A Conversation with the Singing Bull of the 1800s
Every once in a while, something truly original strikes your fancy and revolves your world, tilts the axis so to speak. To say that years ago Caroliner flipped my concept of art is an understatement of hideous proportions. Take note of their live show: a neon day-glo fluorescent dreamscape, inspired by the story of a Singing Bull from the 1800s who dictated lyrics that were scribed to a book written by a half-starved settler. Those lyrics are now held by some seriously cryptic musicians who have been holding down their own small cult in the Bay Area underground for roughly two decades. Putting it simply is not easy, but for those who need a trite formulation of tropes to help pigeonhole the whole affair may be heartened with ‘industrial bluegrass,' which is the most oft-used descriptor of the musical side. However, the entire shebang is best understood when experienced, so attempts at description are essentially more confounding than useful.
I sent them a message, intending to land an in-person interview with the band. That was nixed by someone/something who referred to itself as Obsidian Skeleton. Nevertheless, through the magic and mystery of MySpace, I conducted an electronic conversation with the collective, and the fruits of our labors tell the tale of some truly weird and visionary icons who haven't really ever created any kind of bandwagon. However, there exists a legion of followers who feel something incredible emanating from the amazingly packaged black vinyl, which is somewhat tricky to acquire, but well worth the effort. Caroliner is holding down their art form as singular purveyors of the 1800s revivalist hallucinatory dissonant-primitive American folk-noise ensemble puppet concerto. For the uninitiated, penetrate below with both care and an open orifice for the absurd.
As is my understanding, Caroliner is no other than Caroliner the Singing Bull, who sang songs in the 1800s. I have recently learned that an emigrant family traveling to the "Old West" would load their wagon with provisions, including flour, sugar, bacon, coffee beans, lard, spices, dried fruit, beans, rice, and perhaps even a keg of pickles. Does trivia of gastronomic import resonate with any of the messages from the songs of Caroliner? I sense that much of your music deals with simple but necessary themes such as food.
Yes, it does offhand there are about 10 songs that are specifically about food plights. Three songs are about food attacking the individual or making a threatening foray into the victim's area of sanctity. There may be dozens more about vittles that were in fact from hallucinations of starvation. If you are in the middle of nowhere and are forced to eat plains switch grass, and the bugs crawling on them, you may be surprised at how much horror there is you never noticed in the immediate vicinity by the mind's deviltry.
We are conducting this interview via myspace, which is admittedly a cumbersome but highly adaptive medium. However, there are many other methods of communication available. What is your preferred method of communicating with individuals interested in learning more about how your approach to creating or recreating music?
I'm not sure what you mean exactly. We are dictating to a person who works with the band, sometimes editing the words so they are spelled correctly. Our mouths make sounds that are often interpreted as misspelled lunations. It really helps to have a scribe under your complete and total solemn attention. In this case all of your thoughts are eventually pre-memorized before you need open your mouth. A Caroliner parrot in the making. Where the singing bull could memorize songs without thought, a scribe can memorize thoughts without pre-disposed tessellation.
The Industrialists often had notoriety and fine whores around them keeping the police at a distance.
Are there any comments or observations you would like to share about the mediums through which we are disseminating this information, such as Myspace or the website TinyMixTapes.com?
No one has never met any of these people you refer to. Would like to wish them luck all the same.
Your myspace webpage shows that Caroliner is located in San Francisco, California. This area is familiar to me as both a historic gold rush city and a modern city with any number of amazing modern features such as internet magicians and artistic visionaries. Can you describe any aspects of your daily lives that would illustrate your relationship to the Bay Area of California?
Up on Nob Hill we walk by the Industrialists of the Railways who would pay Chinamen to run with sacks full of gunpowder and dynamite to throw them at a mountainside making way for the next train route. This practice was often making worm food out of the young runners. The Industrialists often had notoriety and fine whores around them keeping the police at a distance.
Dora and Harrison St. is where Butt Riley, the man with the thickest skull in the world, was put to ill health by a bullet after his career of bashing doors with his head ended.
Right over the hill from the Broadway flashings is the place of the Sydney Ducks who terrorized the city with boar and woman sex acts.
Market St. where the actor Oofty Goofty would parade in tar as a wild man via his cage pulling agent. Eventually he came upon the wonderful job of being a "batty." For a few bits people could take a whack at the up-and-coming singer and actor with a baseball bat. His ruin was a rival actor who beat him silly breaking a portion of his back.
