CARL WEINGARTEN
Life Under Stars
(Multiphase Records)

 

Northern California has always been a central hub of great American guitar music since the 1950’s and ‘60s. That legacy of groundbreaking guitar sounds from NorCal continues on with the 2014 CD by guitarist Carl Weingarten. That CD, Life Under Stars puts the term “experimental guitar music” into a new 21st century context. Carl has always worked with excellent musicians and many of those same musicians are back again for Life Under Stars—including Michael Manring (bass), Celso Alberti (drums), Jeff Oster (trumpet, flugelhorn), Robert M. Powell (pedal steel guitar) and other fine musicians. Commenting on the challenge of bringing his unique and experimental, yet very accessible music into the 21st century music world, Carl tells mwe3.com, ‘There’s lots of great players working out there. I just try to stay inspired and keep doing the best music I can. Most working musicians, if they stick with it long enough, become the artist they’re meant to be. It doesn’t mean one stops growing or exploring. It means, for me at least, that I believe in what I do and know what my range is.’ In the sense that—as a guitar innovator, Weingarten prefers meticulously recorded sonics compared to sheer experimentalism—he’s clearly a throwback to a time of rare groundbreaking events in music history. The amazing sounds on Life Under Stars will open your ears to Carl Weingarten's brave new world of guitar artistry. www.mphase.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
CARL WEINGARTEN



mwe3
: What’s the good word from the Bay Area Carl? Have things improved on all fronts there over the past few years? I guess musically the West Coast musicians were always one step in front of the rest of the country.

Carl Weingarten: Hey Robert. Yes, it's been a very busy few years, that’s for sure. I’m not sure about a step ahead, but if the west coast is anything, it’s diverse. There’s a lot going on. I just think of it as a land of extremes.

mwe3: Your new CD, Life Under Stars is your best album yet. I wanted to ask you about the album title and that amazing cover art. Is there a concept here? There’s something radioactive about that cover! (radio friendly?) Can you shed some light on the title and cover art concept of your new album?

Carl Weingarten: Thanks Robert. Sure. I made the photo a year ago with my girlfriend. I had this idea of a photograph at the beach with her in a vintage dress, and the umbrella covering her face. I like photos where the subject is mysterious, or simply out of place with the setting. We arrived late in the afternoon and the sun was going down so we set up by an outlet to the San Leandro Bay. I took about 50 photos of her standing in place holding the umbrella in various positions, while trying not to get knocked over by the wind. We were losing the light, and when I accidentally overexposed several shots, the umbrella ended up blending perfectly into the background. The image itself is a mix of fantasy and vintage photography. The title of the photo is L'ombre de la Memoire which roughly translates to The Memory Shade. I took all the photos for the CD jacket. The theme is life and mystery.

mwe3: How would you compare Life Under Stars with your solo album from 2012, Panomorphia, both compositionally and recording wise? You recently spoke about the great working relationship that you have with musicians you record with including Jeff Oster, Michael Manring and Celso Alberti.

Carl Weingarten: The two albums overlapped, but they’re very different. After Local Journeys, I went through a period unsure if I was going to make another album. I wasn't happy with my guitar playing and I was fishing around for a new direction without much success. I did a lot of writing, and recorded a number of songs in my studio, but it was slow going. Fortunately, I met a great studio engineer by the name of Noah Perry, and we began working together. There was no plan at first. He was up for anything so we had session after session working on whatever music inspired me at the moment. Manring, Oster, and Alberti are the main guys who run through both CDs, even though other musicians like Kit Walker and Robert Powell contributed quite a bit as well. Michael Manring and I have been friends for almost 20 years now. Our work together goes back to Blue Faith.

Musicians would drop by and contribute to whatever I had going on. It took a while, but we compiled tracks for several albums, actually several different albums. The music was good, but the pieces were all over the place in terms of style. So my challenge became finding the common thread through all those songs. In the end, we got down to two different themes. The first became Panomorphia, which mixed space-guitar with a jazz trio. The other songs were the more down-to-earth, acoustic ensemble compositions that became Life Under Stars. Panomorphia was finished in 2012, so it was released first. Life Under Stars took much longer. There were more sessions, more musicians involved, and I wanted it to be right.

mwe3: Have you guys become like the Northern California wrecking crew? (lol) Would it be easier to form a band with a name with these guys? It seems like Americans love names of bands.

