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Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with David Melbye of Imogene from 2007

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at

Can you catch the readers up on your history - both personally and in terms of your various bands?
My first original music band was back in college. My collaborator (a guitar player) and I (only a bass player then) were new to songwriting--and yet with a broad range of influences. So, we ended up composing these overlong songs with too many sections. Still, it was a fun and intense experience since we both were so passionate about music. After college, I was determined to pursue music as a career--though perhaps a bit too impatient to find the right band. I joined an LA band that was doing sort of a prog-Zeppelin thing. I really bonded with the guitar player whose talent had hooked me in the first place, and, after this project fell apart, we went our own way with the intention of doing a psychedelic band. This became Fuzz Beloved.

The two of us wanted to get away from the whole 90's pressure to have a frontman, and felt that, if Pink Floyd could pull off their sound with such subdued, monotone vocals, so could Fuzz Beloved! We soon found a drummer and embarked as a power trio. I switched between 8-string and 4-string bass in this band, and we both sang alternately or harmonized together. We went on to do an EP, a US tour, and then a full-length album before the drummer left to pursue an engineering career, while the guitarist moved to Thailand to raise a family. I believe Fuzz Beloved would have gone on to great things if we had stuck it out, but at least the full-length remains as a testament to our vision.

After Fuzz Beloved, I became interested in pursuing more of the R&B and soul influences I had been taking in at that time. Artists such as War, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, and, of course, James Brown. I was also discovering Blaxploitation soundtracks as well as Italian soundtracks from the 60s/70s--also groove-oriented. So, I started composing music around this vein: a mellower, "loungey" sort of vibe--sans the heavy 8-string bass sound--but retaining a psychedelic flavor. I also started writing from the electric guitar, rhodes piano, and other
instruments I had acquired by then. I called the project "Velvida" which was intended as an ironic reference to the swanky style, but I later changed the name to Ludivine.

I found an excellent young drummer from NYC as well as a couple of other musician friends to help me form a live ensemble, and we played a few shows around LA as "Velvida." We got to be a pretty good impovisational band, but the eventual full length album was executed by myself--aside from the drums. The drummer couldn't make up his mind what sort of music he wanted to play, and he had no work ethic anyway. The project crumbled after he left since my friends in the other slots weren't all that committed in the first place. I went back to school and took a break from music.

Later on, while in film school, I was inspired to start a new project, which became Imogene. This happened after I tried writing some music over a really heavy drum beat a friend had recorded in an abandoned silo out in the desert. (This became the track "Wormwood Raindrops"). I wanted to get back to the heavier stuff as well as continue with a groove-oriented approach, so you might say I was looking for a compromise between Fuzz Beloved and Ludivine. I also felt that the 8-string was closer to a guitar--or at least I wanted to make more like a lead instrument. So, I figured a 4-string bass player could cover the low end and also create the classic groove rhythm section for me to layer ideas over. But I still needed a more harmonic instrument to fill in the colors and establish more complex chord progressions--i.e. a keyboard!

I met a bass player and drummer in LA who were enthusiastic about my music--though a bit green in their experience and ability. I felt it would be worth the risk to see if I could bring them up to speed along the way--since I was a bit older and more seasoned by now. I also tracked down a very young, but talented keyboard player for the ensemble. We set off learning songs I had already composed, including a couple of old Fuzz Beloved numbers. We went on to play shows all over LA, and then set off to do a UK tour in 2005. The Imogene debut was recorded in piecemeal fashion during this time, and ultimately (similar to Ludivine) the majority of bass, guitar, and keyboard parts were performed by myself.

Since then, Imogene has changed members, but we have nonetheless managed to tour the US, the UK (again), Holland, and Belgium.

MSJ: How would you describe the differences and similarities between Ludivine, Fuzz Beloved and Imogene?
To put it simply, Fuzz Beloved and Imogene are similar through their use of a heavy, distorted 8-string bass sound, and, as I mentioned already, certain songs ("Happy Communing," "Daath," and "Quoth i") have been recorded and performed by both bands. Imogene is similar to Ludivine in its inclusion of mellower electric guitar compositions--songs which derive from a funky R&B rhythm ("Seraphim," "Dark Room," "Tongue and Groove," "Slow Dive") and appear on the second half of the album. Fuzz Beloved and Ludivine might only sound similar in my vocal style--at times--unless you want ascribe an overall psychedelic quality, which sort of applies to all three projects.
MSJ: I know artists are not crazy about having their music pigeon-holed, but how would you describe your sound?
Fuzz Beloved: heavy psychedelic, downtempo rock inspired by Pink Floyd, Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Blue Cheer, and others. Call it "Pink Sabbath." Ludivine: dreamy, sexy, groove-oriented lounge-rock inspired by Pink Floyd, Blaxploitation and other 60s/70s soundracks, as well as various soul/R&B masters. "Pink Floyd meets Funkadelic."

