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Progressive Rock Interviews

Jack O’ the Clock

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Jack O’ The Clock from 2014
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Damon Waitkus: My original passion was songwriting, but when I went to school I chose to study creative writing and composition in isolation, and continued to operate primarily as a composer of instrumental music for several years. A part of me is still there - today I've been working on production for a piece I wrote for the mindbendingly talented guitar-drums duo Living Earth Show. But the bulk of my creative energy since 2007 has gone into Jack O' The Clock. We started out emphasizing the "folk" element  - acoustic sounds, vocal harmony - maybe because that range of my musical interest had been most neglected during my time as an instrumental composer–but have since drifted towards more "composed" work and diverse instrumentation. I've enjoyed working consciously at performance these past few years, but my approach remains compositional. Not every member of the band plays on every piece we record, and if a certain instrument is needed that we can't play, we bring someone in. We're blessed with a community of musicians in the Bay Area who are often happy to participate for the sake of the music alone, which is the only way it will happen. 

Emily Packard: I was trained in classical violin though I explored other styles in college and grad school. I have an MFA from Mills where I met Jordan and Jason. Kate and I played in youth orchestra together on the East coast and reconnected out here in the new music scene.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Damon Waitkus: writing, psychology.

Emily Packard: Health policy, gardening, yoga, some corporate job to pay the bills, or full time mothering.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Damon Waitkus: I think I found it in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I've never met a Jack in person, but he is a wooden automaton in some Medieval churches that strikes the hour. I'm attracted to (and a little provoked by) anything which points to the gray area between materialism and numinous animation: both automatic algorithms of thought and habit in an organic being and machines that convincingly ape life. I feel the need to know as much as possible about the mechanics of experience but suspect I'll never commit to believing that's all there is.
MSJ:

Who would you see as your musical influences?

Jason Hoopes: The closest and most important musical influences one can have are their own bandmates, and the musicians that make up their community. From our community I would say my current leading influences are Aram Shelton, Nava Dunkelman, Jeanie-Aprille Tang, Mark Clifford, Zach Watkins and Marshall Trammell from Black Spirituals, and Dimesland. Beyond bandmates and community, I've currently been listening primarily to music by Hildegard von Bingen. I can list three artists as regular and frequent consultants in my mind when constructing bass lines with Jack O' The Clock: Tony Levin, JS Bach, and Sasu Ripatti (Vladislav Delay). Not to be left out are Steve DiGiorgio's work on Death's Individual Thought Patterns album, Meshell Ndegeocello, John Taylor with early Duran Duran, and Jaco Pastorius' work with Joni Mitchell.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Damon Waitkus: We're just spent two weekends in the studio with The Norman Conquest recording the basic tracks for some of our longer, more ambitious pieces. This will hopefully lay the groundwork for a pair of albums, the first of which at least will be geared towards representing the band's live sound. This doesn't mean there will be no production or overdubs, but the emphasis will be on the core quintet on our primary instruments. The band has evolved a live sound over the past couple years which I feel has only occasionally come through in the recordings. It's not quite a matter of giving up the compositional approach in the studio, but of making space for the live band. 

We've also been recording a short album of covers, just for the hell of it. This has been surprisingly fun - a bucket list thing that I though I'd never actually get to, but here we are almost done…I've really enjoyed not having to worry about the material itself for a few months, just working on arrangement and performance...

Emily Packard: We have two shows coming up with wonderful Bay Area musicians: Fred Frith, Beth Custer in January and  miRthkon and Surplus 1980 (one of my favorite fun prog/rock/experimental bands around) in December. We are hoping to travel around a bit next summer and are on the lookout for festivals that will have us! Jason and Jordan will be touring Europe as 2/3rds of the Fred Frith trio in February.

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Jason Hoopes: I always want to answer this question, and I always feel uncomfortable doing so. I don't think artists are necessarily the best people to describe their music in words, or put a name to it. I feel we're already describing the music by producing it, and it's called “Jack O' The Clock.” To describe it beyond that means to have a conversation about influences, or marketing.
MSJ:

Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Damon Waitkus: This is a labor of love, and I'm privately contented as long as I think there's a listenership out there. That said, I don't know if it's always clear to listeners what kind of budget we're working with. This band has not broken even from the production of any of its recordings, and this is with everything done in the simplest possible manner, DIY to a fault. Anything that comes in honestly helps enormously. 

