Travis Dickerson ist ein Keyboarder und Produzent mit einem eigenen Aufnahmestudio in Chatsworth bei Los Angeles. Zu seinen bekantesten Clienten zählen Jethro Tull, Viggo Mortensen und nicht zuletzt der Ausnahme-Gitarrist Buckethead. Deshalb freut es uns umso mehr, dass Travis sich die Zeit genommen hat, schriftlich einige Fragen zu beantworten. Er gibt uns Auskunft über seinen musikalischen Werdegang, plaudert über die verschiedenen Künstler, mit denen er bislang gearbeitet hat und gibt uns einen Ausblick auf bevorstehende Projekte. Abschließend kommentiert er den aktuellen Status der Musikindustrie und zeigt auch Lösungsansätze für die derzeitige Misere auf.
[Optinal Mittelgrund] Travis, how did your musical life begin?
[Travis Dickerson] I started playing the drums and guitar after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
[OM] Are there any early memories?
[Travis] Yes, I’m not that old. You mean musically? My whole generation started bands after 1964. Mostly, those were learning years for me, nothing to listen to.
[OM] I've been reading about your father bringing an old piano to the Dickersons' home one day. He had exchanged it for a painting of his. Is this right?
[OM] You repaired the old piano and soon made some recording experiments with your brothers, but as far as I know only your brother Lindy has released some music of his own (which is available on TDRS and, by the way, is a very nice record).
[Travis] I didn’t repair the piano. I was 9 and I just started hitting keys. I spent the next 5 years teaching myself to play, or really just discovering the possibilities of the piano. It wasn’t till I was 17 or so that my brother Lindy, who had been doing the same thing on the guitar, and I began to play together. Around the same time I became interested in tape recorders.
Soon our younger brother Brandon joined us on the bass, and with a drummer we started writing and recording music.
[OM] What were and are your influences as a keyboard player, and who has had an impact on you as a producer? Can you name any artists you still use for inspiration?
[Travis] I really didn’t listen to keyboard players for inspiration on my playing. I can’t really say I was influenced by any keyboard players. I listened to guitar players. The biggest influences on my playing are the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Peter Green [of Fleetwood Mac.] I did love the playing of Steve Winwood, but I don’t play like him. His solo on "Well All Right" did have an effect on me.
Clapton in particular influenced my phrasing and sense of construction as I improvise. But I was influenced by lots of players, like Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane and many, many others.
Among my producing influences were Felix Pappalardi; I love what he did, and the Mountain stuff is amazing. I liked Tony Visconti, and Mick Ronson and his string arrangements. I tend to like musician producers; but of course, need I mention George Martin?
I listen to Beethoven for inspiration.
[OM] What are your favorite instruments? I know you did a lot of your recent recordings with the Prophet 08, but otherwise you seem to rely on a rather classic instrumentation.
[Travis] I’ve heard this before: I only play vintage keyboards. I don’t get it. I play the piano, the organ and synths. What other keyboards are there? I don’t play FM synths or samplers; I hate them. I hate any instrument or music that you push a button and big sound comes out, like giant keyboard pads. I’m much more interested in making a big sound by adding together separate sounds to create layers.
[OM] You moved from Michigan to Chatsworth about 20 years ago, where you met DJ Bonebrake and the punk band X, featuring the then-wife of Viggo Mortensen, Exene on vocals. How was working with them?
[Travis] Actually 32 years ago but who’s counting. I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredibly talented people over the years. There’s nothing better than working with someone who really has something important to say.
[OM] In San Francisco you met Buckethead, in a wax museum, if I remember right. Did you know the artist before you met the actual person behind the mask? I ask because I see you coming from a completely different musical background than Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins and John Zorn, the people Buckethead was working with through the 1990s.
[Travis] Well I think that could be said of everyone who's worked with Buckethead including the three you mention above.
I met Buckethead in the mid ‘90s. Though I had met him before, we didn’t work together till he came in to play some guitar on one of Viggo’s CDs.
[OM] Maybe you could clarify the background of the first Viggo/Buckethead cooperation (a now very rare compilation called "Myth - Dreams of the World" about ancient Greek and Roman myths), because Viggo once stated that he had not met Buckethead until the record was done. So was this pure coincidence or were you involved in this project in any way?
[Travis] I can’t really remember exactly. Viggo and I might have recorded a poem that was sent to the folks (I think Nicky Skopelitis is on it) who made that record. I’ve never heard it, but it was all done elsewhere. That’s why Viggo had not met Buckethead till after. After he heard the CD, Viggo called and asked Buckethead if he would like to come work with us.
[OM] What was your first work with Buckethead? DCK's "Tunnel," perhaps? What was it like?
[Travis] Well, with Viggo first, then Buckethead asked me if I would like to produce "Cobra Strike." If you mean when did we first play together, I did a couple of tracks and asked if Buckethead would play on them; I think one was "Spider Crawl" and the other was "The Notorius Swade." We liked the way they turned out and put them on one of his records we made, I can’t remember which one(s). [note: both tracks are on Cobra Strike II]
I think I did "Pin Bones and Poultry" next and asked him if he wanted to play on it and use it if he wanted. [note: the track is on "Somewhere Over the Slaughterhouse"] I did a bunch more of these that eventually became the first Thanatopsis record. I can’t remember when we did "Tunnel"; somewhere in between, perhaps.
