Monday, December 29, 2008

David Winogrond Interview

It's clear now that cool music has always been produced somewhere, even if the prevailing wisdom runs contrary to that statement. Pre-internet, people just had to look a bit more diligently in order to find underground sounds to their liking. For me, Homestead records provided all kinds of cool sounds in the later half of the 1980's. Live Skull, Naked Raygun, and most of all To Damascus were Homestead bands that I loved to listen to. They were all bands that expanded my listening post Metal, Punk, and Hardcore. The thing that I love most about To Damascus is their singularity. Their records are always challenging, and I admire the "take us at our own terms" vibe that Syliva Juncosa and her band mates produced. Of particular interest to me, aside from Sylvia's mind-boggling guitar ripping, was David Winogrond's drumming. Rock based, and Jazz inflected, David's drumming stood apart from the standardized, stock room playing of so many of his counterparts in Rock at that time. Towards the end of the 1990's I was pleasantly surprised to find that he'd become the drummer of choice for the great Davie Allan, who was at that time making a comeback. While David's playing was much more straight ahead within the context of the Arrows' music, it was still kick ass and exciting to me. At some point during 2008, I friended David on myspace. In keeping with the Disaster Amnesiac tendency of interviewing drummers, I asked Mr. Winogrond if he'd do and interview. He graciously consented, and then some. The man has some resume! Dig in and be astounded by a life making cool, underground sounds.

First off, some background questions. What part of the country did you grow up in?

The North Shore area, outside Chicago, till age 6. New Jersey at age 7. Moved to La Canada, California at age 8. Started playing drums at age 11. Stayed in La Canada till age 17, where I was in many bands, but nothing was released. I moved back to the Chicago area suburbs, and finally Chicago. Played in a few bands out there, Graced Lightning, and Athanor. Graced Lightning put out one single, which didn’t really represent us. We gigged a lot for over two years but none of that material was ever released. The single was with vocal, but we were primarily an all instrumental prog rock band. Athanor was a Beatles/Lennon influenced band and we put out one single. Finally moved back to L.A. and been here ever since.

I associate your playing with the L.A. area.
Has that area been your home for most of your life?
Most of the music I’ve done that’s been released is from here. Yes. Time-wise, I’ve lived here the longest.

How did you get into music? Was there music in your house growing up?

My dad bought me a record player, a lot of records, and a radio when I was around 5. I was immediately hooked! I remember going to my first day of school at age 6 and freaking out until I was put in a room with a radio, tuned to my favorite station! I had a cousin, Blanche Winogron (she dropped the “d” at the end), who was known in classical music circles for her harpsichord playing. I didn’t know her that well, but she’s probably the reason I love the instrument. I also have a cousin, Mark Winogrond, who’s exposed me to a lot of great music over the years, especially when I was younger. Both rock and jazz. His son is a rapper. Good stuff. He goes by the name of Grip Grand. I’ve only briefly met him once.

What made you get into the drums?
Was this something you did in school (i.e. band class, etc.?)
I knew I wanted to play an instrument. Tried a few things, but drums felt natural to me from the beginning. The two events that really did it for me was seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and seeing Sal Mineo in The Gene Krupa Story. I loved how Gene Krupa didn’t care about the traditional role of drums and brought them up front and did his own thing with them. I met him at some equipment show a few years before he died. Very nice guy. I briefly took one semester of band in school, but didn’t really relate to it and didn’t do well. That was for reading drum music and playing one snare drum in the orchestra. I knew I wanted to play a full set and play rock music, so I quit after the first semester. I think I got a D in the class. Outside of this, I’m completely self-taught.

How about other instruments?
Tried clarinet, piano, guitar, and violin. Was in one band briefly playing rhythm guitar shortly after starting drums. It didn’t stick and I went back to drums

What was your first drum kit?

I bought everything a few items at a time. A Sears snare drum with crappy 10” cymbal. Then I bought a much better Ludwig snare drum but turned that into a rack tom. Bought a crummy high hat. Then a 36” marching bass drum that was really loud and literally made pictures fall off the hall wall of our next door neighbors. Their hall was facing my bedroom. Some friends who also played drums would sometimes bring their sets over and I’d combine them, so I could play with a lot of toms and two kick drums. I was maybe 12 then, and had no clue what I was doing. I wasn’t sure how to set up a drum set, so I looked at pictures in Sears catalogs, which were very unhelpful, and the front cover of “Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds” for clues of how to set things up.