Carl Weingarten: We do have a band name actually, Blue Eternity. We needed something other than our names listed at the top of the poster. And you’re right, people do connect easily with band names.

mwe3: How would you describe the musical chemistry on this album?

Carl Weingarten: Most of the musicians on the CD knew each other and have worked together before, so there was always a lot of respect in the room. And for those sessions when I was only working with one or two players, they’d light up knowing who else was already on the song. Since I prefer the complexity of music to be in the expression and orchestration, rather than in the structure - which is a nice way of saying I don’t use a lot of chords - my job was to keep the musicians pointed in the right direction. Barbara Else is a musical genius. Her flute leads on “Evie” lead the group through the entire piece, and she usually nails it in one or two takes. Robert Powell’s pedal steel tracks were recorded very early on, but they were so orchestral and beautiful that I let his parts be central to the tunes “I Remember Summer”, which we co-wrote, and “Western Overnight”. Kit Walker’s piano became essential to the album as well. His embellishments were beautiful and his playing really grounded the music.

mwe3: Can you tell us something about the way the Life Under Stars album was recorded? Were you in the same room with the other musicians or were there a lot of sessions with overdubs? Which way do you prefer to work, live on the fly or in the studio with lots of overdubs and added “sweetening”?

Carl Weingarten: The basic loops, or the guitar sketches, went down first so when the players arrived, there was a tempo, a key and progression to work with. Then the rhythm section, and sometimes the leads, went down live in the studio. Recording can be methodical, and overdubs can beat the life out of a composition, so I always encourage the musicians to play like there's an audience in front of them, and not pay attention to me sitting in a chair under headphones looking down at the floor. Just be expressive and spontaneous. They weren’t takes, they were performances. Sometimes I’d have to put on the brakes when the solos would start to go on too long, and there were sessions where we’d have to craft a passage here, a phrase there. On one occasion the group must have spent 20 minutes discussing a particular track until Celso stood up and said, “let’s just play”, and it rocked. Everyone delivered the goods. It was a thrill for me.

mwe3: And how do those different recording scenarios impact your creative performance or the intensity on a specific track?

Carl Weingarten: The longer I hold off my own tracking, as the other players perform their parts first, the more challenging it is for me when it’s my turn. It’s a privilege to work with great musicians, but it also comes with responsibility. There’s no holding back. We set a high bar for each other, and everyone, including me, has to measure up. The music comes first. There’s a lot of music out there where the backing group is just propping up the featured artist. Or as sometimes is the case with technology and software, where it’s obvious the computer is more creative than the human composer. For most of my own tracking, I preferred to work alone or at Noah’s studio where I’d set up my rig in the control room. I like to live with the music for a while first, then work very quickly on my parts.

mwe3: What guitars and other fretboard instruments are you featuring on Life Under Stars and have there been any new developments in the guitar world for you?

Carl Weingarten: My own studio is pretty old school. I have an Alesis HD-24 recorder, Mackie mixer, and a rack of outboard gear, with a couple of old keyboards including my trusty Korg DSS-1. There’s my dobro, plus a classical and steel string acoustic as well as my electric guitar. My pedal board is a little more upscale, with various pedals and delays that I shuffle around as needed. Noah’s studio is where all the group recording, hi-tech editing, and mixing would happen.

