interview by vinnie baggadonuts




V: Where were you born?

V: I was born in Huntington, New York in 1967. Huntington was a cool place to grow up. I lived five miles from the beach, and two miles from the village, which was pretty bustling for a Long Island town. Quite urbane; definitely suffering from Manhattan envy. There were tons of bars, which meant you could find live music every night. The musician scene was very happening when I was growing up.

V: Did you grow up in a very musical environment?

V: Compared to these days, when people think leaving the TV tuned to MTV all day is a musical environment, yes. My parents weren't musical, but they saw that each of the kids took music lessons at some point, guitar or piano. I grew up listening to my older sister practicing piano a lot. And I listened to my brother's records whenever he wasn't around-- Beatles, Bob Marley, Little Feat. I tried piano lessons at an early age because it was apparent that I had an ear for music. But I didn't have the patience to learn how to read, so my interest in piano went away. It wasn't until I was 13 and heard Led Zeppelin for the first time that my interest in music returned, full-on. But I didn't dig the guitar, so I started listening to the bass. That was the beginning of the end-- I no longer wanted to be a surgeon when I grew up.

V: Do you remember the first song that made you fall in love with music?

V: "I Saw Her Standing There", by Lennon and McCartney.

V: What was the last song or album you heard that reminded you why you love music as much as you do?

V: It was one of my tunes that I just mixed last week, "Context". That may sound egotistical, but I always get motivated to continue my work when I have a recording of a sound that only existed in my head previously. That tune sounds exactly the same on tape as it did inside my head.

V: How hard is it to be a full-time musician/producer?

V: That's not easy for me to answer, because I'm unable to imagine any alternative. Economically, it's obviously not easy. And there is also the social difficulty. Most people have trouble believing that music can be an actual profession, so there isn't a lot of support in that way. It's funny, I've spent 23 years studying and practicing music-- six years in conservatory-- and yet I still feel lucky to be doing it, even though luck had little to do with it. It's lots of hard work and patience, even for the talented.

V: What led you to move to Brazil?

V: Brazil was just one of the places I passed through as a touring bass player, but it immediately struck me as a most peaceful place. Music is such a big part of the culture here. The quality of life can be shockingly poor, for most people. But the quality of music that is considered "Pop" music is extremely refined, musically and sonically. I was also saddened to see what NYC has been turning into, especially Manhattan. Crime has diminished on the streets, but is flourishing on a corporate level. I just wanted to live in a place that is more sympathetic. Brazil has plenty of its own problems, but the people here will always be its greatest treasure. And really, it's Sao Paulo that drew me here-- this city is amazing! It's the fourth largest city in the world, and I love the big city. It's never difficult to find a good studio, good musicians, or a good cup of coffee. People from all over the world live here, like NYC. And it's a good feeling, knowing that every time I buy something, the sales taxes aren't going to the support of the Bush Reich. Aside from all that, I never could deal with the cold. If I never see snow again, that would be great.

V: Has any of the musical culture there rubbed off on you in your own music?

V: As of yet, I've not written anything that reflects the musical influence of Brazil. But, having said that, Brazilian guitarist Alexandre Klinke has contributed invaluably to some of my recordings. And people have commented that my latest batch of tunes sound more cheerful in general. There is one style of music here that's got my attention: samba rock. I hope to be involved in that world somehow in the future.

V: I read somewhere that you are a huge fan of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. What was it exactly that drew you to his music?

V: It happened while I was studying at the Manhattan School of Music. My ear training professor suggested that I should attend his Bartok class. That was flattering-- Bartok's music is difficult listening-- but he felt that I had the ears for it. Man, that changed my direction. I learned that his music is heavily inspired by comparatively simple folk music from Eastern Europe. So when I first heard the Skatalites' recordings with Don Drummond, I was knocked out by the similarities between what they were doing, and what was going down in Eastern Europe before the World Wars. I decided, "This will be my resource."

