For A Few Gringos More (2022)

After the fun I had frankensteining Asp Burger ReMangled (in which I ‘remangled’ tracks from my 2018 Asp Burger album), I felt inspired to continue this approach of musical cut-up / collage on the album that grew directly out of Asp Burger – namely, Gringo! As I’m still in the gradual process of rehabilitating a broken wrist, playing guitar is not an option for a long while yet.  These ‘remanglings’ are in a sense my surrogate – satisfying my current urge to be making some guitar music.

I often cannibalise my previous musical work; usually when I deconstruct in this way, I’ll only select a couple of elements from an original recording and use them as a springboard to create something that has no relationship to the source material.

With Asp Burger ReMangled, and now For A Few Gringos More, I set myself the creative parameter of cannibalising a whole album, distorting some tracks beyond recognition while using others to highlight particular features of the source material – a certain sound, melody or texture.  Overall, I still wanted each collection to be obviously connected to the album it grew from, conceptually and aesthetically, while offering something quite different in its own right.

In 2018, the initial tracks for the Gringo! album grew out of the distorted electric guitar textures I’d experimented with on Asp Burger.  However, as I developed Gringo’s ‘existentialist spaghetti western’ concept, I found myself also composing with acoustic textures – doublebass, acoustic guitar, cello, ukulele & light percussion – my attempt at capturing the feel of a loose, organic Mexican / Latin ensemble (maybe sometimes a bit drunk or falling asleep as they play in the corner of a taverna).  These ‘ensemble’ pieces had pushed me to give more attention to compositional arrangement, and on re-listen I realised I wanted to highlight some of these melodic ideas, give them more space to come forward – especially the guitar, bass and cello melodies.  Mostly in this collection I’ve wanted to keep the ‘Latin’ flavour, while stretching it into more spacious atmospheres with a bit of subtle electronic twiddlery.

I’ve retained the original tremolo-wammybar-reverb-heavy guitar sound, in keeping with the original ‘spaghetti western’ aesthetic of Gringo!, warping it out here and there to add a slightly psychedelic sense of things.  I’ve always enjoyed this style of guitar, from its roots in Cuban guitar music of the 1950s, the subsequent wave of guitar instrumental bands of the early 60s, to modern purveyors such as Marc Ribot (characterised by his playing on Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs album). On For A Few Gringos More, while there are still moments where the guitar is abrasive or has ‘teeth’, overall I’ve softened the shape of the guitar sounds compared to the original album.

For the cello sounds, I mostly just added subtle effects, enough to give a ‘spacey’ or sometimes liquid texture while retaining a throaty ‘cello-ness’.  The moody opener Black Bordello (with samples from the original Blue Bordello) was my first excursion in this vein, the cello used as a drifty drone with a slightly metallic grating edge that adds to its shadowy atmosphere.  Heidi’s first response to the track was that it felt like the opening to a ceremony or sacred ritual, and I tend to agree.

Probably my favourite example of the cello textures is on Return Of The Legless Ass.  My bowing ‘skills’ are primitive but sincere, and I think my sawing efforts manage to create a loose but warm body for this piece. Conceptually, the original (The Ass Is Drunk, He Cannot Walk) was illustrating those moments in the ‘hero’s journey’ where forward movement is brought to a standstill, when there is no choice but to relinquish control, to surrender to the impasse and wait for whatever comes next.  In this version, it might be more a case of the Return of That Which Never Left, of travelling in spacetime without moving.

As with Return Of The Legless Ass, several other pieces also bear more resemblance to their parent-tunes, probably because I’ve left fairly large chunks of the original melodies intact.

With Unhung I wanted to focus mainly on the doublebass melodies and the accompanying percussion, including a wooden toneblock that I have rarely used, but which proved surprisingly musical in this case.  This is the only piece in which I’ve used any of the ukulele from the original (Likes Her Men Well-Hung – as in ‘from the end of a rope’).  The sections of reversed ukulele at times sound almost accordion-like. In the last third, a warm wave of cello provides a swaying jazzy blue riff as we dance sidling out the door.

The most epic deconstruction (in terms of length and musical territory traversed) would be the 13:27 minute long The Long Ride Home.  The original, Gringo Rides Again, was itself an epic Western theme, depicting the moment when the hero hauls himself from seemingly overwhelming defeat, to a triumphant surge into action, straddles his horse and blazes across the landscape with new determination to face down his oppressor / nemesis / shadow self.  In this new configuration, I wanted less of the melodrama and more of the weary return – the part of the story no-one is interested in.  I kept the melody theme intact but slowed everything down to a tempo I thought just acceptable, creating much more space for some of the musical conversations to come forward.  I looped a couple of sections in the middle, and for most of the second half I stripped back all the original driving rhythms to focus on freefloating cello & guitar lines. The slowly fading-in outro was also a looped construction, the fade-in being a homage to some similar endings-not-endings I remember on certain albums recorded in the 60s / 70s.

The album is interspersed with much more abstracted moments.  Desert Bloom takes a small sample of guitar resonance and loops it to create a gently pulsating background tone, over which I fiddle with various guitar samples.  The original source here was Cactus Flower, a piece comprising only electric guitar layers; here I’ve dispensed with most of the original guitar tracks and focus mainly on using a couple of the improvised solos. By isolating out these tracks I discovered some sweet subtleties that were drowned out in the (pretty but noisy) original, and by reversing the tracks, new melodic subtleties emerged.  In keeping with the theme behind the original, I wanted the sounds to reflect both the delicate innocence and prickly defenses of the cactus flower.

Another more abstract moment is the title track, For A Few Gringos More.  Here I’ve sliced out the bassline from The Relentless March Of The Mind, and mangled it into something resembling an old-fashioned robot with sunstroke.  The guitar lines are snippets of a refrain from the end of the original, and throughout this piece my thoughts were of staggering lost through a desert, the delirium of unrelenting heat, and systems wobbling, winding slowly down.

There are a couple of experiments I’ve mainly included for my own amusement, rather than any musical merit I might think they possess.  Song To The Void is a stripped-back and reorganised skeleton of The Unwanted, with the reversed vocal track sounding like a kind of crooning invocation to the abyss.  Misshapen Identity is definitely best approached with a sense of humour: ridiculously flaccid & sludgey, it is essentially one section of the original Gringo’s Theme, stripped back and slowed down by about 400%. I just love how sounds are altered when in slomo, the extra resonances and sonic nuances that surface – much like when you slow life down.

Further Disgruntlements is another abstraction, a kind of minimalist anti-dub based around one small riff from the outro of the original, grungey Disgruntled Dub, and skeletal use of just a couple of other elements.

The Other Other Side has kept much of its predecessor’s structures, I’ve just messed with the sounds a little.  When I first recorded it as El Otro Lado (Spanish for ‘The Other Side’), I was especially pleased with the electric guitar solo, which I’ve kept intact here – inspired by the playing of Cuban guitar legend Manuel Galban when he collaborated with Ry Cooder.  I think of this reorganised version as a bit ‘spookier’ and atmospheric than its original.