music of singer-songwriter David Udell may be hard to categorize
but thats because theres so much groovy stuff happening
that it boggles the imagination. Turns out David worked with experimental
guitar hero Carl Weingarten back in the band Delay Tactics back in
the early 1980s. David still lives in his native St. Louis and
Carl, of course moved to San Francisco where he joined the best of
the bay area music greats like Michael Manring, Robert Powell and
other instro art-rock heroes. Speaking about working with David Udell
earlier in both of their careers, Carl Weingarten recently told mwe3.com,
David Udell is one of the most skilled and imaginative musicians
I know. While Davids fluid guitar technique was the first thing
I noticed and admired about him, it was during our work in Delay Tactics
that David showed me how the guitar was so much more than a lead instrument.
In many of our recordings, Davids use of guitar textures, even
the most subtle, would take each song to a new level. There
are some experimental edges on Davids 2015 CD, entitled Orchids,
yet its all done with such taste and finesse that the album
often comes across like a cross between The Beatles and The Archies
with a little Velvet Underground and Marshall Crenshaw added in for
good measure. David has a true gift for writing a catchy pop hook
and hes a wizard in the studio, which is why theres so
many tasty studio sounds sprinkled throughout the album. Being a first
rate singer-songwriter and a vocalist, its easy to see why someone
as gifted as Carl Weingarten would want to have David Udell in the
same band. David performs a number of instruments on Orchids, including
lead and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, banjos, drum machine,
theremin and many other instruments and he gets some solid backup
from a range of players. All of this stellar backing serves to accent
Davids songs, which might take a little time to appreciate but,
once youre there, you will fully grasp the magnitude of just
how cool and memorable Orchids really is. Extra points for
the fantastic silk-screened artwork on the CD label of Orchids.
mwe3.com presents an
Can you tell the readers where youre from and where you live
now and what do you like best about it? What other cities do you like
David Udell: I live in St. Louis, Missouri and feel lucky.
Weve been in the news lately for our crime and racial intolerance.
We do have problems but theres more than that here. Maybe were
opening up national wounds that need to be examined.
Culturally were on the outside looking in. A lot on my favorite
writers, artists and musicians are from around here. Right off the
top of my head I can think of Mark Twain, William Burroughs, Tennessee
Williams, Miles Davis, Sun Volt, Wilco and The Bottle Rockets. I know
many left when they got the chance but Ive gotten involved with
so many people and projects I just dont want to go. Its
been an adventure.
I like to travel but a lot of my favorite places arent that
far from here. I love New Orleans, Montreal and NYC. Theyre
all a nice place to visit, but I wouldnt want to live there.
Besides St. Louis is the only place I know where you can be creative,
productive and yet still live in abject poverty!
mwe3: What events led to the recording and release of your
2015 solo CD Orchids and how did you choose the name Orchids
for the album?
David Udell: Orchids is about women Ive known,
beginning with my mother. She was a single mom back when it was almost
impossible. She was so consumed with our survival that my brother
and I pretty much had to raise ourselves. Women made 1/3 what men
made. She saw men who were less qualified being promoted and she wasnt.
I know its still bad, but back then it was unbelievable. Shes
still bitter about it.
Its also about the conversations and lessons Ive learned
from lovers and friends and the experiences weve shared.
The idea for the project came a few years ago when I lost 3 women
I love in the same year; Orchids In The Snow is their
eulogy. Coincidentally I lost another dear friend that year, Dan Stefacek,
to cancer. He was Wax Theatricks keyboardist. Life began to
feel pretty fragile and temporary. Im trying not to miss a moment
of it now.
The other songs are about different stages and kinds of relationships.
mwe3: You have a number of other musicians recording with you
on Orchids. How did you select the musicians to record the
album with and can you tell us something how the artists contributed
to the album? Was it done live or were there a lot of overdubs?
