Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temples

Ian Patterson By

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CS: To contradict what I've just said there's probably not a whole lot [laughs]. It would be completely dishonest to say that [drummers] Andrew Pompey and Tabor Allen didn't have a fundamental effect on the album. There are things as drummers that are inherent to them that they understand the best; things that I couldn't tell them or instruct them on. However, even the bass part on "Solo in Place," for example, which is probably one of the more intricate and difficult parts on the album and as phenomenal a musician as Steuart Liebig is I wrote out a lot of very specific things that I wanted him to do. Even though the feel of it is his, there are all these scenic elements that I put on the roadmap that had to be passed [laughs]. That's the clumsiest metaphor I can come up with at the moment. I've micro-managed him to such a degree that he's playing certain melodies that I've asked him to and avoiding certain tropes as I've pointed them out to him—things of that nature.

AAJ: Zappa's "Sofa No. 2" is a lovely interpretation, particularly the violin part of Philip Glenn, but to my ears "Hyacinth Thrash Quarter" sounds more Zappa-influenced.

CS: Yeah, it's funny how that worked out. I don't necessarily like overt complexity in music just for the sake of it. On this album even though a lot of the music might be complex or intricate I don't want the listener to think about that. I just want them to hear music and that song is a good example of that. The name of the song and the structure of the song are sort of references to one another. The song is actually in 25, three bars of seven and a bar of four. We did the rhythm track first and the idea was like a [composer] Steve Reich eight-note pulse with these guitars going backwards and forwards playing this very simple pattern. Once I had that rhythm track, which I really loved, it gave me a lot of energy and then I sat down to write the melody. That was probably the most difficult melody for me to write on the album.

The funny thing is I wrote it in Lydian, which Zappa wrote a lot of his melodies and solos in—something that I didn't realize until after the fact. It was actually pointed out to me by Paul Masvidal, who plays on the album. He said: "Oh that was one of Zappa's favorite modes" [laughs]. It was totally subliminal. I loved the groove of that song. It's the only song on the album, and one of the only songs I've ever written, that doesn't have any chords. There's no harmonic bed to that piece at all and I think that's another reason why it was so difficult for me to write a melody for it. I labored over it for weeks, actually [laughs]. The rhythm track came together in five or ten minutes, but the melody that completed the song and all the horn solos were done over the course of the next two months. It's two extremes of the intricate and the completely free.

AAJ:The album opens with the quite striking piece of art pop "Seventh House"; can you talk a little about this track?

CS: That might have been the last song I wrote for the album and it came together very quickly. I had that bass line bouncing around in my head for a while. The vocalist Sarah Negahdari was getting ready to leave on a tour, for months, so I knew I had to hurry up and write the lyrics. I had the coda and the main bass line that runs throughout the tune and the morning of the recording session I wrote the whole thing and the lyrics in about an hour. I did it right before [drummers] Andrew [Pompey] and Tabor [Allen] showed up for the recording session. Then maybe two hours after that Sarah came and she recorded her vocals. I was so consumed with putting all my energy into writing that song and finishing it for all these deadlines.

AAJ: It was interesting to read on the album liner notes that "Seventh House" draws inspiration from Neil Young, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Sheena Easton; could you expand a little on these links?

CS: Neil Young, Prince, Sheena Easton, Wayne Shorter—these are all people that I'm listening to every week and to me there's no difference. It's not like there's highbrow music and lowbrow music. It's just music. There are all these references in the lyrics to "It's a Long Way Down" that [saxophonist] Wayne Shorter wrote for the Jazz Messengers on the record called Pisces (Blue Note, 1979). Then Sarah has this solo project called Pisces so there are all these cyclical references back upon themselves.

This was actually one of the first opportunities I've had to write lyrics at all and I think I'm approaching it with a similar playfulness that I bring to writing a melody. It's a new challenge for me. A lot of this record was, I've never done this so let's see what this is all about [laughs].

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