A stroll through Chinatown recounts the Tong wars, the imported women hovel-cribs where cages and tiny prisons lurked. The bagnios where regular customers would have a key if there was a door, and were met with an opium pipe when walking in. There are places on Grant St. where victims died, minutes later the perfectly manicured nails and combed hair were added to the fallen, not to upset the family in the ultimate of serene reposes.
You can wander around the city for an entire day and relive the fine points of interest, that for the most part, is existing in the dust that will inhabit your lungs minute to minute. When you leave make it a point not to cough except into a "memory pouch" that can be inhaled from when you feel un-historical.
Should California secede from the United States? Why or why not?
It's been a problem for people to stay in "The United States" for a lot of reasons. The last time Californians approached a walk out from the rest of the adjoining lands was due to financial difficulties via taxation without representation. After several opprobrious epithets and rocks hurled at the marching death force approaching the state, people were chased into a house and torched. All following actions have been semi legal under the American Constitution, but several other constitutions have found themselves into authoritative hands with similar text. All of these new California constitutions benefit California and refer to historical figures often which is incredibly exciting for us. We toss our hats in so often with these people that we are out of hats completely. The most explicit of these drafts is the one that suggests that for every mile of road there is a historical presentation of the same size referring to other parts of the state that the casual traveler may not be informed of. A decorum of large proportions replacing any worthless landscapes on the other side would be covered in words filled with historical interests. It might be a time for Caroliner to write up a new constitution with interpretive artistic flourishes that signal a new etiquette that includes animals who wish to culture themselves, and take a stronger voice in the vivarium shaping of this land.
Your band's music strikes me as very ethereal and mysterious, and often I envision a veiled creature wailing from a stormy and colorful environment while a group of sympathizers and supporters accompany on a huge array of instruments. What kind of practice and preparation goes into making your amazing recordings?
The latest incarnation of Caroliner has a strange rote of gathering once a week (if possible) and trying to arrange everyone's mind in the same direction. All the lyrics are dictated onto each member's notepads leaving massive spelling errors and misinterpretations which have to be corrected over the next six months on that particular song. After everyone is facing one direction then we are ready to begin the recording. The lyrics in place we meander here and there with a fitting tune before dropping it and learning the next one. Sometimes we will try to perfect a song without the lyrics completely in place. You can hear most of these on the long play disc "Our American Heritage Volume One." It may sound like aimless ditties which make an ear poultice of the sound of water playing the side of a paddle boat sinking in a lake of corn husks. To us, these sound like rough children rolled in hot coals and mud just itching to be washed and dressed.
One lyric might involve a set of bean sprouts growing inside a chimney discovered when a pumpkin full of gunpowder is dropped into the top which resembles a square mouth. We would have to draw that as best as possible to reflect the actual lyrics.
I am also quite impressed by the artwork which is displayed on the albums your band releases. Each individual record seems to be a one of a kind masterpiece of interpretative narration on subjects of hallucination and proclamation. What is the process for creating these materials like?
There are lyrics that inspire most of the things that end up displayed on the albums. One lyric might involve a set of bean sprouts growing inside a chimney discovered when a pumpkin full of gunpowder is dropped into the top which resembles a square mouth. We would have to draw that as best as possible to reflect the actual lyrics. Any Caroliner illustration either reflects a song in the catalog, or an idea or what the stage will look like next time we play customizing a particular song description.
While I have not been privy to a live performance by Caroliner, I have seen videos which are often disorienting and challenging to watch, although also highly entertaining and inspirational. Is there a deliberate effort to obfuscate the full weight and vision provided by your live appearances? Or is it perhaps that your camera operators and equipment are vintage and cannot be adequately transferred to modern venues for appreciation? Please help me understand what I am missing.
You might want to use eyes to see what we are doing. We aren't sure we can help you much in this direction. You are telling someone else to watch things for you, in a certain unclear way, if this is read right. You are expecting someone else to hold the binoculars up to your face whilst you expect someone we know, using photography equipment, to relate our presentation? It doesn't sound very logical at all, but it might be best to assume that you are home bound, and unable to come out of your abode. If this is true, we do make home appearances for a fee.
I remember reading somewhere part of the original story of Caroliner the Singing Bull of the 1800s. Apparently, as is my recollection, the settler who witnessed Caroliner's songs was actually suffering from hallucinations -- similar to those caused by LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) -- stemming from the consumption of cereal grains, such as rye, infected with ergot rot, which is caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea. Is this the true story of Caroliner the Singing Bull?
