DAVID UDELL
Orchids
(David Udell Music)

 

The music of singer-songwriter David Udell may be hard to categorize but that’s because there’s so much groovy stuff happening that it boggles the imagination. Turns out David worked with experimental guitar hero Carl Weingarten back in the band Delay Tactics back in the early 1980’s. David still lives in his native St. Louis and Carl, of course moved to San Francisco where he joined the best of the bay area music greats like Michael Manring, Robert Powell and other instro art-rock heroes. Speaking about working with David Udell earlier in both of their careers, Carl Weingarten recently told mwe3.com, “David Udell is one of the most skilled and imaginative musicians I know. While David’s fluid guitar technique was the first thing I noticed and admired about him, it was during our work in Delay Tactics that David showed me how the guitar was so much more than a lead instrument. In many of our recordings, David’s use of guitar textures, even the most subtle, would take each song to a new level.” There are some experimental edges on David’s 2015 CD, entitled Orchids, yet it’s all done with such taste and finesse that the album often comes across like a cross between The Beatles and The Archies with a little Velvet Underground and Marshall Crenshaw added in for good measure. David has a true gift for writing a catchy pop hook and he’s a wizard in the studio, which is why there’s so many tasty studio sounds sprinkled throughout the album. Being a first rate singer-songwriter and a vocalist, it’s easy to see why someone as gifted as Carl Weingarten would want to have David Udell in the same band. David performs a number of instruments on Orchids, including lead and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, banjos, drum machine, theremin and many other instruments and he gets some solid backup from a range of players. All of this stellar backing serves to accent David’s songs, which might take a little time to appreciate but, once you’re there, you will fully grasp the magnitude of just how cool and memorable Orchids really is. Extra points for the fantastic silk-screened artwork on the CD label of Orchids. www.DavidUdellMusic.wordpress.com

 




mwe3.com presents an interview with
DAVID UDELL



mwe3
: Can you tell the readers where you’re from and where you live now and what do you like best about it? What other cities do you like to visit?

David Udell: I live in St. Louis, Missouri and feel lucky. We’ve been in the news lately for our crime and racial intolerance. We do have problems but there’s more than that here. Maybe we’re opening up national wounds that need to be examined.

Culturally we’re on the outside looking in. A lot on my favorite writers, artists and musicians are from around here. Right off the top of my head I can think of Mark Twain, William Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, Miles Davis, Sun Volt, Wilco and The Bottle Rockets. I know many left when they got the chance but I’ve gotten involved with so many people and projects I just don’t want to go. It’s been an adventure.

I like to travel but a lot of my favorite places aren’t that far from here. I love New Orleans, Montreal and NYC. They’re all a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Besides St. Louis is the only place I know where you can be creative, productive and yet still live in abject poverty!

mwe3: What events led to the recording and release of your 2015 solo CD Orchids and how did you choose the name Orchids for the album?

David Udell: Orchids is about women I’ve known, beginning with my mother. She was a single mom back when it was almost impossible. She was so consumed with our survival that my brother and I pretty much had to raise ourselves. Women made 1/3 what men made. She saw men who were less qualified being promoted and she wasn’t. I know it’s still bad, but back then it was unbelievable. She’s still bitter about it.

It’s also about the conversations and lessons I’ve learned from lovers and friends and the experiences we’ve shared.

The idea for the project came a few years ago when I lost 3 women I love in the same year; “Orchids In The Snow” is their eulogy. Coincidentally I lost another dear friend that year, Dan Stefacek, to cancer. He was Wax Theatricks’ keyboardist. Life began to feel pretty fragile and temporary. I’m trying not to miss a moment of it now.

The other songs are about different stages and kinds of relationships.

mwe3: You have a number of other musicians recording with you on Orchids. How did you select the musicians to record the album with and can you tell us something how the artists contributed to the album? Was it done live or were there a lot of overdubs?

