Ramp (1992, Amazing Black Sand; reissued ’92 on
Restless)
I was splitting my time between New
Mexico and Rimrock, near Joshua Tree. Victoria and
Pappy [Allen} are both on there.  Eric Westfall was engineering and
producing our records, and he would get the keys to the studio that would allow
us to sneak in and do an all-night session. We’d have maybe 24 hours, a day or
two, to get these things done. On used tape for 50 bucks. So a few years before
Eric took me to meet Victoria;
he’d met her and had fallen in love with her, but she’d fallen in love with Peter
Case. A couple of years later I drove my Barracuda down to McCabe’s in
Hollywood where Steve Wynn was doing a gig and had asked me to come down. Pappy
had a bar in Rimrock and I’d been helping him do stuff, fix his urinals, and I
invited him to go with me and sing. When we got there the first person we saw
was Victoria,
and I said if she ever wanted to come out and all that…
   A mutual friend of ours recommended Joey to us. The idea of
finding someone who could play — and had! — an upright bass was part of the
job description. It was time to expand the format even more, and he didn’t seem
to mind at all the hide and seek turns the songs would take. This would really
take its toll on bass players. Drive them nuts! But Joe hung in there real
well. He was the first bass player we ever had that never complained when we
didn’t rehearse. He enjoyed the game of us trying to lose each other. John and
I had this telepathy thing going, and then Joey, of course, was allowed in the
triangle. He figured it out.

Giant Sand: Center Of The Universe (1992, Restless)
I think that’s the best one. The songs are short, a lot of them are realized. The
sounds aren’t great but I like ’em because they aren’t great. There are no deep
tones on that record, for example. I had gotten into this method of working.
Most of the distortion is done with an acoustic guitar. With the pickup on it,
I got one of these pedals with an A-B switch so I could throw it to the amp
when I wanted to. In effect it allowed me to get the recordings done even
faster because I didn’t have to overdub two guitars. I’d be playing acoustic,
step on the pedal, kick in the distortion, then turn it off and come back down
to acoustic.

Giant Sand: Purge & Slouch (1993, Restless)
We had a good relationship with Restless; I think they used us to attract other
bands but that was okay. We had a verbal deal, nothing on paper, but they
claimed we owed them another record when they knew we were gonna sign to Imago.
But I liked the idea and wanted to make a Metal
Machine Music
record like Lou Reed. They got nervous with that: “But
wasn’t that a ‘fuck-you’ from Lou to RCA?” “Yeah, but I’m gonna have
fun with it! I just wanted to walk in with no ideas and see what happens.”
And that became Purge & Slouch with Al Perry, Rainer, all those other guitarists.

Giant Sand: Stromausfall (1993, Return To Sender, Germany)
Limited edition, outtakes from Purge
& Slouch,
recorded at Harvey Moltz’s in Tucson, kept acoustical. That
will probably be rereleased in our bootleg series. Bonus tracks, and I might
take one or two that bugged me off of that.

Giant Sand: Glum (1994, Imago)
All these records were done in a few days; Center might have been a week. That record, it’s a major label record, and we had
four weeks total time put in. You can hear the difference in the sounds. The
low end is just beautiful, and John was totally possessed. We were in New Orleans and I’d never
heard him play drums as magnificently.  That was the record that we
learned about editing. Trina Shoemaker did the editing and she would chop the
songs to make them more concise, and Malcolm [Burn, producer] would tell us how
John Lennon would edit here and here, how War would jam for a half hour and make
a 3 ½ minute song. What I’d done previously was just leave the song long, or
make these really, really weird edits. Which I loved! I’ve got this cassette of
the pre-edit rough mixes for the album. I’ve also got these outtakes with Lisa
Germano, who was going out with Malcolm. She ended up sitting in on three songs
that didn’t make it onto the record. The idea is to re-release that in the
bootleg series as the hissy cassette mixes and then throw on the Lisa Germano
tracks too.

