JONATHAN SEGEL
Shine Out
(Bumps Of Goose)

 

Recorded deep in the woods in a cabin by a lake in central Sweden, Shine Out is the 2014 CD by Jonathan Segel. Having played violin, keyboards and guitar in the band Camper Van Beethoven for the past 30 years, Segel decamps on this solo effort and the end result sounds like a mix between Van Dyke Parks singing Brian Wilson originals with Swedish space music icons Bo Hansson and Kenny Håkansson added in. Is he a fan of the late great Bo Hansson? Segel explains, "First off, yes: Bo Hansson. I love it. The whole Swedish prog thing is incredible, a lot of it is very political as well. I love Träd, Gras och Stenar, they're one of my absolute favorites. One of the bands I have sat in with here is Gösta Berlings Saga, who are an instrumental prog... well, complicated music band. They are incredible, great players and really cool music." Coincidence or not, that classc Swedish instrumental prog influence runs throught the heart of this amazing album. Although Segel’s bass is prominent in the mix, often times adding in a very vivid depth and sonic counterpoint, Shine Out is also a prime showcase for Segel’s unique and intriguing electric guitar work and vocals. Through the art of studio overdubbing, Segel has created a 21st century space-rock music classic. Sanna Olsson adds some appealing backing vocals but for the most part, the well conceived Shine Out further establishes Jonathan Segel as a bona fide, 21st century progressive pop-rock original. www.music.jsegel.com/album/shine-out / www.JonathanSegel.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
JONATHAN SEGEL


mwe3
: How did you wind up living in Sweden? Where are you from originally and how would you compare where you’re from and living the US with living in Sweden? Where do you live in Sweden and what do you like best about it?

Jonathan Segel: The short story is that I am married to a Swedish woman and we have a three-year-old. The longer story is that we lived in Oakland, CA for about 10 years, but when our daughter was about 10 months old I lost my job at Pandora and we couldn't pay the mortgage/groceries/health insurance/etc., and we ended up losing our house.

So, we basically pulled the ripcord and moved to Sweden. We lived with my wife's parents for a year before finally getting our own apartment, but we do have free day-care/preschool and health care so the kid is good. I was in language classes for most of the past couple years, my Swedish is ok, not great. We live in the western part of Stockholm, out on the Green Line (subway line), it's really beautiful and we have huge parks and forests and lakes nearby, and a ton of preschools, so it's pretty much perfect for raising kids here.

There is a lot of culture shock for me, but there are many good things about Sweden, ...not sure what I would say I like best. I still feel like an outsider. I wrote a bunch about it on a blog I have, (http://jsegel.wordpress.com) especially during the first year I was here. I don't really have my own place in any music scene here, though I have been sitting in with some musicians in Stockholm.

mwe3: You were one of the founding members of the group Camper Van Beethoven who have a 2014 CD out called El Camino Real and you also have a new solo CD called Shine Out that was also released in 2014. What is the new CVB album like and how would you compare your work and playing and music in CVB with your solo albums?

Jonathan Segel: Camper Van Beethoven took a long time between 2004 and 2013 between albums, but then we wrote a lot of material and split it up between two albums, 2013's La Costa Perdida and the recent El Camino Real, which ended up being like small concept albums about northern and southern California, respectively. The first one, La Costa Perdida is a little mellower, more Big Sur hippie-style, while El Camino Real is a little harder and faster, having more Los Angeles elements in it. We worked on the music collectively, then all took it home to do various additional bits and came back to the studio to put it all together.

I worked on Shine Out over the summer between touring with CVB, mostly while my daughter was napping! One main difference between it and CVB is of course that I'm singing instead of David Lowery, who tends to sing all the songs in CVB. And that I play guitar. In CVB I end up playing violin about 75 percent of the time, since we have David playing rhythm and Greg Lisher on lead guitar. At home, I mostly play guitar, which is actually the instrument I started on, so I write more on it, and get to stretch out more. One thing I have definitely done on my own albums over the past decade is to stretch out more on guitar! I like noodling away on guitar.

mwe3: How would you compare Shine Out with your earlier solo albums and how many albums have you released so far and are they all in print on CD or just available on download?