I did buy my first new electric guitar in 35 years. Up to this point, I’ve only had one electric guitar and that’s an old replica of a Gibson recording model. It’s been my loyal axe from the beginning. Last year, I went to New Orleans for the ZMR Awards ceremony with Michael and Jeff. I almost didn’t play because, right before the show, my guitar developed a buzz that was going through the PA. Luckily we fixed it in time, and when I got home I took it to my guitar tech for a checkup. The prognosis wasn’t good, and it was time for this baby to come off the road. So I started looking around for a new guitar, which for me was like trying to decide what car to buy after driving only one for 35 years. It’s like, where do you start? Fortunately, last fall I was introduced to a guitar maker by the name of Glenn Sweetwood. I told him what I was looking for and he encouraged me to come by his shop. His place is outside of Santa Cruz, way up in the hills. He gave me two generous hours of his time while I test-drove a half-dozen guitars he had set out for me. We finally settled on a beautiful custom model with Jimmy Wallace pickups. I couldn’t be happier.

mwe3: I guess the good news is, no matter what gear you use, you always make the guitar sound like it’s never been done before.

Carl Weingarten: That’s really high praise, Robert, thanks. The early songs on Life Under Stars, like “A Different Rain” is my old axe, and the later material like “Mr. Sundance” features the Sweetwood. You’re right, I still sound like me on either instrument. I guess it’s in the fingers. If I have my own sound, it just happened over time as every project and musician I worked with pushed me in one direction or another.

Much of what I’ve done, honestly, was aim at music that influenced me, only to end up somewhere else. And that’s the way it works for most artists. A few years ago, I asked Sonny Landreth how he came to develop his style of fretting behind the slide, and he told me that during a performance he needed a certain chord, and realized that the missing note was a fret directly behind his slide, if he could only get a finger on it. “So you discovered it by chance,” I said joking with him. “Oh yes,” he replied, “it’s a thin line between chance and genius.”

mwe3: How many albums have you released so far? Including the albums you made with your 1980s band Delay Tactics.

Carl Weingarten: Looks like 21 albums as either artist and/or collaborator. I also have some session credits, playing on other people’s CDs. I also produced three cassette compilations of St. Louis Bands during the 1980’s called The Urban Cabaret.

mwe3: Is there a chance for a Carl Weingarten anthology / collection CD to help chronicle your history? What would that look like in your estimation and better still, sound like? Is there a challenge in making the different albums from different times sound cohesive?

Carl Weingarten: There’s already the Hand In The Sand compilation CD that covers releases from 1990 to 2005. It’s something of a mid-career collection. I’ve thought about an A-Z compilation, but the music I did at the beginning doesn’t at all resemble what I’m doing now. So I’m not sure how I’d wrap that all together. Funny that you ask, though. I have been approached by a label who is interested in reissuing a 2LP set of the early Multiphase Records vinyl era, including Submergings, Windfalls and the Delay Tactics albums. So far we’ve had a couple of promising conversations. Nothing in writing, yet. I’ve spoken to my old bandmates who’ve given the green light. We’re hoping it’s the real deal.

mwe3: And how about a Carl Weingarten DVD, is that in the works at some point?

Carl Weingarten: If you mean a concert, it would have to be either Blue Eternity with Celso, or the Manring-Oster-Weingarten lineup. It would be nice to book a good venue and have a professional crew to produce it.

mwe3: What is a Carl Weingarten live concert like? Say for instance, what was the set list on your recent Blue Eternity show with you Jeff Oster and Michael Manring?

Carl Weingarten: No setlist. We might cover some of Jeff’s songs, and we did perform “Simian River” from Panomorphia, but otherwise we don’t cover the CD material specifically. It’s all improvised, so every show is different. I enjoy the Blue Eternity group because the guys are fun to work with and I get to stretch out on guitar much more than in the studio. This fall, I hope to do a loop guitar set at the Y2K Festival, but otherwise, I’m not playing solo concerts anymore. I’m sticking to group settings, and guest with other artists like Ann Licator, Diane Arkenstone, and a local jazz combo called Spiral Dance. Here’s two video links to give you some idea of what Blue Eternity is like:

Blue Eternity at the 2013 ZMR Awards:

The Blue Eternity Quartet at the Lucy Festival (Encore):

mwe3: It’s really a shame you can’t bring your innovative guitar sound far and wide, especially in the US, as you’re one of the few American guitarists breaking new boundaries in music these days.