The internet economy is generally pretty baffling to me, but I find Jaron Lanier's ideas, particularly that the music industry is a bellwether for the economy as a whole, compelling. He says, building I think on the predictions of Ted Nelson back in the 60s, that if we are to have a functional internet-based economy there will be a need to reverse-engineer the whole shebang so that links go two ways and content-producers can collect micro-payments for any information they contribute.

Right now it's not individuals downloading bands' music for free which is the problem -though that certainly doesn't help - it is the horrible rate of artist remuneration sites like Spotify get away with, because I think downloading music is likely to become an increasingly marginal activity. I don't know what the solution is, but my liberal knee jerks towards using government to realize functional regulation, particularly as private entities start looking more and more infrastructural. 

I should add, though, that I wouldn't trade the current widespread availability of good recording technology or the ease of distribution, all of which is brought about by technologies parallel to the ones that strip artists of their claims, for the old model in which record companies managed studio time and landfills swallowed jewel cases. I love having control, and wouldn't have been able to make any of the band's recordings if I was paying for studio time by the hour from start to finish. Like a lot of people in my generation, I learned a lot by messing around with a 4-track in my bedroom in high school. I suspect the model from a generation ago selected for musicians that had performance down first and only secondarily learned how to use a studio. Nowadays there are a ton of people getting really interesting work out there who may not have ever performed. It's a very different set of skills. You would never hear a lot of it if it weren't for computer magic. But there is no reason artists should have to blindly accept the inequities of technology as it is set up, which includes a lot of arbitrary and sneakily exploitative lock-ins, in order to benefit from its efficiencies.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Damon Waitkus: This has hardly ever come up at the level we're operating. A lot is lost between most live performances and recordings of them though, and I'd prefer to do some quality control in an ideal world.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Jason Hoopes: My shadow self, because I think that's what the best hero / villain relationships suggest.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Damon Waitkus: Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man, several albums by Jon Hassell, Bach solo cello, Lee Hyla, Malcolm Dalglish.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Jason Hoopes: Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson. Seven Stages of Money Maturity by George Kinder. The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine.

Damon Waitkus: Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, Phi by Giulio Tononi, The Life And Times of Michael K. by J.M. Coetzee, Fires by Raymond Carver

Emily Packard: The Cave by Jose Saramago, Foe by J.M. Coetzee, The Yogi's Roadmap by Bhavani Maki.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Jason Hoopes: Aram Shelton's Sound Quartet with Mark Clifford, Safa Shokrai, Britt Ciampa. Also on the bill: Ben Goldberg, Sheldon Brown, Vijay Anderson.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Jason Hoopes: I don't think it's healthy to think of pleasure in terms of guilt. But, yes.

Damon Waitkus: Prog rock.

Emily Packard: Brahms chamber music, especially the piano trios

 

MSJ:

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Jason Hoopes: California's east bay area, specifically Oakland, is currently bursting with progressive music. I don't mean "progressive" as it unfortunately has come to be understood, as a genre, but progressive in the literal sense. The musicians on the scene have one firm well-versed foot inside a broad range of established styles, popular to obscure, and the other foot in pushing and challenging the constraints of those styles by bending rules, blending influences in sincere and uncontrived ways, and improvising their way through a musical life. Improvising is perhaps one of the best ways to understand a part of the current local musical climate. A significant number of improvising musicians here have ties to Mills College. I think Fred Frith's influence cannot be overstated, both his personal musical philosophy and the musical philosophy of the artists he brings to the area. It seems many of us are simultaneously interested in both breaking and making rules. I encourage listeners to explore the current musical climate of California's bay area. 

Emily Packard: If you like our music, there are lots of ways to get to it: Bandcamp and CDBaby are the most direct. And please spread the word. We depend on individuals and word or mouth to keep doing what we're doing.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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