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Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temples

Ian Patterson By

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CS: I think there were fundamental differences, the main one being was that I had a better idea of what I was doing compositionally from day one. On Psychic Temple everything I recorded with the drummers on the very first recording session was completely erased and replaced. Nothing that I recorded with them in that first recording session made it [on] that album. I spent a lot of my time carving out the compositions. I'd liken it to a sculptor with a solid, monolithic object and you're carving the shape out of it. It just takes so much time.

I'm sure you noticed that Psychic Temple II is more rhythmic and more propulsive. Part of that came from the live performances. I thought, I have these two great drummers; I should really give them some interesting stuff and explore the space. On the first album I felt that the drums were more textural, but on this album I decided to use them as drummers this time [laughs]. But if I'm honest, the main difference on this album is that I was just more confident this time. I refined the Psychic Temple sound.

AAJ: One obvious difference is that on Psychic Temple II there are three covers, Frank Zappa's "Sofa No.2," Brian Wilson's "Til I Die," and Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out"; what attracted you to these songs?

CS: First of all, I'm just a huge fan of each one of those composers. I can't say how much Frank Zappa's music means to me. I put Zappa in the same category as [guitarist] Allan Holdsworth in terms of the effect he's had on me. Even though I don't aspire to write that sort of music I find it a constant source of inspiration. One Size Fits All (DiscReet, 1975) is one of my favorite albums and I don't think he ever struck a better balance than on a song like "Inca Roads." That song has everything I want in music [laughs].

AAJ: And one of Zappa's greatest guitar solos, no?

CS: Oh my God! [laughs]. I was studying this stuff. I got the sheet music for One Size Fits All and I studied it every day. In a way it became less intimidating and more inspiring.

As for Joe Jackson, I look upon him as an unheralded genius of modern music. I don't know too many people who can write a Top 10 pop hit and then put out an album on Sony Classical. It's the same with Brian Wilson. I look upon all three as iconic figures but they are people I listen to every day. I draw a certain amount of energy and inspiration from where they're coming from. I started honing in on "Sofa No.2" because the melody was so succinct.

Zappa had a tendency to make everything ugly. He was very unsentimental in that regard. But I think he was also poisoning the water a little. He was self-conscious about that. How many songs did he write intentionally about love? Not very many. And when he did they were extremely antagonistic [laughs]. So, I wanted to approach "Sofa No. 2" sincerely but without the slavish devotion that a lot of people pay to Zappa when they cover his music. His melodies translate so nicely to string instruments, particularly violin. I had Philip Glen play the violin and then I worked forever on that horn arrangement.

I think in the past I thought that if I approached another musician's music it would diminish my own creativity, so I never did it. But over the years I've grown out of that type of thinking. Part of what Psychic Temple II is to me is this exploration of the auteur; the heavy-handed, controlling director or artist [laughs] and I think that all three of those guys, Zappa, Jackson and Wilson all fit into that category—the teetotaler and controller of everything [laughs]. Any artist or producer who has that singular vision is participating in that realm. You're the one placing every idea where you want it.

Maybe one difference is that I truly love the collaborative process and it's not just an excuse for me to tell people what to do [laughs].

AAJ: As on Psychic Temple you use something like 28 or 29 musicians; how much input did these musicians have? How collaborative was the process of creating the music on Psychic Temple II?

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