Jonathan Segel: The biggest difference is of course that this new one has no drums! I recorded it all myself in a little cabin, so the only percussion is shakers or tambourines. That's not to say that it's acoustic, however, although I recorded many of the basic structures on acoustic guitar initially, in many of the songs I took that track away so that the basis of the song is the bass and the electric guitar.

Most of my other “solo” albums are band-based, especially in the past ten years: touring with CVB in 2004, my guitar and violin were stolen in Montreal, and I became re-obsessed with the electric guitar. The couple albums previous to that, Scissors and Paper (2000) and Edgy Not Antsy (2003) were song-based, partially with a band and partially just very studio-made. I was very involved in electronic and electro-acoustic music and improv at the time as well, but after losing my long-time companion Fender Stratocaster, named Honey, I went back to my rock roots, back to the old rock music inspirations that got me started when I was a teenager in the 1970s, so Honey (2008) was recorded with John Hanes on drums and Victor Krummenacher on bass, and lots of electric guitar. I started practicing more guitar again. The next pair of albums came in 2012, All Attractions and Apricot Jam, even more electric guitar, same rhythm section, sometimes with Chris Xefos on bass and Victor on second guitar. All Attractions had the songs, while one afternoon in the studio, we just jammed and that became the basics for Apricot Jam, which is all instrumental. So after these, Shine Out is definitely a different sound.

I've never had any label support for my records, so I put them all out myself, Victor and I had a label called Magnetic starting in 1993. I usually just printed a few hundred and sold them at CVB shows or my own shows. When I left the states, we shut down the label, and got rid of the backstock. So there are a few physical copies of my older records available around the web, but recently I have gone with a company called Finetunes to distribute All Attractions, Apricot Jam , Shine Out and my very first solo album Storytelling, from 1988, remastered in 2011. They should be available on Amazon around the world, and in digital shops like iTunes. You can find everything of mine digitally on my website (http://www.jonathansegel.com), and CDBaby still has some physical and many digital albums, including my bands from the 1990s, Hieronymus Firebrain and Jack & Jill.

mwe3: What is the new Camper Van Beethoven CD, El Camino Real like, how would you compare it to the band’s earlier albums, and how much did you contribute to the new CVB album compositionally and stylistically?

Jonathan Segel: El Camino Real is a fairly aggressive and rocking song based album, which is more like our later 1980s albums like our third album or even Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. It was made as a compliment to La Costa Perdida, as I mentioned, which had more swirly psychedelia and some slower and sweeter sides. The tone of ECR is more sinister, as David said: “on LCP, the ocean is benign while on ECR it is sinister and chemical”.

My role is generally melodic, though we all come up with chord progression ideas, on ECR, being a more rocking record, Greg took the main melodic impetus so I ended up being more orchestral, more counter-melody or backing parts. David took many of the vocal melodies from Greg's parts on the last two albums. Camper Van Beethoven is definitely a gestalt, though, the cumulative whole makes something quite different from anything that another band could make.

mwe3: Is there some kind of musical concept on your Shine Out CD? What was the recording process like on Shine Out and when and where was the music written and recorded? You say on the CD packaging that it was recorded in a cabin near a lake in Sweden and mixed in an apartment in Stockholm. The CD sounds great so there must be some great equipment in your apartment!

Jonathan Segel: My concept was in fact to start with acoustic guitar and then play bass and electric guitar and take away the acoustic, to make the music more about voices or lines rather than chords. The songs were all written out there in the country, as in fact were the songs on All Attractions!, my wife's family, like most Swedish families, has an old house out in the country that they go to in the summer, this one is a 16th century farmhouse made of timber, they got it when the last of the original family had emigrated to the cities or America or died off back in the 1960s. It's not big, but there's a lot of land around it. There is a two room main house, a barn, a tool shed and a little one-room cabin, which my mother-in-law uses as a painting studio, I co-opted it to record music in! I think the wooden room itself sounds great, so I recorded with both near and far microphones for both acoustic and electric instruments.

