We last spoke with drummer Paul Sears about ten years ago, and when that interview was recently posted on the site, it was apparent that an update was in order. While The Muffins may be no more, Sears has been very active musically, and there was a lot of catching up to do.
by Jon Davis, Published 2018-01-29
What are your earliest musical memories? How did your conception of music develop?
In my DNA. Both parents were musicians; my mom a respectable pianist and could sing, and my dad was a organist, a designer of pipe organs, music critic, choirmaster, and teacher. They had a friend that would leave his acoustic guitar on the floor for me to crawl over and inspect before I could walk. This was mid 50s. There was always music in the house. All over the map. Bach, Wagner, Ives, Delius, Stravinsky, Donald Erb, Stockhausen, Miles Davis, Bartok, Florence Foster Jenkins, Gershwin, Gregorion Chant, Yma Sumac, Charles Mingus, and lots of other stuff all the time. I spent my childhood at operas, symphonies, organ concerts, theatre, etc. Thankful for that later on! Being exposed to lots of music as a kid, I was primed for when Zappa, King Crimson, Renaissance, Moodies, and many others appeared playing stuff influenced by, and sometimes even quoting music I was already familiar with. Of course I liked the early Beatles when they hit, and British invasion stuff especially The Yardbirds. I had friends that were a little older than I and that got me going on psychedelic stuff, like Hendrix and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Also Zappa and Beefheart. By late 60s I was playing drums in local bands, and early 70s bands that wrote all their own stuff. Only two or three cover band gigs in my whole life. By mid 70s, I was listening to early progressive rock / jazz including Henry Cow, Magma, Van der Graaf Generator, Soft Machine, Miles Davis, and many others. I loved Genesis early on.
What kind of formal schooling do you have in music?
Other than music class in school in the 60s, my dad unsuccessfully tried music by force, sitting me down at the piano against my will. Wrong approach at 10 years old, as I was already ostracized by many local kids because my dad was the school choirmaster. I was kind of an outsider even then! By 10 I had tried the trumpet, autoharp, guitar, and bass on my way to the drums by about 14. This came naturally! That's it for formal. I learned more by playing with as many people as possible, and that was a lot back in the 60s and 70s. That's what many kids did then! There were several bands and lots of opps to play right in my neighborhood.
When you approach playing music with unusual rhythmic structures, how much do you intellectualize it versus just playing by feel?
I play mostly by feel. Many odd times just come naturally to me. I prefer to learn all music I record by ear rather than by notation. I have not read since learning some tough stuff already written by Dave Newhouse and The Muffins 40-plus years ago. I am not a sight reader.
In your previous interview, Thee Maximalists was one of the main topics. You mentioned having live tapes and looking for a way to release them. What happened on that front?
Yes! Thee Maximalists had a downloadable product called Crosstalk available on Ad Hoc from ReR USA. This label is gone now, and we are hoping for a physical release. It is mastered and we have full graphics done. Hoping for a label release someday. Lots on my Youtube channel on my website. Interested parties can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Did the 9353 reboot you mentioned ever take place?
Sure did! I did some shows with them in 2007. There is some footage on Youtube from the 9:30 Club in DC, where we headlined. Wish more of the shows would turn up on Youtube.
As you mentioned in the interview, your first experience playing with Clearlight was interesting, to say the least, but you’ve played on several Clearlight albums since then. Have things gone smoother for those?
Well, I played on one new Clearlight record, Impressionist Symphony on Gonzo Multimedia UK. A track from this is also on Best of Clearlight, also on Gonzo. For this record, the composer Cyrille Verdeaux actually came to my studio in Arizona and conducted me while I was recording my parts. This approach went very well, and all my parts were recorded in 2 days. I am very pleased with this one, which is undoubtedly the "prettiest" record I have ever played on. Steve Hillage, Didier Malherbe, and Tim Blake returned after many years to the Clearlight fold, which helped make this even more special. Don Falcone did a bang-up job producing this one. I would love to do some of this music live someday.
When we last spoke with you, The Muffins had recently released Double Negative and Loveletter #2. Can you fill us in on what happened after that for the band?
After this, we went to France and played at the RIO Festival near Carmaux in 2009, then did some recording, then in 2010 we did Sonic Circuits Festival in DC with Magma and many others, and headlined at the Progday Festival in NC. That was our third time appearing there, and an honor to headline. Shortly after Sonic Circuits, I moved to Arizona. One more CD, Mother Tongue, came out. The Muffins had also been working on what was to be a big band project, and internal disagreements brought about the demise of The Muffins. From the 4S'D website.
You played on Dave Newhouse’s Manna / Mirage album, Blue Dogs. Tell us a little about that.
I played on one cool track on this record. Both this and the 4S'D project took form after of the breakup of The Muffins.
Speaking of 4S’D... tell us about how that project came about.
Tom wanted to press on with the bigger band sound (read: lots of instruments — only four players, and four additional singers) concept and wrote a whole lot more music for the project. This was the most difficult remote project for me to date for two reasons. 1) The music is not a walk in the park. I very rarely record just a part of a tune; I record all drum takes all the way through. I like to really have the music in my bones. This record took me donkeys years to learn. Really a fun listen! 2) I moved during the process. I moved farther away from the Phoenix area, from Apache Junction to Superior, and my friend and engineer, Josh Medina. Friendgineer? I felt I had learned enough about DAW recording with Josh, and so I engineered the last few tunes myself. Now I do it all.
What other projects have happened that you’d like to share? Nick Prol and the Proletarians...
Yes, Nick is a very talented guy! Hope to do more stuff with him someday. He actually lives here in Arizona not too far away, so who knows? Since moving here I have done a lot of projects.
What’s in the works for the future?
I am writing a a book, Angels and Demons That Play, a muso-only autobio from 1955-present. I have a publisher and contract, but won't announce that or dates until I feel I can sign & commit to a deadline. Hope to have a first draft during May 2018. After that, I will hopefully be working with The Muffins on some sort of box set of archives. We have a huge archive. Hope to get something serious going, maybe live, with guitarist Frank D'Angelo, and bassist Randy George who are in my area. Hopefully more work with keys guru Jonathan Sindelman, who has been great to work with and a ton of laffs. T.S. Henry Webb who was in The Flock has been here a few times, and we may do some more music. He was on my radio show awhile back.
Do you have any thoughts about how creative musicians outside mainstream music can make their way in today’s world?
Gee, just do what you love without compromise, and find a way to support it! Doing shows and selling merch seems to be the way to do things now, especially now that recorded music by itself is nearly valueless. I still buy CDS and vinyl. I have had three vinyl LPs come out recently, which to me is amazing given the last 20 years. Never give up! Never surrender!
Filed under: Interviews
Related artist(s): The Muffins, Spirits Burning, Clearlight, Daevid Allen, Karda Estra / Richard Wileman, Jack Dupon, Dave Newhouse (Manna / Mirage), Nick Prol / Proletarians, 4S'D (Sears, Scott, Swann & Stanley), Paul Sears
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