This is the second of four initial parts of a long Jason Webley interview conducted by Mike Whybark in spring, 2003.
M: [continuing, referring to the July 20 Monsters of Accordion show at the Vera Project] Um… let’s see; oh yeah, do you know how much it’s going to be?
J: I think it’s eight dollars. And then you have to pay a dollar.
M: And then you have to pay a dollar. Why is that?
J: Because you’re probably not a member of the Vera Project. But maybe you are.
M: [feeling like a thirty-six year old] No, actually, I’ve never been to a show there.
J: That’s what I guessed. But there are people who are reading this who won’t have to pay that dollar. And maybe I’ll make it seven dollars. Maybe it’ll be seven dollars and then you have to pay a dollar.
‘Cause a nine-dollar show… that’s starting to get kinda (pauses) close to ten dollars!
[ed. It’s seven plus one.]
M: One of the funniest things I ever saw at one of your shows was…
J: Someone yelled out “eight dollars”?
M: It was pretty good.
[ed. I think this was the 2001 Halloween show at the Paradox. It’s on one of the Baby Bok Choy live CDs of various Jason shows.]
J: It’s kind of funny to think back now… that was the first time I ever charged eight dollars.
[ed. Some music comes on that Mike recognizes – it’s an Irish bar, after all – and we digress into non-interview territory, mostly about who Mike had been playing music with and the status of Mike’s former band, the Bare Knuckle Boxers. This led Mike to mention that a mutual friend is in India]
J: The first time I ever touched a dead body was in India.
M: Why don’t you tell me about that?
J: It was on Easter. And right now it’s about a week from Easter.
M: When were you in India?
J: That’s all classified information.
M: So this is off the record?
J: It’s interesting, I was putting together this website, sort of what to put on it and what not to. I think this is all unclassified. All classified. Yeah, this whole line that I draw – of what’s private and what’s public.
Actually, talking about it’s fine.
[ed. – Jason had just completed a total revamp of his website, which included an exhaustive list of every performance Jason’s given for several years.]
I put together that list of all the performances, but then there’s certain things that can’t – that aren’t really – um, that guy [ed. – Jason’s stage persona].
M: You told me once a long time ago that least some of the songs on the first CD were written for a show or something. And that sort of led into what you decided to do. Is that correct?
J: Um, no. I used to write a lot of music for theater shows. That was pretty much my only public outlet for writing music for many years. I never performed it myself, I always taught the songs to other people. There were always sort of these little songs that were getting written along the side.
What the first album was, was like the last batch of these sort of – first … I had been working at a recording studio, and I had this project of recording every song I had ever written, which was hundreds and hundreds. And when I was finishing up this project there was this handful of bastard songs that didn’t – that felt really different and weird and I didn’t really know how to record them. I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t really know how they went.
[ed. – for the next little bit, brackets represent recalled speech as well as clarifications and annotations. Voice-activated recording got turned on somehow on the tape recorder, so if the mike was off of our mouths, the recorder would stop and then start unpredictably.]
J: [And so I decided to record them differently], just you know, in the kitchen with really simple equipment. [When I was done], it really seemed obvious to give [them] to people.
M: So that’s where Viaje [ed. – mispronouncing as “vee-auj”] came from?
J: Ve-ah-hey. [ed. – correcting Mike’s pronunciation]
M: So, interestingly enough, that implies the existence of hundreds of pre-Jason Webley Jason Webley studio recorded material. Is that correct?
J: [silence, laugh] At some point that existed.
M: “At some point that existed?” So, did you junk those tapes, or do you still have them stashed away someplace?
J: I remember when I was first playing…
M: Oh, very slippery!
J: I remember when I was first playing concerts, and I didn’t feel like I had any material, I would actually play some of these old songs. I don’t anymore.
M: [grinning] So you’re dodging the question, though. The material exists. You recorded it.
J: It’s really not very… interesting. [laughs]
M: Well, it’s interesting that it exists, actually, to me. I’m not pressing you to release it, but it’s interesting.
J: I’ve looked at it occasionally.