David Udell: There wasn’t really any set way of working. Parts of “A Window Was Open” and “Orchids in the Snow” were recorded in the 1980s in an old analog gospel studio, while the rest is recent and entirely digital. The earlier stuff would probably start with a few of us playing together. Now I begin most songs with percussion and chords. I have a pretty good idea what I want. The real agony comes with the lyrics. I could rewrite them until dementia set in. In that sense Orchids isn’t really done. I’ll probably make changes to the songs when we perform them live.

My old buddies from Wax Theatricks had to be in on it. Danny gets the last word on the CD with the Yamaha CP70 electric grand. I’ll never forget watching him from behind the control room glass in that dark studio, lit only by instrument lights as he played the final notes of the recording. Dominic Schaeffer played sax and flute on 4 songs. Tracy Wynkoop played bass guitar on 4 songs too. I tried to get our drummer Benet Schaeffer on it but he’s in such demand, I couldn’t pry him from his schedule.

I got Vince Hely to add bass to “Tonight”. Vince was part of our road crew back in the day and has been in many bands since.

The next person I added was Margaret Bianchetta on vocals. I worked with her in the past so we could get pretty personal about her parts. I think it shows. Then I got Stephen Martin for lead guitar on “The Winter The Orchid Bloomed” and “Tonight”. Steve, Margaret and I used to work together in the 1980s. They’re very busy these days and I was lucky to get them. Next I asked John Higgins to play pedal steel. Talk about the hardest working man in show business! I was asked how I was able to get him. I said, “I asked!”

Last but not least was Brian Casserly who plays trumpet and trombone. Brian’s a legend in these parts and always touring. I think both John and Brian were only available for one day. Luckily for me they nailed their parts immediately. In spite of the help, I did most of the guitars, basses, keyboards, etc., and of course I sang. A pretty daunting project if you’re familiar with my O.C.D. The endless retakes!

mwe3: Can you tell us something about your musical history and your early bands including working with guitarist Carl Weingarten in Delay Tactics, I guess that was in the 1980s? Carl had a lot of good things to say about your music and your guitar work too. He had high praise about your “guitar textures”. You and Carl are masters of those guitar textures. Why did you and Carl sort of part ways musically at least?

David Udell: Carl and I never parted ways really. He moved to San Francisco and we just got distracted with other projects. I got lost in the world of skydiving for 10 years. I was obsessed! Walt Whitney, Carl and I have just begun work on a new CD and we’re all pretty hyped about it.

I grew up with the band that eventually became Wax Theatricks. We were pretty ambitious. At 15, Dominic and I got bored with covers and wrote a rock opera. Our buddy Bob Reuter put out a self produced single and showed us how. Our records got more ambitious but we never really had the money to realize the music we had in our heads. Carl started showing up at gigs and convinced me that instead of struggling to realize an idea, especially with no budget, we use our limitations to shape the final product.

I didn’t know Carl that well yet, so I appeared on the first project “Submergings” under the pseudonym Phil Neon. I was living with Danny and one night he brought home the first Delay Tactic LP Out Pop Options… I was in! Walter’s technical expertise in spite of the fact we had no money blew my mind.

mwe3: Speaking of guitars, can you tell us how long you’ve been playing guitar and what guitars are you using on the Orchids CD? How do you stay in shape as a guitarist and what are some of your other favorite guitars?

David Udell: I started like everyone else from my generation. I got the Mel Bay Guitar Method book and learned my first chords. Coincidentally, I bought my first electric guitar at the Mel Bay Music shop in Kirkwood, Missouri. It was in the “grab bag” box, cost $25 had 5 pick-ups, 3 switches, 2 toggles and a giant round light dimmer looking knob. It had a funny smell too. I was in heaven!

I had 3 vintage Les Pauls, one of them looked like an SG. They’ll always be my favorite guitars that I’ve actually owned. I will never forgive myself for selling them. My favorite guitar is an old Gibson 335 with a brass nut for sustain. Got to use one once and fell in love. It belonged to Stephen and he let me use it when it wasn’t in hock.

