- Germany: Wulf Trommler from Adler Musik (Eagle Music) or Marschmusic (March Music)
- England: Alastair Cox from The Bugler.
- America: Bo McManus from Vinyl Spin.
- Current Project: Love Songs to the Bombers Flying Overhead
- Current Project: 10” LP (set of 4): Late Night Karate Movies
- 11/2014: Een enkele taal is nooit genoeg (One Language is Never Enough)
- 4/2014: “Kosmonauten” (on 10” Vinyl)
- 8/2013: “Live from the Mesdag Panorama”
- 2/2013: Ave, Imperator!
- Manager: Victor Kazdan
One on One with Roel Vertov
[Wulf Trommler, with Adler Musik, recently caught up with the elusive Roel Vertov in central Belgrade—in the back courtyard of the Federal Association of Globetrotters, otherwise known as the World Traveller’s Club. He’d just come from an unannounced open-air performance with his band (The Retro Legion) in Kalemegdan Park, within sight of the old artillery pieces positioned near the Military Museum…]
Trommler: So, Roel…When did you know that you'd want to collaborate with The Retro Legion, and how did that even come about in the first place?
Vertov: Oh, we'd need another bottle of rum and a conversation until at least 4 am to really get to the bottom of how it all came about. (laughs) It’s always strange to me when I hear or read about how the band formed. Crazy stories, man. (laughs) Some have us in a fistfight at the UFO Bar in Paris. Others say, “Oh, no—it was in Tokyo, and that we all made up and became friends while in police custody. You know, the truth of it is that I first heard the RLB (The Retro Legion Band) back when they were playing a gig in Szczecin. I can't remember the name of the place. I’d been there once before, I think. Maybe it was Club Senso..? Yeah, I think it was Club Senso. Some dive club anyways. Pretty rowdy, too. And the RLB were opening for DJ Katusha, though they were called The Mighty Hundreds back in those days… Damir Sodan was playing this mean National resonator guitar that had this great ring to it, and, you know, this was back before Kim was with the group, back before they even had an accordion in the mix, so they were more blues-dominant back then, but still, they had this sound, this incredible energy to the music. You could tell this was the real thing. It’s like the difference between filling up your glass from the faucet every day for twenty years and drinking the same old Maastricht, and then one day you hold out your glass and glacier water pours into it. The RLB takes it straight from the source. You see? I knew it right there in that shitty little club up in Szczecin. And they thought I was crazy to stop the studio work I was doing—right in the middle of another project, something that pissed off the suits up at the label—but I just knew there’d be magic in it. So I guess that’s really how it started. Just as an idea. A conversation around a beer-soaked table in a bar at the edge of the world.
Trommler: Did you imagine yourself still collaborating with them, four albums later, a labor of love that…Well, let’s be honest—the first three albums, and even the vinyl 10” you guys cut in between—nobody really bought those. You must have had times of doubt and must have wondered if the collaboration would take off, or just sort of fall apart at some point, yeah?
Vertov: (laughs) Isn’t that the way of things, though? The good things take time. The great things go unnoticed. The astonishing sits before us every day and most of the time we walk right by, looking up at the clouds or worrying about something we won’t even remember a month from now.
Trommler: Yes, but you had to have…
Vertov: No, No, I’m with you. (gestures with his hands, as if erasing something in the air, then pauses)… We had some difficult times in there. Like all bands do. Mostly stuff that doesn’t make the papers or the Tumblr feed. The real stuff. There were medical issues, things I won’t go into because they’re private and have to do with band members and their families, but they’re things that made us stronger, too. And I think it shows in the music. I can hear it. When people say a band plays with heart, that’s what they’re talking about. And The Retro Legion play with as much heart as anybody out there. That’s why people come to the shows. That’s why the albums are selling. Not because it’s a product, but because it’s an experience. A moment. The music itself is a space, a sculpted space, and it’s an invitation to the listener as well. A song, well, a song worth listening to more than once, is a kind of invitation for the listener to explore their own interior lives, to hear what’s already inside of them. That’s why song lyrics always have such deeply personal connections for those who really listen to them. I guess what I’m saying is something we all know—that the listener is the final member of the band. Our fans, the great people who come to our shows and have come to expect a certain kind of experience—they complete the song in the act of listening. What more could a songwriter hope for?
