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Interview with Steve Lobdell
Bananafish, 1999Interview with Steve Lobdell conducted by Seymour Glass and LaMonte Hall with The Baseball Astrologer
The Torment of the Day of the Shadow
Originally published in Bananafish #12
BANANAFISH:Sufi Mind Game has always been you and Douda Kane, correct?
STEVE LOBDELL: Yeah. It's an old name, a term a friend used to describe me. Supposedly, I took this friend's things and broke them as part of my Sufi mind games.
BANANAFISH: He thought you were trying to teach him an esoteric lesson by incapacitating all of his possessions?
STEVE LOBDELL: He thought I was stealing his records, fucking them up, selling them. Once he said it, I started doing it. I was like, "Okay. Cool. That is what I'll do. I have no problem with that. You wanna put me in that role? Then I'm in that role for you." It's kind of a shame because we're not really friends anymore.
BANANAFISH: How deep is your knowledge of Sufism?
STEVE LOBDELL: I've studied it academically, but I have no direct experience of this discipline. I am not a practicing Muslim, which complicates matters further. There are so many different schools of Sufism that to understand them all would take years and I've been to that zone for about a day.
BANANAFISH: I'm wondering why your friend chose to identify your mind games as that particular type.
STEVE LOBDELL: I'm interested in religion in general because I was raised in a nonreligious family. There are meanings in life that have nothing to do with the modern world. There are elements to my personality, to who I am, that don't fit into the norm, and they're really difficult to find. I'd have to go to a foreign culture to do that. To do it here, I'd have to say no to everything. We've had a turbulent relationship, me and the guy who said I was playing Sufi mind games.
BANANAFISH: How long were you and Douda in Hitting Birth?
STEVE LOBDELL: I was only in the band for about nine months. Douda was pretty much there from the beginning, at least five years.
BANANAFISH: I never found Hitting Birth recordings terribly impressive, even though I'd heard how great the live shows were from a lot of people. I figured it was because there was so much percussion, not the easiest thing in the world to record well.
STEVE LOBDELL: Yeah, that was one problem. The other thing was, at one point, Hitting Birth was chance-oriented. The music was improvisatory. They created entire shows around single ideas that they played one time only. At some shows I saw, there were 20 or 25 people onstage, all kinds of people playing percussion, dancers, lights. Once they built a huge dinosaur. It was much more grandiose. By the time I joined the band, they had evolved into a fairly static unit. When we were on tour in Hitting Birth, I was riding in the back of the van and decided that I wanted to play a different kind of music. Hitting Birth wasn't my cup of tea. It wasn't aleatory enough. The music did not have enough motion. Douda and I have similar interests in music. We wanted a certain physical feeling in our bodies, but we never really discussed what we were going to do.
BANANAFISH: Looking back, do you understand now what you were searching for?
STEVE LOBDELL: For myself, I wanted to play a type of music where I removed my subjective mind from the performance, where no conscious intent played a part in the composition. In a sense, this may be improvisatory, but Douda put it best when he said that our music is more intuitive than improvised. In this manner, the music can bridge the separation between mind and body, allowing us to create a music of unrestrained release from its usual contrived settings. When the music is really on, and my self is shut off, I lose self-consciousness and enter into a quasi-ecstatic state where the process of music overrides any desire to force a direction.
BANANAFISH: Is this a bond that any two people can come up with if they allow it to happen?
STEVE LOBDELL: It's just chemistry. I don't think any two people could do it, but if they're receptive enough, obviously, a lot of people. You can hear it on some AMM records. Rowe and Prèvost have that sort of chemistry.
BANANAFISH: Did you have to cultivate it for a while?
STEVE LOBDELL: No, it was pretty automatic. When you're playing music that you haven't even thought about before, there are going to be times when it doesn't feel that great. But that's part of the process. There's not really a formula to it. There are certain sounds you get when you play a guitar loud. It becomes malleable; you're not really "playing guitar." It's symbiotic. And it works that way with drums, too.
BANANAFISH: Sufi Mind Game is always guitar and drums?
STEVE LOBDELL: On the released recordings, yes. We've also played with a thereminist, Josh Mong, who also played electronics and pedal steel guitar. A bassist, Matthew Freid, also played awhile with the group last year. Currently, we have a new bass player, Mondell, and a trumpet player, Thara Memory. Both also play with Douda's other group, Hungry Mob. I hope we can record something with this lineup in the future.
BANANAFISH: Was Caleb Nelson ever in Sufi Mind Game?
