Interviewer: Hello, I’m excited to do a new interview. I’m with a creative genius. He is an instrument designer and a musician. His is Chas Smith and he is with me. So, hello Chas. How are you?
Chas: Oh, not too bad. How ’bout yourself?
Interviewer: I’m great. And I’m excited to do this interview with you.
Chas: Thank you. I’m a little embarrassed but I’ll be fine.
Interviewer: Who are you according to you?
Chas: Who am I?
Chas: That’s one of those existential questions that could be anything. Quite simply, I’m a professional welder. I’m a professional guitar player. And I’ve spent my life making things. And sometimes they’re music and sometimes they’re metal objects. And that’s how I think about who I am and my purpose.
Interviewer: I would love to know because a lot of people in the world have dreams and a lot of them believe that they cannot achieve what they dream because their parents don’t give them things.
Chas: Wow. You’re letting people tell you what to do and if you’re willing to… It’s your life. I mean, everybody knows this. It’s your life. If you’re letting someone else tell you what to do with it, then you bear the consequences. That’s your decision. So you have to take your own life. But keep in mind that whatever you do is going to have consequences. You know, you do this over here. You forget this over here. You do this over here. You don’t get this over here. You spend your life doing music and things like that, you might not have any income for your later years, for your retirement. What are you going to do? So that’s… You know, you have to think about those things.
Interviewer: Did you have some fear about not having income in the beginning?
Chas: One of my friend’s daughter quit college, wanted to go to art school, and he was horrified. How are you going to make a living, you know, as an artist? And he and I were talking about it and I said, “Well. Okay. We don’t have any security in the companies we work for anyway. We’re basically disposable labor. So if she’s doing something that she loves to do, she may not need to have a lot of money to buy all of the distractions to compensate for the job that she hates. So maybe it won’t be so bad. Especially if she’s doing something that she loves to do.” But, again, you choose what you…what you want to do and… You have to look at… You have to be serious about… I haven’t really thought about this, so let’s see.
You have to know about the direction that you’re taking. I mean, what are the problems that you’re going to encounter? You know? If you have a hard time making a decent, you know, living. You have to pay for all the incidental stuff and then as the years go by, you’re going to be confronted with medical issues. And will you have to pay for that stuff? So maybe you do art and something else. And one of the advantages of doing that… I mean, I do music and I do welding, metal fabrication. And one of them becomes the vacation from the other.
Now I’ve had, just working on my own stuff, back in the days when I actually making a decent living, I could take six weeks off and compose something or 12 weeks off and compose something because I didn’t have a lot of expenses back then. And what would happen is after the first, say, 4 weeks or 5 weeks, I’ve been working in my studio 8 hours a day, 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day sometimes. And then I start going nuts, you know, from the… And I’ve got to go do something else and, “Oh, I’ll just go out into the shop and I’ll just go make something.” And so they kind of complement each other, you know? So I’m in the shop. I can work on this until I’ve had it. Okay, now I can go back and do this. And so that’s… If you have two things or three things or multiple things to work as distractions on each other or relief from each other, that’s not so bad.
Interviewer: Cool. What made you such a creative musician?
Chas: I don’t really think of myself in those terms.
Interviewer: Because I saw your… I watched your instruments. It’s amazing. Did you study some mathematics? Did you… How do you do to create that?
Chas: Back when I was in school… See, I’m from the era that didn’t have the Internet, okay. And then now that you have the Internet, everything’s like right there at your fingertips literally, you know. But back then, I didn’t have access to that. And so when I came out to school in 1972, that’s when I learned about Harry Parch. And Harry Parch, back in the 1923, ’25, somewhere in there, was tired of music. People keep going to concerts, listening to the same things over and over again, over and over again and he wanted to do something different and he wanted to use a more complicated scale. Now we all listen to… Like, think about the piano, which is, you know, 12-note scales. Liner repetitive pattern of 12-note scales. And most of the music that we listen to is based on what are called eight-tone harmonies. Okay. Turn on the radio. That’s what you’re listening to. Sitting in the elevator, that’s what you’re listening to. Going… That’s what you’re listening to. That’s what you’re listening to over here. So we’re surrounded by it. We’re immersed in it.
