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  • 3:22:30 am
  • Saturday
  • 20 July 2024

Karate: Back at it. Still at it.

John Paul Chirdon of Said Sew Recordings sat down with the band Karate at the infamous Bar in New Haven CT.

John Paul is a cofounder of Said Sew Recordings and Tweed Magazine contributor. KARAT/" target="_blank">Karate is Geoff Farina, Jeff Goddard, and Gavin McCarthy.

To start it off, this is something like your third or fourth show in the US after a long break?

Farina: Something like that. I think it’s our sixth. We took some time off and played in Europe over the summer but haven’t played much here.

What did that time mean for the group?

Farina: A break, definitely. I think it was mostly probably my doing because I really needed a break. The way that it happened was we had just played a lot after we did Some Boots, and I think we all kind of got exhausted and it’s just kind of hard in a lot of ways to play everywhere and do everything that we get asked to do. It puts a lot of strain on personal lives and things like that. I think we all just needed a break and I actually got pretty sick towards the end of it so I needed it health-wise. So just to make it work it was good to take the time off. It wasn’t even a year. I think it was 9 months or so. We started practicing around January or February of this year so it wasn’t super long.

Goddard: Well, we recorded the record at the very tail end of that, so we already had the material sort of working so just before we had sort of stopped, we had recorded. I think that was a good point to end on, at least, for the year so when we came back and started playing, we had something to work with right away.

That was something I was wondering about. You guys recorded the record—was it right after touring Some Boots? Did you start writing that material right when you were back and settled in?

Farina: I started writing it about 2 years ago or so. I don’t remember exactly how the schedule went. I honestly don’t remember exactly how that worked. I know I worked on writing that material specifically 6 months or a year before we started playing it. And then we got together and started rehearsing it and playing it, and then that went on for about six months. I think, generally, that’s how it works.

Goddard: I think Jeff had about half of the songs when we were touring in Europe for the Some Boots trip for the winter in about March/April. Then, when we finished touring in the beginning of May, we decided we were going to stop playing shows to record at the end of that summer. And we spent the rest of that summer working out songs because a lot of it we had never played live—maybe two or three of the songs.

You talk about having songs during this tour or that. Would you say in the background of the band, the dynamic of writing the songs is from a singer/songwriter then enter the other two song-writers situation? Does a lot of material jumpstart on your personal time and is thus reinterpreted when the three of you come together?

McCarthy: I don’t know about reinterpreted. Interpreted, definitely. I think we sort of try and hear what Geoff is trying to get at and do what’s appropriate and also put our stamp on it where we can. But yeah, I think reinterpreting is a little strong.

Farina: I think that a lot of what I write for Gavin and Jeff is literally for them, like I know what they are going to do and they have a lot of things that I think they do really well that a lot of other people don’t or can’t do or something. You know, just learning from our history, it’s easy for me to do something that I know is going to fit them really well or they are going to come in and do their thing that they’ve done in the past. I know that it’s certain tempos or feels that they do that I think is really unique. It’s not like any other band I’ve been in in the past. It’s never really happened that way. It’s not like I write these songs and they are transparent and I go play them with anybody. I don’t think it’s that way.

So considering the way you talk about this record as a sort of exhale or something that came easy at the time, I get the impression that you definitely consider each record to be a document of the process, more specifically, the overall process of being a band—not just making another record and a segmented part of the process.

Farina: Yeah. I think the thing with Pockets is that we’ve never made a record where we’ve finished ideas. A lot of our records are kind of just like you’re saying—it really documents sort of a process of what we’re going through musically and we’ve never really made a record where we’ve said, you know, here’s all these ideas that we’ve come up with, let’s really finish them, let’s really make them a little more ours. And that’s what I feel like we did with this record. most of our records do really kind of go out on a limb like Unsolved and stuff around that time, with varying degrees of success and I think we’ve done a lot of that in our career and what we’ve never done is really said, “this is who we are,” and lets sort of go with that and let’s represent these sounds and these ideas that we’ve come up with—and that’s what I think Pockets is. That’s why I think the analogy of exhaling is a really good way to put it—sort of finishing something that we’ve already started.

Just as far as the records are concerned—you do a lot of them with the same engineer and the very first records, you didn’t. Over time, is that relationship or that friendship something which subtracts the most pain from the recording process or something which boosts the productive qualities?

McCarthy: It definitely takes away from the pain of recording. We have at this point a friendship with him and he knows what we sound like naturally and he knows how to get that sound and just how to make a natural sounding record. He doesn’t use a lot of crazy effects as you can tell. It’s just a really relaxed, easy recording environment.

Goddard: It’s funny. Somebody said this at one of the shows last week. They were bringing a friend who had never seen us play live to a show but they had heard the records and the person was like, “well, what’s it going to be like?” And the guy was like, “if you’ve heard the record, that’s exactly what you’re going to get live,” to a certain extent of course. And, at least my recollection of it anyways is that when we first started recording with Andy, I think one of the big important things for us was certainly by the time Unsolved came around, his second record with us, was we were really into just recording the best sound your instrument could create—the most natural sound of the instrument itself. So whatever Geoff was playing through Geoff’s amp, as natural as that could possibly sound, and the same thing all the way around—and I think we’ve had great results with that. I think that he’s a sound genius in a lot of ways and I don’t think there is a lot of work to be done with us.

How would you say your career has affected or established relationships with the people closest to you? I would imagine there are a lot of ups and downs to it.

