deep in the woods in a cabin by a lake in central Sweden, Shine
Out is the 2014 CD by Jonathan Segel. Having played
violin, keyboards and guitar in the band Camper Van Beethoven for
the past 30 years, Segel decamps on this solo effort and the end result
sounds like a mix between Van Dyke Parks singing Brian Wilson originals
with Swedish space music icons Bo Hansson and Kenny Håkansson
added in. Is he a fan of the late great Bo Hansson? Segel explains,
off, yes: Bo Hansson. I love it. The whole Swedish prog thing is incredible,
a lot of it is very political as well. I love Träd, Gras och
Stenar, they're one of my absolute favorites. One of the bands I have
sat in with here is Gösta Berlings Saga, who are an instrumental
prog... well, complicated music band. They are incredible, great players
and really cool music."
Coincidence or not, that classc Swedish instrumental
prog influence runs throught the heart of this amazing album. Although
Segels bass is prominent in the mix, often times adding in a
very vivid depth and sonic counterpoint, Shine Out is also
a prime showcase for Segels unique and intriguing electric guitar
work and vocals. Through the art of studio overdubbing, Segel has
created a 21st century space-rock music classic. Sanna Olsson
adds some appealing backing vocals but for the most part, the well
conceived Shine Out further establishes Jonathan Segel as a
bona fide, 21st century progressive pop-rock original. www.music.jsegel.com/album/shine-out
presents an interview with
How did you wind up living in Sweden? Where are you from originally
and how would you compare where youre from and living the US
with living in Sweden? Where do you live in Sweden and what do you
like best about it?
Jonathan Segel: The short story is that I am married to a Swedish
woman and we have a three-year-old. The longer story is that we lived
in Oakland, CA for about 10 years, but when our daughter was about
10 months old I lost my job at Pandora and we couldn't pay the mortgage/groceries/health
insurance/etc., and we ended up losing our house.
So, we basically pulled the ripcord and moved to Sweden. We lived
with my wife's parents for a year before finally getting our own apartment,
but we do have free day-care/preschool and health care so the kid
is good. I was in language classes for most of the past couple years,
my Swedish is ok, not great. We live in the western part of Stockholm,
out on the Green Line (subway line), it's really beautiful and we
have huge parks and forests and lakes nearby, and a ton of preschools,
so it's pretty much perfect for raising kids here.
There is a lot of culture shock for me, but there are many good things
about Sweden, ...not sure what I would say I like best. I still feel
like an outsider. I wrote a bunch about it on a blog I have, (http://jsegel.wordpress.com)
especially during the first year I was here. I don't really have my
own place in any music scene here, though I have been sitting in with
some musicians in Stockholm.
mwe3: You were one of the founding members of the group Camper
Van Beethoven who have a 2014 CD out called El Camino Real
and you also have a new solo CD called Shine Out that was also
released in 2014. What is the new CVB album like and how would you
compare your work and playing and music in CVB with your solo albums?
Segel: Camper Van Beethoven took a long time between 2004 and
2013 between albums, but then we wrote a lot of material and split
it up between two albums, 2013's La Costa Perdida and the recent
El Camino Real, which ended up being like small concept albums
about northern and southern California, respectively. The first one,
La Costa Perdida is a little mellower, more Big Sur hippie-style,
while El Camino Real is a little harder and faster, having
more Los Angeles elements in it. We worked on the music collectively,
then all took it home to do various additional bits and came back
to the studio to put it all together.
I worked on Shine Out over the summer between touring with
CVB, mostly while my daughter was napping! One main difference between
it and CVB is of course that I'm singing instead of David Lowery,
who tends to sing all the songs in CVB. And that I play guitar. In
CVB I end up playing violin about 75 percent of the time, since we
have David playing rhythm and Greg Lisher on lead guitar. At home,
I mostly play guitar, which is actually the instrument I started on,
so I write more on it, and get to stretch out more. One thing I have
definitely done on my own albums over the past decade is to stretch
out more on guitar! I like noodling away on guitar.
mwe3: How would you compare Shine Out with your
earlier solo albums and how many albums have you released so far and
are they all in print on CD or just available on download?
