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Comets On Fire - Interview

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 4 / 4 / 2005

Comets On Fire - Interview


Santa Cruz psychedelic rockers Comets on Fire recently toured Europe. Dominic Simpson talks to guitarist Ethan Miller about playing with with Julian Cope, and the band's recent British appearances

From San Francisco (by way of Santa Cruz), Comets On Fire play the kind of cosmic, overdriven cranked-up intense psychedelic rock that bludgeons it’s audience into such derangement that some onlookers are reduced quite literally to mere slobbering orang-utans. Their epic, drawn out acid-rock jams, replete with an echoplex keyboard player, have drawn comparisons with "free-folk" nutter collectives like the Sunburned Hand of the Man (who once went by the brilliant title of Shit Spangled Banner) and "found sound" improvisatory weirdos Jackie O-Motherf**ker, as well as psychedelic droners Six Organs of Admittance – who, incidentally, feature Comets guitarist Ben Chasny. Both Comets on Fire and Six Organs of Admittance have drawn the attention of Julian Cope, whose gig in February at London's Royal Festival Hall featured Comets in support. After their set, Comets then completed the evening by doing a late set at the Dirty Water Club in Tuffnel Park (they also played the Garage the previous night). For reference, think of the MC5s 'Skunk (Sonically Speaking)'spanking Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” down a dark alley. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Comets on Fire guitarist Ethan Miller about both the Julian Cope and the Dirty Water Club gig. PB : You played a blinding gig at the Dirty Water Club, if I don’t mind saying, though you did look pretty exhausted. Due to the gig earlier in the evening with Julian Cope, the Dirty Water Club gig didn’t start until about 12:45 or so. I was surprised that you only played for an hour, though (the Dirty Water Club is very relaxed about how long it’s headlining bands play for – the Brian Jonestown Massacre once did a three hour set there). Do you usually play much longer sets, with the brevity of the Dirty Water Club gig simply being due to exhaustion? Or are your usual gigs kept to just one hour, with the band valuing a short, sharp set? EM : Usually we prefer shorter more high octane sets like that. We have never and probably would never play for three hours. We try to put everything we got into every moment of every song. That doesn't always mean that we can pull that off but when it's successful there ain't much left of the gear or ourselves after 40 minutes or so. PB : How was it playing with Julian Cope, and what was the man like himself? EM : Julian was a great guy. Very warm and kind. He is very enthusiastic and even though the press makes his eccentricity out to be a big show and a calculated act Julian is still a one of a kind. He has a great ability to focus on you, to care about what you say and to try to make the things he says to you have meaning to you. One gets the feeling that if you told Julian you had something very important to tell him that even if the house was on fire around you he would stop and look you right in the eye for as long as you needed. All that said, they are just my observations of the him from the few minutes we got to spend before and after the gig. It was a huge sold out-or near sold out show at the Royal Festival Hall and being as Julian is a big star there is really no alone time. A star's time is very important to everyone around them. My favourite Julian moment that night was after the gig he came out in the back stage hallway with his black leather cowboy hat on, his dark shades and a completely naked but for a white T-shirt wrapped around his loin like a diaper, and his chest was all cut up and bleeding from self-lacerations on stage. And he's on the cell phone to his wife checking in and telling her he loves her. It was very sweet. Who needs to be a crazy drug maniac when you are a family man? That is something greater than rock mythology. PB : Which has been your best gig of the recent European jaunt ? EM : Each of the band members had a different favourite I think, but Nottingham , Antwerp and the Dirty Water Club were definitely highlights. I got to meet J. Mascis at the Dirty Water Club who is a big hero of mine.   