Moris Tepper Interview 
May 2000

[originally conducted for the Beefheart fanzine 'Steal Softly Thru Snow']

Moth to Mouth coverMoris Tepper, guitar supremo with the Magic Band from 1976 to 1982, has had a quietly successful career in music and painting since Don broke up the band. He’s played with Robyn Hitchcock, Tom Waits and Frank Black (of The Pixies), as well as appearing on Robert Williams recent solo CD ‘Date with the Devil’s Daughter’.

Moris’s first solo release was the Big Enough To Disappear’ CD. Originally issued on Candlebone Records in 1995 it has just been released for the first time in the UK and Europe by Proper Records. This coincides with the release of Moris’s second CD offering on Candlebone, the excellent ‘Moth To Mouth’ which was recorded in his own studio, at his own cost and in his own time.

Big Enough to Disappear coverUsing sometimes unusual instrumentation, and with a rasping growl of a voice Tepper tells dark tales, sings lilting ballads and plays some of the finest foot-stomping down home bluesy music around. A fine songwriter and frontman.

In May 2000 Moris agreed to give a short interview to SSTS about his music and painting.

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Steve Froy:
How do you split your time between your music and painting? Do you have preference?

Moris Tepper:
I don’t … it splits me. I try to let the processes of music, painting happen in their natural way. I sometimes perceive that as cycles. It seems that I like to paint in winter, when it’s raining … and music pretty much happens all the time. But I’m also always kind of drawing little sketches of things and I don’t really think I have a preference. I think I enjoy exploring both of those processes … both of those mediums.

SF:
Why did you release ‘Moth to Mouth’ as a CDR and not as a Candlebone release?

MT:
It is a Candlebone release. But ‘Moth to Mouth’ is being shopped to see if I can get someone else to help finance some manufacturing and promo costs. In the meantime it is being sold exclusively at candlebone.com and manufactured one at a time. Within 90 days it will either carry a Candlebone logo or someone else’s

SF:
‘Moth to Mouth’ comes over as a mix of influences. Is this a fair comment? And what are your main musical influences?

MT:
It is a fair comment. ‘Moth to Mouth’ was put together in a very organic manner but it included sketches and things for songs, you know, about the preceding year to the point of beginning the record as well as songs that were composed during the making of the record. Over that kind of span of time you can imagine the different environments my head might have inhabited, you know, with different influences … very different natural born intent.

I have many musical influences stemming from the birds and the beetles. I don’t mean the rock groups I mean the animals … and I don’t mean the rock group The Animals ... I’ve listened to the vultures. Certainly The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, Beefheart … preceded by a hundred and more dead black bluesmen.

SF:
Is there a story behind ‘Magic 8 Ball’ and ‘Moth to Mouth’?

MT:
Yes, the story behind ‘Moth to Mouth’. I was really enjoying the power and the magic revolving around creating on the moment, on stage while performing, making up songs, other than just jamming musical instrumental things. Creating songs, lyrics and all, on stage was really thrilling me and I had this little toy that maybe some people are familiar with, called the Magic 8 Ball. You turn it upside down – it’s an 8 ball from your billiards table – you ask it a question, you turn it upside down and then back over again, right side up. It answers you with a voice, with random answers. There’s also an older version of this ball that when you turn it upside down there’s a window on the bottom and there’s a floating, many-sided object inside the 8 ball and on each side of the object there is a different answer so you always get a random again sampling of a limited amount of answers ... all that vaguely don’t really answer anything. I’ve probably confused the whole issue but anyway because of this Magic 8 Ball I realised I could ask the 8 ball questions while performing on stage and by its answers I could weave a story based on the random answers of the Magic 8 Ball and basically that’s how that song was written and what it’s about.

‘Moth to Mouth’ is more or less a one ‘thing’ seeking out another ‘thing’ from far away through secret code. I was very affected by an exhibit, a visual exhibit – film, video and use of visual projected images of Bill Viola at Los Angeles Museum of Art and there was a psychic energy that he had stirred up that I am interested in, and I think that’s reflected in the song ‘Moth to Mouth’.

SF:
How did DVV get involved?. He does the intro to ‘Frankenstein’s Daughter’, right? Are some of his sounds mixed into the song?

MT:
We talk on the phone, and I was walking into my studio with a wireless phone and it creates a ton of noise on the phone, a lot of hissing sound and Don heard that and he thought it sounded really good and musical. Basically that’s him interpreting the natural music of electricity.

He’s only on the intro. Once the song starts the rest of that’s me … hee, hee

SF:
Are you aware of the increased interest in Don’s music recently? Did you see the BBC documentary?

MT:
Of course, it’s pretty hard not to recognise the amount of press that was bestowed upon him in the past year or two … and, no, I did not see the BBC documentary – sure would like to. [thanks to Bill Haines I was able to get a copy of the documentary to Moris - SF]

SF:
Do you perform live at all these days? Do you have a regular band you perform with? Any chance of you playing here in the UK?

MT:
Yes, and if I may mention, we’ll be playing at the debut week of the West Coast Knitting Factory here in Los Angeles on June 21st. Also various other clubs here in the Los Angeles area. I’ll also be playing up in Stockton next month (June), Tucson and Phoenix in July. Yeah, so to answer your question I do play live ‘at all’ these days.

I have a brand new band for this record. I’d been working with the same musicians for the last 10 years or so it’s been very fun and interesting. We all play a bit on everyone else’s instruments and it’s got this ‘about to crumble apart’ feeling to it that I really love. We’re having fun just rehearsing for our first shows out here.

As far as playing over there, I don’t know. But my first record was just released on Proper Records (UK) and that should make it easier to get over there to tour. I’d appreciate any ideas or suggestions or help in that matter. [any booking agents out there interested? - SF]

SF:
What’s your current/next project?

MT:
Currently my attention has been focused on the website – candlebone.com – where my music, video and paintings are available. The site was created with the help of a Justin Sherrill, a gentleman who’s done wonders putting together information on Captain Beefheart on the internet [Justin will be known to SSTS readers as webmaster of Homepagereplica at www.shiningsilence.com - SF]. Further development of the site is credited to Brett Spivey, who is also involved in editing the videos with me.

I have a painting exhibit coming up on July 25th at the Patricia Craig Gallery at Bergamont Station in Santa Monica.

An ongoing and future project is I am growing strawberries this year, this summer for my tortoises.

 

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If you want to get hold of Moris’s CDs (and we recommend them very highly) then they are available from his website www.candlebone.com or direct from Candlebone Records, 12811 Bonaparte Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90066, USA.

Also check out his website for examples of his paintings (you can buy them too!) and for the videos he mentioned in the interview.

 


 

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