Ruben Garcia | Maybe Forgotten Forever (2cd)
CONVERSATIONS WITH RUBEN GARCIA
"MAYBE FORGOTTEN FORGOTTEN FOREVER" CD
Disc 1 (Trk 1)
AP: I remember you playing me this piece before you were working on "Colors In Motion" back in 1991. You told me at the time that you did it fast and quick while you were waiting for your mom to go to a Christmas party. I was still pretty impressed--for me, it was Hassell meets Budd. On the back cover of "Colors," instead of a picture of you playing keyboards, you chose one with you playing congas. I thought that was pretty interesting. What are your memories of this piece? Why didn't you want to put it out sooner, or at all? Do you think it still holds up today? I sure do.
RG: Fast and quick. A one hitter. I didn't think my congero performance was that great and the sound quality was missing something. Of course, I have better equipment now so I remixed it for you the best I could. This is a conga style I learned in Cuba called BEMBE. I'm still not that crazy about the piece but if others like it, that works for me.
Disc 1 (Trk 2)
AP: I recall hearing this piece before we did "Clear Pools" and being impressed with the beauty and simplicity of it--it's less than four minutes, but it's got a beautiful melody and setting. The water which comes in half way through, I thought, was a nice touch. In fact, I thought that would sound good on "Clear Pools" too, but the idea originated with this piece. What do you recall, if anything, about it? Where did the title come from? How do you feel about this piece today, despite its recording limitations?
RG: The title was simple. I never planned on releasing this piece, so just to remind myself of what it was, I gave it a quick name. "Maybe Forgotten Forever." Apparently it wouldn't go away. Everything was done live. Trying to play the piece and mix the Casio's water program at the same time with my feet. I used to do a lot of that. More playing during the mix. Holding pencils with my mouth to push buttons while I'm playing keyboards and doing who knows what with my feet. That's what you do when you only have two tracks to record on.
Disc 1 "Colors in Motion" (Trk 3)
AP: What were the origins of "Colors in Motion," both the album and the piece? "CIM" and the other two tracks that were taken from that album for this project were very synth-based although you were finding your piano/keyboard sound as well on that first one. I really like how the track fades in from almost nothingness and starts to grow upon layers and layers.
RG: The whole CD "Colors In Motion" was done on a 4 Track Tascam cassette recorder. I never like to bounce tracks so I had to do everything live. Of course during the mix I would play two or more keyboards and usually get it right the first time. The actual piece "Colors in Motion" was improvised live in front of some friends that begged me to play something for them. Luckily, I recorded this piece straight to DAT. I loved the piece so much that it became the focus of that CD. Now, I needed a cover for the CD! I went to the nearest art store, bought my first acrylic paints and brushes and went at it. It took a month or so. I then named the painting, Colors in Motion, and the piece I loved so much was matched to the title at a later time. Being that this was my very first CD, every song had to sound different from the last. I had a reviewer say once "Here's a guy that can't make up his mind." What was intended to be an insult, turned out to be a compliment.
Talk about your gear/recording set-up you had in those years and how you made it work for you. (I still remember the note on the refrigerator in the Canoga Park guest house that said something like "remember to unplug frig"), because of ground loops, I suppose. As for gear, you had the Kawai piano, a OBX-a, the Four Voice, a DMX drum machine and a and DSX sequencer, a Sequential Circuits Pro One, and of course, the working man's friend, the TEAC 4-trk cassette recorder, and a 2-trk reel to reel machine as well for this. And then just inexpensive Midiverbs. Am I leaving anything out?
RG: Oberheim OBXA synth, DSX sequencer, DMX drum machine, Tascam 4 trk cassette, Pro 1, Oberheim Four voice, A KAWAI upright, Korg Vocoder, Technics 2 trk reel to reel, and the famous Roland 808 drum machine was the main part of the studio. Gear would come in as the paychecks would allow.
I'll never forget the ghettos of Canoga Park. The Ambulance would pick up dead bodies in front of my house on the weekends soon after I heard the bullet shots.
AP: How did all of this work togther for you at the time? I recall sometimes you play a final part live to the mix since having enough tracks were of premium concern in those days.
You used Steve Caton on "Africa" though you'd done quite a bit of work together beforehand. Any reason you wanted that one or him on the album?