And he wanted to do something different. So he developed a scale that had 43 tones. So instead of 12 notes, there’s 43 notes in there. So there’s a very close… They’re in this very close space together. And this was in like 1923, 1925, okay? So, you know, there’s no Internet. I’m not even really sure he had a radio or, you know, might have had a record player. But I wouldn’t even know about that back then. So he developed this scale but the instruments at the time couldn’t play that scale. So he had to develop his own instruments to play that scale. And then, if he’s going to have other players, he has to develop a notation system to tell them what to do to how to play what he wants. Okay, so this is a guy who built his musical world from the ground up, literally.
So I looked at that, and I’m an old New England boy and, you know, we like to be in control of everything in our lives. And I like to be in control of everything in my life, being a control freak. And so I want to build my musical world from the ground up also, you know. But also, and I’ve had the advantage of looking to see what he did, and go, “Ah, there”. And there’s another guy, Harry Bertoia.
Interviewer: It was like a source of inspiration for you?
Chas: Yes. And look at what Harry Bertoia…who did sound sculptures. And he didn’t care about being famous. He just wanted to make sculptures and make art and make that kind of stuff, you know? And like I’m looking at him and I’m going, “Oh. Is that different from the way things are now?” And when I first came out here, I used to go to all the, you know, the galleries. And one of the galleries, I think it was Lace [SP] gallery over on Robertson at that time, and they had some of Harry Bertoia’s sculptures in there, rod and plate instrument things. And they let you play ’em. And so I’d go in there and I’d play with these things and I just got seduced by the whole thing.
So if you look at the things that I build, they’re mostly based on rods and plates. Thank you, Harry. I got it all from him. So again, it’s about me creating my own world from the ground up. I mean, and to the point where I built my studio from the ground up. I mean, I had help with the original framing and I contracted the slab and I contracted the stako, but everything else I did. And it’s all about being fully responsible for the world around me and the world that I live in, what my life is about.
Interviewer: Do you imagine what you want or do you make it, the experiences and…
Chas: All of the above. The thing is that, you know, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Somebody else invented the wheel. I want to look over his shoulder and see, “Ah, you solved all the problems. How did you do that?” On other things, I have to solve all the problems. You know, I have to figure it out. And part of the, I’m not going to say the joy in my life, but… Okay, I was just having a conversation about television and the world that we live in now with all of the information and ubiquitous trivia that we’re surrounded by. Everywhere you look, there’s images. Everywhere you look, there’s this. Everywhere you look, there’s that. And you almost can’t get away from it.
Okay, so back in 1973 I was watching the Watergate hearing. I got my thumb stuck in a sander and that ended my piano career. And so I was whacked on bourbon and, I think it was Codeine, some stupid thing like that. But I was watching the Watergate hearings on TV and I spent my whole summer watching this and when it was over, I smashed the TV and I never had another one. And so were talking about that, about how the TV basically captures your brain. And what I do is… Okay, I have a project that I’m working on now. That…some recording stuff I’m working on. And I don’t know what I’m going to do. And I’ve got to have it done within a month because I’m working for somebody. So what I do at the end of the day with whatever it is that I’m working on, and I have a problem with, I’ll think about whatever it is and…
On this one, I’m listening to it. I’m listening to it, you know, what they want me to copy over and over and over again because when I sleep at night, all night long, essentially you’re programming your own brain. And I’m programming my brain to work on the problem all night long and when I wake up in the morning maybe I get an answer, maybe I don’t. But it’s just like it’s just using the brain to work for me rather than against me.
Interviewer: So do you advise that for everyone? Just to [inaudible] to it at night?
Chas: Everyone one that I know that does what I do, design things and builds things, that kind of stuff, we all do the same stuff. We all do the same technique. And when I used to be in school, used to talk about people, they’d be designing something, working on a piece of music or something like that. And they’d get up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and go, “Ah. Should have been an F sharp” and they’ll go down and they’ll put an F sharp and then they kind of stop and go back to sleep. You know, and that’s where I picked it up, from watching what those people were doing. You know, so, and it worked for me, too.
