Interview with Zundap (Portugal)
Folk music has been a way of life for you (The travelling, the way you see and treat people, what you sing). Do you think people (not related to this universe) find you naive?
I’ve never really thought of ‘Folk music’ as being a way of life for myself. I don’t know if Naïve is the right word. I haven’t found that people think I’m naïve. Maybe they think that but don’t tell me to my face! It doesn’t worry me what they think about me. I was called a vagabond in Austin Texas. I never thought of myself as that, but then you can’t always see yourself as others see you. I was sleeping in doorways and old cars.I ’ve had someone come up to me and say they wish they could be like me….I appear to be ‘free’ doing something I enjoy…I always thought that was a secret of life, to find something you enjoy and try to get good enough at it that someone will pay you to do it.Of course, my life, it’s not that easy or glamorous. That person who wanted to be ‘like‘ me was just unhappy doing whatever job they had to do to get by, or they maybe didn’t have a job but wanted some kind of meaning in their life. A mission or something, I don’t know.We’re all ignorant; we’re just ignorant about different things. My attitude is changeable. I can be a mixture of idealistic and cynical, I have been a devil's advocate and I’ve acted or pretended to be ignorant or ‘naïve’ in order to find a truth from someone. Or to find out what somebody’s motive was or might be. I’ve survived this far by doing what I do. I’ve been penniless and poor on the streets and sang amongst thieves. I’ve sung for people with money. I made sure they paid me. I’ve sung around campfires for free.There was a point in my travels when I had come back to find out where my home was, I had to find out if I was going somewhere or running away. I wanted to live in a community again. I had experienced a kind of ‘culture shock’ perhaps, returning to my own country after years of travelling and after speaking a different language, I forgot some of my own language, I couldn’t articulate my thoughts for a while, and felt as if I’d been living in a different world away from the TV soaps and media that everyone else had been watching. People were talking about TV fictional characters, fictional characters I hadn’t heard of, who I didn’t know, who at first, I thought were real, it was bizarre, they talked about fictional events and stories that happened on TV very much, while I found that my own reality and subjects of conversation were very different. I hadn’t watched any T.V. for some years. So I found it hard to relate for a while. I could only talk about and remember things that had happened to me, personally, I could only talk about people and friends I had made and who I’d met on my travels in other countries, what I’d seen first hand, work I’d done. So my experiences from people I first met on my return, were very different. I also found that my priorities were different. I actually found myself consciously stopping myself from talking about the adventures and ‘colourful’ life I’d led, as it might seem like I was ‘boasting’ telling my ‘wild’ tales to people back in ‘fashionable’ ‘ego-centric’ crowded and anonymous London. I wanted to fit in, blend in, not seem different, exotic, or stick out. Even though I did stick out. I’d even started to dress in darker clothes, nothing too colourful. I didn’t want to be plucked like a strutting peacock. I wanted to listen a lot.Perhaps I saw things with different eyes, me seeing my own country and culture with new eyes after being away for so long. But I realized and did find later that there were others who reacted to this world as I did. Even though I didn’t feel I belonged to any ‘sub cultural’ group or ‘tribe’ as such, I did feel that I had a political vision of the world that I shared with other people, many other people I’d met on my travels, the community I ended up living in and struggling with fighting against evictions, organizing action together, being angry with the government and also I am the way I am because of my own class background. I never felt isolated I don’t believe that I live in a vacuum. Musically, I also regarded the label “Folk” music and culture as being much more embracing of all kinds of music from the Blues of Muddy Waters, the Jazz of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, from the Klezmer music of 1900-30 and country music of Hank Williams to Bob Marleys Reggae and punk music like the clash. As regarding my own music and storytelling and songs; I don’t believe that my songs are unconsciously simple, in that “naïve” way that some “native” art might be considered. I’ve always tried to be honest and direct in my song-making, I sing about my family and people I have met to keep their memory alive, the world is complicated enough, so I try to achieve clarity and keep them simple and find my own truth. It’s a bit like distilling to make them stronger somehow. There is a complicated craft there in the song-making. I would make songs in a language that my Grandma and my family could understand; I consciously use a rhythmic and conversational style in my songs. I also would strive for richness in that ‘simple’ but crafted language.
Do you look at your songs like photo albums - a patchwork of experiences?