RG: In my mind, Steve Caton was and still is the best guitar player I've heard in a long time. It was hard to get him to do anything, so whatever I was able to do with him I did my best to release it.
Disc 1 (Trk 6)
AP: How did yours and Harold Budd's pathes happen to cross originally? Was it through DJ Brent Wilcox who was playing Repetition tapes on his radio show on KCRW back in the mid '80s? Did he know Harold, and pass one of your tapes on to him? When and how did you and Harold first speak/meet? I recall him coming down to a couple of the original Repetition live shows. In '92, on his album "By the Dawn's Early Light," he dedicated a track to you, "Down The Slopes to the Meadow (for Ruben Garcia)." Any background info on that? What's been your relationship with Harold over the years, and what's it like today? RG: As I was listening to a Brent show one evening, Harold was a guest on his show. I called the radio station and pleaded with them to let me talk to Harold. They said to me, "No you cannot." I later found out through Brent that he was trying to contact me at the same time. "So, there it is! "BOB'S YOUR UNCLE!" We made good friends, and the rest is history! AP: What's the story behind "Rainy Day"? How did Harold get involved?
RG: Harold Budd was very serious about producing Repetition, Repetition. It was all in vain because all the record companies never gave him or myself the respect that we deserved. To this day, I could care less what the record companies do with their decisions in life. I booked the session in Whittier, of all places, unfortunately the engineer was an idiot. He fell asleep during my improvisation of "Rainy Day."
If it wasn't for Steve Caton being late, "Rainy Day" would have never been recorded. We set up the mikes and I went at it. I didn't know what Harold was up to. He pushed the reverb as far as it would go and took the live piano completely out so you only heard the piano reverb.
AP: I recall you playing me this track in late '85, but it wasn't officially released till '96 on "Room Full of Easels." Eleven years later! In a way, it was your first solo piano track, pre-"Gatekeeper."
Disc 1 (Trk 7)
AP: The album that came after "Colors" was a big departure. Going from a heavy synth environment to a solo piano project was a big step. And an improv album at that. What made you want to do "The Gatekeeper" project? Did you truly go into the studio with no idea what you were going to play, or had you worked out some ideas in advance?
RG: When I did "Colors in Motion," I wanted every song to sound different from the last. I also wanted to let the world know that I am a pianist. Years before "Colors," someone told me once, "Ruben, you’re a minimalist composer." I then asked what the hell is that? She introduced me to the music of Eric Satie, and the rest all made sense. I wanted to record my own Gymnopedies. I didn't have a piano. How am I going to pull this off? Think Ruben, think! Well, that didn't work. So, I booked two days at Scott Fraser's studio and went at it again.
There's a great story about Tito Puentes recording an all percussion CD. Nobody thought it was a good idea. He took 18 percussionists and put them in a circle. In the middle of the room was a table with some bottles of Puerto Rican rum. They went at it all night and finished the recording in one night.
Same idea with "The Gatekeeper." Take all the percussionists out of the room, remove all the percussion instruments, bring in the grand piano, and leave the rum! Nobody knew I had a half pint of rum in my back pocket. Scott asked me, "Ruben, do you know what you’re going to be doing today so I can get a sound check?" "No Scott. I'll be hearing these pieces for the first time like you will be!" "Are you ready, Scotty?" I took a swig of hooch and played, and played, and played, and played. So many things going through my mind. Almost in tears. Pouring my heart and soul out to the world. Happy thoughts, sad thoughts, and watching my fingers play these beautiful SAD, HAPPY piano improvisations. Finished in two days. I said to myself, "THATS IT BABY, WERE DONE." Next?
AP: "Malena" was sort of a strange way to end a solo piano album. It almost sounded like something left off "Colors" with the sequence running underneath. It fits, though. Why did you want to end the album by re-introducing the electronic rhythmic element?
RG: I didn't want anyone to think that I gave up on electronic music, so this was a combination of both.
Disc 1 (Trks 8, 9)
AP: Did you have a concept for the album after "Gatekeeper" to get back into more rhythmic/electronic stuff, or just to do a blending of all your various styles--ambient, electronic, piano, etc.
RG: Exactly that. A combination of different musical styles which I love so much, and the piano will always make its way in there somewhere. Like Stephen Hill said in one of his shows, "the piano is always queen."