Interviewer: What kind of company or people wants to work with you?
Chas: My previous employer, and I don’t work for him anymore, but when I did he said, “I want to hire you on full time”, or you know. And we were talking about that, how do I feel about out it. And I was like, “Look, I want to spend the rest of… I’m up in the age group now. I’m up in the 6th decade, and I want to spend the rest of my life making art. And I don’t care if it’s mine or yours. I just want to make art. I want to be able to make mine, too, of course. But it’s really what I want my life to be about, is making art.”
And so the people I’ve worked for… I just got a call with Nancy Rubins who I’ve worked for, god, 25 years, been working on her sculptures. And I build armatures for her and now I’m building models for her sculptures because everything’s gotten out of my scale, too big now and stuff. I’ve spent, oh god, a long time working for Paul McCarthy, doing art for him. He’s very popular in Paris with the butt plugs and stuff. And then I did a little bit of work for Chris Burn. I did some work for Mike Kelley. And way, way, way, way back I worked for Jonathan Burnoski on the first Hammering Man and that kind of stuff. And I love it. I absolutely love it.
Interviewer: What is the benefit for them to work with you? For now we have computers and things like that.
Chas: Well, there’s a whole thing with appropriation. I mean, here’s the thing: the people who hire me, you’ve got to have something built. Mostly it’s welded, you know, or it’s metal work because that’s what I’m particularly good at. So you hire me to… You describe what you want. When I first…. Down at Mocha, one of Nancy’s sculptures, this big sculpture made out of airplane junk in the courtyard and if you haven’t seen it, you want to go see it. And we were talking about what she wanted to do. It was originally going to be in the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. And so my job is to do the armature that makes that happen. That’s what I do.
And so we’re in the gallery and she’s describing where it’s… It’s about the shape of the gallery. So we’re looking around the gallery. She goes, “Okay. It’s going to be over here.” I take my tape measure out and I put about 20 feet on it, like that. “And over here it’s going to be 12 feet tall.” Twelve feet tall. “And over here it’s going to be 15 feet tall. “Fifteen feet tall. “Over here it’s going to wrap around the lights.” “Wrap around the lights? Okay, [inaudible] the lights, you know.” “Then over here it’s going to do…” So she describes what this thing is going to be. And my job is to imagine what it’s going to take to hold it up. And on this one, on ones we did before that, my pieces would bolt together to make the shape and then they put all the stuff on it and wire it all in. On this one, because there’s going to be so much stuff on it, you’re not going to be able to get bolts in there. So my job… So I kind of, “Okay. So we’ll do male-female parts all through the whole thing.” So what’s holding it together is gravity. So I have to design something that will work together like that.
Interviewer: And do you have the vision immediately?
Chas: I’m good at visualizing. See, one of the things we were going to talk about is how do you turn the shit in your life to work for you?
Interviewer: Yes. Let’s.
Chas: Okay, we’ll leave this. So this grows out of that. Okay. Now, the point being is that everyone has stuff that happens in their life that they go, “Oh, that’s terrible. Oh, that’s bad. Oh that’s…” And everyone’s filled with anger and filled with this, “I’ve got hate,” whatever it is, you know. And it works against you. How do you make it work for you? And that’s not easy. It’s easy for me to sit here and say, “Oh, you can make your problems work for you.” And you’ll go, I’ve got my head in my ass, because I probably do.
But the reality is… Okay, I grew up in a very abusive environment, which I’m not going to talk about, but part of that is because it was so unpleasant I would imagine being somewhere else. I would visualize being somewhere else. And I developed a very successful way of getting out of there, not being there. Now the downside of that too is it turns into ADD or Attention Deficit stuff, you know. So, “Hey, you over there!” “Huh? Who? Oh, me?” You know, that kind of stuff. But the reality is it’s about learning how to visualize something else other than where I am. And one thing led to another, and then I wanted to build things. So I go out and build things.
