Sanvicens from Xtreme Music interviewed Tim Smolens on July 14, 2004
Santa Cruz (CA).
Xtreme Music: I'm here with Tim Smolens in Santa
Cruz, and we're gonna be discussing some of the work with Don Salsa,
Estradasphere and more recently with Secret Chiefs 3. Let's start with
Don Salsa, for someone that's not familiar with their music how would
you best describe it to them?
Tim Smolens: Well, there's little chance that my parents will hear this
interview.. (laughs).. you-know that was from when we were in high school,
Jason and I were originally in Don Salsa, my brother, and a couple of
other friends.. I'm not actually answering your question yet but we're
getting there. We went through a whole bunch of phazes in high school,
and at one point we start dropping some acid and just happened to have
the first Mr. Bungle album around, and it instantly changed what we
were doing from like a grunge Nirvana wanna be kinda thing to an instant
boom and we were on another page. That's right when we decided that
we were gonna start writing like that. So it took another two and a
half years before that album was actually done. But then I think when
Disco Volante came out was the big turning point. At first we didn't
even like Disco Volante because we were expecting a certain thing, we
had all these expectations: "It's gonna be just like the first
one by more intense!" We came around after a little while and then
really became heavily influenced by that, i mean it's obvious that that's
what the influence is. We kinda feel like we did it in a respectful
way. Most bands that you hear that have a Bungle influence, you-know
it's lame and cheesy. Trey has actually told me that we were the only
people that he's ever heard were Bungle was a good influence. People
give him tapes all the time and it's like a Mike Patton sounding singer.
People take the cheesist elements of what it is and just rip it off
in a lame way. At the same time doing those psychodelic drugs helped
strip me of what I call my "american programming", just all
the growing up in the eighties thinking this is normal, you-know thinking
this is what life is, and then everything was just collapsing. That's
around the time in your life when that should happen, theoretically
if things are going well.
Xtreme Music: One of my favourite compositions
on the Don Salsa album "Koolaide Moustache In Jonestown" is
the first one, "The Deck" where it's thirty-two minute..
Tim Smolens: That's the one! Everything else is just
a extra.. (laughter).. that's the song!
Xtreme Music: How would you best describe that
composition to someone that's picking it up for the first time?
Tim Smolens: It was all recorded, I mean obviously you
can hear it in separate parts but all I had was very primative technology
at the time and that was my first project as a producer. Listening to
all that, somehow listening to Disco Volante over and over on psychodelics
I was able to obsorb the production style to a degree that it just became
almost inherent and just unlocked it in me what to do without even needing
to think about it. We had just two eight dats, so it's sixteen tracks
and on almost every piece of music there's at least seventy or eighty
tracks going on at one time. So we would have to record fourteen, just
go ahead and say ok we're gonna mix these, go into two, do that again,
record it to two at whatever quality loss we were getting because we
were doing that.
Xtreme Music: So Don Salsa was the first experience
you had of being in a studio where you're encorporating a lot of production
techniques into your music.. what innovative production techniques did
you encorporate when you were recording some of that Don Salsa music?
Tim Smolens: I didn't have a lot of great microphones
at the time or pre-amps or compressors which I learned about later,
I just had a couple of alright mics and an eight dat and mixing board.
So it was more the layering obviously of what to put on top of each
other, instrumental combinations, playing the same part or just noise.
We had a ton of just noise experimentation, taking mixing board chanels
and feeding the back into each other and changing the equaliser on those.
Just experimentations, we were young and it was just that time in your
life you-know. It's too bad you don't stay like that forever, maybe
you have to work really hard to try. Everything was just so fresh and
new to us.
Xtreme Music: There's some great influences on
that album with Don Salsa including elements from Jack Marshall, Rob
Stewart, and the Mr. Bungle influence in itself. Are there any other
musicians in particular which have greatly influenced you?
Tim Smolens: For Don Salsa did you notice the Willie
Wonka stuff on it? I mean the album starts "You're gonna love this!",
that's what Willie Wonka says right before he takes the kids into the
crazy tunnel. So that's the ride that "The Deck" emulates,
or the album you-know you think you're going on this chocolate river
but you're going into the depths of hell.. (laughter). We were really
into that movie at the time, just watching a lot of it. Althroughout
"The Deck" you can hear the noise, go watch that movie again
and check out the things that the people are saying during that boat
ride. All the different little characters: "Oh Wonka let me off!"..
those are all throughout that cresendoing noise, the last three minutes
and when it finally reaches the pinnacle of of the noise you'll hear
"Aaahh! We've had enough! OK stop the boat!", when Willie
Wonka says that then it goes boom! (Tim Smolens mimics the closing theme
to "The Deck"). So you'll hear all that stuff in there.