Did you take lessons?
Were there any teachers or experiences that inspired you greatly?
Just the one semester of band in school, which I had no interest in. No. I just listened to a lot of music. Those were my teachers, basically.

How about early listening experiences, the kind that you can still remember as being greatly inspirational?
As mentioned, I was glued to my record player since age 6. Kids would come over to ask if I wanted to go out and play baseball with them. Zero interest. I remember when stereo was a new thing and the family just got one. Prior to that, I had a mono turntable hooked up to my television. I remember getting the first Hendrix album when it first came out, before he was known in the States, and planting myself between the two stereo speakers and listening to that album. It blew me away and I called a drummer friend to tell him I had just bought the best album ever made!

Presumably, you came of age in the 1970's. What are your memories of this time in music?
That’s a big question! There were many phases in the 70’s! I liked the stuff that still vaguely sounded 60’s, some prog rock like Soft Machine and Van Der Graaf Generator, and various punk, but preferred the more melodic pop influenced punk, like The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, Ramones, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Magazine, etc.

Were you involved in Punk at all?
I was the 2nd drummer for The Germs, but never did any gigs or recordings. Pat Smear and I were on a couple of singles: The Tidalwaves, and The Martyrs. I was asked to play the last Germs gig but I was busy that night. I seem to remember it was a short notice kinda thing. I also was working on a Pat Smear solo project, but that didn’t go anywhere because he was asked to join Nirvana. I wasn’t a big fan of The Germs, which was why I quit. My only regret is that I didn’t get to play with Pat more. Pat’s a great guitar player and very cool guy.

Please give some account of your earlier musical history. What kind of bands did you play in? Any that you remember with particular fondness?
So many! (I was) always putting something together. My first gig was pretty funny! I was 12 and only had the Sears snare drum, 10” cymbal, and high hat. No kick drum yet. 7th grade talent show. Singer and lead guitar player was playing through his record player. Bass player was playing guitar, tuned down. Rhythm guitar player… well… we hadn’t decided which song to play until we were actually walking on stage! The singer said, “I’m a Man” by The Yardbirds. Unfortunately, the rhythm guitar player only heard him say “Byrds”, so he was actually playing “Mr. Tambourine Man”! Oops! And the band before us was an instrumental surf band, so the sound guy assumed we were too, and turned off the vocal mic! We kinda sucked.

My first experiences of hearing your playing came from the great band To Damascus. This band was so unique, especially in the context of 1980's music. What was it like playing in To Damascus?
Fantastic! Sylvia and Tyra were both way cool people to work with.

Was the band aware of just how different you were?

We were ALL different.

Sylvia Juncosa is, in my opinion, one of the best guitar players ever. What was your experience playing with her like? Can you give any insights into her amazing story?
Back then, she was just on fire! Writing tons of songs, which we’d learn and work out only to have her come in the next week with a new batch. But I also remember that our non-rehearsal chit chat was rarely about music. They had really well rounded interests, so they were really interesting to hang out with.

Your drumming in To Damascus has always seemed to me to be a sort of Jazz/Rock hybrid. Can you describe your approach to drumming at that time? What were some of the effects that you were after?
Jazz has always influenced me from an early age but it wasn’t really a conscious thing. I guess my approach to drumming back then isn’t that different from how it’s ever been. My approach has always been very conversational, as opposed to being the anchor. I like to “talk” to whatever the melody is. That may be in part because the kick drum was the last piece I got in my first drum set. I’m guessing on that, though. But doing the “in the pocket” thing with the bass player was something I got into later. I was always more interested in conversing with the melody, whether it be a vocal or guitar or a bunch of feedback.

It seems that To Damascus ended when Sylvia joined SWA. Is this the case?
No, she was playing in both at the same time.

Did To Damascus play with a lot of the SST/South Bay bands in live shows?
Not really. Sylvia did with SWA.

