Chris von Sneidern Music Website
In my dreams, I can never throw a punch. My arms move slowly and stop before connecting. Maybe everything in dreams is slowed down. Last night I dreamt I was shaving and cut open my chest, and inside the wound, I saw my heart beating. Either I need a new razor, or I’m trying to get something out.
My school bus ride as a kid was short in the morning, since they picked us up after doing a loop along the river, but nearly an hour going home. I could walk the three miles in less time, and certainly less hassle. My brother was already a marked target for mild abuse, and so they had it in for me on my first day of middle school. One day I was hit on the back of my head with a hammer. A steel hammer, to the head. If everyone on the bus was hit once with the hammer, I might not have taken it personally. I later took my revenge on the bus seats, slashing them open with a knife.
The cat upstairs is friendly — aggressively so — and comes meowing around loudly from time to time. She’s got a long loud meow, more like a crow, her eyes are slightly crossed, her name is Irma. The cat first came around a couple of years ago, wandered down from the flat upstairs that has a constant flow of tenants coming and going. She wasn’t always meowing, however. If I opened a door on a warm day, I’d not be surprised to look up from my desk and see the cat sneaking around my apartment, sniffing extension cords, rubbing up against guitars and stacks of papers.
I would shoo her out. I don’t want a cat, nor the fur or anything else she might leave behind. She crept in many times, making it a game we’d play- cat sneaks in, I gently throw her out. One day as I was leaving, I found her perched on the back of a couch, looking out the window. I put her out and two minutes later she was right back in the same spot, napping. Game over. The door stayed closed.
This was my first 45 rpm release in Japan. John Wesley Harding and I were invited there to tour in 1999; three different labels released two CDs and this single that week. We were given the royal treatment, hosted dinners every night, fans lined up politely for autographs, and I had my own CD listening station in the Tower records. I loved the attention, but on the other hand, I didn’t know what to do with it. That is to say, going into it, I didn’t understand Japanese culture and the delicate matter of minding your manners. I knew to bring gifts there, but then I gave gifts of my own albums to our hosts.
The recording of “Unkind” was more involved than usual, as I was being ambitious after having recorded Wood + Wire with a full band and hired studios rather than recording at home mostly by myself. Dennis Diken happened to be in town with The Smithereens, so I got to thinking...why not recreate the Wood + Wire recording ensemble scenario that worked before? It’s not so easily done, actually. I begged Dennis to make time on his day off to record, and eventually he went for it, nice guy.
The cloud of grief was a long storm for me. My mother died in 2004. While I had been able to continue a recording session after getting the news on the phone, the months and years following were darkened by sadness, confusion, fear, and a slew of unresolved childhood issues. I didn’t know quite where to put all of this. It didn’t bother me acutely every day, but it was a state of mind that I couldn’t shake. I could only talk so much about it with friends, as it’s generally a downer, and the best anyone can offer is that it will get better. It does get better, but time alone doesn’t seem to heal things. One has to accept difficult things eventually in whatever way he can. Thankfully, the things you can’t control are easier to let go of; you get to skip the forgiveness step.
I was stunned at how quickly everything had happened with her illness. It was only a few months between the first news and her dying of cancer. Information was revealed in tiny bits, so between my blinding fear and her reticence in giving full disclosure, I didn’t grasp that she was dying until the last days. I sat beside her bed in the hospital, my mom a little bald bug with big brown eyes. After some time I said, “I’m sorry…” and she said, “I know.” That was really all that was said about any of it.
Gene Clark was the heavy presence of The Byrds, and on stage didn’t even strap on a guitar. He wrote or co-wrote many of their best singles, and left the group in 1966, although he poked his head in and out of the band until they hung it up in 1973. His solo records have the intensity of a Bob Neuwirth or Townes Van Zandt album, and don’t have catchy singles. Instead he takes you on a trip.
Not Lame records asked me to pick a Gene Clark song to cover for a tribute album being organized by Eric Sorensen. I did not want to pick a Byrds song. Local music writer Kurt Wolff suggested “From A Silver Phial” from No Other and I figured it was good advice since I barely knew the material from any of the handful of Gene Clark records out there.
