Fuel For The Fire: An Interview With Anywhere
, September 18th, 2012 04:57
"Who doesn't love pondering the unobtainable or the completely ridiculous?" Paul Tucker speaks to Christian Eric Beaulieu about the creation of Anywhere's debut album alongside Cedric Bixler-Zavala
When Bay Area prog/acid-punk band Triclops! split after five years in 2010, guitarist Christian Eric Beaulieu reverted to acoustic guitar and began writing solo material under the moniker Liquid Indian. A chance meeting with The Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler-Zavala saw the pair agree to get together and begin developing that material for a new project, Anywhere.
The band's self-titled debut album (also featuring former The Minutemen, fIREHOSE and Stooges bassist Mike Watt and ex-Sleepy Sun vocalist Rachel Fannan) combines a strong progressive punk pedigree with the eastern tinged open tunings of the Liquid Indian material. While Bixler-Zavala joins Fannan in providing floating, ethereal vocal accompaniments to some songs, his most significant contribution is as the band's drummer, creating a percussive layer that closely compliments Beaulieu's guitar work.
Embellished with flashes of electric guitar and electronic tabla pulses, Anywhere is an album that incorporates the band members' own individualisms while still retaining a strong identity of its own. The Quietus spoke to Beaulieu via telephone from Los Angeles to talk about the project's origins, its influences and why, no matter what anyone says, Anywhere is most definitely a punk album.
How did the project come about initially?
Eric Beaulieu: A friend of mine, Sonny Kay [the artist whose label Gold Standard Laboratories released work by, amongst others, The Mars Volta and Triclops!], was having a show in Los Angeles and asked me to play. Cedric was DJing the event, so I met him that night. I knew that he was a drummer, so I talked to him about about maybe getting together; I record the Liquid Indian stuff by myself, but I always wanted to play that kind of music with a drummer and I figured that he would play different beats and different rhythms than I was used to hearing. And then 6 months later, after he was done touring, we got together in Los Angeles.
Cedric is obviously more well known as a vocalist, but his drumming on the Anywhere album has a good feel; a lot of energy comes through and it seems to suit your style of playing.
EB: As soon as we started playing together, it just clicked. We wrote songs really fast and decided to record them immediately instead of trying to remember them and try it another time - we were both frantically calling recording engineers. When you do something really quick and off the cuff and you document it right there, you really truly capture the spirit and the excitement of what's happening. That doesn't necessarily mean that the songs would sound worse if they were thought about and rehearsed – they might sound better!
But maybe less pure?
EB: Sometimes you just have to work fast and grab it, you know? Grab lightning in a bottle. That was what happened with us. We basically tracked everything two days after we wrote it.
It seems to me that the album is made up of very distinct musical personalities, but is still notably coherent. You said the initial stage was very organic, but obviously you then had to bring in Mike Watt and Rachel Fannan. How did you nurture that coherence?
EB: The individualistic thing is definitely right. Rachel and Mike tracked their parts alone, so there was no group feel or group philosophy about it, which is interesting, because everything pulls together and it really sounds like one cohesive unit. I think it has to do with the fact that everybody in the project is a veteran. They don't do anything that they don't want to do, so if their energy is being directed towards something specific, then that energy is going to be creative. It's going to be the essence of that person in it. I guess after a while, it's just who you are. It is interesting though, I didn't expect it to flow so naturally.
The biographies of Anywhere and Liquid Indian list numerous influences - Vashti Bunyan, Sandy Bull, Sir Richard Bishop, etc - more names than some artists might perhaps be comfortable acknowledging. How important is that kind of reverence to you as a songwriter?
EB: The whole reason I'm playing guitar the way I am today is because of totally falling in love with what the Virginia guitarist Jack Rose was doing. When you get into that situation it's a beautiful thing, because all of a sudden these other people start to appear – like Sir Richard Bishop - that you wouldn't have heard of otherwise. Those influences are really important, they keep you evolving.
I'm also a devout follower of Sonic Youth. Anytime you change a guitar tuning, It changes the way that you think. Parts of your brain start working that never have before. It's like a rusty engine starts turning and all of a sudden you have two songs, or you have a new album, or you have five albums. You adapt and it pushes you to start thinking. New universes open up.
