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Don Falcone: Daevid Allen’s Weird Quartet and Weird Biscuit Teatime

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Daevid’s parts were all improvised, sometimes just one or two takes. He was really amazing in how he could hear a piece, and then jump in with vocal or guitar parts. —Don Falcone
Don Falcone is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer who has been working with known psychedelic and space rock musicians since the 1990s with his band Spirits Burning as well as other projects. The late Daevid Allen, founder of Soft Machine and Gong, appeared on Spirits Burning's first album, 1999's New Worlds By Design, performing on much of the recording playing lead, rhythm and glissando guitars and singing. Falcone and Allen, with Michael Clare, later formed Weird Biscuit Teatime, releasing DJDDAY in 2005. They renamed the band the Daevid Allen Weird Quartet, and in 2016 released what would be one of Allen's final recordings before his passing, the superb Elevenses.

All About Jazz: How did the idea come about to form this band?

Don Falcone: On some early Spirits Burning albums, a couple of pieces featured Daevid Allen, bassist Michael Clare, and me, and came out quite well. The track "New Spell," for example, has a really cool blend of space, electronica, and rock, and still sounds original and interesting to me to this day. In late 2001, Daevid was visiting San Francisco, as he frequently did in the 2000s. He and Michael got to hear a slew of Spirits Burning pieces I had started, and Michael suggested we do an entire album as a new band.

I briefly called us ACF, for Allen, Clare, and Falcone, as I had to label tapes and files. I remember calling us Inner Demons for a bit, even have some CDRs labeled as such, and Daevid and Michael eternally ignored that. Then Daevid came up with Weird, followed by Weird Biscuit Teatime. To complete the band and bring in real drums, we asked Trey Sabatelli to be our drummer, and he accepted.

When it came time for Elevenses, we decided to aim towards a vinyl release, and found that with Cleopatra Records. To get the deal, which included promotion and an advance, neither that I take for granted, we agreed to get Daevid's name as the marquee part of the band name. We did some brainstorming and were able to highlight "Weird," which was obviously part of our past, and "Quartet," which we had always strived for during the writing, recording, and growth of each song. That's how we ended up as Daevid Allen Weird Quartet.

In retrospect, maybe we should have gone with Daevid Allen's Weird Biscuit Teatime, to simplify things, and to avoid certain wheels of confusion.

AAJ: How did the sessions for Elevenses differ from those for the Weird Biscuit Teatime album?

DF: Almost all of Weird Biscuit Teatime was started with keyboards, samples, and percussion, and then Daevid and Michael recorded their parts at my home studio, and Trey at his. Only about one third of Elevenses followed that path.

For Elevenses, we recorded another one third of the parts at a studio in November of 2006. I used to work for Digidesign, and you could reserve time at the in-house studio. It was a really nice size recording room for a full band with a big mixing board and direct to Pro Tools recording. There are some pictures from the event in the Elevenses booklet. You'll see that only Daevid, Michael, and Trey recorded, while Jay Radford and me dealt with the engineering side of things. For the heavier pieces, I ended up doing my organ and synth parts later at home. For other pieces, like "Yum Yum Tree," the band played to my pre-recorded keyboard parts.

With Weird Biscuit Teatime, Trey did all of the acoustic drum parts, and he did them all from his home studio with me in attendance. For Elevenses, he's on five tracks, and these were all done that night at Digidesign, where Trey also used to work.

The rest of the Elevenses sessions were kind of singular in nature. Daevid did parts at my home studio. Michael finished off many of his parts remotely, after moving from San Francisco. When Trey was unavailable, we brought in Paul Sears to do drums and percussion, and he recorded from his Arizona base.

In 2014, Michael and I decided to dedicate ourselves to finalizing the album, and we spent almost a year doing that. In January of 2015, Daevid gave a thumbs up to the updates we had done. Additionally, Daevid wanted to add vocals to two songs, and gliss to three. He made a couple of attempts to record with his home setup in Australia, but was too weak, or unable to concentrate to provide anything. Soon after, he left us.

AAJ: Can you describe the writing process for those two albums?

DF: Weird Biscuit Teatime DJDDAY started with my keys and electronic percussion. Plus, I threw in some samples here and there. I was still going through a period of mixing space rock, prog, and my experimental version of drum and bass, what I used to do with Spaceship Eyes.

DJDDAY started before I had switched to Pro Tools, so the songs and my parts were built on an old Orban Audicy (a workstation that ran on DOS 5.0). Audicy didn't have bar and beat meters, or MIDI, so it was like working on a blank slate. This sometimes led to me doing odd time changes, or jumps from one tempo to another. Daevid and Michael, and then Trey had to react to all of this, which they did quite well. There were a couple of pieces that I built keyboard parts over a drum machine, so those were more tempo friendly.