Okay, fast forward. I kept getting thrown out of high schools because I had a bad attitude and I was a juvenile delinquent. And I got thrown out of four high schools. And in the last high school, my fifth year…five years of high school, you know? And I didn’t get shit for an education. But at my last year, I’m running out of things to take. So I’m like, “What do I take? Oh, god.” So I wanted to take Home Ec. because that was where all the girls were but they suspected I had an ulterior motive so they wouldn’t let me do that. I did take typing but… I took Shop. Shop. Okay. So I was in the shop and wood working, kind of… Then we were doing metal work. And all of a sudden I was like, “Oh. It feels right.” And a cutting torch and welding this with a torch, you know, and just…. It just felt right.
Now fast forward a bunch of years. My Grandmother was the family genealogist, so we’re looking back through the genealogy, the history of the family. And there are blacksmiths that go all way back. My father’s father was a blacksmith. His father was a blacksmith. There are blacksmiths that go back to the 17th century that we can find and trace. So I tapped into something genetic or something inside me, I think, and that lead to… So I mean, I got out of the shop, I meant high school, you know? And I’m welding mufflers on cars and straight pipes and that kind of shit. And I’ve been doing metal work ever since. To me, feels right. Yes, I can do wood work. But I’m not comfortable with it. Metal work, I feel comfortable with it.
Interviewer: Do you think everyone has to find this kind of zone where we are good at it easily?
Chas: It’s so much more calming because here’s the thing: how distracted are you? I mean, are you watching… I know people that watch TV almost, you know, all day long. They’re stuck…tuned in… They watch the Internet all day long. It’s all about how to get…getting out of your life, getting away from your life, you know. Or maybe they’re looking for answers. But you’re looking for answers in there rather than creating your own answers. But maybe the answers are there. I don’t know. But the thing about it is that… One of the discussions that came up, they were talking about… We’re surrounded by imagery. Okay? Everywhere we look, there’s imagery. There’s imagery, imagery, imagery. And they were talking about how, because we were so surrounded by it, we don’t develop our own ways of doing our imagery ourselves. You know? It takes away our skills.
Interviewer: Because it’s easy to look at? We don’t even…
Chas: It’s all around you. We can’t get away from it, literally. I mean, I have to turn off the computer because I get seduced, you know? I’m looking at Facebook with who’s doing what, you know, like this and that and there’s a fun meme over here and this, and there’s a video over here. And the beauty of it is like, you know, Youtube. I can see things that I would never have been able to see before. You know? When… I mean, where I grew up, this is, you know, back in the 50’s, the radio stations… And you know, I’m up in Massachusets, the radio stations did not play colored music. I had no idea what R&B was. I had no idea about this wealth of resource of music that was here and I couldn’t hear it. I didn’t even know it was there. I had to wait until the Rolling Stones put out “Out of Our Heads”. What was that? ’63, or whatever that was, you know, which was all covers of R&B.
So a bunch of white British guys had to teach me about my own culture in my own country? What the fuck is that about? Okay, so this is where… This is… I don’t know how we got onto that, but you know. So that thing. So anyway, the long and the short of it. What were we talking about?
Interviewer: Yes. I would like to come back on imagination.
Chas: Imagination. Yeah. How do you learn stuff? How do you tap into it?
Interviewer: Yes. How can we develop our imaginations?
Chas: At the time, it was not a conscience, “I’m going to do this.” It was a response. It was a save myself response, you know? It was like… I thought I was in a life-threatening environment. Now I wasn’t, really. But I thought I was, you know. So this is all… What I had to do to survive, according to the way I thought it was, you know, until I could get out of there.
Interviewer: Yes. So to come back on the question, “How do you channel your shit?” For you… So to summarize, you imagine yourself in another place? [Crosstalk].
Chas: I just automatically… I just zone out from where I am to somewhere else. I mean, everybody does that to some degree.
Chas: You know, and it’s just like. You know, I did it also. But I was also able to visualize things and design things in my head, you know. It was so… And I don’t know where that comes from. That’s just the way it was.
Interviewer: Do you create when you feel, for example, anger?
