TRIBECASTAN
Goddess Polka Dottess
(Evergreene Music)

 

The NYC-based band known as Tribecastan turned a lot of heads around with their 2013 CD New Songs From The Old Country and they’re back big time with a 2015 release, Goddess Polka Dottess. The 14 track CD continues with the band’s fascination regarding a vast range of World Music sounds that draws upon Balkan, Klezmer, Cajon, Zappa-esque instrumentals, Indian sitar sounds, 1960s psychedelic rock, Americana and even more. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a genre not covered on this superb sounding CD. Designed with ultra-cool cover art, Goddess Polka Dottess was produced by the sound team of player / composers John Kruth and Jeff Greene, who are joined by a host of musicians adding in all the exotica you could ever want to hear on an album. Speaking to mwe3.com about their unique working relationship in Tribecastan, John Kruth explains, "All the albums are co-produced by me and Jeff. I tend to write the bulk of the material as that's how I spend my time… writing music, when I'm not writing about music. Jeff is more visually oriented - a great draftsman and restorer of historical monuments. When Jeff and I write together it usually has to do with me helping to shape his compositions or him throwing an unexpected sound or scale into mine. We have pretty different approaches and different tastes in music but they tend to merge quite well." Both Kruth and Greene are masterful multi-instrumentalists and with the aid of all these fine musicians, Tribecastan hits a new high of World Music excellence with the color and exotic sounding Goddess Polka Dottess. www.EverGreeneMusic.com / www.TriBeCaStan.tv

 



mwe3 presents an interview with
John Kruth and Jeff Greene of
TRIBECASTAN


mwe3: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it? What are your favorite cities to visit and or do concerts in?

John Kruth: I'm from Livingston New Jersey and live in Greenwich Village in New York City. I spend my summers in Split Croatia, which is one of my favorite cities. We just played at MIM - the musical instrument museum in Phoenix. I always love playing in the west as well as Europe.

Jeff Greene: I live in Tribeca of course and I grew up in the Midwest… Ohio and Illinois till I moved to NYC 45 years ago. Favorite cities, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Rome, Prague. Tribecastan toured the West Coast and we loved playing the Bay Area, San Fran and Berkeley.

mwe3: Can you tell us where and when TriBeCaStan was formed and how the band has grown and evolved since the early days? How has the band’s approach to writing and recording changed over the years and has there been a kind of evolution in the approach, sound and vision of the TriBeCaStan album releases?

John Kruth: TriBeCaStan started when I met Jeff Greene and saw his wonderful instrument collection. He had a couple of my CDs and was familiar with my music and mandolin playing. The first album - Strange Cousin was more of a duo collaboration, a vehicle for exploring all the sounds and colors of Jeff's instruments. He had a couple traditional tunes from Afghanistan and places like that. I had a Don Cherry tune, a Pharaoh Sanders song and a couple of sketches and we threw it all together with some great guests including Steve Turre on trombone, Jolie Holland, vocals and fiddle, Brahim Fribgane - the Moroccan percussionist and Dave Dreiwitz - bassist with Ween.

Jeff Greene: I used to have Labor Day jug band jamborees that really turned into world music and even outer space music excursions and Kruth saw a mutual friend walking down the street with his banjo and decided to tag along to the party about a decade ago. Since we are both interested in folk and roots music from different cultures we started to explore various sonic possibilities on some of the instruments that I have collected over the last 40 years and Tribecastan slowly emerged. At first it was mostly a duo and then we started to invite all kinds of other musicians to join us in the studio to experiment and the sound evolved and became a little more subtle and nuanced without sacrificing any of the primal energy.

mwe3: What instruments did you study early on and tell us what some of your favorite instruments are? What are your favorite guitars and what guitar heroes inspired you to become a professional musician?

John Kruth: I started on harmonica and guitar, influenced as a kid by Dylan, the Stones and The Beatles. Then I heard Herbie Mann and later Roland Kirk, who I wrote my first book about, on the flute. When I was a teenager I heard Gris Gris by Dr. John and there was a mandolin player on there. I flipped! It was the most exotic sound I ever heard. I then discovered The Byrds, The Band and most of all Ry Cooder all had great mandolin playing on their records. I'm a fan of Keith Richards, Bert Jansch, John Fahey, Jimmy Page and Richard Thompson to list a few guitarists who have influenced me.

