Travis Dickerson Interview with Monkeybe
volume 6, issue 4, December 2003
FOR THE LAST TWO DECADES, MUSICIAN/PRODUCER TRAVIS DICKERSON HAS RUN THE MUSICAL SPECTRUM, TAKING PART IN PROJECTS WITH EVERYONE FROM LINDA RONSTADT TO DEATH CUBE K, X, AND L7. MONKEYBE HAD THE UNDESERVED PLEASURE OF CHATTING WITH TRAVIS ABOUT GROWING UP, ART, INFLUENCES, AND WORKING WITH HOBBITS.
Monkeybe: Tell me a little about yourself.
Travis: I was born in Michigan, where my dad was a professor of fine arts at Central Michigan University. I came of age during the Vietnam War years, and fell into the merry prankster lifestyle with the siblings of other faculty of the university. It was good, not-so-clean fun. The music of the time was fantastic. Growing up in the '60s and '70s is-- as anybody who did, can tell you-- an indelible part of who you become.
M: How did you get your start in the music industry?
T: As a kid with my brothers, just banging on anything available. Then, as we got our hands on better instruments, I played drums and guitar. My brothers did the same; my youngest brother kinda got stuck playing bass, a la Paul. I became interested in music production in my teens, and recorded us with, at first, an 8-track recorder. It wasn't an 8-channel recorder; those came along later. An 8-track-- like the car stereos-- that was capable of recording. After getting better equipment, I built my first studio in a basement of a house in Petoskey, Michigan. Somewhere around the mid-Seventies, we stuck our heads out of the studio-- during a winter of subzero temps and six foot snowbanks-- and saw the writing in the sky: "Go west, young man." Or maybe it was "Surrender, Dorothy." Yeah, that was it. So we all packed up and moved to L.A.
M: What have been some of your favorite projects you've worked on?
T: Well, in the '80s we were so lucky to get D.J. Bonebrake-- the drummer of X-- to play drums with us in the years that X was between guitarists. When X got back together, we all ended up together in my studio in Chatsworth. Some of my favorite memories were recording and producing records with X and its individual members. Those people, collectively and individually, have incredible talent. Exene is a force; she has an amazing mind. She uses words like puzzle pieces, slamming the pieces back together, paying no attention to the picture, and creates mosaics of incredible cleverness.
I also admire John Doe; his amazing voice and emotional connection to his songs are inspiring. X kept me in the company of people that were more interested in music as art, rather than as it being a commercial entity. It is a road I am still traveling.
I have been lucky to work with artists and musicians I really admire: The Plimsouls, Peter Case on his own, The Blasters, Tony and Eliza Gilkyson, Vince DiCola, Doane Perry, L7, The Negro Problem, Top Jimmy, Viggo Mortensen, and Buckethead are just a few of my favorites.
M: I've heard some of the keyboard and piano work that you have done with Exene Cervenka, Thanatopsis, Death Cube K, Viggo Mortensen, and Lysa Flores. It sounds amazing. How long have you played piano?
T: Lysa? Did I forget to mention her with my favorites? She's great, and we just finished her new CD a few weeks ago. Well, thank you. When I was ten, my dad traded one of his paintings for an old player piano, but the player's guts were ripped out. I have worshiped the piano since my hand first fell on those keys. I would take the front covers off, and just bathe in the warm overtones that came out of that thing. Forty years later, not a day goes by when I don't sit down at that beat-up piano in my studio, and just let 'er rip. You can hear some of that same piano on the Thanatopsis CDs.
M: I saw that you have some of your father's paintings on your website. He does some really great work. Are you also an artist?
T: My dad was always an artist first, a professor second. He's painted all his life. He's about to turn 80, and in the last couple of years he's learned how to paint using the Macintosh, and then how to take those paintings and animate them. He's done several videos. One of them was for Thanatopsis, which will be on the new DVD Buckethead will be putting out this year. I have always been interested in art. I was getting my degree in painting when I dropped out of college to come to L.A. and make it big. I guess it's a toss-up as to where I would have made more money.
M: Do you still paint?
T: No. I gave up painting when I became involved in music. I do still love art and still like to express myself by working on CD cover art. I've enjoyed doing the Thanatopsis covers, and Tony Gilkyson, Lysa Flores, and Death Cube K are a few of my favorites.
