Interview: The Chuck Dukowski Sextet
While you’re surely familiar with Chuck Dukowski‘s work as the erstwhile bassist of Black Flag, you may not even be aware of his most recent group — despite the fact that they’ve now released a trio of blistering avant-garde albums over a six-year time span. A true family band, featuring Dukowski’s wife, Lora Norton (vocals), and stepson, Milo Gonzalez (guitar), as well as drummer Ashton Slater, The Chuck Dukowski Sextet recently released Haunted on ORG Music.
Though the band’s lineup and sound have altered ever so slightly since we last spoke to Chuck, the band’s uniqueness and mission have remained much the same. Chuck, Lora, Milo, and Ashton all chipped in to provide some insight to the Venice, California-based foursome.
After self-releasing the previous two Chuck Dukowski Sextet albums via your own label, Nice and Friendly Records, the CD6 have signed on with ORG Music. How did this union come to be? What do you find to be the benefits — or drawbacks — to having a label behind your work?
Chuck Dukowski: Jeff Bowers from ORG reached out to me a couple of years ago; he was interested in working together in some way. He came over and had a couple of meetings with me and Lora over tea at our house in Venice in late 2010. He expressed a general desire to help get some of our projects, including the new CD6 album Haunted, manifested.
We went to work on it. Along the way he proposed the split seven-inch “My War/Sweet Honey Pie” we did with Mike Watt‘s missingmen. So far it has been interesting and fruitful.
I’ve never worked with a label before that I was not also a founder, co-founder, or owner of. The big benefit is that we have a team to work with to release and promote our records without having to grow, manage, and finance that team ourselves. The second benefit is that there are outside energies, ideas, and resources. It’s awesome that we can depend on some other people who want to be a label and put their energy into that. It’s a little like being in a band. I think that a collaborative effort is more interesting, powerful, and effective.
The split seven-inch was ORG’s idea. I think it was a good one, as it helped to “connect the dots” between The Chuck Dukowski Sextet and my past with Black Flag. We did the seven-inch in one take on eight-track tape in Dave Jones’s Wasatch Studio. It was quick and easy to record, and we were reminded of the superior sound character of analog recording. After the successful seven-inch release, ORG followed with the release of our Haunted album.
So far there have been no drawbacks to having ORG behind us. I don’t expect problems as our relationship is simple and depends on mutual trust as its foundation.
In 2010, Nice and Friendly Records released the debut album by The Shrine – who have jumped to Tee Pee Records – as well Geryl and the Great Homunculus by Insects Vs. Robots. However, with two-thirds of the label’s stable of bands jumping ship, what does the future hold for Nice and Friendly? Do you have any plans for forthcoming releases?
Chuck: There are no big plans for Nice and Friendly right now, [but] I really like working under the name Nice and Friendly. I feel [that by] coming in the front door with that name we make a positive statement to the world, and I do think the world needs all of the positive “nice and friendly” statements it can get!
You never know when an opportunity to do something with the label again will come up, but for several years now we have not had the resources to really do much with it. Lora and I do enjoy the label and working with our friends and the kids, and we are very supportive of all of their music. We encouraged The Shrine to release an album with Tee Pee and it seems like it’s working well for them. We love them — they are so cool! Insects Vs. Robots are just now starting to be serious again after a little hiatus. They are so great; it would be a shame if they didn’t keep rocking! We are just focusing on promoting Haunted and working on new material.
Back to the new album: Lora, I’ve often noted that both your singing and your lyrics seem to traverse a wide range of emotions and topics, from rage to sweet sentimentality. What factors, be they works of art, other musicians or writers, or your own life experiences, provide you with lyrical inspiration?
Lora Norton: Haunted has ended up being kind of heavy. “Nothing Left” is about someone close to me that committed suicide. I was inspired to write “Alchemists of Poison” after the nuclear accident at Fukishima. “Slow Bullet” is a kind of revenge and empowerment song.
I write for pure emotion and truth. Music has an ability to convey emotion, to kind of empathize with a person’s emotion. If you’re sad, you don’t feel like looking at a painting — you want to hear a song about sadness, and you feel understood.
How about the overall music writing process? There is certainly no one sound in the band that fades into the background — do you each contribute equally to the songwriting?
Chuck: Yes, we do all contribute to the songs — sometimes equally and sometimes not. We are all open to every other band member’s ideas. With Haunted, we all co-wrote the songs [by] building on seed ideas from one or another member. This is the first time since Wurm that I’ve had such an open collaborative dynamic in a band.
How has this process changed since 2007 when you released Eat My Life? Band members have changed, Milo has grown up, and you seem to have phased out the reed instruments.
Chuck: The reed instruments phased out during the recording of Reverse The Polarity. Lynn got sick, but luckily Milo found his full voice on guitar at the same time. On Haunted you get to hear Milo as a fully realized player.
