Hi Bob and welcome to Vents Magazine! We’re super-excited to have you here…Before embarking on our Q&A journey, how has your 2021 been so far?
Thanks for taking the time to chat. 2021 feels like a new start, doesn’t it? I know we’re not there yet, but I can almost taste the fried dough, I can feel the skee balls, I can hear the Galaga machine… I’m ready, baby.
Congratulations are in order for your release of your debut solo album, Playland Arcade! You’re well-known and highly respected as Dreadnaught bassist and co-founder; how does it feel to be flying solo on the upcoming album?
This is a producer’s album to the core, and I wanted to make music which would be representative of my exceptionally odd career: prog-rock bassist, classical music producer, composer, lover of sounds and devotee of off-season towns. Look, this shit is weird. 7-second songs, cinematic orchestral/rock mashups, slow-build electronica, something that sounds like a UFO attack, a Duane Eddy tune with 8-string bass in place of the twangy guitar, the works. My advice is to buckle up.
Is there any stylistic bleed over or connective tissue from the music you create with Dreadnaught into the new album? There are elements of jazz, pop and orchestral in Playland Arcade. Do your own musical tastes eclectically run the gamut and how did these different genres of music inform your own work for the new album?
Regarding the intersection of Dreadnaught material and this stuff, absolutely. A technical sheen reflected through performance and production coupled with an absurd sense of musical humor is not only a common thread, it’s a common foundation.
My tastes, my work, and my vocation all kind of come together in this album, with splashes of prog-rock (“Siege”), Americana of a sort (“Wyoming Vice”), jazz (“Tenderly”), and high strangeness (“Intermezzo”). Although Dreadnaught has utilized symphony orchestra in the past, this album features that element to a much greater degree, and there’s certainly a lot less electric bass on this record than on anything of my own I’ve done before.
I don’t play on a substantial portion of this album, and that’s by design – I wanted to work through others and to give them agency to do what they wanted rather than do it myself. It was a refreshing process for me as a composer and producer. I think of it as accepting my inner Steely Dan.
Where does the album’s title Playland Arcade come from? Is Playland Arcade a themed type of album? In other words, is there an overarching connectivity from one track to the next?
The album is essentially a love letter to the boardwalk at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, the seaside town I’ve been visiting since I was boy, with all its sights and sounds and scents – fried and otherwise – that that have permeated my experiences for decades. It’s a crazy place, in a location that has seen everything from spaceships to witches, massacres to beach riots, vagrants to vacationers, shots to chasers. Come for a visit and you’ll see.
The title is a reference to the arcade on the strip, the Playland Arcade. There are virtually no machines in there newer than a few decades old. It’s the same Centipede machine that I used when I was in my single digits. I love it. But do not use the fifth skee ball machine from the left. It will eat your fucking quarters without remorse.
Playland Arcade is being released on April 27, 2021 via digital download and streaming platforms. For the archaic among us, will there eventually be a vinyl and cd release of the album?
As the owner of multiple record labels, I possess enough physical product to construct a fortress which no human could ever hope to penetrate. I gotta keep this one digital or else I’m out on the street.
Speaking of digital downloading and streaming platforms, can you speak to how these new bells and whistles have altered the music industry? And is it a change for the better?
I stapled posters to telephone poles, I licked envelopes, and I learned how type on a typewriter – I’m a child of a prior era. But we live in a different time now, and we have a real, true, different opportunity to connect with the world – like, all of it. There are many issues to be solved, rights and bandwidth and permissions and market noise floors, but it’s only a matter of time. We are in it and should get it used to it, because the platforms are tools and those tools are there to be used. “Return on investment” can take on an infinite number of meanings and metrics depending on what you want and what you value – the key is knowing what those things mean to you.
Jon Wyman engineered, mixed and mastered all of the non-orchestral ingredients in Playland Arcade. What was the collaboration like between you and Jon?
Jon is top shelf, a master of frequencies who manages the finest details while maintaining a bird’s eye view on it all. When I strap on my bass, in some sense I cease to be a producer, because how can you maintain true objectivity if you are actually doing the thing itself? I trust Jon in a way that I rarely do others. We’ve worked together for a decade now and there’s as much laughing as there is music-making when we’re together, and that’s a great thing.
You have a veritable Who’s Who of music greats that have contributed to the new album such as Jamie Perkins, Duncan Watt, Ed Jurdi, Andy Happel and – last but not least – the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. Can you speak to what each of these talented people and groups brought to the table for Playland Arcade?
These are all friends with whom I’ve worked for a long time, in the studio and on stage, and whose musicianship I’ve come to love. In this music I hear personalities unleashed – listen to Jamie Perkins’ work on “Yo Soy Miguel,” Andy Happel’s violin on “Mighty Forces,” Duncan Watt’s keys on “Air Hockey,” or Mark Saliba’s arrangement of “Beach Pizza,” these are my ideas, sure, but also theirs, and I consider this to be their work, their musicianship, their interpretation as much as my own.
The percussion for Playland Arcade was recorded in Havana, Cuba. How did that come about?
My company PARMA Recordings has produced music in Cuba since 2015 and I’ve been fortunate enough to actually have a man in Havana, my friend and staffer Dayron Ortega, a gifted guitarist, superb producer, and sweetheart of a guy. I asked him and our friend, the percussionist Eduardo Silveira, to help out on a couple tracks and it worked a charm. I realize it is a bit of a cliché, but there really is a musical something in that country that you just can’t get any other way. It’s an amazing, crazy, beautiful place to work and I can’t wait to get back there.
Jumping groove’s a bit here, Dreadnaught turns 25 years old in 2021! Congratulations on that milestone; how will Dreadnaught celebrate their silver anniversary?
Amazing to think we were still using actual fold-out maps to navigate our gig routes back when we started, but it’s a fact, and the truth is that my hair is now the same color as this anniversary. We have a new album coming out in August of this year called NORTHERN BURNER, and I think it is the perfect distillation of Dreadnaught – hard, tight, and weird.
Final – Silly! – Question: Better movie about the music industry: Almost Famous or This Is Spinal Tap?
There is no question here, because there is none better than Spinal Tap. I have seen Spinal Tap live – the band, not the movie – three times, once on their “Smell The Glove” tour, once in London, and then when they toured as “Unwigged.” Those guys rip. For all the satire, all the humor, all the winking, the fact is that they brought it and they knew it. As a musician, what could possibly be better?