Mr. Edward Ka-spel is the front man for an underground yet epic band known as the Legendary Pink Dots. He’s also a solo recording/performing artist extraordinaire and contributor to numerous side project bands including The Tear Garden (with cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy renown). The Dots have been well loved by fans ‘in the know’ for over thirty years for their distinguished style of psychedelically experimental electronic rock. To say that they have recorded a prolific amount of albums and toured non stop is an understatement. There’s a passion for output here that few musicians can match. There’s also an online cornucopia of information compiled by devotees to document the band’s goings-on, which can be explored in the link at the bottom of this interview.
Recently Studio Wormbone corresponded with Mr. Ka-spel to talk about gear, lyrical content, family, and other fantastically critical items of interest. Read on to find out more about how Edward is currently diving head first into Ableton Live, and was propelled toward the pursuit of music at an impressionable age by non other than King Crimson. Without further ado let’s discover what drives Mr. Ka-spel to provide the world with such a uniquely creative vision:
[SWB] Let’s start with the nuts-and-bolts behind your music. You mentioned recently that you’re exploring musical software . . . is that due to personal preference or do you see software as the wave of the future?
I’d always been wary of making music on the computer, not so much as a Luddite (I’m not) but because of the fear of not understanding the technology and of having too many choices. I guess I was just used to working for days on that one special sound or texture while the various software on hand just sounds so good right away. Daunting …but it’s just a new challenge after all. Still, anything that makes sound is valid – the path into the future is as much about rusty strings as ones and zeroes.
[SWB] What programs currently strike your fancy?
Ableton Live. A friend working for the company (Bernhard) kindly gave me this programme and I just cannot leave it alone.
[SWB] Sampling has played a role in some of your music. What are some of the most exotic musical samples you’ve created?
There’s a strange whistling sound that occurs inside Dutch trains. It’s utterly atonal but never static. Based a whole piece on this, but it was tough to record as Dutch commuters talk incessantly and are very very loud. This sound is best just as the train leaves a station, then it’s possible to capture maybe 2-3 minutes of it. Took about a dozen journeys before the perfect ambiance was achieved.
[SWB] What have been some favored instruments or specific hardware that you’ve used over the years?
My old Yamaha CS30 has been there since the beginning. Fantastic analogue synth but it does need repair/service.
[SWB] For vocals do you have a go-to signal chain?
[SWB] Your lyrics have covered a panorama of topics with occasionally reoccurring metaphoric themes. I also recently noticed that alliteration often crops up, providing a playfulness to the language. What makes you choose a particular lyrical thread to follow when song writing? Is the concept in place before the instruments are tracked, or the other way around typically?
Sometimes lyrics are there first but mostly it’s the other way around. The rhythm and sound of the words are absolutely integral to the music. Not only should the content be up to scratch but they should SOUND right.
[SWB] Religious imagery pops up often in the lyrics (not to mention ‘playing God’ using a pitched down harmonizer on your voice!) . . . what role does religion play in your life outside of your music, if any?
A distressing role. I wish people would think for themselves rather than hide behind the big man’s beard.
[SWB] Given your lengthy history making music I’m guessing the motivation to be a musician has changed over the course of time . . . . if so, can you describe this? If the motivation hasn’t changed, why not?
It’s a driving obsession. A voyage on a path that has no end…..embracing infinity with my limited senses and always finding something new. I guess my motivation hasn’t changed.
[SWB] Tell us how a new song typically comes into being from start to finish . . .
Often with just a sound that, well, suggests something so much deeper. A bit like diving into a raindrop.
[SWB] What triggers inspiration for you?
An unguarded comment.
[SWB] There’s something that I’ve experienced a select few times in my life that I’ve come to refer to as ‘temporal reverse reverberation’. This is an unmistakeable feeling that occurs when you’re doing something for the first time that let’s you know that what you are doing will play a significant part in your future. It’s similar to deja vu on a grand scale. It’s as if major life phases that haven’t happened yet are echoing backwards in time. Did you have any indication early in your career that music would end up being so pervasive in your life?
I know what you’re talking about and to point these instances out would appear mundane in cold print. Maybe the way some music sounded so utterly huge from a tiny radio back in my childhood – just wanted to enter that World. Never forget hearing “In the Court of the Crimson King” way way back in ’69. Five in the afternoon on Radio One. It blew my mind and life changed.
[SWB] This may seem an odd question, but WHY have you been so prolific? (not that I’m complaining!)
What else would I do with my time ? (Hmm don’t answer that one…)
[SWB] The term ‘psychedelic’ is often associated with your music, which implies mind expanding substances. What role, if any, have recreational drugs played in the creation of your music?
In reality very little. There were experiments but nothing beats good ol’ imagination.
[SWB] The most recent Dots show I was able to attend was during your 30th anniversary tour in Seattle. At that time Silverman’s live performance setup included a Roland V-synth, a Korg Kaos Pad, and a Yamaha Tenori-On among other electronic items. What have been some of the stranger pieces of equipment the Dots have used in the past?
A great friend of ours in SF (Tom aka Univac) made a circuit bent dancing flower for me and “the artifact” for Phil. Both come in for heavy usage….Unique sounds.
[SWB] You’ve circled the globe on tour numerous times. Over the course of that traveling do you have many chances to break away and sight-see for pleasure? If so, what have been some of the highlight locales you’ve found yourself at?
Never been such a museum or gallery person. I prefer just soaking up the atmosphere on the streets. Sitting on the beach in Tel Aviv in January took some beating. Also playing in an arena carved out of volcanic rock in Mexico city was very special.
[SWB] Life on the road can be challenging when it comes to also maintaining a family life. Do you have any immediate family, and if so has touring been a struggle for you, or them?
I have a lovely wife, Alena, who I’ve been with for 7 years now and we have 2 year-old Alice. Even so, it was a long road to this harmonious state and there was a lot of heartache on the way.
[SWB] What were your own parents like as you were growing up?
Never knew my dad. My mum was wonderful but really had to fight to bring me up alone…She also stood by me when I went into music although the thought terrified her.
[SWB] With the radical shifts in the music industry in recent years (record labels shrinking, direct artist interaction with fan base via social networking, file sharing, etc) where do you see the business side of music going in the next 5 or ten years?
For bands like the Dots it’s very homemade. We run the mail-order, write back to those who write to us, live very very frugally (the only way). Still, it’s worth it, and the tiny labels will survive (bless you Beta Lactam Ring!) because the people running them are there for the right reasons.
[SWB] How much time do you devote to promotion/business as opposed to being creative?
Not so much but there is a certain necessity to look after business otherwise we’d go under fast.
[SWB] Well it’s been an honor to speak with you. In return for all of the wonderful music you’ve shared with us – Thank you!