The library’s first split tape is now live. Two sides of wondrous guitar soli and living room complexion. Side One has Ocathail, the recording name for Patrick Cahill, with five pieces of folk-blues burn and rich meditational airy push-pull. Side Two has Hastío, the recording name for Phil Neff, with one long piece of room ambient raga in slow-motion melt, with a beauty come-down, and ragged strum/chord improv. The windows are open and breathing along with the rolling tape.
I asked both players the same five questions, please read on.
(Full disclosure, Pat’s my brother, so some of our chat gets a hair insider, we’ve played music together since we first picked up instruments years ago, so things are ever-intertwined.)
can you fill us on in how the recording went for yr side of the tape, what was the ritual or system that you used? and at what times of the day or night works best? and is there any other philosophy at play with the recording styles you fellows use, i know you both went live to one track, just straight up plug and play, was this by design or convenience, etc? was it digital or four-track?
Patrick: I recorded my stuff digitally with my mac, omnidirectional condenser mic, and USB interface. Most of my tracks were recorded at night but maybe also on a weekend afternoon. My set-up is so easy and I leave it connected all the time and it’s in my living room, that i can hit record at any time. I’ve been playing a ton of acoustic guitar over the past few years and especially this last year, that recording became a necessity. I was using the voice memos on my phone and was considering doing a small tape release of recordings done with my phone but this obvious upgrade of recording quality helped things become clearer and made/make my Martin sound pretty wicked. My process has really been experimenting with guitar and voice and honing an improv vocal and guitar thing and almost all of my recordings on my phone and computer are of this type of thing. It just so happens that some of the last things I recorded really worked together and ended up being instrumental. Philosophically speaking I have zero preference for recording formats. Also zero preference for it sounding “good” or “clean”.
Phil: The goal here was an “audio diary”-type recording. I had been working part time for the last year or so and felt like a lot of my best, most spontaneous playing was happening on weekday mornings at my kitchen table, so my idea was to just press record during those sessions and fill up sides of some C40s I had lying around. That said, I think this recording actually happened on a weekend afternoon. I have a 4-track setup, but I decided just to use my partner’s portable Panasonic cassette recorder for this in order to keep things simple, impromptu and hissy. Speaking of rituals and systems, I have been working on a song cycle using Ben Chasny’s Hexadic system, which has been very challenging and rewarding. There is a short section on one of the tapes I sent you that includes Hexadic material, but not on the side for the split with Patrick. It was actually Six Organs of Admittance’s School of the Flower record that made me pick up the guitar in the first place, so it’s been extremely gratifying to be able to be in correspondence with Ben.
yr playing has resemblances and interesting parallels, obviously you both enjoy and share a liking for similar techniques and players, fingerstyle and chording and raga-type moves come to mind, when or how did yr style or development come to this place? what kind of growth were you after along the way or does it matter? are you both self-taught too? is there anything you wish you could do/reach or are you both at a place where what you feel like expressing (in whatever way/fidelity/vibe that expression forms) is in a continuous line, so to speak?
Patrick: Interesting question; it’s hard to think of a development or trajectory. I’m self-taught where basically my biggest lessons were 1 – an Ian MacKaye interview from like twenty years ago saying why do you have to play traditional chords at the (what-do-you-call-it?) open neck position so move the same chords up and down the neck. 2 – Meeting Tom Watson (from Mike Watt’s band about 17 years ago) and him saying he couldn’t get a new guitar from his mom until he learned 50 chords, or 100 chords on a borrowed guitar when he was a young kid. And 3 – You and me learning guitar and equating it to skateboarding when we were about 18; “try crazy shit and see if you land it”. I’ve been playing with my fingers and without a pick for probably 15 years right when I got hardcore into the Delta Blues. I’ve never in my guitar playing really learned any songs other than maybe a few Neil Young tunes for a campfire type thing.
