Sunday, September 14, 2014

Interview with the Red Krayola - 1968

This article appeared in the 2nd issue of Mother: Houston's Rock Magazine, a short-lived periodical (three issues in all) put together by Larry Sepulvado. To my knowledge, this is the only published documentation of the Red Krayola's intentions, and it is extensive.

The Third Eye video was put together by Jeff Hill.

Thanks to Paul Drummond for providing me with the scans of the article.

Reprinted here with permission of Larry and Mayo.




(Once an audible circumstance occurs, that material which will have been registered in memory may yield to executive and stylistic concerns; yet this static documentation of recalled impressions is necessarily subsequent to the continually changing instance of our music in relation to linear, sequential time. It is the case that we will make our music, period.)

The group as it is today was established in September, 1966. At that time most of the music (rock) was written by the group. By December, 1966, all of the group's material was original, including distinct sections of improvisation which in performances were begun freely by mutual assent. These "free pieces" were a definite part of any performance, and while at the beginning were rock derivative, they gradually became freer as the members began to question the concept of rhythmic structure as well as dependence on traditional rock instruments. By February, 1967, these "free pieces" were the staple of the group and had been extended by inviting all interested parties to participate in performance. A minimum of control was exercised over this now companion group (The Familiar Ugly), and all unrehearsed activity was encouraged and accepted. While working with this performance-group structure, the group was approached by International Artists Producing Corporation and contracted to produce their first LP. In March 1967, with the Familiar Ugly, the group recorded a three-hour "free piece" and this forms the base of the album, PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND. Currently, the Krayola has returned to using three pieces (the original group). The present preoccupation is with sound as structural element and system simultaneously.

N O T E S 

Rhythm deals with intervals which are set by duration of individual sounds. Indeterminate sounds, yielding to no directives in respect to length of the sounds themselves, are not concerned with honoring any correspondence with a recurring, designated beat. If a performance is actually a forward progression, correspondence is viewed only in retrospect. This has been true of all music and, in fact, of life itself. The distinction being that now the performer himself, aware solely of his presence, enjoys a disregard for any circumstance other than that which his presence addresses.

Rhythm deals with the arrangement of sounds, a regular or irregular "style" or "structure" which limits the number of possible products that may obtain. These limitations have occasioned the group's present disregard for a rhythmic base and have prompted a focus on the critical juncture that is proper. This focal change (accepting all products but not addressing them as determinate), leads to the recognition of all sound as unit, the integrity, all of which is preserved. The importance of this decision is that a new musical structure is implied, a structure based on sound in lieu of rhythm.

In the confrontation of one by a present circumstance, there is a de-emphasis on movement, a tendency toward immobility.

Music is that which is proposed as music.

We free the sounds and we free ourselves of responsibility to them or for them. Total irresponsibility (we possess nothing) allows music to be made in a measure of freedom.

What is not actual (physically current) is illusion. Illusion is born at the construction of a relationship between the present time and any other moment prior to the present time. It is reborn continually at each juncture of conscious necessity. Its food is literal sequence and asks only that is be questioned. Our concern is with that which is physically current.

Motion occurs as a mental process arrived at apart from the continuous now, which is the way the music occurs audibly. Audibility is then separate from motion. The music is heard now, and now, and now continually until it is heard no longer. Motion is an implication which is extra-audible, extra-musical.

Music is about itself. (We are not interested in portraying, conversing, filling, completing, interpreting, identifying, or conjuring.)

Music is made, sounds will continue, whether we perform or not. In this understanding, we produce that which we produce.

The music is made, desirous of a certain degree of attention. It can be dealt with an incidental sound, but the production derives from an intensity that the reception could emulate.

The primary characteristic of every production is its singularity and the attendant requirement to change, consistent with the intellectual-emotional process. The intensity of the process here is critical.

