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DUANE DENISON INTERVIEW



Phone Interview with Duane Denison of Tomahawk:
19/06/03
MIKE THORPE: Mit Gas sounds fairly different and more diverse than the first release. Did the band have a clear idea of what the album would sound like when entering the studio or did it evolve through jamming etc?

DUANE DENISON: When we recorded this new one we had already played a lot of the material live, so that was an advantage. Now that weíve played a lot more shows and travelled together, we communicate a little more effectively. Everything seems to have worked more easily this time. One thing I wanted to do on this album was have a lot more space and be a lot more streamlined and I think we did it. Thereís more of a group vibe.

How would you describe the sound of Tomahawk at this moment in time?

I would say fairly dense, fairly heavy hard rock, but itís not stupid or generic metal. Some of it is a bit more artsy or atmospheric but without being too fey. Itís like a contrast between hard rock and more atmospheric experimental music.

Have you got a personal favourite song on the new album?

I would say Captain Midnight and the first song: Birdsong

Your guitar playing has always had a distinct and pretty unique sound. When did you start playing and what has influenced your style?

Itís changed so much. When I first started it was local guitar players. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit called Plymouth where there were number of professional musicians who lived nearby and a guitar shop where you could buy stuff and pay for lessons. There was a guy called Paul Warren who played with the Temptations. A fellow down the street who was a jazz, pop guitarist who ended up in Las Vegas playing for Tom Jones! Then there was a guy called Bender who played progressive rock like Robert Fripp and that kind of style. They were all at the same music store so I was fortunate because I would walk there with my guitar and lessons were cheap. So I learned from these guys who were already up there doing it and then as time went on I changed.

I actually took piano lessons when I was young and can read music really well. When I have downtime I have to try different stuff and have new input so that I donít just sit around and play tomahawk songs all the time - unless Iím trying to write. Sometimes to practise, in order to keep my fingers and mind working, I just go and buy sheet music of country and western, African or Spanish music. I like to play different things that force me to think.

What would be your advice to a guitarist in an up and coming band?

All I would say is that you have to balance exercises for your fingers with exercising your mind. Whether itís improvising or trying to compose, it doesnít hurt to learn how to read music no matter what you play. You can go out and buy an obscure book where you can get ideas that no one else is doing and thatís the biggest secret I can tell anyone. Most guitarists are self taught, which is fine and I have done it, but people have already recorded what you learn from a record. You can find sheet music that hasnít been recorded and that other people donít play and then adapt it for your own purposes. Without sounding like a nerd, thatís the way to do it for me.

On the last European tour you threw in some covers like a Roxy Music song. Are there going to be any cover versions on this tour or any surprises in general?

We havenít been doing it so much this time. We just finished a US tour and we have a lot of new material from the new album, so its mostly a mixture of that and the first album and then a little extended improvised piece here and there. We havenít really been doing the covers, although occasionally weíll pull out an old standard called Angel Eyes which Bryan Ferry also did.

When playing live do you prefer to convey an energetic performance rather than technically replicate the studio recordings?

Itís a bit of both. Typically in a set thereíll be a list of songs that are close to how they are on the records. Then weíll mix it up so that the end of one song turns into an improvised thing where the sounds take off and we donít worry about structure or logic. We let that go then go into the next song and balance it out. Iíve done it in the past where Iíve seen bands play the same set every night which is pretty boring for everyone whereas improvisation can be more special. I think the MTV influence makes bands lazy to the point that they just play the same 3-5 minute songs. It didnít always used to be like that with bands such as Roxy Music, King Crimson or even Led Zeppelin, they just got somewhere in the set and then would just go off and Iíd like more of that.

Do you have an all time favourite band?

I canít really say one. No.

Fair Enough
Do you consider Tomahawk as your main band at the moment or have you got any more musical projects on the go simultaneously?

Tomahawk is my main thing and I put the most time into it and I think I put more material into it than anyone else. Iíve got a couple of things on the back burner like I have an idea of taking anonymous music of the past like Native American songs, Cowboy songs and Convict songs and doing modern versions of them. Here in Nashville a lot of people record and sometimes I do session work with alternative country artists. Last week I played on a Johnny Pay Check Tribute album. He was a country singer who did a song called ĎTake This Job and Shove ití. Anyway, he died recently and there was a tribute album. That kind of stuff pops up here in Nashville.