Thank you for saying it sounds good! I don't have the greatest equipment, but I have been doing this for a long time! I use simple microphones, I have an old East German copy of a Neumann, and a Blue Bluebird, those are my large diaphragm condensers, then I have a pair of Josephson small diaphragms, and a Shure SM 57. That's it!

One major thing that I do have and rely on, however, is a ton of Universal Audio plug ins and UA hardware for mixing. My “studio computer” at home runs Pro Tools on a Mac Pro and I have ended up using a lot of the UA stuff, their Neve, Helios, API and their own Universal Audio EQs and compressors as well as their EMT plate reverbs, their EchoPlex EP-34, and their Tape Deck Ampex-102 emulator. I think their stuff sounds great, it's changed what I do in Pro Tools in the past few years, and I've been using Pro Tools since the early 1990s. We use the UA hardware and software on the CVB recordings as well, and it's not just because they're from Santa Cruz! I do also use Audioease's Altiverb convolution reverb, have for years. At the end, this was mastered by Myles Boisen, a friend and musical cohort in Oakland, California, who has worked with me mixing and mastering for many years.

mwe3: What were your early music studies like, what instruments did you study first the most and what instruments do you write your music with or does it vary?

Jonathan Segel: I was always interested in music, an avid listener since being a tiny kid. I think first was recorder, you know, but my first actual lessons were piano when I was 6, but I hated the teacher. She was mean! And I was already listening to rock radio on the AM radio, and drawing pictures of little hairy creatures playing electric guitars, so I started playing guitar when I was 7. I started violin when I was 10, but quit in High School because I was only into playing electric guitar. Also, I got a mandolin then, probably because of Led Zeppelin. I played in a couple bands in high school, and even got a gig playing bass in a band that played in local bars, which was super cool for a teenager.

In my senior year of high school, I took a music theory class and figured out that I knew a lot of what they were teaching, but had never had the right names for the types of chords and intervals. So when I went to college at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I tested into the second year of the music major. I actually went in as a philosophy major! Then I picked up the violin again, because I wanted to play in the orchestra, but I sucked. I took lessons, and the teacher made me start over, essentially. Scales and bowing. At the same time, I was playing guitar or bass with people in the dorms, and checking out the other on-campus bands like Box'O'Laffs, where David Lowery played bass. During the summer breaks, he and Chris Molla had bands in Redlands, California, they had had a friend who played violin with them down there, so they asked me to play with them. Victor moved up to UCSC, they revived their summer band as Camper Van Beethoven, and I started playing with them.

I wrote a lot of chamber music while in college, and worked in the electronic music studios there, so I was heavily into the 20th century classical and avant-garde music world when we started playing with Camper, I had been ignoring rock music for a couple years. I continued to work with writing “dots and lines”, still do it, but I've only had a few things ever performed outside of the university. I also have continued to work with electronic music, and I don't mean dance music, and when I went back to graduate school in 2001, I got heavily into writing computer music in SuperCollider and Max/MSP along with the dots'n'lines stuff.

I would credit Eugene Chadbourne with being a big part of my musical education starting back in the 1980s when we started playing as Camper Van Chadbourne. He had a vast knowledge of music, of many styles and worlds, and he fused it all within a free-improv sense, and with humor. It was very educational and liberating. When we went to play in Europe in 1991, right after the start of the first Gulf War, we played “American” music, most of it in protest: Jazz, Country, Folk Music, Bluegrass, Rock. All genres infused with freedom, free expression, free improvisation. I think I realized then that a great deal of the idea of what they called “Free Jazz” was an element of civil rights and freedom in general.

mwe3: There’s some excellent guitar work on the Shine Out CD. Tell us what guitars you’re featuring on the Shine Out CD. Do you use more acoustic or electric guitars on the new album and what keyboards and violins and basses are you using on the Shine Out CD? Would you consider yourself a “gear head” or does the music writing and arranging always come first?