Trommler: As you know, Belgrade attracts musicians from all over the world, with names like Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden, and newer groups like Dubfire, Ben Klock, Perc, and Loco Dice starting to really take off and bring in audiences from all over. Why stage an unannounced concert at Kalemegdan Park, and an acoustic one at that, almost guaranteeing that only a small audience will show?
Vertov: From the very beginning, we wanted to make music that existed almost completely inside of the people who listen to it. It’s a kind of ethos. To have the music live in those who care enough about it to hear it in their own bodies, you know? Some bands come to a town with their road crews and tour buses, even hiring local roadies to get the job done. And all of this apparatus, there’s something that seems insecure about it all. I’m saying this about bands I love, too, so I’m sad to say it, but it’s like these bands are trying, with massive Marshall stacks and speaker stack after speaker stack pumping enough wattage to blow out the sun—these guys seem to have some deep need to assert themselves as a creature that exists. I’m not talking about the name branding, like having your band name on the bass drum head; I mean the sheer power of a band playing all out through a small city skyline of speaker stacks. With the RLB, the ethos is all about the intimacy of sound, the way a person leans in to hear another whisper something that might save their life. That kind of attention. That’s what we’re after. Remember—we’re music lovers, too, first and foremost. And we’re human. We’re not a crowd. And we don’t want to play as if we’re broadcasting to a crowd.
Trommler: And yet, with each album, I’ve noticed that your signature sound has been a melding of the up close and intimate, as you call it, with a sweeping, very large-scale sound, one that stretches the spectrum. At the same time, the albums have a restless quality about them, never locking into the pocket the way many groups do on their albums. It’s as if you’re continually searching for that fine balance between the intimate and the cosmic, and discovering it, and this is why I use the word restless, through a variety of stylistic choices.
Vertov: (motions to the bartender for another rum)
Trommler: I suppose that’s not really a question, but…Well, what were you thinking as I described the music you’ve worked so hard to share with us all?
Vertov: … I’ve always been drawn to Frankenstein. There’s a reason the myth stands the test of time. We look at Frankenstein and we don’t see a monster—not if we look carefully enough—because he’s a tragic figure, when it comes down to it. And something more. When we look at Frankenstein, we see a vision of ourselves with the mask of our identity pulled back. It’s a revelatory myth. That’s what I think when you use the word “restless,” because the RLB is most definitely restless. We are an accumulation of voices, finding our way through the world with sound. Calling into the void sometimes. Sometimes whispering into each other’s ears. Sometimes singing years and decades back, something people don’t often talk about when they talk about music. That is, we hear something retro and we think the past has been pulled up out of the grave to rejoin us here, in the contemporary world. Nostalgia. There’s something longing in the word itself, but there isn’t really a deep connection to the past. That’s what retro really should be—not a word most people associate with fashion or a trendy lifestyle or some bullshit like that. It’s a way of bringing the past back to life and stitching it into the present, the way Frankenstein opened his dead eyes and moved his dead arms and legs and, once he figured it out, Frankenstein opened his dead mouth and learned how to speak again. The thing is—He had to learn how to speak in the present with only the past to manufacture the sound.
Am I getting too far out there, man? (laughs) Maybe I should hold off on getting another rum.
Trommler: Not at all. Not at all. Maybe I’ll get a rum, too. (Both laugh) So, Roel… As much I love to hear your thoughts on art and aesthetics, the intersections of the world and the music you’ve made, I can’t help but want to ask a question or two that I know readers of Adler Music have on their minds.
Vertov (interjecting): Ahhh, yes… The questions…
Trommler: You know as much as I do—people want to know, they’re curious—Will you and your girlfriend, Margo, decide to, how do they say, tie the rope?