Udell: There wasnt really any set way of working. Parts
of A Window Was Open and Orchids in the Snow
were recorded in the 1980s in an old analog gospel studio, while the
rest is recent and entirely digital. The earlier stuff would probably
start with a few of us playing together. Now I begin most songs with
percussion and chords. I have a pretty good idea what I want. The
real agony comes with the lyrics. I could rewrite them until dementia
set in. In that sense Orchids isnt really done. Ill
probably make changes to the songs when we perform them live.
My old buddies from Wax Theatricks had to be in on it. Danny gets
the last word on the CD with the Yamaha CP70 electric grand. Ill
never forget watching him from behind the control room glass in that
dark studio, lit only by instrument lights as he played the final
notes of the recording. Dominic Schaeffer played sax and flute on
4 songs. Tracy Wynkoop played bass guitar on 4 songs too. I tried
to get our drummer Benet Schaeffer on it but hes in such demand,
I couldnt pry him from his schedule.
I got Vince Hely to add bass to Tonight. Vince was part
of our road crew back in the day and has been in many bands since.
The next person I added was Margaret Bianchetta on vocals. I worked
with her in the past so we could get pretty personal about her parts.
I think it shows. Then I got Stephen Martin for lead guitar on The
Winter The Orchid Bloomed and Tonight. Steve, Margaret
and I used to work together in the 1980s. Theyre very busy these
days and I was lucky to get them. Next I asked John Higgins to play
pedal steel. Talk about the hardest working man in show business!
I was asked how I was able to get him. I said, I asked!
Last but not least was Brian Casserly who plays trumpet and trombone.
Brians a legend in these parts and always touring. I think both
John and Brian were only available for one day. Luckily for me they
nailed their parts immediately. In spite of the help, I did most of
the guitars, basses, keyboards, etc., and of course I sang. A pretty
daunting project if youre familiar with my O.C.D. The endless
Can you tell us something about your musical history and your early
bands including working with guitarist Carl Weingarten in Delay Tactics,
I guess that was in the 1980s? Carl had a lot of good things to say
about your music and your guitar work too. He had high praise about
your guitar textures. You and Carl are masters of those
guitar textures. Why did you and Carl sort of part ways musically
David Udell: Carl and I never parted ways really. He moved
to San Francisco and we just got distracted with other projects. I
got lost in the world of skydiving for 10 years. I was obsessed! Walt
Whitney, Carl and I have just begun work on a new CD and were
all pretty hyped about it.
I grew up with the band that eventually became Wax Theatricks. We
were pretty ambitious. At 15, Dominic and I got bored with covers
and wrote a rock opera. Our buddy Bob Reuter put out a self produced
single and showed us how. Our records got more ambitious but we never
really had the money to realize the music we had in our heads. Carl
started showing up at gigs and convinced me that instead of struggling
to realize an idea, especially with no budget, we use our limitations
to shape the final product.
I didnt know Carl that well yet, so I appeared on the first
project Submergings under the pseudonym Phil Neon. I was
living with Danny and one night he brought home the first Delay Tactic
LP Out Pop Options
I was in! Walters technical
expertise in spite of the fact we had no money blew my mind.
mwe3: Speaking of guitars, can you tell us how long youve
been playing guitar and what guitars are you using on the Orchids
CD? How do you stay in shape as a guitarist and what are some
of your other favorite guitars?
David Udell: I started like everyone else from my generation.
I got the Mel Bay Guitar Method book and learned my first chords.
Coincidentally, I bought my first electric guitar at the Mel Bay Music
shop in Kirkwood, Missouri. It was in the grab bag box,
cost $25 had 5 pick-ups, 3 switches, 2 toggles and a giant round light
dimmer looking knob. It had a funny smell too. I was in heaven!