Xtreme Music: Which particular Rob Stewart tracks
were you incorporating into "Rod Stew Art"?
Tim Smolens: Oh man there's a ton of them! There's like
ten songs, let's see, Jeff is singing, and if you listen to the lyrics,
like the original: "He's inside my head I feel I wonder why",
that's not a Rod Stewart song that's the only thing in there that's
not. That's a lyric about a stalker, like an obsessed fan who's got
Rob Stewart dead underneath his bed, "Now poor Roddy's dead underneath
my bed." That's the last line. So behind that are all these Rod
Stewart songs are all intermingling with each other. It's starts off
with, let's see (Tim Smolens begins drum roll).. "Some guys have
all the luck..", "He's inside my head I feel I wonder why"..
(continues reciting the complete lyrics at a rapid rate).. "Young
hearts be free.." it changes to that one "..tonight. Time
is on your side", and then at the end it's all these ones "infatuation
forever young, infatuation, leave virginia alone", "will I
see you tonight.." (Tim Smolens beings laughing after successfully
vocalizing the entire "Rod Stew Art" song from the album)..
[Don Salsa's "Rod Stew Art" covers "Some Guys Have All
The Luck", "Young Turks", "Infactuation", "Forever
Young", "Leave Virginia Alone", and "Downtown Train"
all originally performed by Rod Stewart].
Xtreme Music: It's a fantastic medley of songs..
Tim Smolens: You-know what we said about that one actually,
we said right when we recorded that, we just acknowledged that we will
never ever be able to do something this good again! This is the pinnacle
of it all!..
Xtreme Music: And Tim who would you say have
been your main influences and how have they shaped your musical direction..
throughout your career?
Tim Smolens: I used to be an aspiring glam-rock guitarist
when I was a young kid, I was gonna be prodigy kinda thing and I was
really young and just into that. Then I finally got into Nirvana when
they came and killed me, so I was forced to change you-know you've gotta
be cool in ninth or tenth grade. Then it was Mr. Bungle and the acid
which just ruined me!.. (laughter). It ruined me instantly, since then
it's been some other things. Mr. Bungle was my favourite band in the
world for the longest time and now it's changed to The Beach Boys. It's
been The Beach Boys for a long time.
Xtreme Music: The Beach Boys have had a significant
influence on your other side-project I.S.S.
Tim Smolens: Actually both, more on Estradasphere than
you'd think. I mean Brian Wilson was the best music producer there ever
was! By far there's not anyone that can do anything remotely similar.
His would all be one track.. it would be as if Mr. Bungle or Estradasphere
knew every instrument we wanted to and got everyone in the same room
and boom, there's the take.
Xtreme Music: Brilliant! Could you tell us about
your latest release with Estradasphere "Quadropus", and some
of the work you've been doing with that?
Tim Smolens: It's been over now for a while and as you
all probably know, John has left the band. It's a weird album coz you-know
I don't think anyone feels, well there's a lot of mixed feelings I have
about it that it's our best work. Sonically, it might be in a way, like
it sounds really good, it definitely does not flow like an album and
that's because there was some big creative differences where we said:
"OK, I'm gonna do my songs! I gonna do this!" without a group
of people coming together and going "What is this album gonna be
like?" You-know it was all just about, here's my songs, here's
my songs, ok let's put them on.. things were not flowing as a band.
John was on a totally different page than us for quite some time and
it had just turned into this hugh rift.
Xtreme Music: How did you feel about John Whooley
Tim Smolens: I was totally relieved because I would have
left probably. Him and I had butt heads a lot.. I wanted to make the
band more towards the Don Salsa direction.. He had this idea that he
wanted our music to be able to be liked by everyone in the world and
I'm like that's not one of my goals. I'm not looking for the least common
denominator in music.
Xtreme Music: Just talking about "Quadropus"
the latest album, one of my particular favourites is "Dubway"
where it's an a cappella drum and bass inspired piece. What I've always
loved about Estradasphere's music is that every track is a totally different
musical style, so essentially there's something there for everyone.
Could you tell us more specificially about the tracks you worked quite
heavily on for the "Quadropus" album?
Tim Smolens: I produced the whole thing except for "Dubway",
so I worked heavily on the entire album. When it comes to a record I
probably put like, I'm gonna make some weird rough estimates.. if the
rest of the band puts two-hundred hours each into it, I probably put
a thousand hours.. every night just editing, you-know that's my job.
Xtreme Music: You've worked closely with Trey
Spruance on the label and as part of Estradasphere. What's it been like
working with Trey Spruance..?
Tim Smolens: It's awesome! I mean he was my hero you-know.
