The Repository #2: Jack Rose

An interview by the late Cory Card with the late Jack Rose from early 2007 plus a bonus review he wrote around the same time.

Cory Card was a huge inspiration to me. His writing for Foxy Digitalis always pushed and inspired me while the art and music he made did the same. When I heard that he’d passed last year, it was a shock and the world burned a little less brighter. One of the upsides of this new Foxy Digitalis endeavor has been digging through the past and finding lost articles that, especially in the case, feel like connecting with old friends. Cory interviewed Jack Rose in 2007 and considered both have gone from this world far too soon, this is a little piece of history that needs to be shared.

Jack Rose has been a mainstay on the underground American music scene for well over a decade. Appearing first with the improv/drone band Pelt, Rose is now currently focusing on his own brand of Takoma and pre-war inspired guitar explorations. In the late fall/early winter he did a two-month stint with guitarist Peter Walker, I had the fortune to sit down and talk a bit with Jack on their stop in Rochester, NY.

The new album’s great…

Oh the tour CD…

It’s nice because it focuses on one side of your playing. Is it all on lap steel?

Yep, all lap steel.

Was that intentional or just what came out?

The first session I did I recorded a bunch of other tracks as well, but it didn’t seem to work, at that point. Plus a lot of the new stuff I’ve been writing has been on lap steel, for the past four or five months.

How is the tour going?

Its pretty good… yeah, good time with Peter… full of stories…

You started in Pelt with a sort of Dead C vibe, which evolved more and more into a drone thing and then into the all-acoustic line-up. How do you see the different aspects of your music, because I see your solo stuff more as a narrative, as where Pelt addresses issues of space?

Yeah that makes sense, but a lot of the stuff I do has the same sort of space. I wouldn’t try to contradict you, but the time I had in Pelt definitely informed how I play.

On the “Skullfucking” album you guys did a version of, your song, “Calais to Dover,” how did that come about?

That worked well… that was a really good night, the first couple of shows of that mini-tour were kind of rough, but it seemed to really lock in around that fourth date. Too bad we didn’t have enough time to really expand on it because in Pelt we’re all in different directions, living in different states.

You’ve been on the road for quite some time now haven’t you?

Yeah, not constantly, but I’ve been doing long stretches. I may have… I don’t even count, but I would say it’s between 150 and 170 gigs, this year. I think the most time I had at home was maybe a two-month stretch. But, you know a lot of times I would go out for a certain period of time and then I go back out. Like, after this tour I’m home and then back out, again, in less than a month. I’ll be in Europe in January for a few weeks.

Are you going all over?

No not this time. I mean a … my agent was like, “hey do you want to try this?” And I just said, “Yeah, that sounds good.”  Basically it’s just going to be fourteen gigs, the continent and one gig in London.

Then in January/February I’m going to do some recording, hopefully March too. April I’m going to go out again, probably in the South, and then back to Europe in mid-May, probably the UK and maybe Scandinavia, and then probably the West Coast in the fall.

It’s just constant in and out of different places isn’t it?

I don’t want to work man, so yeah.

That’s great that you can do that.

Yeah man I feel pretty lucky

So are you recording specifically with the intent to cut another album?

Well, we’ll see. I’m basically going to record with a bunch of friends of mine, a lot of duets, a couple trio pieces; mostly in kind of a traditional sort of mold.  But, I don’t know. Kensington Blues is a really hard record to live up to. So it’s just gotta be really good.

So the Jack Rose disc was released as just a tour CD?

Yeah, it’s just a tour CD. Out in an edition of 1000, and when that’s gone its gone. There might be a vinyl issue of it… but we’ll see.

You’ve released everything on vinyl, at some point haven’t you?

Yeah, I should probably do that one on vinyl too.

I actually think it makes a great follow-up to Kensington Blues. Why do you view it differently?

