Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temples
I'm sure you noticed that Psychic Temple II is more rhythmic and more propulsive. Part of that came from the live performances. I thought, I have these two great drummers; I should really give them some interesting stuff and explore the space. On the first album I felt that the drums were more textural, but on this album I decided to use them as drummers this time [laughs]. But if I'm honest, the main difference on this album is that I was just more confident this time. I refined the Psychic Temple sound.
AAJ: One obvious difference is that on Psychic Temple II there are three covers, Frank Zappa's "Sofa No.2," Brian Wilson's "Til I Die," and Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out"; what attracted you to these songs?
CS: First of all, I'm just a huge fan of each one of those composers. I can't say how much Frank Zappa's music means to me. I put Zappa in the same category as [guitarist] Allan Holdsworth in terms of the effect he's had on me. Even though I don't aspire to write that sort of music I find it a constant source of inspiration. One Size Fits All (DiscReet, 1975) is one of my favorite albums and I don't think he ever struck a better balance than on a song like "Inca Roads." That song has everything I want in music [laughs].
AAJ: And one of Zappa's greatest guitar solos, no?
CS: Oh my God! [laughs]. I was studying this stuff. I got the sheet music for One Size Fits All and I studied it every day. In a way it became less intimidating and more inspiring.
As for Joe Jackson, I look upon him as an unheralded genius of modern music. I don't know too many people who can write a Top 10 pop hit and then put out an album on Sony Classical. It's the same with Brian Wilson. I look upon all three as iconic figures but they are people I listen to every day. I draw a certain amount of energy and inspiration from where they're coming from. I started honing in on "Sofa No.2" because the melody was so succinct.
Zappa had a tendency to make everything ugly. He was very unsentimental in that regard. But I think he was also poisoning the water a little. He was self-conscious about that. How many songs did he write intentionally about love? Not very many. And when he did they were extremely antagonistic [laughs]. So, I wanted to approach "Sofa No. 2" sincerely but without the slavish devotion that a lot of people pay to Zappa when they cover his music. His melodies translate so nicely to string instruments, particularly violin. I had Philip Glen play the violin and then I worked forever on that horn arrangement.
I think in the past I thought that if I approached another musician's music it would diminish my own creativity, so I never did it. But over the years I've grown out of that type of thinking. Part of what Psychic Temple II is to me is this exploration of the auteur; the heavy-handed, controlling director or artist [laughs] and I think that all three of those guys, Zappa, Jackson and Wilson all fit into that categorythe teetotaler and controller of everything [laughs]. Any artist or producer who has that singular vision is participating in that realm. You're the one placing every idea where you want it.
Maybe one difference is that I truly love the collaborative process and it's not just an excuse for me to tell people what to do [laughs].
AAJ: As on Psychic Temple you use something like 28 or 29 musicians; how much input did these musicians have? How collaborative was the process of creating the music on Psychic Temple II?