Jonathan Segel: The biggest difference is of course that this
new one has no drums! I recorded it all myself in a little cabin,
so the only percussion is shakers or tambourines. That's not to say
that it's acoustic, however, although I recorded many of the basic
structures on acoustic guitar initially, in many of the songs I took
that track away so that the basis of the song is the bass and the
of my other solo albums are band-based, especially in
the past ten years: touring with CVB in 2004, my guitar and violin
were stolen in Montreal, and I became re-obsessed with the electric
guitar. The couple albums previous to that, Scissors and Paper
(2000) and Edgy Not Antsy (2003) were song-based, partially
with a band and partially just very studio-made. I was very involved
in electronic and electro-acoustic music and improv at the time as
well, but after losing my long-time companion Fender Stratocaster,
named Honey, I went back to my rock roots, back to the old rock music
inspirations that got me started when I was a teenager in the 1970s,
so Honey (2008) was recorded with John Hanes on drums and Victor
Krummenacher on bass, and lots of electric guitar. I started practicing
more guitar again. The next pair of albums came in 2012, All Attractions
and Apricot Jam, even more electric guitar, same rhythm section,
sometimes with Chris Xefos on bass and Victor on second guitar. All
Attractions had the songs, while one afternoon in the studio,
we just jammed and that became the basics for Apricot Jam,
which is all instrumental. So after these, Shine Out is definitely
a different sound.
I've never had any label support for my records, so I put them all
out myself, Victor and I had a label called Magnetic starting in 1993.
I usually just printed a few hundred and sold them at CVB shows or
my own shows. When I left the states, we shut down the label, and
got rid of the backstock. So there are a few physical copies of my
older records available around the web, but recently I have gone with
a company called Finetunes to distribute All Attractions, Apricot
Jam , Shine Out and my very first solo album Storytelling,
from 1988, remastered in 2011. They should be available on Amazon
around the world, and in digital shops like iTunes. You can find everything
of mine digitally on my website (http://www.jonathansegel.com),
and CDBaby still has some physical and many digital albums, including
my bands from the 1990s, Hieronymus Firebrain and Jack & Jill.
What is the new Camper Van Beethoven CD, El Camino Real like,
how would you compare it to the bands earlier albums, and how
much did you contribute to the new CVB album compositionally and stylistically?
Jonathan Segel: El Camino Real is a fairly aggressive
and rocking song based album, which is more like our later 1980s albums
like our third album or even Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.
It was made as a compliment to La Costa Perdida, as I mentioned,
which had more swirly psychedelia and some slower and sweeter sides.
The tone of ECR is more sinister, as David said: on
LCP, the ocean is benign while on ECR it is sinister and chemical.
My role is generally melodic, though we all come up with chord progression
ideas, on ECR, being a more rocking record, Greg took the main
melodic impetus so I ended up being more orchestral, more counter-melody
or backing parts. David took many of the vocal melodies from Greg's
parts on the last two albums. Camper Van Beethoven is definitely a
gestalt, though, the cumulative whole makes something quite different
from anything that another band could make.
Is there some kind of musical concept on your Shine Out CD?
What was the recording process like on Shine Out and when and
where was the music written and recorded? You say on the CD packaging
that it was recorded in a cabin near a lake in Sweden and mixed in
an apartment in Stockholm. The CD sounds great so there must be some
great equipment in your apartment!
Jonathan Segel: My concept was in fact to start with acoustic
guitar and then play bass and electric guitar and take away the acoustic,
to make the music more about voices or lines rather than chords. The
songs were all written out there in the country, as in fact were the
songs on All Attractions!, my wife's family, like most Swedish
families, has an old house out in the country that they go to in the
summer, this one is a 16th century farmhouse made of timber, they
got it when the last of the original family had emigrated to the cities
or America or died off back in the 1960s. It's not big, but there's
a lot of land around it. There is a two room main house, a barn, a
tool shed and a little one-room cabin, which my mother-in-law uses
as a painting studio, I co-opted it to record music in! I think the
wooden room itself sounds great, so I recorded with both near and
far microphones for both acoustic and electric instruments.
for saying it sounds good! I don't have the greatest equipment, but
I have been doing this for a long time! I use simple microphones,
I have an old East German copy of a Neumann, and a Blue Bluebird,
those are my large diaphragm condensers, then I have a pair of Josephson
small diaphragms, and a Shure SM 57. That's it!