M: Who are some of the artists and musicians that you like?
T: Matisse, Beethoven, Groucho Marx, John Lennon, James Thurber, De Kooning, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Alfred Hitchcock, Picasso, John Huston, Cezanne. I also like science writers like Steven Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, and Bucky Fuller, to name a few.
M: Coming from an artistic family and background, has art been an influence in other aspects of your life?
T: In every way. Like the artists I mentioned before, I like to feel the artists' soul-- as well as their mind-- pushing the medium they are working in. With the artists I have been lucky enough to work with, or my own music, I like to challenge myself and the listener, but I don't want to frustrate them. I don't care for artists who like to challenge their audience just for the sake of getting a reaction. The best ones always give something of themselves that is real and heartfelt, then push the boundaries of their medium.
M: A few weeks ago I rented a movie called Flesh For The Beast. Didn't you work on the score with Buckethead and Deli Creeps?
T: Yes. Buckethead and I worked on the score, and I produced and recorded Deli Creeps for the song over the end credits. Buckethead did some great Death Cube K-type guitar stuff to some of the scenes, and he was kind enough to give me a scene to write a song for,.. although, it's cut out of the rated version. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.
M: Just for the sake of being nosy, are there plans for a full-length Deli Creeps album?
T: There have always been plans to do a Deli Creeps record. In fact, we have done one. I like it, but the band is reluctant to put it out; they would like to continue working on it. I think after 15 years of playing these songs, they are having a hard time releasing what will be the definitive versions. I think we all had a good time doing the Flesh For The Beast soundtrack because it was fresh and spontaneous. I'd like to see them come back into the studio and do some new material to get their juices flowing. Hmmm,.. I better be careful about saying that about the Creeps.
M: You mentioned that you just finished work on the new Lysa Flores album. Also, the new Vincent DiCola album with Reeves Gabrels-- in my opinion, one of the most underrated guitar monsters on the planet-- playing guitar is done, and you're just finishing up the latest Viggo Mortensen venture. What other things do you have cooking right now?
T: We hope to get the new Vince record out as soon as we can. Reeves does play great on it, as do all the guys on the CD. I'm trying to hook up Vince and Buckethead to do something together. I have been talking with Maximum Bob about doing a solo record. Buckethead and I always have projects in the works. I just finished working on the new Jethro Tull CD; that was a lot of fun. I think it's really good, a throwback to some of the great records they did in the '70s. I have also been working on my own record, with some of my friends helping out. All in all, it's an interesting assortment of stuff.
M: The new Viggo Mortensen disc-- PandemoniumFromAmerica-- is done and should be out soon. This album has a really cool gathering of musicians and celebrities, consisting of yourself, Viggo Mortensen, Henry Mortensen, Buckethead, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood. Was this a fun project?
T: The CD was a blast. In fact, we haven't stopped working on it, despite the fact that we just released it. That is to say, we have another one in the works already.
M: Haven't you collaborated on projects with Viggo and Buckethead before?
T: Yes. Viggo and I have worked on six CDs now, four of them with Buckethead. We have a nice working rhythm together, and we have a lot of fun.
M: How were Dominic, Billy, and Elijah to work with?
T: The day the Hobbits came by to jam with us was just surreal. We were jamming away with the cast of Lord of the Rings, and Buckethead and I looked up at each other with like, "Whoa. Is this happening?" But it was such a Viggo thing; just throw in a wild card and see what happens,.. and what happened was really cool. The guys couldn't have been nicer. They are all really talented. Billy and Dom were both in bands in the past, and both are multi-instrumentalists. Bill is a great bass player, and Elijah played some nice keys. All of them sang well.
M: So what's in the future for Travis Dickerson and TDRSmusic?
T: The business of music is in a really strange place right now. I feel that record labels, as we have known them, will cease to be. My hope for TDRSmusic is to be a place artists can come to make the music they want, without any constraints on their creativity. I hope TDRSmusic.com will be a place where people can find music that is a little different; a place where they can feel a connection to the people who make that music.
M: Do dogs have lips?
T: I'm beat up after settling that thing with chickens. It's the next generation's job to settle the dog question.