I had 3 vintage Les Pauls, one of them looked like an SG. Theyll
always be my favorite guitars that Ive actually owned. I will
never forgive myself for selling them. My favorite guitar is an old
Gibson 335 with a brass nut for sustain. Got to use one once and fell
in love. It belonged to Stephen and he let me use it when it wasnt
On Orchids I used my current Fender Telecaster. I have one
with a single to double coil pick-up switch. I can get a Fender and
Gibson sound. When I absolutely have to have a Les Paul (like on Valerie),
I have a Korean Epi Les Paul. I put real Les Paul pick-ups on it.
The Korean ones have a heavier body. On my budget, its the best
I can do. Im happy with it.
acoustics are an Epiphone Masterbilt and my daughters Yamaha.
That little sucker sounds and plays great!
I borrowed a nylon string from my buddy Tony Patti. I think he acquired
As for staying in shape, I dont. I will destroy my entire studio
getting to a final mix. Then I have to build it back up again. My
guitar parts are the same. Ill go through hell getting
the part I want, forget it and move on. Sometimes its a little
frustrating having to relearn the parts to play them live but it keeps
my playing from getting too predictable. On the other hand, once I
really like a part I dont improvise much.
mwe3: On Orchids you mix folk, pop and a more harder
edged kind of rock sound. Do you love it all or do you favor one genre
over the next? More relaxing music or harder rocking sounds?
David Udell: I look at each recording as an adventure with,
hopefully, unexpected turns along the way. Im not really interested
in the constraints of any one genre. As much of an influence as its
been on my music and taste, I am so tired of the Roots
cult. Its beautiful, but I need to try something new! Its
not entirely fair to say that. I love the Bottle Rockets and even
Sun Volts newer stuff. I do miss Jay Farrars more adventurous
early stuff though.
I personally want quiet, chaos, mayhem, and peace because I live all
those things. Sometimes Im intellectual and sometimes I party!
A lot of your music has social satire to it. Im thinking of
track four Valerie. Is Valerie stuck in a role and is
it possible to transcend mere mortality and boredom without getting
in trouble? I like the way that track floats a bit that takes off
near the end, during the mantra like its bound to get
better circular mantra.
David Udell: I wrote Valerie as a birthday present
for my girlfriend. I think she was a little put off at first because
it didnt seem like a love song. It is though! Its not
bound to get better, - its going to get better!
Its about routines that make us miss how great life can be.
The ruts we get into. Life is what you make it. If we decide to
its going to get better. I cant think of a
The rock energy starts moving in track five Conversations.
Is that your music at its train of thought best? Is that
song about relationships? Any story behind Conversations?
I take it the conversation is never finished. Good point.
How does the ending fit into the track? lets never come
Nice sax work on the end.
Udell: Its a little confusing because the song starts with,
We had a conversation we never finished. When I wrote
it for my girlfriend Lora
one of the 3 who died, I said, We
have a conversation. Unfortunately we never finished the conversation
because she died.
The song does sound train of thought because its based on several
conversations we had. Dominic asked me why I didnt call it The
Conversation. But its based on several conversations.
Through its ups and downs, it occurred to me that, as long as we kept
the dialog going, the relationship was alive. When Im at a low
point in my life I always feel theres a book in it somewhere.
Lets never come down from that!
Yes, Dominics sax is great. Hes a natural at melody! I
lifted Dannys little vapor trail synth ending from a live version
Wax Theatricks did live the previous year.
mwe3: A Window Was Open also has a great power
pop energy to it, handclaps and all. Is that another relationship
song? I call is progadelic pop! Plus theres some great organ
sounds in there too. Underwater bubblegum music?
David Udell: When I was young I met a girl who was way out
of my league. She turned me onto sophisticated party humor, art and
a lot more. A window of opportunity was open and she let me in. I
knew it couldnt last but it was fun while it did. A local DJ
named Steve Pick played it on KDHX in St. Louis. He had already played
other songs from the CD on previous shows. He said this was the prog
rock he expected from David Udell. Funny, I think its a pop
mwe3: All You Have To Give has a great descending
bass line kind of with a Beatles kind of sound. Is that song about
the transience of life? Everythings so amazing, everything
True, true. How do we know when weve given
everything we have to give? Uncertainty is a killer.