I love borrowing from my heroes. I shamelessly admit it and I'm not scared to say that I'm stealing or ripping off something. But [with Anywhere], nothing else really played into it apart from trying to get the emotions out in the music, because I felt there was this other world of music after being in a loud, acid punk band like Triclops! for so long.
Was it a big leap switching to acoustic guitar after Triclops!?
EB: Yeah. I mean, heartbreak does interesting things to you. If your band stops when you don't want it to, you go into survival mode and things happen that wouldn't otherwise have happened. First of all I was terrified to play acoustic guitar in front of people, absolutely scared shitless. But I just felt there was a universe trying to open up to me, and once I finally started listening it started to work.
The term punk pops up a lot in descriptions of the Anywhere album. Some people might listen to the album and say "This is not punk music". How do you see Anywhere in that context?
EB: I guess, for argument's sake, I could say that this record is more punk than any of the current 'punk' records happening. I love the bad reviews of the Anywhere stuff; if I was expecting to hear a roaring punk record, or even a real, raunchy, wall of guitars psychedelic record, I would be completely disappointed in the Anywhere record. But it is what it is. And the approach is certainly punk, the way that everybody plays and the way that everyone thinks.
So is the heart of it change? That you arrive at something no one else is expecting to listen to?
EB: Well, remember the famous Kurt Cobain quote: "Punk rock means freedom"? Or, the famous D. Boon sticker: "Punk rock is whatever we made it to be"? Those are the guidelines that I will always use, and nothing anybody could say about it would ever discourage that.
Both Cedric and yourself discuss quite wide ranging non-musical influences: cinema, religion, surfing etc. How do these influences manifest themselves in your music? Is it a reflection of your lifestyle or something that you actively work to portray?
EB: It's just natural, it's just life. I think as you get older you become more aware of the fact that life is everything, life is nothing. Any surfer knows that the connection you feel with the planet and the universe is an amazing thing, because when you take one foot off land, you're not in a safe spot, you're at the mercy of the future, of the unknown.
We're both equally huge science fiction fans. And with science fiction comes different mental trajectories. I'm a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and I'm also a huge fan of a lot of native American writings. So there's lots of mysticism. Who doesn't love pondering the unobtainable or the completely ridiculous? Those are fuels for the fire, for sure.
Before you released the album, you released a couple of limited edition EPs, really beautiful packages.
EB: Valley King Records [who released the first two Anywhere EPs] is a label out of San Francisco, run by the poster artist Alan Forbes. I'm a huge fan of him and his work. I'm hugely influenced by a lot of the history of San Francisco. A lot of the intellectual history, the writing history and the musical history. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury for ten straight years. I think that Alan is, to the San Francisco music scene, as vital as Rick Griffin or Stanley Mouse were to The Grateful Dead and all those bands. He is brilliant. I feel very grateful that Anywhere had a chance to be tied in to the San Francisco art/music scene through that label.
So the whole thing is a real collaborative project – and more than just in a sense that the four of you were working on it?
EB: Totally, I feel that everybody is very much involved and I love that spirit of the communal effort. I love the fact that all of these people had a hand in making something really interesting and unique. That makes me feel extremely grateful for the company I keep, but also, I know that the record was done justice. I know the music didn't suffer and the visual aspect of it is just fantastic.
What does the future look like for Anywhere? Will you look to play live? Will you record again? Or was this just a moment that you and Cedric captured?
EB: I'm not really sure. It might turn out to just be a moment, it might turn out to be something more. At the moment there are no plans, but I also have a ton of music written for Anywhere that I hope to record soon. I know that all involved have expressed interest in doing shows. It's all a matter of schedules, really.
How healthy do you think the musical landscape is for a band like Anywhere at the moment?
EB: The music business is changing and has been for quite a long time and everyone knows it. Things of course get harder. [But] the underground is always thriving. Art scenes and punk scenes, they don't give a shit about wide visibility. None of this stuff will ever go away, people will always be putting out amazing stuff and shitty stuff all the time. Everyone's gonna be dusty on the shelf anyway, so we might as well make as much music as we can with the time that we have.
Anywhere is available now on ATP Recordings.