Interview with R. Tasaday
This month we talk to the reclusive R. Tasaday, bedroom-pop auteur and occasional filmmaker, to celebrate the news of his forthcoming release 'Tiodhlac' on Expel Records.
By Sonny James
R Tasaday - 'Be Gone Dull Care'[MP3]
SJ / So what is music really about for you?
RT / For me its a little side room off real life, which is about the unrelenting grind of existence; its like that pub in cheers, or when mork talked to orc; you have to find your own room, leave your coat at the door. For me as a suburban kid growing up in a cultural wasteland it was like a map out of certain situations, but a map containing its own place. I don’t think people find things in such odd ways anymore but maybe they do. I don’t. I discovered the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed through Andy Warhol’s popism book! I liked to listen to the radio under my pillow as a teenager and liked John Peel, but I also loved short wave and the west coast of Scotland had wonderful reception for english language shows on Radio Tirana and the like. Here you could hear all sorts of music that wasn’t going to worry the charts.
SJ / Do you have any formal training in music, and if so, has it helped or hurt you as a musician?
RT / I learnt the recorder briefly as a kid, I had a nice wooden one, but I dropped it in the graveyard on my way back from school. I always felt embarrassed singing, when I was 7 my aunty suggested I try miming and after that I never sang in public again. I think that was a bit irresponsible of her. I had an electric organ with numbered keys and some push button chords, many a blissful hour was spent creating primitive dirges (and still is). My mother recounts a story of waking thinking she must have died being awoken by my mournful noodling on the bontempti. After I taught myself some chords on the guitar at age 12 or so I went to a classical guitar teacher however this meant I got no pocket money so that didn't last long...I was phased by the introduction of sharps and minors as well, much to the annoyance of Heather the guitar tutor, who was an Australian big on pictures of wave forms etc. So I continued with the guitar myself and was eventually given a rickety piano by a neighbor (on the promise that I wouldn’t tinker with their new one) which had to be moved to our house on the back of a trailer which was quite exciting and needless to say wasn't entirely in tune once it had been huckled into place. I don't think its particularly hurt me as a musician (especially if you don’t think of yourself as one), from what I understand for some people being taught an instrument can be a life long inoculation against music and certainly can stop you approaching an instrument as a creative vehicle.
SJ / What instruments do you consider yourself proficient at & what instrument would you most like to pick up?
RT / I don't think I am proficient in any instrument, I never play with others and never in public. I would most like to pick up a piano, if only to prove my superhuman strength. Other than that I would be quite keen to play one of those instruments that you hit with sticks that looks like the back of a piano I think its called a hammer dulcimer. If I could play one of those I would definitely play in public.
SJ / What's a record you like that you feel people would expect you to NOT like & what’s a record people would not expect you to like that you DO like?
RT / I don't know what people would expect me to like/not like! At the moment I am listening to Damien Jurado. However I haven't got past "sheets" and "cloudy socks". I get stuck on songs. "Foggy Mountain Dew" by Damien Dempsey is good too. I don't know what's going on with the Damien thing. Perhaps people wouldn't expect me to like "Hissing of Summer Lawns" by Joni Mitchell. But I do. I love Edith and the Kingpin. I don't really know what it's about but the images she uses in the lyrics are most evocative...the band sounds like typewriters...his left hand holds his right. All the songs on that album are like that.
SJ / How big of an effect do you think your mother has had on you as a musician?
RT / That's a good one! My initial thought on this was nothing but I have thought a bit more and remembered some odds and ends. One that sticks in my mind is watching the Eurovision song contest with my mother and she commented that she wondered how there could be new songs in the world with the limited number of notes. This sent me into an uncharacteristic rage, principally because it was something that I had privately wondered about myself; it also sent me into a bit of an existential funk (not the groovy kind, the DH Lawrence “State of Funk” kind) with a sense that here I was at the end of history...the time when no nothing new could happen, a time when we were doomed to repeat what had gone before. On a brighter, less self regarding, note...my mother (I call her Mum)..had a record of light Japanese music that she had bought in Singapore when my family were stationed there and that always filled me with a delicious feeling of melancholy with the pentatonic scale rendered Mantovani style. Another aside on Mum was that she helped me buy my first recording device, a two tape karaoke machine. I left school in a bit of a daze at 16 and spent a year moping around my parents house recording music on this machine, it had a reverb dial and a tempo control and allowed me to over tape endlessly creating what I guess would be a wall of sound or rather a wall of mush.
SJ / How many guitars would you ideally own, and what would they be?
RT / I would ideally own a guitar! I have a guitar on a long term loan from my elder brother. I do own a broken epiphone electric guitar which I bought after my first job as a kitchen porter in a flight catering unit after I left school. It was but a three week interruption to the aforementioned moping. It was a miserable place. Most of the workers had hand made tattoos on their throats of dotted lines and "cut here". The girls on the lines which made up the trays of food wood regularly run from the line crying at the sheer tedium of spooning mashed potato.
SJ / Do you think emotional trauma helps or hurts one as an artist?
RT / Emotional trauma....I would say generally yes. It certainly helps with the the fermenting process. Does it help me? I don't know. I have been traumatized, yes indeedy. In fact I spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital in a locked ward. That was like the finishing school for the traumatized. It was over halloween, I even got to go the halloween disco! That was traumatic, but I can't squeeze a song out of it. It was the end of an attempt to run away on a high that took me on a bicycle tour of Tighnabruaich and The Kyles of Bute. I stayed in B and B's and then when my money ran out I found some rather odd shelters, one night I slept in a cottage full of poachers from the north east of England, another night I slept in the waiting room in a police station in Fort William. But these things can be like dreams, when you write it down it sounds a bit trite, and it was more traumatic for my mother!
SJ / Would you rather play in a bar or a living room?
RT / I think I once sang in a bar, a Karaoke bar, I think I may have done "Paper Roses" by Marie Osmond. I can't remember where it was, somewhere rural and a bit scary. I must have been drunk. I will have to say I prefer to sing in a living room, with the proviso that I was the only person present. Having said that my living room is hard on the street separated by a single sheet of glass, our local hoodlums can make it feel like being in a bar, a special underage bar.
SJ / Do you think you’ll ever leave Scotland?
RT / Um, I dunno. I would like to sometimes. It rains constantly. You wouldn't believe the clouds could hold so much liquid. I have no language skills bar a smattering of Gaelic learned in a night class, which doesn't travel so well. I liked the Soviet Union, when I was there as a student. I have great hopes for Scotland, not least in that it is endlessly disappointing and full of emotional trauma. I went to the Outer Hebrides a couple of weeks ago...it was quite instructive; it is like a condensed version of Scotland - full of fear and (self) loathing. The swing parks all have signage on them "closed on sunday". I met a man involved with alcohol counseling who said the islands were rife with alcoholism of a generational variety. People will of course not drink for pleasure but purely on a medicinal basis. As an adult I lived in Bristol for a year and quite liked being a foreigner for a year and would ham that up a bit.