AP: Where did the title "Paperback Sex" come from? This is the first time you worked with Jeff Pearce. There were some nice backwards guitar manipulations on that one that you told me you actually dubbed to reel-to-reel and flipped the tape over, and got lucky. Nice strong rhythmic track with heavy bass line, too.
RG: When you go to a book store, or Walgreens, Walmart, supermarket etc., you'll always see a rack or two loaded with paperbacks intended to lure in potential female buyers, and usually it has to do with sex! Who's doing who! Who's naughty or nice, etc, etc. I promised myself I would compose something someday with the title "Paperback Sex". So there you have it!
AP: Talk a little about the cover of the album and how all that came together....
RG: In the late 80's, I did a concert at USC Irvine. It was for an art show opening. As I was rolling in my arsenal of equipment down the hallway, the art gallery caught my eye. This must be the place!
Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "you’re not performing here. You belong at the room across the hallway." It was a huge room full of easels! I had to move all the easels in order to set up and perform. I didn't realize that a picture of all those easels would have been a great cover. Later down the road after I moved to Arizona, Daniel Lentz helped me get permission to take some pictures at the ASU art class which was filled with these huge easels and different artwork from the students. This was perfect, and I never forgot that title. It was always in the back of my mind. Someday, I said. Someday.
The title was the inspiration for the whole project. In fact, I loved the title so much that the music just rolled off my fingers.
Disc 2 (Trks 1, 6, 8)
AP: You were living in Joshua Tree at the time you started this project. What was that like, working on this project there? Obviously, the heat was a big factor in creating some of the tracks.…
RG: Living in Joshua Tree was very difficult. 122 degrees in the shade. I only had a swamp cooler, no air conditioner. Both projects, "Easels" and "Heat" were started there but later finished in Flagstaff. There was no title for "Heat." I left for AZ towards the end of June. My last morning there, the U Haul was packed and ready to go. I woke up early and hit the road around 4 A.M., and that’s when I noticed the sun coming up! I took my last photograph of Joshua Tree which later not only became the front cover, but the title followed soon after. I was desperate to get out of there. Around 7 A.M., it started to get hot! Very hot! That's when I wrote the title down while I was driving. 90 degrees at 7 A.M." I later matched the title with the music which I composed in Flagstaff AZ. Things were cooler, and I was calmer.
AP: You've used the Rhodes keyboard sound as well as the acoustic piano sound a lot over the years--and have made it your sound. When you're working on a piece, what, if anything, makes you think in terms of using one keyboard sound over the other, or combining the two as you've done on several tracks....
RG: Yes, I went back to my Budd/Garcia sound. Stacking the midi acoustic with the Rhodes which I installed in my piano in Flag. It was a new sound for me that no one has done and I’m still fine-tuning it to this day. I've always done synth stacking but never with my acoustic, because it was never MIDI’ed.
Disc 2 (Trks 5, 6, 7)
AP: "Five Dreams" is a great track off "Lakeland," combining many elements that worked well in your previous work. Even the title sort of recalls a time reference, a vague "Maybe Forgotten Forever" quality. The beginning drone, the dirge groove--classic Garcia signature stuff. What brought this one on? Again, it's got that classic Rhodes EP sound--with lots of cool backwards sounds in the background (real backwards tape stuff or from a rackmount?). A big production track?
RG: There's lots of stacked synth's on this piece. I then ran the drum machine through the vocoder and then noticed the vocoder humming it's own melody. This helped me create a melody that worked very well. Again, the piano was midi’ed to the Rhodes. Those backward sounds that you hear a series of piano chords recorded on reel to reel and then played backwards. I had to use my imagination so the backward chords would play exactly where I wanted them to.
AP: "Two Finger Music"--piano solo, big room sound, pretty short track for you--but somehow it seems complete. Lots of delays and reverb. Do you put delay on before reverb or after? It always seems to be coming from another room, or another world....
RG: Sometimes, I'll put just the reverb on two separate tracks so I can later make a choice of what I want to do. This piece was composed with my two index fingers. I had some kids recording in my studio once and I wanted to show them you don't really have to be a genius or practice for a million hours to create beautiful music. After shooting my mouth off I then had to face the music. I showed them my two index fingers and started to play. The title was obvious. "Two Finger Music."
AP: "Eyes Wander." Sounds like a Harold title. Same kind of solo piano vibe as the last track--big room sound with treatments. I really like how you bring in the EP sound at the end--was it in there all along, and you just added it in at the end, or did you specifically do that part separately? It's a great ending to a very lonely track, and it changes the tone of the piece to even more melancholy, even though the acoustic piano is still in there somewhere.