Vertov: The knot, you mean, yes? (laughs)
Trommler: Oh, yes! Yes. The knot. The knot is right.
Vertov: A rope would be a very different interview, right? We’d have to talk espionage. James Bond, maybe. 007.
Trommler: But you are thinking marriage, yes? Children? Maybe a future for the two of you, yes?
Vertov: I decided a long time ago, and, well, maybe this useful for your readers… If you find that at some point in your life, a more public life opens itself to you and you are in that early moment when it just begins to happen, I recommend that you take a moment, maybe go to the seaside for a couple of days or to somewhere quiet and, if you can, where there are no people around. Take a little time to think about where you have been and the people in your life. I think you must take this time to decide, very clearly, what you will keep of your life that is private and what you will share in a more public space.
Trommler: This is good advice, I think.
Vertov: It has helped me many times, though sometimes my friends or family want me to be more outgoing with my private live—to share them I think. It’s difficult. Because I do want the world to see how beautiful and wonderful my close family and friends are and all that they offer. And I don’t know how to put it into words, because most of the time I’m not protecting them from anything. No one will bother them, for the most part. They can go about their lives as before. So maybe it’s selfish, but I want a private life for myself. You know? We all need a private life for ourselves, with our friends, our family, our cats, our dogs, our walks outside by the sea or in the city streets. We all need to be invisible sometimes, too. To walk around and just be. I like to be just Roel most of the time. Do you know what I mean?
Trommler: Could you explain that a little more, maybe?
Vertov: Well… The mail I get by post—it is delivered to Roel Vertov. When I go on stage and on the covers of my books, it’s always Roel Vertov. But when I’m at home with Margo and when we’re with our friends or family, I’m just Roel. I’m not a version of myself, I’m me. Roel Vertov is how the world knows me, but I’m this changing creature in the mirror. I’m a shoreline by the sea. I’m a stone that watches the sun rise and fall each day and until, I think, maybe the ocean takes me back into that deep place no one can see from the shore.
Trommler: And so the private life is the best one?
Vertov: (Thinking for a while…) The public life is a great gift. Without music, without art, without language, I would never have met so many of the great human beings who live in our time. Art made these friendships possible. The public life made these friendships possible. And the music itself, sharing it in a public way, it’s intense. It makes me feel like there is a kind of medicine for all that we read in the news. You know? And yet, the private life. My Margo. My family. My great friends. Walks to the sea. The quiet spaces of the world. The great wild universe. The places where I feel most alive and intensely myself. This is Roel. This is the home that I come back to after I’ve done my best to pour out my soul on the stage.
*Please note: This transcript of Alistair Cox’s interview of Roel Vertov is taken from a recording done by Buddy Kaz at the time of the interview. We share it in its entirety here due to the nature of the incident and the news attention it received—as this is the only version available that includes the interview in full, warts and all. This recording was done on an Olympus linear recorder as part of the initial conditions set forward between Roel Vertov & The Retro Legion Band and Alistair Cox/The Bugler. This event took place at The Groucho on Dean Street in Soho.
Cox: To be fair, on the Continent the RLB has got a rather plush thing going on with fans, but here in the UK you’ve had a few critics throwing punches here and there. Is that fair enough to say?
Vertov: First, I just want to say, “Thanks, man. Thanks for living up to the image I had of you before I walked into this room.” Or, what should I call this? It’s umm… It’s an ambush, man. (laughs) Yeah! This fucking ambush. (more laughing)
Cox: I’m just posing a question, Roel. There’s certainly no deception or hidden agenda here, I can assure you.
Vertov: Well, you’re the one with the gloves off, man. (Laughs) Fuck me. Do you just throw the word shite in somebody’s face to see how they react? Let’s not talk about “a few critics” here. Let’s talk about you, brother. To be fair, you’re the only one over here who seems to have a broken eardrum. That’s why I wanted this interview with you. Judging by your suit, I’d say you make a decent living off of the bands you drag through the streets.
