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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 137 - 11/24/07

Of Of Ullages And Dottles
an interview with The Smell Of Incense

Of Ullages And Dottles, the third album by our Norwegian pets The Smell Of Incense, was released on the German September Gurls label this summer, in ...July, I think. At least it didn't reach the local shores until then. I had planned a review for the full moon towards the end of that moonth, but it wasn't finished until the next full moon of August. I had also planned an interview to accompany the review that didn't materialise until mid November. We didn't have any ordinary contenders for the retrospective speaker's corner in this moonth's menu, this is as close as you get. The music of the band has a certain flavour of the past, being inspired by British and American bands of 35-40 years ago. Along with the time span from the release of the album, four or five moonths ago by now, it might fit the retrospective bag, to some extent. The members of the band include Lumpy Davy (guitar, vocals etc.), Cool Kat (drums) and Han Solo (bass, keyboards, vocals) who started the band twentysomething years ago, later joined by Ernie Chung (guitars, other stringed instruments, vocals), Bumble B's (lead vocals, violin, viola) and Mickey Moog (keyboards, production).

We got Lumpy, main spokesman and ideological leader of the band, to answer some questions in the middle of the preparations for his and Bumble's annual turkey party. So Lumpy is our Speaker of the moonth.

Luna K.:Ok, let's start with the inevitable. Ten years passed from the release of your second album Through The Gates Of Deeper Slumber till Of Ullages And Dottles. What took you so long?

Lumpy: That second album was a costly one to produce. We realized that we would never be able to do a production on that scale again. So instead we purchased studio equipment in order to be able to record future albums by ourselves. It took a long while to acquire & even longer to learn to use the new hardware. - However, this was a productive period also. We wrote more & better songs than ever. When we put together Of Ullages..., we had enough material for a double album, but didn't want to release it as such. We have in fact saved the most challenging material for a future album. You just wait & see!

At this point band members were experiencing certain problems on a personal level. When you've been together for 21 years, a whole generation and 3 times longer that the Beatles, it is quite normal to experience a certain amount of life-cycle crisis that tend to slow down your creative juices. Let it suffice to say that we got through them all, more or less. Anyway, it has never been the aim of TSOI to make a lot of half-hearted records; if we leave this earth with five albums to be remembered after our time, that would be all we can hope for!

So we will not give you a date for our next album, but I promise, it will not take another 10 years.

Luna K.:How are you satisfied with the end result?

Lumpy: Very much so, indeed. There's something called "the difficult 3rd album". After the critically successful debut album and the even more highly praised 2nd album, we knew it would be hard to top this with a 3rd album, especially after the long span since the last one. On ...Deeper Slumber we had access to a dream of a studio & engineering crew that we could never hope to find again. As production goes, there was only one way to go with Of Ullages...: Back to a more primitive, home-made & more personal sound. We employed a 16 track analogue tape recorder for the basic tracks, and continued with two 8 track digital machines, doing the final finish on computer. The album has tape hiss, analogue noise and small mistakes in abundance that you'd never find on any modern, clinical rock production. Our keyboard player & producer Mickey Moog did a wonderful job with the material he had at hand. - Another important factor is the songs we picked for the album. They are simply the best we've written so far. And we have paid more attention to the arrangements of the songs & to small production details, which I hope will be appreciated by those who listen closely. The result is a more personal album than the two last ones. This is not an album that will blow your mind on the first spin, but one that hopefully will grow, and grow, and...

Luna K.:You've dug up lyrics by some well known and some, to me at least, unknown British and American poets this time. How did you find them, meaning both the relatively unknown poets and the specific poems?

Lumpy: You should have noticed by now that we are a heavily literary oriented band. We deal with literature just as much as we do music. Personally I am very much into fantasy & horror literature, which you can notice on ...Deeper Slumber. We have an extensive home library of British & American literature & poetry. We are constantly hunting for musical poems with the right attitude, that beg to be put into music. Sometimes those poems have to be slightly amended to fit the song structure. That's why we always print the poems just as they are written, not necessarily as we sing them. This time the poems range from the naïvely positive "Laughing Song" to the dark "Haunted Chamber". We had in mind to call this album Songs of Innocence and the next one Songs of Experience, but we dropped that idea when David Axelrod (of Electric Prunes fame) released his excellent album with that very title, only a couple of years ago. (Our debut album originally had the working title Curiouser & Curiouser, until the British band Red Chair Fadeaway got the same idea. This just goes to show that we're not completely alone, even in our small corner of the multiverse.) So if you buy the LP edition of the album, you'll get a collection of great, timeless poetry as an extra bonus. (Sorry CD buyers, this is purely for the vinyl freaks!)

