Opal - A Gem in Explosion

by Guido Chiesa
issued on Rockerilla #83/84 July/August 1987

David Roback gave this interview to Guido Chiesa in US after the release of Happy Nightmare Baby: I sent it a few years ago to April for her All Souls website. I report it here with her introduction…

…"Please keep in mind that this isn't a word by word account of the interview… Roberto translated it from italian to english for us, and I went through it and made a few parts a little clearer. Hopefully, i didn't change any of David's quotes too much, I just tried to make it a little bit easier to understand because of the translation and all. I apologize if there's some things that aren't exactly what they're supposed to be." -April

Did you grow up both in LA?

Kendra was born in Virginia and spent most of her youth in Germany.

Your first steps to music…

When I was a child I listened to the radio: Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles. I'm quite self-taught from a technical point of view.

Did growing up in the sixties exert its influence on you?

I wasn't interested much in what has happened in the sixties. They were simply the sixties. TV and press exert their influence on LA and I think my memory of those years is mainly a filtered experience through the memory of the media.

I've read you're interested in painting and literature…

The European culture between the end of the previous century and the beginning of this one fascinates me. My favourite artists are the symbolists and the surrealists in literature, the expressionists in painting. Artaud exerted a powerful influence on my formation: his magic world (linked with the unconscious) helped me to fix my perceptions better. Also I esteem Joyce, Hesse, Yates, Dylan Thomas and Nietzsche very highly and among the painters, the early Picasso, Modigliani and Schiele. Finally, I studied the medieval English literature with great care whose use of language is still unexcelled.

Did you study these things at school?

Yes I did. I have a degree in art history.

Did your interest in art have bases similar to that one in music?

Yes, it did. They're the same thing. At the beginning, my interest in music was born from the wish to write lyrics for songs.

I think the modern rock set is rather unlearned while in the sixties people like Morrison or Dylan quoted Brecht and Thomas Eliot. Do you ever feel frustrated for this emptiness?

Yes I do. Actually I don't associate much with the rock circuit. Really it isn't an agreeable atmosphere. I think very highly of most of my fellow musicians but when they play gigs nearly all of them are inclined to become presumptuos and superficial people.

What on earth made you want to join a rock band?

I wished to play the guitar… to stay with other people.

Did the want of a music relating to your wishes drive you to the Paisley Underground?

No it didn't. At that time I loved deeply Patti Smith (probably the greatest inspiration of my life) and Television. In those years I lived in NY and I wasn't interested in the sixties revival.

Do you think the Paisley Underground has ever existed?

I think there was something called Paisley Underground, but I didn't believe in it… I didn't like it all. I didn't take part in it.

Well then, what was the Paisley Underground since it has existed?

It was a philologic operation and also a critics' trick that many new bands took hoping to achieve success more hastily.

You say you have never been interested in the revival, however since you joined the early Rain Parade, you were indeed considered to be the brain of the operation…

I was too deeply entangled to stop and think about what I did. Just later I realized that my life was a million miles away from that of the people I worked with. I left the Rain Parade when I became aware of where the music went.

You played on the Rain Parade's first album: do you still like it?

Really, I recorded with them a second LP that was never issued. I think Emergency Third Rail Power Trip had some good songs, but I don't listen to it any more.

Are you still friend with the musicians of that time?

No I am not. You must understand at that time among those who frequented those bands there were great differences that I could synthesize in two groups: those who were interested in soft, pop, revival music and those who turned to more metallic, electric, surreal atmospheres. I tended towards the second course. There were bands that I admired such as the early Dream Syndicate but all of them have lost their way.

Were the reasons that drove Kendra to leave the Dream Syndicate similar to yours with the Rain Parade?

It was the change happened into the band after the first mini-LP to motivate her decision. The Dream Syndicate was born as a band able to play absolutely improvised live shows. Then business aspirations came out and Wynn started to quarrel with the other members. Kendra left without slamming the door, however with the evident intent not to return.

Tell us something about the Rainy Day project.

Really there wasn't any project. Some members of Three O'Clock, Bangles, Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade enjoyed themselves playing some covers in a studio and so a record was born. The choice of the covers was totally casual.

Why did you leave the name Clay Allison after the recording of a single EP?

Because it was the easiest way to tell everybody we were about to engage in something new: Opal.

What is the actual line-up of the band?

It isn't exactly the same of the record. Kendra and I play the guitars, William Cooper on bass, Aaron Sherer on drums and Suki Ewers on keyboards.

Talking about your records and concerts, you have keep always a very reserved image…

After the Rain Parade I was disappointed with the musical scene and its corruption very much, so I decided to retire for a little while. It isn't distasteful to me to have left the Rain Parade because they ended up taking an opposite direction to my interests. We haven't exposed ourselves much, however obviously we have recorded much more than we have released. For a long time we have been cautious in deciding on our calling, because we would rather just involve ourselves in something we could put ourselves in completely. I don't think it's a question of diffidence. It's difficult to express such an opinion about myself, most people might think we're moody.

Do you intend playing many gigs after the release of the LP?

Yes we do, and in Europe too.

The image of the band that came out from the rare records that came before the release of Happy Nightmare Baby seemed much more ethereal and soft than the later album has shown. While the names Pink Floyd and Their Satanic Majesties Request strike me with concepts like that typical "music for mind-expansion" I'm in doubt that behind all this there is no humour. Am I wrong?

No you aren't. The magic and the humour are the basic elements of our philosophy. We perceive the pleasant aspect of the magic however we believe in it wholly. Only white magic. The positive side of the magic. We believe in it without perplexity but we cannot shrink from looking at it with a sense of humour. I don't manage to believe in a band or in a music that don't have humour, I think they're unreal. Take the apers of Joy Division: I adore Joy Division, but those who followed them have imitated only their heavy abstract side.

How much space is there for improvisation in your music?

In our music the coefficient of improvisation is very high. We cannot play such an electric music without the looseness provided by the improvisation. Now our main interest is born from the opportunities given by the new line-up and the volume of electric sonorities which we can create playing in concert. The record is nothing but the live band in a studio.

In the sixties a type of music, like that one which you promote nowadays, was intrinsically linked with the use of drugs and the spreading of eastern philosophies. Do you think of your music in these terms?

Not exactly. I don't think about our music in so general cultural terms.

The last question: why have you signed with SST, the label of Husker Du, Black Flag, Meat Puppets?

Because with SST we feel like we're at home. Either it's to the kind of music which they produce or it's their political trend. Their strategy is founded on steady tours which is totally compatible with Opal. The other labels thought of us as a psychedelic band whereas they haven't these sort of problems, coming from the hardcore. We like working with these people. The labels haven't any sense for us: they call us heavy metal, psychedelics, folk. It's all the same to us.

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