Jeff Greene: Well I really am an autodidact. Growing up in Chicago I listened to a lot of blues and Muddy Waters lived in the town next to mine so I would see him and Howlin' Wolf and JB Hutto and the like as often as I could. I took a trip to Europe when I was 17 in 1970 and ended up hitchhiking across the Sahara through Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The music I heard there seemed to resonate with my DNA and at that time I basically started looking for music that I hadn’t heard before. This included the modal music of the Muslims, but also African, Indian and South American music and jazz and everything in between. I got college credit for ethnomusicology by making field recordings while traveling in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

To this day I travel and record and study the musical systems of cultures that interest me. Most recently I had the occasion to travel several times to Southeast Asia with a Buddhist storyteller and I was able to absorb many musical elements from that part of the world.

mwe3: John writes a lot of the music but the new album Goddess Polka Dottess was co-produced by John and Jeff. How do both of you work together, from the writing of the music to the arranging and production of the music?

John Kruth: All the albums are co-produced by me and Jeff. I tend to write the bulk of the material as that's how I spend my time… writing music, when I'm not writing about music. Jeff is more visually oriented - a great draftsman and restorer of historical monuments. When Jeff and I write together it usually has to do with me helping to shape his compositions or him throwing an unexpected sound or scale into mine. We have pretty different approaches and different tastes in music but they tend to merge quite well.

Jeff Greene: All of the Tribecastan recordings are co-produced. John is so incredibly prolific with his musical writing that it’s a little hard to keep up. The music just flows out of him. I tend to have a musical idea and then slowly it takes shape. Often we just play some combination of instruments together and that serves as a starting point for some new musical ideas which John quickly distills down and refines into their melodic essence. Often some of the other band members will add their special spice or suggestions as we begin to work out arrangements .

mwe3: The title track “Goddess Polka Dottess” closes the CD. How did you decide to include that poem from the Frank Waters’ book The Yogi Of Cockroach Court? What does concept / title of “Goddess Polka Dottess” mean to you? You describe song as a kind of mantra or is there a kind of spoof in the wording of the title?

John Kruth: I've chanted a lot of different things in my life… It just sounded good, kind of sweet. Frank Waters is one of my fave authors and the Yogi is a classic book that few people seem to know about. I've thought about using that title for a song or album before and I was on the subway over to Jim Clouse’s to record the tune and came upon that passage about the “Dark Madonna” and it just seemed perfect. When I was young, I loved Jim Morrison in the early days… how he'd do these strangely spiritual evocations. The Incredible String Band used spoken word too… Robin Williamson's “5 Denials On Merlin’s Grave”…

Jeff Greene: The voices of the children on the recording are my oldest grandkids.

mwe3: A lot of World Music is kind of difficult for many pop fans to fathom and fully absorb. With Goddess Polka Dottess did TriBeCaStan try to make World Music more of a fun experience for the boomers and generation X?

John Kruth: There's no conscious decision to make world music more fun or more accessible to anyone. I'm just writing music I like to hear… music I've never heard anywhere else. So, it's a fun process really. I get an idea or Jeff and I come up with something together and the next thing you know the band picks up the ball and runs with it.

Jeff Greene: I think our ears are big enough that we include musical influences from various times and certainly different genres. 1960s psychedelia, jazz, even TV commercials. We also like to have fun and really play with the music so hopefully that joy and playfulness comes through. Perhaps mixing the familiar with the exotic is what makes the music accessible. But I wouldn’t say this is what we are striving for, its really more of a consequence of playing what we like and assimilating all the influences we have absorbed both in our everyday lives growing up in America as well as our more adventurous musical explorations.

mwe3: Goddess Polka Dottess was recorded in Brooklyn. What is it about Brooklyn that appeals to you most these days?

John Kruth: I lived in Brooklyn in the 1980's… It was pretty rough then. I always loved Atlantic Avenue and all the Arabic markets but really, we record there ‘cause that’s where Jim Clouse lives and works - he's great to work with - wonderful ears and a good saxophonist himself.

Jeff Greene: Well many of the members of the band live in all the boroughs of New York including Brooklyn which is now the happenin’ hot spot. But as John says its really just that our very talented recording engineer Jim Clouse has his studio there that we ended up there.

mwe3: Goddess Polka Dottess starts off with a track called “Repo Rodeo”, a song that sets a great tone for the album. What can you tell us about that track and why you started the album off with it?

John Kruth: I love to mix styles. “Repo Rodeo” is the most American thing we've recorded… except maybe for “New Foot On Five Star Cave” or “Louie’s Luau” on New Deli - both banjo tunes. But, “Repo Rodeo” begins in Appalachia and winds up in Iraq, Syria… Kind of like the soldiers who have been deployed to the Mideast. We started the album with it cause it’s high energy. We’ve kicked off a few shows that way too. If you'd been following this music, the track definitely took you by surprise.