Jonathan Segel: I am totally a gear head. I have many guitars and things! When my '71 Strat was stolen, I started buying old Fender parts to make a new guitar. I could absolutely not afford an old guitar with the current vintage market. A 1960s Fender Stratocaster is now $10k-20k! I had some good luck, and managed to put together a Strat with mostly early-1960s parts, neck and body and some other parts, and that's one of the guitars I use a lot to record with. The pickups are made by Jason Lollar. On this album I played the acoustic guitar parts on a recent Martin 000-28, the bass parts on a 1972 Fender Precision that I got back in 1982. There is a 1965 Rickenbacker 450-12 String that I got back in the 1980s as well, and the other main electric guitar is a 1973 Les Paul Standard with factory full size humbuckers! The only amplifier I had was a '72 Fender Princeton Reverb, which is my favorite recording amp. I used that one all over the last two CVB albums as well. I did change the power transformer when I moved here to accommodate the 230v power, put in a Mercury Magnetics. Is this too specific? I do love gear!

I also use my 1916 Gibson A-1 Mandolin, both here and the CVB albums, got it back at Gruhn in Nashville in 1986 after the one I got at the Renaissance Faire when I was in high school got stolen in NY on CVB's first cross country tour. The other odd instrument in there is an 8va mandolin, sort of like a bouzouki, that was made by Flatiron in the mid-1980s, I have been using it since then.

I have two good violins, one is a 1920s French-made Guarneri copy, the other one was made by Andrew Kirk, who is a Canadian violin maker who gave me this violin after mine was stolen in Canada. He was a Camper fan! I love this violin and use it almost all the time. It was built in 2002.

As for keyboards, when I moved from California I sold my Hammond M-3 and the piano, so I am back to using software, which for me means synthesizers. I have been using Reaktor for 15 years, so that's my go-to, though sometimes I venture into Arturia's Analog Lab. I generally try not to mimic real instruments, but on Shine Out, I really craved the Wurlitzer/Rhodes electric piano sound, so I used a Reaktor patch that mimicked it. Out there in the countryside, there aren't many keyboards, but our neighbors down the road do have an old pump organ, and I did use that... it's also on the song “In Like A Lion” on CVB's El Camino Real.

mwe3: You’ve worked with a number of music legends including avant garde guitarist / violinist Fred Frith, who I used to invite, back during 1980 to 1982 to my dad’s restaurants, The Chambers and at Lincoln Square in Manhattan. I remember the first night I met him in 1980 at his concert, I told him I just got back from Sweden and Finland, hanging out with Pekka and Pembroke, and he told me, to my utter amazement, that he just got back from working on his next album with Lasse Holmer and Zamla in Sweden. Another time, he came in the Chambers one night and gave me a pre-release cassette of Speechless, before it came out. What was it like working and recording with Fred and what are a few of your other favorite / memorable sessions and recordings with other artists?

Jonathan Segel: I was Fred's assistant for the Contemporary Performance Ensemble at Mills College when I went there for graduate school in 2001-03. He's an amazing musician and composer, as you well know, but he's also a very intense teacher—I had him for a composition seminar also. The ensemble had a lot of “learning how to improvise in a group” sort of lessons as well, which were quite amazing in terms of reorganizing how you listen and how you play.

While there, we had several guests come in and we worked with them to create large-scale performances, including people like Cecil Taylor! And for some of the band things, like when Amy Denio was there, since Fred and I basically play the same instruments, he got guitar and I got electric bass. I really wanted to record something with him, but it was tough to get the time and scheduling worked out... he was on tour whenever school was out, and only one time did we make it over to Myles Boisen's, who does a lot of work with Fred with Joelle Léandre, who was also currently at Mills at the time, and we just improvised. It is a weird record. Fred says it's one of his weirdest.

mwe3: Several tracks on Shine Out are instrumentals like the amazing “Nice Tree Ice”. How does your approach to instrumentals compare with your pop / rock tracks? I guess you’re in the right country for instrumental music as Sweden kind of put rock instrumental “Eurock” music on the map starting in 1969 with the late, great Bo Hansson, who actually cut some instrumentals with Jimi Hendrix, including “Tax Free” which Hendrix loved to play live, with that great Swedish melody. Have you become somewhat of a connoisseur of Swedish instrumental music since living there?