Luna K.:Mervyn Peake is the most famous of the lyricists along with William Blake. I guess "Of Pygmies, Palms And Pirates" has nothing to do with Peake's famous Gormenghast trilogy...?

Lumpy: We have a fan & great friend in Canada, one Walter Orlowsky. He challenged us to do the ultimate album on the Gormenghast trilogy. And in fact we started on that project; we commissioned Dr. Brt Blaster to write lyrics based on the trilogy. Which he did. Han Solo put one of those lyrics, "Stones, Tradition", to music. I remember being impressed by his song, sounding like some dark, heavy Czar-/King Crimson-like dirge. Sadly the theme is lost in the void now.

The Gormenghast project made us dig up poems by Mervyn Peake himself. "Of Pygmies, Palms And Pirates" was lifted from a posthumous collection of humorous poems, titled A Book Of Nonsense. - And because the original Peake poem was so short, we incorporated a psychedelic poem by Dr. Brt Blaster into the song.

Luna K.:"Well In It" with lyrics by the eccentric Lady June is an old song of yours from the late 1970s and released on cassette by a band called The New Incredible Headcleaners in the early 1980s. That band included three members later to start The Smell Of Incense. Why did you want to re-record the song?

Lumpy: Because it's a great song! I wrote the basic chord progression sometime in 1976 & first performed it with Cool Kat, on a windy, barren island in the Skagerrak Sea in October that year. It didn't have any lyrics by then. I found the Lady June poem in an obscure psychedelic fanzine, on a trip to London a couple of years later. Her surrealistic story about a talking turd appealed to me immediately!

When we started up our little new-wave band The Headcleaners in 1979, this was the only psychedelic relic that we kept playing (because, like I said, the tune is just so good). I guess we just weren't good enough musicians to do the song justice by then. The recorded version for the cassette album Swingin' With The New Incredible Headcleaners was a total disaster (& the worst track on that album). This has been naggin' me ever since, so this was my chance to record the song properly. And of course we incorporated a couple of new themes into the song. - Judge the result for yourself. Personally I think it's among the stronger tracks on the new album.

Luna K.:It seems hard to put music to some of the lyrics you've used. How do you go about to write the music?

Lumpy: It often starts with a guitar or piano theme, but quite quickly we need a good lyric to develop the melody further. We work within a rather traditional 60s style song structure, employing verse, chorus & a middle eight. But instead of the normal verse-chorus-middle eight-verse-chorus sequence, we turn it all upside down. We make the verses a bit different from each other, maybe we have two middle-eight themes plus an instrumental break and perhaps ends the song in the middle of a verse. The result may sound rather complicated & challenging to follow, but it's really just the good old-fashioned art of songwriting craftsmanship in the tradition of the great songwriters like Ray Davies, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson or even Lennon/McCartney.

Luna K.:And the arrangements, are they developed by the entire band?

Lumpy: Mostly we write the songs (or parts of the songs) individually, the only exception being the side-long "A Floral Treasury" from the 2nd album. That number was the result of collective improvisation. The writer may have certain ideas about how the song should be arranged, but mostly the arrangements are an intuitive effort involving the whole band. That's the fun thing about writing songs; the excitement of never knowing which direction the song will take after the band gets hold of it. Often the result amazes the writer. This is our psychedelic approach to arrangements.

Luna K.:The music and arrangements on Of Ullages And Dottles seem to have developed further away from the bands from the 1960s and 70s you initially were inspired by. Was that a deliberate step?