Jeff Greene: Well "Repo Rodeo has the right energy to kick off the record and it’s quintessential Tribecastan with its bluegrass beginning and then a sojourn to the Middle East and then back to the down home country with a little circus thrown in.

mwe3: “Bangalorious” is another highlight of Goddess Polka Dottess. I guess you’re alluding to the city in India? Is Indian music the most influential World Music sound or are there others? But you infuse “Bangalorious” with some cool harp riffs and of course that Farfisa organ sound. I don’t think World Music has ever sounded this cool! Sort of Spencer Davis Group meets the Maharishi… in Brooklyn!

John Kruth: Thanks that's a good analogy Robert… I like that. There’s a bit of Eddie Harris and Les McCann’s (try to make it real) compared to what in that groove. But yes, I’d spent some time in Bangalore a few years ago and I guess this is just a sonic portrait of that bustling city.

Jeff Greene: In addition to Ray Peterson’s bass backbone and John’s electric sitar and Kenny’s rock organ there is also the Turkish yayli tanbur going for a little outer space vibe in there as well.

mwe3: “Majestic Ganesh” is the only kind of rock type track on Goddess Polka Dottess. The track kind of sounds inspired by “Bangalorious” but “Majestic Ganesh” is a vocal track that kind of sounds like early Traffic. Who sings that track and is there a cool story about it? Is it really about an Elephant God? I think George Harrison would have liked it!

John Kruth: Well thanks… I love early Traffic and hope George would have liked it too. If you go back and check out earlier albums, there are many titles that evoke Indian myth, gods and demigods - whether Kali or Kroncha. That’s me singing. I began my career as a singer/songwriter. I’ve got 10 albums out in that style. We usually do a vocal tune or two live and on the albums, to mix things up a bit.

Jeff Greene: What can I say, but Ganesh smiles on all of us.

mwe3: “Zoli’s Strut” is interesting, Has TriBeCaStan done any movie soundtracks and likewise, do you draw some of your musical inspirations from movies and movie soundtracks?

John Kruth: Zoli was my great grandmother from Budapest Hungary. I heard that she was a fan of a dance known, back in the day as the “black bottom.” I actually wrote the melody of the tune not on the mandolin but the Hungarian Kaval that I bought in ‘Pest when Jeff and I were there a few years back, and if you have any connections for film soundtrack work please let me know!

Jeff Greene: John recently did a sound track to a movie on Nepal and Evergreene Music supplied some of the traditional Afghan music for “The Kite Runner” several years ago. Several folks have suggested that Tribecastan would make great soundtrack music, but we are still waiting for the sound supervisors to figure out what to do with us.

mwe3: What inspired “The Mahakala Stomp”? Sounds like funk meets jazz and more?

John Kruth: Jeff had this unusual instrument, please ask him what it's called and he starts the tune off with it. A mouth organ from Thailand or Laos or Cambodia… And I brought the funk in. Kind of a Maceo Parker thing perhaps and played a western mouth organ, the harmonica. We tradeoff riffs, east / west… that was the idea.

Jeff Greene:On a trip to a cloud shrouded village in the highlands of Laos I came across this opium smoking musician playing the Hmong Queej. Traditionally its used to summon the spirits. Back in New York we were asked to play at the Rubin Museum and to write some music inspired by their collection of Himalayan art. In true Tribecastani fashion we choose Malakala the wrathful Tibetan deity who is so frightful that he scares death to death. The combination of different kinds of eastern and western free reeds seemed perfect.

mwe3: How about track 11 on Goddess Polka Dottess, “The Surfing Swami”? It’s a bit tongue in cheek but with lots of cool musical moves. What brought that track on?

John Kruth: “The Surfing Swami” was written on the Portuguese guitar with an unusual tuning. I was visiting my sister in Southern California and heard about a surfing swami at Yogananda’s self-realization fellowship in San Diego… hence the title. I was also listening to Pet Sounds a lot and was influenced by the brilliant Brian Wilson.

Jeff Greene: John’s said it all here, I just added a little floating vibe on the vibes.

mwe3: Track 13, “Borislav” sounds like a Russian marching song, of course with the sitar droning away in the background! Was Russian or eastern Euro music an influence on that track and how did you come up with the title? Would you say Eastern European music is a bigger influence than Indian music in TriBeCaStan’s sound?