I knew somehow when I first heard Mr. Bungle, most people think Patton..
there's that whole image that yeah it's Patton, and I kinda knew that
my vibration was with Trey. I knew he was the guy I needed to meet,
this was like when I was still in high school. So we sort of stalked
him in a friendly sort of way. We were working on the Don Salsa album
and we were about half way through, so we had a couple of things to
show him. We went down to a show in San Diego, drove down from L.A.
and I saw him, we were waiting near the venue before the show and we
saw him at the back of the club, the back parking lot. Handed him a
tape, that's the first time we had planted it and I didn't get to talk
to him till later. He said he liked it.. I had e-mailed I guess the
Web Of Mimicry which ends up at him, can get forwarded to him if you
say this is to Trey. I was telling him about how I was very proficient
in the programming of the Curswell 2500 Keyboard, and I was telling
him all about this keyboard: "You guys need to get one of these!"..
It just so happened that Mr. Bungle was just about to record California
and they were gonna need exactly that, some major keyboard upgrades.
So he was like so why don't you come up to my house and show it to me.
This was the first time, it's like "Woah! I'm going to Trey's house!"..
(laughs).. you-know it was totally like a big deal! I had prepared all
these compositions and all these things so that I could simultaneously
show him what the keyboard can do with sounds and compositions. He was
totally into it and then I just let them borrow the keyboard for California.
We've been friends ever since!
Xtreme Music: Back in July 1999, Estradasphere
had a secret show with Mr. Bungle. Could you tell us about that live
Tim Smolens: That's pretty insane too! It's like your
playing with the people that inspired you and started you off doing
this kind of music, there's no secrets about that. It was a pretty hectic
show and it almost didn't happen, there was some drama with the band
and Mike. There were too many people it's was getting out to, it was
supposed to be nobody there. They wanted to have the less people the
better so that they could practive there set for the tour that was gonna
start the next day. Then they insisted on going on before us..
Xtreme Music: You've toured with some of my favourite
groups, Secret Chiefs 3, Tub Ring, and Farmers Market. What's it been
like working with those bands?
Tim Smolens: Farmers Market man, they are the best musicians
I have ever seen!.. Seriously, by far! Just the whole band really, but
obviously the one that sticks out is Steon, the accordianist. He's just
on another planet! He can pick up any instrument and play it better
than you, even if that's the instrument you spent twelve hours a day
playing, and make it look like it's nothing. Everyone in that band is
just on another level!.. It makes me feel like all I have is the way
I produce records that I can make my mark you-know. Everyone's like
Estradasphere are these great musicians. I'm like: "Dude, we suck
compared to these guys!", as far as technical musicianship, or
gypsy music, and some of the stuff we've been known to play. It makes
me wanna work that extra bit harder at doing what I can do differently.
Xtreme Music: How did Estradasphere band members
first come into contact with Farmers Market?
Tim Smolens: Our friend Randy, a good friend from L.A..
he was in this whole circle of people that we know now. Adam actually,
our new accordianist, keyboardist was from that whole group of people.
They were these really young kids into Bungle, Estradasphere and they're
just gung-ho about it. They'd always drive up to our shows and stuff
like that. So he just found out about this band, Farmers Market and
he was really into Bulgarian music. He figured out how to get the Norweigan
government to actually pay for bands like that to fly around. So he
had booked all the shows for the tour and did all the arrangements for
it. We didn't even know what we were walking into. I had heard the albums
and was like: "Alright, these guys are really good!" The first
night of the club we're just like: "Oh my god!" It was probably
the worst show we've ever played in our lives! Seriously embarassing!..
That whole tour we were at a pretty low point in our existance. We're
sort of having a rebirth now just because John finally left the band,
and we're able to more of a focused thing. Playing all those shows on
the Farmers Market tour was an absolute embarassment to tell you the
Xtreme Music: I'm seeing a similarity between
the creative core of Mr. Bungle, being Mike Patton and Trey Spruance,
and with Estradasphere, yourself Tim Smolens and John Whooley. Do you
feel that there has been this weird relationship between the two highly
creative members of the band, constantly having this friction?
Tim Smolens: Well with Estradasphere it's Jason too.
I mean Jason has probably written more than anyone on the albums if
you just look at the credits.. Timba hasn't classically written as much.
He starting to write more but he comes from a classical background where
you're not taught about that so it's been a really beautiful experience
in watching that mold slowly come off of him you-know towards improvisation.
So the composition was pretty much me, John, and Jason, with Dave a
Xtreme Music: The recent DVD release "Passion
For Life" by Mark Thornton and Steven Reysen is an awesome release
on the Mimicry Records web site. What's your take on the DVD release
of the latest Estradasphere work?
