An Interview with
By Beppe Colli
Dec. 14, 2005
diFalco's vocals and keyboards (there's also a nice accordion) are for this
writer a big part of the charm emanating from the CDs recorded by US group
Caveman Shoestore (it's Caveman Hughscore for those records recorded with
bassist/composer Hugh Hopper): a group whose themes - sometimes in odd time
signatures - are played with a kinda-new-waver pronunciation, where diFalco
has very good companions in bass player Fred Chalenor and drummer Henry Franzoni.
Super Sale is their most recent CD. Since in the past I had read
a couple of interviews with Fred Chalenor but not a single one with Elaine
diFalco, I decided to get in touch with her in order to ask her some questions.
She agreed. The interview was conducted via e-mail, last week.
Since I know literally nothing about your background, I'd like
to know about how you first started to develop an interest in music, your
early influences, likes/dislikes when it came to musical instruments... you
know, the usual stuff.
I'm the youngest in a large family that is very musical. There was
a piano in the house and I just discovered it at a very young age. I remember
being excited when I'd finally grown tall enough to reach the sustain pedal,
so I was pretty small when I started. I never took lessons as a kid. I played
entirely by ear.
Classical music was a very big influence when I was young. I used
to love it on rare occasions when my mom would play records, usually when
we had company over. I remember noticing the music for old cartoons and thinking
it was amazing that somebody would actually write notes for people to play
things like that.
My brother Dave had the biggest influence on me as a kid though.
He's 11 years older than me and had the most eclectic taste of any of my siblings.
He turned me on to Zappa, the Mills Brothers, The Residents, Billie Holiday,
all kinds of stuff. He really expanded my ear. I loved Elvis Costello.
I ran away from home when I was 14 and started playing in bands.
I played with guys all about a good ten years older than me. Excellent musicians.
They turned me on to Gentle Giant, Dixie Dregs, Jan Hammer... stuff in that
world. This is in Phoenix in the 80's where there happened to be a pretty
thriving punk community, so that had an impact on me for sure. I played a
lot in those days in a few different bands. Kill Everyone was the first band,
then Syneasthesia, Almighty Sphincter, and God Wads. For a punk scene there
was a lot of melody going on, and quite a variety of bands were playing all
the time. There is now a website that features many of the old flyers from
that era in Phoenix. www.azpunk.com.
I'd like to know about the way Caveman Shoestore were formed -
and about the group's first two albums, Master Cylinder and Flux.
I moved to Portland from Phoenix with the GodWads in early 1990.
I met Fred and Henry at a show we did called the AIMFest (Amature Independent
Music). I think there was only one of those. They were playing as a duo and
I thought they were great. I kept thinking they needed a voice to help tie
it together. They were throwing notes everywhere!!! I guess they were thinking
that too, because they asked the following week to join their band!!!
Master Cylinder was a great experience. A wonderful person by the
name of Alessandro Monti flew out from Italy to help produce it. I've lost
touch with him, so I hope someday to find him and hear about what he's up
For Flux we had found Amy DeVargas who played a mean bass and was
a terrific songwriter. I found it wonderful to finally sing harmonies with
someone. It is a whole other ball game to sing back-up parts, and that music
allowed for a lot of experimentation in that department. I loved the fact
that we had two basses and no guitars. A great musician from New York by the
name of Jimi Zhivago came out to help us produce it. He was a great producer
and had captured a nice sound for Flux. He was constantly battling Fred over
the issue of putting reverb on the vocals. Fred was adamant that he did NOT
want reverb all over everything. Jimi I think added a wee tiny bit somehow
when he brought it in for mastering. It was extremely subtle but Fred still
noticed. I tend to agree with Fred. I like dryer vocals.
Would you mind talking about the way the group started their collaboration
with Hugh Hopper?
Hugh read about Fred playing fuzz bass in Musiche magazine. He sent
Fred a note. All it said was "Fred, Musiche Magazine accuses you of playing
fuzz bass. Could this be true?". Fred was very excited when he received
that in the mail. He responded by asking for the music for Sliding Dogs which
Caveman started to play. We also recorded a song Fred wrote for Hugh called
The Hugest Hopper which was released on a compilation called This Is PDX...
I think. I can't remember. I don't have a copy of it and it's been years since
I heard it. I can't even remember the name of the label. I'm sure Fred might
have held on to one. (It didn't make it into my collection when we split up!!)
Then one day Hugh sent us a batch of great music and said we were free to
have our way with it. That led to us making records with him.
I'd like to know your opinion about certain aspects of the work
for each of the three CDs you recorded with Hugh Hopper - like, different
producers, different studios, specific problems, etc.
Well, the first one, Caveman Hughscore, we were in a really fancy
schmancy studio called Sound Impressions. We didn't really have a producer
for that record. We just sort of worked with the engineer who had worked with
us on the previous Caveman album Flux, Nick Kellogg. He was really great to
work with. He seemed to enjoy himself quite a bit. That album sounds very
raw to me.