On Orchids I used my current Fender Telecaster. I have one with a single to double coil pick-up switch. I can get a Fender and Gibson sound. When I absolutely have to have a Les Paul (like on “Valerie”), I have a Korean Epi Les Paul. I put real Les Paul pick-ups on it. The Korean ones have a heavier body. On my budget, it’s the best I can do. I’m happy with it.

My acoustics are an Epiphone Masterbilt and my daughter’s Yamaha. That little sucker sounds and plays great!

I borrowed a nylon string from my buddy Tony Patti. I think he acquired it traveling.

As for staying in shape, I don’t. I will destroy my entire studio getting to a final mix. Then I have to build it back up again. My guitar parts are the same. I’ll go through “hell” getting the part I want, forget it and move on. Sometimes it’s a little frustrating having to relearn the parts to play them live but it keeps my playing from getting too predictable. On the other hand, once I really like a part I don’t improvise much.

mwe3: On Orchids you mix folk, pop and a more harder edged kind of rock sound. Do you love it all or do you favor one genre over the next? More relaxing music or harder rocking sounds?

David Udell: I look at each recording as an adventure with, hopefully, unexpected turns along the way. I’m not really interested in the constraints of any one genre. As much of an influence as it’s been on my music and taste, I am so tired of the “Roots” cult. It’s beautiful, but I need to try something new! It’s not entirely fair to say that. I love the Bottle Rockets and even Sun Volt’s newer stuff. I do miss Jay Farrar’s more adventurous early stuff though.

I personally want quiet, chaos, mayhem, and peace because I live all those things. Sometimes I’m intellectual and sometimes I party!

mwe3: A lot of your music has social satire to it. I’m thinking of track four “Valerie”. Is Valerie stuck in a role and is it possible to transcend mere mortality and boredom without getting in trouble? I like the way that track floats a bit that takes off near the end, during the mantra like “it’s bound to get better” circular mantra.

David Udell: I wrote “Valerie” as a birthday present for my girlfriend. I think she was a little put off at first because it didn’t seem like a love song. It is though! It’s not “bound to get better”, - “it’s going to get better!” It’s about routines that make us miss how great life can be. The ruts we get into. Life is what you make it. If we decide to… “it’s going to get better.” I can’t think of a better mantra.

mwe3: The rock energy starts moving in track five “Conversations”. Is that your music at its “train of thought” best? Is that song about relationships? Any story behind “Conversations”? I take it the “conversation” is never finished. Good point. How does the ending fit into the track? “let’s never come down again”… Nice sax work on the end.

David Udell: It’s a little confusing because the song starts with, “We had a conversation we never finished.” When I wrote it for my girlfriend Lora… one of the 3 who died, I said, “We have a conversation.” Unfortunately we never finished the conversation because she died.

The song does sound train of thought because it’s based on several conversations we had. Dominic asked me why I didn’t call it “The Conversation”. But it’s based on several conversations. Through its ups and downs, it occurred to me that, as long as we kept the dialog going, the relationship was alive. When I’m at a low point in my life I always feel there’s a book in it somewhere. Let’s never come down from that!

Yes, Dominic’s sax is great. He’s a natural at melody! I lifted Danny’s little vapor trail synth ending from a live version Wax Theatricks did live the previous year.

mwe3: “A Window Was Open” also has a great power pop energy to it, handclaps and all. Is that another relationship song? I call is progadelic pop! Plus there’s some great organ sounds in there too. Underwater bubblegum music?

David Udell: When I was young I met a girl who was way out of my league. She turned me onto sophisticated party humor, art and a lot more. A window of opportunity was open and she let me in. I knew it couldn’t last but it was fun while it did. A local DJ named Steve Pick played it on KDHX in St. Louis. He had already played other songs from the CD on previous shows. He said this was the prog rock he expected from David Udell. Funny, I think it’s a pop song.

mwe3: “All You Have To Give” has a great descending bass line kind of with a Beatles kind of sound. Is that song about the transience of life? “Everything’s so amazing, everything goes away”… True, true. How do we know when we’ve given everything we have to give? Uncertainty is a killer.