Tim Smolens: Ah, you-know Mark he's just trying to make
some money.. I think Mark did the best job that he could with the material
that he had. I'm not afraid to say that I haven't been happy with the
direction the band was live for a long time, for at least the past two
years which a lot of the material came from. We lost our drummer and
we never actually had one, so we're like flying this guy from L.A. and
just doing what we could just to stay afloat, but we weren't moving
forward. We weren't learning new material, we weren't getting better
playing with each other. We all live in Santa Cruz but we weren't playing
with each other at all!.. like I said I think he did a great job with
the editing and there's only so much you can do with the material you
Xtreme Music: To talk about some of your work
with Secret Chiefs 3, could you tell us about your work on the latest
album "Book Of Horizons"?
Tim Smolens: I got kicked out of my house at one point
and Trey lives pretty close to me, has a cool house up in the woods.
He's doing his recording there and he's got a little room to record.
I was getting evicted and I have all this equipment, I have like way
more stuff than he does, you'd be surprise how little equipment he actually
has and does what he does on it. But I just have tons of stuff, I'm
like: "Can I put it at your house?" So he had used a PC before
to record "Book M", and then I was like "No you need
to move over to Mac and use what I'm using", I was trying to sell
him on the idea and then I'm like "Just let me put my whole system
on yours, I have no place to put this right now." So I got him
set up with Digital Performer and showed him how to use it, it's a really
complicated MIDI program and like his arrangements were so complicated
and so much work. I'd go over there and help him just put it into the
program and have the tempos set up and the meter changes, and get all
that set up. Mostly the rest of it was just him, and then he called
me in to do bass tracks, I think I did it all on one day or two days.
A twelve hour day or something like that, and did some cello maybe and
some bowed bass.
Xtreme Music: You played a fantastic show at
the South By Southwest Festival with Secret Chiefs 3. Could you tell
us about that live performance?
Tim Smolens: That was the first one with this new line-up
we have. We didn't have very much time to get the show together. We'd
never played a show with Adam or Kevin before, and Theo's not our drummer,
he was just kind of our stand in drummer. So I think it's a small glimse
of what's to come. We didn't have a lot of time for that show at all.
Xtreme Music: How have your live tours with Estradasphere
been going throughout the years, and what has the crowd reaction been
Tim Smolens: It's been pretty good! I think I'm a real
jerk as far as my standards of things, so I'm the kinda guy that almost
all the time is saying "No that's not good enough!" Since
we've had those creative problems in the band, it put us in a carriage
with a broken wheel. We had some good tours and some great shows, but
I also think we've had a lot of sloppy shows and a lot of sloppy parts..
I think in a lot of ways we deserve the criticism. There's a lot of
people out there that are like: "These guys are really good, but
they're not the best they can be". Our albums and our live shows
are so different, like our albums we have as much time as we want to
put as much work into it and ever since Dave left the band we have not
been a band moving forward. We've kept on rehiring Dave, it's almost
like hiring your ex-girlfriend to make love to you or something like
that!.. (laughter).. Honestly, that's kinda what it feels like and Dave
didn't want to do the tours, he doesn't like touring so we're like:
"Dude, we'll pay you!", and he's like: "Alright, I guess
I'll go..", he didn't want to go that's why he quite the band you-know..
(laughs). At last we're finally at a place where we can move forward.
Xtreme Music: Tim what would you feel has been
the most memorable or best experience in your music career working with
Estradasphere, but also more recently with Secret Chiefs 3?
Tim Smolens: There's been so many! Just touring with the Secret Chiefs
3, everything from meeting Trey to working with him and recording on
the Secret Chiefs. Having him help mix a song for us, being on his label,
it's all been like a dream come true! But you-know now it's just like
a normal thing. So now we're like totally good friends.. all those things,
playing all those shows. Estradasphere has had some great moments back
when we were a realy band. Back when we were young, we're old now.
Xtreme Music: And for my final question I'd like
to ask, where can you see the musical direction for Estradasphere going
in the near future?
Tim Smolens: Man, I don't even know if I should say..
it's almost like gossip. My desire in the band for a long time is for
the music to be a lot crazier. A lot, not even just a little bit!..
Xtreme Music: Going back to the roots of your
influences with Mr. Bungle..
Tim Smolens: Yeah, I wanted to basically merge those
two influences, I wanted to morph the psychodelic sound for whatever
the hell that means. I know what that means to me but I don't know what
that means to other people. More of that kind of like anything can happen
you-know, so I think not to give too much away. I wouldn't be surprised
if the spirit of Don Salsa, back to that which is what actually Don
Salsa is, it's an entity that possessed us!.. It's your muse, but I
wouldn't be surprised if that spirit actually kidnaps Estradasphere,
literally that's what happens. If it's just a gag or whatever, something
to that effect!
Xtreme Music: Well, it's been great to meet you
Tim Smolens, an absolute pleasure!