After To Damascus ended, what bands did you play in?
The band broke up after we did a U.S. and Canadian tour. I, especially, found the tour to be very disappointing. It was my first, so I didn’t know what to expect. I came back and intended to take a break from music altogether, but was immediately asked to do a Davie Allan session, which produced the song, ”Missing Link”. I was then in a band called Screaming Flesh Machine, with Tom Hofer on bass and vocal, and Bret Gutierrez (who was later the singer in Sylvia’s band for a little while) on guitar and vocal. We did some recordings, around four songs if I remember. One of those songs, one that Tom sang, ended up on an album by Tom, called “Clearing House”. Tom was in the first line up of Leaving Trains and played bass for To Damascus on much of the first album and the tour. He’s doing these really cool collages now. Not so much music. He’s getting art shows and selling his collages. Lots of stuff inspired by old match books. He also did the collage on the inside of my new album, “In The Ether”. Also, after To Damascus broke up, I bought a drum machine and started doing drum machine programming for some local rappers and other people. I did some drum machine programming for a rap version of “Surfer Joe” by Mike Love, but he ended up not releasing the album it was planned for. But mostly, the few years after To Damascus broke up, I got more seriously into photography, which I had actually been doing longer than drumming. I discovered photography around the same time I discovered music but was doing photography before I decided on an instrument. I was more focused on photography than music during this time period.

Please talk a bit more about your start with Davie Allan. What has it been like to play with someone so talented?
It started with “Missing Link”, which I mentioned earlier. It was just a session. He didn’t have a regular “Arrows” at that point. But in 1994, with the release of “Loud, Loose and Savage”, he decided to put a working Arrows together for the first time since the 60’s and I was asked to join, through Chris Ashford. Chris thought my improvisational approach would be good for Davie. The guy is an amazing talent! And what I’ve never understood is why he isn’t better known for his writing. He’s obviously a great guitar player, but he’s also a great song writer, as well.

The clips of the Arrows that are posted on YouTube are incredible.

Thanks! Have you checked Jake’s Wild Trip on YouTube? It’s in three parts. Kurt Max filmed and edited the whole thing in his back room. Very talented guy!

Are you still with the Arrows? If so, are there any new recordings in the works?

No. Basically, I got a day job that enables me to finance my psychedelic jazz recordings. The problem is, I can’t get away to do out-of-area gigs or tours. So I realized my choice would be to keep the job and work on my own thing, or quit the job and not have the money for my recording, so I can continue working with Davie. I’ve been an Arrow longer than any other Arrow, roughly 13 years, so I decided it was time to move on and work on my own thing. “Moving Right Along” finally came out this year, but it was finished in 2004, right after we finished “Restless In L.A.” (that same year) and before we did the two Christmas albums. So, at this point, everything’s been released that I played on.

