Music News

Big Enough to Reappear

For the listener, it's a genuine high finding a ferociously creative talent that few of your friends know about. You fetishize the records, play them for your friends ("You gotta hear this"), and, if God is good and the ferocious talent rolls through your town, you drag all your like-minded acquaintances out to the gig so you can show them in person what the hell it actually is, this exquisite thing you've been babbling about.

For the ferocious talent him- or herself, it can be a tremendous pain in the ass. Here's a lifetime of work built up, credits and kudos to boggle the mind, album appearances for days and a word-of-mouth reputation that brings name talents a-dropping their calling cards at your doorstep . . . and you're still selling your own albums through mail order, lugging boxes of your own CDs to gigs to make the rent.

California-based jack-of-all-stringed-instruments Moris Tepper has been one of contemporary music's worst-kept secrets for just over two decades now, but for a moment let's give a pass to all that. Forget about the credits which begin in his barest youth, with three albums' worth of avant-guitar in Captain Beefheart's second Magic Band incarnation, and end (most recently) with Frank Black's Dog in the Sand, from January of this year. Forget about his stellar work with Tom Waits, P.J. Harvey, Robyn Hitchcock, and so on. Forget about the paper trail of accolades from BAM, the L.A. Weekly, Music Connection, the L.A. Times, Mojo, The Wire, Option, Alternative Press, Goldmine, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian (and the list goes on), all of which play one familiar note: Moris Tepper is a stone righteous musician.

Forget about all that, and listen to his two solo projects, Big Enough to Disappear (1996) and Moth to Mouth (2000), available at Tepper's shows, in finer record stores, and from

Tepper inhabits a noisy, chaotic, fuzzy, utterly beautiful musical landscape entirely of his own creation. The L.A. Weekly calls him "a jewel"; BAM starts its evaluation at "amazing," and proceeds from there. When Tepper and his band swing through town, everyone who shows up gets tickets to the carnival, and a sweet and spooky place it is, indeed -- full of loud sounds, bright lights, and music that's as lively and cantankerous and joyous as it is heartfelt and hopelessly romantic.

You want creative? You want anger and lust and humor? You want a highly unconventional conversationalist and raconteur? At the risk of giving up one of our prized secrets: You gotta hear this.

New Times: What are you reading lately?

Moris Tepper: A lot of technical manuals. Also, I'm just now reading Miles Davis' autobiography; that's a wild kick. And more manuals.

NT: Manuals?

MT: Yeah. Do you wanna talk about gear?

NT: Okay. You're using new technology in the studio these days; what are you finding you can do that you weren't able to do before?

MT: Well, you know, I did an entire record [Moth to Mouth] that was heavy on the gear, and I'm getting more into it now. You can keep going deeper and deeper into software that does different things. I've been working lately with the SP808 synthesizer from Roland, and with Reactor, and with Acid [sampling] software on the PC side. The changes I'm going through now are ways of stretching time and pitches; using multiple platforms, PC and Mac together, to achieve new ways to deteriorate the audio. Or, you know, twist the sound. It's like being able to solder a nose onto a kneecap. But even with all the gear, I'm beginning to really enjoy working with natural sounds. I've been carrying around a little digital tape recorder with me for like the last eight months. I've been singing into it, been recording insects, bushes . . . fights between people, loving conversations between people, random thoughts. Lately there's more of a consciousness in my process to employ the natural universe around me as it occurs, as part of my . . . my pastiche.

NT: Deteriorate the audio?

MT: Right, right, right . . . Even more than on Moth to Mouth, I'm trying to bring the sounds of the universe into the things I create, and it's like opening a very big hole.

It's weird, the more times that I've done this and then walked away from it, and then come back to it and done it again, I find that I'm not an artist who every minute thinks about making a record. Stuff happens organically. Like for the last four or five months the band has been learning a couple of new songs a month, but it's only been all of a sudden that I've kind of realized, "Well, I'm making a new record." It's like I keep trying to run away from what I know, and every time I get there it's still me, anyway. I'm writing again, writing kind of heavily; I write and then I go out into the world and I come home and I want to write some more. It's exciting and it's also scary.

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Eric Waggoner