Sometimes I do as they are direct experiences in my life that I am singing about, I feel enriched by them and I want to celebrate them in song, apart from those stories, I want to remember the colour, the shapes and the smells, the time and places, to recapture them somehow, and I feel when I’m singing a song I am trying to recapture those moments for myself, to relive them and to take myself and the audience with me on a journey, as if it’s the first time experience for me too, every time I sing. I’m often surprised at the amount experiences I’ve forgotten about, they’re in my memory somewhere, they are like other worlds, other lifetimes and landscapes in a way, moments, sometimes an intimate moment that someone might remind me of when I meet them, or my memory is suddenly triggered off in a conversation, or sparked off by someone I meet from my past. I travelled alone quite a lot and often travelling alone like that, without a witness, without someone else to experience those moments with you on hand to remind you, you can forget very much. Coming across an old love letter or an old forgotten photograph taken at a certain place with someone in that photograph will have that same effect for us all, it will remind us, we will recall how we felt, it can make us feel overwhelmed by sentimental feelings of loss and passions. Also truth can be multi-dimensional, we people will experience the same incident or moment, and we will also re-tell that same story but very differently using our own words and measurements, seeing that story, and feeling that experience differently from each other, from all of us from own viewpoint and also our own interest. This must happen in Journalism too. - I suppose what I say or answer in this interview in your magazine depends on the kind of questions you ask me, and also depends on what questions you don’t ask me…………. and of course will depend on if I wander far away from your original question! Some songs are different from photos or cinematic pictures unfolding.- I sing love songs, some are angrier than others. I’ve been part of a community who are angry and I might bring that anger with me and sing with it. I meet many folks on my travels that are dispossessed and angry too and I realize we have much in common and have found that my songs can speak for them sometimes too. This is what they tell me anyway. I like to make songs to make people feel stronger and proud about themselves their work and their lives too. Songs could also possibly be like cartoon drawings, a caricature, or dark and resonant, like a Goya etching or maybe something like a Daumier lithograph. I've a couple of songs like that, when I am singing with someone else’s voice e.g. With the voice of a white American Christian fascist, a Christian fundamentalist, bigoted white supremacist.
And how do you see the world now?
I’m a father now. I live in a house now in Scotland at the moment, soon moving to live in Orkney, Islands off the Northern coast of Scotland. I used to live in my bus. We travel as a family as much as possible; I like us to tour together. We can’t always do this though. Solly is 3 years old, has toured since he was three weeks old, he has played spoons with me on stage. All kids like to copy and mimic, he copies me, he also copies his Granddad, wearing a dust mask, sawing, hammering, drilling and play-acting working with wood. Finn, our new baby boy, is 7 weeks old, so lots of nappy changing, and lullaby singing. Life feels even more fragile than it did before, kids are very vulnerable and so as a parent, you sense that more. I’m responsible for their safety, whereas I used to be more reckless, taking risks, the fact that I have kids makes me be more careful, whether it be driving on the road etc, I try to get myself back home in one piece to be with them, to play and I don’t want to miss them growing up, kids grow so fast… changes every day, especially at that young age.
Did you ever get tired if resisting all the mass opinion makers (labels, television, radio, press), the 'Big Audience'?
I’m not sure if I understand your question here. But I’ll just answer that I have survived by stubbornly singing my own songs to people and travelling with them, between other jobs of work I have survived singing and making my own music independently, without the TV, Media, press etc. I feel privileged to do this, I feel lucky to have a job at all, I am also lucky to have a job I enjoy without having to compromise and I’m in luck when I am paid for it sometimes. I feel that I am actually paid for driving. I am a driver. I drive miles and miles to sing somewhere. I feel I am paid to drive and that I am actually singing my songs for free! I would sing if I weren’t paid. I have also done many other jobs to pay the rent and earn a living…. I haven’t, what you say, resisted TV, I have been recorded for TV some years ago and I got to choose how it was filmed, I refused to mime to a backing track like a puppet as such, but I sang and we recorded live. I have never had a manager to push me into TV and things I didn’t want to do. I’ve never really gone looking for it…. I wouldn’t say. “No” to T.V. but I’d like to make sure it was recorded the way I wanted it to be…and make sure my song wasn’t edited or changed in the process. Not because I’m a control freak but …it’s all to do with trying to be true to the song and myself. Naturally, I want people to hear my songs, and if TV appearance brought more people to come out to a club and hear me play live I’d be happy to do it. Though it could be strange singing for people you can’t see who are watching TV hundreds of miles away. I don’t want to become a prisoner of TV. I don’t wish to be a prisoner of fame. After I’ve sung my songs I am happy to disappear and blend with the crowd and go my own way freely. The TV- game is all very competitive and I don’t think I would enjoy competing in that kind of game. The price seems to be too high. It’s not ‘what’ you know that counts in that game but ‘who’ you know. Very alienating. I’ve always relied on the word of mouth of people who come and hear me sing live and who might take away one of my CDs after a concert. A much slower form of publicity, but that’s all I know. I wouldn’t want to force-feed anyone my music. Saying, that someone bought all six of my CDs at once recently, that would have been a lot of songs and tunes to wade through!
