Published on October 23rd, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
One of the most anticipated collaborations this year, the Kandodo/McBain double LP Lost Chants/Last Chance, has more than delivered on expectations.
In a surprise move, psych fans were treated to not one but two full-length albums, leaving reviewers to debate which one they loved most—the clear-focused crunch of the 45 Lost Chants, or the melting drone of the 33 1/3 rpm master Last Chance.
The partnering of Kandodo (a solo project of The Heads guitarist Simon Price, on this occasion recording with fellow Heads Wayne Maskell and Hugo Morgan) and John McBain (ex-Monster Magnet, Desert Sessions, Hater, Wellwater Conspiracy) makes sense beyond mutual admiration.
“We listened to Monster Magnet an awful lot.”
Both artists have drawn from similar influences and have, over the last 25 years, contributed some landmark albums to the stoner, grunge, and garage-pysch genres.
More recently, both Price and McBain have waded into ambient waters: Kandodo with the reflective k2o, and McBain with his unsung but nonetheless incredible solo album The In-Flight Feature.
There are other mutual connections. Notably, Kandodo and McBain have each collaborated on or issued split records with Andy Duvall’s San Francisco-based “dome rock” outfit Carlton Melton, a band McBain said “made me want to pick up the guitar again” after many years of not playing a note.
But for Price, the roots of this Kandodo/McBain project go back to the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“With Spine Of God,” Simon tells BNU, “I was working in a record shop at the time and had been a huge [Monster Magnet] fan from the first 7” singles on.
“The Heads were playing, but mainly jamming in a garage at this time. Our original lead guitarist, Dave Spencer, was perhaps more space-rock-orientated than Paul, who was maybe more rock in style.
“Monster Magnet really ripped the roof off…”
“Monster Magnet were one of the few bands that really ripped the roof off with great heavy garage rock, we listened to them a lot, especially when Wayne, Hugo, and I shared a house, our ‘headquarters’.
“The Heads ripped off Pill Shovel for our set opener Quad, we needed a lurching opening riff.
“A bunch of us headed up to London to catch the Magnet’s first UK show at the Underworld, John had just quit, but they still rocked, Wyndorf was totally off his nut from what I can remember.
“Having said all that, house faves also included 13th Floor Elevators (Bull of the Woods) and Can (Tago Mago). I loved Mudhoney, Spacemen 3, and Loop, too.
“Wyndorf was totally off his nut from what I can remember.”
“Faves from the classic stoner-rock days include the Magnet’s compilation 12”, Tab, and Spine of God; Kyuss’s Blues for the Red Sun, Fu Manchu’s Daredevil, Queens of the Stone Age’s self-titled and Rated R; Nebula’s To the Center.
“I grin when those come up in the shuffle on the way back from work.”
So how did Simon first make contact with John McBain, and what precipitated an agreement to collaborate on a project?
“We first met John in Seattle at the Crocodile Cafe when The Heads played their first gig in America with Nebula and Jack Endino’s band. We chatted for a while; he’d just left Monster Magnet after their European tour. This was all way back.
“As for reacquainting ourselves, that was due to Roadburn. We were booked to play as Kandodo in 2013 and Walter Roadburn wondered if The Heads could play too. We weren’t gigging then, Paul was busy with Anthroprophh, so we were a man down.
“Simon Keeler, a rock hub and good friend, got in touch with John as he thought he might fit. Paul’s shoes/riffs would be hard to fill, but we reckoned Mr. McBain could do it; he definitely had the chops.
“The idea was to play a Heads set with John on lead…”
“The idea was to play a Heads set with John on lead. Sadly, this didn’t happen, but we had laid down some tracks in the meantime as we were quite excited and wanted to make the most of the contact to make some music.
“A chance to work with the man who played on the classic early Monster Magnet recordings was too good to miss. We listened to Monster Magnet an awful lot. They were loud, raw, and psychedelic. They ticked a lot of boxes.
“John’s playing has a great fluidity, coupled with some fantastic fuzz tones and riffing. He’s also not scared to use an effect or two.”
McBain explained the deep-fried psychosis of Spine of God in an interview with BNU some time ago as being a result of disbelief at being let loose in a proper studio on company dime, “piling on” every idea they had into the mix, and of wanting to deliver a “fuck-you to the West Coast party scene”.
With that adventurism in mind, we asked him how the idea arose to make two versions of the Kandodo/McBain album, one “fast” and one “slow”.
“The idea of releasing it at different speeds was, on my end, an homage to the Fripp and Eno re-release of No Pussyfooting,” John McBain says from his home in San Francisco. “That re-release included half-speed and reverse versions of the album.
“You get a way heavier, clearer sound on a 12” cut at 45 rpm.”
“It was really just a matter of figuring out the math and mastering it so that the low end, much more pronounced on the 33 1/3 versions, didn’t overwhelm the mix.”
Simon Price adds, “There was also too much for a single LP, it had to be a shortish double LP. So it seemed a good idea to go for the 45 rpm cut for maximum ‘welly’, to use a technical term. You get a way heavier, clearer sound on a 12” cut at 45 rpm.
