Robert Powell

A Conversation with Robert Powell (continued)

RP: Well, it has evolved over time. I think Conrad has put out four instrumental albums over the last 10 or 12 years. I met him around the time he'd just finished his first one and we became friends. So when he did his second one, I think I went in for a day or two of sessions. We've helped each other out with other little side projects along the way. He's an ace at sound design, sounds for the E-mu company in particular, and so he's helped me get more of my midi setup together over the years, in that I'm primarily a guitarist.

PM: What do you mean exactly by "sound design"?

RP: Conrad has worked for the E-mu company for a while now. That's one thing that impresses me about him: that he works from home and has this very creative scene with E-mu. Whenever they put out sound modules, he not only tests them, searching for any bugs or whatever, but often he'll be actually making the sounds that go in those things. He's gotten very skilled at making and shaping sound. Through that work, Conrad has developed his own palette of sounds. That's part of what makes his music unique, and the instrumental albums that have evolved over the years very distinctive, is that he has his own completely unique sounds. He has created his own sonic world.

Since the second album, right on through Receive, I've gotten more and more involved. First I was just coming in and doing some sessions, laying down different stringed instruments to kind of balance out the more synth and sample stuff. The second and third albums, I just went in and we'd hang for a couple or three sessions and just lay some things into the album. And then on Receieve, I started going in earlier, you know? Usually how it starts is that he's got at least a sketch of a rhythm or something. Sometimes that's all it is. Depending on how involved I'd get, it might end up being a kind of co-creation, like a co-write. It just depends on how it evolves. I kind of leave that to him. I just go in and respond. Or he'll give me things and I'll say, "This is what I hear here," or "More of that and less of this," so he has somebody to bounce stuff off of. I can come in with fresh ears to what he's doing. So it has evolved into something that really works. There's good chemistry, and on a lot of levels.

If you look back, Receive is indicating what might happen next. There's that song "Ropes and Ladders," an instrumental piece that we co-wrote, which had the National slide guitar and kind of a funky feel to it, and it got a lot of good response. [There's a clip of it on the Listen page.] It had a more rootsy quality to it. And it contains some of the seeds of what would be the Clothesline Revival. Plus Conrad was bringing in these audio bits from different places, or found sound types of things like the preacher, the Prophet Omega, on "I Am What I Am." And that was the beginning of that aspect. Those two songs, that one and "Ropes and Ladders," those were the precursors, without us knowing it, to what would become Of My Native Land.

PM: Yeah, I hear that. While we're on the subject of Receive, there's a great player on there, Solomon Feldthouse. Can you tell me about him?

RP: Well, I wasn't at the Solomon sessions. But what I know of him is that he was an L.A. musician, and he was in Kaleidoscope with David Lindley. In the 60s he was part of that scene with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. I think Solomon has been living in Santa Cruz for some years and Conrad knew him from there.

PM: Is he still down there, as far as we know?

RP: I don't know but I think he is. I haven't heard anything about him for a couple years.

PM: Sorry to bring us far afield. You were talking about how Receive led to Clothesline Revival.

RP: Well, on Receive we got more into co-writing, got more into kind of shaking it up. Conrad had developed a style over his first three albums, and he was really into doing something different, opening up that style and playing with it more. And over the time that I've gotten to know Conrad, we've both been digging on the old Gram Parsons and Burrito Brothers stuff, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo by the Byrds, that country rock era and all the extensions of that. We'd always be digging on that while we were working on his more world/ambient stuff.

And when we'd hang with people--I remember one time hanging with Sukhawat and Sachiko, Conrad and me, playing guitars in the living room some years ago--I realized Conrad really comes from bluegrass. He played more country and bluegrass and folky and rock stuff when he was younger, and then got off into synths and stuff, almost exclusively for a while. I think the seeds of the Clothesline approach mainly came out of his roots and his desire to tie in his interest in all of that kind of music. It wasn't something adopted or added on, it was there inside him already.

PM: It's an amazing marriage of music in this case because, as you say, it's the synthesization of a guy's whole life, really. It's not something that was loosely tied together. It's tied together from the bottom up, and holds together remarkably.

RP: Yes. I think that's really true.  continue

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