What do you make of the new American and British folk scene?
It seems to be surviving well, many young people (and some old) still keep taking up instruments and wanting to learn tunes and sit in pub sessions and keep the tradition alive. I find myself sitting in there with them farting around with my trombone making a fool of myself on my fretless bass kazoo between them and some older folks, pushing the tunes along, syncopating sometimes. Young folks are also wanting to make new songs and music so it’s all looking healthy… Seems like Old-time music has just got a shot in the arm and a lease of life recently from that film, “Oh brother where art thou”. I haven’t seen it yet, and I’ve noticed ‘rock’ musicians or folks from other musical backgrounds are “going Country” with more acoustic instruments like sparkling banjos and mandolins firing away and warm accordions, more organic, less detached and less of that ‘cold’ midi sampling, and more sparse arrangements so the song can breathe, more voice upfront, I like that change, whether it seems like people are jumping on a bandwagon or not…. I like the change…. that folk music has always been there, I don’t know about folk revivals, “New” folk scene etc, that music has always been there even when it wasn’t “fashionable” folks have always played it, sat down with each other and shared tunes and songs in a kitchen or back room somewhere…. It’s getting harder for some promoters of live folk music in places, lack of money, and the new government restrictions on singing in pubs in England, but folks are still out there singing for themselves. Making CDs and recording is more accessible to folks these days. The big corporate record companies have less control over what we have to listen to, so people can choose what they want to sing, and not be forced to play some formula music they don’t want to make.
With 'Mouth to Mouth' you started editing your own albums. Why?
Not sure what you mean by editing? - But I’ve always saved my wages and produced my own recordings and paid for everything in the past, the studio hire, the tape, Artwork, and musician friends would be paid proper session fees. I could only record when I could afford to produce a record. The only thing I didn’t do before was to manufacture, and store my own CDs and distribute them. I lived in squats, short-life housing or in my bus back then on the road, so I couldn’t store my records anyway. So Cooking Vinyl licensed my recordings from me and manufactured and distributed them for many years. There were a few fundamental mistakes or professional hiccoughs that were frustrating, I won’t go into boring detail, and I was having to buy pay for my own CDs to sell, and …I couldn’t even afford to give any away if I wanted to…as it would cost me so much. I wouldn’t make enough money on the sale of a CD, not enough to pay for petrol or the next recording project…so eventually I decided to go the extra mile, save up and pay for the manufacture too. I had licensed my recordings to Cooking Vinyl, so I got those licenses back. Mouth To Mouth, another double CD, was a collection of New songs and many very old songs I’d already recorded years before, recordings of songs that I couldn’t fit on the previous 5 albums, in a way they were Demos, but then all my past recordings are really Demos, I just couldn’t afford to re-record them. I often wished I had. My singing performances weren’t always up to scratch in my opinion. So anyway I had these recordings of songs on tape mixed but unreleased because I thought they weren’t good enough or because they didn’t ever suit the mood of the albums I was making at the time. I also included an unavailable recording of an acapella song I released years before. I should have called Mouth-To-Mouth scraping the barrel! Actually, I still have songs I couldn’t fit onto Mouth-To-Mouth un-released.
Are you working on a new project or album?
