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Sunday, 25 August 2019

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Celebral Corps

Three years on, we wanted to refresh I Don't Hear A Single a little. Music sites evolve, so it was now an opportunity, particularly with some down time whilst I set up the IDHAS bases for future developments, which you will hear more of in future months. There was also some outside influences, the Power Pop outside nonsense, the wish to make IDHAS a bit more varied, more in touch with what I listen to as a whole.

There was also a conversation with Steve Coulter of The Brothers Steve about how music of the past two or three decades was largely missing from the internet. Initially, we were going to set up some other site to cover this, but I felt that, with so much going on on I Don't Hear A Singlet that we'd incorporate some of that here. The focus here won't really change, it will still be about celebrating the new and under appreciated.

However, through the occasional mix of Archive Interviews and Articles and new pieces, I felt we could utilise the likes of Mick and I to cover the past and still concentrate largely on the future. So here we revisit an old splendid interview of Mick's with Jeff Salzman of the wonderful Celebral Corps. It is a fine read and a chance for you all to revisit one of the most underrated bands of all time. So over to Mick, who has revisited his original Interview tape to present this joy.

Pre-internet it was a total hit and miss thing trying to interview musicians from across the pond. All you could generally do is send a letter with your request and all your questions and thoughts to the record company and hope that they passed it on and that the artist would be up for it. For this, the weeks turned into months and a year or so later, one morning out of the blue I got a call from Jeff apologising for the inexcusably long wait. He said that the interview was done and dusted and on its way. A week later, a tape arrived in the post. I’ve got to say now that this interview has always been one of my all time favorites. Not just because Jeff, instead of just plonking himself down in front of a tape recorder as most people would do, decides instead to do the whole thing in his home studio. He added sound effects, slipping in rare tracks like Pam’s Purple Spirograph and Sweet Bonny Brown and generally made it more like a slightly crazed radio show,

He’s such a complete sweetheart. Self-effacing, witty, warm clever and honest in his replies throughout, the whole tape is a joy to listen to from start to finish. Besides what gets transcribed below, there are lots of asides to me, lots of funny bits, lots of sweet self-depreciation said with a smile. By the end of the tape I wished that he lived next door, not two thousand miles away and that I could be his friend. So enough of my reminiscing here is the true story of Cerebral Corps in the voice of the man himself.

"I probably got interested in playing music when I was around sixteen and I decided to help my social life, especially as far as girls went, by learning about music. I start playing the guitar with a group of friends who had similar concerns about their sexual well-being. We started a punk band, called The Dischords we played some originals and a lot of music from England, we liked The Clash and The Jam and Buzzcocks (I still like Buzzcocks a lot). I’m kinda proud about that because a lot of friends my age who had bands at that time have real embarrassing setlists like Journey and Foghat

So at least I think I started out on the right foot. I started working at record stores and everything sort of collapsed after that, I didn’t pay attention at school, or to my parents or anything, it was just guitar music and more guitar music. So it’s a pretty typical story. I wouldn’t say I became a music buff as such, I just knew about the music I liked. I soon became a big fan of ELO, which I think is pretty obvious.

When I was eighteen I started doing four-track demos of my own songs. I think I was working very well with the limitations that I had, especially since I knew absolutely nothing about recording. I’d never been that prolific at writing songs, recording is probably the main reason that I did music. I usually wrote songs because I wanted to record something and you can only do cover songs for so long.

It’s always more fun recording your own songs, but it’s always been something that facilitated recording. Recording was really just a hobby for me, so the songwriting was just a symptom of that. There’s lots of stuff in the archives from this period, most of it is pretty pedestrian four track experiments, like what somebody might do if they were naive and had crummy equipment. There’s some cool stuff, I’ll have to dig it out sometime.

To truly understand the genesis of Cerebral Corps, we have to start at Pam’s Purple Spyrograph, which was my very first Cerebral Corps recording and it was done on a lark. I was trying to be as overtly sixties psychedelic as I possibly could. I think I was listening to Plasticland at the time, I liked them a lot, even though they weren’t British, they were pretty close."