Imogene: heavy/dreamy non-revivalist psychedelia. Marriage characterizations include: "Pink Sabbath," "Doorphine," and/or "Radio Queens of the Stone Head."

MSJ: How did you come up with the idea of two bassists and how do you make that work?
Again, it was through the experience of both Fuzz Beloved and Ludivine. The former band revealed to me the possibilities of the 8-string bass as integral to a uniquely heavy sound, while the latter reinforced the necessity of a traditional 4-string bass and drums rhythm section in a groove-oriented ensemble. I realized that the 8-string bass just doesn't function in the same way as a 4-string bass--that is, a "James Jamerson" finger-funk style just doesn't sound good. At the same time, it can do a lot of things a regular bass cannot--create heavy-sounding chord shapes and arpeggios (solos sound great too). It is, thus, something of a cross between a bass and a guitar, but really sounds like neither in its mid-range tonality. So, with Imogene, I wanted to try an ensemble that included both a traditional R&B rhythm section as well as the 8-string bass. Both "basses" can play certain lines together or can play contrapuntally. One danger here, of course, is the clashing of too many low frequencies. I solve this problem by using a combo guitar amp for my 8-string bass--a crucial step.
MSJ: Who do you see as your influences - both personally and in terms of the bands?
I have already mentioned many of them as they apply to each band: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix, Blue Cheer (Fuzz Beloved), War, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown (Ludivine) and all of the above for Imogene. Of course, there are other global influences like The Beatles and then there are scores of other 60s/70s artists I have collected and loved over the years, including: Black Sabbath, Buffalo Springfield, Donovan, The Doors, King Crimson, Santana, Simon and Garfunkel, and Neil Young. Let me say that I really don't take any influence from anything after the 70s--though latter-day bands like Nirvana have been cited in press reviews. I admire Radiohead and I enjoy certain tracks by various bands such as QOTSA, but I feel any similarity to my past or Imogene's present music is simply the confluence of listening to similar classic rock. I do not feel I am striving after the accomplishments of these contemporary bands--at least in terms of art. My artistic path is my own!
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
This past year, Imogene has been recording two separate album projects: a heavier album that features the dual 4/8-string bass line-up as well as a mellower acoustic-oriented album. The former is targeted for release in early 2008 and the latter a bit after that. We have taken a break from touring, but we plan to dive back in as soon as it seems right. We are talking about future projects already, including an instrumental album, and, on the side, I may endeavor a sparse, fingerpicking-style acoustic album. Also, I will let you know that there will be a second Ludivine release--hopefully to be finished in 2008. I may also decide to release another Fuzz Beloved album, which would include a remix/remaster of the first EP as well as other leftover demo recordings and marginalia.
MSJ: Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?
I have not singled out any "famous" musicians I wish I could collaborate with--they've already made their contributions. I have musician friends here in LA and in more distant places I'd like to work with sooner or later. Collaboration can be so stimulating--when it works--but my problem has increasingly been my own ability to compose on several instruments--and the tension this creates between striving to achieve my vision of art on the one hand and allowing other players to contribute their parts on the other. I'd hate to become just another solo artist with his mercenary back-up band, but it can be really difficult finding a collaborator who shares the same vision. Like finding a whole ensemble of soul mates. The current drummer for Imogene feels like a soul mate, for example. I would love to collaborate with the Fuzz Beloved guitarist again--he was a brilliant musician.
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?
This is a complex question, and anyone who attempts to answer it can only be speculative in this transformative period of the music industry. For example, I could answer that file-sharing or free downloading hurts musicians, but, then again, if it helps the music spread faster so a touring band can sell more tickets and merchandise, then the situation could be deemed reciprocal. It seems the industry is making free downloading more difficult, and if it succeeds in making it impossible, then all musicians great and small, touring/non-touring will have a chance to make at least a little money from their recordings. But, without heavy promotional muscle (radio, press, film/tv, etc.) behind them, most or almost all musicians will continue to fail as professionals. Regardless, I feel a musician has the right to make an income at every level--for recorded music, airplay, live performance, and tv/film placement. It's just not realistic to think one can spur massive free-downloading and then turn-around and make a living selling t-shirts and other merch--unless, of course, you're playing stadiums. But we've aleady seen the big labels asking now for a cut of the live performance intake to compensate for diminishing music sales.