V: Alright. I'm not real well-versed on what exactly a producer does. Could you tell me?

V: I think every producer would have a different answer to that question. For me, the producer is the one who makes sure the artist is getting the recording that they are looking for. The producer also makes sure that the studio staff knows what the artist is all about. Finally, the producer is responsible for making sure that the budget is not wasted unnecessarily. Each producer gets involved to varying degrees on three levels-- musical, technical, and economical. And when things are going well, the producer must be able to stand back and let it all happen.

V: So, what do you, as a producer, try to do for the bands you work with?

V: I pretty much try to adhere to the definition I gave above. I try to find the studio that will make the artists the most comfortable within the budget, which is why I usually wind up going where the band lives, rather than bringing them to me. I also usually work with the band before the recording date, ironing out any issues that can be resolved outside the studio. Listening to rehearsal tapes is important. Often a song is written by one, sung by another. The key of the song may be perfect for the guitarist who wrote the tune, but then one must find the key that is best for the singer. Sometimes changing the key of the tune from A to Ab makes all the difference-- resolving this before the studio clock is ticking can save a lot of money, not to mention the singer's vocal chords! Some bands are motivated to create when they're all together in the studio-- The Adjusters, for example. It takes a lot of time, energy, and involvement. But the result is always worth it, in their case. A different example would be Skavoovie. They showed up at the studio after playing the songs every night on tour for six weeks, and everything had already been worked out. So I just got to choose microphones, designate tracks, stand back, and watch it all go down. I didn't really get involved until the mixing sessions.

V: What's different about producing sessions back in the day, like the Better Late Than Never sessions, compared to stuff you do now, with bands like the Stingers?

V: That's interesting. I felt Stingers' sessions were very similar to the Slackers' sessions, almost ten years earlier; both very cohesive bands with very talented songwriters. The main difference was that with the Stingers, I already had over a dozen albums to my credit, so they could be more trusting in me. One regret that I have about Better Late Than Never is the much-criticized bass sound. Victor Ruggiero was pretty much co-producing that record with me, and we agreed on just about all issues except the bass. Vic and I are both bass players (though Vic moved on to guitar and keys soon after), and we each have our own idea of how a bass should sound. And neither of us were willing enough to tell the other to step off, so we tried to accommodate both of our tastes when mixing the bass. At the mastering session, we realized our mistake-- either one of us would have made a more focused bass sound, but the combination was just too much. It was too late to go back. But thankfully, Vic Ruggiero is an amazing songwriter, and that record is still one of my favorites.

V: Is producing someone else's work easier, or more difficult than producing your own?

V: No contest. Producing my own music is a breeze. Once I have the song on paper, I know how I want it to sound and I know who I'll hire to play it. Since leaving the Scofflaws in '95, I'm no longer confined to writing within the limits of a particular band. Now I write for musicians, not band members. Having said that, I get much more satisfaction from working with others. There is no better feeling than when a project has been brought to a place where not only am I happy, but everyone involved in the project is listening to the playback with a grinning face. Nothing beats that!

V: How the hell did you end up on an Everlast album? I remember being completely freaked out seeing your name in the credits.

V: That was fun. I got a call one day from an old student of mine, Jay Nicolas. He was in the studio assisting the engineer on the Eat At Whitey's record, and said the producer wanted to hear string bass on one of the tunes. "Can you come downtown today?" Of course I could! I listened to the track, wrote out the bassline-- which had already been placed by a keyboardist-- and played along. Everlast had already come and gone, and his voice and acoustic guitar were already there. So I just kept playing with the track until Dante (Ross, producer) said, "Cool. We have it." The whole session took about an hour. I still have yet to meet Everlast. I hope he dug it.

V: Those Da Whole Thing sessions sounded like a hell of a lot of fun. What was that experience like?