"A friend of mine, who was a music director at a local college radio station heard Pam’s Purple Spyrograph and begged me to let him play it and surprisingly it got really heavy airplay. I was shocked. I guess that it’s just such a weird song and it sounded so different from everything else on the air, this was like the REM era of college radio. It was kind of a hit and that sort of started Cerebral Corps, because people wanted to hear more and more.

Through all this college radio play, I got voted as one of the bands people wanted to see play the Bay Area Talented Showcase. Trouble was I didn’t have a band, it was just me. They called me and said would I be in this showcase which was going to highlight all these unsigned bands and its going to be this big show and this big benefit for all the stations. I said…yes sure…I was so taken aback and after I’d hung up the phone I thought, you idiot how am I gonna do this?

So luckily just through playing guitar and stuff, I had some friends who where willing to help me out.  I just went around and asked these guys one by one and I sort of put a band together that way. So it was a real hodgepodge stylistically. The lead guitarist was into heavy metal and the drummer was into seventies stuff like Foghat and the bass player was Bob Vickers who became like my collaborator for a while. So the band played some shows before the showcase and they were all disastrous or so I thought.

People, though, came up to me afterwards and said they thought we were really great and there were always lots of people there. One show was so bad that I actually ran off the stage.  So that was basically the end of the live band. The band got so pissed at me about doing that they said they just didn’t want to play with me anymore, if I wasn’t going to hang out on stage. I couldn’t really see their point (laughs) well maybe that was a problem. Playing live was such a strenuous thing that I got physically ill. I was in hospital for three weeks after with a stomach condition. It was really nerve wracking."

"So then I put together the Oxide Sox tape and it was fun. I just borrowed a bunch of cassette decks from friends and piggybacked them and just did these big dubbing sessions all summer. I sold about 200 of them. I did them really cheap for $2.99, because my costs were very low so it was a real bargain for listeners. Oxide Soxs is mildly entertaining, there’s some really cool stuff on it. it is all four track and that has some charm.

So it would have been the end, because I just didn’t feel there was any point anymore. I enjoyed doing it, but I didn’t think a record label or anybody would be interested in me so why try? Right? Plus, I didn’t try and the people at Alias ended up buying the tape from somewhere, I didn’t send it to them, because I didn’t send it to any record labels. They liked it and they went after me, so it wasn’t my fault (laughs).

The album took a year and a half to record, but its not that it took that long because I was labouring over every chord.  I already had the songs laid out. I had most of them demoed too. The time consuming thing was just the fact that I was arrogant enough to think that I had come to a certain juncture with four tracking and I was really a hot shot at that. I thought I could buy 16 track equipment with the money for recording from the label.

To think that I could just like go from one to the other in this seamless step was dumb, because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I bought all this big equipment and everyone at the label was standing around waiting for something. I was here, trying to figure out how do you get signal up into the board? Honestly it was really difficult Those were some down in the dumps stages of my life there. I mean I’d come home crying and I’m not afraid to admit that.. But it came out and some of its good and some of its not as good."

"The songs come from all different dates, the oldest being Haemorrhaging which was from the late eighties to Sounding Song which I wrote as I was doing the record. Perihelion was a newer song too. I put a single out through Alias. The A side’s Perihelion and the B side is three songs that didn’t make the album, I recorded them after the record. I’m pretty proud of that, my seven year old nephew did the cover, he was pretty jazzed about that. I’m a big vinyl fan, its what I grew up on and its neat to look at the grooves and think-ooh that’s me in those grooves.

The reaction to the record was good, and I was really afraid of this, because I’m a very sensitive person and I don’t take well to rejection or people saying bad things about me. So when I finished the record, I vowed that I wasn’t going to look at any music press for like the next eight years (laughs). I didn’t want to even see reviews in case they were bad. I haven’t read many of them, but people tell me that they’re good. I have a hard time reading about myself. I did read one lukewarm review and it was kinda upsetting…I’m a baby.

I’m not a real confident person, I hate to say that I hide behind my recording equipment, but I probably do. But that’s my strength and playing live and being real visual about music isn’t really what I’m into. So I don’t have much confidence, but then again it takes a lot of gall to make a record by yourself. So in other ways I do have confidence, I don’t know…......."

You can read Mick's original article here.

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