I always have just effed around on guitar, fumbling my way through chords or structures or open tuning things or slide things or disjointed things. Always been a huge fan of Beefheart, US Maple, Dead C, SY, Gastr Del Sol and abstract, atonal guitar music. Technique and virtuosity have never interested me. Although, honestly I feel like the dudes in Beefheart were guitar gods and same with the Maple boys. I love listening to stuff like that; but I also love broken, detached, accidental stuff. Probably more. And through the years I maybe have gotten better at repeating patterns and have the patterns slightly morph or shift in time and tone and then, hopefully, some natural dynamics of performance come into play. I’m trying to “lock in” to what I’m playing and sometimes the more I play a riff or idea, the more that can happen. It takes time. That’s what I’m constantly searching for and reaching towards. Being locked into a pattern that somehow gets more intense or more interesting over the passage of time. Raga music via Riley/Palestine/Young via Spacemen 3. I’m okay with where I am at on guitar – I don’t feel like I need to get “better” or more “technical” or rotate thumb patterns in a crazy syncopated way via fingerpicking virtuosos. I just happen to play with my fingers.
Phil: I’m self-taught on acoustic guitar over the last 12 years or so, after learning some bad habits from playing bass guitar in school. It probably took me 2 years or more of playing to even learn all the basic chords in standard tuning. I’ll never be a master finger-picker, but I feel like I’m always stretching and slowly improving. I have a hard time, and actually not much interest, learning “songs” by ear or from tabs, so I’ve always improvised around scales and drones. My goal now is to work some of the themes I have developed into cleaner compositions, ideally combining rehearsed and spontaneous material. Recording is one area where I feel like my skills aren’t at the point where I can really capture what I hear in my head, but I also appreciate the ambiance (and economics!) of low fidelity home recording.
when yr alone with the microphone in a here-it-is way, it’s quite a bit different than anything collaborative or multi-track’able, what do you like about this loner state and do you see this improvisational and real-time flow as inherently challenging? or would you rather not think about it so you can get out of yr head and relax into a purer space? or is the solo thing where yr most comfortable?
Patrick: Improvising when recording has been about 85 – 90% of my musical career. Our first band The Riderless improvised pretty much everything when recording over the span of the 10 albums. Same with Cahill Locksmith, East of the Valley Blues and now this one. I love it. I think there’s a pressure there that means that you have to be on your game, in the sense of not fucking up, but also in the sense of listening well and appreciating or allowing an intuition awareness to happen. Let things move, no plan, listen deeply, read and react, stay sharp.
To be fair, I had little licks or riffs for most of the tracks on this split tape and so I had an idea of what the track would end up sounding like, but I also wanted it to be pretty loose and let a natural flow happen. And almost always the finished recording sounds pretty different from the original riff. Being in a band and improvising is spectacular. Either playing live or recording – there really is no feeling quite like that connected, listening, tuned in, allowing things to happen, and everybody enjoying the sounds that are being created. There are no words. Being alone and improvising – all the same principles are present, but it’s way more intuitive and I think it calls for the player to be even less commanding or focused. Try to get out of the way. I’m most comfortable playing with East of the Valley Blues.
Phil: Solo playing is definitely my comfort zone, perhaps to a fault. My guitar practice has always been more about relaxation and feel rather than technique or precision. So that “here-it-is” moment with the microphone really psychs me out, it’s hard to capture that same state. I think the piece I called “El trueno en la ciudad” on La ofensiva interior is the closest I’ve come to reaching that true loner vibe with tape rolling. Recording setting might play a role too. I recorded outside at a park recently using the same technique as my side for the split with Patrick, and it seems like being out in the world helps establish that sense of “real-time flow”. (The outdoor recording is found here.)
being very inspired/inspiring guitarists, do you think about music and even life stuff through that guitar-filter, meaning, when you think about some passage or some memory or place and then start thinking about writing or composing or trying out new things, does it always come back to the guitar first? like it’s always in yr hands, even if imaginary? do you listen to other players in relation to yr own knowledge and feel on the guitar? i am always curious about this, being a player myself, it’s really hard to hear guitar and not think about what is going on in very specific ways. and when i don’t know what’s happening, that’s usually a very good thing. do you like being confused/challenged by guitar sounds/players? do you try and challenge yrself in yr own patterns and figures?