“No vocals also made the slower speed a possibility. It also gave the option for a mood choice, a late-night version depending on how you’re feeling. I like a mixture of speeds, depending on your deck, 33 rpm pitched-up +8 works well particularly on Chant of the Ever Circling [Last Vulture]…
“Neu! Had also done stuff at different speeds too due to a shortage of material.”
I wonder if McBain is also a Terry Riley fan, and if those late ’60s experimentations with tape speed and tape editing—I single out the song You’re No Good—was something that had interested him or had some bearing on the creation of Lost Chants/Last Chance.
“I love the Terry Riley track,” he says. “Love all of his early stuff. I’ve always been into tape manipulation, from messing with tape speed on my first cassette four-track to time-stretching tracks in the digital realm.”
I note that the guitar tones used on Lost Chants/Last Chance and The In-Flight Feature share the same atmosphere: did any of the ideas left over from the latter record make it onto the Kandodo/McBain album?
“The tone similarities on Kandodo/McBain and my solo record are definitely there. Same basic work method. All of Kandodo/McBain was tracked, mixed, and mastered digitally. In fact, all of my guitar parts were recorded directly into my computer with amp-modelling software. No real amplifiers were used.
“I generally tracked an average of 12 different guitar parts on each song, and then went back afterwards and erased 90 percent of it.
“The tone similarities on Kandodo/McBain and my solo record are definitely there…”
“Most of the work on the album involved editing. Just picking through all of it and saving little bits here and there.”
I ask Simon, from a practical perspective, how the structure of the songs emerged and how they developed over time?
“Wayne, Hugo, and I went into a studio, Latch Manghat’s room in Bristol, for a few days. We set up and recorded as much as we could to see if we had an album. All live. Had to start again a few times on Megladon’t.
“We’re used to playing together, so I guess we got a fair bit down. There were just loose ideas that I’d had or we tried to record before, but really it was just us cutting loose on a few riffs and rhythms. We’d done a couple of Kandodo gigs, too, by that point so we used some of those ideas too.
“Latch then sent it over to John to work over/on. He did loads on them, adding, chopping bits, editing, mixing, mastering, and making it more into a coherent whole.
“I was going to add vocals, but decided against it, preferring instrumentals, or at least not hearing my own voice.”
Was it hard to know when to stop, what to leave out? At what point did it become clear that a piece was finished?
“We’d done our bit in relative ease,” Simon comments. “I wasn’t going to overdub any guitars, as I’d laid down all I wanted in the live takes. This also gave John more space and freedom to do his thing.
“I think John had a way harder task, as he had to assemble it all. Luckily there were no deadlines and he’s a very patient man, sending over many mixes, which I fussed over.”
Musically, Lost Chants collides exuberant sticky-fingered ’90s dope-rock, for which The Heads and Monster Magnet are rightly celebrated, with a more mature and reflective approach—a subversion of convention that makes each song more of sonic adventure than the straight-up visceral energy of stoner.
In that respect, both records please in different ways, the 45 with a more crunchy and immediate feel, and the 33 rpm version a deeper immersion into the three-dimensional spatiality of each song.
Was there any discussion between Kandodo and McBain about what was wanted conceptually, and how much did the songs change from the initial sketches?
“There were a couple of ideas or tracks that weren’t used, but not much, we had no preconceived limits on it, whatever it became was good. Most tracks—can’t really call them songs—were much the same, Megladon’t and Holy Syke were rearranged a fair bit by John, the others more or less pulsed along.
“We had no preconceived limits on it, whatever it became was good…”
“It was more in what John did treatment-wise and sonically to them that gave them new directions.”
I mention that Ripley from San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo—a keen surfer—is a big Kandodo fan, and wonder if Simon Price shares a similar connection or fascination with the ocean.
As well as the cover art for k2o, the interplay of light and water permeate their sound so thoroughly that on my first random encounter with the band, without knowing who they were or where they were from, I assumed Kandodo were Bay Area surfies.
“Ha, yes, I love the ocean. You can tell from the videos that I’ve done, I love triply liquid nonsense. Water just goes on forever; you can float and drift in it, dive down deep. Music has those properties too for me. Liquid sike.”
So what about getting a Californian contingent together and hitting the road for a tour? Say, Wooden Shjips, Carlton Melton, and Kandodo/McBain live in concert?
“Cool bill, but sadly will never happen. Kandodo barely play live, four gigs ever, and can’t ever see this album being played. Shame.”
Yet psych music fans still, at the end of the day, have this incredible double LP to treasure. What is Simon most proud of about Lost Chants/Last Chance?
“Got to work with one of my guitar heroes, thanks John! Even though we were never plugged in together, it felt good. All four of us in the same room would truly have been epic.
“The album’s got a great feel, it’s an easy listen in some ways. I love music to get lost in. It would sound great at 30,000 feet. I’m really proud of it. It’s one of the best things I’ve had a part in.
“On a selfish note, I’m really happy with the artwork too, and how it all came out. It’s a beautiful-looking record and an awesome listen, if that was my last album, I’d be happy.”