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Interview with Capillary Action

img  Tobias
article image

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I'm great! I just got out of rehearsal and now I'm sitting on a couch next to my girlfriend, sipping a glass of Naked Juice. I'm currently living in Seattle, Washington, home to this exciting new genre Grunge that seems to be sweeping all the kids these days.


What's on your schedule at the moment?

I've got this catering job on Thursday so I have to pick up some black shoes tomorrow. Oh and I need to get driving lessons figured out at some point this week too. We've also got a few shows lined up for August with Zs and Past Lives (ex-Blood Brothers).


You're in the middle of an extensive touring schedule. How have audiences reacted to the new material until now?
The reactions to this music run the gamut—total indifference to borderline creepy obsession-- but the responses I find the most fascinating are the ones from people, usually Southerners, who will yell 'faggot' at the band during an entire set and then approach us afterwards to say how much they loved the show. I also enjoy how brutal Czech people are in their critiques; this one guy at our last show in Prague, for example, had no problem telling me after the show, "You are nothing. Drummer is everything." I also heard another Czech guy tell me very matter-of-factly: "We have saying in Czech—'joke funny first time, not funny second time.' Every song is same."


How did the inclusion of vocals on "So Embarrassing" come about?
I've always wanted to include vocals in my music but it just took some time to get to a point where I felt comfortable singing in front of people. Plus, I was kind of a late bloomer and it took forever for my voice to change.


On the one hand, I would say the new material is perfectly suited for the live situation. Then again, the track order and the little details in the arrangements are essential to their impact. How are you balancing precision and spontaneity in your concerts at the moment?
Every single note has to be carefully rehearsed so, unfortunately, there's not much room for spontaneity at any of the shows. Since we have a constantly rotating line-up, it would be impossible to sound even remotely consistent with all the different people I play with if the songs weren't precisely orchestrated.


"So Embarassing" is remarkably concise and to the point. How much space are you reserving for extended improvisations in your concerts?
Thank you! Creating a concise record was one of my major goals with "So Embarrassing." Like I said above, there's not much room for improvisation in the set but there's a section in "Elevator Fuck" that we take a few liberties with at our shows.




One of the aspects I enjoyed about „So Embarrasing" was the String section and the Brass, which added air and playfulness to the tracks. Who was responsible for the studio arrangements and how are you replacing them on tour?
I composed the majority of the string and horn arrangements but Kevin McHugh, the keyboard player on "So Embarrassing," handled the arrangements for a few tunes by himself and collaborated with me on a few other ones. Kevin also saved my ass by transcribing the arrangements, not to mention conducting the players during the session. In addition to being an ace conductor/arranger/piano player, Kevin also undertook this amazing project last year where he visited the world's five mega-cities (Sao Paulo, Cairo, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo) and studied how the population densities affected their respective musical climates. Someone nominate this guy for the MacArthur Genius Grant already!
I made a conscious decision to focus our live show on more stripped-down 'rock' arrangements for a number of reasons (mostly economic) so, unfortunately, we forego a lot of horn and string arrangements in favor of a more blitzkrieg, all-guns-blazing set. We found playing the set without any breaks weeded out people who were just at the show to get drunk and allured folks who were interested in actually listening to music. Also, the acoustics in a lot of the spaces we end up playing—art galleries, bars, warehouses, basements, elementary schools, Chinese restaurants-- are barely suitable for two vocals, an electric guitar, a keyboard, and a drummer (our current touring line-up), let alone an entire orchestra's worth of musicians.


Latin rhythms seem to play an important part for the band. What do you personally enjoy about South American music?

Man, this is a tough one. I'm no scholar or ethnomusicologist so I feel like my response to this question might make me sound like somewhat of a philistine, but here goes nothing! What appeals to me about Latin music is the energy, that vibrancy, how deep all the elements run. I mean, traditional Latin music has roots all over the world—Native American, African, Spanish, Portuguese—and I love how all the pieces came from different places to form something completely new and totally representative/deeply entwined in several different cultures.
The angular quality involved in a lot of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms-- especially in how all the percussion parts lock in so intricately— is something that appealed to my ears, having listened to much jazz and mathy, avant-rock music in my teenage years. I also love how they manage to seamlessly merge both beautiful and dissonant harmonies. I also particularly love Brazilian music from the 60's Tropicalia era whose fusion of traditional samba rhythms with psychedelic rock, pop, and the most out-there orchestral arrangements found the two proponents of the movement, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, jailed and eventually exiled from their own country. Their 1968 releases, in addition to Tom Ze's, are absolute no-holds-barred masterpieces.

Our drummer on "So Embarrassing," Ricardo Lagomasino, spent a good deal of time studying African and Caribbean rhythms so he pulled out some really deep, amazing shit for his drum parts. He and I also have Latin roots—my mother's Argentinean and his parents are Cuban and Puerto Rican—so that may have something to do with Capillary Action's love for all things south of the border.


A word regularly mentioned in the context of Capillary Action is „chaos". I actually thought your songs were extremely straight-forward and that some were confusing a higher degree of changes with complexity. How do you see that yourself? Do you personally enjoy music which requires several listens to fully appreciate?

You can think whatever you want about my music; I'm not sure if it's my place to disagree with you! I do enjoy music that requires several listens to fully appreciate but I also enjoy music that just goes straight for your brain's pleasure center with no foreplay or fussing around.


In the same context, I'd be interested in your compositional process: Most of the songs actually sound as though they were written on Guitar or Piano, rather than being the result of extended jam sessions. Is that a correct perception?
Your perception is correct, doctor. All my compositions are written on guitar or piano, and then refined, refined even further, and refined some more over a period of months or years. I like to describe my compositional process as banging my head against a wall until either the wall or my head gives out. It's a battle between my head and the wall.
 

True or false: Jazz is more important for Capillary Action than Metal!

False. Neither is as important to Capillary Action as Kevin Shea.


True or false: Capillary Action enjoy Frank Zappa above Yes!

False. Capillary Action prefer the Ronettes to Zappa and Yes.


True or false: The importance of Punk for Capillary Action has generally been over-estimated
!
False. Wow, you're not having much luck with these true or false questions today! If anything, the importance of punk—especially the business ethics put forth by bands like the Minutemen and Fugazi—has been greatly under-estimated for Capillary Action.


Capillary Action have undergone several line-up changes in the early years. Is this part of a plan to keep the band fresh and creative or are you looking for a more stable constellation for the future?

Keeping the talent fresh has been both a creative plan and a necessity since day one. Who in their right mind is going to tour with me for 8 months straight? I'm interested in Capillary Action being a hub of sorts for the most creative musicians out there to start their careers, not to mention playing with new people brings a constant flux of new experiences and ideas to the table. Playing with Ricardo and absorbing his ideas about music for three years, for example, was one of the prime influences for "So Embarrassing" and I'd like to see that kind of ethos carry over to future musicians I work with.



I could well imagine Capillary Action delivering a fantastic cover song of a commercial pop tune. If you had to choose, which radio hit would you like to have a crack at?

I'd love to take a crack at "Low" by Flo Rida but I've always thought that a commercial pop singer could take one of my tunes, smooth it over for Middle American ears, and take it to the top of the charts. Perhaps a reader might be able to get me in touch with Alexander Klaws or Yvonne Caterfeld?

By Tobias Fischer

Picture by Brian Geltner


Discography:

Fragments (2004)
So Embarassing (2007)
Cannibal Impulses (2008)

Homepage:
Capillary Action at MySpace

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