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Clogs: Opening Up the Possibilities

By Published: March 20, 2006
AAJ: Okay, tell me about "Tides of Washington Bridge." This effectively appears twice on the record—the album ends with "Tides (Piano)," which is the same melody played on piano.

PN: That's pretty much a composed piece. There are some spaces made between the main formal chunks where we open out a little bit and there are textural changes and things that we do that are free. That was written in two places, actually. One was this huge, long trip across the north—we were driving from something like Minneapolis to Maine. Something ridiculous in one hit.

AAJ: I hope you didn't have a show scheduled in each place as consecutive tour stops.

PN: We did, yeah. That's normal behavior. And there was a melodic line [sings it] which came out of that, just rolling around in my head. And I liked the idea that we could modulate to another place without us knowing we'd gone there because it's the nature of the melodic line. Then, all the chordal material came after that. For that, I was staying at a friend's place—Daniel Bacon, he's a sound designer. He works with theater and he's done some engineering for us over the years. I was staying at his place up in Washington Heights, listening to the sound of the traffic going across the bridge. Of course I got the name wrong, because I'm stupid [laughing]—it's George Washington Bridge, so it's "Tides of Washington Bridge." It reminded me of the sound of waves.

BD: The piece comes out of the same kind of obsession with ornament and that residency with Luca, the Italian guitarist. When Padma wrote the piece, the original arrangement had an ornamental, baroque guitar part, a kind of filigree. So we played it once like that.

PN: Which is quite sweet, especially when Luca's playing it.

BD: Then [Padma] played it on piano, just kind of ripping in the studio on this great nine-foot grand that they had, and it sounded so good that it had to go on.

PN: They didn't even know that I'd done it. I was there and I saw the grand piano before they arrived. I thought, "fuck this, we have to have the grand piano in this record."

AAJ: It's a very nice way to end the record. Did you put much thought into the sequencing of this album?

BD: Yeah.

PN: Yeah. Endless.

BD: I'll take credit for the version you're hearing. It's kind of me alone, obsessing over it. And I added the extra tracks.

AAJ: Well, you want the record to be as successful as possible.

BD: Yeah, and it wasn't. We had a version—the record was finished a year ago in January. We had a sequence pretty soon after and it wasn't quite right.

PN: It was too poised.

BD: The Kapsburger piece, and then "Compass" are late additions. The record used to start with "2:3:5," which wasn't quite working.

AAJ: I'm bemused the descriptions of Clogs I read when I was getting ready for this interview—all the other groups that you're compared to. It's so wildly all over the place. This probably indicates your dissimilarity to anything else out there. Personally, in terms of other artists you resemble or evoke, I think most of Oregon, just due to the instrumental lineup and flexibility—certainly more than, say, Godspeed You Black Emperor.

BD: Well, Ralph Towner is my favorite guitarist ever. I feel like Oregon got unfairly thrown into the new age camp, which is a reference that we, obviously, really don't like. I would also say we've also steered away from any kind of mainstream jazz. We've played on the London Jazz Festival and we've played shows with jazzers. But we don't improvise in that style. We don't play licks. We're really careful about avoiding style quotes.

AAJ: Well, I don't care much about categories, but I would say that you do not play jazz music. Nor do I think you sound that much like Oregon—just more than some of the other bands you're compared to.

PN: I want to go back and say something. I don't want to sound negative about new age music. It's its own thing and it does its own thing. I think it's wrong to describe us as new age, but there's a lot of beautiful new age music. Some of my composer friends have actually dabbled in it as well. My issue with it is the lack of musical information.

BD: I have a problem with it, but we can disagree. I feel it's a blatant commercial attempt. It's something that sold well in the eighties, and so everyone that can play an instrument jumps on that bandwagon.

AAJ: I think it's pretty bad. I like ambient music, and those genres intertwine, but with new age there's no meat there.

PN: Yeah. At the massage parlors, I always make them turn off the music. I say, "no music, please."

AAJ: Who are your musical influences—anyone you think is particularly influential?

PN: I couldn't even begin. I love so much of twentieth-century contemporary—I don't even like the term "classical"—classical music. There's so many wonderful composers from that period. I go way back with my loves. My loves with rock are generally unnamed loves, because I have such a bad memory for names.

BD: I get little obsessions. I would say [legendary minimalist composer] Moondog is someone I'm really interested in. John Cage is somebody that we both like and if Clogs is a lineage that goes back, it might be coming somewhere from him, just in terms of his opening up the possibilities of what is concert music. There's groups like the Penguin Café Orchestra that people have compared us to, and I think that's not a bad comparison. Like I said, Ralph Towner is a big influence on my guitar playing. We're as influenced by some contemporary composers like Reich or Bartók as we would be by the medieval stuff we were talking about or Renaissance music. We kind of glean things from everywhere and we're active in a rock band [The National] so we're constantly hearing tons of rock bands.

PN: People talk a lot about minimalist techniques. A lot of those minimalist techniques come from the Ars Nova period, [French poet/composer Guillaume] de Machaut, fourteenth century. That stuff is still fascinating to me. Even Bach, the way Bach generates material, is fascinating to me. I still like turning things on their head, turning things backwards, weird little tricks like that. Maybe and hopefully, people don't even know I'm doing it. I'll still do them just to play and try to find consonances and rhythms that are interesting. No, not interesting—attractive.

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