Bob Log III Spills The Beans About Ween, Bathroom Tile, And That Crazy Helmet.
By Stephen Seigel
TO SAY BOB Log III is a unique individual is an understatement along the lines of, "Summers are hot in Tucson." Anyone who's seen him play with the art-noise combo Mondo Guano, or as half of the dynamic Delta-blues-meets-found-percussion duo Doo Rag, or as a one-man-band solo artist (he's just released his debut solo album, School Bus, on radical blues label Fat Possum Records) knows that the guy's got his own ideas about what music ought to sound like.
No matter what incarnation he's playing with, you can always spot Log's trademark, lightning-fast slide guitar blast--it sounds like an age-old Delta blues record sped up to double-time, then carelessly tossed into a post-punk blender set to purée. It's downright primal; or as Calexico/Giant Sand's Joey Burns describes it, "It's a beautiful cacophony." But to Log, it's all just rock 'n' roll.
"For the most part, when I go to listen to bands, it sounds like shit. I don't know, maybe my ears are just weird...but I play things the way I like to hear 'em," he says. "Sometimes I think that if someone else was playing something I really liked, maybe I wouldn't have to do this...But I feel like if I want to hear something, I've almost gotta just do it."
To this end, he employs such non-traditional methods as singing exclusively through telephone microphones ("They sound really good and they're easily replaceable") and doing much of his recording in unorthodox locations ("The room's all tile. A lot of studios put foam on the walls--you don't want that. Give me more!").
The tactics Log employs in order to get "the sound" are no mere shtick. In fact, he's downright disturbed at the current state of rock music. "I don't think rock and roll is a precise game of chess. I think it should be primitive and raw, not so careful. It seems like everybody's just being so careful in everything they're playing these days. It makes me wanna just shit my pants. That's fine for classical music, but I'm just not into that aspect of what's going on in music today." Even the Evel Knievel-style motorcycle helmet he wears during solo gigs has its practical origins.
A couple years back, Doo Rag had a coveted opening spot on a Ween tour of the U.S. When drummer/percussionist Thermos Malling, for unknown reasons, dropped off the tour in Chicago (an issue around which Log artfully dodges), Log decided to step up and finish the tour solo--something he'd never done before. For percussion, he split time between using his foot to pound out rhythms on a pedaled bass drum, and using a crappy drum machine with "mostly cha-cha-cha and mambo beats. I just wasn't ready to go home," he says. "There were seven shows left, and the whole thing was already set up, so I just did it. About 2 a.m. before the first (solo) show, I went to town with the drum machine and figured out a bunch of songs that went with those beats. That's how I learned to play with my feet, too."
And that's also the first time he wore the infamous helmet. "I actually wore it to protect my head. I mean, I was going out there alone for the first time--I had no idea what was gonna happen," he says. For all he knew, people might just start throwing stuff at him.
He liked wearing the helmet enough that he tried it with Doo Rag, but he and Malling were having too much trouble communicating, so the idea got nixed. "It didn't work out too well in that arena, but when I'm by myself, I like it. It's kinda like being in the womb, except it's really fuckin' hot and it cuts my nose open. I've gotta put Band-Aids on my face before I play. Sometimes I really question myself...But I just kind of got used to it."
And that's not the only difference between Doo Rag and the Bob Log solo experience. For one thing, the dynamic stop-on-a-dime time changes of Doo Rag can't be mastered in a one-man-band setting. Log agrees. "Doo Rag is so good at changing, that even when we don't know what's gonna happen, we'll look at each other and go 'It's gonna happen.'
"When I'm by myself, I can do some changes. But it's just so much more physical," he says. So physical, in fact, that in describing what it's like playing by himself, he keeps returning to sports-training metaphors. "There are no muscles that I'm not using--it's killing me. It's like riding an exercise bike. I'm using everything at once. I've gotta do it while I'm still young--(while) my shit still works, I'm gonna use it. And I'm slowly getting better at it." That's putting it mildly.
While always interesting, early Log solo gigs were ramshackle affairs wherein the drum beats and guitar often fell out of sync. It was as though he couldn't hear the beats through his prized helmet, and the result was more cacophony, less beauty. But, as demonstrated by a recent gig at 7 Black Cats, Log truly has his shit together these days. It's downright amazing that one guy can be responsible for generating such a seamless big noise without stumbling along the way.
Log also seems (understandably) proud of the fact that, save for backing vocals on one track, he's responsible for every noise present on School Bus. While the album doesn't stray too far from the dirty Delta sound of Doo Rag--with the possible exception of being slightly less lo-fi--the record is testament to just how far the scrappy scenester has come in mastering the one-man-band set-up. This is no novelty act. Log has been hard at work, practicing until the sound neared perfect.
"I've got a couple tapes of myself from the Ween tour, and I can't believe I wasn't just killed," he laughs. "But it's like pole-vaulting--you gotta just keep doing it, and doing it, and pretty soon you're doing things you didn't know you could do." He's also excited at the prospect of taking the new-and-improved solo show on the road. He'll play up and down the West Coast for a couple of weeks, return to Arizona for a couple of shows, then possibly open for Ani DiFranco on a short stint before hitting the Southeast. He's both puzzled and pleased at the prospect of playing with the folk-rock diva.
"I don't know if it's gonna happen for sure, but apparently she's the one who asked for me. I don't understand it, but I'm totally ready to do it. I get a lot of guys at my shows, so it'd be nice to play for a bunch of women for a change. I just keep waiting for someone to call up and say: 'You know what? No!' "
But there's good news for diehard Doo Rag fans as well: Once he's done touring in support of School Bus, Log will regroup with Malling and get to work on a new Doo Rag record. "It's definitely gonna happen," he says.
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