David Udell: This is a hard one for me to talk about. Lets
just say, dont take this temporary, beautiful moment for granted.
Dont kill time, theres not enough of it. Try not to let
pain consume you. Even if youve given all you have to give,
dont give up, keep going. Thats what living is. If you
have someone to share it with, its a miracle!
mwe3: Tonight is a pretty sobering track. Is it
possible to get over love gone wrong? Was that song based on a real
event in your life? Did you add in some additional guitarist on that
track? Good that the song ends on a positive note though! it
doesnt seem to hurt anymore.
Udell: Its about my divorce and it does end optimistically.
You go through hell at first though. Stephen Martin did the lead,
I did the others. When I asked him to play on the record, he asked
why I didnt just do it; I told him his playing was sexier!
mwe3: Somethings Coming is one of my favorite
tracks on Orchids. Is that the most positive track, lyric wise
on the CD? Seems like a metaphysical power-pop song! Everybodys
skating on melting ice! Classic. Whats coming?? But surely
it will turn out right. Sounds like you have some faith in mankind,
Is that your guitar soloing?
Udell: Yeah, thats my lead. Its pretty obvious if
you ask my friends. Something is coming. It could be good or bad.
The melting ice may have been caused by global warming. Its
up to us. Big money is controlling the whole show right now, but somewhere
on the back roads of science and industry, someone in their little
home studio or social network is going to be a catalyst for a movement
of sanity, creativity and hope. Maybe it will take social collapse
first. Maybe reason will prevail. No one should be shy about it though.
Its up to us.
mwe3: How about the CD closing Orchids in the Snow?
That track is mostly instrumental. Im in favor of you doing
more instrumental tracks too! You have the knack. Theres kind
of a slight reprise from the first track A Lot of Roads
but then the track drifts off into instrumental ether.
David Udell: There are references throughout the CD. Snow
starts with the opening track in 3/4 time and a call back to the earlier
lyrics. At every point in our lives there are a lot of roads to choose
from. For me it doesnt really matter which one I take as long
as Im with someone I can really share it with. Ive been
really lucky in that respect.
mwe3: Im guessing you have a lot of influences, like
Lou Reed, The Archies, Beatles, Jonathan Richman
musicians and even albums do you find have influenced your music?
David Udell: Funny you should mention The Archies. I have Justine
in my MP3 rotation right now. I wouldnt even know where to begin
with influences. When I was a child The Beatles made music my obvious
path. There are songs that I hear that are hundreds of years old and
Im mesmerized. I do like Lou Reed but I like John Cale and Nico
even more. We were lucky enough to open for Cale many years ago. After
the show we took the band back to a friends West End mansion
and partied in her pool with them until dawn.
I could say Daevid Allens Gong, Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Captain
Beefheart, Eno, Suzanne Vega, King Crimson, Radiohead, Doves, The
Decemberists, Elbow - I could go on forever. Im going to hate
myself for not mentioning others but it would get crazy.
Have you had good responses from the CD all over the pop and rock
world? What other plans do you have as far as writing and recording
new music and even performing live shows?
David Udell: Ive had great reaction locally but havent
really broken through elsewhere. Im not pessimistic though.
The response I have had has been great.
Im well into the next project. Ill have members of the
band I had for the CDs promotion, Jackie Niebylski - bass and
Mike Long - drums. Hopefully members of Delay Tactics will be on the
next one. Im going to get Native American flute player Mark
Holland on it one too. Im really excited!
Jackie, Mike and I are working on a live show. For now it will be
a 3 piece, but Dominic will join us when hes not busy with his
band Keokuk. John Higgins said not to count him out entirely either
but hes so busy! Id like to get a keyboard player but
I think we can pull off a 3 piece. I love these guys.