Gone West With Steve Roach and Roger King
by David J Opdyke, AmbiEntrance
After days of wandering through the sonic desert of Steve Roach and Roger King's new collaboration Dust to Dust, Link O'Rama just had to track down the westward musicians to get the story. Obliging gents that they are, here's what they had to say...
Link: How did the whole concept of guitar flavored Western ambience come about?
Roach: It happened a couple of ways. First off, Roger and I had become good friends over the past years since he was doing a lot of mastering for me on all my music since Well of Souls. He has been in music for most of his life and owned a big studio in Tucson during the 70's and 80's. After a few years of just hanging out together, the time and space seemed right to get together in the Timeroom, have some beers and make some music from the feeling we share no big agenda, just to see what the hell might happen.
Also, I was wanting to work with a guitarist for years. But the guitar sound I was attracted to was not so much full of processing but more acoustic and staying more true to the pure sound. One of my all time favorites is Steve Tibbetts, especially his CD Northern Song. Also an important reminder occured years ago when I heard the soundtrack to Paris, Texas by Ry Cooder. With the atmosphere it created, I knew someday I would be going down that dusty trail.
But really the music between Roger and I just occured very naturally. Above all when we started recording I was blown away by Roger's talent that seemed to be waiting to cut loose after recording and producing everyone else for years.
So the story starts here. The narrative of "what drives a man to go west" was something that started to come from listening to the early pieces we were recording. We would talk about our different thoughts on desert life both in present time and the recent past. I also have been coming across more and more ghost towns and even some old pioneer graves during trips around the outskirts of town. The feeling of all this helped fuel the music in a big way. Along with the meeting up of Mortimer Sagebreath in Oracle AZ, a western storyteller.
Link: While Dust to Dust's sound is slightly different, you've been focusing on the desert southwest for years (For instance, I'm thinking of 1987's Western Spaces with Braheny and Burmer). How has your musical scope expanded since those days?
Roach: When I did Western Spaces and Desert Solitaire, I was still living in Los Angeles longing to be in the desert full time, paying visits to the Mohave but still ensconced in the city. Since living in Tucson for 8 years, my connection to the land has come up through the music in the ways that you can hear for yourself, especially with the blend of more earth-born "instruments"---rocks, percussion and drums, the dreampipe made right here in Tucson.
I feel the big difference between my earlier desert recording is that with Dust to Dust, the shift is about people and the desert, the mythology of the the west both now and a hundred years ago, where Western Spaces and Desert Solitaire were about the stark beauty and personal connection to the desert landscape without any sign of human activity.
Link: The most obvious comparison (from my frame of reference) to Dust will be Slim Westerns by A Small, Good Thing. Was this release ever in your mind as an inspiration, a measuring stick, or not at all?
Roach: The Dust concept was born as I described above. I had heard Slim Westerns after I told a friend of this project I wanted to do someday and he sent it along. I thought it was pretty cool, a nice reminder like the Ry Cooder. interesting too that it was recorded in the UK.
It seemed to take some cues from films and the classic spaghetti westerns which we all have grown up with. As for films, the later Clint Eastwood films had some inspiration for me: Pale Rider, The Unforgiven. But to make the point clearer, I was born and raised in the West and spent my life growing up within the iconology and spirit of this place so the real inspiration is beyond music or film. Since I enjoy traveling in time with my music, it seem like the next stop was my own backyard.
Also when Roger and I hooked up, it was a bit uncanny how he had not heard any of this music from the world I dwell within. Just about anybody you name, he has not heard or been under the influence of. This for me was really invigorating, for him to be so full of natural talent yet be so detatched from this tide pool of the ambient-electronic world . Simply making music from a gut reaction and intuition.
Link: Which is a more difficult instrument... the didgeridoo or the harmonica?
Roach: The didgeridoo is by far much more difficult to get sound out of. I used to play the harmonica YEARS ago before synthesizers, didgs, etc. In fact, you might say it was my first instrument! Besides jamming to rock albums, I used to play it at a "job" I had where I would sit in a shed way out in the bush, chair leaned back, and change radio frequencies on a microwave transmitter every twenty minutes or so. (Someone say slacker?)
I also used to play it when I was driving to Los Angeles to work with various electronic artists during the late 70's. I always kept it in my glove box and would play it on the 405 freeway driving home at 2am into San Diego. I would be beyond tired but had to get home for work and would blow out on the harp to stay awake. It worked great.
Strangely, when we started to get into full stride with Dust to Dust, I remembered that I used to play the harmonica, went out and bought a couple of cheap ones and picked up where I left off. After playing the didgeridoo for years, the harmonica was big fun and has taken on a new life for me. It's expressive in ways I forgot
Link: As usual Projekt's packaging is gorgeous. Were you familiar with photographer Patrick Grimes before this?
Roach: No, Roger discovered him one day after breakfast when he saw his work in a gallery, we had a total concept in mind already which Patrick happened to have for us. Sam Rosenthal then gave it his midas touch with the design and boom...
Link: Any predictions for your future works?
Roach: A new Dust to Dust for sure - by the way this will become the group name. Currently working out the details for a limited release with Vidna Obmana on Projekt. The title is Ascension Of Shadows: Meditation For The Millenium. It will be a 3 CD set with 2000 copies availble through mail order only.
Also completing Body Electric with Chicago based artist Vir Unis. This is high octane Electronic Music - Label unknown.
Please check the web site (www.steveroach.com) for the Celestial Harmonies releases and other news...
Link: Congratulations, and thanks for your time and participation. Any closing comments?
We turn our attention to Roger King, a Tuscon-based guitarist and studio wizard:
Link: Do Tusconians know about Steve Roach? I mean, do they think he's some kind of hermit making strange sounds in the desert, or what?
King: When I first started working with Steve I would ask some of my friends in the traditional local Tucson recording scene if they knew of him. Most had heard the name but had no idea what he did. When Steve asked me to mix his concert in Tucson I was blown away with the number of avid Steve Roach fans that filled the 400 seat Theater.In fact it was sold out with people turned away. Some people still think he lives somewhere else.
Link: What's your "usual" style of music? Had you done anything like this before?
King: Living in Tucson and making a living in the recording business means wearing many hats and developing an eclectic personal style of music. My early influences on guitar were blues, rock and roll and hard rock. But it was my switch to playing bass, particularly country bass that taught me the discipline of space. In other words the space between notes is just as important as the actual notes played.
Dust to Dust marks my first journey into this musical genre and it feels closer to home than anything I've ever done before. The added joy for me in this collaboration is my deep friendship with Steve and the absolute passion we both have for the music we play together.
Link: How many different guitars were involved?
King: 2-acoustics 1-Strat 1-precision bass and 1-fretless bass
Link: What was the biggest change for you in making Dust to Dust?
King: Getting rid of all my preconceived notions of arrangement, time signature and production. It was liberating when Steve talked me into trusting my own body clock and I began to see how that affected my playing.
Link: What will you be doing musically in the future? Might you be working with Steve again?
King: More Dust with Steve and others and a solo album produced by Steve.
Link: I think you guys have done something great here. Thanks for joining in. Any closing comments?