Interview: Moog Cookbook, Pt. 1: Brian Kehew
The Moog Cookbook (album)

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This week at Kittysneezes, we’re running two interviews with two really cool people from one really cool band. The band is one I’ve been into since the first record, the Moog Cookbook. If you haven’t heard them, they do covers of songs using only analog synthesizers, like the Moog records of the 1960s and 1970s. They’ve recently released a rarities compilation, Bartell, and their version of “Novocaine For The Soul” was just re-issued on the new Eels rarities compilation, Useless Trinkets (the cut’s also available on the aforementioned Bartell). The first interview is with Uli Nomi, better known as Brian Kehew, who, outside of the Moog Cookbook, is a music producer, engineer and mixer, touring keyboardist for acts including The Who, Air, and Dave Davies of the Kinks, a consultant for music equipment manufacturers, and perhaps the biggest, has written with Kevin Ryan Recording the Beatles, the definitive book on how the Beatles recorded their albums. Of course, we didn’t talk about any of that — just the Moog Cookbook.

And, just so you know, throughout editing this article, I’ve had their version of “Buddy Holly” from the first recordstuck in my head.

Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

Brian Kehew: “Eldorado” by ELO. Not a big hit for them, but an incredible song. I played it for a friend recently who had never heard it. At first listen, he said “it’s a total masterpiece!” It is, get it, listen to it!

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

Brian Kehew: Rasputina. Bach-meets-Monty Python genius levels of work.

What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?

Brian Kehew: I have a framed 1967 Moog catalog – the year before Switched-On Bach. I have a huge collection of Moog paperwork, hundreds of pages. This is my favorite – it LOOKS beautiful and is the first time they used photos in their catalogs.

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Brian Kehew: I have a plaster bust of Korla Pandit in my hallway – look him up on YouTube.

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

Brian Kehew: Ye Olde Space Band – even over our Beatles book (Recording The Beatles) which is impressive. But Roger and I had such fun together, the music is real good, the project was always done for the right reasons, with good results.

Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?

Brian Kehew: A punk band we all love, called Rebel Rebel.

What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?

Brian Kehew: There Will Be Blood. It’s great. (That’s it – I never see films.)

What’re your top three movies?

Brian Kehew: A Clockwork Orange; 2001; Blade Runner.

Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?

Brian Kehew: John Luke Eastman, a psychedelic artist from late 60s/early 70s. Very similar to Peter Max but more art deco/psychedelic.

What is your favorite game?

Brian Kehew: Frisbee golf.

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

Brian Kehew: Ones with sugar in them.

If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?

Brian Kehew: Remain in Light is unbelievable. Or “what happened to yer hair?”

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

Brian Kehew: I don’t have TV service. No time for TV.

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

Brian Kehew: Four: America the Beautiful – Moon Zappa; The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff; Recording the Beatles – Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan; Vintage Synthesizers – Mark Vail.

What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?

Brian Kehew: Stuck on a 10-hour flight, broken headphone jack (no audio for the movies), broken overhead light (no reading), no computer or iPod. Nothing to do in a seat for ten hours!

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

Brian Kehew: “Anything in the World”

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

Brian Kehew: Guns don’t kill people, cats kill people.

What is your favorite meal?

Brian Kehew: Anything at the Rainbow Bar and Grille.

What is reality?

Brian Kehew: I’ve seen it from the outside. Mostly inside though.

Part the Second

I got into Neil Young’s great Trans record because of you guys — so how did YOU get into Trans?

Brian Kehew: I worked at a record store when it came out. He now plays some of those songs without electronics so people can hear how GOOD they are; “Transformer Man” is so sad and beautiful. I think I showed Roger the live video that came out, In Berlin, which is incredible that they tried it live! Vocoders and all.

If someone were to jump into the world of the analog synthesizer, what do you think would be a good one?

Brian Kehew: Octave Cat or Moog Opus 3. Simple, but basically good tone. Then, you get a few more options than the minimal. BASIC good sound is what you need, or you won’t wanna keep it around. But once you’ve had a synth for a while, you need it to be more than just a “one sound” box.

What do you think of the analog-modelling synths like the Nord?

Brian Kehew: Ok but boring. ALL analog is not good, and I love some digital synths. But not most analog modeling. That’s just as dumb as trying to do pianos and horns on analog synths.

On the Moog Cookbook records, it looked like most or all of the synths were keyboard-controlled; do you have any experience with the non-keyboard synths, like the Buchla Boxes?