Things existing… It’s a funny thing, what actually has life, what exists, what’s really there. I feel like the process of me making all those recordings was incredibly important for some reason; I don’t really know where that impulse came from, but it was ridiculous.
M: Yes. Hundreds, you said.
J: It was ridiculous. The work was to try archive like things that I had recorded at different times in my life.
[waiter brings food]
J: [to waiter] Do you have any interesting stories about monkeys?
W: [a bit boggled] Monkeys? [pause] No, I don’t.
J: Dammit. You’re gonna get a lousy tip [laughs]. No, I’m sorry.
[ed. more food interaction, eating, etc.]
M: So those recordings, you did them in the studio you were working at. Were they multi-track, or were you just miking, and getting them out of the way?
J: Various different ways.
M: The stuff you did on Viaje that you recorded in your kitchen – what was the equipment you were using?
J: It was a digital multi-track recording device. I didn’t use any effects and I didn’t do any, really very much, like any kind of manipulating of the sound or using like effects. It’s much more real takes, no clicks.
M: What mikes did you use?
J: RE-55s – these Electro-Voice mikes that I found for five dollars at a garage sale. A pair of omni-directional dynamics. They’re – GREAT. I love ’em. Best five dollars I’ve ever spent. I’ve used those on all three albums for lots of things.
M: Karel has an Electro-Voice he got someplace – very sensitive, clean mike.
Did you use 58s for your vocals?
[ed. – Shure SM-58s, a popular vocal mike. Karel Trubac was the guitarist for the Bare Knuckle Boxers.]
J: For the first two albums I used 58’s. [Not the greatest mike to use on your vocals] – but it worked.
M: But it’s such a standard for that.
J: [emphatically] Live. Because they don’t feed back. That’s why.
M: Greg uses 57s for instrument miking, live, and we’ve used that for some recording stuff as well. Is that the same mike, with just a different cover on it?
[ed. Shure SM-57s, a popular instrument mike. Greg Brotherton was the other mandolinist in the Bare Knuckle Boxers]
J: It’s the exact same mike.
M: OK, Mr. Recording Engineer person, those were questions that are mysterious to me as someone who has never studied that…
J: How do you mike your mandolin for a performance situation?
M: There’s two different ways to do it. The one that I use most of the time is a contact pickup that sticks on with a kind of putty.
J: Is it just one of those cheap ones that are like fifteen, twenty bucks?
M: It’s like ninety bucks. It’s a McIntyre. They’re made specifically for violins or mandolins; although I think they maybe might make a contact mike, one that’s usable for acoustics, like regular guitars. There’s a range of different technologies, though; you can use an active bridge, but you that you’ll have to an outboard transducer. This way, it’s really easy, it’s just a regular socket you just run a quarter-inch to. It’s real easy, though to overload the sound – get sort of this blown-out effect in the amplifer, it’s not very pretty, you know?
The other way of doing it is to mike it with a straight mike, like a 57. But you have to do pretty close-miking, like this [ed. holds hands to demonstrate]. Which can get kind of tricky. If you’re getting excited, you bash the mike. And that’s the same principles as if you’re doing close-miking on an acoustic guitar, you want to mike away from the hole, have it go across.
The other kind of component for capturing acoustic mandolin sound is that the quality of the instrument has a big, big effect on the sound. I think maybe even a larger effect on the sound than it does for guitars. Partly because there’s such a large market for guitars, even relatively inexpensive guitars are made to higher quality standards – in some cases – than are mandolins.
J: I have a really crappy mandolin.
M: Like a Kay or something?
J: Mexican… um… Borracho? No.
[ed. “borracho” means “very drunk” in Spanish. It’s probably not the brand name of Jason’s mandolin.]
M: Like a Santa Rosa type deal? They have a kind of a different sound than American-style mandolins. I’m not really sure why. Does it have classical-style pegs?
J: What do you mean by classical style?
M: You know like an open, um, neck, and the pegs instead of coming out the sides are like this on the neck?
[ed. demonstrating with hands to compensate for verbal incoherence]
J: Do you mean like, pegs, like a violin, or no?
M: No, like on a classical guitar.
J: Yeah, I think that’s how they are.