Jonathan Segel: First off, yes: Bo Hansson. I love it. The whole Swedish prog thing is incredible, a lot of it is very political as well. I love Träd, Gras och Stenar, they're one of my absolute favorites. One of the bands I have sat in with here is Gösta Berlings Saga, who are an instrumental prog... well, complicated music band. They are incredible, great players and really cool music. This past May, the guitarist, Einar Baldursson, put together a little instrumental ensemble that we called Astrocrusher: electric guitar, fretless bass, clarinet/bass clarinet and I played violin and electric guitar, we did two shows. Some pre-written melodies, moving into improvisation. I like working that way. I also played a show at a place here in Stockholm called Larry's Corner with some guys called The Muffin Ensemble, pedal steel and fretless bass. They were my band while I sang a few songs, then we improvised to films... Kenneth Anger films, in fact, and it was super fun.

For me, there are many ways of writing instrumental music, so I don't know if I can specify one method over another. Some are straight from a chord progression to melody, some are melody first, some come from improvisation. I do try to zero in on melody, perhaps unconsciously, when just noodling around! Take, for example, the entire Apricot Jam album, it was a few hours of full band improv, start from nothing, and then I took it home and doubled some of the melodic parts with overdubs and such, and it almost became composed. For something like “Nice Tree Ice”, the idea was that very simple chord progression, a la Hendrix' “Pali Gap”, and then play to it, and develop the sections by tone changes and scale changes, then take away the initial acoustic guitar. Most of the instrumentals on this album came from improvisation, the acoustic ones and the long sections in “Turtles All The Way Down”.

mwe3: You’ve also done some film soundtracks. How does your film soundtrack work differ from the more pop/rock side of your music? What are your favorite film soundtracks that you’ve written and scored and have the soundtracks been released on CD? From a historic perspective, what are your favorite soundtracks by other composers?

Jonathan Segel: With film, the music needs to be heard but not listened to actively, really, it becomes a mood that blends with the background sounds to enhance the visual element, to further the intention of the characters or the story. This can get overused, of course, in the cases of the lead-the-viewer-by-the-nose style found in most Hollywood scores.

Working with film is great, I spent a few years living in LA working for Dane Davis doing film sound effects and stuff, so when I started writing music for film, I had an inkling of how it was used. I spent a lot of time watching the scenes and playing along with them before settling down on ideas and working up the music. My personal favorites were probably The Invisibles, which actually played at Sundance, and Love Will Travel. One problem with listening to film music outside of the film, though, is how the pieces are very short a lot of times and they don't really follow through as music on its own. Taken as a whole, the scores are ok to listen to. Love Will Travel actually has a bunch of songs used, they were backgrounds for strip clubs or bars, so there are quite a few whole songs.

None of the scores have been released on CD, though The Invisibles came out on DVD. They should really have paid me mechanical royalties for that, shouldn't they have? You can find them at http://music.jsegel.com

As far as scores that I like, I would go with a lot of older movies. I love the atonal orchestral stuff! I'm a big fan of the 1960s Jerry Goldsmith. And then of course, Nino Rota, Morricone, etc. I also really liked the Pink Floyd soundtracks for those weird late-’60s films! And that Richard Thompson score for Grizzly Man! I'm sure I'm forgetting some important things here...

mwe3: What are your musical plans for 2014 and into 2015 as far as writing, recording, live performances and possible collaborations, soundtracks and other music related ventures?

Jonathan Segel: Right now, my only plans are to play in September at the 10th Annual Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Camp Out in Pioneertown, California. With Camper on the Friday night, and probably a set of improvised psychedelic rock and roll on the Saturday.

Beyond that, I have no idea, unfortunately. I don't have many contacts in Sweden, (if you're reading this, call me!) and I'm not the best self-marketer. I hope to put together some sort of band to play some of my own music this fall here, but we'll see if I can pull it off. I really need a job, actually—I'm unemployed—and that may come in the way of musical plans.

Thanks to Jonathan Segel and to Peter Holmstedt @ Hemifrån

 

 

 
   
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