I just don’t quite see it that way… yeah because… the touring is great and playing all these shows… but with everyone putting out so much stuff, I mean you’ve gotta have new product all the time, its kind of a drag. I like the record, don’t get me wrong, I think its cool stuff, but half of that, like the first half is going to be re-recorded with other players… those songs I really had duets in mind. There’s already one song on there that I’ve found another way to play it on a different instrument and changed it all around. I mean it is sort of a snapshot of what I’m working on and the songs are pretty much formed.

I mean I kind of like that, as a collector to be able to obtain many different recording, but if I guess if you really want to create something that maintains some sort of longevity, then you have to be selective on what you’re releasing.

Right even with Raag Manifestos, I kind of see this record that’s out now as sort of like a precursor, which I think Raag Manifestos was a precursor, because two of the songs on Kensington Blues were really informed by a lot of those twelve string excursions and that’s just in the raw form on there, where Kensington Blues is more refined and totally, exactly the way I want it. But still I think Raag Manifestoes is a great record, but… its because again, I was going out on the road, I was going to Europe for the first time and I was talking with my friend Patrick and he was like, “you gotta go with a tour CD.” And I was like… I don’t know… I tried to record a brand new CD for that, but then it didn’t work out, so then I went through my stack of tapes, stuff I had lying around and picked out stuff that sounded good.

Do prefer releasing your stuff on one format as opposed to another?

Yeah, I definitely prefer vinyl… of course.

You’ve done a few small edition 7 inches correct?

Yeah I just put one out on Tequila Sunrise, recently. It’s called Untitled. Do you have that one?

Unfortunately, no… I was hoping you had them last night, but I’m sure you’re all out of them.

Yeah, but that’s the thing, when you’re on tour you need something to… I hate to sound like a total capitalist here… but when you’re on tour you need to have something to sustain you.

Is a lot of your music based in pre-war blues?

Well, yeah, but not just blues, anything that’s pre-1942; Cajun, Country, Blues, Jazz all that stuff… that’s my favorite kind of music. You know, the raga stuff and Fahey music I love, but if I have to pick one it’s that.

And that’s the primary focus of your record collection?

That’s pretty much all I collect.

So what are some of your favorite records?

From that era… I’d pick songs really… Pacific Railroad Blues by Coley Jones is one of them, Freddie Keppard; he did this one tune that’s really great. I really love King Oliver; the very first Louis Armstrong recordings from ’23 are really great. I like a lot of jug band stuff, especially Noah Lewis’s Jug Band. I love Mississippi string band music, that stuff’s great. You know I love the Delta Blues and all that stuff too.

It’s weird… I’m a big fan of Skip James but I have a hard time listening to him. There are only thirty-one recordings that I base him on, but I haven’t listened to that record in two or three years, just because I find that music to be totally nihilistic, and just absolutely painful. It’s scary fuckin’ music, it scares the shit out of me, you know. It’s just really, truly staring into the void, you know… I’d rather listen to Whitehouse for the rest of my life, because its heavy stuff. I mean I love it; you’ve really got to be in a frame of mind to listen to that stuff and I’m really not in that frame of mind anymore. I think a lot of folks who listen to Oh Brother Where Art Thou, don’t really grasp how heavy that stuff is… I was looking at this CD and it was um… they were talking about how this was such gentle music and I’m like “I don’t know what the fuck you’re listening to… the Carter Family… what?” No, it’s not.

I’ve also been obsessed with John Martyn for the last three years or so… anyone who hasn’t heard him, I would describe him as the sleazy Nick Drake, or something like that… he’s great shit man.

I’ve heard you mention Terry Riley as an influence, how does he and Minimalism, in general play into your sound?

Oh I’m a huge fan of Terry Riley… I made the connection between Terry Riley and Fahey, in regards to the repetition. Especially the twelve-string stuff when you get moving on that, and also using certain intervals, you hold them for a while and it creates all that … like LaMonte Young when he was doing the piano stuff, he would create clouds of harmonics and overtones.

Did you notice Tony Conrad, was at the show (in Buffalo, NY) last night?

Yeah I did see him, and that was part of the reason I played “Sundogs” last night.

He was right up front when you played that.

Really? No Shit! Well, that’s cool… I saw that he was there and was like, “aw I should play that tonight and if…” Ah cool I guess he liked it.