STEVE LOBDELL: No. I've played with him but that wasn't Sufi Mind Game. When I was thinking about moving to Chicago, occasionally I played music in theaters with a bunch of dancers. It was an interesting exercise, being the only instrument, having to be rhythmic and melodic at the same time. It was a good test. I was thinking about playing with a drummer and Caleb was recommended to me. He was a good drummer. We played about six or seven times but it didn't really go anywhere. The drums got repossessed.
I think Caleb got sick of all the phone calls. Finally he said, "Fine. Come on over and get 'em."
It was back in the heyday of the slacker lifestyle, before it became a known quantity. You could survive in Portland on a 20-hour-a-week job. You could eat and pay the rent, but it didn't allow you to buy a drum set on installment.
BANANAFISH: How did you get involved with Faust?
STEVE LOBDELL: Jeff Hunt, who runs Table of the Elements, was setting up the tour and they said they needed guest musicians for the American tour. He recommended me. We had known each other for about 10 years. I flew down to Atlanta and rehearsed with them. Well, I didn't really rehearse. I walked into a room full of video cameras and just played with them for 15 minutes. They were like, "Okay, cool."
BANANAFISH: "You're in."
STEVE LOBDELL: For that segment, yeah.
BANANAFISH: Why were there video cameras at a rehearsal?
STEVE LOBDELL: It was phenomenal. Jeff Hunt was so into having everything documented. He was thinking about the future. He wasn't thinking in the now, what it was all about. Having a cameraman roaming around made me feel uncomfortable. Faust are in a totally different mindset. They could give a shit about the cameras.
It's probably because of those films with Albert Brooks. The musicians should have been trying to cut loose, but it was so constrained because of the cameras. Jeff Hunt was having lots of conversations with the cameraman, but none with the band. It should have been a closed-door rehearsal.
Turning the video cameras off was not allowed. I don't really want to slag Jeff Hunt - he's already been slagged pretty well as it is - but that was the central problem with the whole tour. It was supposed to be this grandiose thing - and Faust are grandiose, for sure - but that stuff has to just happen. It can't follow some script. I was just blown away to be with Faust. Going onstage with them after so little practice was bizarre. I probably shouldn't talk about the tour so much. It was fun, but in some ways it was a very tense tour. It was ambitious but there weren't enough shows to make it feasible. If you're coming all the way from Europe, it makes sense to play more than ten shows or something. I didn't play the whole tour, just selected shows. I didn't play in Chicago or at the Death Valley show.
BANANAFISH: Because you didn't want to or because they had different plans for those shows?
STEVE LOBDELL: I didn't expect to be going on tour with them. I didn't have my situation set up where I'd have free time. I was thinking about the present, not the future. I wasn't thinking, What could this turn into? They were set up to use me when I was available. Every show was completely different. The show in Atlanta was disastrous. It was just disastrous. I can't think of another word to describe it.
BANANAFISH: What happened?
STEVE LOBDELL: They were trying to play outdoors. Table of the Elements was doing that whole two-day festival of music at the Tula Arts Center. Before Faust played, they moved the entire P.A. out of the building, up into this outdoor parking lot, because they wanted to play outdoors. Without a permit. Near a hospital. Powered by generators that kept going out. As soon as Zappi turned on the jackhammer, it just knocked out all the power. It was a very potent disaster.
BANANAFISH: Jackhammers can be pretty aleatory.
STEVE LOBDELL: My power was coming from a second generator, so there were points where I was the only person playing. It was a humungous risk that didn't pay off. It would have been great if everything was set up to do the show that way - moving an entire P.A. 100 yards up a hill after three other bands have played.
BANANAFISH: Doesn't it usually take dozens of people several hours to set up a P.A.?
STEVE LOBDELL: Realistically, yeah. You can have it up and running, but they set it up, did soundchecks, pulled the P.A. apart, moved it outdoors and then expected the settings to do the same things and all the wires to be in the right places.
BANANAFISH: Faust's soundcheck was done indoors?
STEVE LOBDELL: No, it was done outdoors. Then they moved the P.A. indoors for the other three bands. Then they moved it all the way back out. I wasn't nervous as much as watching and thinking, Oh, my God, these people are risky. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. I would never try to do a show that way, but they had their idea and worked with what was available. Everything was done on a shoestring budget. The outdoor show in Connecticut was a lot better. It rained during parts of the show and it was difficult to put on, but at least it was intended as an outdoor show. In terms of logistics it was a lot easier.
BANANAFISH: When did you go to Germany? Was that right after the tour?
STEVE LOBDELL: No. They said I should come play with them in Germany. I wrote them a letter and got a response back.
BANANAFISH: How long were you there?
