PG Six’s albums are filled with droning acid fueled folkcapes, blending two of Pat Gubler’s main musical interests, folk and avant-garde, into timeless beautiful songs. Think of a mix between Incredible String Band, John Fahey and Tony Conrad but different. Though he has only released two solo albums up to now, the debut ‘Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites’ and ‘The Well Of Memory’, and a couple cd-r’s with live recordings, Pat has long been a regular in the New York psych-folk scene since he, Helen Rush and Matt Valentine founded Tower Recordings, the enigmatic ever-changing collective of cosmic explorers, in the mid nineties.
I got interested in music through 2 of my older brothers. When my family moved to upstate New York when I was a kid, there was an old beat-up piano that the previous owners had left there. My brother Steve took up the task to get it up and running, doing whatever he could himself and having a tuner/technician do the rest. So, Steve showed me a few things on the piano and I used to sit and improvise, discovering things on my own. Eventually I took piano lessons. I had a brief stint playing the clarinet in school, but it didn't last. Also, one of my other brothers, Paul played guitar and I became interested as a teenager and started playing that too.
SUNY Purchase is a college in suburbs north of New York City. It's a little more arts-oriented that some of the other state universities, programs in Music, Dance, Film, Acting, etc. As well as the usual liberal arts majors.
It was a pretty interesting place. I made some lasting friendships there. I studied music composition--I can't say I was the most rigorous student, but I did learn a lot. As a young person, you're really looking for your niche. I was trying to find a way to put my different musical interests into one thing. It took me along time, I think, for it to jell. It certainly didn't happen in college, although the seed was already there.
Yes, I would say that those are two of the main styles that I wanted to work with and fuse into a single expression. I mean, plenty of people have worked along similar lines. I look for elements across different styles of music and experiment with ways in which they could possibly be combined. Maybe it's in an effort to try to find a sound or style that's my own. Since college I've been interested in the concept of "eclecticism". Basically, the freedom to present unlike elements or styles side-by-side. One of the most obvious examples of eclectic music could be John Zorn, where in his music, you can have a 20 second block of surf music, followed by a section of free-noise skronks, followed by quotes from film scores--that sort of thing. For myself, I've never been particularly interested in the idea of alternating blocks of musical styles, but in a similar way, I can see how you can put together country-rock influenced guitar with medieval recorders or electronics. I mean, I do see the humor in some of these combinations. But maybe I'm chasing after things that are beautiful in an unusual way.
I met Matt Valentine through another Purchase student--Marc Wolf. Marc was a guitar student who also played music with Matt and eventually I played with both of them. We had a band called Memphis Luxure that was kind of the predecessor to Tower Recordings. Actually, for awhile they were both going at the same time, although Tower more in the background. Memphis was more aggressive musically than Tower. We released a couple of 7" singles in '94 and then it kind of fizzled out and Tower continued.
The name, "Tower Recordings" came from a place that Matt was subletting from a photographer who had used it as a gallery and studio. Hence the "Tower Gallery." It was in an industrial building that I heard was once a parachute factory. Anyway, I look back on that as a kind of magical creative time. I think I was a little burned out from being in school, and it was great for me to let loose, sometimes play instruments I didn't really know how to play, and just have fun. I think at its best, Tower has always had an usual combination of humor and strangely beautiful moments.
I have been working with Steve Connolly from Pothole Skinny for several years. He co-runs Perhaps Transparent which did the vinyl versions of my albums, and also those cd-r releases. Steve mixed most of the 'Well of Memory' & he plays bass guitar with me sometimes. Scott Freyer, of course was a Tower Recordings member from early on.
I also played on the Pothole Skinny full length, 'Time Shapes the Forest Lake' on one track.
And the last track of 'Our Vanishing Landscape'. That was recorded by an extended ensemble of Pothole Skinny where I and a few others joined in, at a outside concert at an arts space in Jersey City.
Well, the 'Norfolk Street All-Star Harmonica Choir' was really an impromptu audience participation piece that I did at a concert at Tonic in NYC. I was a little influenced by Roland Kirk who used to pass out noise-makers to audience members (kazoos, rattles, whistles, etc) at some performances. I had done a kazoo piece with audience members with Matt Valentine once. I was looking for a way to do a drone piece that I could control (in a general way) what pitches might be available. So, I had the idea to modify harmonicas so that only certain reeds would vibrate. I found a relatively cheap source for harmonicas and altered about 50 of them and passed them out to the audience for that performance. And the sound turned out to be very interesting. It was somewhat like a reed organ, but with the sound distributed throughout the room. It was really fun because the audience seemed to really get into it. The original performance is on that 'Live at Tonic' cd-r (Perhaps Transparent) On "Well of Memory" we edited it down and used some processing to make it work better to bridge 'Come in/Winter it is Past'.
Well, Tim is basically one of my favourite drummers playing today. He's a terrific musician--you feel so energized when you're playing with him. And he's always listening. Aside from that, he is just a great guy and fun to hang out with.