One major thing that I do have and rely on, however, is a ton of Universal
Audio plug ins and UA hardware for mixing. My studio computer
at home runs Pro Tools on a Mac Pro and I have ended up using a lot
of the UA stuff, their Neve, Helios, API and their own Universal Audio
EQs and compressors as well as their EMT plate reverbs, their EchoPlex
EP-34, and their Tape Deck Ampex-102 emulator. I think their stuff
sounds great, it's changed what I do in Pro Tools in the past few
years, and I've been using Pro Tools since the early 1990s. We use
the UA hardware and software on the CVB recordings as well, and it's
not just because they're from Santa Cruz! I do also use Audioease's
Altiverb convolution reverb, have for years. At the end, this was
mastered by Myles Boisen, a friend and musical cohort in Oakland,
California, who has worked with me mixing and mastering for many years.
mwe3: What were your early music studies like, what instruments
did you study first the most and what instruments do you write your
music with or does it vary?
Jonathan Segel: I was always interested in music, an avid listener
since being a tiny kid. I think first was recorder, you know, but
my first actual lessons were piano when I was 6, but I hated the teacher.
She was mean! And I was already listening to rock radio on the AM
radio, and drawing pictures of little hairy creatures playing electric
guitars, so I started playing guitar when I was 7. I started violin
when I was 10, but quit in High School because I was only into playing
electric guitar. Also, I got a mandolin then, probably because of
Led Zeppelin. I played in a couple bands in high school, and even
got a gig playing bass in a band that played in local bars, which
was super cool for a teenager.
In my senior
year of high school, I took a music theory class and figured out that
I knew a lot of what they were teaching, but had never had the right
names for the types of chords and intervals. So when I went to college
at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I tested into the second
year of the music major. I actually went in as a philosophy major!
Then I picked up the violin again, because I wanted to play in the
orchestra, but I sucked. I took lessons, and the teacher made me start
over, essentially. Scales and bowing. At the same time, I was playing
guitar or bass with people in the dorms, and checking out the other
on-campus bands like Box'O'Laffs, where David Lowery played bass.
During the summer breaks, he and Chris Molla had bands in Redlands,
California, they had had a friend who played violin with them down
there, so they asked me to play with them. Victor moved up to UCSC,
they revived their summer band as Camper Van Beethoven, and I started
playing with them.
I wrote a lot of chamber music while in college, and worked in the
electronic music studios there, so I was heavily into the 20th century
classical and avant-garde music world when we started playing with
Camper, I had been ignoring rock music for a couple years. I continued
to work with writing dots and lines, still do it, but
I've only had a few things ever performed outside of the university.
I also have continued to work with electronic music, and I don't mean
dance music, and when I went back to graduate school in 2001, I got
heavily into writing computer music in SuperCollider and Max/MSP along
with the dots'n'lines stuff.
credit Eugene Chadbourne with being a big part of my musical education
starting back in the 1980s when we started playing as Camper Van Chadbourne.
He had a vast knowledge of music, of many styles and worlds, and he
fused it all within a free-improv sense, and with humor. It was very
educational and liberating. When we went to play in Europe in 1991,
right after the start of the first Gulf War, we played American
music, most of it in protest: Jazz, Country, Folk Music, Bluegrass,
Rock. All genres infused with freedom, free expression, free improvisation.
I think I realized then that a great deal of the idea of what they
called Free Jazz was an element of civil rights and freedom
mwe3: Theres some excellent guitar work on the Shine
Out CD. Tell us what guitars youre featuring on the Shine
Out CD. Do you use more acoustic or electric guitars on the new
album and what keyboards and violins and basses are you using on the
Shine Out CD? Would you consider yourself a gear head
or does the music writing and arranging always come first?
Segel: I am totally a gear head. I have many guitars and things!
When my '71 Strat was stolen, I started buying old Fender parts to
make a new guitar. I could absolutely not afford an old guitar with
the current vintage market. A 1960s Fender Stratocaster is now $10k-20k!
