RIGHT, WHEN WE LAST LEFT OFF, THEN . . .
. . . with The Reds® guitarist Rick Shaffer, we reviewed the inspirations behind his new solo album, NECESSARY ILLUSION, along with some of the recording techniques that he used, and how the "hill country" blues sound has influenced his stylistic M.O. Our extended conversation then shifted to the usefulness of free association as a creative tool, which is where we pick our next round of questions.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): It's that idea of unlikely connections coming through − unlikely tastes, or associations − and from that, you get great things.
RICK SHAFFER: Yeah, the very last song, “Why Do Ya,” I got into that. I've been reading Charles Bukowski. One night, I was reading one of the pieces, listening to [Captain Beefheart's] MIRROR MAN – and later on, I got into doing that track, just laying it down with the slide.
CR: Well, MIRROR MAN's interesting as an album, because it's basically built around jamming, and free association.
RS: Yeah. I just laid it down with the one guitar, with the slide – put it down that way, with the vocal. On a couple tracks, I just did the vocals and guitars as is, and kept 'em that way. I didn't want to punch it in, I just wanted to do it straight up.
CR: For EARLY NOTHING, the [Reds'] trademark sound is there, the keyboards are back up again . . . you and Bruce are almost having little duels in those songs, I think.
RS: It's funny – that record keeps gaining momentum, where people get into it, buy it, and download it . . . I said to Bruce [during the recording], “Yeah, this is one of those records, where it's going to take people awhile to get into it, I think.” But I like a lot of the concepts, the things we did in it – like the one track that gets tremendous play in Europe, “A Few Dollars More.”
CR: So where did that particular inspiration come from, 'cause you're talking about betrayal, and being let down?
RS: Well, I saw a documentary by Amy Berg [DELIVER US FROM EVIL], about the whole situation within the Catholic religion of moving the priests around, the whole pedophile thing – it’s an absolutely brilliant documentary. And so well done, it just moved me. Bruce had this electronic piece, and I started working on the vocal part, laid that down. Then I started working on the guitar over it.
CR: And so, it just kind of grew from that.
RS: Yeah, I like doing stuff that way. We're talking about starting an album in 2012, and we came to a conclusion. when Bruce called me up one night, after I sent him a copy of NECESSRY ILLUSION. He said, “I'm riding around in my car listening to this, and I think we should go back to the approach of the first three albums . . . where we lay down the rhythm tracks, the heavy guitar sound, and then I add after that, rather than building this up, like the last two records.” I was like, “Yeah, I've been thinking that, too – to hit it less effortlessly.” So I think that's probably the way we're gonna go with that.
CR: That's cool. In “Laying Low,” you have an interesting little instrumental bridge going on.
RS: I really wanted to give a little nod to Mick Ronson, that Bowie sound that he was doing in ZIGGY, and ALADDIN SANE – that kind of era.
CR: Well, it would have been very easy to add a few extra lyrics – just for the sake of it – but you didn't do that. You just let the guitar do all the talking, as it were.
RS: I like that break in it, too – I like to think we based the maracas over it. It's a heavy piece. It gets a lot of play on Pandora [Internet radio station].
CR: How about “Endless,” with the little bass pulse, and doomy-gloomy stuff that Bruce brings to it – where did something like that come from?
RS [laughs]: That was our “Riders On The Storm.” If you think about it, you could get into that end section – maybe a little bit darker than “Riders On The Storm” [laughs], but . . .
CR: So if you're not doing another Reds record till 2012, what's going to keep you guys busy until then?
RS: Well, Bruce just signed to Rope-A-Dope. It's a hip hop, jazz label. He started, about seven months ago, an organ trio based on Tony Williams' Lifetime, and '70s Miles Davis [music], ON THE CORNER, [and] BITCHES BREW. He started working with two guys, really great musicians in South Beach, developing their sound.
This guy heard 'em, and said, “This label I know would really be into what you guys are doing.” The label heard it, and they did an album. It came out at the same time as NECESSARY ILLUSION . . . it's called Big Fun 3, which is also the band name. There's a couple pieces where it sounds like King Crimson goes insane, like on some of those early recordings – where it's just so heavy, but then goes into a funk groove. It's a cool sound they've come up with.
CR: So how are you going to stay busy?
RS: I'm already starting another record. I'm real work-oriented. I work every day. I'm always writing . . . we've been lucky, too. There's one little movie we got involved with, “Dirty Step Upstage.” We did two songs on the soundtrack, two instrumentals. The soundtrack got one of those Maverick awards, an indie award, and the film was at Cannes. She's [director Amber Moelter] real interesting, she does all kind of things.
CR: Just one of the many people that you cross paths with.
RS: Yeah, and there's always little side things. Theresa just put together a deal with a company – it's one of those phone app things – and they licensed, “The Signal,” off our second album, an instrumental.
CR: So, suffice to say, that staying busy is not going to be a problem for you.
RS: No, thankfully.
CR: It could very easily have gone the other way, couldn't it? Because there was that period – [where] you're doing the Stony Plain stuff, playing every night, everybody's getting burned out, you're not really getting much of anything.
RS: No, you're just running a huge deficit all the time.
CR: You're running up a big bill, you're not getting any real acclaim, so to speak. Had you not hooked up with Michael Mann, you might have probably stayed in that spot.
RS: I probably would have ended up doing the studio thing, because that seemed to work for me real well. It's a really good living, and it's real easy. But I don't really like it, to be honest with you.
CR: Well, I imagine it gets like what [Jimmy] Page ran into, at the end of his session period – a real assembly line mentality, right?
RS: Absolutely. It is. It is. I would come in: “OK, here it is, run it down, let me hear the sound, OK, do you know what you're gonna do? OK, let's go, let's record it. ” And that's it. “Why'd you do this? No, no, that's it, that's fine.”
CR: Right, they won't let you do it [again] – because of that whole equation, “Time is money,” I suppose.
RS: That's the thing I like about having control. And it goes back to what you want to do – it's nice to know, you can just do this music the way you want it, and present it the way you want it, because it's really what you're trying to do. That's what the artistic part of it's about.
CR: There's nothing more frustrating when you run into somebody who won't let you do that.
RS: It's terrible! You know, when I read the Danny [Gatton] book, it points some of the same things that he would get into – I found myself following down the same path, and thankfully, I was able to pull myself out of it, because it gets real dark, when you get like that.
CR: And you get into that psychic corner.
RS: Yeah. Where the light really went on was when I went back to being around these blues people, because they don't care about any of that stuff. They just don't care about it.
Once you put that whole thing out of the mind, it just becomes the thing of doing the work. And that was the thing that [Michael] Mann always would be into with me – “Oh, don't fuckin' worry about who you're gonna work with, or where you're gonna do it, just do it.” That's a big part of it. Once you get into that mindset, then that's what you do.