Wednesday, October 14, 2009
All Chopt Up & Nowhere To Go
Choptsicks - All Chopt Up & Nowhere To Go (1999-2000)
1. Great Flood
2. Walkin' Choptsicks Blues
3. Horsey Broken Man On Fire
4. Intestinal Florae
5. Loop A
6. Operation Gravyboat
8. Loop B
Aaron Bachelder - drums
Eric Jackson - bass, trombone
Michael Thomas Jackson- guitar, vocals, synthesizer, clarinet
Kemp Stroble - guitar, vocals
Michael Thomas Jackson moved from Asheville to attend North Carolina School of the Arts as a composition major. After school he used the Wherehouse as his default home whenever he was between renting homes; living in the basement and later in a tiny, oddly shaped room with one window and a small wooden platform for a mattress (now part of the America Suite). At the time they were gutting the building across the street from The Wherehouse to make the new Government Center, and he would wake up every morning covered in soot. "It was summertime, and you had to have the window open, cause it was hot as sh*t. So I'd wake up with concrete dust shoved up my nose, when they started with jackhammers at 6:30 am."
At school Michael had put together the Spool Ensemble, with fellow composer Aaron Bachelder, who'd also made the Asheville to NCSotA move. After another project with NCSotA students called Rompecabezza, he formed Choptsicks in 1999. Originally it was a quintet with Michael, Aaron, Kemp (on keyboards), Eric and Speight Rue (who had also been in Rompecabezza). After their first gig, opening for The 1985, Speight moved to Wilmington and they continued as a quartet with Kemp on guitar. Michael started the project as a way to release more of his material that hadn't been used in Rompecabezza, with intentions that it be a recording project, and not a working band. That soon changed, and they began playing gigs regularly in Winston, Greensboro, Raleigh and Virginia (at The Pudhouse).
The band mainly revolved around songwriting, as displayed on their single; but were also comfortable improvising, as is evident here (along with some goofing around in the studio). All of Choptsicks recorded material (except some overdubs) was captured from December of 1999 to January of 2000, in the old Wherehouse basement studio on 16-track tape. Chief engineers were Brian Doub and Chris Leiser, although Will Dyar and Mark Linga helped out when needed. The ALL CHOPT UP & NOWHERE TO GO cassette existed in three editions of varying sizes and packaging: 1st edition of three (in a soapbox with a sticker), 2nd edition of thirteen (in a slipcase with a sticker), 3rd edition of twenty-three (in a Norelco box with a J-card). They also released their only 7-inch, TYPICAL OF TRADITIONAL GLONOUS HISTORY AND CULTUAL; on Burning Fight Records in 2000. The rest of the recorded material remains unreleased instrumentals, as Choptsicks disbanded before finishing the vocals.
The first two tracks of ALL CHOPT UP & NOWHERE TO GO are the only composed pieces, and reflect Michael's interest in plagarism and re-appropriation of existing material. Kemp sang and wrote the lyrics to, "Great Flood", and Michael added synthesizer. "Walkin' Choptsicks Blues" was written around a line from the song "The Walk" by Prince protege group The Time. Michael played clarinet and synthesizer (Eric's Roland SH-101) and they assembled anyone and everyone in the building to shout the lyrics. The third track features Kemp on drums, Eric on trombone, Michael playing one of Chris Kennedy's homemade 2-stringed 'banjos' that was lying around (from a Divine Morsel session), and Aaron on smoke break. Michael also contributed some feedback guitar and everyone moaned and chanted. "Intestinal Florae" is a high energy piece that was used live as an intro to another song. "Operation Gravyboat" and "Quasi una Fantasia..." are straight group improvisations with some vocal overdubs and the tuned-down guitar of Kemp. Michael says, "I love how the tape runs out on "Quasi una Fantasia..." just as we seem to settle on a rendition of "Another One Bites The Dust". Eric is solely responsible for the two loops.
Choptsicks lasted for over a year. Kemp got busy with Malabaster, Aaron and Michael had young children and Eric wanted more harmony than dissonance in his musical and daily life; so they split. In their short existence Choptsicks released 4 songs, recorded eleven unreleased instrumentals and released this set of improv compositions. Others in their repetoire (like a medley of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" and "The Nile Song") didn't make it to the studio. On listening to this set I told Eric I especially enjoyed "Walkin' Choptsicks Blues", but that his final loop put me on edge. "Choptsicks could do that to people" was his reply.