Audio Rorschach

Chooglin' leader Brian Vanderwerf opens ears, mouths off

Their goofy name comes from an old Creedence tune. Two of their members--singer/guitarist Brian Vanderwerf and guitarist Jesse Tomlinson--come from roots-punk hard-asses the Midnight Evils, voted Best Live Band in these pages not long ago. And their sound comes largely from '70s rock of the hard and fast variety. But based at least on seeing Chooglin' open for Soul Asylum this past December (they played their first show in late November), the group isn't egregiously or self-consciously retro. They don't bother with Me Decade visual trappings, and treat their influences playfully rather than ironically (or reverently). Most importantly, of course, they rock in the manner of a hurricane or tornado or some such natural power. The lyrics, I haven't been able to make out yet. For some insight into Vanderwerf's tastes, we sat around his Uptown apartment, played some records, and talked about them.

 

Marty Robbins, "Don't Worry," available on The Essential Marty Robbins (Columbia) and other collections

Brian Vanderwerf: Well, it was great. Of course the fart-guitar solo is really great, and it comes out of nowhere.

City Pages: Yeah, and that's 1961. It's rare enough to have a fuzz-tone guitar on a country single, but to have it on a record from '61.

Vanderwerf: There's the solo from [George Jones's] "The Race Is On," which isn't really fuzz, but it has a similar effect.

 

Deep Purple, "Space Truckin'," from Machine Head

Vanderwerf: [Right away] "Space Truckin'." Even if you don't like metal, you've got to love this song. And Machine Head is their finest hour. I had it on eight-track back when I was a kid. Ian Case's drumming is really tight, even his rolls are precise. [Hums along to instrumental passage] You know it's a good song when you can remember all the little parts.

 

Fiona Apple, "O Sailor," from Extraordinary Machine

Vanderwerf: Fiona Apple?

CP: Yeah.

Vanderwerf: I'm not a huge fan, but I'm not really a fan of much major-label stuff now. I'm really suspect of it. But it was fine. It's a good song. The way it was recorded--it's slick but relatively sparse. I guess I kind of lump her in with Tori Amos-- stuff I don't really relate to, not just what she's singing about, but the music itself. Not that my tastes are that narrow.

 

Drunk Horse, "Strange Transgressors," from In Tongues

Vanderwerf: Sounds like modern-day Foghat. It's all right. I don't think I'd ever sit around and jam it. You know, I don't know exactly what we're doing with [Chooglin']. It's so new. I suppose we might tend to have a little bit of that sound, but I don't want to turn into some Famous Dave's white-boy blues band. We're trying to do different stuff.

CP: I did kind of pick this tune because there are a lot of bands now playing indie-rock clubs who are drawing heavily on '70s hard rock, and you're kind of doing that.

Vanderwerf: I guess part of it comes naturally. That's how [Jesse] plays guitar. The band will probably evolve. We're trying to find a keyboard player or an organ player. At first we kind of set out to be more of a Faces-meets-Deep Purple thing, but it's hard to find a keyboardist that knows where we're coming from and wants to tour, too.

This song was fine, but I kind of like things a bit more chaotic, a bit more off the rails.

 

Ali Hassan Kuban, "Habibi," from The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban

Vanderwerf: This is the kind of thing I'd be more likely to listen to. There's not a lot of difference between this and James Brown. When I first started to write songs, I had no understanding of what I was doing, but I'd think, How many chords do I have in this song? How many parts? So I like how this song doesn't move--it pretty much stays in one groove, but they keep layering on it.

CP: You have to be in a really collaborative band to get this good at polyrhythmic complexity.

Vanderwerf: Right. Playing with [drummer] Shawn [Walker]--he's really terrific. People say he reminds them of Keith Moon...

CP: Well, he kind of looks like Keith Moon.

Vanderwerf: But he also has--no matter how hard he hits--he has a lot of swing, he's not just bashing. And there's also this groove there, too.

 

Lightning Bolt, "2Morrow Morrow Land," from Hypermagic Mountain

Vanderwerf: This is a little too 93X for my tastes, just how compressed it is and how the low end sounds. Is this Joe Satriani?

CP: It's Lightning Bolt.

Vanderwerf: Oh, is it? [Laughs] My friends are gonna kill me. I like the noisy parts. It's not 93X as far as the tempo. [Screaming section comes on] Oh yeah, this is definitely not Satriani. They're probably one of those bands that would be fucking great to see live, but I'd have to be in the right mood to want to listen to it, and lately I haven't been listening to anything terribly loud. Though I might throw on British Steel by Judas Priest.

 

Waylon Jennings, "Waymore's Blues," from Dreaming My Dreams

Vanderwerf: Well, of course this is genius [plays along on acoustic guitar].

CP: Have you been into him for a long time?

Vanderwerf: I'd say in the last six years I've really gotten into him. When I was a kid I kind of loathed all that stuff. I saw him, not the last time he played here, but the time before. He couldn't walk, but he still sang 45 minutes, sitting down. He did "Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan.

 

The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, "Anyhow," from The Gospel Sound (Columbia)

Vanderwerf: I love gospel music. That's another thing I've gotten into more recently. You can hear some Elvis in there. I love the way these records sound--the drum sounds like a drum, the voices sound like voices. And it's just guys standing around one mic--and nailing it.

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