Patrick: I’m not sure if I do filter things through the guitar. Playing guitar and writing are the only art forms that I practice. And I don’t think I process things in that way. I definitely think about inspiration or ecstatic moments and creating music to fire that time or place up, but it’s more like “ah, it would be cool to have a guitar right now and just play.” It wouldn’t necessarily be like My Winnipeg by Guy Maddin, for example, where a place, time, memory, childhood becomes the work of art. He very specifically transforms his personal visions/life/memories into that film. I use this example because I was talking about the radicality of this film the other day. My very own Winnipeg (per analogy – I did not grow up in Winnipeg) would be me creating music/playing guitar within Winnipeg. Make sense? To be more clear – I would filter my visions/memories/childhood/dreams through a state of feeling/mental space but not actually have that really affect the actual “art” beyond that. I don’t feel like you would see a connection there. It might sound like a messed up Mississippi John Hurt riff, so no real connection to Winnipeg (per analogy).
I’m always listening to guitar players or guitar music. And I love so many – Dickey Betts, Nick Drake, Loren Connors, Murray Favro, Fahey, Basho, all the delta blues players, Doc Watson, Woody Guthrie, Gordie Lightfoot, Neil Young, Phil Tyler, Christina Carter, Joni Mitchell, Memphis Minnie, Elizabeth Cotten, Bonnie Raitt and on and on. And sometimes I listen in regards to my own playing and maybe “borrowing” a riff or idea Keith Richards-style, or just listening and admiring the vibe and enjoying the sound of the guitar, rather than a specific note pattern or fingering. Because I’m self-taught and can’t read music and know very little about musical theory – I visualize finger patterns on the neck and I’m actually probably not even close to what the actual chord may be – and then go home and play the pattern I remember in some new way. Voila. My favourite guitar moments in musical history do not involve any sense of real technique or virtuosity like Neubauten’s Headcleaner, for example. Or the “solo” at the end of Talk Talk’s New Grass. Or the solo in Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams.
Phil: The guitar *is* always there, which can actually be a bit frustrating, especially when I can’t bring what’s in my head out into sound. All the guitarists I watch or listen to challenge me. I never think, “Oh, I could do that.” As I said above, using the Hexadic system has been a productive challenge, and so has playing in different tunings. I feel like exploring a new tuning is almost like learning a new language, and it brings a special burst of creativity. That’s part of the reason that I use Spanish in my presentation of the Hastío project, because it reminds me of the energy that I accessed when I was first studying Spanish, with all the language centers of my brain on fire, writing poetry every day. And playing guitar was a major source of resilience for me later when I was doing stressful work in Guatemala. My playing has gone through distinct periods based on my mood and what kind of gear I have access to, and it’s strange, but I really can’t access some elements of those previous periods anymore. That is a very particular kind of nostalgia: specific combinations of guitars and rooms and feelings that will never exist again.
lastly, we’ll have to try and get a small label showcase together sometime as the music fits really well together and who doesn’t want to blow the budget on flying across the continent? but any gigs or future things on the go right now that you want to talk about? anything else yr finding inspiring of late? any life things catching you by surprise?
Patrick: A small label showcase would be wonderful! I thought the label fronts the bill on this? I’m planning on doing some solo shows as soon as the tape comes out in Toronto and maybe outside Toronto, too, if possible. And I’m re-focusing now on doing some recordings of myself on guitar with voice in an improvised way like I mentioned earlier. But I feel like I’m going to expand on it and multi-track, and layer and experiment with production. And the “improvised way” could quite easily become “actual songs”. My other main hobby is carpentry and that’s how I make my living. I have a small shop where I live in Toronto and I have access to a huge shop where I work every day – and so I am in the process of building some things. And I’ll have some time off in January and so I hope to get some more work built fully at my shop at home!
Phil: Live performance is definitely the next hurdle for me, and it feels like a major one. There’s nothing on the horizon for me gig-wise, but there is a supportive and open DIY music community here in Seattle. I would love to come to Toronto, I’ve got a few close friends there! Really my ideal performance setting is just playing in the background in an informal space.
The split tape was dubbed at home in a small edition of 30 copies, with transparency film inserts (of original artwork and calligraphy) mailed to me from Phil.
The digital album is free.
From all of us, we hope you enjoy and can pass it on.
Until next time,