V: Those sessions really were something. The music was challenging, and the personnel was an unlikely mixture of ska mobsters and downtown NYC jazzers. The first record (done at Version City) was more of a challenge for me, because i was also the engineer. There were more musicians than there were tracks on the tape machine, so everything had to be meticulously planned. I wound up reading the bass parts on the mixing desk so I could check the levels at the same time! Some of these tracks are just insane, while others are quite mellow. The second record had a bigger budget, so there were more rehearsals. It was also recorded and mixed at Coyote Studios in Brooklyn-- spacious, excellent equipment, and three times as many tracks as were available at Version City at that time. Plus, Chris Murray was in on the project as producer, and Michael Caiati was engineering, so I was able to devote my undivided attention to playing the bass. Patrick (Carayannis) was very sensitive to the strengths of each musician, and tailored the music to get the best performance from each of us. Those records have yet to see the light of day, but they will, eventually-- the world isn't ready for them just yet.

V: So, some of us on the paper plan on trekking to Ireland next summer. Patrick and I chat every now and then. When he caught wind of our plan, he insisted I look him up. Got any good stories about him?

V: Well, meeting him for the first time was definitely a hoot. I was working alone at Version City one night, when down comes Chris Murray with this very polite, quiet gentleman named Patrick. He was obviously shocked by the appearance of the studio, a tiny, squalid place with half-broken equipment and microphones hanging from water pipes. After being quickly introduced by Chris, I resumed working on whatever it was I was mixing. When Trick heard the sound coming out of the monitor (an old Fischer boombox), well, his smile nearly split his face in two. I mean, I never saw so many teeth. He totally got it. They waited for me to finish up, and we moved on to the Scratcher, a charming pub in the neighborhood. We got into a deadly serious conversation about our influences: me and my Bartok, Wayne Shorter, and King Tubby; he and his John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and Johnny Cash. Chris was obviously pleased with the mad combination he created at this table. The Guinness flowed for some time. I was feeling pretty comfortable at some point, and produced a healthy spliff to share amongst us. They were like, "Can we do this here?", and I (being the cocky New Yorker at the table) was like, "Shooore, whatsh wrong wif a little shpleef?" I was so wrong. When the aroma met the bartender's nose, you would have thought we had tied off at the table and were cooking shit in a spoon over a candle, judging from the expression on his face. I then learned how much contempt the Irish have for the dreaded weed, as if Guinness isn't a drug or something. The three of us-- all Irish, by the way-- were promptly tossed. But the damage had already been done. We were fast friends, and the rest is little-known history.

V: Tell me about the Buddy Scott Trio. How long have you been involved in that?

V: Man, you've really done your research, Vinnie. The Buddy Scott Trio was originally only two people-- Scott Williams (guitarist, bassist, singer/songwriter) and Ed Potakar (drummer and generally insane person). They completed a CD at Scott's studio and wanted to play out. Scott came over to my place to play me the CD. I loved it immediately. Scott is an expert when it comes to American music-- swing, country, surf-- and here he was crooning like Sinatra with lyrics filled with Buddhist irony that, to this day, escapes most people. He saw that I was getting it, so he gave me “the test”. He had overdubbed a sax solo on one of the tunes, and if I could tell him where it came from, I would get the job. "It's from ‘Countdown' by John Coltrane." I was in without having to play a single note. That was seven years ago, and we still play out, off and on. We recorded another CD (with monster drummer Gene Lewin) called Pretty Flowers that's now available on Gridley Records. That trio is one of the few things I miss about NYC.

V: And, I gotta ask: Dub Side of the Moon. What spawned that idea?

V: I don't know whose idea it was originally. One of the guys from the Easy Star Records crew. Though, in hindsight, that record was begging to be made. The tempos are perfect for the Jamaican treatment, and the original tracks were already filled with effects and dub sensibilities. I'd like to be able to say that the record came together very easily, but producers Michael G., and Ticklah really slaved over that project for over two years. Everyone who has heard it agrees that it was worth it, though. Big props go to Pink Floyd for allowing that project to happen. You have to wonder if Alfred Hitchcock would ever have allowed Gus Van Zandt to remake Psycho. I think the comparison is accurate.