I have very many songs and tunes, and I’ve recorded a few of those songs. I’m not thinking of the “Next” album yet really. It’s not planned as an album. I dig out songs, some old ideas, some new experiments, and quite diverse kinds of stories and songs. I have worked out musical arrangements…some songs may not make an album. I made up a ‘Directions song’ which is a song singing- and giving directions to get to our home, I just made it for a bit of fun, to encourage friends to drive for 8 hours and visit us up here in the Scottish Borders, singing and explaining every twist and turn, from the motorway to winding The winding roads and rivers and bridges and Villages crossed on the route…I sent it on a cassette tape to friends at Christmas instead of the usual New Year or Christmas card… ….If I released that song, Aimee says we might get a lot of unwanted visitors, so perhaps I’ll wait until we move…Also, I might include a song “No Blood for oil which was/is about the Iraq war, George Bush’s ‘Iraqnaphobia !’ as I used to call it back before our Armies bulldozed in there. There are so many double standards used in this war, with the corrupt USA government acting as World Police. The USA had been financing Saddam Hussein for years, as they also had supported and paid dollars to the Tacomponentsan and Noriega, the Contras etc. The CIA (The Committee to Intervene Anywhere!) was paying Saddam knowing full well back then about the genocide, they knew that he was killing his own people and Kurdish people. It was only when he threatened their Corporate Oil interests and refused to do “Business” with them, that they ‘decided’ he was a murderer and a dictator, then the demonizing process started. Where-as before, when he was in their pocket, he was killing with their blessings. The United States of America have got the ‘Third World’ in their own back yard. Bush is cutting public spending on education, community welfare projects etc. Yet they can afford to spend millions of dollars on a war and sacrifice lives of the people of Iraq and the lives of their own young working-class soldiers. The American Taxpaying people are subsidizing Exxon and Texaco and the big oil companies and corporate thieves and crooks like Enron. The CIA has been a terrorist group for years. In Chile on September 11th 1973 when Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president, was bombed and murdered in his Government Office building, it was with help from the CIA. Salvador Allende was fulfilling his promises and election manifesto to Nationalize the Oils and minerals for the peoples of Chile among other things. The USA didn’t like that. At that time Chilean Democracy was against their corporate interests. Then the USA helped install General Pinochet the murdering Fascist torturer and butcher and also a friend of our Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher, who sold him weapons. Mrs Thatcher also sold Mr Galtieri weapons in Argentina, weapons that, ironically, were used against British soldiers in the Malvinas (Falklands) war. The US government used Chemical weapons in Vietnam, the kind of weapons they tell us Saddam Hussein has hidden. The US government used Agent Orange and Napalm. Then their own young soldiers came back, wounded and legless heroes from Vietnam, spat upon and deemed unpatriotic for returning and protesting against the Vietnam War and the Nixon government. Memories are very short. It’s hard to believe. The Contradictions and Ironies go on and on very painfully! So I’ve been singing a song about this…it might go on the next CD, I’ve had requests from people here for recordings of it. I’ve gone on enough, that’s the end of my Ranting. I have many other songs and stories too, including a lullaby I made for Solly when he was very small and I would rock him in my arms and sing him to sleep with it while I was winding him and making him burp after his mum had breastfed him his milk.
Should music be on National Health, as you once said in an interview?
I was half serious and half joking with my tongue in my cheek. I was serious in the belief that music can make us feel good, is healing, whether listening to music or singing and making music ourselves it is good for “the Soul” it’s kept me out of some trouble too! It’s good that people find ways to express themselves, their feelings so that music is good therapy for them…to be singing with other folks too, people coming together at festivals that is a good thing, interacting that’s healthy…. Also I was making an economic point. The Welfare state we have here in Britain was never given to us like a gift, our Grandmothers and Fathers had to fight for it, and the way things are going in the world, It looks like we have to fight to keep it, Nurses here need better pay, we need more Hospitals, less hierarchy, bigger Hospitals, not more weapons, guns and missiles. I think music is the same…in schools, it needs more funding and it would be ideal if people could go and hear music for free…. that it was funded, like the Health System should be. And be part of the National Health…I heard a story of a man whose Doctor told him he had stomach cancer and he was going to die and that he was incurable, now this man ordered and watched lots of Comedy Films and he laughed a lot. He actually laughed himself better he was healed incredibly and he didn’t die. Now laughing and crying, I believe, are different sides of the same coin, releasing emotions, if we repress those emotions we get ill, It has been proven, we get diseases…so as humans, we need to weep and cry, we need to mourn and to express our feelings of grief and we also need to express our Joy…. don’t we express those things in music? We do…soul music from Otis Redding and Mahalia Jackson to…. Whoever…. I might sound a bit ‘evangelical’ here I hope I’m not sounding like some ‘New age’ pretentious Guru here or a religious fanatic here about music…but I believe music, singing and listening to it is able to heal. I made a song from a child’s point of view about parents splitting up, about Divorce and I’ve had young folks coming up to me telling me how much better they felt to hear their feelings expressed in the words of a song I had just sung. That they didn’t feel so isolated, or alone with their pains or confused feelings of loyalty etc when their parents separated. I’ve had parents come up to me also. I've had people coming up to me very moved after I've sung a song called 'The Joy of Living', they have just lost some friend or partner or Grandparent, and they've come and told me that they really needed to hear this song, a song about leaving this life behind, and old age and preparing for death and saying farewell. We need these songs, they nourish us. At sessions you see ‘old’ folks playing together with ‘young’ folks…that seems pretty healthy in this day of Generation gaps and muggings of ‘old’ people etc…. I am sure for kids performing in Punk bands screaming anger and frustration and singing with their own voices etc was a cathartic experience maybe…not everyone’s taste but that initial experiment and effort got them interested in making music and teaching themselves how to play the guitar eventually and to make songs or begin to enjoy other kinds of music etc.