Perfect Sound Forever


Texas shoegaze insanity
Kenneth James Gibson interview by Brett Abrahamsen

The Big Saturday Illusion stands as one of the lost classics of the 1990's. It's a head-spinning mixture of shoegaze, psychedelia, and noise, fried with a distinctly Texan craziness. The album starts off with "Introism," a hallucinatory, guitar-heavy Pink Floyd pastiche, before segueing into the catchy "Still California," a dead-ringer for the early Beach Boys, albeit with more bite and energy. The best track, "Cats," follows - a placid yet eerie groove is interrupted by what sounds like a screaming feline. The next cut, "Attic," is completely different - a laconic shoegaze song with vocals that recall My Bloody Valentine. "Lawnmower Sounds," on the other hand, returns to the wild experimentation of "Cats." "Colortime" brings back the energy of "Still California" but with the woozy harmonies of "Attic." "Take You Away" is a sort of shoegaze power ballad, and it's the final cut before the album enters a completely different phase - two long, meandering pieces and one static ambient cut. These last few songs are a bit less satisfying, in my opinion - they lack both the excellent songwriting and pithy experiments that defined the rest of the album. However, all of these latter tracks have their moments, and "Angel Warm and Cold" sort of opened a new career for them. Never a band to repeat themselves, the band released several more albums before ultimately disbanding in 1998. Guitarist/singer Kenneth James Gibson (who played alongside bandmates Cathy Shive, Charlie Woodburn) talks about the band below and continues to release music to this day.

PSF: Many of the songs on The Big Saturday Illusion could have been hits - "Still California", in particular, should have done well on college radio, and songs like "Take You Away" and "Attic" - if not potential hits per se - nonetheless stand up to anything My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive have recorded ("Colortime", for example, would have been a highlight on MBV's Isn't Anything). How was the reception of the album?

KJG: Thanks for the kind words. It was a long time ago but from what I remember, the reception of the album was pretty good. We definitely didn't have "hits" but did get some decent college radio play. It got some good press. We did 2 US tours for that record. Listening back to it now, I still love a ton of the sounds on the record but the vocals are a bit hard to digest... even though they were supposed to take a backseat anyways. I think it took me another 15 years to learn how to actually sing. It wasn't really until Bell Gardens got going that I felt good about my singing.

PSF: Who wrote the songs? I can't find any specific information regarding songwriting credits.

KJG: The majority of the tunes were written by myself or both myself and Cathy. A few of the tunes such as "Introism" and "attic" started with myself, Cathy, and Charlie.

PSF: Do you still keep in touch with Shive and/or Woodburn? Have there been musical activities from either of them since the dissolution of Furry Things?

KJG: I'm in touch with Cathy every couple years or so. She lives in Northern California. I don't believe she's made much music since Furry Things. She's in the tech world. I've been renting a cabin up in the mountains of Idyllwild, CA for about 9 years. My studio, Meadows Heavy Recorders, (also name of my label) is in the cabin there. Charlie lives there too and has been the resident drummer at the studio. Charlie has played with a ton of bands since Furry Things. He was in Bell Gardens and currently plays with Toler Gibson and Francesca Brown. He was also in Bonfire Beach for a spell amongst others.

PSF: "Cats" is - relatively speaking - the album's most "famous" track. How difficult was it to speed up the tape to create a "mewing" sound?

KJG: I never knew it was our most famous track! Haha. That was done at one of our rehearsal spaces using an old DOD looper pedal. It wasn't even meant to be a real track... I was just messing around with song ideas and came across that sound and thought it ended up working nicely as an album interlude piece. It was just a fuzzed out guitar that I kept changing the pitch on and it somehow sounded like a cat. It actually wasn't tape. We did however do some tape manipulations in the studio on the tune "lawnmower Sounds".

PSF: You've worked with a fair amount of notable musicians - King Coffey discovered you, Adam Wiltzie engineered The Big Saturday Illusion, you formed Bell Gardens with Brian McBride. Which of the musicians you've collaborated with do you admire most?

KJG: Yes. I've been lucky to collaborate with some great people. I don't really want to single anybody out as I love everyone I've worked with in one way or another! Everyone brings something different to the table.

PSF: How did McBride's passing affect you?

KJG: I knew Brian in Austin, mainly through Wiltzie as I knew him first from working with him on the Furry Things stuff. Brian and I didn't really become close 'til I toured with Stars Of the Lid in 2002. He moved to LA a couple years later and after much talk and many debauched evenings we finally started recording Bell Gardens material in 2008. We probably spent more time enjoying red wine and listening to music than actually creating it... although we did make 3 records which I still love. He was my closest friend for many years. I miss him immensely. It's a strange world without him around.

PSF: Were you/the other band members fans of the Butthole Surfers?

KJG: I grew up in Texas and was definitely a Butthole Surfer fan! I was a skate punk and hung out with the older kids who turned me into them. At my parents' house in El Paso you can still find a "Live PCP Pep" clown drawing in one of the drawers of my childhood desk that my friend Scott Mescal drew. Rembrandt Pussyhorse really fucked my kiddie brain up!