No, Caroliner described these misfortunate messes by being handed, aurally, different sets of lyrics dealing with each situation, and sometimes hallucination may have a large factor in the lyric content. The difference between ergot poisoning and cabin fever punctuated by starvation is a very slim line which can be compared with seeing a forest shaped entity with bovined arms of gold or just one tree with 100 snake fingers. Some of the Caroliner songs were very straight forward accounts coming from minds with clear arrangements of situations from different areas of American life. All of the lyrics ended up in a book, which we own. Most of the words coming out of the singing bull were relayed to groups of people, often miners, who would contribute songs to the bull's brain.
Life in the 1800s must have been difficult. Truly, music would have been one of the best ways to alleviate the discomfort and hardship that would accompany the 'ole-timey ways. Yet, modern times bring hardship as well, admittedly of a different variety. How do you choose to cope with the difficulties of living in the 21st century?
Keep candles burning at all times. Let the sun do most of the work when they go out. It's really simple actually. You can pull a lot of your food out of the ground. Any material can be turned into a pullover with some fanciful lace braiding. We often substitute the annoyance of paper bills with playing card decks. It's actually much more healthy in several ways doing this.
A new sweeping interest has been shifting around these parts with the New Pet Device we've engineered. Taking tossed cat play castles off the streets we set them in a rustic body over skin, with a detachable bull head, to put at the fore of various stores. The New Pet Device is quite a creature that sells for an amount of money that can keep us alive for half a month. There is no end in sight to the need of the people wanting this satisfaction for their place of business.
I purchased two of the vinyl records which the band has created by mailing a personal check to a post office box in Berkeley, California. I was amazed at the expediency with which the records were delivered. What do you think about the job and function the United States Postal Service is performing?
We've never dealt with them, however there are several groups of people who mail us wonderful things all the time. The people from the Rope Crown Corral send us a box of newer rope crowns. If you walk in San Francisco you might see one of us wearing once in a while. The horn ensemble Tuba Snipper will toss out a brass instrument once in a while that is good for one toot on a recording before falling apart. The New Freedom Enthusiasts throb a grand feeling in the heart when they send us a new set of canvas made from "moon cloth" every few months. They've relayed different adventures to us, in long letters, of the group's dalliance with air, and the various moon travels using the method of heliumization of the brain.
One of the albums I own is a two-disc set called Rings on the Awkward Shadow, and the liner notes contain the lyrics to all the songs. Several lines stand out as truly memorable and provocative, including the following:
When the land is hardened & sun has baked
Some harvest dust & accept their fate
Some others dreamt of woods & vegetable
And attack ground with the fury of a devil
These words bring to my mind visions of the difficult job of tending lands that are wild and untamed. Are there any authors of books or other works which you feel also share the visions and ideas that your band present?
Shermit Kane Roesslean wrote about a giant screw that could be used to break up rocks with the power of sheep and cattle mounted on some giant swing set. Another way to soften ground in his particular "experimental farm" was by inserting sticks of dynamite into the ground to help "soften" the harder areas. Most of these ideas came to him in the midst of a manic pen rage which he would press upon his wife to correct the language as he wrote. More often than not she would collapse on him looking across his shoulder from her lack of food making a mess of every chapter in the rough draft of "Your Land Penetrated".
"How To Shit In The Woods-A Environmentally Sound Approach To A Lost Art" by Squire Charles Waterton was a result of him visiting Italy and finding the fertilizer languidly lazing in the streets of ancient Rome. This has many fine tips that can be applied (if you read between the lines) to farming.
The fire eater Edmund Ruffin looked like a long hair beanpole dyed white clear through to his slave, southern commandment following, soul. He talked of mud chemistry better than anyone in the 1800s speaking directly to farmers about crushed shells and correctly filtered compost.
The author Gregor Mendel had some fine ideas about making these roots stick on hard dirt too, but it's our understanding that most of his work was in Germany.
This gathering would be a 10 day long square dance involving a great amount of people circling an area of land to create a natural lake with specially designed, by us through old Caroliner lyric description, shovel-shoes.
Who are some of your contemporaries? I realize that certain artists of days past resonate with your sound and vision, but are there artists performing today that also resonate?