STEVE LOBDELL: A pretty long time. About three months or so. I just went there to see what would happen. It was probably not a terribly good idea. Sufi Mind Game was going well and leaving definitely dissipated the energy. Leaving changes the way you think. What you know to be your regular existence is no longer your regular existence. A lot of my time was spent playing guitar and not interacting with people. I have a difficult time speaking other languages. By the time I left I was able to read a little German. The way people learn languages doesn't make sense to me - looking at it on paper and then trying to learn how to speak it. Kids pick up languages in two years. Diving into a language doesn't make any sense, because you don't truly learn how to speak it. You just learn how to translate your concepts into other concepts. They're always going to be different because they're arrived at differently.
BANANAFISH: A lot of memorization.
STEVE LOBDELL: Yeah. I'm not that kind of person. I don't learn well under those circumstances. I'm also lazy.
BANANAFISH: Didn't you have like an airplane hangar all to yourself in Germany?
STEVE LOBDELL: No, no. It's a fantastic place. It was on a beautiful country estate, an old farmhouse. I wouldn't write about that if I were you.
BANANAFISH: Okay. Are you willing to talk about the circumstance surrounding your return?
STEVE LOBDELL: Sure. I have nothing to hide. It was a really odd thing. Basically, I went crazy. I was crazy.
BANANAFISH: Hm. What was that like?
STEVE LOBDELL: It was a hindrance and also a big release. Throughout my life, I've held a lot of things back. I had a terrible disease and terrible body function due to depression. Some of it was due to loneliness. I was shitting blood. Did that for nine or ten days.
BANANAFISH: That would depress anybody.
STEVE LOBDELL: My body was in terrible condition in a foreign country, and I had nobody to bounce my ideas off of. The people I was around in Germany got to know me, for sure. It was strange for them. It was amazing to me that they accepted me. It happened during Ramadan, too, the Islamic holy month when you're supposed to fast, which was strange. I looked up in the sky and there were Venus and the moon in the same positions as they are on the Turkish flag. It really affected me quite a bit, that it was at that moment during Ramadan. I started communicating with things - spirits or whatever you want to call that stuff - and lost my ability to play the guitar for a moment in time. Everything seemed to be turning upside-down. I tried to play, but was physically unable to play the guitar. I tried to move my fingers into positions that I knew I could move them into and couldn't do it, so I smashed it. It was quite troubling, but I released a lot of energy. I felt not so much cleansed but purged.
BANANAFISH: Were you fasting?
STEVE LOBDELL: I had to for four days because I had to see a specialist who was going to view my hemorrhoids and colon with an endoscope. They couldn't find anything medically wrong with my digestive system. In fact, the doctor said I had the cleanest colon he had seen in years. It was a spiritual problem, I think. Emotional. Health as an emotional issue is neglected in Western medicine. All your body parts are divided up. Anyway, I'm still the same person I was before I flipped out, just a little different. I had to be shipped home right before these gigs I'd help Faust set up in Amsterdam. A German psychological hospital wouldn't have been the best place to convalesce. The night before I couldn't play I had this flash, I don't know what it was. It was just a flash about how to play the guitar. I've never been able to figure it out since then. I turned on the amplifier and no sound came out.
BANANAFISH: Did you think the condition would be permanent?
STEVE LOBDELL: The people who were around me feared that I would suffer permanent damage. I was in complete awe of all the events that had happened in such a short time and was really digging the wire I was riding. Luckily, Jean-Hervé Péron saw the potential for permanent psychological damage and organized my return to the U.S., though in a sense, I still carry some of the "madness" with me in my psyche and memory.
BANANAFISH: What happened at the airport?
STEVE LOBDELL: I was getting escorted back to the United States by my father, who was running around freaking out because his kid was out of this reality. I was in a lounge at Heathrow Airport in London and Davis Redford was paged. I thought, "Davis? Redford? Miles Davis and Robert Redford? that's the whole universe. The good, the bad, the soul, the soulless." Whatever opposites you want to come up with. To me, that's how it made sense. I thought I was him. I went up to the desk and said, "I'm Davis Redford." The woman there said, "How long do you want to live for?" I said, "Eighty-four years." She said, "Don't you want to live longer?" I said, "Okay, forever. I want to live infinitely." The next second, boarding for my flight was announced.
BANANAFISH: Why did she ask you that?
STEVE LOBDELL: I have no idea.
BANANAFISH: Was she wearing an airline uniform?
STEVE LOBDELL: I don't remember. She was a brunette in her 30s. English. That's all.
BANANAFISH: Why did you pick 84 years?
STEVE LOBDELL: Unity. I wanted the unity of the number three. Eight plus four equals twelve; one plus two equals three. Eighty-four years seems to be a long life, but I guess I picked the wrong number. My life is chaotic as ever.
BANANAFISH: She probably wanted you to pick 86.