Chas: Do I create with… Absolutely. Yeah. [Crosstalk]. Well, everybody has anger. Well, everybody that I’ve met has anger. Or almost everybody I’ve ever met has anger. What do you do with it? I have a very close friend that all the anger is insider her, eating up her stomach, eating up this and that. It’s just… You know, it’s working against you. And it works against me, too. I mean, I’ve done all kinds of stupid things. But over the years, I’ve used the anger as a motivation. And it’s almost something as simple as like, “Oh, you thought I couldn’t do it? Well, fuck you. Watch this.” And then all of a sudden, it’s this motivation to make something happen, you know? “And it’s going to be prettier than yours so fuck you. It’s prettier than yours. What do you think of that, motherfucker?” You know?
And so it’s that kind of a motivation, you know? And maybe it isn’t. So what? It got you going, you know. You used it to work for you than against you. And if you do it long enough… I mean, one of the advantages I have is I’ve got… I’ve been doing this for so long I’m actually getting pretty good at it. Was I good at it to start with? No. Were the things that I designed, was back 40 years ago, great? No. Not even close. You wouldn’t believe the shit I made, you know. We were talking about my instruments. Those were all the ones that worked. You didn’t see the ones that didn’t work and there’s a lot of those.
Interviewer: So it’s impossible to do the creative process, to be willing to like fail or to do mistakes?
Chas: I’ve learned more from the fuck-ups and the failures than I ever did from the successes. Because I go, “Okay, that worked. Okay, that’s nice.” But there’s all this stuff here. “Well, that ain’t gonna work and that ain’t gonna work and that ain’t gonna work.” And what it does is it channels, “Well, if that isn’t going to work, let’s head in this direction over here.”
Interviewer: Okay. When you create something that’s not so good, what do you say to yourself? Because some people criticize themselves.
Chas: I’ve been doing it for so long that I’ll just go, “Oh yeah, another one.”
Interviewer: So a next…
Chas: Okay, so what’s wrong with this one? Okay, well, this part worked. That didn’t work. That didn’t work. Okay. I mean, I have an instrument. I’m actually rebuilding now. It’s called Adkins [SP] and I had a bunch of saw blades, with springs, and stainless steel, flat things, springs, you know, flat thing, small bolts that go to a saw blade. Okay. And the idea was I would hit this blade here, the vibration would travel through the spring, go to the next one, go to the next one and it would all radiate out… Excuse me, radiate out on each one would be different from the other one because of where it had been. So there would be this collective of sound and see what it sounds like. Well, it didn’t work. Okay. And it didn’t work for a couple of reasons. One of them is the stress on the metal from the welds. Another one, the vibration didn’t have enough stuff to continue it. It got absorbed. Okay, I didn’t know that at the time. Now I know it.
So I’ve got this big, elaborate thing. It’s beautiful, that’s what I think. And it doesn’t work. It’s just sittin’ there. It sits in my house. So what I’m doing now is… I broke a saw blade, a high-speed steel saw blade on my cold saw. That was a few 100 dollars out the window. “Oh, I could weld springs around the perimeter of this thing.” And I’m a good welder. I think I’ve been doing it for, you know, 60…
Interviewer: Do you ask questions to yourself?
Chas: Yeah. Well, I just do it now. I don’t even… It’s just like automatic at this point. I don’t even think about, “Well, what if I did this or what if I did…” No, you just fucking do it. You know, I can sit there and talk to myself all day long or I could go out there and actually do the thing, you know? Or I can… It’s like, if you’re sitting there going, “Oh, should I? I don’t know. Shouldn’t I?” Well, okay. If you’re in the “Should I, should I not?” maybe you shouldn’t, you know, because you’ve got doubts. Or maybe the doubts are because you can’t pull it off. Maybe just go out there and try it anyway so you can see what the fuck happens, you know. So you make a mistake. What are they going to do, take away your birthday? No. What can they possibly do to you? Somebody’s going to say you’re an asshole? Do you have any idea how many times I’ve been called an asshole?
And I don’t care. It’s not paying my bills, you know? It’s not…didn’t take away my birthday. What do I care? Fuck you. You know? Watch this, too. What now? So, you know, turn it around. Turn it around, you know.
