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Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temples

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Even on the more jazz-oriented songs like "The Starry King hears Laughter" I wanted the conciseness of pop music and I wanted it to do a thing that a normal jazz song would not do. So, there's a second section that comes in after the melody during the solos that never happens during the head. Then there are these acoustic guitars that come in and you'd never hear that in a jazz song. There are certain conventions that I'm not really beholden to because I didn't go to school for that stuff so I never went through that process, for better or for worse.

I'm not making any excuses for my ignorance in being able to play straight changes over "Giant Steps," which I'm sure I would fail spectacularly at. It's at my discretion, so I will take all of the things I love and try to create something new out of it. There's something about that song; I was exploring '80s pop music, a lot of which has dense chords and a lot of those songs are harmonically rich. They would play a D chord but they'd put a G in the bass. A lot of it was keyboard-based. I like [pop artist/producer] Thomas Dolby who would put a lot of interesting bass substitutions in, which changed the color of the chord entirely. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World' by Tears for Fears—same thing. So, I started doing a lot of that on this album. "Seventh House" has that in the main chorus. To me the chords have a kind of shimmer. They're throughout the album. I started to use some of those elements on other songs—a similar chord with the same voicing, but it's in a different light so you might not recognize it. They're all tied together by my perverse internal logic [laughs].

AAJ: The ending of "Seventh House" is very abrupt. I thought there was a problem with my CD. What was the idea behind that?

CS: That might have been the most extreme manifestation of [Art of Noise/Buggles musician/producer] Trevor Horn's idea that a great song has to contain five good ideas. That was the strategy I implemented throughout this record. I thought, okay, I'm going to try and give each of these songs five good ideas. The melody references "Sugar Walls" by Sheena Easton and the abrupt ending was just another idea, another compositional tool. I don't think I make melodramatic music but that might have been the most dramatic thing I did on the entire record.

AAJ: Melody is obviously very important in your music and the song "Bird in the Garden," sung by DM Stith, is an extraordinarily beautiful tune but it's way too short. It deserves another three or four minutes. Why so short?

CS: I love that you say that because I never want to outstay my welcome with anything that I'm doing. I don't want the listener to think, 'This would have been great if it had finished two minutes ago.' I think it stems from me going to so many experimental, avant-garde live performances and hearing so many free jazz records where I've thought, man, that was great but they kept going and sort of robbed this piece of its power by diluting it with bad ideas or uninspired choices. I can't tell you how many shows I've gone to, maybe a challenging Noise set or something and if it had ended after five minutes there would have been a context to it in the grand scheme of the silence and noise in the world [laughs] but because they went on for twenty minutes I began to hate them. I felt like they were abusing me [laughs] and had no respect for my ears.

So I apply this in a rather judicious and harsh way where I would rather somebody listen to that song maybe ten times in a row and feel like it's perfect. That's my goal. I don't want it to go and to become too loose and shabby. There is a time and place for that and I'm sure at a different point I'll be exploring that [laughs].

I started thinking this way on Psychic Temple. Why would anybody listen to this song twice? So much music is disposable. It's like the creator of the music hasn't even listened to it twice [laughs]. So much art out there feels like it's been dumped upon us without any consideration at all and I guess my reaction to that is to be extremely considerate—of course obsessively considerate [laughs].

AAJ: Another great song on the album is "NO TSURAI," which has an almost orchestral feel to it that belies the small number of musicians playing on it. What's behind this composition?

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