PB : Can you tell us something about Six Organs of Admittance? EM : Ben Chasny is an extraordinary character. He is an old friend of the Comets on Fire, a member of Comets, and a solo folk guitar artist. He is also a one of a kind artist. A prolific song writer. An acoustic guitar virtuoso. He has a new album out on Drag City called 'School of the Flower' that is amazing. He is a broke dick dog howling at the moon. This is all I can tell you about Six Organs of Admittance with any honesty. I am too close to the source to give proper untainted histories or anything other than drinking stories. Six Organs are definitely worth investigating. If you are a fan of honest and incredible music then there is definitely something wonderful in store for you in your investigations and wanderings into the Six Organs thing. Go to www.dragcity.com   and www.sixorgansofadmittance.com. PB : What made you decide to do the music that you do ? EM : Now we just do the kind of music that our entity as a band allows us to. Sometimes we decide we want to do a dub song or a blues song or a cover song and the way that we function won't allow us to---Ideas get funneled into the pipes and tubes where they will burn the brightest and run the engine at its greatest power, so things that just don't work just get sputtered out. So you can choose what you want to try and put in, or try and make the thing turn in a certain direction but with us if something is trying to be forced on the Comets on Fire monster it just comes to a halt and sits down and won't breath fire, won't pop a boner, won't eat, won't do dick. You got to give it a lot of room to do its own thing. It is not by a rational plan or pattern that we make the music that we do.   PB : Do Comets on Fire see themselves as related to the same scene as ‘free-folkers’ (a ludicrous term invented by 'The Wire') Sunburned Hand of the Man (who played a great gig at the London Spitz in December) or do you see yourself as a band that exists completely separately from any kind of scene(s) at all? EM : Comets On Fire certainly aren't free folk music. Though I kind of like the term and its implications.  The only way that we are folk music at all is that we are working class dudes making music to be enjoyed by regular folks. Comets on Fire is for the most part celebration music, good time party jams, music to come together over and in that sense it has an echo of folk music's depression era intentions---though now folk music is much more often a very solitary thing between the listener and the music---it is much more often alienated music. Definitely Chasny is a part of that "New Weird America" or "Free Folk" scene to throw the press tags around freely. Our relationship to many of those characters has come through Ben Chasny's friendships and music kinship with those East coast folks. And many of them, especially Sun burned have become great friends to us and great characters in our musical and personal lives. We don't have a scene or belong to one but if we did it would probably be very scattered all over the map, and be bound for the most part by people who like to fool around and play a lot of grab ass and like to drink beer and play different types of music from each other. Though, no matter how much fun we have with Sun Burned or Growing or Kinski or Sunn 0))), or Wolf Eyes or any others, we don't have mythologies that are combining to such a degree that they are making a huge impact with and partly because of their union. I think that's what sort of defines a scene...at least outside of its geographical area. Most of us are known as more lone wolves. PB : Are there any artists that you like in particular and which you think Comets on Fire take their cue from, or do you think your music is unique from any immediate influences? EM : If you are a gigging band that listens to a lot of music and plays out it is impossible not to be influenced. To be influenced can be a beautiful thing. Wolf Eyes, Sunn 0)), Sun Burned, Burning Star Core, Six Organs, ----Creedence, Tony Joe White, Exuma, South American psyche bands like Luis Alberto Spinetta, Turkish guitarist Erkin Koray, Thin Lizzy, the Allmans, Crosby STills and Nash. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, incredible 60s/70s band Epitaph, Procol Harem, the Boss, the Meters, Lynard Skynard, Fleetwood Mac, Be Bop Deluxe, ----oh man, it goes on forever. If you've let it into your ears at some point it's probably made some sort of impact on your interpretation and will to create music, for better or for worse.   PB : What’s the band's favourite joke? EM : Man, I am really horrible at remembering jokes. though I can retain the essence of what I found funny. Utrillo, the Comets on Fire drummer is a total riot and is basically a gnarly comedian on tour that is constantly pulling some shit in the van. So he is great but Dave Attelles stand up CD, 'Skanks for the Memories', which is really gnarly, is even better. PB : Thank you.

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Comets On Fire - Interview

Comets On Fire - Interview

Comets On Fire - Interview

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