Thursday, October 10, 2013

INTERVIEW: Tim Midyett and Andy Cohen (Bottomless Pit)

(Photo by Mr. King)

Forged from the ashes of tragedy and imbued with a musical comradery that only comes with decades of playing together, Bottomless Pit has made some of the most subtly and beautifully uncompromising rock music of the past decade.  Days away from releasing their stunning 3rd album, "Shade Perennial", Pit mainmen Tim Midyett and Andy Cohen responded by email to discuss the new record and passion for the music they make.

The songs on “Shade Perennial” feel more visceral than the last two records.  It was notably engineered by noisenik and last-honest-man-standing Steve Albini, whom you had worked with previously in Silkworm.  Was that an intentional pairing?  What did he bring to the process and how did it impact the songs you had?

[Tim Midyett]  Steve has been the recording process for us for a long time.  We work with Greg Norman sometimes.  He works at Steve’s studio, Electrical Audio.  But otherwise it’s always Steve working on stuff.  He understands us and we understand him.  We want to capture the overall sound, the overall feeling of the music, much more than we want to be surgical about working on each of the parts of it individually.  He’s the best in the world at getting on tape what is going on in the room as we do what we do.

[Andy Cohen]  Can’t underestimate the benefits of recording at Steve’s Electrical Audio, which he envisioned, designed and built.  The rooms sound great, the equipment works, and it’s a great environment.

On the earlier albums and eps, there seemed to be a bigger distinction between your songs – Tim’s were a bit more meditative, Andy’s a bit rowdier and blunt (for lack of better terms) – but the lines have become increasingly blurred on this album. What is your writing process like?  Do you each bring fully-formed songs in or is it more collaborative?

[TM]  Andy and I do write separately.  Sometimes we’re particular about how things turn out, and in those cases there’s a fair amount of guidance as to what to play and all that.  But almost all the time, once the band has the song, we all work together to get the essence of it across.  Not too much explaining or direction most of the time.

[AC] We did rehearse this set of songs for longer than those on the last two records.  Maybe the longer band exposure did result in a more cohesive group. 

Andy, your guitar playing is both incendiary and cathartic – who are some of your influences?

[AC] Influence #1: bafflement that most people aren’t more thoughtful and aggressive in their guitar playing.  Influences #2: Sonny Sharrock, Jimi Hendrix, Joel Phelps, Robert Fripp.

Tim, your move to baritone guitar with Bottomless Pit creates a wider palate than the “power trio” attack of Silkworm – how did that come about?

[TM] Well, I started playing baritone guitar while I was still playing bass, in about 1997, when Silkworm still existed.  So I’ve been doing it a long time.  I didn’t do it exclusively in Silkworm because some songs demanded deeper low end impact or a certain sparse quality or both.

In Bottomless Pit, I wanted to have a bass player so I could play baritone all the time.  I love playing bass, but I wanted to have an entire spectrum of sound open to us, and the instrumentation of bass, baritone, and regular guitar affords a kind of chamber-music range that is flexible and useful to us.

You’ve been intentional in making sure that the Bottomless Pit albums are released on vinyl in addition to digital formats and it seems that the music benefits from the increased sonic space that vinyl allows.  Is that a fair assessment?  How has the response been?

[TM]  I’ve always been a vinyl person, since I started buying records.  I never got rid of my LPs, and I never got into buying CDs, because I never felt like CDs were a permanent format.  I think time has borne out that approach.  They’re barely even in existence for independent bands nowadays, and I think that’s great.  The packaging of CDs isn’t exciting, the actual item isn’t exciting, and I think records sound better if you’ve got a decent turntable.

I put out the first three BP records on my own.  I just did the exact way I wanted to do it, and that meant vinyl, of course.  People have bought enough of them, but really we make the records for ourselves, so the reception isn’t all that important.  Sounds dickish, but it’s true!

[AC] Vinyl sounds better and is more fun to play.  In addition, it is turning out to be the only format from the last 50 years with any staying-power.  CDs have compromised sound quality, questionable physical longevity, and appear to be on the way out of the market.  Who knows what will become of the various other digital formats that have become prominent over the last 10 years.

Seth Pomeroy’s Silkworm documentary “Couldn’t You Wait” was finally released this year and it was quite an emotional yet celebratory ride– it certainly served as a fitting tribute to Michael and his musical life.  Did it allow you any measure of closure on the Silkworm experience?

[TM] Closure, no.  I don’t believe in it.  I don’t want that.  Silkworm was a huge part of my life and is still a gigantic part of who I am.  I think about Michael several times a day every day.  I don’t want to wrap any of it up as history for myself personally. 

I love that Seth did that for everyone else.  He made that story available to people, and I cherish having those memories consecrated and preserved.  But none of those stories will never be closed for me.  Not the band, not the way it ended, not Michael’s death.  The good parts stay alive, and the horrible parts stay open.

[AC] I don’t have any idea what people mean when they talk about “closure” on an experience, unless it’s some business deal or something with an explicit closing date.  The Silkworm movie is great, and, like Tim, I’m glad there is a warts-and-all tribute that explains a lot of what I think was important about Silkworm.

You’ve given yourself a second life as a band with Bottomless Pit…what keeps you making art after almost 30 years? 

[TM]  Compulsion. Very simple. It’s a process of chasing a rush, one that morphs a little bit every time you go to revisit it.

[AC] Playing this music is one of the only transcendent experiences I know of.  It is like magic, here in the regular World.  I mean that at the right time, with the right sound, I/we can transcend our usual perceptions, and it seems like a magical experience.

What’s on tap next for the band?

[TM]  We have a few shows in the Midwestern U.S. this fall.  We’ll be on the west coast of the U.S. in late February and early March, maybe Texas in April, then ideally the east coast in May.  Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess!

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