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Clip: Juddy on John Cale

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  • Carl Zimring
    John Cale We Got The Fonk Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER By all rights, John Cale should be tired of the sordid mess of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 7, 2004

      John Cale
      We Got The Fonk

      Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER

      By all rights, John Cale should be tired of the sordid mess of fabrication,
      moral decay and outright plagiarism that pop music is and likely always
      will be. Were Cale a cynical twist or musical curmudgeon, it would be only
      logical. Not because he hasn’t gotten his due: After all, as one of the
      driving forces behind the Velvet Underground, his music has been firmly
      acknowledged as one of the seminal inspirations for the past 40 years of
      rock and pop history. And not because his career has been a one-project
      wonder: Cale’s solo work has garnered fat folders of critical hallelujahs
      over the years, and his production efforts could be seen as the organizing
      vision that allowed punk and art to see face to face (Patti Smith’s Horses,
      debuts by The Stooges, Modern Lovers, Happy Mondays). No, one would expect
      Cale to have cut pop music out of his life because, at 61, no one has
      been-there or done-that more than this singular figure.

      But instead, he’s sort of giddy. Not quite teenage-kicks giddy, but
      first-successful-band excited, the way you might expect from the
      runway-model-stoic garage kids who’ve supped at his altar the past few
      years (The Strokes, for example). Yeah, rather than shades-and-junk
      silent-wallflower cool, John Cale can’t shut up about HoboSapiens, his
      admittedly brilliant new record. And it’s all because he suddenly realized
      that, yes, actually, he was bored with it all.

      “I was ready to mix [the album], and I was looking for an extra pair of
      ears with an objective view,” says Cale, whose stubborn Welsh accent and
      manic activity make talking through a speakerphone from his New York home
      base sound as though he’s kickboxing or forging a Pollock. “First of all, I
      didn’t like [lead-off track] ‘Zen’ at all -- I thought it sounded like a
      Gatlin Brothers song; wanted it off the record. I’d written ‘Look Horizon,’
      and was so enthralled with it -- I was just listening to the end of it over
      and over again, my brain floating away. And I thought, what the hell is a
      song like ‘Things’ doing on this record? Look at ‘Look Horizon,’ look at
      how far we’ve come with the sounds and the moods, and then ‘Things’ is this
      pedestrian college tune! So I thought, let’s try to drag it into the 21st

      Cale brought in producer Nick Franglen of Lemon Jelly, who helped do just
      that: “Things” and the later “Things X” both appear on HoboSapiens, though
      you’d be excused for not recognizing the similarity. “X” is more like a
      2004 Butthole Surfers record left in the sun than “pedestrian college”
      rock. So Franglen and Cale looked over the rest of HoboSapiens, and Cale
      started finding a lot to like.

      “Nick had these vinyl records of all these great drummers, records they
      made for seminars on ‘how to play the drums.’ And he made a loop [for] the
      beginning of ‘Zen’ that just sort of stood it up, and I think what happened
      was, I was sick of the loops I was working with, and Nick came in and
      replaced them with something warmer, less mechanical, and a little more
      unique I think.”

      If electronica-man Franglen seems an odd choice for Cale, his other major
      influences might seem just as odd or even odder. The esteemed
      experimentalist, one-time student of John Cage and LaMonte Young, and
      master of the viola drone, heaps adoration upon the likes of Beck and The
      Beta Band (“life’s going to be intolerable without The Beta Band”). But if
      you want a monologue on the future of music, there’s seemingly only one set
      of artists to bring up.

      “With someone like the Neptunes, they’re at least between six months and
      two years ahead of anything rock ’n’ roll is doing,” says Cale of the
      Virginian hip-hop and R&B producers. “I like the Neptunes because what they
      end up with is such a hardcore, simple idea.”

      One could say the same thing about HoboSapiens. At the end of all the
      quirky samples, soaring viola, found-sound backgrounds, gurgling guitars,
      Jungian lyrics about Rene Magritte and Bollywood and “things you do in
      Denver when you’re dead” and taking Tiger Mountain, Hobo is really a simply
      beautiful pop album. It’s taken seven years (and several acclaimed
      film-composition projects) since his last pop album -- and Walking on
      Locusts wasn’t the most successful -- but Cale has managed a record that
      combines experimentalism and simplicity perhaps as well as he’s ever done.

      To celebrate his first album in so long becoming the critical success it’s
      been since its 2003 European release (it came out here last month), Cale
      did something even more surprising: He started a new one. After touring and
      finishing up the new album, Cale plans to sit down and finish writing the
      screenplay to Everybody Had a Camera, the film he’s working on with
      director C.S. Leigh about “the ’60s from a European point of view. ? [I]t’s
      basically what happens in one 12-hour period at [Andy Warhol hangout] The
      Dom, a wide-open landscape for me to talk about how New York became the
      center of the universe.” Until then, Cale plans to continue basking in his
      rediscovered love of making ever-changing pop records.

      “The process has changed already,” says Cale. “The new album is a lot
      funkier, there are some very cute little numbers on there that are really
      just funky things -- guitar solos, Creedence Clearwater kind of groove
      songs. We’ve got about 23 songs done, and I think we’ve stopped recording,
      but I want to keep going -- the stuff is so damn good, and it just keeps
      getting better and better! I’m sort of surprised at myself, actually, but
      there’s something about someone you admire coming to you and saying, ‘Hey,
      man, you got the funk!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Here’s a Welsh boy -- what’s he
      doing in L.A.’ ? It took a while to get going -- but once we got a handle
      on this funk stuff, we ran with it.

      “That’s F-O-N-K, fonk.”

      John Cale appears at 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 8. The World, Strip District.
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