What follows is an interview conducted by Jack Villagomez and me on January 16, 1968. Below, left to right, Steve Cunningham, Mayo Thompson, and Rick Barthelme, who is at present absent. Tommy Smith is the new drummer.  -- Larry Sepulvado
L to R: Steve Cunningham, Mayo Thompson, Frederick Barthelme
MOTHER: Why was the chaos, the freak out, separated from the order, the structured music, on the album instead of being integrated?
MAYO THOMPSON: If you wish, the album tends to visually orient itself. It's like a continuous line where there are small blips like on a graph and these songs with simple structures appear in the more complex structures.
MOTHER: Who wrote the structured parts?
MAYO: Well, all three of us. Rick wrote the music and I wrote the words to "Pink Stainless Tail" and "Transparent Radiation". Steve wrote "Former Reflection Enduring Doubt", and we all worked on "Parable of Arable Land" while Rick and I wrote the words to "War Sucks" and we all wrote the music.
MOTHER: Will the Familiar Ugly and the free-form freak out be a part of your next album?
MAYO: Though they don't appear, we do have some good tapes which we might distribute if anyone is interested in hearing them. We have a new drummer, Tommy Smith, and he is good.
MOTHER: What is the name of your next album?
MAYO: One side will be called God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It and the other side will be called Coconut Hotel. It should be out in March.
MOTHER: What kind of effect will you be trying to create with the new album?
MAYO: We're not trying to create an effect. I personally am not trying to create visual effects. I'm trying to have sound exist by itself as sound which it does without my help.
MOTHER: Do you consider the first album a kind of evolutionary stage or is the second album completely different or just a natural progression from the first?
STEVE CUNNINGHAM: It is definitely a natural progression. We feel that we are now doing the right thing, having in the past done likewise.
MOTHER: How many songs will the next album have?
STEVE: So far we have twenty pieces to go on, plus several one second pieces. We have a lot of listening time planned for this album. As much as possible.
MOTHER: Why one second pieces?
STEVE: We came upon these pieces when we were trying the experiments in sound. They are compression of time with sound. They are just moments of different duration, all very short and of different composition than the longer pieces.
MOTHER: What idea are you trying to put on record?
STEVE: These pieces can be conceived of as part of another piece, part of the last thing you heard, or as the beginning of the next piece, or as an island in the middle of no sound. It'll come out with a position that could be changed and put into another position. It works from the outside in and its environment will depend upon where you want to put it.
MAYO: In the first album the songs appeared in the midst of more complex spontaneous pieces composed by over 60 players. This next album has more complex songs in barer structures.
MOTHER: How significant have John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Frank Zappa been in influencing your music?
MAYO: I've listened to them since we got into this thing. Steve buys some Cage, Feldman, Van Dyke Parks, and people like Stockhausen and Zappa. Rick is very familiar with Cage and knows him personally.
STEVE: So we are all aware of the work of these composers and we are therefore aware of several unique classical ways of thinking about music.
MAYO: As to how they have influenced us, I don't know. They serve as a reference point within the framework of music composition. We have been influenced by the sounds of modern day America as well as the sounds and music of other countries. But our music is a different thing because it is ours.
STEVE: We offer the term International Sound to be taken as a recognition of the way man makes a piece of music and sums up everything he is involved in.
MAYO: We are on a line with the intimacy with which jazz musicians play but without that manifested active consciousness of what the other is playing and those little improvisational things "that fit".
MOTHER: How much time was spent in the studio on the first album and how much will be spent on the second?
MAYO: About thirty hours on the first and as long as it takes for this one.
MOTHER: Where were some of the first places you played?
MAYO: The first place we played was the Living Eye and we got $75 for one hour and then we played at Mark Froman's club, Love. This was when we were playing rock music. Stuff like "Hey Joe" and "Eight Miles High". After the Familiar [Ugly] became a part of the act, we played the Catacombs and there were about ten people on stage with us and the Gentrys were there. We played "War Sucks" and a fight broke out on the dance floor...laughter...stuff like that.
MOTHER: What were the circumstances surrounding your invitation to play at the Berkeley Folk Festival this past summer?
MAYO: We got invited because we knew Kurt Von Meier from California. He heard these tapes we were doing for a second album then (still no plans to be released) which were very new. We had dropped the drums and were playing what he called classical music. Out there, we played a concert at the Venice Pavillion at the Angry Arts Festival. Then we went to Berkeley.
MOTHER: What happened after that?
MAYO: I was on this panel with Country Joe, Ralph Gleason, the leaders of the Kaleidoscope, and the Crome Syrcus... A dog wandered into the ball during one of our concerts and heard us. Some people covered its ears and walked it to this door where it collapsed, paralyzed and I heard they had to put it to sleep.
MOTHER: Any other anecdotes from the coast?
MAYO: One night we played with John Fahey at the New Orleans House, played twenty minutes and they asked us to leave.
MOTHER: Did they pay you?
MAYO: We got ten dollars to split three ways... laughter.
MOTHER: Generally what is the audience reaction?
