Last Sunday night, the noise rock/experimental metal stylings of Tomahawk promise to shake up the Observatory. The intrepid, multi-city-based group–whose ranks include personnel from the Jesus Lizard, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Battles and Melvins Lite–are currently promoting the thrillingly moody Oddfellows, their first record since 2007's Anonymous. For this week's print feature, we spoke to guitarist Duane Denison about the four-piece's dynamic and process, but space restrictions kept us from retaining a tabletop-gaming-related metaphor and details on the band's eating habits in Nashville. Here's more straight from the man himself.
You just did an interview with Consequence of Sound where you talked about how Wikipedia has unreliable information about how Tomahawk recorded by mail. You tried to fix it and the changes never took. Could you clear that up for me so I have a first-hand source?
I would be glad to. They make it sound like our albums have been done just by mail. I get it started and record some basic tracks, and then I send it to Mike [Patton] and he adds his stuff, and John [Stanier] adds his stuff, and then we have someone else mix it and then wham, there's the album. That's never been the case. From the first album on, we recorded live in the studio together. Sure, there's going be times when you do overdubs or maybe additional recording, but generally, those basic tracks are live, especially this new one where we were all in the same room at the same time tracking. Of course, you're touching it up and editing and then doing overdubs, but the basic track [is] live. So, for the record, that's that.
Did you ever mail things for demos?
Now that's different. When we first started doing this, I was communicating mostly just between myself and Patton, so yeah, like a lot of people, I just had a simple four-track cassette recorder. I would make simple demos with drum machines, guitar and bass, and do it all myself–very rough just to get the essence of the ideas. Then, we'd send those back and forth and [later] moved up in technology to where I would get a workstation and send CDs through the mail. Same thing: I would just record drum machine, guitar, bass and drums, and nowadays, you can send files, obviously. But the modus operandi hasn't changed. Even [with] my basic recording gear, I've still got a really simple, old, multi-track workstation. I can record direct to disc, but I don't have Pro Tools and I sort of avoid going on the grid because I think it forces me to keep it organic and keep the parts–at least on my end–playable. I think a lot of people get hooked on the technology and they edit everything to the point where it's ridiculously immaculate-sounding and then they go to play live and they can't do it consistently.
Considering that you're the person coming up with these ideas and then sending them out to Patton, and everything builds from there, do you ever consider Tomahawk to basically be your baby?
Maybe in some ways. Tomahawk wouldn't have happened if I hadn't initiated it, I suppose, but it couldn't have happened without everyone's input, especially Mike's, obviously, and John Stanier, too. Don't let that be under-appreciated. Besides [being] a great drummer, he has good ears and when he likes something, it's usually good.
In two separate interviews, you've said the same quote almost verbatim while describing the record: "This is not 'Dungeons & Dragons.'" You've talked about how this is rock music and not 'Dungeons & Dragons' music. What exactly is 'Dungeons & Dragons' music?
Well, number one: If I'm using the same quote in different interviews, I think the first rule of effective propaganda is having a succinct message.
What that means is it seems like in the hard rock or especially the metal scene, there's all these subgroups and subcategories. I like some of it–don't get me wrong–but when you get math metal carried to the extreme and doom metal carried to the extreme, it just turns into this sort of–I don't know–antisocial boys club where it's just so exclusionary to–oh, I don't know–females or anyone who isn't depressed or depraved. That's part of the appeal if you're into that kind of thing, but I always liked the rock scene. What I liked about punk rock is it kind of brought it back to where [with] the underground scene–at least as I remember it–and the indie rock scene, there was a lot of women there as well, and a lot of girls. Punk rock and underground chicks dancin' and gettin' down: I like that. I like the scene to be more kind of a crazy party where it's fun and exciting and energetic and not just this sort of–I don't know–closed circuit, closed-off world where everyone's negative and everything is black on black on black.
When you were putting Anonymous together, you did an interview where you talked about how you tried to eat as much buffalo meat as possible and drink whiskey to get in the mood for the record. Do you have any special food or drink or environment attached to this one?
[Laughs] Actually, to this one there was. The Easy Eye Studio is in a part of town–8th Avenue South here in Nashville–where there were several good Southern-style places. You know, it's funny: I live here, so for me, eating Southern-style things is no big deal. In fact, I kind of avoid it because it's just not very healthy, right? There's a reason why people in the Southern states tend to have diabetes and be obese all that. But whenever people come and visit, that's all they want, so if there was anything that helped this album, it would be, oh, going up the street and having shrimp and grits one day, or going and having barbecue another day, or going to the meet and three and having that all kind of stuff pretty much every day for the sessions.
Were there any specific places you guys would go to or would you pick a different place every day?
There were some places we definitely repeated. There's a place called Arnold's, and it's a meat and three. In the afternoons, it's quite a songwriter hangout. John Prine is a regular there. Then, [there's] the fish and grits place. That's literally the name: Fish N Grits. That's kind of a weird music biz hang, too, though I didn't recognize anyone. Each place has its own built-in clientele.
Is there any detail that's gone undiscussed about Oddfellows, any fascinating secret that's received no coverage or you've not had a chance to discuss?
There's one musical thing that I'm surprised I think at least one reviewer noticed. The songs "I Can Almost See Them" and "Waratorium" are structurally almost the same, it's just the volume and amplitude and overall feel is different from one to the other, but they're based on this sort of South American rhythm called an amanina. [Note: We listened to this word a half-dozen times and still can't properly place the reference or if the word is even "amanina." If you know what he's talking about, drop a comment.] They're practically the same song, and they're fairly close to each other on the album. It makes me wonder if people who reviewed the album actually listened to it or not. [Laughs] But I don't care. It's just whatever. I'll be dead and gone soon and so will they, so who cares?