V: So, being the musical project nomad that you are, is there anyone you've yet to work with that you're dying to work with?

V: The Skatalites, for sure. I did get to mix their recordings with Ska Titans, which was an honor. But I would just love to be involved from the beginning: rehearsal, recording, everything. Lester Sterling continues to inspire me melodically, and Lloyd Brevitt is a huge influence on my bass playing. And Lloyd Knibb-- what can I say? To be in the same room with the creator of the beat is a phenomenal privilege. I can think of no other style of music where you can point to one guy and say, "Him. He started it." The ska beat just didn't exist before Lloyd Knibb, and you can't finger one guy when talking about jazz, rock, salsa, samba, baroque, etc.

V: I know you have a deep love for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Guiliani. You didn't happen to catch the made-for-TV movie about him, did you?

V: No, thank goodness. I don't turn the TV on much, except to watch the Sao Paulo Football Club play. Football. Not soccer. That crap they do in the states is not football. I don't care how much money they make. Orwell scared all of us with the idea that we would all be controlled by having a camera on us in every room, but the truth is scarier. People willingly watch the TV to learn what to believe and how to behave. We watch Seinfeld and think it's funny to be ignorant and obnoxious. We learn that white men can do whatever we please, with little consequence. As long as we keep watching CNN, we'll never know what's going on in the world.

V: I'm having nightmares about a rumor I heard, that Guiliani is going to be Dubya's running mate in the 2004 election.

V: Now that is truly frightening, especially because I can imagine the majority of the U.S. population buying that ticket. Dubya (actually, whoever writes the words that come out of his mouth) coined the phrase, "Axis of Evil". If those two shack up in the White House, let me be the one to coin the phrase, "Apex of Evil".

V: What is Brazil’s take on our behavior lately?

V: Brazil is worried. Brazil is economically dependent on the U.S. economy in a hopeless way. If the dollar goes up in value, it's bad for Brazil. If the dollar goes down in value, that's also bad for Brazil. And now, with the current regime, it's like a kid watching his drunken dad on a rampage: not much you can do. Only hope that he doesn't look in your direction.

V: What's your personal take on it?

V: I only have a sad prediction. Within this century, after all the world's petroleum has been seized, the U.S. will invade Brazil under some pretext (like “liberation”) in order to seize its precious resource: the world's largest supply of fresh water. It makes me sad to think about these things, because I feel helpless. Voting, obviously, won't help. It's like thinking about AIDS. There's nothing I can personally do to stop it. I know that that is a defeatist attitude, but it is how I feel.

V: So, what kind of projects are you going to give the world in the coming months?

V: Thank you so much for changing the subject! This year, once my new CD has been released, I will be returning to Europe on what promises to be a very busy three months. There are bands and record labels in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland that are seeing to it that I don't have a single day off while I am there! I won't go into specifics because that would be a surefire way to jinx everything.

V: Now, before we end this, let's get serious for a second. For the last four years, we've had a running argument here at the paper, regarding dogs and their lips,.. or lack thereof. I'm not kidding-- we even called a vet. You've seen dogs in NY, you've seen dogs in Brazil. In your traveled opinion, do dogs have lips? And if so, are they different in the states than they are in Brazil?

V: Okay, I've consulted with Pascoal, an enormous boxer who lives at the studio here and oversees all of my work. I've also consulted with Luka and Paco, sibling golden labs who look after my human friend Rodrigo. First: they all agree that dogs are the same all around the world. That is, boxers are boxers, labs are labs, and toy poodles are actually deformed cats, lacking a particular gland in the cerebrum that makes cats smarter than humans. Dogs have lips. Lips being a membranous border surrounding the mouth. What they don't have is the muscular infrastructure that makes it possible to pucker up and whistle. If they had that, Pascoal tells me, they wouldn't come running every time their human whistled for them-- they'd simply whistle back to let them know they're fine.