How did you end up involved with the album A Raga for Peter Walker and then in turn this tour?

I worked with Josh Rosenthal on the Imaginational Anthem 1 and 2 compilations, and he said he found Peter Walker and that’s how that got started. That was a track that I had found when I recorded at VPR in Amsterdam, it was great sounding track, and everything worked out fine.

Imaginational Anthem 1 and 2 were both good, but I think this compilation is much more focused.

Oh yeah, this one is much better!

What label are you doing your next record on?

Oh, if it’s on vinyl, definitely on Tequila Sunrise. They put out Kensington Blues on wax, they put out a Meg Baird single, there’s a Meg Baird LP coming out, Michael Blue Smaldone LP and my single, and that’s it, right now. And then he’s got, in the works an LSD March record… that’ll be different, but he wanted it to be that way, so that it’s not just known as a folk label. Tony and I’ve been friends for a long, long time, I work at his shop too. We actually fund the records together, and again not sound capitalist; I get more money out of it than I would when I just give it to someone. As far as CDs I would just go with VHF.

You’ve been putting out records with VHF for a long time, haven’t you?

About twelve years… it’s a great label, it’s always fair… I’ve been really lucky to have guys like Bill at VHF and Tony at Tequila Sunrise and Ed at Eclipse. And then I have a friend in the UK that puts out my records (Beautiful Happiness) and you know… basically it’s the same record, but just licensed in the UK. I’ve been really lucky to have those guys because I’ve never been ripped off or anything.

With the Tequila Sunrise label, do you guys do full gatefold or…?

It wasn’t a gatefold, but it was paper on cardboard, really nice stock and then black gloss on black matte… 180 gram pressing… people were giving us crap, because we were charging $25 for them, but it took a lot to produce… but its quality, you know.

The cover of Jack Rose’s new album Jack Rose is adorned with a sepia-toned reproduction of an old photograph of two men, who are actually relatives of Mr. Rose, sitting in front of a field dressed in their Sunday’s best. Across the lap of the man sitting on the left is a guitar, while the other is holding a fiddle in an upright position, they each face the camera as if they are saying “ok let’s get this over with so we can play some music.”

With that in mind, one could easily imagine the seven compositions found on this release, as a reflection upon the very image that adorns its cover. Composed without sentimentally trying to recapture the experience of the two men, but written to capture the experience of the living, breathing man viewing the image today. Though a nostalgic air lies heavily over this record, it is more meditation than an attempt to recover a moment that is lost forever.

In opposition to Kensington Blues, which found Mr. Rose exploring all aspects of his playing, from ragtime to raga, this record finds him focusing exclusively on one aspect of his playing: blues for the lap steel guitar. The seven lonesome tunes that Mr. Rose has composed for this record lead one down various emotional paths ranging from pure elation to contemplation and a yearning for the past. From the first note to the last one will find themselves lost in Mr. Rose’s ruminations.

The album begins on a very “blue” note with the loping “Levee,” which slowly picks up the pace into to something more reminiscent of a reverie, great stuff for an early Sunday morning or a bit of a car drive. “Revolt” follows a similar format but with a little more acceleration, from which you are then taken back down a bit with a wonderful rendition of Fahey’s “St. Lois Blues.” From there we move into the upbeat but slightly melancholic “Miss Mary’s Place,” a title and song that transports the listener into that space that time has somehow managed to forget. “Gage Blues” is an ecstatic blues rave up, the real feel good piece before the bittersweet album highlight, “Spirits in the House,” in which Jack is able to fully explore many of the facets of his instrument; from weeping slide playing into kaleidoscopic finger picking and back again, it’s on this track that Jack is able to truly stretch out and shine over the course of twelve plus minutes. The album closes with “Dark was the Night,” a final look back at days gone by.

On this record, more than any other, Mr. Rose is able to lay down some very raw emotions in a very sophisticated, yet simple manner that is light-years ahead of many of the other Takoma revivalists and has really pushed him to the next level as an artist. It will be very interesting to see what he does next.