Giant Sand: Goods And Services (Brake Out/Enemy), Backyard
Barbecue Broadcast
(Koch), Volume
One Official Bootleg Series
(Epiphany) (all 1995)
Each one is made up from DATs; none involved us going into the studio to do a new
record. They’re all one-offs. Goods came out in Germany; I’ve wondered if I should
release that in the states. The guys who did it recorded us live, mostly in
Europe, both as a three-piece in Europe and as
a six-piece [Gelb, Burns and Convertino, plus Paula Jean Brown on bass, Bill
Elm on steel and Mike Semple on guitar]. They remixed it, and I could add
remixes and one or two extra tracks. Barbecue, I let Nick Hill, of WMFU-FM, put it together. It was recorded at WMFU in ’94
and ’95 and it was his puppy. And the bootleg thing, it had some outtakes from Barbecue and Goods, some bits and pieces that we wanted to take and make a
semi-ambient sounding album. The first track is a live show in New York with Cris
Kirkwood — which nobody knows, because I opted for the luxury of not putting
any credits on there.

OP8: Slush (1997, Thirsty Ear)
The Lisa Germano sessions. Something smoother, almost like the sound of when we
play in the lobby of Hotel Congress here on Friday nights. That’s really the
only studio Giant Sand between Glum and Chore — and it’s not really Giant
Sand, it’s OP8. We had actually started working on some of the songs that would
become Chore, and about that same time we started working on The Inner Flame [Rainer Ptacek
tribute/benefit album that Gelb and Robert Plant spearheaded]. Then Lisa came
to town.

Howe Gelb: Hisser (solo album, 1998, V2)
A different methodology. Culminating crap in the living room, just acoustic guitar
and piano, and friends who drop by. It wasn’t like going in and working. A
friend of mine who lives out in the desert had a big reel-to-reel in storage
and he came over and set up this huge four-track and a couple of big mikes,
some old tube pre-amps, literally right here in the living room.

Howe Gelb: Upside-Down Home (solo album, 1999, Ow Om)
That was just a quick CD-R release I made, mostly outtakes from Hisser. It’s when I was first beginning
to stand on my feet again, go out and play some shows, see what’s out there, if
anybody gives a shit, whatever. I made up a few with cheap covers. Maybe only
20 or 30 copies altogether. And I ended up using a few of the tracks for the
European edition of Hisser, but I
dunno, that was probably long enough!

Giant Sand: Chore Of Enchantment (2000, Thrill Jockey)
I couldn’t be happier. The beauty, I guess, of working on it for so long was that
I got to consider it and say, “No, we don’t need that…” or,
“Yeah, it’d be good to use this…” I got to live with it for a long
time — which we never get to! And the other thing was that I wanted to make it
more concise.
        We had gotten to the point where
we were playing 2 1/2 hour, 3 hour sets, then that wasn’t appealing any more. I
felt we were wasting people’s lives: it’s better to be a pharmacist and dole
out the proper dosage, so we then were doing 45 minute sets that were really
good instead. And I thought for the actual studio records I wanted it to be
thick enough for those who have waited for so long, but short enough so it
doesn’t become too exhausting. So I thought, “I’ve gotta keep it under an
hour,” which is why it’s 59 minutes and 59 seconds.

Giant Sand: The Rock Opera Years (2000, Ow Om)
It’s the second volume in the Bootleg Series, available on the website and at
live shows. It’s a companion piece to Chore; four songs are the same titles but very different versions. “Dusted
(In Tucson)”, for example, was recorded the same day in ’96 we did “The Inner Flame” for the Rainer tribute. I added a
little electric, some steel, some pump organ. “Punishing Sun (In
Tucson)” is a relentless pulse of dance fever compared with the acoustic,
almost solo ballad on Chore. Also
included is the title track “Chore Of Enchantment” that isn’t on Chore at all. Evan Dando sang on a couple
tracks when he’d come out for a visit. Victoria Williams did the same when we
went to visit her, and then ended up doing “Music Arcade,” a 
Neil Young cover up there. All this stuff was done just prior to beginning the deal
with V2, and this is how the record would have been if we’d never signed to V2.

 

 

 

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