Interviewer: It’s like if you [inaudible]?
Chas: Well, the thing… Okay, if you’re not paying my bills and we aren’t sleeping together, why do I give a fuck about what you think? I mean, to be honest. You know, you cannot control me. I don’t give you my life. I don’t… You don’t tell me what to do.
Interviewer: You decide who you are and define who you are.
Interviewer: You define yourself who you are.
Chas: Yes. And I am not who you think I am. You know, that’s your thought. So you know…
Interviewer: That’s great.
Chas: That’s not who I am. It’s your thought. You don’t get to tell me who I am. Fuck you. Make it work for you. Make it work for you, you know. That’s where your strength is.
Interviewer: You could create your own T-shirt with that.
Chas: Fuck you. You wear that around. You ain’t gonna make it home tonight. Somebody’s going to pop you. I don’t know. I lost my train of thought. But the… Oh, back to the instruments. So the long and the short of it, okay. So I’ve got this broken saw blade. So I’m out a couple hundred bucks. And it’s a high-speed steel so it doesn’t like to be welded. So it’s going to crack and break and snap, which it I did. But I went over to the local…the supply store just got a bunch of springs. They have, “I’ll try a couple of these. A couple of these. Look, a few of these. Couple of these. Okay. What? Okay. What?” And I just start welding them on the blade. Now the idea of the blade is because it’s high-speed steel, it’s not going to absorb the sound. It’s going to radiate the sound. But it doesn’t like to be welded so I have to use a very special welding rod called “Super MissileWeld”, which is not cheap.
And so I made an [inaudible]. Okay, some of the springs worked and some of them didn’t. “Okay, now what? Well, if I do this and… What if I weld things on the top or screw things? Oh, so I do that. Oh. Some of that works, some of it didn’t.” And that’s how you teach yourself. It’s all hands on training. It’s how you learn stuff.
Interviewer: You try, you correct, and again and again.
Chas: Yeah. Because, you know, you can’t look that up on Google. Weld springs on Google, huh? You know? What happens if you weld a spring on top of a spring? What does it sound like? No. So you find out on your own. You do it yourself.
Interviewer: Yes. When you create, do you sometimes have a flow? You feel like you don’t have to think? It’s easy? You create? Anything like that?
Chas: Yes. Sometimes everything lines up and a lot of times it doesn’t. And…
Interviewer: And what is the difference? Do you know how can you create a flow state?
Chas: If something isn’t happening, if something really isn’t happening, kind like, “Okay, what’s going on here? What’s really going on here?” you know. It also has to do with… Oh, god. This gets into views of the world, you know, if you want to get into that. I mean, how do you define yourself? What are you about? What’s inside you? You know, sometimes I’ll be walking out the door and I just see… And I walk by a screwdriver, let’s say, you know. And I’ll think, “Huh. Screwdriver.” And I walk out the door and I get out there and I realize, “Fuck! There’s a loose thing on my car. I need a screwdriver.” And I go, “I walked right by it and I didn’t pick it up.” And it’s actually things like, you know, I’m working on a job and I leave a tool that I don’t think I’m going to need in the shop and I drive to the job. And I get to the job and I go, “Fuck man. I need that tool”, you know?
So something inside me was telling me from past experience or whatever it is, “Don’t forget your tool,” and I wasn’t paying attention to it. Okay? So I wasn’t even paying attention to my own self, my own intelligence, if you want to call it that. And this is the stuff that everybody has inside them. You have this like, this intelligence inside you that, you know, most people don’t plug into, that I’m aware of. I didn’t. I certainly didn’t. And now I do. And how do you do that? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. [Crosstalk]. I know how it works for me, but it’s there. You know.
Interviewer: And do you have things you do help you? For example, putting some music in the background, breathing, [crosstalk]?
Chas: Yeah. I like being in a productive and what I think is an artistic environment. I mean, that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be in a shit hole. Do you? No. And so I want to hear the music that I like, you know, or the music I find to be interesting or something in the background that just makes the environment more conducive to want to be in. If you want to be there, well, that’s half of it right there, you know? If you don’t want to be there, well, you know, what are you going to do now?
