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Last of the Blacksmith's.

SAN FRANCISCO'S LAST OF THE BLACKSMITHS began recording their first full-length in March 2004. Using a Tascam 388 (a 1980's era eight-channel mixing board-slash-I/4" reel-to-reel recorder, of which only seven channels worked), the band committed to tape--live--more than a dozen of the prettiest, soulful songs you ever did hear (or in your case, are about to). They spent the following months mixing and adding to the tunes with similarly-minded players like Jolie Holland and Matt Henry Cunitz. The result is really a masterpiece of an album.

The Blacksmiths, whether on stage or on record, reach places musically that take most bands years to find. They transcend time, in their understanding and translation of American blues, folk, rock, and old-timey melodies; tone, in a respect for open space within the music and focused playing of their instruments; harmony, in the way their voices blend together so effortlessly; and rhythm, by confidently relying on a synergy and feel that exists amongst hem--they're neither slow nor fast, just perfectly unrestrained. Listening to the music they make will release all the tension from your body and take you to a better place. Every time.

Talk about how this record came to be.

Nathan: It makes me smile when I think about it. We were all excited because we thought we were going to get to record our album in a really nice studio for free, but then we found out that wasn't going to happen so we all pulled together and figured out bow we'd be able to do it in an alternative space. I thought, "Well, my parents are gone, we can do it there." And Bert had the Tascam 388, and be and Nigel knew how to do some recording stuff, and Jake had the truck to provide the "pro transport," which made it all possible. It's kinda neat how we pulled together and did it.

Was the goal from the outset to record a full-length?

Nigel: Yeah. Actually, two or three songs didn't even make it on the album, because we were over-ambitious. It's a 54-minute long album.

Bert, since it was your tapemachine, were you scared to be responsible for the undertaking?

Bert: No, I've recorded at least four or five other bands with the same set-up. I knew that the end results were gonna be decent, and I also knew we were gonna dump it in ProTools and add to it. At that point, the eighth track of the 388 wasn't fully dead yet. We took it apart on Nathan's parents floor--you should have seen it--I had it on its side trying to taken the bottom off and I was stripping all the screws, worrying that I'd never get the thing back together again. When I finally got it open I was so frightened by its guts that I just closed it back up.

Exactly how many days were you at Nathan's parents' house in Manteca?

Jake: Seven. Nathan's parents were awesome. They were there for a few of the days; they'd get home from work and listen to us while we were tracking.

Would they be in the same room?

All: Sometimes.

Bert: During the tracking of "Columbus Stockade Blues," the cut that actually made it on the album--dinner was ready, right? Like, it was cooked?

Jake: We were hurrying to finish before dinner.

Bert: We had already done a few takes, but were thinking, "We should do one more ..." And Nathan's parents were so stoked and so cool, they just said "Yeah! Sure!" But Nathan was like, "Hey, you know, if my grandpa waits too long to eat, he gets kinda impatient ..." I remember his grandpa was sitting on the couch across the living room from me, and there's one part of the song where I hit the crash cymbal real hard--I wasn't paying attention, just in the moment--but hitting that crash woke me up and I remember looking over at his grandpa and he was staring at me, like he was really freaked out. He wasn't expecting that. I felt really bad.

Nigel: It's pretty funny, because that was the only time you hit the crash that hard. And that's part of the reason why we chose that take, because it has such a good energy.

List off the guest musicians who played on the record.

Nigel: Matt Henry Cunitz played Hammond B3 on "Columbus Stockade Blues," and pump organ on "Saloon Song" and "Knowing Me." "Jolie Holland" played viola on "Tree Song" and violin on "In My Hands." Alisa Rose played violin on "Russian River." Rufus Wanta, Nathan's grandfather, played harmonica on "In My Hands."

Did you guys have an idea that you wanted these people to be on the album ahead of time?

Jake: Half-and-half. Some were an afterthought, some were planned.

Nigel: As far as having Jolie play, I had recorded her at my house a few months prior, so when she offered to return the favor my mind went straight to her violin playing. Jolie liked both songs and played beautifully on them. I'm glad she chose to play the viola on "Tree Song."

Nathan: My grandpa really liked the violin on "In My Hands." Nigel: That's one of the things that makes me smile the most, just picturing Nathan driving up to Carson City with his Minidisc recorder, having his grandpa play harmonica over it. Then being able to take the harmonica recording and match it up with the rest of the song.

Are your grandfather's poems used for lyrics on that song?

Nathan: Definitely. By the way, this isn't the same grandpa from the crash cymbal story, but my other grandpa.

Start to finish, the record took about a year to make. What was the easiest part?

Jake: That week in Manteca was by far the funnest and easiest out of the whole process.

Bert: They were long, long days, but even though we were all loopy at night, we'd always go out and do something. Go walk around the parking lot of Wal-Mart. Because there was nothing else to do.

Nathan: Or hanging out at the 133 Club, we'd play shuffleboard--it was so fun. Listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd or whatever they'd have on the jukebox.

Jake: And the Manteca gals with the yanked-up jeans, super tight.

Do you care if people call you the Blacksmiths?

Jake: Not as long as they come to the show.

Nigel: The original thought had nothing to do with "blacksmiths"; it had to do with the fact that we really liked black music from the '60s and '70s--from any time period, actually--and we really liked the Smiths as well. So we threw those together and laughed about it; then we started liking it.

I want to know what you guys think about your audience at shows here in San Francisco.

Jake: It's definitely special to play a show in front of our sort of audience, who are attentive, quiet, and listening. We've played a fair number of shows with the opposite of that audience, so it's a treat when we get a good show.

Do you feel energy going back and forth between you and the audience?

Jake: The best shows we've had are the ones that are in the smallest spaces, in places like the Rite Spot or Amnesia, where you're literally face-to-face with the audience. And on their level, too--being on a stage, that level of separation can sometimes detract from the band-audience energy exchange.

Nathan: When everyone's packed together in a tiny little area, it compacts the energy and sends it back to us in some nice way, rather that if you play at clubs with more space, where people don't ever come that close to the stage. So you don't get to feel the energy that you'd feel even if you sat next to someone on the Muni, where you can sense the energy coming off of their shoulder.

Bert, having played drums in punk bands in the past, do you get the same cathartic feeling while playing this music?

Bert: No, that feeling is different. Playing loud music, the experience doesn't go very far beyond the moment. You're playing so hard and so loud that you don't even hear anything. Any perception of the audience is pretty much gone. But with this music, it's pretty much the complete and total 180 opposite. I have an awareness that really allows my to tighten the music. Because I can hear so much space in what I'm playing. And I can hear what the band's playing. It is as gratifying, as intense I guess, but at the same time totally different.

There's a chemistry between you all that creates something pretty big. Are you aware of it?

Nathan: I had definitely felt a strong chemistry between us the first time we played together. I guess I can't tell how "big" it is exactly, mainly I just know how much I love playing music with these guys.

Bert: I definitely feel that connection live. It's pretty neat, like we're all on the same telephone line.

Nigel: I might have felt that just as many times in practices, if not more, than at shows. When we're at practice and we're creating a new song together, and somehow that one time or those two times it's just, "Holy mackerel, that was it." You're sitting there and you're buzzing; you're high because it feels so good.

Last of the Blacksmiths are Bert Garibay, Jake Bunch, Nathan Wanta, and Nigel Pavao. They'll be releasing their self-titled debut album on May 15 at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. For more information, go to
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Author:Henry, Ryan
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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