AUTOREVERSE issue 10 - spring 2000 homepop explosion
"The Importance of Mitch Friedman", interview by Ian Stewart
Who you is sucka? Whatchou want sucka? Who you was sucka?
I'm Mitch Friedman and always have been. As a kid I was pretty good at creative writing but didn't really get into music until my friend Doug played me some selections from his older brother's record collection in 1978. In one day I heard The Kinks, Jonathan Richman, Wreckless Eric and Elvis Costello for the first time. By the time I was a college senior I had done a radio show for three years, met Andy Partridge in person and had started on a 10 year addiction to writing lyrics and making songs out of some of them. I could not read or write music or play any instruments but that didn't stop me. My first tape called "When I Was Your Age" was my senior thesis and I got an A on it. Fifteen years later I now play some guitar and even less keyboards.
What records is music to your ears? Sucka.
There are so many and yet so few. As a kid I loved the music from all the Little Rascals and Laurel and Hardy films and used to watch The Monkees. So I guess you could say I had an affinity for well crafted pop songs and/or tunes with a clever twist to them. Then in high school I became obsessed with The Kinks (and still am to this day). In college I was introduced to XTC and added them to my list of all time favorites. One of my roommates was a Zappa/Residents/Eno/King Crimson/Fred Frith/Peter Gabriel/Talking Heads fan so some of that, namely The Residents, Talking Heads and King Crimson (the Belew version) really caught my attention. Then followed R. Stevie Moore, They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello, Noel Coward, Martin Newell, Capt. Beefheart, Raymond Scott, Adrian Belew solo albums etc. I guess the common threads in everything I like are a sense of humor, intelligent lyrics and original or eclectic tunes. Oh, also being a 15 year listener of WFMU has had a profound influence on me; both for the sheer variety of obscure music I've taken in and especially Irwin Chusid's "Incorrect Music" show which has provided plenty of laughs and cringes. So, what, did you bang out your CD in like four minutes or so?
Someone asked me how long it took to record "The Importance of Sauce" and I had a tough time answering that one because it wasn't done in one shot at all. Several of the songs were started as long ago as 1990 in rough demo form and reworked a bit with new vocals and instruments added. Others were recorded completely for the first time and yet a few were finished in 1994 and made to sound like they were recorded more recently because everything was mastered together.
I got the idea to make a cd from all of my friends who had taken a magical 5 day songwriting course with me in England, taught by Ray Davies in March of '98. A few of these friends, i.e. Jim Smart, Ginny Dodds and Jude Cowan had released independent cds of their own and well dammit I got jealous! I'd been writing and recording songs for 14 years and yet had nothing but tapes to show for it. It was time for something a bit more substantial. So I invested in a digital 12 track machine and set to work on polishing off some of my older songs that I liked and recording some brand new ones that I had just written during the songwriting course.
The first few things I worked on were "To Be There For You" and "Purple Burt". "To Be There For You" was originally recorded on my Porta One, bouncing ten tracks together but I was very unhappy with the crappy vocal performance and knew I could do better. So I loaded what remained of the four split tracks into my Akai DPS-12, cleaned up the punch-in sounds, re eq'd them and added several tracks of brand new vocals. The results thrilled me so I pressed on and dusted off "Purple Burt". This had been done with MIDI in '92 at which time I added some more lame vocals and half assed rhythm guitar. So in '99 I re-MIDI-fied it and spruced up the arrangement with some loopy keyboard parts and did new vocals and guitar.
Similar to "Purple Burt" were the tracks "All The Best to You and Yours", "Indian Giver" and "I See You". All had been 'finished' in the recent past but needed some better singing and new touches. The secret hidden surprise unknown bonus track "Dinner For None" was just like "To Be There For You". New disgusting food items as vocals were added. And so was "Mr. Sir", but with some questionable live keyboards in place of the disgusting food items.