I had some good luck, and managed to put together a Strat with mostly
early-1960s parts, neck and body and some other parts, and that's
one of the guitars I use a lot to record with. The pickups are made
by Jason Lollar. On this album I played the acoustic guitar parts
on a recent Martin 000-28, the bass parts on a 1972 Fender Precision
that I got back in 1982. There is a 1965 Rickenbacker 450-12 String
that I got back in the 1980s as well, and the other main electric
guitar is a 1973 Les Paul Standard with factory full size humbuckers!
The only amplifier I had was a '72 Fender Princeton Reverb, which
is my favorite recording amp. I used that one all over the last two
CVB albums as well. I did change the power transformer when I moved
here to accommodate the 230v power, put in a Mercury Magnetics. Is
this too specific? I do love gear!
I also use my 1916 Gibson A-1 Mandolin, both here and the CVB albums,
got it back at Gruhn in Nashville in 1986 after the one I got at the
Renaissance Faire when I was in high school got stolen in NY on CVB's
first cross country tour. The other odd instrument in there is an
8va mandolin, sort of like a bouzouki, that was made by Flatiron in
the mid-1980s, I have been using it since then.
I have two
good violins, one is a 1920s French-made Guarneri copy, the other
one was made by Andrew Kirk, who is a Canadian violin maker who gave
me this violin after mine was stolen in Canada. He was a Camper fan!
I love this violin and use it almost all the time. It was built in
As for keyboards, when I moved from California I sold my Hammond M-3
and the piano, so I am back to using software, which for me means
synthesizers. I have been using Reaktor for 15 years, so that's my
go-to, though sometimes I venture into Arturia's Analog Lab. I generally
try not to mimic real instruments, but on Shine Out, I really
craved the Wurlitzer/Rhodes electric piano sound, so I used a Reaktor
patch that mimicked it. Out there in the countryside, there aren't
many keyboards, but our neighbors down the road do have an old pump
organ, and I did use that... it's also on the song In Like A
Lion on CVB's El Camino Real.
mwe3: Youve worked with a number of music legends including
avant garde guitarist / violinist Fred Frith, who I used to invite,
back during 1980 to 1982 to my dads restaurants, The Chambers
and at Lincoln Square in Manhattan. I remember the first night I met
him in 1980 at his concert, I told him I just got back from Sweden
and Finland, hanging out with Pekka and Pembroke, and he told me,
to my utter amazement, that he just got back from working on his next
album with Lasse Holmer and Zamla in Sweden. Another time, he came
in the Chambers one night and gave me a pre-release cassette of Speechless,
before it came out. What was it like working and recording with
Fred and what are a few of your other favorite / memorable sessions
and recordings with other artists?
Jonathan Segel: I was Fred's assistant for the Contemporary
Performance Ensemble at Mills College when I went there for graduate
school in 2001-03. He's an amazing musician and composer, as you well
know, but he's also a very intense teacherI had him for a composition
seminar also. The ensemble had a lot of learning how to improvise
in a group sort of lessons as well, which were quite amazing
in terms of reorganizing how you listen and how you play.
we had several guests come in and we worked with them to create large-scale
performances, including people like Cecil Taylor! And for some of
the band things, like when Amy Denio was there, since Fred and I basically
play the same instruments, he got guitar and I got electric bass.
I really wanted to record something with him, but it was tough to
get the time and scheduling worked out... he was on tour whenever
school was out, and only one time did we make it over to Myles Boisen's,
who does a lot of work with Fred with Joelle Léandre, who was
also currently at Mills at the time, and we just improvised. It is
a weird record. Fred says it's one of his weirdest.
mwe3: Several tracks on Shine Out are instrumentals
like the amazing Nice Tree Ice. How does your approach
to instrumentals compare with your pop / rock tracks? I guess youre
in the right country for instrumental music as Sweden kind of put
rock instrumental Eurock music on the map starting in
1969 with the late, great Bo Hansson, who actually cut some instrumentals
with Jimi Hendrix, including Tax Free which Hendrix loved
to play live, with that great Swedish melody. Have you become somewhat
of a connoisseur of Swedish instrumental music since living there?