Cox: I suppose I’d respond by saying—Who is ambushing whom, then? Readers don’t pay to hear blather; they buy The Bugler to save their hearing and not waste their hard-earned pounds on claptrap and doggerel. It’s simple economics and common sense. You can’t argue with that, Roel.
Vertov: I’m not arguing with common sense. I’m arguing with Alistair Cox, music reviewer for The Bugler… This is my point: Name for me, please, if you can, one other reviewer who has, as you said, thrown punches. You can’t, can you? Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s healthy to have criticism, but you’re just making up a field of critics in the magazines when they aren’t really there. Maybe there should be, and maybe there soon will be, I’m not denying that. But you’re the only one who keeps throws shite at this band and now you’re talking as if you’re the voice of a legion. I’m the one in the Retro Legion, man.
Cox: I think we’ve exhausted this line of inquiry, Mr. Vertov. Please. Perhaps I might offer a shift in focus?
Vertov: (gestures with his right hand in a rolling motion, as if to say Continue on…)
Cox: Sales for the 10” vinyl cut of “Kosmonauten”…
Vertov: No. You know what? I’m not going to play this mouse game with you. I think you won’t publish this, but I’m going to say it as it happened so your readers understand the real situation. How it happened. Why you trash my band like a special project you have.
Cox: I will not have my integrity questioned, Mr. Vertov.
Vertov: Your integrity? Oh, you have made quite a castle up on that hill with your mighty pen, haven’t you? I see. I see it now. Wow. But do your readers know how that first review took place? Do they know what happened behind the scenes, as they say? Do they know how you showed up piss drunk to the release party (for Ave, Imperator!) stumbling around and mumbling, and how you kept drinking even when you could barely stand, and then you started flirting with Victor’s (Victor Kazdan, Manager of RLB) girlfriend? (Cox shakes his head and taps his pen on his notepad.) No? You don’t remember? What you remember is the black eye you woke up to the next day, right? But you don’t remember trying to put your hand up her cocktail dress, I think. Oh, yeah. That was you, man. She hit you with a bottle of red wine, a good vintage I think you’d like to know, and you went backwards into the pool. And do you even know who it was that saved you from drowning in the pool? (Cox doesn’t respond.) You don’t, do you? (laughs) You don’t even know that it was Victor. You tried to reach up his girlfriend’s cocktail dress and he’s the one who jumped into the pool with his suit on, even his cell phone in his jacket, you know? And Victor is the one who saved you…Did you ever thank him for that?
(Silence in the room)
Vertov: You didn’t hate our music. You just didn’t have an ego that could take a black eye, even one you deserved, and let it go at that. No. No. It was you who have tried to sink every one of our albums, saying shit at parties behind the scenes and then publishing bullshit in your magazine. I’d be okay with all of it, no problem, really, if it was all about the music. But it’s not, man. It’s just you and your amazing ego…
[It was at this point in the interview that a fight broke out. Mr. Cox and his litigation team would have it that Roel Vertov and several members and associates of The Retro Legion Band converged upon Mr. Cox and physically assaulted him. Several outside parties who witnessed the incident as it unfolded have unanimously discredited Mr. Cox’s assertions. The truth, as has been widely reported, is that Mr. Cox seemed enraged at this point in the interview. He tried to leap up from his chair, evidently with the intent to assault Roel Vertov, when his smooth-soled dress shoes slipped on the wood flooring and the table he’d leaned on flipped under his weight. As the table flipped to its side, Mr. Cox simultaneously fell forward and struck his head on the thick edge of the table, immediately rendering himself unconscious. Mr. Vertov, in fact, did his best to offer aid to the fallen Mr. Cox, stopping the bleeding by wrapping a tablecloth around the pen that had punctured and remained embedded within his hand, while Buddy Kaz cleared broken glass fragments that might have cut Mr. Cox if he had rolled over upon reviving. All of this has been verified by cell phone footage of the event as presented in court. Mr. Cox dropped all charges against Roel Vertov & The Retro Legion Band upon the introduction of this further evidence. It should be noted that Roel Vertov did not press counter-charges against Mr. Cox or The Bugler. Since the incident at the restaurant, Victor Kazdan (Manager of RLB) and members of the RLB haven’t minced words when speaking about Mr. Cox. However, when asked after a recent concert what he thought Mr. Cox might do, and if he might write another scathing review of the RLB’s latest album (Love Songs to the Bombers Overhead), Roel Vertov replied: “I have no idea, but I wish him well. I was angry at him for the longest time. It’s true. And then I realized that he, like many people, had fallen out of love with the world. So I don’t know what he’ll do, but I know he won’t do anything of substance and real human value until he falls back in love with the world he actually lives in.”]