Three songs I had written on a trip to Greece in '94 and recorded when I got back to NYC were also included on the disc (because I thought they sounded just fine and didn't feel like redoing them!). These are "Today Night", "At The Broken Heart Shop" and "Don't Get the Gods Mad" (which features the only guitar solo I've ever performed/mutilated). One song, "A Lost Clown" had been demoed on the Porta One in '90 but I had always wanted to rework it a bit so I totally re-recorded this in '99 using my original drum program but adding everything else new to it. All of the above tracks were written and performed entirely by myself (except my friend Peter Roppolo played bass on the Porta Studio recording of "To Be There For You").
Then there were the new songs I just had to do something with. "Clickin' and Surfin'" originally started out as "Giggin' and Buskin'" during the songwriting course and I liked the tune so I wrote some new internet-ical lyrics. Upon noticing a scurrying mouse in my very hot apartment one summer night, I was told by my friend Jude Cowan that I was to write a song with the first line "I saw a mouse in my apartment last night" because this was the first line in my email to her the next morning. So eventually this became the song "Indoor Wildlife". Most of the way through the recording of these two I realized that they needed some fancy shmancy guitar, bass and keyboard playing that was way beyond my abilities so I asked my friendly songwriting course alumnis Jim Smart and Ginny Dodds to help me out. Luckily for all of us, they had both recently purchased the same Akai DPS-12 machine that I had so it was possible for me to back up my mostly finished songs to dat and send them the tapes which they easily loaded into their machines and added their talents to. Eventually it returned to me in Brooklyn at which time I heard what my songs had been doing on their vacation in Minnesota and Hawaii. Very cool! And very hot!
"This Friend" is a song I had started the week before the songwriting course and finished the week I got home. I'm very happy with how this one turned out but you wouldn't have known it from the liberal cursing going on in my apartment as I tried in vain to do the layered vocals over and over again.
Finally we get to the first track on the disc called "Simplification". This was the first song I had to write in the songwriting course and I was actually helped with it by Ray Davies himself (who suggested the little parts between the verses and the choruses). When I got home from England and did a solo acoustic demo tape of all the songs I had written that week, this one seemed to stick out. I sent a tape of these demos to my pal Dave Gregory over in Swindon and he mentioned that he liked the song too. So once I started working on my digital electric version and got to the point where a ridiculously fast and complicated solo was needed I gulped and called Dave and casually asked him if he would do one for me. He obliged, much to my great happiness! So I sent him a split dat with what I had done so far and waited to see what would happen. I only asked him to do a solo but when he played me the fully worked out dizzying riffs he played throughout the song, on three different guitars (!), all I could do was smack the side of my head in amazement. I took the dat home, loaded his tracks into my machine, lined them up and voila'! Instant rock! Then I got my friend and fellow XTC fanatic Ken Weinstein over to smack the side of his head while adding bass to it and "This Friend".
Then I came back down to earth and had to mix and master the whole thing. About one million hours and dollars later I got my cds back and here we are today . . . one million hours older and one million dollars poorer but with lots of satisfied customers!
What rocks Mitch's house?
Well just today I got a great disc called "Fascinating Rhythm - The Greatest Hits of the 1920's" (on the Past Perfect label) which is absolutely amazing. I've been enjoying The Magnetic Fields "69 Love Songs", Os Mutantes, the latest Beck, some R. Stevie Moore, The Flaming Lips "The Soft Bulletin", Richard and Linda Thompson "Shoot Out the Lights", a Sammy Davis Jr. box set, Marshall Crenshaw's "#447", Minster Hill, and am anxiously awaiting the next XTC album.
How has being a web geek affected the way people hear your muse-sick?
I've got a bunch of my songs on the web as mp3s and I see that people have been listening to them. And thanks to the internet I've made lots of new friends who are also songwriters and we are in constant touch trading our music and sometimes collaborating through the mail.
Now for the tough one: What's your favorite XTC album?
The one with the songs by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding.