I’d been recording at a new studio in the Tenderloin called “Story Road.” The quotation marks were part of the name, and completely superfluous. The guy who ran the studio slept in a room behind the tracking room, so he was around quite a bit whenever I worked there. He’d convinced the city to give him money to equip his place so that he could employ local homeless people. I can’t think of a less appealing vision. The studio was already in need of a lady’s touch- upon entering the place, you smelled a ham stewing in a crockpot, right next to a cloudy, putrid aquarium in which a few hardy fish survived.
There was a time when I was the youngest of everyone I hung out with. That lasted a few years while I got my start playing music.
The Insomniac was a weekend after-hours club in downtown Syracuse, and everyone from our rural area who was into “new music” went there. I’d barely started drinking beer, and people were doing drugs, having sex; I felt very much a guest in someone else’s home. I was 15, watching bands and man, were they weird! I had to have a band, everyone in this circle had a band, it was like new wave dancing, skinny ties or buying old suits at the thrift store: you just did it.
Mike Jewell was considered a bad kid. He was the Jim Morrison of the 4th grade, he just didn’t seem to care about rules. Not the way I did. Mike and I had a brief run. I think he tortured animals and played with fire. He showed me a magazine he referred to as “O-U-I.” It was stashed in a well in the middle of his yard. One night three of us slept on top of a trailer, gazing at the stars. He taught me how to shoplift, then said he’d tell my mom if I didn’t keep stealing. I decided to just tell my mom and cut out the middleman.
What he wanted me to steal were screws and nails to build another tree fort.
When I overhauled my studio website last year, I had ideas about the process of record making, production, all the advice I could think of to write down and post in the pages. I even wrote a special section on the hazards of getting hung up on “important details” in the studio, with hopes that I might be immune to the same pitfalls. Since the day I switched over from ADAT machines to a Digital Audio Workstation, I saw the change in the way we work in the studio. I was a latecomer to the thing we call Pro Tools, leaving linear tape in 2003. I work mostly in Cubase, which is the German equivalent, as far as what it does. Pro Tools is the commonly-known name, like Kleenex or Tylenol. I've used most of the DAWs, in search for the best, and while I have my favorite, it’s all basically the same idea. A DAW emulates what we did with tape machines and mixing boards, as in, “Do you actually know what every one of those knobs does?” I miss hearing that.
I wanted to get out of San Francisco in 1990, having left my girlfriend, my band, and now hanging out with Paul Collins, who was planning a long drive, relocating to New York. He’d just split with his wife, and was heading home after a long time living in Spain. We packed our guitars, not much else, and took the southern route.
We sweated to a swamp cooler in Tempe before going out to see the Gin Blossoms. We opened for Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock at Threadgill’s in Austin, I sang my silly “Shakin’ Rice” for a very polite dinner crowd facing the stage, munching on fried okra. When Paul got up with the East Side Blues Band to sing “Kansas City” at TC's Lounge, the bandleader said, “Hey, just make sure you don’t swing your arms around and take out a trumpet player.” Thanksgiving in Houston was a feast with two turkeys and a crown roast. We actually did sing for our supper, before I was accused of stealing a camera. We finagled a cafe gig in Athens, GA for a couple hours, including dinner and drinks, before someone in the kitchen finally said, “Wait, no one arranged for any music tonight...who are you guys?”
I got a message on my machine from Stacy Martin. She had recommended me as a likely candidate when someone was casting a movie and needed a “Lord Byron” type. Acting? Never. Movies? Nope. Get me an audition!
I met with the film’s director, Lynn Hershman Leeson. I gave Ms. Hershman an overview of what I do, the recent enhanced CD Big White Lies with interactive liner notes, sound and videos (not unlike a web page now), to which she said, “I did interactive in the ‘70s.” I began to wonder why I was still there, since she knew I was not an actor. We talked for awhile, and she decided to have me read for the part of Nick. He was the boyfriend of Emmy, a computer and genetics buff using dial-up Internet and a Macintosh II to travel time and space with "undying information waves" to reach Countess Ada Lovelace (Tilda Swinton), who was a real-life 19th-century English mathematician. It’s an interesting idea; I’ve always had difficulty following the story.
Copyright © Chris von Sneidern 2020