McManus: Hey man, I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me here to talk about this phenomenal album, man. I mean, I’ve been hard core about the RLB going back to the early days, and I just can’t tell you how much I’m loving the progression from your solo work and the early work with The Mighty Hundreds. You know? I went back and listened to the albums again last night and one of the things that really fascinates me is how I get a sense of the conversation taking place inside the band, song by song and from one album to another. I’d love to hear you walk us through the genesis of a song, from inception to vinyl. Do you mind doing that, Roel?
Roel: There’s no magic recipe. (laughs) I should say that to begin. Each song finds its own way into the world. I usually start with an initial idea, but the song quickly finds a way to own itself. To take over the wheel, I mean. “The Good Old Days” is a good example of this. If I remember, I was on the tram to Den Haag, headed over to visit with Damir Sodan and his wife at their place, and I was thinking about tubas and bass guitars and how they often get lost in the mix, how most people don’t fully listen to these instruments with their conscious minds—so they can’t hum back the tuba part or the bass part, for example, if you asked them, even with some of their favorite songs. So there I was on the tram and a short rhythmic part came to me [Vertov hums one of the horn parts to “The Good Old Days”] and I recorded it on my mobile.
McManus: On your cell? Right there on the tram?
Roel: Exactly. And I started thinking—what if I only had tuba in the intro? What if I had…and then the number 12 popped into my head, very randomly, and I thought ‘yes—I’ll have 12 tracks of tuba playing simultaneously.’ I loved that idea instantly. Even when we went into the studio with Josh [Josh Parsons], I had no idea what all the parts would be. (laughs) I even asked him to hit the mouthpiece with his palm and we recorded that, with it sounding like a heartbeat or maybe a kickdrum.
McManus: Oh, right. So that’s the tuba?
Roel: Yes. And the drumming sounds—that’s Josh hitting the side of the tuba. We did a little pitch changing, but it’s basically Josh drumming on his tuba. Or at least it was on the initial version. Josh will be the first to tell you, I’m sure, that we decided to bring Greg back in to record the horn-drumming part again. I liked the rough quality and the disjointed feeling that Josh captured on the horn, but when Greg came in and overdubbed it, the song really came together. And of course there is a trombone leading the melody line. That’s Corey Paul.
McManus: He’s phenomenal. Usually you seem to showcase him with a solo, but on “The Good Old Days” he’s very much in the pocket.
Roel: Corey can do it all. He’s incredible, really. And I think Josh’s tuba parts kind of create an amazing foundation, like a monument stone, that holds the trombone up for the main melody line. Most of the parts have a very horizontal, regimented feel, to get the feel of a military mobilizing for war, and yet at the same time the tuba has a kind of humor about it. It’s really wonderful how it can be threatening and humorous all at once, exactly what I was hoping for, and it helps to create a conversation with the opening song on the album, too, extending the narrative of the boots marching to war.
McManus: So the accordion came later?