Daevid's parts were all improvised, sometimes just one or two takes. He was really amazing in how he could hear a piece, and then jump in with vocal or guitar parts. Plus, some of his vocal parts were like nothing I had ever heard before... or since. 

Michael and Trey became the sanity part of the equation, holding things together where either Daevid or I did sonic high wire parts.

Elevenses is probably more band oriented, whether due to songs with verses and choruses, jam- based songs, or even keeping some instrumentals to a shorter length.

For Elevenses, there were a couple of songs that I started with keyboards and brought to the Digidesign studio for Daevid, Michael, and Trey to basically learn on the spot and play to. This included "Secretary of Lore"—I had a boss at Digi that used to call old ways of doing things 'lore'—as well as a piece we later named "Under the Yum Yum Tree." I also taught Michael the bass line for "Alchemy" the night of the session, and Daevid and Trey jammed to it. "Alchemy" was a piece I used to perform when I played bass for Kameleon, which morphed into the first Spirits Burning, back in the 80s.

There were two songs that the studio trio created via jamming: "The Latest Curfew Craze" and "Banana Construction." The latter piece was actually part of a longer improv jam, and Michael and I decided on the best parts to use. For these improvs, as well as "Alchemy," I wrote keyboard parts afterwards, at home.

The rest of the album was constructed in my home studio in one way or another. For example, I started two songs that became vocal pieces—"Imagicknation" and "Kick That Habit Man"—on my home Pro Tools system. Next, Daevid came over to my home studio, listened to the pieces, pulled out his notebook of lyrics, and worked out his vocals parts. He also did a couple of guitar takes for "Kick That Habit Man." There were a couple of shorter keyboard-based pieces, and Michael worked out bass lines for these and uploaded his parts to the cloud for me to import into the working sessions. Lastly, Paul joined in and wrote and recorded parts where drums were missing.

Part of the writing process can be rearranging sections within the Pro Tools station, or even creating motifs and effects from found sounds. Perhaps the best examples of this approach are "Grasshopping" and "God's New Deal." The original "Dim Sum" was twice as long as the released version and we had a full three to four minutes of unused Daevid gliss. I built a piece around this, first with keys and percussion, and then Michael and Paul added their parts. At some point, I weaved in mechanical birds I recorded in Germany, and then Michael and I did what we did for many of the songs. We listened and made mixing and arrangement decisions until we were happy with the results. "God's New Deal" was a late addition, as we felt the album needed one more vocal piece. We used a live recording of Daevid singing a shanty, and built our parts around that, with Jay Radford and his guitar work making the piece a true quartet.

AAJ: How did you find Hawk Alfredson, the painter who did the artwork?

DF: Michael suggested him when we were looking for artwork for the Weird Biscuit Teatime release. His work is perfect for the type of weird that we do. The reality is that our sense of weird is a pluralistic mix of psychedelic, experimental, romantic, crunch, and a bit of other spices. Hawk's work hits a lot of that plurality. So, it's perfect.

I like connectivity, and it really made sense to have Hawk return with Elevenses. The albums are kind of bookends to our left-of-center experiments. Additionally, Michael and I would like to see the Weird Biscuit Teatime album rereleased on CD and vinyl. If that happens, I can see removing the band member names off the cover and giving the artwork the same full exposure that the artwork for Elevenses got. That would make the two releases even more of a set of bookends.

I finally got to meet Hawk in the summer of 2016, on a vacation to New York. It was really great for both of us to put real voices and body language to our history of email and shared art. I also got a chance to hear Hawk and his partner Mia talk about how they first met Michael in San Francisco on a bus. They were talking about Gong, and lo and behold, Michael was in the seat in front of them. That friendship really did lead to Hawk's artwork being part of our weird statements, as well as Hawk contributing pieces to two Spirits Burning & Clearlight albums.

AAJ: Are there any more albums in the works for this band?

DF: Perhaps in an unexpected form, other "Weird"-based quartets or projects. For example, Michael and I and others have talked about a Weird quartet of bass players. That could open the door for other weird possibilities.

In terms of Daevid, the cupboard for another Weird Quartet is probably bare. I placed the last two pieces he and I started on the late 2016 Spirits Burning & Clearlight Roadmap album. Otherwise, I could imagine alternate mixes, some short pieces from unused gliss performances, or even a best of Daevid and me down the road. We'll see where the roadmaps lead...

Selected Discography

Daevid Allen Weird Quartet Elevenses (Cleopatra Records, 2016)
Weird Biscuit Teatime DJDDAY (Voiceprint, 2005)
Spirits Burning and Clearlight The Roadmap In Your Head (Gonzo Multimedia, 2016)
Spirits Burning Starhawk (Gonzo Multimedia, 2015)
Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart Make Believe It Real (Gonzo Multimedia, 2014)
Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart Bloodlines (Voiceprint, 2009)

Photo Credit: Karen Anderson

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