STEVE LOBDELL: Could be. I never thought about it that way.
BANANAFISH: Had Davis Redford's name ever come up before?
STEVE LOBDELL: Never. One-time shot.
BANANAFISH: Tell me about the mystical path of the number 86.
STEVE LOBDELL: As a title for the Davis Redford LP, it comes from one of the cards of a Tarot deck that The Baseball Astrologer is developing. The mystical path of banishment, like when you're 86'd from a bar. It's a path that forces you out into solitude and chaos. The phrase has some resonance in my life. Numerologically, the digits in 86 add up to five.
BANANAFISH: I'm not sure I understand the significance.
STEVE LOBDELL: I don't understand numerology all that well, as it is a degraded form of "secret" knowledge handed down from unknown sources through time immemorial. I am a dabbler, though, as numbers do have a significance to the logic of Western music. Anyhow, the number five is considered by some to be the number in nature that is both ordered and chaotic. Our axis, for example, is 23 degrees from zero degrees north or south wobble. The digits in 23 add up to five. There are, depending on which cosmology you read, five basic elements in nature - earth, air, fire, water, and ether. Human beings have five sense organs.
BANANAFISH: Is there a way to tap into the power of numbers or is it more a way of observing things?
STEVE LOBDELL: Both. If you put all your energy into numbers, there is a power. It can probably lead to some hyperdimensional physics, which I am sure people explore. I try not to tap into this aspect of numbers. I am not interested in predicting or influencing the future. I do sometimes look at numbers as a way of being mindful of trends or as a way of composing music. Like I said, Western music is especially concerned with numbers, whether it's a 12-tone system of tuning or any other microtonal system. I get feelings about numbers from all sorts of music.
BANANAFISH: Like synaesthesia?
STEVE LOBDELL: I'm not that visual. I'm more of a mental person, though colors and numbers do have some influence on my playing. I'm just not very systematic about these elements, which is somewhat foolish, but I work with what I am capable of. A lot of my energy is placed in the mind, which is why crazy shit happens to me. Sometimes I try to focus on the throat or heart to flow the clogged mental energy to the rest of my system.
BANANAFISH: Do you practice yoga?
STEVE LOBDELL: No, I don't. I'm a lazy-ass. I have breathing strategies to put my energy in different places. I don't devote enough time to that side of my life because I'm still pretty young. I don't know if it will seem more attractive at an older age, but I still feel like I haven't lived enough to truly get into it. Playing guitar is my yoga. There's a certain mental calm I can feel when I play. I do that daily. Not every day, but at least an hour a day when I do it. I'd be a lot better if I played for three or four hours every day. I need to get my discipline together. I don't have the energy to devote myself to playing guitar seven days a week, though I am trying.
BANANAFISH: So what happened when you arrived back in the States?
STEVE LOBDELL: I went into a mental hospital.
BANANAFISH: For how long?
STEVE LOBDELL: A few weeks. I pretty much skated through. I was supposed to be there three or four months. When I came back, I was irate. I couldn't believe I came back. I felt like I should be in the ocean swimming. I wanted to be in the water. I did not want to be in some sterile environment. I couldn't believe that my family and friends would allow me to be left in such a place.
BANANAFISH: Were you there against your will?
STEVE LOBDELL: In a sense, yeah. I wasn't strapped down or anything. I was in a situation where I knew there was no choice. I doubt my parents could have dealt with me. They came and got me in Germany. They were afraid I was going to get on an airplane and cruise away. Who knows where I would have gone to? It's a weird position to be in, daily reality meaning nothing to you. Absolutely nothing. I wasn't too worried about it, either. That's where I was. It was bizarre. I don't really know how to describe it. Parts of it I know so well and don't want to describe because it was pretty personal. A part of me changed. I don't know what that means. I lost about 25 pounds in three weeks, which I'm sure played into my condition. I couldn't sleep. It's something I hope not to repeat, but you just can't tell.
BANANAFISH: What went on at the hospital?
STEVE LOBDELL: I was testing every little boundary. They had lines on the floor where we couldn't step and I was like, What the fuck is this? Of course, I can step over here. This dude was trying to do his job, calming down crazy people every day of the week. Legitimately, within society, I was out of my mind. He said I had to calm down and talk to Dr. Haldol, but I could make one wish. I said I wanted to play my guitar. He tricked me into taking this drug called Haldol, a major sedative. I woke up in a puddle of drool. That's when I got put in this observation tank. I didn't even know it at the time. I just woke up dead. I had been playing guitar in ways I never could have imagined and four days later I was laying in my own spittle in the middle of a mental hospital.
BANANAFISH: How long were you in observation?
