Pigbox & Co. Vol 1 and Vol 2 are two albums of instrumentals & songs inspired by my metal-bodied resonator ukulele, whom I affectionately named PIGBOX. A ramshackle assortment of gutterblues, loose jazz, americana, folkalisms and lyrical noodlings, accompanied by a variety of other instruments and found sounds.
As mentioned in Early Ukelele Explorations (2005 – 2013), somewhere around 2011 I bought a Nashville metal-bodied resonator uke. I named it PIGBOX because it was an unrefined, klunky and decidedly cranky instrument. Disgruntled. Cantankerous.
It immediately drew out more dissonance in my playing, some harsher rhythms, gutterblues and dirty bits. Over several years a repertoire of PIGBOX music gradually emerged, some ideas had legs AND bodies, some were just a few bones rattling for attention, all were in a chronic state of coitus interuptus as life kept getting in the way.
Here’s an early PIGBOX composition from 2012:
For a long time I knew I wanted to record this PIGBOX music with a deliberately raw aesthetic that would be in keeping with the instrument. I wanted to bang things, be sloppy, fall apart just enough, uncare just enough. I wanted it to sound like a drunk wedding band at a hillbilly funeral, like a wombat grunting through the floorboards, like real folk music made by lazy-eyed imperfectionists. Here’s how The Tangled Truth now sounds on the album:
Earlier this year I had a rare window of opportunity (ie no work, no money, no reason to go out), so I locked out the world & locked me in for a couple of weeks of creative derangement. I found noises on my instruments that would offend the musical, I found noises around the house, I plugged planks of wood and other objects into amplifiers just to see what wouldn’t happen. I played cello, balalaika, mandolin, kemenche, guitar, electric plank, a bass drum I found at Cygnet tip. Many of them I played in ways they oughtn’t be played. Every track though began with PIGBOX front & centre, either acoustic or electrified – he was the linchpin, the hub of all hub-bub.
Not all the music is as harsh as it might seem, I also found moments of unexpected lyricism and beauty in drifty improvisations like this one:
Many of these instruments I don’t know how to play, but as I pieced the recordings together I just wanted to see what I could DISCOVER, because that’s really what excites me about the creative process. For instance, I was delighted to discover that the Turkish kemenche (fiddle), at the mercy of my bow anti-technique, actually sounds like a muted trumpet on the track Killing A Jazz Purist (PIGBOX Vol 2).
As much as I appreciate other people’s care & attention in musicmaking, I personally find rehearsing and perfecting to be stifling. I needed PIGBOX to release me from that, I needed this process to be IMMEDIATE. It really had nothing to do with the destination. Apart from the central parts played on PIGBOX the Uke, most of what’s on these recordings is improvised in one or two takes, and I wouldn’t know how to repeat any of it.
So now I’ve purged the Pig, and there are two albums of sounds, 29 tracks in total. It’s a document of a process. It’s something I needed to do for my mental health, my creative well-being & to replenish my sense of self by disengaging from the mundane world that confuses & eats at me. Probably I was having fun. I only did it for me, I don’t have the temperament or time to perform it or market it, but it’s on my Bandcamp site. You’ll find the links at the top of this page.
There will be obvious comparisons to the honourable Mr Waits, but my references are actually from other shadows in time (as are his) – the Howling Wolf & the Muddy Water days of raw blues recording, the rust on the strings, the grunt in the boot, the bang of a box….the John Lee Beefheart ragged rhythm hooks zigzagging back to Alan Lomax and his acoustical microphonics expeditions, folkalising in some ramshackle mountain hut in Tasmania’s Deep South.