Interviewer: Do you feel pain sometimes when you’re creating? Because… Do you feel pain when you create?
Interviewer: Pain. Pain and pleasure?
Chas: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Do you feel pain sometimes when you are creating?
Chas: You mean like a burn? I burn myself or I hurt myself or something like that? Yeah, all the time.
Interviewer: Not… For example, pain like you’re not feeling a lot of pleasure but you continue? Sometimes, some artists, they have a kind of…
Chas: They’re tapping into something they don’t want to look at.
Interviewer: Yes. They start to paint, for example, and in the beginning, they feel some pain and after a few minutes they switch and they start to feel the flow or something like that. Do you create sometimes with a kind of pain?
Chas: I’ve spent my whole life working in welding shops, machine shops, and hostile environments. And I’m really good at not feeling anything because that’s how you survive in those places. Now the downside of that means there’s all this good stuff to feel and I don’t feel that either, sometimes. Now, what are you going to do, you know?
Interviewer: Okay. I would love to know because you worked with Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer?
Interviewer: And I would love to know how it was to work with him, and how did you manage…
Chas: I like him a lot. He’s a good guy. I like him a lot. And way, way back… Oh, god, what was it? Two or three years ago. I’ve lost track of time. A couple, three years ago. So I get a note from Bob Batamy [SP] about… Bob Batamy is a producer. I’ve known Batamy since mid-‘80s. And I got a note from him, “Did Hans call you?” And I go, I wrote him back all, “Why would Hans call me?” He goes, “Oh. You’ll see.” Okay, so I’m working on something. Next morning, phone rings. I pick it up. It’s Hans Zimmer. He goes, “This is Hans Zimmer.” I go, “Oh. Hi, how are you? What can I do for you?” He goes, “Well, are you busy?” And I say, “I’m always busy. What can I do for you?” And he goes, “Well I’m… Right now, Batman is coming out this weekend and I have to think about that but coming up after that is going to be “Man of Steel”, Superman. And I’m going, “Okay.” And he goes, “And they’re going to shoot it. It’s all being shot in the center of the country.”
“Okay. Okay.” “And what could be more American than the pedal steel guitar?” And I go, “Okay, you got my full attention. What are you talking about?” “Well”, he said, “I want to replace the orchestra with pedal steel guitars.” And I went, “Okay. Okay. Yes.” So we talked a little bit about what that would involve and I said, “I’ve got some other stuff out here you might be interested in.” And he goes, “Well, where are you?” And I said, “Well, I’m out in the valley.” He goes, “Oh. The Valley. Where in the valley?” “Well, Encino.” Then he goes, “Well, Encino’s not so bad.” I said, “Well, yeah. Have you had all your shots?” And he goes, “Yes. And I have a passport.” I said, “You’ll be fine. Come on out.” So he came out and he was fun. He was very fun. He was fun to be around. He was very, very, very, very bright.
Interviewer: So he tried all your instruments.
Chas: Yeah. Fucking around with everything. And here’s the thing, is that these guys, I had another famous composer come out a bunch of years ago. They’d been in every studio in the world. You walk into my studio and it’s kind of like, “Oh, yeah. Another fucking studio, big deal.” But they go in the machine shop, “What does that do? Oh. What does that do? Oh. What does that do?” Whole another world.
Interviewer: It’s like a child playing.
Chas: Right there. Right there. You know. So working for him was fun. And we got eight of the local steel guitar players, the top guys which is interesting because, okay, there’s eight pedal steel guitar players on this project. And I’m the one that’s getting all the publicity. And I’m the weakest player of the bunch. These guys can play circles around me. So it was just like, you know… And I get to hang out around them. What could be better than that? And the thing is, okay, it’s a union gig. We’re over at the Eastwood stage over at Warner Brothers. This is a stage that’s built for orchestras. The floor radiates the sound up from the orchestra. And we’re in there with pedal steel guitars. And everybody’s… And we’re being fed and we’re being paid well. And the people are so nice to us, and it’s just like… This doesn’t happen very often. This is unbelievably special. And on the last day he said, “We want to do power cords,” eight-pedal steel guitars playing power cords.