Roel: I knew very quickly that I wanted to carve out a space in the center of the song for something more dreamlike, with more of a liquid sound. I think I was hearing a little of Thievery Corporation or Tangerine Dream there. And I wanted something that worked both horizontally while introducing more vertical movement. The staccato horn parts needed some kind of lift and the accordion—another overlooked and really frowned on instrument for most composers nowadays—the accordion has all of this, all of what I wanted. And the great thing was that my friend Damir once played in a blues band that recorded with Kim Burton.
McManus: Who played piano and accordion with Barb Jungr, right?
Roel: Yes, exactly. I knew some of Kim’s work from albums she’d worked on in the Balkans and from some of the music scene coming out of Sarajevo years ago, but I didn’t know the work she’d done in the UK until Damir connected the dots for me. Have you heard her playing with Amira Medunjanin? No? Oh, man, you gotta listen to “Amira Zemi Me Zemi.” It’s on YouTube, you gotta check out that song, man…And she plays a mean piano on the new Colin Bass album. That was recorded out at the Wild End Studio, in the UK, you know. Of course, she played at the Montreaux Jazz fest years back, and recorded with Working Week back in ’89 [Fire in the Mountain]. It sounds like you’ve heard her on Barb Jungr’s Chanson: The Space in Between. “Cri du Coeur” made me think of those old songs from childhood. Kim can do it all. A wide range of music and styles.
…So, like the tuba, I loved the challenge of showcasing the accordion and letting these two instruments carry the storytelling. The horn parts came together almost immediately and sounded amazing. The feel was there from the very beginning. I could hear it in my head before we did the playback with the parts overlaid. I think it surprised Josh and everybody in the studio. I mean, come on, man, it surprised me, too. (laughs) The best songs always do, right?
McManus: Can you talk about the music you remember from childhood, and how that shaped your approach to music and the work that a song does?
Roel: You ever hear The Continental Juke Box series? Philips put them out and that’s one of my earliest memories of listening to music. My mother would sing to them, and she had a beautiful voice, a sweet soprano. She taught piano, you know. I used to love listening to tangos and big bands, like Alfred Hause and his orchestra, Maria Zamora sus Muchachos, and of course Hildegard Knef, Jacques Brel, with probably Jacques Brel having the most influence from my childhood. Knef had a rough quality to the vocal approach, with her voice sometimes almost having a—how do I put it?—an untrained quality to it. Sometimes her voice just sounds like anyone off the street, and it makes you feel comfortable with the journey of the song because you know you’re there with her, it’s not an impossible voice that most professional singers showcase, a voice that’s unapproachable, a songbird voice. So when Knef sang in our family home, it felt like another family member had come to visit to tell us a story. Listen to her on “Berlin, dein Gesicht hat Sommersprossen” and you’ll hear what I’m saying. It’s like we’re walking with her through the streets of Berlin, riding a bike through the Großer Tiergarten. Brel took that another step, of course, with a very cinematic sweep to his work. I love the large canvas, the epic arc of his vision across the vinyl, the way he worked to shape an experience and bring the whole world into the space of a song, an album. Sitting down to a Brel album is like opening a book, or going to the cinema.
McManus: What kind of gear do you work with in the studio and on the road? You have a hand in so many parts of the musical spectrum on your albums, but I don’t think most people out there know what actual instruments you’re using, that kind of thing.
Roel: Ah, back-stage stuff. Cool, man. I guess, to start, I’d say I’m mostly drawn to instruments that surprise me, instruments that have a history to them. The baritone I picked up at an outdoor market in Delft awhile back, for example…
McManus: At a flea market?