David Udell: This is a hard one for me to talk about. Let’s just say, don’t take this temporary, beautiful moment for granted. Don’t kill time, there’s not enough of it. Try not to let pain consume you. Even if you’ve given all you have to give, don’t give up, keep going. That’s what living is. If you have someone to share it with, it’s a miracle!

mwe3: “Tonight” is a pretty sobering track. Is it possible to get over love gone wrong? Was that song based on a real event in your life? Did you add in some additional guitarist on that track? Good that the song ends on a positive note though! “it doesn’t seem to hurt anymore”.

David Udell: It’s about my divorce and it does end optimistically. You go through hell at first though. Stephen Martin did the lead, I did the others. When I asked him to play on the record, he asked why I didn’t just do it; I told him his playing was sexier!

mwe3: “Something’s Coming” is one of my favorite tracks on Orchids. Is that the most positive track, lyric wise on the CD? Seems like a metaphysical power-pop song! “Everybody’s skating on melting ice”! Classic. What’s coming?? But surely it will turn out right. Sounds like you have some faith in mankind, good… Is that your guitar soloing?

David Udell: Yeah, that’s my lead. It’s pretty obvious if you ask my friends. Something is coming. It could be good or bad. The melting ice may have been caused by global warming. It’s up to us. Big money is controlling the whole show right now, but somewhere on the back roads of science and industry, someone in their little home studio or social network is going to be a catalyst for a movement of sanity, creativity and hope. Maybe it will take social collapse first. Maybe reason will prevail. No one should be shy about it though. It’s up to us.

mwe3: How about the CD closing “Orchids in the Snow”? That track is mostly instrumental. I’m in favor of you doing more instrumental tracks too! You have the knack. There’s kind of a slight reprise from the first track “A Lot of Roads” but then the track drifts off into instrumental ether.

David Udell: There are references throughout the CD. “Snow” starts with the opening track in 3/4 time and a call back to the earlier lyrics. At every point in our lives there are a lot of roads to choose from. For me it doesn’t really matter which one I take as long as I’m with someone I can really share it with. I’ve been really lucky in that respect.

mwe3: I’m guessing you have a lot of influences, like Lou Reed, The Archies, Beatles, Jonathan Richman… What other musicians and even albums do you find have influenced your music?

David Udell: Funny you should mention The Archies. I have “Justine” in my MP3 rotation right now. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with influences. When I was a child The Beatles made music my obvious path. There are songs that I hear that are hundreds of years old and I’m mesmerized. I do like Lou Reed but I like John Cale and Nico even more. We were lucky enough to open for Cale many years ago. After the show we took the band back to a friend’s West End mansion and partied in her pool with them until dawn.

I could say Daevid Allen’s Gong, Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Captain Beefheart, Eno, Suzanne Vega, King Crimson, Radiohead, Doves, The Decemberists, Elbow - I could go on forever. I’m going to hate myself for not mentioning others but it would get crazy.

mwe3: Have you had good responses from the CD all over the pop and rock world? What other plans do you have as far as writing and recording new music and even performing live shows?

David Udell: I’ve had great reaction locally but haven’t really broken through elsewhere. I’m not pessimistic though. The response I have had has been great.

I’m well into the next project. I’ll have members of the band I had for the CD’s promotion, Jackie Niebylski - bass and Mike Long - drums. Hopefully members of Delay Tactics will be on the next one. I’m going to get Native American flute player Mark Holland on it one too. I’m really excited!

Jackie, Mike and I are working on a live show. For now it will be a 3 piece, but Dominic will join us when he’s not busy with his band Keokuk. John Higgins said not to count him out entirely either but he’s so busy! I’d like to get a keyboard player but I think we can pull off a 3 piece. I love these guys.




 

 
   
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