Lumpy: All Mimsy Were The Borogoves, our first album, was a conscious effort to make a record that could have been released in 1968. On ...Deeper Slumber we found it natural to move a few years forward in time, towards the cross-line between late psych and early prog, say around 1971 (with the obvious exception of the techno theme in the middle of side 1). - With Of Ullages... we had no such conceptions at all. By now we have developed a distinctive sound that will be recognized as The Smell Of Incense sound, no matter what we do. This doesn't mean we have a clear plan of what we're going to sound like. More often than not we have tried to break away from that sound & do something completely different. Somewhere along the way, however, the road turns back on itself & we end up sounding like ourselves. So I guess we can like it or not, but this is us!

Luna K.:One detail I have to ask you about... There are some appropriate psychedelic sound effects towards the end of "Laughing Song". But what on earth are them Hare Krishna smurfs doing there? Just for laughs??

Lumpy: I'm glad you asked, as I'm rather proud of that sound collage, which is almost a song in itself. I started out trying to catch the typical slow, drawling Beatles - or rather John Lennon sound from around 1966 onwards. "Real Love" from the Anthology 2 album was my direct inspiration (one of the greatest Beatle songs ever). In that context it was natural to include the voices of the Four Fabs themselves (heavily disguised to avoid legal persecution). The Hare Krishna theme follows the words of George Harrison and is from the Goddess of Fortune album produced by George himself. The collage includes lots of other Beatle related stuff, like Tiny Tim, David Peel, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Luciano Berio (played backwards, sideways or in wrong speed). - And have you noticed that the chorus even includes John Lennon's choir of Tibetan monks from "I Am The Walrus", singing 'oompa, oompa, stick it up you jumper', while a female choir is singing 'got one, got one, everybody's got one' ...oomegod, I think I've said too much now, these are secrets that the listener should figure out by her- or himself...

Luna K.:I had no idea you were that heavily into the Fab Four...?

Lumpy: We aren't really, but as Paul McCartney often has said: The Beatles 'were a great little band'. And because of their unique popularity at the time, the release of Sgt. Pepper in particular had a huge impact on the psychedelic world. And let's just admit it, songs like "Walrus", "Strawberry Fields" & "Within You Without You" really do belong to the higher echelon of psychedelic song writing.

Luna K.:You've included more guest musicians this time and flutist Dag Lothar Kanestrøm and classical guitarist Egil Ødegård in particular seem to dominate parts of some of the songs. A coincidence or part of a well-designed plan?

Lumpy: Oh yes, well designed indeed! It's always a joy to involve creative guest musicians, as long as they make the music grow. Many songs on the album just beg for a concert flute, and Dag Lothar filled that part to perfection. - Egil and Bumble B have been playing Irish songs for pub audiences for years now, and he's become a good friend as well as being a very gifted classical guitar player. Myself, I was trying for a good year to teach me the art of classical guitar, until I had to realize it wasn't for me, being far too lost in the world of whimsical psychedelic guitar picking. When I wrote "Forlorn Sunsets" I was aiming for a sound like "Oh Well" by Fleetwood Mac, and when I needed a flamenco guitar player to give the song that Spanish desert feel, Egil was there to do the job, & what a great job he did, don't you think?

Luna K.:Well, he doesn't look like an ardent flamenco player, but he sure can play like one. Let's move on to another of the guests. I'd say Lars Pedersen (Holy Toy, When, Last James etc.) is the most well known of the guest musicians. How was he involved?

Lumpy: Lars has been a personal friend of the band for many years, and of Han Solo in particular. When he moved to our small town Arendal for a while (because of a girlfriend), it was only natural to involve him in the project. He is the most gifted & fast-working musician I know. He has our greatest respect. I hope it won't be the last time he's involved in what we're doing.

Luna K.:You haven't performed live a lot since your European tour way back in 1998. You played at the Burg Herzberg Festival in Germany in 1999 and I've heard rumours of a low profiled performance at the release party of the new album in August. What's the reason for the infrequently gigs? Was the tour in 1998 too much?