The tunes on your CD “Pictures at an Existentialism” have a great, post Free, almost ECM-ish vibe.
Clearly you have a great Jazz influence and approach there. Is the group from this CD playing shows?
Interesting. The Blue Note and Impulse labels were more where I was coming from. And the look and feel of the Columbia gate fold Miles albums in the 70’s, that had an almost concept album vibe. That wasn’t really a group. Jack Chandler is the one consistent person on my CDs. He plays sax, flute, and occasional keyboards. The guy’s a freakin genius! I feel very lucky to be working with him! I have a 2nd album, “In The Ether”, coming out Feb 17. This album is also not a consistent personnel, except for Jack and myself. I didn’t see this as a drawback or compromise. I wanted the albums to be fairly eclectic, and not necessarily have the same sound or approach throughout. More like solo albums than band albums. On “Pictures at an Existentialism”, there’s one song where I had DJ Bonebrake (the drummer from X) play vibes, and Davie Allan on guitar. DJ just put out a new jazz album on the same label, Wondercap Records. “In The Ether” (which) is even more eclectic. Both (of my) albums were specifically studio projects and not intended to be representative of a live band. After finishing the two albums, I decided I needed to start doing shows and needed to put an actual band together. It’s called The David Winogrond Spacetet. As of now, it’s a fairly new band. We’ve only played three gigs so far, all at The Industrial CafĂ© and Jazz, in Culver City. It’s a very cool Ethiopian restaurant and jazz club. This band consists of Jack Chandler, Larry Rott on bass (who I worked with in the 80’s with Michael Penn in a band called Doll Congress), and Bruce Wagner on guitar and trumpet. Bruce and I have worked on many bands together, including Davie Allan and The Arrows, Skooshny, and SS-20. SS-20 was sort of a psychedelic art damage band on Greg Shaw’s Vox Records label. We started out with just Bruce on extreme fuzz bass (or occasional guitar), me on snare, floor tom and high hat, and Madeline Ridley on vocals. No other instrumentation. Very minimalist. Played gigs at punk shows or poetry readings or Greg Shaw’s Cavern club. When Greg Shaw found us, he turned us into a more conventional line-up, (guitar, bass and full drum set), but we remained very psychedelic. Bruce also appears on a few cuts on “Pictures at an Existentialism”. Skooshny, which Bruce was also in, was a band I started with Mark Breyer in 1975. We released singles on a label I started in the 70’s called Alien Records. The DIY approach of 70’s punk was influencing me, but the Graced Lightning and Athanor singles were also independently released as well, in the early 70’s. Eventually, Greg Shaw contacted us (Skooshny) to tell us our singles were collector’s items in England. He hooked us up with Bill Forsyth in London, who released our first album, which was made up of the singles and recordings I had sitting in my closet, collecting dust. Bill also released two more Skooshny albums after we decided to reform. Several years ago, the label for Jigsaw Seen, Vibro-Phonic Records, released a “best of” Skooshny album called “Zoloto”. Skooshny finally broke up, though we have one more song that’ll be released on Vibro-Phonic eventually, for a Bee Gees Tribute album. More info on Skooshny here:
Also on the site is my discography and another interview:
The David Winogrond Spacetet is my focus for now. I usually juggle several projects at once, but this is what I’m concentrating my energy on right now. That, and trying to get “Pictures at an Existentialism” and “In The Ether” some exposure.

You're an accomplished photographer. Can you talk a bit about this aspect in your life?
I mostly do people photography. Models, album covers, portfolio work, etc. Examples can be found here:
I’ve also done journalistic photography, which is completely different. (I've) worked as a staff photographer for The Palisadian Post for four years. I’ve been working with film cameras for decades, but once the quality of digital got really good, I finally moved into digital and haven’t used my film cameras in years.

What projects are you involved in as we move into 2009?
I’m excited about my new album, “In The Ether”, which is a continuation of the psychedelic jazz explorations that I started with on “Pictures at an Existentialism”, though each album is actually very different from the other. I’m also looking forward to getting The David Winogrond Spacetet more gigs and recording an album. I’d like to eventually move to Ethiopia and put a jazz band together there and occasionally tour Europe while living in Ethiopia, but that’s down the road a bit.

Post Script: David emailed me to remind me that To Damascus was on Restless, not Homestead. Totally my mistake. I seemed to recall them on Homestead, but I checked my copy of Come to Your Senses, and it is on Restless. I guess I'll blame that one on old age related memory loss. Thanks, David. He also wanted me to ad a link for the Spacetet's bass player, Larry Rott:

Ok, thanks to David for putting up with me and me gaffs!


Pig State Recon said...

Wow - I'm speechless. Great interview with a great man. Rock on!

I was quite friendly with ARROWS bassist Dave Provost (ex TEXTONES, DREAM SYNDICATE, THE DROOGS) in the mid-90's; he was a really sweet guy who was dealing with some serious problems around that time, but who always found time to speak very highly of Dave Winogrond. That's around when I discovered SKOOSHNY, whose peculiar, homemade pop I still love to this day. Since then, I'm always curious if I come across a rec that Dave W. drums on.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

He's one of the best! I just listened to Loud Loose and Savage on my iPod during lunch. It's fun to interact with friendly people, I've no doubt that David would surround himself with cool guys like Dave.

Improvedliving said...

Wow - I'm speechless. Great interview with a great man. Rock on!

Beatles Fan

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Thanks, man.