Interview: Former Black Flag Bassist Chuck Dukowski Discusses New CD6 Album, 'Haunted'
Black Flag bassist and co-founder Chuck Dukowski discuss his band's new album, Haunted.
The Chuck Dukowski Sextet (CD6) -- the creation of former Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski -- is three quarters Dukowski. Chuck handles bass duties; his wife, Lora, sings and creates the band's album artwork; their son, Milo, plays guitar.
The family/band released a new album, Haunted, in June through ORG Music (Buy it on iTunes).
Chuck recently took time out of his hectic schedule to talk about the new album and what it's like to play in a family band. He also offered some tips for new bands trying to make a go of it.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this album come together? What was the sound/feel you were trying to cultivate?
Well, we are a band, so what we wanted to do was record an album. We all wanted to record an album desperately. It took a minute to pull it all together. I don't know if we had an external vision on the sound as it came in. We used a simple process: We tried to record fairly live. Some of the album is completely live.
The track “A Thing” is completely live, that's from the first session. The album was done in two sessions. In the first session, “A Thing” is completely live and in the second session, all of the stuff is live but it has a few overdubs here and there. The first session, with Haunted, we basically recorded the instrumental stuff live and then added the backing tracks and a few layers of vocals. “Lullaby” is like that, so is “All is One." It's a fairly basic approach.
What's it like debuting new material for the first time? Nerve-wracking or just exciting?
You know, I’ve been around the block, it's always exciting to play new material, and I really like it. Even this material, for our set, we've already moved past some of this, we're playing two new songs in our set, two brand-new ones. The other ones had to step aside for them, you know? We just keep moving on to new songs. What's cool is people can hear new songs on a recording before we play them. It brings songs forward that otherwise might not have come forward. “All is One” is a neat tune and it came together in the recording process and we started playing it more live. We mix it up.
You've gotten to play with your wife and your son. What's it like recording with family? Any added tension?
I would say compared to a regular group — those kinds of things come and go in anything — there's probably less than if it wasn't people I was used to dealing with, if we weren't used to dealing with each other. We have our different ways of working things out. It's actually easier.
How did the band come to be? Whose idea was it to join up and start playing?
I just wanted to play and have a band, so I started putting a band together about 10 years ago and just started jamming out with a drummer and bringing instrumentalists in, and and the band has evolved from that. The constant members are myself and Lora. Milo started with us when he was 16. We had been playing for a couple years already, and Milo kind of moved us or accompanied a move toward a more guitar-rock sound.
In the first year, I don't think we had any compositions, we made each song up every night. Then we started to work with compositions, to move toward a more guitar-rock, psychedelic rock sound, away from the woodland sound. The woodland sound lasted one more album, the second one has a little bit and the third has none. It's matured into the sound we have now. Each person as they come and go changes the mix, changes what comes out of every other person.
How does your songwriting process typically work? Is it usually an individual or collective effort?
A little of both, sometimes more one way than another way. We always basically rearrange and rewrite the songs as we bring them in. Lora does all of the lyric writing and vocal melodies as well as contributing to the song arrangement. Something like “Sweet Chariot," that was almost completely composed as a group. The other ones in varying degrees are bringing an idea in and evolving it with the group; some of them were virtually completely composed, like “Milo's Lullaby” or “Cry My Love."
You always look at a song again when you're playing them and bringing them to the band. Everyone has their idea and sometimes their idea is to roll with it like it is. Like I said, all of the above from we invented it right there to working up to here is a completely arranged composition, we've leaned toward the more hybrid: Somebody comes with an idea and we develop it as a group, I like that. With previous groups I've worked with, songs were more completely composed, and I like letting things breathe a little bit and reinvent themselves. I think it's been fruitful to the sound.
What are some of your favorite basses to play? Which ones always make road trips with you?
I've only had a few basses, you know, it's like I'm playing one of the Fender Active Jazz 5-strings, and I like that basic fret deal. The extra string when we were jamming with the horns, you could work the time signature. Milo does a lot of down tuning and stuff, when he takes over from his playing, it's useful because I don't have to re-tune for drop D tuning. I've been playing that for 12 or 13 years.
The Whole CD6, I've played that bass. I've had two Fender Precision basses, they both got stolen. One bass I’ve put together out of broken spare parts out of ones that have broken on me. When one of mine got stolen, I glued a few pieces up and fixed it and used it until I got a custom one, that also got stolen. I like these jazz basses. Back in Black Flag I used a jazz bass in “Jealous Again." This active one has a great sound and the five string with a chunkier neck and body gives it a more solid tone. Even when I’m playing in the regular guitar rock world and don't need that low note, it still gives it a better tone, so I don't switch out.
Are there any U.S. tour plans going on? What's it like going on the road with your family?
We're not touring for the album, really. What we're doing is a lot of dates close to home, everywhere from easy driving range of Los Angeles. We've gone to the Bay area and San Diego. We're not ruling out touring. I know we're going to the South in February, going to play in Louisiana and a little bit of Mississippi. So far, that's what's on the table. We're open to all sorts of things, it's what comes to us and works out. Someone steps up and talks to us about a tour and the logistics work out.
As a former co-owner of SST Records, what are your impressions of the music industry right now? What do artists need to do to survive?
As an owner, I think it's potentially a really good time as a label. We're in a transitional cusp and labels, you know, there's opportunity because of all the confusion that's happened in the mainstream (piracy, etc.), and a lot of labels are out there grasping around and not knowing what to do. So I feel like an indie label who has good vision and wants to work can do something, because there's a lot of good music being played.
As an artist, I feel the thing is to focus on the art and work hard. Keep moving forward, don't stop. Play a lot. Get records out. Get in front of audiences. It's hard being a band; you have to keep three to six people going in the same direction for a while. I say that all the time to people: That's the big challenge. I feel like it's good to not get distracted from what you're doing, playing music. Zero in on that and that keeps everybody knowing what you're there for.
When I do the business for my band, I feel like it's important — there's so many different ways to do it — but I look to the long run that I have relationships with people I feel I can work with on the business side as well as on the artistic side; that I feel like they're going to play fair with me and not steal my art and are willing to trust me if I trust them, and willing to put that out in their business.
I feel like as an artist, it depends what you're looking for. If you're trying to get a lot of money, it's hard to do that without giving up something. I like to deal with people in a more trust-based system and stay out of courts and lawyers and it's fruitful to the long run.
Do you have any other music projects in the works?
This is my main focus. It's where creatively I'm bringing what I do to this band. I feel like I have some of the best people I've ever worked with artistically with me and I feel like we're doing great music. I'm focused on it and you know, if I can figure out a way to do it, I'll take it to the rest of the us on the road and to other countries, and if I can't, I'll play LA a lot. It's all what's there and I enjoy it either way. I'll play tomorrow, pretty much every week somewhere.
Is there anything about the band or the new album that I haven't touched on that you'd like to talk about?
From an artistic point of view, I feel like this is some of my best music, and it's really exciting to work with Milo, Lora and Ashton, our guitar player, singer and drummer. I think those guys make good stuff happen for me, I hope it's mutual and equally exciting.
Making music with my family, that's just mind blowing, really, and all the kids we play for, I just love them so much and I feel so blessed by all of that to have the opportunity to keep the tap open and be around fresh minds and positive spirits. Someday soon Guitar World will probably be having a feature on Milo. Milo was on stage at Coachella at 17, that's a crazy experience. I didn't play anything like that until I was in my mid-20s, and I'd come a long road to it. You know, there's interesting and great art happening there off of what happens to the CD6, and he's going to make a mark as a musician. It's great just to be here as the first step for that.
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