On Record Store Day 2012, the CD6 released a split seven-inch with Mike Watt and the missingmen, and your side featured a re-recorded version of “My War.” Chuck, this was a song that you wrote for Black Flag, which was recorded on an album of the same name — after you’d left the band. However, it seems that among the SST bands during that era, you were all doing a lot of writing for one another; for instance, you and D. Boon co-wrote the Minutemen’s “Little Man With a Gun In His Hand,” and I believe Kira Roessler wrote my all-time favorite fIREHOSE song, “Things Could Turn Around.” To get to the point, I’m wondering, does this sort of inter-band cooperation and collaboration still exist in the Venice area in 2012?
Chuck: Yeah, I think it may. I know that The Shrine are doing a song with a lyric I wrote in ’83. It’s called “Leave Me Out to Rot” or “When I Die”; I’m not really sure what they are calling it. I just recited it to Josh, The Shrine’s guitarist, one day and he remembered it. He asked me a week or so later if I minded him using it in a song. I think it’s on their new album.
Milo works on music with lots of people. Ashton and Lora do as well.
I enjoy collaborations. We invited our friends Joe Baiza and Mario Lally to play on our first album, Eat My Life, and on Haunted, Insects Vs. Robots’ violinist Nikita Sorokin plays on “A Thing.” In the time coming up to the recording we played a lot of shows without Insects Vs. Robots, and Nikita would usually join us on stage for “A Thing.”
Ashton Slater: Collaboration would be super fun! We almost jumped on a tour with fIREHOSE, which seemed like a lot of fun. Milo is currently playing guitar in another band in which I play the bass called Ahkiyyini. The drummer, Tony, was also in Insects Vs. Robots with Milo. Tony was also drumming in CD6 before me — some crazy cross-band action there!
Milo, I’ve noticed that your other band, Insects Vs. Robots, performs alongside the CD6 at a number of shows, which means you’re pulling double-duty on many nights. Though I’ve never seen the CD6 perform live, I’ve heard your live stunts are pretty incredible. Do you ever find yourself exhausted after a night of music and performance art?
Milo Gonzalez: Absolutely, I find the feeling of exhaustion after playing and performing to be really gratifying and relaxing. It makes one happy to make others happy. The more you give, the more you get.
Furthermore, Milo, can you discuss your performance art? Specifically, how did you come to take an interest in becoming a contortionist and acrobat? Do you tour with a performance art troupe, and does this cut into your time with your various bands?
Milo: My parents got me into yoga at a pretty young age, that’s a large part of it. In middle school, my friends and I would constantly tool around experimenting on the town with skateboards, bicycles, scooters, rollerblades, and whatever else we could roll on. At some point right around then, I got really inspired to get into tumbling and hand-balancing, and I just kept on going with it.
A while ago, I did little tour of Europe with a circus group called Lucent Dossier. It was an amazing adventure! I’ve performed with them lots, playing guitar and doing acrobatics. They are lovely people. I also do contortionism performances solo, or with musicial accompaniment. Sometimes it can be chaotic and confusing to do a million things at once, but exploring every random intuition can be revealing and really inspiring as well. I find my acrobatic practice inspires my musical practice, and vice versa. Balance is the key!
How about other members of the CD6? Do you have any artistic endeavors outside of music that you’d care to discuss? For instance, Lora, I know you’re an accomplished artist, and each album cover of the CD6 has featured your own very distinctive artwork.
Lora: I love making the album covers. Visual art is very different from music; it’s quiet, alone. I enjoy it.
Ashton: I am currently working on building four walls and a roof entirely out of empty spray paint cans. Just a place to hang and do whatever you want.
The CD6 is most definitely a “family band.” If I’m not mistaken, Lora, you have two children who are younger than Milo. What do you think? Future CD6 members?
Lora: We have four children, actually. Milo is the oldest. Only Milo plays an instrument seriously, but I’m always thinking to involve the others — the girls have beautiful voices! We’ll see…
Ashton: Lola on percussion!
Not to focus on the past anymore than is necessary, but Black Flag certainly had its fair share of internal conflicts. Pretty much every family that has ever existed faces a degree of conflict too. Does mixing family and music ever add an extra measure of conflict, or do you find that it has the opposite effect? Does the writing, rehearsing, and recording process differ at all when working with family members?
Chuck: I think family is a helpful influence. Milo said that he thought we have our way of interacting together sorted out from the family [which makes] it easier, and I think that is true. I have noticed that one of the biggest challenges for making music is keeping a band together long enough to do all of the things necessary to play shows and record music. Besides, I just enjoy going to the shows and playing with my family. For me, it’s way more fun than Disneyland.
Do you think a tour that extends beyond Southern California may be coming soon to promote the new record?
Ashton: I sure hope so!
Chuck: That would be awesome. Where there’s water to float our shallow draft boat, we’ll set sail. We’ll find the stream.