STEVE LOBDELL: Most people stay in observation for three weeks. But I was in the hospital for a total of less than three weeks. Everyone was impressed with the speed of my recovery.
BANANAFISH: Did they let you play the guitar?
STEVE LOBDELL: Yeah, after about three days. It had to be kept behind the desk but I was allowed to play it for an hour or two every day.
BANANAFISH: Did they watch?
STEVE LOBDELL: Yes. They knew I'd already smashed one.
BANANAFISH: Were they interested in your ability?
STEVE LOBDELL: They could tell that I knew how to play it.
BANANAFISH: Did they take your skills as a sign of competence?
STEVE LOBDELL: Yes, of course, they did. It is quite a way to get lifted out of reality in the space of one week. To go from thinking you have unlocked some secret of playing guitar to smashing it the next day. Then, being transported across an ocean to a mental hospital a few blocks from the Nixon library. Crazy.
BANANAFISH: What were the other people there like?
STEVE LOBDELL: All kinds of people. Too many drugs, attempted suicides, general vagrancy. There was one guy from Laos who couldn't speak to anybody at all. He'd lost all meaning for existence. It was sobering to be around so many different people with problems that caused them to be unable to function. It's a tough call, what to do with people who cannot function within the edifice called society. I was extremely lucky that I wasn't in a place where the problems get to the level where they're solved with shock treatment. I suffered none of that. I still was with my thoughts, but a certain part of me, which might be Davis Redford, might be the key to the apocalypse for all I know.
BANANAFISH: Do you pay much attention to prophecies?
STEVE LOBDELL: Absolutely not. I try not to think about prophecies too much because thinking about them might make them that way. Human beings are always going to try to control one another, obviously. There is a hidden logic to numbers and languages, which, if you were able to identify it, may tell you when things are going in a dangerous direction, or a prosperous direction, or whatever. But I don't know if it's possible to make predictions consistently. For me, prophecies should be taken with a grain of salt, as the statements are not some discursive timeline of what will happen. Anything can happen and our existence on this planet is pretty fragile. I am somewhat mindful of the various potentialities of destruction that seem to be an underlying tone of prophetic messages. But in our ahistorical world, these statements are metaphors of whatever the future might unlock.
BANANAFISH: There was a reggae song about three sevens clashing. I wish I could remember more about it, but I seem to recall it being connected to a prophecy about July 7, 1977.
STEVE LOBDELL Seven has always been a significant number for me. I've always felt an affinity for it, more so than any of the other numbers between one and nine. Ever since I was a kid, I've been able to close my eyes and see weird waves and shit. Always a very intense energy up in my head, where I could feel it moving outside of me. I don't know if it's some form of telepathy that's going on or what. When I was young I could make coins disappear. I've never experienced astral projection, but I have experienced leaving my sleeping body and being aware of the separation. I guess that's why I've always had an interest in spiritualism. I feel that there is another part of me that I don't know anything about. I mean, I've never been interested in Aleister Crowley or the theosophists of the late 19th century such as Gurdjieff and Blavatsky. But on my return flight to America, a stewardess gave me a message addressed to 777 that told me not to look left or right, but keep going to the top of the stairs and all will be clear. Everyone else on the plane around me seemed like they were from a Slavic country and they were all wearing badges that read "Passion for Justice." There were also a lot of Orthodox Jewish men and people from Africa who all seemed connected. Throughout my life I haven't known too much about Christ one way or another, though I was born on Easter. Let's say, and this is really difficult to talk about, I have felt some connection with this figure. When this whole episode was happening, I fell into that sort of consciousness, the immanence one feels when reading the Gospels in a personal way. Hearing about this three sevens thing in relation to Davis Redford flips me out even more. All these sevens, all these things connecting definitely sent me over the edge. I don't know if I have received a warning, if I hit the cosmic jackpot, or if I've received some metaphysical tidbit I'm supposed to chew on. I don't know what the answer to all this is and probably never will. I did not talk about any of this stuff when I was in the hospital. It would have kept me there for a long, long time and I just wanted to be myself again.
BANANAFISH: What did you talk about? You were aware enough of what they probably wanted to hear, right?
STEVE LOBDELL: Mm-hm. I lied, for all intents and purposes. That's pretty much what I did. The second I was in there, I knew what that zone was about. That's why I was so upset, that I'd been brought to this place. The Mystical Path of the Number 86 is all about the cycle of going crazy. It was composed and recorded in 30 hours, pretty much. It's much more gentle than Sufi Mind Game.
BANANAFISH: How soon after you got back to Portland did you start playing with Douda?
STEVE LOBDELL: Immediately on the first day of my return. It was the first show with Josh playing theremin. I was still in contact with Douda while I was in Germany, which was part of the problem. I was living two separate realities: one in Portland and one in Germany, and I really was not in full contact with either.