You know the guys have gotta go, “Dun da da bam.” And then there’s, “Wang.” You know, power cord. The sound in that room was as good as anything you’ve ever heard. So that was just like, “Yeah”. So did I have a good time? I had a fabulous time. And then I get a call, this is a couple years ago, for Interstellar. And I’m working on a job at Mountain, out at another shop. And I get a call from Hans. So I’m all, “Yeah, man. What’s up?” He goes, “Lux Aeterna.” And I go, “Oh. I know Lux Aeterna. Ligeti”, Or Lu-get-i. I don’t know how to pronounce his name. Lux Aeterna is a piece of music that changed my life, literally, back in the ‘60s, okay? Okay. Everything’s records. You didn’t have access to the stuff that you have now.
Okay, so I’m in Boston and I go to Bookly Music. And there’s a great record store nearby and so we go over there and we listen to records, listen to records. And then 2001 came out with Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna on it and I heard that and I went, ” I want to go in that direction. That’s where I want to go”, you know. So he calls and says, “Lux Aeterna.” I say, “I know Lux Aeterna.” He says, “Well, do da da da da da. Do a version of it.” So I do a little six-minute version and at the bottom of it, he wanted it all in C and like down at the bottom. And I put a, what’s called a lydian structure so there was an F sharp in there, you know, because it’s a very stable thing. The base and everything grows out of that. And he said, “No, no, no, no, no. Okay, what I want you to do is stretch out the front and it can’t have an F sharp in there.” And I said, “Okay, so would you like to…” He said, “So why did you put the F sharp in there?” “Oh. It’s because of the lydian structure.” He goes, “Okay, well, we can’t have an F sharp in there.”
So I just redid it where it went down because we’re at A440 so, because you have, you know, orchestra people so it has to be in tune. Most of my instruments are not in tune. They’re purposefully not in tune. That’s another story. So we get down there. So instead of an F, I just put a B natural. There’s the lydian structure which stays there and it grows out of that. And then I deliver that to him and he uses that for his stuff. What this is all about, working for Hans, working for the other people I work for, working for the artists I work for, is they appropriate my art for their art. That’s how it works and…
Interviewer: And do you like that?
Chas: And I’m okay with that because I get paid. Thank you very much. I’m very okay. Well, it’s the same thing as, and I’ve said this before about armatures, okay, you’re a song writer and you call me up and you go, “Hey. I want you to play on, you know, my thing.” I actually… I just had a session with a [inaudible] singer-songwriter. And so I play [inaudible] and I play on your thing. Okay. You appropriate my art for your art. Not my song, your song. My solo. Your song. And I’m good with that. That’s how it works.
Interviewer: In a way, we can say that everything is a kind of remix.
Chas: Well, I can’t… If you think of it like, “Wow, I need it to be this. I need to have nah nah nah nah nah. They should have had me here, and my name should have been in the…” You know? Or maybe you’re just part of the whole fucking deal and just let it go with that, you know? And I’m good with that. You know? And then, you know, that could be better than that. You know? Actually, I can think of things that would be better than that but I’m good with it.
Interviewer: To finish the interview, do you have a message you want to share to people? To the people watching us?
Chas: It’s your life and you’ve got to figure it out. You see, it’s really easy to make somebody else responsible for you because then you don’t have to take the blame for all the fuck ups that you made and all of the shit in your life because you can go, “Oh, my mother told me this”, or, “My father”… Way, way, way, way, back I was on a thing, and the guy was saying, “You know. I fucked up [inaudible] because your mother told you this, and your father told you that, and society told you this and your teacher told you that and you’re the stupid shit that believed ’em.”
Interviewer: Okay, so to summarize you can say that we are responsible…
Chas: You can say that, “You’re the stupid shit that believed them.”
Interviewer: We are responsible for our lives and we are free to imagine and design our own lives.
Chas: Yes. You have to. It’s your life.
Interviewer: Thank you.