We heard it, reviewed it, and had to have more of it. Tomahawk’s latest release, Oddfellows, comes out January 29th. It is a record that had a long time coming, and joyous are we to finally get our just rewards for our patience. Oddfellows – an album that we likened to what sex should be: fucking good.
And because we were so enamoured with this album, we followed up with an interview with the super group’s ultimate master basser, Trevor Dunn.
Hey, how’s it going?
Good. I’m in rainy Oakland California right now.
(laughs) Yikes! Sounds wonderful! Tell us, why launch again as Tomahawk after such a long time?
This is my first involvement with the band. They have 3 records without me. They didn’t have a bass player for quite a while, and I think that had something do with it. Also, everybody is in other projects: John has Battles, Duane has others bands (Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, The Jesus Lizard, etc.) Duane had some ideas for new music, which he wrote. They called me up and asked if I wanted to be a part of it and that is how that came about.
Tell us about the origins of Oddfellows album. Where did the impetus for this album come from?
Pretty much Duane wrote everything. The writing process for that band is that Duane writes everything and he makes demos and sends them out to everyone. Patton then comes up with vocal melodies and some orchestration ideas, and the lyrics. Me and John just learn our parts, ultimately. We have a certain amount of our own input, but we are basically just there to realize Duane and Mike’s vision of the music. Duane, John and I got together for a week at the most, rehearsing all the music before we went into the studio.
What was your role in writing process for it, if any?
Almost none. John and I just had to learn our parts. Once we got into the studio, we all had ideas about certain things. I was choosing different basses and tones. There were some subtle nuances that I added to the bass line that Duane wrote. Ultimately, I didn’t do any writing on this record it all.
Were there any songs on it that had more improvisation vs. others?
Not so much. This record is really straightforward. It is probably the most straightforward of all the Tomahawk records. The shape of each song was all predetermined – even with the scope of the whole album. I think Duane really had a sense of what he wanted with this.
Are there any songs that you would consider more technically intricate than others?
Not really. The first song, “Oddfellows”, is in an odd meter of seven, which is how the term “Oddfellows” came about. When we originally came up with that song, it was the working title. We all kind of liked the way it sounded, and Mike went with it with the lyrics. For me, bass-wise, it’s pretty straightforward stuff. I’m playing in the lower register, and the forms are very traditional, in terms of rock music. There is nothing that is rocket science, for me, on this record. (laughs) But all the old songs that we play live are more intricate and have an almost solo feel with the high range stuff happening in the bass – which I had to learn and play live (laughs).
Wonderful! Are there any interesting stories or anecdotes from the recording process that you would care to share?
Not really. (laughs) I hate to not have any dramatic stories to tell. Ultimately Duane, John, and I learned the music really quickly. Actually Mike was unable to make the stage for the recording session. He had some stuff come up. The three of us just powered through and recorded everything. It was really quickly. We learned our songs within a week and had the basic tracks done within a week after that. It was recorded in Nashville, so there was a lot of eating involved – mostly barbecue. Other than that, it was a very straightforward process. We definitely put in long hours in the studio where we were recording. Ultimately, we were there to get our job done, which we did.
You certainly did. How did the band decide up on “Stone Letter” as being the first single off it vs. the title track “Oddfellows”?
We kind of toyed around with the idea of “Waratorium” as the single. I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure what it boiled down to. It seemed like a good choice. It definitely is one of the catchier-poppier tunes on the record. It seemed like a good choice.
Is there a song off Oddfellows, or off the Tomahawk discography that you prefer playing live more than others?
There are a couple of the older ones I really like playing, because they’re all new to me. I just got to sit down and learn how to play them live. I didn’t actually get to go through the process of hashing them out in rehearsal. Point and Click is one that I really like playing. It has some really interesting bass phrasing. Anything that I can really just slam some low drop B for a while is a lot of fun for me (laughs). In this band, the style of bass playing doesn’t take a lot of brain cells, which is great. A lot of the stuff I do done so. So this is a nice breath of fresh air for me.
(laughs) When playing live, how do you know that you’ve “nailed it”?
You just know. (laughs) depending on how the sound is on stage. We are all pretty aware as musicians, as long as we are not hammered off our asses (which I never am when I play, because I like to be conscious and do a good job). We know when one little thing goes wrong, and we can talk about it later. There is always going to be little mistakes that happen, regardless. In general, you can feel it; everyone is on par.
Tomahawk is touring next month down the West Coast, and then you are on to Australia. Are there any plans to tour the Midwest or Eastern states? I’d love to catch a show!
We’re kind of talking about doing an East Coast run. Unfortunately, now with everyone’s schedule, we’re doing it in little spurts. We’re talking about maybe in the summer, June or July, doing some East Coast and Midwest stuff -not a lot, probably for a week and probably just of the bigger cities and then get back to our families and stuff. We are also looking to do some stuff in Europe as well.
Awesome! As a musician, how do you feel you continue growing within your art and keep your multiple skillsets fresh?
I’m always sort of striving to become a better reader, and have better time, and all this technical stuff. I keep my own ideas flowing and keep myself entertained. To me, there are all kinds of aspects to music. It’s what I do for a living. It’s one of my favorite things for entertainment. I like to analyze it. I like to put it on as background music. It covers all grounds for me. As long as I don’t run out of ideas or curiosity; as long as I stay energetic about it, and being a professional musician, I do that still. I think I’ll be fine! (laughs)
In some of the press releases I’ve noticed that you were referred to as Trevor “Field Mouse” Dunn. Where did that come from?
It’s funny. I don’t know where that comes from. That’s a new one. I have a feeling they just put that out there as a joke. That’s a new one for me. I don’t think anyone is dared to call me that to my face. They know not to mess with me, so that is a passive aggressive approach.
Apparently so! Your website states that in 1991 you began playing the electric bass and girls began speaking to you. In comparison to other bass players, how to you compare?
(laughs) Well, you know, I’m appreciative of a lot of bass players. I’m certainly not going to put myself on any sort of any pedestal. I feel like I cover a certain niche that maybe other bass players don’t cover. It’s got to do with my diversity (laughs). That’s where I’m going to take that question! (laughs)
(laughs) Now I’m curious to know what niche you’re covering!
You will have to come out and see me live, and you’ll know! (laughs)
I absolutely must now! How about in comparison to your band-mates, how do you measure up?
(laughs) I’m not exactly sure how I know how to answer that question. I measure up by being the authoritative figure on the bus. I call the shots, whether it’s my band or not. (laughs)
Trevor “field mouse” Dunn: filling niches and calling the shots, regardless of whether it’s his band or not! What a pleasure it was for RockRevolt™ to spend a moment in time with the amazing artist that is Trevor Dunn. Tomahawk’s latest and greatest Oddfellows releases on 01/29/2013. Check it out! It will blow your mind a new niche or two!
~Alice Roques, RockRevolt™ Co-founder and Managing Editor
Connect with Tomahawk at the links above or below:
Check out the video for the first single, “Stone Letter”