Conrad Praetzel

A Conversation with Conrad Praetzel

Puremusic: I got interviewed myself this morning, by a radio station in London that wanted to talk about And they were asking, you know, what kinds of music are we championing and what are some of our faves of the moment. And of course I was going on and on about an unknown-to-them project called Clothesline Revival.

Conrad Praetzel: Wow, I appreciate that. That's wonderful.

PM: Well, the CD really took us by storm, and by deep surprise. As I'll say in the setup to this conversation, it basically is traditional-based music and brilliant renditions of traditional songs, embellished by your particular expertise, the loops and samples and that kind of thing. Since some of our readers will be very songwriter oriented, or more song oriented, let's just spend a minute on what we mean by "sampling" in this case.

CP: Okay. Sampling is basically a recording of any type of sound. It could be an instrument that you'd sample, recording that instrument's sound so you could play it from a keyboard. I find that kind of boring. I'd rather just sample--oh, you know, anything--like maybe I would sample my teakettle, playing the bottom with some water in it or something. I'd rather find an unusual sound.

PM: And so how do you capture that?

CP: With a microphone.

PM: And then you'd have it on tape or on hard disk, so you could use it in any way, including transforming it in time and tone and pitch.

CP: Exactly. And it's also popular to sample old recordings, of course. You could sample a drum part happening on some old vinyl record from the 50s or whatever, just get a really cool little section from something and use that. Doing that is very common, a lot of people use sampling that way. Just find moments you want to capture.

PM: Right. Get the James Brown scream at the top of "I Feel Good" and put it into your song.

CP: Yeah. I haven't done too much of that, using vinyl. But I've found all kinds of ways to manipulate my samples, which is what I'm probably most into. For instance, you can sample something and time-stretch it to the point where it takes about 30 times as long to happen as it did originally, then use that as a texture or an atmosphere. Something that lasts for two seconds now lasts a minute, stretched out, yet it still has this musicality to it.

PM: Is there a place you have in mind where you did just that on the CD, something that was created by making a sound occur 30 times slower than it actually had?

CP: Yes. There's an area like that at the beginning of "Bodie." A vocalist who's one of my favorites, I took a tiny piece from one of her early recordings. No one would ever know it's her voice, but it makes this kind of bizarre effect--at the same pitch, it's not like something that's slowed down and becomes lower--still at the same pitch she sang at but taking 30 times longer to happen. There's a feeling sort of like her natural singing voice, but really you wouldn't even necessarily know the sound was a human voice at all.

PM: Why, when you slow it down so much, doesn't the pitch change?

CP: It's all part of the technology they've developed now. It's just something you can do with the sample.

PM: Amazing. So we've said that the crux of the project is that it uses traditional music embellished with loops, samples, and other things you call "atmospherics." But there are a number of very deeply musical collaborators involved. Let's shed some light, and some spotlight, on a few of them.

CP: Chief among them is my partner Robert Powell. Clothesline Revival is basically our idea, the two of us collaborating, and a cast of characters working with us. His expertise is--well, among many, many things--he's an incredible pedal steel guitar player. He's really gotten out to different territories than most people have explored. He can play in a very eastern style. And sometimes he'll use an ebow--I don't know if you know what that is, it's a string vibrator that creates a violin type of effect--he'll play that on the pedal steel. Anyway, pedal steel is just one of his instruments, he also plays guitar and lap steel among other things. Robert comes from a very eclectic musical background. He's done all kinds of things and played with all kinds of people. He used to play in country western bands when he was in his teens. He played with Shana Morrison for a while, Van Morrison's daughter. And he also recorded a track with Peter Gabriel--

PM: What did he do with Gabriel, if I may ask?

CP: A recording of "Get Up, Stand Up," the classic Bob Marley song.

PM: Really? I didn't know Gabriel had recorded that.

CP: They did it for Amnesty International, as part of something Robert was involved with.

PM: How many years do you and Robert have together in different projects?

CP: About 10 years now. We're great friends. We have a really good musical rapport, and we have a lot of fun doing stuff and bouncing ideas off each other.

PM: I look forward to talking with him. And how about Tom Armstrong?

CP: Well, Tom I heard originally on a local radio show called The Freight Train Boogie Show.

PM: That's Bill Frater's show. [check it out at]

CP: Right. I was looking for vocalists at the time, because I'd started working on this project. And I'd listen to Bill's show on Thursday nights, and if I heard somebody I liked I'd write down the name. When I heard Tom Armstrong's stuff I thought, "This is incredible!" Turned out he was local. I got in touch with him, and right from the start he was into doing something on this project.

PM: When you called him up, would you say, "Well, we're doing kind of country or folk oriented music, but we're turning it inside out," something like that?

CP: I told him all that, what I had in mind. At one point he told me that he'd envisioned doing an album that would sound sort of like a cross between Hank Williams and Captain Beefheart.

PM: [laughs] Two of my favorites.

CP: Yeah, mine too. I love both those guys. And as I was talking to Tom I thought, "Okay. This guy is going to understand where I'm trying to go with some of this." He had a completely open mind about it.

PM: I'm a huge Beefheart fan. Is there a particular period of his that you like?

CP: Well, Trout Mask Replica was a great album...

PM: Uh-huh. I really liked the Lick My Decals / Clear Spot / Spotlight Kid era, those three records right in a row there.

CP: Isn't that where "Take Me Out to the Big Dig" is from?

PM: Yeah, that's on Lick My Decals Off.

CP: I always really loved that song too, having been an archeologist for a while myself.

PM: Oh yeah, yeah! Let's touch on that for a moment, since you have. Most musicians I know have been musicians all their lives--they might have day jobs, but nothing like that. But you have another life as an archeologist.  continue

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