Dave Schramm – Somehow A Spiritual Thing
ND: What’s currently making the rounds on your car or home stereo? Any records that have remained dear good friends for an extended period of time?
DS: I always like to read other people’s answers to this question, but I hate answering it because so much gets left unsaid by definition. Anyway — [I’m] currently listening to Beefheart’s Safe As Milk and Trout Mask Replica a lot, along with Richard Buckner’s Devotion & Doubt and Since. Sorry, I know I [played] on the last one, but I really love that record. I have too many albums that are dear good friends to list any of ’em here, but I’ll just say that yesterday I played [Miles Davis’] In A Silent Way, [the Stones’] Their Satanic Majesties Request, and Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
ND: What was it like to work with Richard Buckner on Since?
DS: Well, that was a blast, I must say. I was really into the songs and I’m a big fan of Rick’s. He had a real clear picture of where he wanted each song to go but wasn’t afraid of bouncing other ideas around. Working with J.D. [producer J.D. Foster] was great. I think we were on the same twisted wavelength right away. I liked it enough to ask him to produce the next Schramms album, which is where we’re at right now. Last weekend we cut a bunch of basic tracks and stray bits of song; I think we got some wonderful music on tape. [I’m] real excited about it, since we’ve never done a record with someone else producing. I guess we thought that was for wimps or something. Truth is, we never encountered anyone we thought was appropriate.
ND: So how did you and Buckner come to know one another and had you worked together previous to Since?
DS: I first heard of his music (and he mine, most likely) through my friend Dan Dow, who was the fellow who ran Okra records way back when. Dan saw Buckner in San Francisco a lot before he got the MCA deal, and he gave me a copy of Bloomed, which I loved. We met a few times, always talking about playing together in some way. Finally [it] worked out with Since, which was recorded here in New York. After that record came out we did a CMJ show at Bowery Ballroom with pretty much the same band as on the record, and that was fun.
ND: You’ve played on many other “solo” records with other musicians such as Freedy Johnston, or bands like Soul Asylum. Can you talk a bit about the constraints and/or freedom inherent on working with another artist?
DS: The sideman thing is all fun and games and no anxiety. I love it. But performing or recording my own stuff is like being in the middle of a maelstrom. Especially live. [It’s] much more intense, somehow a spiritual thing, so the rewards are greater when it all happens right. But there’s no perspective until after the fact. Working with someone else, my vision is clearer, perhaps, and everything’s more immediate.
ND: In the liner notes to Hammer And Nails, you say that the title song is a little bit about Townes Van Zandt and a little bit about a dear old friend. It’s rather a heartbreaking song. Did you know or ever meet Mr. Van Zandt?
DS: We did some shows with him in Europe at the end of ’96, just before he passed away. That was the first time I’d met him, though I was always a fan. I think we talked about the Rolling Stones and donkey farms and nothing at all, really. I liked him straight off; regular guy and all. But seeing the godawful situation he was in physically, it really made an impression on me; spurred me to write about it, however ill-informed I may have been. And it wasn’t until the passing of a close friend soon after this that a more personal sorrow found its way into the song.
III. A SONG-CENTERED APPROACH TO THINGS
ND: You’ve covered Lucinda Williams’ “Side Of The Road” (from her 1988 self-titled album). What made you choose to cover it?
DS: It was my favorite song for awhile after I heard it. Life would suck if your favorite song was always the same every day. One day I realized we could play it and it might mean something. A cover isn’t worth playing unless you bring something new to it. And happily, Lucinda liked our take on it.
ND: Do you note a difference in the way women — Emily Dickinson, Lucinda Williams, Georgia Hubley, whomever you might admire — and men write? If so, what do you notice?
DS: I do admire all of the above. I’m sure there’s a difference, but I’ll be damned if I’ll attempt to articulate it. I’m just happy for it.
ND: Do you find yourself working more slowly to write songs than you did at one time?
DS: No. But I do go through writer’s block quite a lot. Even when I’m writing everyday, sometimes nothing comes of it and that’s frightening.
ND: Are you most often writing from your own point of view, or are you inhabiting what might be by burrowing into the narrative?
DS: Most often from myself and my experiences, but there are exceptions — “If I Were”, “Sorrow On Sorrow”, things like that.
ND: Your words are quite powerful, so on your solo stuff, I think there’s perhaps a tendency to have them overshadow your playing, but you do have a couple of brilliant little instrumentals on Hammer And Nails. When did you start playing guitar, and how has your style and relationship to the instrument changed over the years?
DS: My eldest sister’s surfer boyfriend gave me his old Kay guitar when I was eleven, and I went and learned “Norwegian Wood” right off. Early on I always used to love playing rhythm more than lead. Maybe that shows a song-centered approach to things; I hope so. And sure, I love playing lead guitar. It’s another way of singing, really. Sometimes my soloing is a war against structure. Sometimes I try and define things. But I still love just banging out the chords.
ND: On the inside sleeve of Hammer And Nails, there’s one of those groovy square photos of a boy playing a guitar with a peace sticker. Is that you? What can you tell me about the picture?
DS: It’s me. It’s my living room, 1969. I was probably figuring out “Child Of The Moon” or something.