Mmm. Ahh, I see. What's a Mitch Friedman gig like? Flash pots and hydraulic platforms?
The extent of my live performing is more accurately extinct. I believe I've done approximately 5 gigs in my whole life; the first two or three being me singing along to pre-recorded backing tapes and donning stupid costumes to keep the audience interested. Once I learned to play a bit of guitar I took it upon myself to try a few open mics but they didn't go that well. The most memorable gig I've ever done has to be a tie between a short acoustic set at The Hope and Anchor in London in September of '98 after having just flown across the Atlantic and suffering from jet lag. The battery in my guitar went dead in the middle of the second song. I don't think the audience knew the difference. That was tied with a ridiculous two set live gig in 98 degree weather at the Trenton New Jersey Heritage Day Festival in front of three fat drunk ladies and a hyperactive terrier that occasionally joined me on stage.
What gear makes your world go around?
At the moment I have the fabulous Akai DPS-12 which is a digital 12 track recorder and mixer. I use an Atari computer with Trax sequencing software for my MIDI. My sounds are made by a Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine, a Yamaha TG-33 tone generator/synth, a Roland keyboard controller, a Washburn acoustic, a Yamaha acoustic electric and a Yamaha electric guitar. I use an AKG C 1000 S mic, an Alesis Midiverb III, an Alesis compressor/limiter and a DAT machine for mixdown. I also have a vintage Tascam Porta One but I don't use it anymore for recording. In the past I only had a mic and my Porta One and slowly added on all the other stuff as I went along.
This is a trick question. What are your feelings on Dr Pepper?
The best tasting old age soda there is. Did you know it first debuted in something like 1879?
Hell yeah dude. The older the better. And it's not made from prunes either. So how's this CD different from your older stuff?
The instrumentation on "The Importance of Sauce" is very much the same as all my other ones with the exception that I had some very fine instrumental help from better musicians than me on a few songs. Otherwise it's just me on drum machine, vocals, rhythm guitars and keyboards. In general it's different from all my previous ones in that it was recorded and mixed digitally and with actual care taken to keep things in tune!
How do you feel about Cathy Dennis? I'd like to feel about Cathy Dennis! But seriously folks, she has a good voice and did a nice version of "Waterloo Sunset" and seems to have very good taste in collaborators since she chose both Ray Davies and Andy Partridge for the same album.
I agree. Now if she'd just stop calling me all the time to guest on her next record, I'd be fine! What's up with the cover of your CD, man? No, really. I really wish there was some deep significance to the picture of the weird looking old guy with an odd hat playing accordion on a street corner other than it's a picture I took that I am proud of and he is holding a musical instrument so it seemed appropriate for the cover of my cd. Of course since the title is "The Importance of Sauce" it can be argued that it looks like he had been hitting the sauce. From personal experience however, I can tell you that he preferred tobacco.
What's your favorite episode of THE YOUNG ONES?
"Bambi" - the one with Motorhead singing "Ace of Spades" and I think it's the same one where the guys go on University Challenge and Viv eats a dead rat from the garbage. Favorite KISS album?
KISS sings Gershwin
When will you have new music out?
Once I get some more fibre in my diet! Actually I have no idea other than that it will be quite a while because it takes me forever to record a song having to do all the parts myself, one track at a time when I'm not at work! So take 'forever' and multiply it by 18 (the number of new songs I have ready to be recorded) and, well you see . . .
And apart from Forever Times Eighteen, what's next for Mitchy-poo?
Hmmm. I'd say that my goals have always been the same with my songwriting and they are to never repeat myself, keep on improving my musicianship and singing, continue to be inspired and challenged and hopefully one day be able to play the drums (so I don't have to program the damn drum machine) and piano with more than one finger. One day I'd like to have a song in a film or on a tv show or on the radio and maybe even get some recognition but not necessarily money from what I've done. As long as it remains fun and people enjoy what I do then I'll be happy.