I do see songs in an organic way. They can have a multitude of variations and versions. I find it really enjoyable as a performer to figure out different ways to revisit a song, often taking liberties with the material right on the stage. Bringing an element of improvisation to the performance. I feel more free to do that if I'm playing solo and not springing it on someone I'm playing with. But it seems like you can learn something new about the song when you're not trying to play it by rote. It's exciting when it works. Sometimes, it doesn't quite pan out...
Oh well, you just have to keep going. Live performance is definitely not all magic moments. But it's worth taking a little risk.
Yes, that's definitely one of the reasons I've put out those live cd-rs. To present these sometimes very different versions of songs. I'm interested in investigating what is it that defines a song. Is it the same song if you change the underlying chord structure or accompaniment? Or play it in a different meter or tempo?
It may be that some versions of a song might seem more...definitive. Or maybe the identity of a song is more of a composite of it's myriad versions. (Ha! That's getting kinda abstract!)
I was reading Jimmy Webb's book on songwriting called "Tunesmith" and I was struck by a passage he wrote about traditional folk songs. "Those seamless masterpieces...have been worn smooth by millions of voices like pebbles in the bottom of a stream...No single human lives long enough to write a song in this way." So, he's talking about songs that develop even beyond the scope of one lifetime. And of course there are many variations and versions of the same folk song.
I think the only writers that probably come close to hearing their material in that way might be people that composed standards or showtunes in the 30s and 40s--songs that have been reinterpreted over and over. Or someone on the level of Bob Dylan. It's funny how sometimes the "covers" of his songs can sometimes seem more definitive than the originals. (Think of Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" for example--but Dylan's own version is a classic as well)
Yes, I think it's similar. Maybe my approach is less conceptual. But in a live performance I try to look at it like this: I have a collection of elements--lyrics, melodic lines, chord structures, and the existing versions of the songs I've worked up before. And those are a jumping off point to incorporate some variation and improvisation.
When you mentioned graphic or open-ended scores it brought up the idea for me that maybe there is more to the identity of a piece of music than just what it SOUNDS LIKE! Maybe I'm getting a little too far out...
But regardless of musical style there's always the matter of interpretation in music. Performers of early music have a lot of input on how to play the pieces: rhythmic variations, embellishment, the instruments used. Even in the realm of the common-practice classical works. (Mozart, Beethoven, etc) In some schools of thought, a person playing a piano concerto will write their own cadenza (or solo section).
Or consider how a jazz musician interprets a standard. They have a tune--a template for musical invention. Each performance will be different, using all the devices of improvisation they have at there disposal.
Or think of a band like the Grateful Dead. There's alot of baggage that comes along with that band, but you can't deny that they had an ongoing tradition of reinterpreting their material over the years.
I like listening to interesting versions of covers. Chan Marshall does some unusual things with the material. "Satisfaction" comes to mind. Or the Velvet Underground's "I Found a Reason".
I really loved the Yo la tengo album "Fakebook". It was actually my introduction to them. Really great cover versions--interesting choices, played with alot of care.
I like playing cover versions of songs too. I find it a little tricky for myself--it can take me a long time to actually figure out a way that I can perform them. Sometimes I think that performing/singing songs has a parallel to acting. There are some actors that have a great deal of range in the roles they can play. They can play the hero, the villain, the love-interest, the victim, the sex-symbol, etc. And they all seem convincing. Other actors have a smaller range of characters they can play. That's the way I feel for myself. I have a limited "range" of "roles" that are believable. Some words just don't sound right coming out of my mouth. So, I have to try out what songs might sound right being sung be me. And then on top of that there's musical issues too...like my actual vocal range to contend with. And in the case of live performance, I have to figure out a stripped down, usable arrangement of the song.
Let's see, some of them that come to mind are: "My Name is Death" and "October Song" (both Robin Williamson), "High, low, and in Between" (Townes Van Zandt), "Headed for a Fall" (Jimmie Dale Gilmore), "I Saw the World" (Tom Rapp), "Go Your Way" (Anne Briggs), "Evening Air" (Clive Palmer)
Also some traditional songs: "Lily of the West", "The Deserter", "The Month of January". I guess there have been others, but these are ones that I've kept coming back to.
Maybe a little bit with the recordings--creating something of a sound-world. Trying to find interesting and unique combinations of instruments, arrangements, etc. As far as the mood, I guess a lot of the pieces work with similar themes and subject matter, and those are often melancholy--songs about sorrow and coping with loss. Perhaps I'm writing the same song over and over, which is not an uncommon thing for songwriters to do. Some of the instrumental pieces are meditative in character--music to "zone-out" to. In Tower Recordings, some songs were more openly humorous than my solo material. At least, they were funny to ourselves. Maybe it didn't translate to the listener all the time.
Well, I don't really come from a "free jazz" approach. In college I did play in some contemporary music pieces that employed improvisation, and I took some ideas of what it meant to be an improviser from those experiences. And some more things clicked for me in Tower Recordings. Somewhere along the line, through different experiences, I became a bit of an improviser. It's kind of hard to describe. And it's also funny how there's a blurring of the lines between free jazz, avant-garde classical improv, free-noise etc. People coming from different backgrounds can cover similar ground musically.
-- Bart de Paepe (2 July, 2006)