Carl Weingarten: There’s lots of great players working out there. I just try to stay inspired and keep doing the best music I can.

mwe3: What do you make of the current music scene in the US? It seems like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest in general is still the hub of everything great in the country these days.

Carl Weingarten: From the outside, it may seem that it’s all one big scene out here, but it’s really not. It’s a lot of very different artists and bands all trying to make a mark. Those at the top of the industry food chain get a lot of coverage, but it’s always been that way. There’s certainly a lot to take in if you frequent the clubs and concert venues, but I don’t find my inspiration there at this point. I don’t even draw from specific artists or music like I once did. Most working musicians, if they stick with it long enough, become the artist they’re meant to be. It doesn’t mean one stops growing or exploring. It means, for me at least, that I believe in what I do and know what my range is.

mwe3: How do you plan to spread the word about Life Under Stars moving forward?

Carl Weingarten: The CD is available online and in some stores. We just did a big radio mailing across the U.S. and to Europe, so fingers crossed we see some airplay. Packages went out to a number of reviewers as well. That’s the plan. Just get the music out there and hope it speaks for itself.

mwe3: Last time, you said you were concerned about the over saturation of the music world! It seems like it’s getting more and more crowded music wise...lol which is great but what about the downside and what’s the remedy to save the music world and most importantly give more power back to the artists?

Carl Weingarten: There’s never enough good music in the world! But the indie market is completely flooded and getting noticed is more difficult than ever. At the moment, fashionable singer-songwriters rule the day. As for where the music business is, that’s another interview in itself. As unfairly as the old corporate labels treated artists, we see now that they valued the music they published and many of their signed artists received a lifetime of notoriety and because of that. You can’t buy that kind of publicity now.

The internet media companies like Apple don’t care about musicians. They started iTunes to monopolize digital distribution and drive down the market value of music as low as possible. They’ve basically been price fixing and there has been no oversight in how they do business. Apple makes their money selling their pricey phones, players and computers. Apple is subsidizing iTunes because they want music to be cheap and plentiful in order to fill up their devices with content. It’s too bad. And it’s worse that artists believe they have to give away their music in order to be heard. As long as artists accept that mentality, they’re going to get screwed. Maybe Apple should start giving away iPads and see how that works for them?

I don’t produce pop songs. I don’t want my CDs chopped up and sold off in pieces. Fortunately my label, Multiphase Records, is too small to fail. It makes no difference to me whether or not I’m on iTunes. I distribute my music exclusively through a few musician-friendly stores like CDBaby, Bandcamp, and on a limited basis with Amazon, where anyone who enjoys my music can easily find it.

mwe3: What’s your take on radio these days? Are you getting some exposure on NPR radio and classic college radio or has the time honored method of getting “airplay” changed?

Carl Weingarten: Radio has been a good friend for a long time. Like I mentioned, that’s where we’re promoting the CD. Public radio was great in the 1980’s, as the indie scene heated up, but then radio funding got cut and the bigger labels muscled their way in to where many college stations were just playing stuff you’d hear on commercial radio. Then college radio got better again. The stations became better managed, organized, and the programmers really have an ear for what’s out there.

mwe3: Be great to keep those musicians on Life Under Stars together for more albums. Are there more musical mountains for you to climb, so to speak?

Carl Weingarten: I always have something going. I really enjoy producing, and this last crew was fantastic to work with. I have a number of pieces in with the same folks, but only a couple of them have been finished so far. Most of those relationships will continue, I hope, though several people are living elsewhere now. I tend to write for the musicians available at the time, so at the end of the day, the different mix of artists keep things fresh.

If the music surprises me, it will likely surprise the listener too. Lately I’ve been working on some acoustic ensemble pieces that sound a bit like chamber music for children. I also recorded a choir ensemble, which was fun and may develop further. Manring, Oster and I have also been playing concerts in a planetarium theater, performing in the dark under a full star show. Our last show sold out. The performances were recorded and we’ll be offering them for download soon.

mwe3: Thanks Carl.

Carl Weingarten: Thank you, Robert, this was great.

Thanks to Carl Weingarten at www.mphase.com

 

 
   
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