SA: Did you (Doug McCombs) and John (Herndon) start living together before
you started playing together?
DMcC: We lived in the same building together, the
building itself only had two floors. John lived on one floor with his roommate
and I lived on another floor with a roommate.
SA: And that was before you started playing together.
DMcC: We had played together before, just informally, and about the time we
decided to start doing this was when we recorded with David Sims.1
SA: That was the other thing I was going to ask you, was if Mosquito became
DMcC: Right about the time that John and I came over to record that
session, that was right around when we started to play as Tortoise.
SA: And that
was what, three years ago?
DMcC: Four, maybe.
SA: And those Mosquito tapes, are there any plans to release those? And that was
just you and John.
DMcC: Just me and John, yeah. Because Dave had asked us if we wanted to release
those tapes because we were changing format, and he wanted to know if we were
going to come over and do that... I don't know if you saved them or not.
SA: They're still sitting there, you're welcome to them.
DMcC: A lot of that stuff; maybe two or three of those things, we eventually
worked out and finished the recording sessions for those singles.
SA: From the period when it was just you and John, what survived musically or
conceptually? Do you still play any of that music?
JH: Yeah, a couple of songs.
SA: Is there anything from the album that our readers might be familiar with?
JH: "Ry Cooder," and maybe the singles.
SA: The first one.
DMcC: The first single. Yeah, "Ry Cooder" we recorded... (says goodbye to scene
siren Bettina Richards of Thrill Jockey Records, who asks, "where is it
tonight'?") ...yeah, the Empty Bottle.
SA: Do you know where it is every night
of the week, then? Like if I were to name a night, you would know.
SA: So... Wednesday.
DMcC: The Beachwood.
SA: And Thursday?
DMcC: Red Dog.
JH: Friday, Shelter or Kaboom!
SA: When would it be Crow Bar?2
JH: Any night of any week.
SA: Just ask Bernie.3
DMcC: But on the album, the one thing I'm positive that we did while we were at
your house was the intro, the beginning section to Ry Cooder, (inaudible) suite,
then we added the long part.
SA: I never actually heard the (inaudible) suite when Mosquito was doing it.
DMcC: It wasn't ever finished.
SA: I would like you, either individually or collectively, to describe your
band, not just for someone who's never heard it, but for someone who's
unfamiliar with all of the sub-genres of rock and jazz music of today.
DMcC: (Long pause) Freeze! Brainlock!
SA: Using your own language, how do you think of your own band? Because I know
when people ask a band to describe themselves, usually they're thinking, "tell
us what you sound like," with references to other bands or other types of music.
But what I'm thinking is more like, when you think of your own band, what do you
JMcE: Zappa (laughter) filtered through...
SA: You just used a fanzine phrase, "filtered through..."
JMcE: I think trying to be adventurous, trying to be interesting, without
falling into any kind of a routine.
JH: Trying to be non-obvious, like take something that might be an obvious
addition to or part of a song that might be in the process of being written, and
building on that as a building block, instead of what might be a more obvious
JMcE: I think that maybe more than a lot of other bands, Tortoise creates a
space for all the members to do things in their own voices. I'm always totally
impressed with a group that has a "group dynamic."
SA: By dynamic do you mean...
JMcE: I think the way that we have things... (makes a Louisville)4
SA: As opposed to the band having one sound going, the fact that different
members are doing things at different levels of attention at all times?
JMcE: Well, not so much that, but contributing to it. Low end, tonality...
SA: Is there any sort of hierarchy or political
JH: Bundy was the hierarchy. I
think we try to avoid that. I mean, just because people are so, "I'm ready to
take the lead" on a lot of thing
SA: Your reaction to that is a pretty common
thing with bands that are sort of, not necessarily democracies, but where
there's no real centralized authority. It seems like everybody is so unwilling
to presume to be authoritative that nothing much gets done for long, long
periods of time. Do you guys have that problem?
DMcC: Sometimes. We get more and more used to it. I mean, a lot of things... we
don't really rehearse a whole lot. So maybe fifty percent of what we've recorded
so far has been made up as a group. It seems like one person will go off on his
own and no one is saying "play this..."
SA: So there's generally a sort of consensus about...
JH: Yeah, and there's definitely compromises, too. We don't necessarily always
use everything that someone was playing in the studio, too. Like, I might be
thinking of a way to mix a song, and someone might have a different idea of how
they want it to sound.
SA: Chicago, specifically all of you guys, has a tradition of creating many
different band personalities and band names, despite the fact that the number of
people involved is a lot smaller than you might think. Like, in a group of ten
or twenty musicians in Chicago, there's likely to be twelve to eighteen bands
(laughter) whereas in other places, say in New York, there tend to be single
"personalities" that attract different players on a sort of ad hoc basis when
they want to do something. The Chicago thing has tended to be distinct bands
with distinct personalities who share three quarters of their members, for
DMcC: Ten bands would be playing for the Pezzatti clan, you mean? (laughter)
SA: Well, just between Jeff and Mark-O,5 that's an entire movement. (laughter)
So just out of curiosity, how many bands are you guys active members of?
DMcC: Three, Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day, and For Carnation.
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