BANANAFISH: How was the show the night you got back?
STEVE LOBDELL: It was great. I was fine. It was more melodic, with more grooves to it.
BANANAFISH: Have there been any unusual settings for Sufi Mind Game live shows?
STEVE LOBDELL: Not really.
BANANAFISH: Didn't you play at a health food store?
STEVE LOBDELL: That wasn't a Sufi Mind Game show. That was a Davis Redford show, which is a totally different thing. It was four hours of ambient music. I got to play organ for at least half an hour.
THE BASEBALL ASTROLOGER: It was jazzy.
STEVE LOBDELL: The most nontraditional show Sufi Mind Game ever played was very loud, and during our set a 20-foot metal man got erected, and then the next group started playing the 20-foot man. The name of the group is 20-Foot Man. It's Josh's band. It's made out of scrap metal welded together. It wasn't as developed then as it is now. It has batteries, lights and a third eye. They're going to be working with hydraulics soon. It rides around on a truck. Cognition can't be far away.
STEVE LOBDELL: I think it already has that.
THE BASEBALL ASTROLOGER: I just want to make one comment. It was not just "a health food store." It's one of the last remaining hippie/yuppie semi-health food co-ops that's still independent. I say that only to stress that it's not a corporate entity, with the criticism that they have acquired more and more vitamins over the years, which take pleasure away from good health and eating. The whole co-op movement has died in America. It seems nonexistent.
STEVE LOBDELL: Because it's cheaper at Safeway.
THE BASEBALL ASTROLOGER: They used to have co-ops in Oakland that started off as cheap sources of quality food, very community-oriented.
STEVE LOBDELL:Once they get a taste of modest prosperity, they grow and grow until the next thing you know there's a yuppie feeding frenzy in the designer lettuce section.
THE BASEBALL ASTROLOGER: You can see a mockup of co-ops in second-generation hippie kids emulating the lingo and having some contact with the ideals, but there's also a lot of disdain for the hippie mentality. I'm not saying this because I'm to the left politically, but anything other than Safeway seems positive.
STEVE LOBDELL:The Safeway near my house was just remodeled and it's like a space station on the moon. The vastness of it - The aisles are a quarter-mile long and everything shines.
THE BASEBALL ASTROLOGER: The worst thing about Safeway is that they own land and hire farmers to grow mediocre crops their way. There are a lot of Vietnamese farmers who have immigrated to America and who've brought their culture, vegetables and techniques with them. I just hope they don't get bought out by Safeway and start harvesting dead food. Bell peppers rinsed with pesticides.
BANANAFISH: Steven, what do you look for in music as an audience member?
STEVE LOBDELL: I haven't really been out to see live music in the last five years. When I see a band, I want the experience to change me somehow. I don't know if it's elitist of me to say so, but there are not a lot of bands in Portland that are trying to do anything I find remarkable. A lot of them are trying to please their friends who want to hear songs that they've heard before. That's what they get off on. There's definitely a ghetto for music that doesn't do that. The immediate needs, getting laid, drinking beer, it all goes together. Sufi Mind Game just doesn't fit into that. Rather than play at these shows, I'd rather just go to a basement every once in a while and record something.
It's either an uphill battle or a dead end, trying to get people to understand that you can have a good time listening to music that's freely improvised or has unusual structures or dissonance. Or is completely composed in ways that make no sense.
BANANAFISH: Yeah, either intently or as a backdrop to getting drunk and having sex.
STEVE LOBDELL: That's what most music is geared for. Not much of it challenges people.
BANANAFISH: Because they don't need or want it to challenge them.
STEVE LOBDELL: I don't like overusing the word "spiritual," but to me music is a spiritual art form. But it's naive to ignore that the industry affects it, too.
BANANAFISH: Tell me about your education.
STEVE LOBDELL: I graduated from college. I have a degree in religious studies and philosophy. It'd be difficult to do anything with it at this point. I never thought about going to grad school. Certain things about it intrigued me, but I just did not want to go. I did other things besides school when I was in college. I took some time off, didn't even graduate until I was 26 or 27.
BANANAFISH: And now you're a dishwasher. Didn't you say it was the best job you ever had?
STEVE LOBDELL: Not exactly. It's the best dishwashing job I've ever had. It's flexible, the employers treat me as a human being, which is something most employers don't do. The best job to have would be not working.
BANANAFISH: Independent wealth as a profession.
STEVE LOBDELL: It'd be nice making money all the time playing music, but that's all chance. Where's this line of questioning going?
BANANAFISH: I'm assuming you like dishwashing because it's work that does not tax your creativity.