PSF: How did you hook up with King Coffey? Were

KJG: We sent King the first batch of Furry Things demos, which was just Cathy and I on a 4-track in my living room. Sounded more like The Velvet Underground than what we sounded like later. Luckily, King loved what he heard and got right back to us. He said it was the first unsolicited demo that he followed up on. He also released my first Eight Frozen Modules material. I love that guy. He basically kick started my whole music world. Craig Stewart, King's partner, was a big part of it too. He sadly recently just passed. Very grateful for both of them.

PSF: Tell us about the Austin scene at the time. There were a lot of interesting Texan psychedelic bands from that era: Ed Hall, Charalambides, Mike Gunn...

KJG: Yeah, Texas has been responsible for a shit ton amazing music through out the years. In the Furry Things era we were closest to Austin bands such as Sixteen Deluxe and The Flying Saucers. Psychedelic noisy shoegaze influenced stuff. If I remember correctly, we played one of our first shows with And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead at this crazy club called The Blue Flamingo. They were fucking nuts! Of coarse Ed Hall and The Cherubs were around doing their thing. American Analog Set were friends and doing really cool shit. Stars Of The Lid were droning in an orbit of their own. Kitty (inc. Dain of Less Bells) was bringing an entire studio on stage and doing crazy electronic and guitar loop stuff. Spoon was around. Do It Now Foundation had just moved there and were great. I really liked Monroe Mustang, they were bringing a different sound then other bands around. Obviously The Butthole Surfers. Roky Erickson released his record All That May Do My Rhyme on Trance around the same time Big Saturday Illusion came out. That's right around the time I had just started getting into the 13 Floor Elevators. Bob Mould was around and lived down the street from me for a while. Like myself, I guess he is a big Brian Wilson fan and hooked me up with all these crazy unreleased demos which were very hard to get in the '90's. These were interesting and fun times. I know there's tons I'm forgetting about as it was a long time ago. I was also in a band called The Cunninghams that was pre and during early Furry Things that played around a bunch and recorded a single for Rise Records that was mysteriously lost before ever actually getting pressed.

PSF: How was The Big Saturday Illusion recorded? There were certainly some intriguing experiments concerning tape manipulation etc.

KJG: It was recorded in multiple places. It first started at Arlyn Studios. This dude Damian Rodriguez had his own mini control room in the back in some kind of giant janitor closet if remember correctly, and they allowed him to use the various rooms to record in at night after the main studio was closed. He called it Velvet Elvis Studios. We recorded "Still California" and one other tune there but I believe we mixed them in the main Arlyn control room. We then recorded and mixed a chunk of it at Music Lane with this engineer named Brian Fulk. I don't remember exactly what happened but I feel like we were either going over budget for that place or didn't like what we were getting there and cut the rest of the album with Adam Wiltzie at Ben Blank Studios. If I remember correctly, Adam was working there and would sneak us in at night when nobody else was around. I know "Introism" and "Piled High" were done at those sessions. I also recorded a couple of the tracks such as "Cats", "Angel Warm And Cold" and I think "Porno Queens Love Dive" on my Tascam 424 4-track. I bought a refurbished 424 again recently which I used a bit on my albums "Groundskeeping" and "Ssih Mountain."

PSF: Tell us about your upcoming album.

KJG: My next album is an ambient/experimental collaboration with saxophone player Paul Carman and is titled Murals For Immersion. Paul played and recorded with Frank Zappa for a number of years and is a sensational player. I don't have an exact date quite yet but will be coming out on Important Records soon.

PSF: What was it like to work with Paul Carman?

KJG: Fabulous! Paul is a great guy. He would come by my Idyllwild studio and we would just track tons of sounds in various keys. Drones, melody lines, noises etc. From this source material I built and arranged the tracks. Outside of some Moog bass swells, it's 100% saxophone based, even though it might not sound like it due to a ton of processing. It's probably my favorite thing I've done in a while as it's a different sound source then I usually work with. I hope to start working on a follow up sooner than later.

PSF: Where do you want to go from here?

KJG: I'm constantly working on one thing or another. I produced a psychedelic classical '70's sci-fi inspired record by an artist that goes by the alias Head Shoppe AKA Eric Harding. We'll be releasing it on my label early this year. I just finished country & folk artist Francesca Brown's album this week which were very happy with and will also be released this year. A new solo album based on a small set of themes that will continue to build, morph and deconstruct throughout the album is slowly getting underway. It will be a bit different than what I've done before. My band Toler Gibson is also slowly finishing up our 2nd album. I compose music for TV & film and co-run a boutique production music label with my pals from the band Less Bells. That takes a lot of my time lately. I've also been composing all the music for an upcoming app which has been a lot of fun to work on. Looking to go deeper with composing work. That's where my head is at right now.

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