Kick Out the Tambs: An 'Extended Play' Interview with Joel Gion!

Posted by Kells, May 5, 2011 12:30pm | Post a Comment
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Although I can say I knew Joel Gion before I knew he was famous, his stardom seems so effortless and fitting that it never ceases to surprise me; he wears it so well. His recent solo release, Extended Play, further showcases his charisma and psychedelic savoir-faire above and beyond a warm "San Francisco Nights" degree. I caught up with him recently to chat about the new jams, future plans and his adventures as a modern tambourine man.
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How long was this record in the making? Have you been sitting on these tunes for long?

Joel Gion: I started writing for this in 2009, but recording was off and on because there was a lot of Brian Jonestown Massacre touring in that year and the year after. Originally I was going to do a full length album, then I wanted to do four 7 inch singles over the course of the year, but in the end I went for two 12 inch E.P.s. I have more tunes ready and I'm also working on new stuff for the next one. One of the things that made it fun doing this as a self-release was to be able to change my mind whenever I wanted because it's mine.

There are many folks out there familiar with you via Brian Jonestown Massacre; how would you explain the sound of this record to BJM fans?

JG: Well, all of us BJM guys are children of Creation Records, so that is in there for sure, plus I really dig 60's soundtrack stuff and there is also a lot of percussion going on as well, so it achieves an its-own-thingness.
[speaking of achieving an "its-own-thinginess," here's Joel's vid for "Control" from Extended Play:]

Do you have a favorite song from Extended Play?

JG: Well, "Modern History" was the first one I recorded (which was when I realized I could do this), so that one is special for me, but I think "Control" came the closest to turning out the way I had first heard it in my head. I tracked the whole E.P. at home with a USB Condenser mic plugged into my Mac and then I had the tunes transferred to 2" analogue tape to melt off the digital freezer burn. I've always been very much into the DIY aesthetic so this process is a pretty good fit for me. Today anyone at every capability level can make a record, which is pretty cool. When making music all you need to do is make it valid with what it is that makes it you. Talent can be overrated. All the most boring music in the history of man was made by the most talented people. For me, music that just barely pulls itself off is cool in a who-gives-a-fuck kind of way. [Check out the video for "Modern History" below!]

Let's talk tambs, as the little instrument is so highly associated with you: how many tambourines were used on the record (and would you say 'tambs' is an acceptable abbreviation for tambourines)?
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JG: That totally works - kick out the tambs, motherfuckers! I would say seriously about 15. But it's only a 20 minute long E.P., so you have to consider there were time limitations!

Some folks, like me, tend to associate tambourines with karaoke --- what do you think about karaoke?

JG: Any situation where people get a chance to stand up to the mike and do their thing for themselves is awesome. The first time I did Karaoke was when BJM went to Tokyo in '97. It was the whole deal, with a bunch of people crammed into a private booth on the 9 thousandth floor with a telephone on the wall to order drinks through. I remember doing "Let's Dance." One can buzz croon [his] way through that one pretty easily.

I saw that you once accompanied Bauhaus on tambourine at the Fillmore -- what was that like? Any good stories about that gig?

JG: That was on Halloween, 2005. I'm friends with the Love & Rockets guys, we used to hang out a lot here in San Francisco when they were still together in the mid nineties. So, when I showed up for that Halloween gig I found out they wanted me to play the "Telegram Sam" and "Ziggy Stardust" encore. My gal and I were taken up to a table above the stage to watch the show and when they opened up the set with "Bela Lugosi's Dead" I thought, oh shit, these guys are legend and I have to try and fit what I do in with this scenario, which ended up me being me totally shit faced drunk. I think I did okay though. All I remember is Peter Murphy putting his arm around me, resting his head on my shoulder and changing the Telegram lyric to "Joel is alright, he's a natural born poet, he's just out of sight!" That was incredible! I"ll never forget it!
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While we're still on the tambourine tip: do you have a favorite influential tambourine player or a preferred great moment in tambourine history, or is it all tambourine phooey compared to you?

JG: Gene Clark, Mark Volman, Davy Jones and myself are on the Mount Rushmore of tambourinists, if I do say so, but Bo Diddley's Maraca man Jerome Green was the 1st and the best rock and roll guy of this type. That dude was shakin' em back in the mid 50's!

In the song "Anything Can Happen on Halloween" Tim Curry sings, "has anyone seen my tambourine?" --- have you lost any beloved tambourines over the years?

JG: One time we were playing The Troubador down in L.A. and I did one of my high flying tambourine tosses but it got stuck in the rafters or something and never came back. I was looking up in the air, checking my pretend watch and looking back up again but it was gone for good to who knows where. Two weeks later I ran into the Troubador's sound man and he told me that some local hair metal band was just playing and the guitar player was rockin' a solo so hard that it shook the tambourine loose and it came down and bounced off his head! That cracked me up.

You've said before that playing the Tonga Room would be a dream venue for you. I gotta know: would you be inspired, a la the regular Tonga Room house band, to indulge in some cover tunes should you ever play there? If so, what would they be?

JG: Set list: theme song to "Clambake" from the Elvis movie --- new 40 minute version.

I know you're big into Amoeba's Lounge/Pop Vocals section: anything caught your eye in there lately?neil diamond bog bang joel gion interview

JG: Neil Diamond
: The Bang Years 1966-1968. It's the new remastered re-issue with all the cool shit.

Is there any vocalist in particular who has inspired you greatly via recording or live performance?

JG: Lee Hazlewood and Bobby Gillespie. Classic non-singers' singers.

Lee Hazlewood - "Rainbow Woman"

One last question -- do you still mix your sodas "suicide" style?

Well, excess is always a danger when you're a crazy rock and roll animal like myself and though it felt great at the time, I did suffer some taste bud damage from those crazy soda days. Remember kids, just a splash of Pepsi.

Thanks, Joel!

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Interview (341), Brian Jonestown Massacre (6), Joel Gion (5), Extended Play (1)