RG: I've never been married, but like most men, their eyes wander at the mall. I know mine do, but if you’re with your wife expect to get slapped when your eyes wander! I had to cut the beginning because it was so terrible. The reverb started the piece off and I slowly brought the live piano in to a comfortable listening level.
AP: What's the story with "Lakeland"? You once had a cassette of Repetition Repetition called "Lakeland." What made you want to revive the title? You told me once the cover picture was a gift from some of your Navajo friends in New Mexico....
RG: During one of many fishing trips with my Navajo friends here in Flag there was one particular lake where you had to be Native American to go to. The fish were jumping right in front of us but we couldn't even catch a cold that day. Twelve hours later after being eaten alive by mosquitoes and gnats, the lake turned magical. I took several shots of the lake and you'll notice the trees on the back cover which is my back yard. I superimposed the trees and clouds at a later date. The title was easy since "Lakeland" was only a cassette and the music had already been recorded. All I had to do is match the two.
Disc 2 (Trk 8)
AP: This is somewhat of an unreleased orphan track which I recall you playing me back in Frazier Park which originally had a working title of "Big Room Solo." Scott told me when you used to come down to record at his studio, you would always say "give me the big room." Any memories of this solo piece in particular?
RG: Not one of my favorite pieces. Too heavy-handed, and too loud. The melody is very nice though. What this piece needs is pure reverb and no live piano sound. More big room please!
Disc 2 (Trk 13)
AP: When did you start your association with Richard Bone--how did that evolve? What did Richard provide you with for this track? Besides keyboards (and a bass line?), what else did you add to this one? Again, that classic space-Rhodes keyboard sound....
RG: I had just moved to New Mexico and finished unpacking the last box, when I believe Richard called me. We agreed to start working together. He sent me the grooves and I did the rest. It took forever to come up with a piano melody, but once I found it I couldn't stop it. Again, this is acoustic piano midi’ed to two other acoustic piano patches from my synth's. The piano deserved the biggest, grand sound possible.
Disc 2 (Trk 14)
AP: Another track with Bone--did he give you these two tracks to add to at the same time, or did this one come later? What does the title mean for you? You've given several pieces on your albums Spanish titles--any particular reason? Again, what did Bone provide and what did you add, besides keyboards and a bass line?
RG: Richard does everything live. Nothing can be separated which is fine by me. He later asked me, how were you able to play that intro so perfectly? I told him that I had to count and pray that I would hit it in two or three takes. Luckily, I got it on the first take. A real one hitter. "La Mesa Terminada" means "The Finished Table". It could have more than one meaning which is what I like about the title. I also like the way it flows.
Disc 2 (Trk 15)
AP: Very nice percussion track--do you recall how you treated it? Sounds very Enoesque, like that first track on "Hybrid" with Michael Brooks. Great groove, but you can't really tell what it is--electronic, acoustic, or both. You switched to an organ sound that fades in an out over the piece. Do you like using organs much? Any significance to the title? All these tracks were done when you were living in New Mexico, right?
RG: Yes, New Mexico. Lots of treatments on this entire piece. It's a dedication to my Uncle Julio who wanted to come back as a dolphin. It wasn't really an organ sound but maybe a combination of synth and organ. The melody definitely had to be way out there, as Harold would say. "Ghost like Melodies" and any possible ocean sounds I could find which I treated, reversed, and sometimes, more reverb on the reverb!
Disc 2 (Trk 16)
RG: I saw this title on a candle I bought at the grocery store. The candles that show different saints! I later pulled out the old piece, remixed it, and matched it to the title. Your rhythm had this Santeria quality to it that fit perfectly with the title.
AP: So, what are your future plans at this point--future projects? At one point, you were going to use the Bone pieces for your next album, and leading it off with "From the Bottom of the Sea." Is that still a possibility?
RG: "From The Bottom OF the Sea" will be on my next CD. I'm also working on electro-Italian style pieces where I am using my Melodica. Imagine Kraftwerk, Budd, and Piazzola. Other styles will include Glass, Klaus Shulze, Satie, Fripp & Eno, all done Garcia style of course! I'm not sure what's happening with Richard's pieces. Maybe he'll release it, maybe I will.