No, but we do have a large list of "friends" who rent our services for different musical ventures, none of them involving country and western music, so they can be termed only "minor" associates when we aren't working with them.
Do you have any public performances planned in the foreseeable future?
We have a huge list of events we would like to work towards. At this very moment in November, there is only a few that look like they might be realized. One event we have been planning is "Stirring Folk, A Caroliner Digging Adventure!". This gathering would be a 10 day long square dance involving a great amount of people circling an area of land to create a natural lake with specially designed, by us through old Caroliner lyric description, shovel-shoes. A town would hire us to play rounds of "Shovel Footed Fowling" for inspiration as this lake is dug out. With coming droughts and panics, we hope to get this job with all the extraneous members of Caroliner joining us for the show.
Another big event is to create a "Tituos Polecat". The original polecat was erected to scare a handful of thieves who would terrorize a certain portion of rural America. It's height isn't known, but it was probably very large. It resembled a spikey tree possum with long pokers for eyes and a tail that would swish sulfurous burning stench resembling lit hair and seven month old cut onions. If we get the materials and space given to us, it might be possible to take one of these walking execrablities on a stroll around a city with Caroliner powering the sounds issuing from it's mouth. Would be a grand sight, and investment.
What are your preferred modes of transportation? I like bicycles.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the Tituos Polecat to transport us from club to club? You must work on this if you have the time, but, yes, bicycles seem to be what fate we are handed at this historical moment.
Many other musicians are fascinated by the amazing array of sounds which are contained within the grooves of your vinyl recordings. What can you share with us about the instruments or electronic devices or techniques through which your musical recordings are created?
We use whatever is available. Tape recorders, wire spool recorders, glass and tinewire wrap. Anything usable is used. Even the unusable is used. If it's not making a sound (the object in question) after kneading and blowing through an aperture, it will probably be thrown at another band member to keep that person alert during a recording or practice.
Much of the art which accompanies your recordings seems to be of a particular style, which needs no name. However, if I were forced to describe it, I would say it is intricate glyphic insectoid illustration. Does one member of your band produce these arts, or do multiple members collaborate to create the unified result?
It is a result of being in Caroliner that you would collect your thoughts toward the quill end of creativity. Once you are in this mindset it's not hard to become the Audubon Muir botanist feather-leafed echidnae skin decorator that your piano parlor, full of gas flamed chase-a-beast chandeliers, needs to be painted with. This is you, a Caroliner colossus wallpaper architect that will have worked all your life to become. We are very selective about the artwork that is presented to the public. A bird with a weak expression of boredom and listlessness would not be a part of this gallery of unification, ..unless a song dictated it.
One of your stated influences-Dock Boggs-is also a favorite of mine. He was from Norton, Virginia, and worked in the coal mines around age 12. Have you ever been exposed to any environments similar to the coal mines which might have influenced your development as a band?
Yes, but they involve parental figures. When they die in the next 10 through 30 years you can ask again without the consequential pummeling about our facial orbs.
Your live performances include elaborate and visually stimulating costumes and sets. These must be laborious and time-consuming to create. Is that true? If so, how do you find time to devote to these endeavors?
Between every time for slumber there is a time to work on something that sits like a spectre on the medulla waiting to be doused in an 1800s barrel of simmering historical fruition history-fluid. It may be a ten minute bath that has you holding a pair of rattlesnake long johns you sew with busy hands over the edge of the tub while your feet work the soap around the fecund groin. Dividing up the work with other limbs does the trick. Instead of that weeding from the front porch, or house cleaning, your fingers gravitate to the paint brush for another asp bite to the eye of fleur-de-lis harvesting. Time must be made for these things. Food takes a backseat, rest takes a nap. 1800s here and now!
Are there any messages you would like to share with the youth of the world who may be reading this interview?
You tarry in the world of "displayed now" pursuing vacant idiocies of joyless mundanities. If you are not familiar in exploring the full extent of the 1800s through Caroliner then please pick up a history book at the very least. It is a new now that is very old. You can overlay this emanation with the monastic solitude that you are keeping yourself wrapped up inside with. As you baboon about your days with stooping and bowing gestures of minuscule proportions, you spin a web of nothing. Please know that as you have read these words you are throwing millions of seconds, following this time, away unless you make a turn for mending the torn drape of your relic mind with a sense of decency. Please make a note of everything you have read before and then keep it in your pocket for the rest of your lives. Afterwards you can thank us graciously from the beyond with a few taps on our dinner plates.