What have you been listening to recently?

On tour weíre all shoppers, so I accumulated some Faust, Interpol, Autechre and Hans Reichl whoís a German guitarist. Oh yeah, The Wicker man soundtrack as well.

Mike Patton is renowned for being a notoriously prolific workaholic when it comes to music. What has been your experience of working with him?

Itís not overbearing at all. When we get together to work weíre all on the same page and we work hard in the studio every day. Itís a twelve hour day and we donít mess around. When we rehearse to go out and play, we donít have much time but we focus very hard and work hard. Patton is great to work with and heís very energetic and has lots of great ideas. Heís a great singer; I would say one of the best or THE best vocalist in rock right now. Anything I come up with he easily finds a vocal part that works and now that weíve worked for a while, we communicate effectively.

My Favourite would have to be the weird singing-into-a-gas mask thing that he does. How does that kind of strange stuff come about? Is it just from messing around with random stuff?

Yeah, itís just experimenting. Sometimes people will bring him things at shows, like toys or objects, so itís just taking nothing and using it for what it wasnít meant to do.

Talking about toys, this was originally meant to be saved for last as the token stupid question but Iíll ask it now. Do you remember an incident with a plastic squirrel?

With a what? A plastic squirrel? Where would that have been?

Manchester, early last year

I do remember something like that.

Well we had an idea of making a sacrifice, we had a squirrel intended for Mike Patton but it got thrown towards you and I can vividly remember you picking it up and placing on top of your amp.

I remember that yeah. I donít know what became of it but thank you very much.

Youíve put my mind at ease

Yes now you can sleep at night.

Do you have any thoughts on the current state of rock music?

It goes in cycles and every ten years someone says that rock is dead and then something explodes. Right now thereís new Garage and Nu-Metal which get the most attention. But Iíve been doing this long enough so I watch things come and go and just keep doing my thing. We do records and draw crowds without any help from MTV or mainstream press or TV. So Iíve made a career of bypassing all of that. I donít know, it seems like the population is getting so big and things are interconnected. With the internet, any kind of music can find an audience.

We have the NME here; in my opinion it tends to hype things before anyoneís heard them properly. So thereís a great expectation for something that eventually is underwhelming

Yeah, of course, the British press is more fashion driven that anything. Itís funny because the NME looks for the next big thing, Mojo is retro; everything is for old people or is new stuff that sounds like old people. Then thereís the wire which is too intellectualised and ruins things. Then Kerrang which is the biggest selling of them all and it is more hard rock. They seem to like tomahawk a bit though, so I canít say anything bad about them. No one respects kerrang but itís the biggest seller.

I noticed rock sound gave mit gas a good review

Yeah. Weíve done well with them.

Well itís good to hear a refreshing view in a land where the word of the NME is sacred. It needs to be smashed.

It should be; you shouldnít let the press tell you whatís good. Simply buy the records, go to the shows and you can see whatís real and whatís not. They hype things so much that you see them and then are disappointed.

Yeah. Iíve been pretty under whelmed by a lot of these kinds of bands. The last gig I saw that I liked was Sonic Youth when their new record came out. The next band I will see will be you guys.

Good. There isnít actually much coming from here that thrills me but I donít really hate all that stuff. I mean, I like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and some of that other stuff but they hype all that kind of thing so I sometimes start to resent it. It loses immediacy.

Ok well thatís it im afraid. Iíll say thanks a lot and itís much appreciated

Thank you. If you see me at the show, say hello.

Iíll bring another Squirrel

Please, bring a pink flamingo

Ok, that will be the Nottingham Rock City show

Ok, Nottingham

Look out for the flamingo or any kind of animal

Ok Iíll know, I'll know

Thanks a lot

Interview conducted by MIKE THORPE Check out the IPECAC website, home to Tomahawk and other delicious bands: www.ipecac.com