Farina: Yeah. They love it [sarcastic]. Certainly it’s highly difficult. I mean, I’m sure everybody says this about what they do but it’s a very difficult life to lead and have any lasting personal relationships with anybody. It’s just really really hard. It puts obvious strains on it. But also, I think the hardest strains it puts on it are the less obvious ones. Like when you get back and you’re so excited to see your girlfriend but you haven’t been together in six months and so you don’t even share common experiences. Or your girlfriend gets up at 6 in the morning and you can’t fall asleep until 4 in the morning. To me, it’s been difficult and it’s something I have had to constantly struggle with.

Goddard: In some ways I think it’s a very selfish endeavor. Not selfish in the way that, you’re being selfish, but it’s not as simple as it sounds when you’re like, I’m committed to playing in this... I mean, it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. I never thought it would be that way but, yeah, the subtleties are the most difficult and not always front and center. They do show up after time, and have become, at least for me, definitely issues. They do arise and I don’t always know how to answer them.

I know you guys aren’t leaving, as far as the main bulk of travel is concerned, until next weekend. The whole thing kind of coincides with the tail end of the Presidential election and I was just wondering about your opinions on it, your routines as far as following it, how that affects your input and exposure to it...

McCarthy: Our tour and the election are sort of coincidentally happening, of course.

Goddard: Well, with the last election, we were on tour in the states almost at the same time as the election and we were in Minneapolis right before the election was going on and we spent the rest of the tour trying to hone into the radio to find out what the hell was going on from day to day. I mean, that’s my only memory of the last Presidential election and, of course, everything surrounding it—the fact that we were on tour. I don’t really know about this right now, other than coincidentally, it’s all happening at the same time.

Farina: I think a lot of people like us and our friends, maybe in the past never took it so seriously. I remember thinking, “Al Gore and Bush... there’s really not much difference.” And then seeing what Bush really did, everybody now, most of my friends, are taking it very seriously and I think that I’ve never seen my peers be as involved or as concerned with getting ready to vote other than now. When I look back at my own decisions, I think I could of cared less. I thought Bush and Gore were two extensions of the same corporate wing or something. And after the last four years, I think it’s just a huge responsibility to vote and I think most people I know feel the same way.

McCarthy: Yeah, where’s Joe Lieberman been in the past months, man? I thought he would be campaigning for Democrat.

Goddard: You know, one of the other pluses in some ways, that personally I’ve gained from at least traveling with the band, is that I know a lot of people in a lot of different places in this country alone that come from various different demographics and financial backgrounds and are in different places in their lives and I see how, especially in the last four years—or maybe I’ve just been more aware of it—how it has affected some people, literally that I know personally, in decisions, maybe economically. I don’t think any of us live in a bubble. We’re lucky to have seen a lot of places and have met a lot of people from various different backgrounds and get a lot of opinions on different issues. We’ve sort of run the gamut. In a way, it’s made me more aware in a lot of ways.

I never thought I would be in Zagra, Croatia on Easter weekend during the first NATO bombings. You know, you’re 80km away from a city that’s under fire from everyone in the western world and the band who was supposed to play with us isn’t there because they were called to the front. You’re immediately put into a situation which I never would have thought I would be there. And sort of answering questions like, people wanting to know what your view is or where you stand. And you’re also realizing that the news that you get and the information you get from people where you are is radically different from what people are getting at the same exact time sitting here at this bar.

You learn a lot and none of us ever needed to turn up the news or pick up a book to figure those things out. You’re just there and find yourself in the situation. For me, the politics in this country, certainly being more aware, more involved, more opinionated and at least, exercising my right, has become far more important. Especially realizing what goes on in a lot of the world. How lucky and how spoiled a lot of us are in a lot of ways. We just don’t know anything. I mean we’re all lucky to be living the way we’re living because there are a lot of people who don’t have that sort of choice.

Do you all endorse a specific [presidential] candidate?

Farina: Well, it would have been Nader, right?

McCarthy: Us? Yeah. I’d definitely vote for Nader if there wasn’t George Bush. But the irony of that, I think, and it’s sort of widely considered in this scenario, is that Ralph Nader, by his persistence of will, has sort of undermined all that he’s worked for since the sixties.

Goddard: I would like to see other party involvement in the American political system. We have a two-party system that is increasingly, by the year, becoming less like two separate parties and more like one. I think a one-party system anywhere in the world has already proven that that is probably the most dangerous situation you could be in. It’s a dictatorship—and I’m uncomfortable with the options we’re left with.

How do you feel about the war in Iraq?

Goddard: I don’t read the papers that much anymore because they discourage me and I find a lot of it horseshit. But there was a time when I was into reading a lot of them, and I don’t see how there was a time when it could have ever been justified. I just don’t believe any of it. I find it fascinating and sad that things have gone the way they have and that so many people buy into it in one way or another. I’m not sure what they’re believing now, that they want their kids back from being in the army or whether they truly support this—and I’m not sure why.

This is clearly not the American people’s war. This is a very specifically concentrated operation between specific people which benefits very few people, if it was to ever do that, and hurts hundreds of millions of people. This has changed the world in a lot of ways. I’m sure you can find ways that it has entered into governments across the world and that’s a huge responsibility to be hanging. People who represent us took that into their own hands. We’re questioned about this sort of thing constantly. As soon as you leave American soil, it really makes you think.

John Paul Chirdon
Tuesday, 30 November 2004

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