Roel: Yes. It’s like that. They have it every Saturday, outside in the main square and down the streets. And the baritone was just sitting on a table, dented and beat-up and looking like an old boxer on the day after a bad fight. (laughs) It was perfect. Even with an old brass mouthpiece it wanted to sing as soon as I picked it up. Just over 100 euros. Crazy good, man. I mean, I could’ve paid more and bought a shiny new one in the music shop, but this is a horn that has earned its notes, it’s seen the world some and made it through. It’s lost some parts and been patched up. In fact, the 3rd key lost its inlay and somebody glued a silver coin in its place. You know. A survivor. Similar thing with the zither. It was missing strings and dusty when I found it. Looked like it came out of an attic somewhere, or maybe it was left in a boat and no one knew it was there, no one remembered how to make it sing. The discarded notes. That’s what interests me. The lost notes. The rough strings waiting to be made young again, to remember the old songs, or maybe a few notes from the old days. That’s part of the essence of the Retro Legion. Memory, man. It’s all about memory. And as much as the instrument is a vessel of memory, we are the breath that fills the vessel. We’re the broken instruments, too, mostly, and nobody gets out of this world, if they live long enough, without a few dents and patched tubes, without a few silver coins glued on.
McManus: Who are you listening to now?
Roel: The impossible question, man! Too much to love out there. It’s a crazy good problem. (laughs)
McManus: A few then, just a handful that come to mind…
Roel: Well, then… I’d say De Kift, and the Dhafer Youssef Quartet. He’s got a voice from a better world, you know? Crazy good. Have you heard Jazz sous les Pommiers, with Tigran Hamasyan? Daby Toure. Lianne La Havas. Are you kidding me? Lianne La Havas. And Wouter Hamel. Pomplamoose. Kasper van Kooten. MC Solar. Room Eleven. The Kooks. How much time do we have? Radio Tarifa. Leon Bridges. The Parkington Sisters. Alt-J. Miles Davis. Aloe Blacc. Benjamin Clementine. St. Paul & The Broken Bones. That’s PhD list in music cool, music that turns on the lights in the brain.
McManus: No doubt about it!
Roel: These are some of the bridges from what was to what will be. If that isn’t an education, then I don’t understand what universities are for…
McManus: Here’s a question for you, Roel—How does your work in cartography [Roel Vertov worked for several years as a cartographer in The Netherlands, and continues to do so part time] inform your work as an artist?
Roel: Oh. That’s good. You know—no one has ever asked me that question before. Excellent work, Bo! (laughs) Let’s see… I’d say that there’s an exactitude, a kind of precision within the map-making profession that is based completely on observation and is, at the same time, completely unhinged. Wait. Maybe that doesn’t make sense. What I mean is that the cartographer details a version of the world that no longer exists. Even in the moment of observation, a shoreline, for example, is shifting and changing it’s position. The map-making cheats a little, I think, by being a generalist, by stepping back so far from the thing that is defined via the line. A map is a snapshot in time. A photograph of an idea in ink and paper. And the countries denoted in some maps, those are cultural, tribal representations. So, for your question, I think the strings are a country, and they have their own culture, their own way of being in the world of the song. The same is true of the drums, or the horn sections, or the human voice. A song with several instruments is like a gathering of nations, a map of the human spirit in time. Stop me before I get too far out on the limb of this idea, Bo.
McManus: Are you kidding me? You’re rolling, man.
Roel: This new album [Love Songs to the Bombers Flying Overhead] is something like two maps.
McManus: …Because it’s in two main sections, yes?
Roel: Exactly, with one looking further back in time and the other half being drawn sometime in the 1970’s, mostly.
McManus: I love the whole ‘concept album’ approach, man.
Roel: Thank you, Bo, but I don’t think albums can be anything but concept albums. I mean, when you put several elements together, they create correlations and disruptive elements, harmony and forward progression, tension and discordant parts, all the ingredients of storytelling. The thing is that most albums seem to try to act as if there isn’t a conscious interplay of voices within songs, a larger narrative in the act of listening. If it’s a collage, it’s a collage. But we can’t forget that assembly implies intent, and within intent there is a potential for meaning, something we can learn from. From here, we have the beginning of what all albums should do—create a canvas for the mind to wander into the imagination.
McManus: That makes complete sense, Roel.
Roel: I’m tired of hearing my own voice, Bo. My friend Tony tells me I should go to East L.A. and try some tacos while I’m here.
McManus: You want to get tacos?
Roel: Yeah. Let’s go get some tacos, man.