MAYO: It's always mixed unless it's our friends or something. We've gone over best at art galleries. We played the Louisiana Gallery and the Dryer Gallery and at those places everybody was going like "that's good stuff". One night we played at the U of H and it was terrible. They didn't seem to like us.
MOTHER: Where did you play at the University of Houston?
MAYO: It was at the Jeffrey House; a dormitory dance for the girls there. We started playing our own material because we didn't want to play anybody else's. After a while they formed a half circle about fifty yards away and sort of looked at us for a long time. We kept playing and there was quite a bit of hostility exchanged and the girls kept pleading with us to play something they could dance to. We tried a bunch of stuff. We tried "Satisfaction"...laughter...and I didn't even know the chord progression. Later a lot of people showed up and we out numbered them and we had the dance to ourselves.  We played what we wanted to. When we left they were waiting for us outside and this police sergeant was staring at the clouds. Then the dormitory gave us our $100 and we said no. But we had amplifier payments and we took it. Someday when we can afford it, I intend to pay the Jeffrey House back their $100.
STEVE: Those were the days when we thought we could guarantee satisfaction.
Love Street Light Circus and Feel Good Machine.
Photo: 1960's Texas Music.
MOTHER: What were the circumstances surrounding your opening Love Street (Love Street Light Circus and Feel Good Machine - Houston's first psychedelic night club at Allen's Landing.)
MAYO: We knew David Addicks, the owner, and he knew Rick because he was in the art thing. We used to crash his openings and drink wine and stand around. He got us one time to play this happening. He did a little light show and impromptu number and told us he was opening this club and we hinted about being the house band. So the last time he saw us we were doing semi-rock music. The next time he saw us, we had dropped the drums and the Familiar Ugly. We were doing this three piece thing with clarinets, trumpets, guitars, razors on cymbals, phonograph turntables, and tapes etc. But he had already asked us to play this press opening for Love Street and we played our music. He hired another band.
MOTHER: Did you play opening night?
MAYO: We played opening night and he knelt down front, wanting us to get off stage. I'm not knocking him but I don't think he liked us too much. He has provided a certain class to Houston that it just didn't have before. Our first set that night was incredible.
MOTHER: Where else have you played?
MAYO: We've played at the Living Eye once, the Catacombs once, Love Street once...
MOTHER: You don't play anywhere twice?
MAYO: We rarely play anywhere twice. I can't think of anywhere we have played twice except Mark Froman's place, Love... laughter.
MOTHER: What happened at Gulfgate's "Battle of the Bands"? A friend of mine, Charles Isherwood, played Indian taxi horn with you that night. He also left for Vietnam that night.
MAYO: Yeah, I remember him. He was out there honking this thing and I asked him to come up on stage. He played next to Haden Larson who played the spoons. Our first night at Gulfgate someone in the audience pulled the plug because we were playing so loud and long. So we kept playing till they plugged us back in and we finished up. Lelan Rogers who is our excellent producer saw us that night.
MOTHER: In the finals in the tent, do you feel you fulfilled an obligation to the audience by playing "Hey Joe"?
MAYO: ...no...laughter.
MOTHER: I was going to ask you if you thought you had influenced the Fever Tree's ..laugh.. arrangement of "Hey Joe" that had everybody standing on their heads this summer.
Fever Tree, s/t 1968 UNI Records
Photo: discogs.com
MAYO: Well... we played it very fast ...laugh... when we first got started, we played Channelview High School and Smiley for K-NUZ. The Fever Tree were on the same show except they were called the Boswick Vine then. I think they are really an incredible group. They are very smooth professional people.
MOTHER: They are developing very well.
MAYO: I would like to hear them again. The last time I heard them was at the Jefferson Airplane show and they were very good then.
MOTHER: The group has really progressed to almost frightening proportions for a local band, especially their lead guitarist and the addition of the new guy who plays organ and flute.
MAYO: Yes, Rob Landis, he is one of my mother's former students.
MOTHER: As a performer, do you intend to entertain your audiences; because obviously more people are offended than pleased at your concerts.
MAYO: It so happens we are now doing material somewhat more suited to current tastes. As you know we have a new drummer, Tommy Smith. We like to play for people. We plan appearances for promotion of our new album.
MOTHER: Where will you be playing to promot it?
MAYO: We will play some places in Houston. We're with AMG, Artists Management, Mason Romans.
MOTHER: Where is the last time you performed as a group?
MAYO: Berkeley, this past summer.
MOTHER: What are your chances of getting booked now? Do you have to audition or does the agency set the bookings and then you show up and the people find out what you are doing?
MAYO: We have Mason who does that now. Mason gets on the phone and says, "I got the Red Krayola... oh no, no they aren't doing the kind of music they were doing... yeah, they are sort of playing more like rock music..." and then he explains that we have gone straight or something... laugh... and tells the kids we play music they can dance to or listen to... those conversations are really weird sometimes. We hope to be able to perform all of our music; both structured songs and instrumentals, the experimental structures and random compositions, all of it.
MOTHER: How much do you charge to perform?
MAYO: ...Mason should know.

Rick Barthelme on the cover of
Mother: Houston's Rock Magazine, issue #2
Credit: Houstonia

Sepulvado, Larry. "Red Krayola." Mother: Houston's Rock Magazine 2 (1968): 22-26. Print.

All issues available (library use only) at the Briscoe CenterUT Austin.