John Kruth: I was inspired to write “Borislav” when we drove thru the town of the same name in Czech Republic. I actually wrote the tune on a sitar, which is odd as it’s a bit of a Russian folk dance. It’s for our percussionist Boris Kinberg. Everything is an influence on TriBeCaStan - from Ornette Coleman to Balkan music to Shakuhachi flute to Gnawa music to Frank Zappa to Kurt Weil and cartoon music - listen to and love it all… Jeff would probably have a whole different list to add here.

Jeff Greene:We did a tour of Europe including the Czech Republic and the Ancient Trance festival in Leipzig, Germany and ending in Amsterdam. Klezmer Punk might be an apt description of “Borislov”. I think you know John used to tour with the Violent Femmes, yes? Both John and I have always been fond of Eastern European influences, it’s in our blood after all.

mwe3: John is also a noted author and I was reading about his 2015 book on the Beatles called This Bird Has Flown. Is Rubber Soul the most influential Beatles album? How do you balance your time as a musician, composer and author? Are there other avenues that you’re interested in exploring besides the musical and literary world?

{
This Bird Has Flown - The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul - 50 Years On (The anniversary of the American release will be Dec 6.). A trade-paperback edition published by BackBeat Books/Hal Leonard You can order a copy directly from me - $25 signed, sealed and delivered (more postage for Canada and Europe) either send money to PayPal c/o jvonkruth@gmail.com or send a check to me @ 88 bleecker street #2L ny, ny 10012 - with illustrations by Glenn A. Wolff, a bunch of fab fotos and new interviews with Al Kooper, Felix Cavaliere, John Sebastian, Howard Kaylan, Steve Katz, Steve Earle, Barry Goldberg, Richie Havens, Lenny Kaye, Carol Kaye, Joel Dorn, and Cousin Bruce Morrow - note from editor}

John Kruth: Music is really my love and calling. When I’m not playing music I write about the music I love, its impact on spirit and society. I've been teaching music history on a college level for nearly 10 years now. Interests outside of music and literature include dogs, cats, yoga, the Gita, swimming and hiking in Dalmatia in the summertime uh… more music!

Jeff Greene: John is being very modest here. He has just participated in the musical scores for several downtown avant garde plays at La Mama and other venues including “Dig Infinity” about Lord Buckley.

mwe3: Can you tell us about TriBeCaStan’s label Evergreene Music? When did the label start, how many albums have been released so far and what’s the label mission as far as planning more releases, CD and DVDs in the future?

Jeff Greene: Evergreene Music started when I made a recording of my Afghan rubab teacher Quraishi and Paramount Dreamworks called and ask if they could use a song in the “Kite Runner” movie. Apparently they found a bootleg tape in the marketplace in Kashgar. How wild is that! Evergreene also recently released a set of vinyl recordings of music recorded in the Balkans back in the 1960s and early 70s called the Balkan Art Series, as well as the soundtrack for the movie Brasslands. The more obscure the better as far as I am concerned. I am sure there will be more Tribecastan recordings because there are simply so many interesting musical ideas to explore.

mwe3: What’s next for TriBeCaStan for 2016? 2015 is almost part of history now. What kind of album would you like to make next and what other goals do you have for TriBeCaStan as we move into the future? Are you also planning any new solo albums and/or new literary works?

John Kruth: There's always new ideas for future albums with TriBeCaStan… we'll just have to see how the tunes take shape. The music is the compass on our “journey.” The instruments we play really have a big hand in guiding it as well. I am currently working on a new book for the University of Texas Press called Friend of the Devil - the glorification of the outlaw in western song from Robin Hood to Rap. It’s quite a tome.

I just released my first solo album in seven years, I’ve been busy with TriBeCaStan and a few other musical projects. Check out my macabre parlor band Villa Delirium with Kenny Margolis - keys and accordion player with TriBeCaStan. My new album - The Drunken Wind Of Life was an interesting project, setting music to the poems of Tin Ujevic - the great bard of Croatia who died the year I was born, 1955. It features members of Camper van Beethoven, Samantha Parton from Be Good Tanyas, Jolie holland and Croatian musicians. Thanks Robert - as we say in TriBeCaStan - may all the gods smile upon you at once without your skull exploding!

Jeff Greene: Yes, there are so many sounds which haven’t been heard yet. I have a musical study trip coming up to Ethiopia after the beginning of the year and I am sure that will be inspiring . My compulsion to discover and try new instruments and understand how different cultures perceive and make music and what its function is and can be for our times is an inexhaustible source of creative energy.




 

 
   
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