[OM] You also list Linda Ronstadt and Jethro Tull on your website. When did you work with them? What was that like?
[Travis] X asked me to put together the X box set of rare and unreleased recordings for Elektra Records. Then Elektra asked me to do the same thing for Linda Ronstadt.
I’ve been friends with Doane Perry (Jethro Tull's drummer) for years, working with Vince DiCola and other projects. They asked me to work on the last Tull CD.
All were great experiences - how could they not be?
[OM] Vince DiCola is another main artist you are currently working with. How did that come together - how did you meet him?
[Travis] I worked with Ellis Hall on lots of things. When he joined Thread he brought them to me, and I have been working with Vince ever since. Vince is scary talented, both as a composer and player. We’re currently working on a collaboration CD.
[OM] On your message boards you recently spoke about a solo album and even made a demo track available for the fans. Is there any news about this album? Who's gonna be involved in this? Is there already a release date in sight?
[Travis] Yes, I finally (almost) finished the solo CD I’ve been working on forever. Not that it’s old stuff or anything. It’s just that material I was working on for it kept getting used for Thanatopsis, the Dragons of Eden and other things that got released first.
It’s an instrumental record like Thanatopsis and Dragons, but I worked with lots of different people on this one. Of course Buckethead is playing on it. But so is my brother, Lindy; Vince DiCola, Cameron Stone on cello and Scarlett Rivera on violin.
Bryan "Brain" Mantia, Ramy Antoun, Doane Perry and DJ Bonebrake play drums. And Paul Ill plays bass on all of it; he is just amazing. I was hoping to get it out in November but I’m waiting for Buckethead to play a few finishing licks. I still might make it by the end of November or early December.
[OM] There's several Buckethead-related projects that fans would like to see continue in one way or another. I think most wishes circle around the Deli Creeps, Thanatopsis and similarly popular, the trio of Brain, Buckethead and you. Can you give us any update on those projects? Are there any plans for new releases?
[Travis] Well, obviously I only know about those projects I’m directly involved in.
The Creeps I don’t know about. That is to say, if they are planning something, they haven’t talked to me about it. I’m sure I will revisit Thanatopsis at some point. I love working with Ramy.
I like working with Brain; we all had a good experience doing Dragons, and he did several tracks for my CD. I’m sure we will do something again.
[OM] Do you know anything about the two unreleased Buckethead albums, "Buckethead Plays Disney" and "Super Diorama Theater"? The first even got covered in a book about the best albums never made, while the other is thought to actually be "The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell." Can you clarify this for us?
[Travis] We did some tracks that were to be a Disney album over 10 years ago. I don’t think we got very far, though; I don’t remember it well. I just recorded the tracks for Buckethead. It’s his project, and when he’s ready I’m sure he will revisit it.
The other things you mention I had nothing to do with and really don’t know much about them.
[OM] I somewhere read Camille Bright-Smith would be working on a new album. I very much like her album on TDRS, "The Great Divide," on which you and your brother Lindy also can be heard. Will you be involved in the new record as well?
[Travis] Yes, Camille is great. Ramy played on her record as well, and Cameron Stone did a track for us; he’s a force of nature. We have worked together on several tracks recently; too soon to say who all will be on it.
[OM] On your message boards you've talked frequently about the current state of the music industry. What do you think is most important for today's artists and the industry in general to survive in the new century?
[Travis] Well, I think this is a great time to be an independent musician. This is a truly democratic playing field; everyone can be heard with YouTube and blogs, iTunes and other net venues. But it’s a double-edged sword. No one has been able to figure out how to make money selling music - not the indies and not the record companies. Music right now is essentially free. The minute you release something, it’s ripped and spread across cyberspace. It’s basically a volunteer payment system with a few fans who buy things to support artists they like. But that’s a very small minority of those who consume music. I think right now it’s the IP companies, cable and phone that make money off artists. They sell their services for big money, and what you get is free copyrighted material. Copyrighted material is allowed to flow unpoliced through their systems, which they like because it offers free content and makes their product more appealing.
Now with movies and video, the amount of bandwidth being consumed is immense and the ISPs are just starting to have to throttle the bandwidth usage. Really big money is at stake so this is getting looked at by big media corporations.
I think in the future, copyrighted digital material, all of which has a distinct pattern of 1s and 0s, will be fingerprinted and scanned as it moves through the ISPs; and payment will have to be made to those that hold the copyrights. It’s really the only way copyrighted digital information will have any value again. But there is a lot of negotiations ahead before that happens.
[OM] Is there anything else you want to tell us?
[Travis] No, is there something you forgot to ask?
[OM] Well, of course we have. But with your solo album on the horizon we may have another chance to talk about certain things. Lysa Flores comes to mind, live dates of Thanatopsis or other projects you're involved in, plus a lot more. But thanks, Travis, thank you so much, for taking the time to answer those questions and we wish you all the best for your coming solo album.