Brian Kehew: We did some stuff with Steiner Master Touch (a great idea) which uses a rubber hose and touch pad for CV control. I used to use Buchlas in college. But if you’re a musician with technique… technique is AS powerful as a good sound. I wish guitar synths worked bettter, because I’m much better on guitar – that’s why the Buchla system is so limited. Your technique can only be in sound, not physical expression. It’s one reason Bob Moog succeeded more – he gave musicians what they wanted. They could always use alternate CV sources besides an organ keyboard, and he gave them that too.

Whose idea was it to not speak during the original live shows, even without the helmets?

Brian Kehew: Our boss.

What is the guitar on “Are You Going To Go My Way” on the live DVD played through?

Brian Kehew: Ah – that’s not a guitar – a synth, controlled by a gutar controller. A Roland GR700 synthesizer guitar which is really a JX3-P inside. No guitar sound at all!

Where did the title “Bartell” come from for the new rarities compilation?

Brian Kehew: We know a guy – who is famous among people who know him. Bill Bartell. We laughed at calling our album “Bartell” (it’s nicely vague), Most people don’t follow through on “inside jokes” but we did. We have heard of a few people who fell down laughing in record stores when they saw it – they know him and immediately got the joke. Mr. Bartell himself is kinda shocked by it, not sure what to make of it.

Are there any other Moog Cookbook projects in the works?

Brian Kehew: No.

Is the Moog Cookbook dead, or is it just that nothing’s immediately on the horizon?

Brian Kehew: Ha – well actually, dead BUT we are playing together for the first time in a decade or so. At a friend wedding, very special friends. But we won’t use synths or space suits.

Were there any songs that you wanted to cover for any of the albums that you couldn’t, either because of rights issues or just not being able to get an arrangement to “work”?

Brian Kehew: Many, but none for clearance reasons, mostly because they were vocally tied to lyrics and don’t work melodically. We tried Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”, Hole “Doll Parts”, Blue Oyster Cult “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Some others.

Do rights issues come in to play when recording a Moog Cookbook song?

Brian Kehew: No – if it’s been released, you can cover any song; just pay royalties.

What’s your all-time favorite Moog record?

Brian Kehew: Moog Tommy, from Australia. Just a drummer and a synth and some of the best music ever written. BUT – best synth record ever (non-Moog) is Wendy Carlos’ Beauty in the Beast.

In a live show, how much is pre-recorded?

Brian Kehew: Mostly drums and bass, We have four hands live and can cover many parts. Of, and effects are on tape usually – bobs or cats or whatever.

Was the doorbell in “Buddy Holly” a prop, or did it actually work?

Brian Kehew: Fake.

In the live show, what’s the long hose thing attached to one of the synths?

Brian Kehew: The Steiner “Master Touch” (see above) which is a controller that puts out CV (control voltages for your analog synths). It has one hose for blowing in (breath controller, like Yamaha did later), one closed tube to press or step on (we extended this with a surgical tube we could throw into the audience and let THEM play the synth sweeps. Finally, it has a touch pad for your finger. There’s also a lowpass filter inside you can run things through and control with these things. REALLY a cool box, and any instrument could use it.

Do you have a favorite synth?

Brian Kehew: I think if I had to have one – it would be Alesis Andromeda. It doesn’t do everything (and people bitch a lot about it not matching old synths, but it’s damn close AND NONE of them can get close to what it can do!

What makes the Alesis Andromeda such a great synth?

Brian Kehew: It is basically what a modular synth does, tons of sound control things – but polyphonic and programmable. I really know how to program synths, so on most keyboards I get bored by the limitations they have. On the A6 – there is SO much I never even get around to using. Whatever you can imagine – like having the sequencer step on each keypress, and the sequence value controls the sustain level. Or having the inverse of velocity control the speed of the third LFO – which is modulating the second filter resonance! If you know what you’re doing….

Have you gotten much into the circuit-bending scene?

Brian Kehew: We used modified Speak N Read for some of our stuff on the second album. We have tweaked gear all over, but not the typical “Buy a radio and circuit bend it” but mods are not uncommon.

How did the “Black Hole Sun” video come about?

Brian Kehew: The record company gave us a budget of $1000 to make a video. That’s stupidly low. We got basically a student filmmaker who did a lot with no money. We got to use Hans Zimmer‘s studio with that huge Moog modular and Mutato‘s (DEVO) studio front, which helped a lot.

Is there anything you’d like to mention?

Brian Kehew: I found out it’s better to have a few instruments. You can focus and work better, unless you’re just a collector – which I don’t like much. Mechanics have a lot of tools, but nobody calls them “tool collectors” because they USE them. Roger and I sold off almost everything we don’t use.

And… “Mellotrons rule”.

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