John Dieterich’s been kicking out jams since the 90s under a number of guises – in a solo capacity and a number of experimental projects including the long-running band Deerhoof, a band that showcases Dieterich’s dynamic range as a guitarist familiar with Bossanova chords, the punk canon, and occasionally just loud sounds. He recently got together with Asheville’s Tashi Dorji, an experimental guitarist originally from Bhutan whose contemporary prolificacy in the guitar sphere is heavy and inspired – last year my friend Marc Masters wrote a really great Lifetime Achievement Award article on Bandcamp as a guide to Dorji’s music, which I highly recommend. Each artist deserves a deep inspection into their discography, but for this article, we’re going to take a look at their recent collaborative album Midden on one of my favorite labels of recent – Moone Records, run by Caleb Dailey.
Midden shows two individuals comfortable with exploring and exploding space. The album begins quietly – a slight ghostly drone is punctuated by short plucks before dueling, spindly finger picking, occasionally affected, sets in, and that’s only the first handful of minutes. Midden is the recording from the third night of a three-night set of shows in the American Southwest. It sounds like they’ve been playing together for much longer, never stepping on each other’s toes or crowding the sound. They let me ask some questions about their collaboration, music, and more.
Hit play on the embed and read their answers below the jump.
Jordan Reyes: Can each of you talk about how you got interested in underground music? What about underground and experimental sound drew you in in the first place?
Tashi Dorji: I grew up in Bhutan with very little or no access to anything underground so when I first came to the U.S. for college, I became friends with punk kids who introduced me to records and live diy shows in town. From then on, everything opened up for me. The raw and unapologetic nature of live punk rock music blew my mind into a million pieces. I wanted to absorb everything, and eventually punks and punk rock introduced me to free jazz, noise, and all kinds of American underground phenomena of past and present.
John Dieterich: My brother was in a hardcore band in my hometown in the 80s, so that was probably my introduction. It was immediately very appealing to me and at the same time totally intimidating. He would take me out to see Agnostic Front and all these kinds of shows, and I guess I somehow “believed” the musicians. I bought what they were selling. If they were selling evil, I believed they were evil, and it scared the crap out of me. If they were selling power, I believed they were powerful. I think I’m a sucker that way, and maybe that’s why I got interested in music and art in the first place. As far as experimental music goes, I think this naiveté made me want to create that feeling for other people, but the idea would be to generate obscure feelings, maybe feelings that never existed before. I often think about that sort of thing, like I’m trying to create something that feels like it evolved in its own cultural ecosystem, its own culture. It should feel deep and wide.
JR: How did you all link up with Caleb at Moone Records? What was it like working together?
TJ: I was given Caleb’s contact for organizing show in Phoenix on my solo tour last year. Caleb is a wonderful human being! It has been amazing working with him, and I love the aesthetic and care he puts into his label.
JD: I think I hooked up with Caleb because I mixed and mastered a Strobe Talbot record called Funland that he put out. I really really really love this record and recommend it to everyone in the world. I also got to work on a Lonna Kelley 7″, which is incredible, and we’ve got several other projects on the flame. As for working with Caleb, it’s just been awful. We aren’t on speaking terms. Just kidding, we speak! Caleb’s amazing!
JR: How did you guys meet? I read that this recording is the third time ya’ll hung out – does that mean that the first two times you guys had played together already?
TJ: So while trying to set up a solo show in Phoenix, Caleb suggested maybe collaborating with John. I didn’t know John lived down that way, and it was thrilling to hear that he wanted to play together. I admire John’s playing alot – I think he is a pretty remarkable guitarist! We played 3 shows together and yes, the recording was from our third show and third hangout.
JD: I got an email from Jad Fair asking if I knew of any good venues in the southwest for Tashi Dorji to play. I had heard Tashi’s name but had somehow never heard his music, so I went on youtube and immediately related to what he was doing, which is a pretty rare feeling for me with guitar players. I ended up helping with a show in Santa Fe and hopped onto the tour with him. We played 3 duo shows in the southwest, and the Phoenix one was the last of the three. We had never met before the night we played together in Santa Fe.
JR: When you all were playing together, did you have any kinds of cues? Was the visual element of seeing each other play important to creating the recording?
TD: Listening cues – not so much visual.
JD: We didn’t use any cues, no, though it’s hard not to read the body language of a person when you’re playing together. It’s funny you bring this up because I decided that I wanted to kneel on the ground for these shows as one of my difficulties with improvising is feeling comfortable in my body while I’m doing it. Somehow kneeling on the floor really helped me. I can find ways of making anything work, but somehow kneeling felt the best, at least for those shows. It’s funny how that stuff works. I have no idea why I felt that was the right thing, but it certainly was, and then at the end of the show, my legs would be asleep and I could barely walk and would stumble around.
JR: I also read that you all recorded this at a church. Does the idea of a sacred space have any resonance with this recording? Does that kind of setting impact you?
TD: It’s always exciting to play big rooms. The vast room with high resonance and tall ceilings definitely changes the way I play. I think it’s more of a spatial response than spiritual.
JD: Yeah, it probably had some bearing on it. It was a really neat space with interesting acoustic qualities. I think we were probably more impacted by the other bands, which were great that night, and it was just an extremely good vibe.
JR: Can you each think of a technique you have while playing guitar or using the guitar as a sonic device that may come as a surprise to readers?
TD: Putting masking tape around the fret to get percussive sounds – would that be a technique?
JD: I don’t think I really have any specialized techniques. The greatest technical difficulty for me is to get in a headspace where you can react and be creative in these situations and not be thrown off by whatever random circumstances or odd things that can happen. The night before we played in Flagstaff, and I borrowed an amp which happened to be broken. I happen to love broken amps, so I was very excited, and it did indeed sound incredibly cool and broken, but I discovered pretty quickly that it demanded a totally different approach as certain things were impossible. There was a threshold below which anything I played was inaudible so all of a sudden I just had to play loud the entire time. It threw me off, to be honest. I think people who are great at improvising just learn to deal with situations like that and turn it to their advantage.
JR: Do you all read much? Have you read anything good lately?
TD: Reading Junji Ito’s Frankenstein
JD: I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to these days. The last book that I read that really had an impact on me was this book on the history of debt called, appropriately, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber. Really mind-blowing read and recommended to all.
JR: Any recent records you’ve appreciated that you’d recommend folks to check out?
TD: Chepang is a Nepali grindcore band based in NYC and they are destroying the old and moving forward. Most exciting music I have heard in a while!
JD: When Tashi and I played in Phoenix, I ended up sticking around and hanging out with friends, playing a show with a group that Max Knause put together and also did some improvising with Michael Krassner. The headliner of that show was this band from Phoenix called Slow Moses. They were totally incredible, and I got their record Charity Binge that night. It has been on pretty regular rotation since then. Such a fun, creative band. Apparently they’re working on a new one now.
JR: What all is up next for you two?
TD: Maybe record more and definitely tour.
JD: Hopefully more playing/recording if we can organize it!
JR: Anything else you’d like to say?