Lumpy: There are several obvious reasons. To be able to do a good performance on stage, you'll have to do frequent gigs. This has been impossible to do for two reasons: firstly, our lead guitar player & keyboard player both live in Oslo, while the rest of us are still living in Arendal, a small town on the south coast of Norway. In Oslo they are busy with numerous other musical projects + raising their young families. Secondly, there is not any interest locally to book the band for gigs. And if asked, we're expected to play for peanuts. - Another factor is the personal problems I mentioned. These last few years it's been hard enough to keep the band going at all. We simply haven't been good enough for gigs. When we started rehearsing in December last year, we hadn't rehearsed for more than a year!

Happily we are getting it all together by now. Our immediate aim is to put together a good live show by January 2008. And then who knows what'll happen? It all depends on interesting offers we may get. - The European Tour in 1998 was incredible in all ways. More primitive & low-financed than you can ever imagine, but incredibly great fun also! Sure, we'd love to be able to do something like that again, sometime before we lay us down to die. In fact, just the other day I was talking to Organ Morgan of the Norwegian psych-prog band Seid. And we both shared a dream of doing a tour together some day. Just give us a good offer & we'll consider it!

Luna K.:Last moonth a book was published about the early years of punk rock in Norway. One of the contenders for the first Norwegian punk single was a band called The Impotents that among others included Lumpy Davy and Cool Kat from The Smell Of Incense and steady helper Dr. Brt Blaster. Allegedly The Impotents released a cassette single in 1977 called "Sick On You". Can you tell something about the incident? Was the single really released?

Lumpy: That's a hilarious story if ever there was one. It goes like this: In 1976 to 77 Dr. Brt Blaster & I went on a 7 months pilgrim trip to India, to fulfil our adolescent hippie dreams & perchance attain some spiritual enlightenment along the way. Be that as it may, spring 1977 we were on our way home (on foot mind you), loaded with sitars & exotic string instruments that really ought to shake the psychedelic world back home. As we were nearing homely shores, we began to hear ugly rumours of a new musical trend called punk that swept over Europe, ruining the market for nice little hippie combos like ours. - Well, we were young & adaptable in those days; after less than 2 months back home we had started a punk outfit called The Impotents and had released the punk single "I Wanna Be Sick On You " on cassette! It was reviewed in the punk fanzine 666 as the first punk single in Norway! - And now to the last question: Was the single really released? Well, not really in the strict sense. We made a few copies to friends, among them Leonard Borgzinner who happened to be editor of 666. But it's still a good story!

Luna K.:In the 1990s you recorded cover versions of some well known and some lesser known songs from the psychedelic 1960s and progressive 1970s, such as "I'm Allergic To Flowers" (by Jefferson Handkerchief), "The Smell Of Incense" (The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band), "A Visit With Ashiya" (Merrel Fankhauser's HMS Bounty), "If Not This Time" (Fifty Foot Hose), "What Do You Want?"/"Magick Brother" (Gong). There have been rumours of an entire album of cover versions for several years. Will this ever materialise?

Lumpy: Yesss, indeed it will. We are working on it right now! It'll be titled The Smell Of Incense Plays The Psychedelic Unknowns (this being the early name of the band). We have a large, and I mean large, back catalogue of obscure & not so obscure acid punk & psych songs from the 60s. Some of those songs are no longer as obscure as they were when we found them, but we'll still do some great versions that ought to thrill the fans.

Luna K.:And what about an entire album of Kinks covers?

Lumpy: You know, in the early days of the band we had rehearsals (with lots of booze) when we did nothing but wallow through the whole Kinks catalogue. So I guess we could easily have made an entire album of Kinks covers. But we would never do that! For one thing, we never touch cover songs that are too familiar, because most people have really fixed ideas of how those songs should sound. We did a remake of "Fancy" on our 1st album, because we wanted to build on the vague eastern feel of that song and push it further into the territory of full-blown raga rock. And we do a version of "All Night Stand" in our present set, because it was just a demo song that The Kinks never performed as a full band production. That song may turn up on the cover album, but most probably it won't.

Luna K.:Any other plans for the future, being it live or in the studio?

Lumpy: As said already, we work on the next studio album parallel with the cover album. And we will get a good stage show going pretty soon. I will not talk about future plans in more concrete terms, be that future albums or live shows. The time of great plans is past, there is only the great now, and what happens will happen!

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