If it all boils down to a virtual world of music consumption--with iTunes, Myspace, and YouTube--then I have a feeling the current pattern of illegal download platforms and corporate retaliation will persist in the years to come. Similar to the notion that new forms of computer viruses and spyware will appear just as soon as the older forms are eradicated--a technological tug-of-war.
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Bootlegging, as it was once called, has been going since portable tape recorders were made available to the mass consumer. Again, it is an inevitable tug-of-war between the consumer and the industry. If the consumer can get something of value for free, they'll take it, and, if the industry finds a way to capitalize on it, surrogate or related items eventually surface for free again. If free downloading is halted, then recording live shows will take its place. Perhaps, there is an inherent disparity between the business of selling music and the business of recording data. Back in the days of vinyl, what would we have done without the cassette deck (or reel-to-reel tape machine)? How could we have obtained all those cassette versions or comps of our friends' LP's? Can you remember the interim when we could not burn CD's and so were forced to pay for an album if we wanted it? There is wisdom here...

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
I recently overpaid for a short stack of cd's I bought in a little boutique in the old quarter of Stockholm, Sweden. It was a store devoted completely to 60s/70s psych, prog, and related genres. Imagine that! Both compact discs and vinyl. The owner was a really nice guy, and he knew his merchandise. So, I felt I could drop a few artists, and he could then recommend a few I hadn't heard. For example, when I mentioned Amon Duul II and Sam Gopal--or a dark/heavy psychedelic vibe--he recommended Dragonwyck. I figured it was worth paying extra for a few such recommendations--since I intend to seek him out (by e-mail) for future tips. Indeed, if all record stores disappear, the newer generations will never know how pleasurable it is to walk into a physical place with other people and just browse through all the albums. On the other hand, maybe the need for this among those who do still experience this in whatever shops remain will spur on a vinyl resurgence and bring us back to a better time when people got together to listen to records and would spill the covers out across the floor to peruse the artwork and liner notes. (But I've heard cultural analysts say recorded music is increasingly becoming a private, "headphone" experience rather than a communal one--so perhaps it's too late, and I just sound like a nostalgic senior citizen.) Lately, I've been listening to newly discovered 60s/70s psych, folk, prog, soul, funk, and jazz as well as newly discovered 60s/70s soundtrack music. Same pattern of collecting I've had for awhile now. A small number of my closest friends and I have "tune exchanges" where we get together and spin vinyl, CD's, and/or our iPods. At best, this has a ritualistic quality to it where friends "follow up" a song selection with something of the same ilk--so you have a musical stream of consciousness. It is more interesting when one strives to play something no one else has heard before. I suppose this is where one really needs to be a good collector. I enjoy such listening rituals more than just about anything else--and they were the inspiration for me to pursue music as an artform.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
On a larger scale, my most recent concerts were Roger Waters and The Police here in SoCal. On a smaller scale, I heard two or three pipe organ concerts with my father recently in Rejkjavik (Iceland) and Visby (Sweden).
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Spinal Tap moment: It feels like there have been so many, but nothing over-the-top hilarious. On tour with Fuzz Beloved, the guitar player used a few odd alternate tunings, and that got us into trouble once or twice when we started (and continued) a song in the wrong tuning. One of the Velvida (Ludivine) gigs didn't go so well as we used to switch instruments on stage during our sets, and this one got so chaotic we had to restart at least one song.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
One thing I am feeling very passionate about these days is the problem I see with rampant revivalism. When so many of today's bands are simply trying to capture the sound and vibe of a bygone era, it discourages originality and the artistic progress of the medium. For example, Brian Jonestown Massacre's and The Dandy Warhol's so-called "revolution" is simply the celebration of 60's psychedelic pop standards and conventions to the degree that such bands, while perhaps writing catchy songs at times, are not really breaking any new ground. The counter-argument to this is that such approaches to songwriting, ensemble, and performance have proven to be the best rock and roll has to offer, but, as an artist, I am just unwilling to succumb to such an attitude. For this reason, I wonder that my historic usage of the term "psychedelic" associates my music too much with 60's, and that I should use a term like "visceral" instead. This is also a complex debate...
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