STEVE LOBDELL: Oh, yeah. It doesn't make sense to get money through a high-powered job, even though there are huge pitfalls in being a dishwasher. I'm probably not going to get health insurance or benefits, but I'm not going to have to sell my soul, either. I don't have to give up my emotions. I can leave my emotional self at the door and just do my job.
BANANAFISH: So how about applying this same idea to being in a band? Could you do that?
STEVE LOBDELL: Up until this point, no. Is it interesting to me? Maybe. It seems like a weird thing to do. I'm not trying to force the issue, being successful through playing music. I would just like to build something so that when I released a record, people would listen to it. I'm not pushing at all. I'm in it for life and ultimately, it doesn't really matter.
BANANAFISH: Did you take any music classes?
STEVE LOBDELL: Not really. I had a few lessons when I first started playing when I was 14.
BANANAFISH: Scales and chord changes?
STEVE LOBDELL: Nah, I was a really bad guitarist. It wasn't until I stopped going to a guitar teacher and started figuring out stuff on my own that it made any sense. I went to a couple sax players for a while, just to learn about melody. In guitar education they teach you positions and I tend to think about harmonies, how they play against each other, and where I am melodically in the note structure. One of the reasons that I like Sufi Mind Game as a duo is because there are no harmonic restrictions.
BANANAFISH: You're controlling all the harmonics yourself.
STEVE LOBDELL: They're controlling me and the drums are feeding into it, too. Frequencies. A lot of bass players find it difficult to play with us because they want to find a repetitive structure to play along with us, and I don't tend to look at music that way. I think there's power in it, but I'm interested in a different source of power.
When we saw Fushitsusha, it kind of gave me a bizarre, syrupy, intoxicated feeling. It made me feel slow and sleepy, but not because it was quiet and soothing at all. In fact, it was fast and loud most of the time. I kind of felt dizzy. I had to sit down and shut my eyes. After awhile I opened my eyes and LaMonte was at the next table doing the same thing. Anyway, it wasn't just Haino Keiji and two guys. They were his equals in every way.
I would want the same kind of relationship with people I was playing with. The first thing I learned on guitar was how to get feedback. When I went to lessons, it didn't make any sense. I never learned how to play along with songs, which might explain how I can figure them out so quickly now. I'm not really listening for the rules; I'm listening for where it's going to go. I mean, I understand some musical rules. Over time, I've come to understand some of the basic principles of the 12-tone system, but I don't think microtonally. I use them sometimes but I don't think about them.
BANANAFISH: Have you ever felt like setting the guitar down and leaving in disgust?
STEVE LOBDELL: Yeah, sure. I've never actually done it, though. I wasn't being true to myself. I don't want to sound pompous, but that's been my take on certain stuff. I've wanted to walk over to some players, put my hands over theirs and say, "Stop. Don't play. Go figure out something else to do. Go learn how to listen to somebody else when they're playing." I mean, even if you're playing basic rock'n'roll, you have to listen. Some people are so into what they're doing that they don't even pay attention. To me that's very sad.
I've seen bands where it's customary for everyone to switch instruments, and after seeing them a couple times, I notice that there's always one guy, no matter what instrument he's playing, he's always the loudest.
I'm one of those people. I don't play on top of everyone all the time, but if there is one stylistic thing I need to work on, that's it. If I said I didn't like the volume knob, I'd be lying. I almost want to start playing acoustic music. Piano.
BANANAFISH: Do you have any interest in UFOs?
STEVE LOBDELL: That's a much ballyhooed line of discussion.
BANANAFISH: Yeah, it's overdone as a topic.
STEVE LOBDELL: I never spent much time thinking about UFOs. Who knows what a UFO is? Whether there's any validity to experiences I've had, I have no idea.
BANANAFISH: What sort of experiences?
STEVE LOBDELL: Just communications. You know.
BANANAFISH: Actually, I don't know,
STEVE LOBDELL: Feelings in my head. Looking up in the sky and seeing what I think is a UFO.
STEVE LOBDELL: The Netherlands. I've seen a couple around here. It could have been a consciousness from somewhere else. It could have been an illusion. I definitely saw something in the sky and for sure it communicated. What that means I have no idea.
BANANAFISH: We may never encounter another form of life in the cosmos.
