Studio Apartment #9: Raphi Gottesman

Posted by on September 4, 2014

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You will recognize Raphi Gottesman because you’ve seen him behind the drum kit with Odawas, The Black Swans, Sonny Smith, The Fresh & Onlys, Fisherman Three, and The Dry Spells, but the purpose of today’s speech is to recognize his escalating body of fine solo work and his crib of smooth sonics, where it all goes down. Raphi is a master of subtlety. Even on the drums, he’s more inclined to hypnotize you with a brushed rhythm than hammer you over the head with a double kick drum paradiddle. His circular guitar layers and modal tunes take his style and approach to new levels that are only hinted at in his drumming. What stands out to me in the music is a distinct attentiveness to the balance between melody, space and unpredictable repetition. Raphi provides just the right amount of each. Not too much. Not too little. In doing so, his music will pull you in and keep you in, but without being possessive. Your thoughts are free to roam and if you run out of ideas, Raphi will provide you with the ones you may need most.

Jon Bernson: You’ve made a variety of music under different names. Could you give us a brief overview of your various projects before we dive into things?
Raphi Gottesman: I make solo instrumental albums under my own name, though I may start using a band name as I’ve been lucky enough to have a few collaborators join me for live shows recently and my name is weird and hard to pronounce. Almost no one says my name correctly, even friends I’ve had for years. I’ve had the name Basic Patriot floating around — it sounds like it could be a right-wing Koch brothers-funded think tank, but I wound up with it from a combination of a memory of my dad referring to people he didn’t like as “basic Neanderthals” and a strong feeling of patriotism I had when Obama got elected both times.

I’ve played in bands a lot longer than I’ve done this solo thing. Currently, I’m playing in Odawas, A Carnival of Hours, and a mysterious third band that will have to remain secret for now. I’ve also played in a bunch of lo-fi/singer-songwriter/folk-rock bands like The Fishermen Three, Awkward Energy, Sonny & the Sunsets, The Fresh & Onlys, The Black Swans, and The Dry Spells. Before that, I played in punk and noise bands. I was a better drummer in those days when I was asked to play in weird time signatures, and play loud and fast, but at some point I realized that indie rock was slower and wouldn’t hurt my forearms so much- easy decision.

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Describe your basic live-work studio situation, including any neighbor/roommate constraints? Creative bonuses of your physical space?
A year ago, my wife Bekah and I bought a house in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood in Oakland. One of the draws of the house is that it has a detached garage that became my studio. All the decisions about where to put things in the studio were made for purely practical reasons. The rugs look terrible. My band mates recently started complaining and asking me to spruce things up.

About the neighbors — I live next to a grandma on one side and a couple with a beautiful howling husky dog on the other (I’m hoping he appears on a track someday). I worried the grandma might call the cops on me for having band rehearsals, but one day after an Odawas practice, I was out front watering the zucchini when she came up to me and said, “That boy can sing!” So, I took that as a sign that things would work out here as far as the music making goes.

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Describe the basic layout of your room/studio.
When you walk in the studio, you see guitars hanging on hooks with a few amps below. A drum set sits to the right of that, then my 4 track, then a washer and dryer. To the left is a couch. There’s a few benches my friend built for a Richard Buckner living room show we hosted early this year that reside behind the couch waiting for the next living room show. Other miscellaneous things — a bike, tools, and shelves full of records and tapes I’ve put out on the aptly named Shelved Records are also floating around. My grandfather’s 1940s drum set is also back there, and I set it up for recordings sometimes. He was a big band style drummer once upon a time and we used to play for each other when I was a kid- he was swinging on the hi-hat, really enthusiastic, just beaming.

What is the main program or device you use to record in your space?
I use a Tascam Portastudio 424 mkIII cassette 4 track. I got it from a squeaky clean guy off Craigslist. He had one of those Bluetooth earpieces in when he came over and overpowering deodorant that stayed in the house long after he walked away with my 100 bucks. There was a tape he left with me that I of course listened to. It sounded exactly like I would expect that guy’s music to sound — assertive and professional!

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How linked is your recording process with your writing process?
These two have been integrally linked since I started making this kind of music. I didn’t own a loop pedal when I made my two albums, so I’d just find a chord progression, note pattern, or bass line I liked and repeat it for a few minutes on the first track of my four track. Usually, I’d have no idea what the other three tracks would contain. It was a step-by-step process.

I had a guitar teacher once who compared taking a guitar solo to Aretha Franklin’s vocals. I think of that with the 4 track — three tracks to make the bed, and the fourth is for Aretha! I’m still waiting for her to show up though.

Talk about your process of making the music you’re working on right now.
I recently did a short tour of the Pacific Northwest. For a few months, I really prioritized the live show, using loops and a Korg to rework the album tracks. I ended up adding lots of parts that never happen on the recorded version, and likewise there are parts of the recordings (like drums) that I didn’t incorporate into the live show.

Just in the last week, I started making new recordings again, and I’m trying to stick to a track-a-day schedule.

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Do you draw inspiration from other mediums besides music? Why is this important to your process?
I’m most inspired by a group of friends that have shared their creative projects with me for years. Their writing, art, film, etc is inspiring in and of itself, but I think what is more important is a healthy level of expectation. Jesse Wakeman sends me emails that blow my mind — he’ll be acting in a play, starring in a film, releasing an album, and exhibiting a MFA photography show at Columbia. And it’s not like he’s half-assing any of it — it’s all great stuff. I hosted a screening of a short he stars in called Donald Cried. Martha Chong makes these incredible, giant, otherworldly collages. She sends homemade new years cards that we run out and get frames for. She was my photography counselor at art camp when I was 15 so she’s been a hero for over half my life. RJ Barbs has sent me short stories, books of poems, even a novel — I’ll risk sounding trite by saying his writing is on fire and worthy of repeated readings. Danny Noonan makes zines, now under the name Clocktower Nine- the personal stories are my favorite part — he just gets right to the point with honesty and humor. My dad is a creative force. He wouldn’t be keen on me mentioning him on the internet, but if I’m talking about inspiration, I must! He makes towering sculptures in all kinds of mediums, paints them wild surprising colors. They’re all over his house — he even did a crucifixion. He really lets loose creatively which matches his personality — he’s gutsy and has no tolerance for social niceties or political correctness. We have a couple of his sculptures on our mantle, highly cherished objects.

Describe a favorite instrument or item of hardware / software and why it is important to your recordings.
I’d have to go with the MXR Carbon Copy delay pedal. It may have launched this whole recording project of mine. I met this older guy at Hickey Fest last weekend who was talking about bacon but he was using the word to mean echo — like the effect you might put on a guitar or vocal mic. He said you could wrap a toilet paper roll in bacon and it’d taste good, and the same is true for singing. This is one of those rare instances of northern California hippy wisdom actually making sense to me. I like echo and I like bacon.

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Can you share a track or album you’d consider a good example of where you’re at right now?
Here’s a track hot off the press. I found some high-quality blank cassettes in a thrift store called Granny’s Attic in Vashon, WA. Was nice to crack it open and get going again. If you make it to the end you’ll notice it’s like the drummer and bass player didn’t get the memo that the song had ended. Even though I’m every member of the band, I can still give the drummer a hard time right?