Segel: First off, yes: Bo Hansson. I love it. The whole Swedish
prog thing is incredible, a lot of it is very political as well. I
love Träd, Gras och Stenar, they're one of my absolute favorites.
One of the bands I have sat in with here is Gösta Berlings Saga,
who are an instrumental prog... well, complicated music band. They
are incredible, great players and really cool music. This past May,
the guitarist, Einar Baldursson, put together a little instrumental
ensemble that we called Astrocrusher: electric guitar, fretless bass,
clarinet/bass clarinet and I played violin and electric guitar, we
did two shows. Some pre-written melodies, moving into improvisation.
I like working that way. I also played a show at a place here in Stockholm
called Larry's Corner with some guys called The Muffin Ensemble, pedal
steel and fretless bass. They were my band while I sang a few songs,
then we improvised to films... Kenneth Anger films, in fact, and it
was super fun.
there are many ways of writing instrumental music, so I don't know
if I can specify one method over another. Some are straight from a
chord progression to melody, some are melody first, some come from
improvisation. I do try to zero in on melody, perhaps unconsciously,
when just noodling around! Take, for example, the entire Apricot
Jam album, it was a few hours of full band improv, start from
nothing, and then I took it home and doubled some of the melodic parts
with overdubs and such, and it almost became composed. For something
like Nice Tree Ice, the idea was that very simple chord
progression, a la Hendrix' Pali Gap, and then play to
it, and develop the sections by tone changes and scale changes, then
take away the initial acoustic guitar. Most of the instrumentals on
this album came from improvisation, the acoustic ones and the long
sections in Turtles All The Way Down.
mwe3: Youve also done some film soundtracks. How does
your film soundtrack work differ from the more pop/rock side of your
music? What are your favorite film soundtracks that youve written
and scored and have the soundtracks been released on CD? From a historic
perspective, what are your favorite soundtracks by other composers?
Jonathan Segel: With film, the music needs to be heard but
not listened to actively, really, it becomes a mood that blends with
the background sounds to enhance the visual element, to further the
intention of the characters or the story. This can get overused, of
course, in the cases of the lead-the-viewer-by-the-nose style found
in most Hollywood scores.
Working with film is great, I spent a few years living in LA working
for Dane Davis doing film sound effects and stuff, so when I started
writing music for film, I had an inkling of how it was used. I spent
a lot of time watching the scenes and playing along with them before
settling down on ideas and working up the music. My personal favorites
were probably The Invisibles, which actually played at Sundance,
and Love Will Travel. One problem with listening to film music
outside of the film, though, is how the pieces are very short a lot
of times and they don't really follow through as music on its own.
Taken as a whole, the scores are ok to listen to. Love Will Travel
actually has a bunch of songs used, they were backgrounds for
strip clubs or bars, so there are quite a few whole songs.
None of the
scores have been released on CD, though The Invisibles came
out on DVD. They should really have paid me mechanical royalties for
that, shouldn't they have? You can find them at http://music.jsegel.com
As far as scores that I like, I would go with a lot of older movies.
I love the atonal orchestral stuff! I'm a big fan of the 1960s Jerry
Goldsmith. And then of course, Nino Rota, Morricone, etc. I also really
liked the Pink Floyd soundtracks for those weird late-60s films!
And that Richard Thompson score for Grizzly Man! I'm sure I'm
forgetting some important things here...
mwe3: What are your musical plans for 2014 and into 2015 as
far as writing, recording, live performances and possible collaborations,
soundtracks and other music related ventures?
Jonathan Segel: Right now, my only plans are to play in September
at the 10th Annual Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Camp Out in Pioneertown,
California. With Camper on the Friday night, and probably a set of
improvised psychedelic rock and roll on the Saturday.
that, I have no idea, unfortunately. I don't have many contacts in
Sweden, (if you're reading this, call me!) and I'm not the best self-marketer.
I hope to put together some sort of band to play some of my own music
this fall here, but we'll see if I can pull it off. I really need
a job, actuallyI'm unemployedand that may come in the
way of musical plans.
Segel and to Peter
Holmstedt @ Hemifrån