STEVE LOBDELL: Or it all could be a facade that has been going on for years. There are all these popular UFO events like Roswell that could have happened or could be deliberately manufactured myths. But to me the real question is what kind of consciousness would arise when an atom bomb is exploded? Does a hydrogen atom have consciousness? And if you break that atom into subatomic particles, does another sort of consciousness come into play? Remember, the influx of UFO sightings really started to manifest after human beings started playing with the nature of atoms. I'm not entirely convinced of the Darwinian theory of evolution that human beings mutated from apes over some 50,000 or 60,000 years. It is an interesting theory, as is The Big Bang, as is Genesis, but none of these thoroughly explain our existence in the present. To speculate further, what we call UFOs could have been genetically engineering our existence all along. The earth could be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else. With all the legends of fairies, gods, supposed cities on Mars and the moon, all these phenomena could be related. It would be easy for a few agencies within the world to cover up its reality, which could also be part of the myth itself. The earth could also be a jail. We are pretty far away from the center of the galaxy. Or a purgatory, souls waiting for judgment of some sort. Or we could be free souls in the Garden of Eden. Obviously, we do live in some sort of fractured existence. Our basic dualistic reality is problematic. But to try to figure out all of these cause-and-effect relationships will drive you crazy. It is enough to feel real in the first place, if we're even real at all.
BANANAFISH: But we'll never know.
STEVE LOBDELL:In this time and space, I would not think so. If there are people out there who know, I doubt they'd talk about it.
BANANAFISH: Why would they? People would want proof.
STEVE LOBDELL:That's a great problem with our sciences in many ways. Everything has to be based on proof, and not much of science, at least in its presentation, seems to involve intuition or search. Though I am not a scientist, its main form of power seems to be control of truth and knowledge, which makes people feel powerless.
BANANAFISH: You mentioned that you're going to put the sounds of trains on a Davis Redford Triad album.
STEVE LOBDELL:The next one, yeah. The Mystical Path of the Number 86 was already recorded in a barn before I lived at my new house, where the sounds of the trains are incredible. When there's no automobile traffic around, they come through really clear. The trains make me feel like I'm going away. They take me away. I've liked trains since I was a kid. I don't know anything about them. I just like hearing them. The bells are calming. It's intense to stand next to a train as it goes by. I don't know if you've ever spent much time standing next to moving trains.
BANANAFISH: My share.
STEVE LOBDELL:On the track with the train right next to you, it's a terribly violent sound.
BANANAFISH: When the wheels cross that crease between two rails joining?
STEVE LOBDELL:It's a great sound.
BANANAFISH: It's mesmerizing. I sometimes think about jumping under the train.
STEVE LOBDELL: I never think about that.
BANANAFISH: And getting out the other side before the next set of wheels comes by.
STEVE LOBDELL: No way.
BANANAFISH: Who was it who saw the numbers illuminated on the side of the train?
STEVE LOBDELL: That was the Baseball Astrologer. He saw an engine car rolling on the track by itself, with the illuminated number 8655, which he interpreted as an abundance (number 55 hexagram of the I Ching) of 86. A couple minutes later he came to my house where I was having a discussion with a landlord who was creating a lot of 86 at the time. The Baseball Astrologer tried to explain the significance of the illuminated engine car to the landlord, but this was a person who was too out of it to be properly illuminated by this synchronous event. Have you seen a boxcar unloader in action? Now there's an intense machine. It goes over the train and lifts up the boxcars from the top. It's monstrous. The wheels have to be 10 or 12 feet tall, but I don't think you could build pyramids with it.
BANANAFISH: Is the David Redford Triad a trio?
STEVE LOBDELL: No. Triads are what a group of Chinese gangsters are. Also a triad is three notes grouped into a chord. Once it's in a fully functioning state, it will never be the same line up. At the present time, it is a trio, but the bass player and the drummer (Matthew Freid and Jeffrey Helwig, respectively) also play other instruments, so none is limited to playing one instrument. I hope to have it evolve into a larger ensemble with an organist, an electronic percussionist and a horn player, but you never can tell. Right now we're in the Cream stage.
BANANAFISH: You mean it's bluesy?
STEVE LOBDELL:Yeah, it's more - I don't want to use the word 'traditional', but there are more calling cards in the music. You'll hear motifs and themes, but where they go will be different every time we play. That's how I want it to be, anyway. I guess it's like jazz and ragas, too, as far as the head space is concerned, as opposed to just playing the same tunes.
BANANAFISH: A lot of improv, then?
STEVE LOBDELL: Completely. Even the themes will be improvised. I try not to play the same thing every time I play. I don't make any judgments about anyone else's musical trip, because some bands that do play the same things over and over are great. I've been playing the theme to "Solar Aquarius" for about three years now, but I could listen to a version played three years ago, a version played two years ago and a version played two weeks ago, and they'd all be different. I don't want to come across sounding like music has to be a certain way, but for me to play it, it does. It probably is self-indulgent to a certain degree, but if I had to represent that for other people, I'd rather they not hear the same thing over and over. It's a gyp to me and a gyp to them. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter.Various, " ", Bananafish 1999