HighSpotParadox we made in Seattle as opposed to Portland. Unfortunately,
we were not working with Henry at that time, but we did have another really
wonderful drummer Will Dowd who has much credit to his name. Wayne Horvitz
produced that record. You can definitely hear his touch, but Tucker Martine
had a WHOLE lot to do with how that album ended up sounding. Fred and I really
changed the way some of the songs were, too. We added bridges or arranged
things or chopped them up into fragments and piece-mealed them back together.
Delta Flora was the first recording where Hugh stayed in England.
We recorded our basic tracks at Tucker's on tape (his studio is named Flora),
transferred it to ADAT's then I flew to England and we recorded at Delta Studio
which is near where Hugh lives.
As you can see the album was named after the two studios where it
was recorded. HighSpotParadox is named after the places we ate for breakfast
when we made that record. Hugh came up with that idea.
You play accordion and various keyboards, most of them of "classic
vintage", such as Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, Hammond
B3, and the like. Would you mind talking about the way you see those - mechanical
- keyboards as opposed to software-based, plug-in type instruments?
I think I've always preferred the organic quality of vintage keyboards
and real pianos from my classical foundation. There is a technician who was
servicing my Rhodes who explained that I probably desire the physical properties
of instruments that have sympathetic resonances, the harmonic series. Digital
instruments don't have that. I also love the fatter warmer sound of analogue
synths. They just seem to make a really nice WOOF! However, Fred has been
collecting a lot of synthesizers, digital as well as analogue and I've just
used them on our upcoming album Frankensongs, so I've just branched out!!!
On Delta Flora there's a very nice song you penned, November.
Are there any songs out there that you consider as very good right now?
I absolutely LOVE Robert Wyatt's Cuckooland. I was stunned by Foreign
Accents. I had to stop everything I was doing and I played it over and over
and over. In fact, I recorded my own version of it with my machine for fun
one afternoon. I busted out my violin (which I have never played), my Tibetan
bell, I filled all 16 tracks on my machine! I played both versions for a dear
friend of mine who is Japanese. Her grandparents survived the war and never
ever speak of it. It made her weep to hear it. That song is very powerful.
It has been said that nowadays people have much shorter attention
spans when compared to past decades, this factor being considered a serious
obstacle for the appreciation of "difficult music" in the way it
was somewhat common, say, back in the days of "progressive". Judging
from your personal experience, how do you see this topic?
I think there will always be people who will seek out the music that
I suppose the fact that it's easier for any Joe Blow to make a record
now, as opposed to past decades, has greatly increased the amount of crap
that is out there. Therefore, it seems overwhelming to wade through what's
out there to find something you can chew on. Perhaps that has changed how
much patience people have with their listening habits.
However, Joni Mitchell has pointed out very eloquently that music
from her heyday had so much more integrity. She said the muse is missing from
music and all you have now is "ic". Perhaps, the airwaves are oversaturated
with music for the masses, and in America, at least, that means the lowest
common denominator of society. I very rarely listen to the radio, but when
I do I can't handle the stuff I hear. It's all formulated schlock. Maybe I
should try harder, but I don't have the patience!!! HA HA!!
I guess bottom line is though, people will respond to what resonates
with them personally. Provided you can get your music to your select audience,
there will always be someone out there who will spend the time to listen.
Internet and technology can have an impact on this.
Back to Caveman Shoestore: Would you mind talking about the new
album, Super Sale? (By the way, credits for the songs don't make clear who
Well, generally speaking, the name listed first is who made the nucleus
of the song, and the names listed afterward made considerable compositional
contributions to how it ended up. Unless, of course, we all co-wrote it...
then it's whatever.
Since I live in California and at the time of the recording Fred
lived in Seattle and Henry lived in Portland... we made the record via correspondence.
Fred would drive down to Portland, rehearse with Henry, then send me a recording.
I would then practice/develop my part and eventually I flew up to Seattle
and record the basics. Then the roughs I'd load into my machine and come up
with lyrics (Henry sent me some ideas which I would work from and add to).
I made vocal demos for most of them which sound REALLY different in some cases
because they're pretty naked.
Nowadays the trend is to use more and more compression in the
overall sound of a record - as well as on vocals, not to mention pitch-correction
programs that are commonly referred to with the term "autotune".
As a singer, what's your perception of this trend - and of the way music actually
As you can very likely hear... no pitch corrections were going on
that I heard. Yup... I'm pretty much out there on that limb.
Perhaps the compression is added during the mastering process. But
I'm not aware of the increased use of it on any of our recordings.
The usual final question about future plans - group and solo.
Well, we are currently working on an album called Frankensongs. I
have to fly up to record my vocals soon. In fact, I have to move back up there.
Fred and I were married and we split up. I moved to California to go to school.
Well, I'm done with school... time to go back to being a musician.
Fred is incredibly supportive and obviously still my best buddy.
We have plans to make a whole bunch of music when I get back up there. I have
a huge body of music I've composed for a quintet. He's already lined up some
musicians for that project.
I also have an orchestral project I'm working on for a theatrical
piece based on historical research I'm doing. I don't want to say much more
about that, but I'm really excited about it.
© Beppe Colli 2005
CloudsandClocks.net | Dec. 14, 2005