Clip: Juddy on 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 hasnt 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: Cales 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 Smiths 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, hes 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 whove supped at his altar the past few
years (The Strokes, for example). Yeah, rather than shades-and-junk
silent-wallflower cool, John Cale cant shut up about HoboSapiens, his
admittedly brilliant new record. And its 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 hes kickboxing or forging a Pollock. First of all, I
didnt like [lead-off track] Zen at all -- I thought it sounded like a
Gatlin Brothers song; wanted it off the record. Id 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 weve come with the sounds and the moods, and then Things is this
pedestrian college tune! So I thought, lets 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
youd 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 (lifes going to be intolerable without The Beta Band). But if
you want a monologue on the future of music, theres seemingly only one set
of artists to bring up.
With someone like the Neptunes, theyre 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 youre dead and taking Tiger Mountain, Hobo is really a simply
beautiful pop album. Its taken seven years (and several acclaimed
film-composition projects) since his last pop album -- and Walking on
Locusts wasnt the most successful -- but Cale has managed a record that
combines experimentalism and simplicity perhaps as well as hes ever done.
To celebrate his first album in so long becoming the critical success its
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 hes working on with
director C.S. Leigh about the 60s from a European point of view. ? [I]ts
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. Weve got about 23 songs done, and I think weve stopped recording,
but I want to keep going -- the stuff is so damn good, and it just keeps
getting better and better! Im sort of surprised at myself, actually, but
theres something about someone you admire coming to you and saying, Hey,
man, you got the funk! And Im thinking, Heres a Welsh boy -- whats 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.
Thats F-O-N-K, fonk.
John Cale appears at 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 8. The World, Strip District.