It’s been no secret that Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is my favorite band. When they disbanded, it left me feeling hollow inside. When I heard that former members were creating a new band, it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending the very first show of Free Salamander Exhibit. I was not disappointed. The rhythmic complexity, creative energy, and mesmerizing stage presence that had drawn me to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum were all still present, but also different (in a good way) at the same time. Nils Frykdahl, Dan Rathburn (both from the most recent Sleepytime lineup), David Shamrock (from an earlier Sleepytime lineup), and Drew Wheeler were kind enough to answer a few questions after the show. The band lineup also features Michael Mellender from the previous Sleepytime lineup, but he was unfortunately unavailable during the interview.
Kyler: Well my first question concerns Sleepytime. With the sad dissolution of that band, you had mentioned a final album and a live DVD. I was just curious if you knew a timeframe on that?
Dan: No, not really
Nils: No, I don’t really have a time frame, although we are about to launch our fundraiser campaign towards those projects. We finally finished the fundraising trailer.
Kyler: Oh, so is it gonna be a Kickstarter?
Nils: We have to do that now, because none of us make that stuff, we have to wait until the people that are our friends who do make that kinda stuff are ready, and now they’re ready.
David: So yeah, it’s raising money for that and then it will happen.
Kyler: Ok. So no ballpark estimate at all?
Nils: *laughs* Not really, sorry. ‘Cause I keep thinking it already happened but then I realize, no, all we’ve been doing is rehearsing Free Salamander Exhibit. We haven’t really done any fundraising. I saw the movie recently, the mini-movie, and I was entertained.
David: The movie to entice people to contribute.
Kyler: Well we’ll be sure to link that on our website when you do get it. So with the new Free Salamander Exhibit, for me at least the title seems to suggest at least some sort of connection to Sleepytime Gorrilla Museum?
Nils: Well, certainly, yes, I had hoped that it would be pretty much obvious to people that had liked Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. They would hear that name and immediately be like, “Whoa, that’s probably their new band, Free Salamander Exhibit!” *laughs* Probably because there’s already…
Kyler: Brand recognition?
Nils: Yeah, it’s in the fine print, on the old records, you know. Plus the name is almost identical.
Nils: But you know, given that, it’s real interesting to realize that it’s a different thing. It’s a different time, it’s a different thing.
Kyler: We were a little disappointed to find that it was advertised as a free exhibit, but we had to pay to get in.
Drew: No, you didn’t pay for us though.
Nils: The first part was totally free, you paid for the music.
Drew: You paid for the other two bands.
Kyler: And you were a bonus.
Matt: We thought that maybe like the salamanders were free.
Nils: Yeah they totally are. They didn’t even come. They’re free to not even show up. *laughs*
Kyler: So how did you come up with the name?
Nils: Well, I didn’t.
Drew: Who did?
Nils: I don’t even know.
Kyler: It just kinda happened?
David: I don’t know how it came about either.
Nils: From 1916 or something? It’s old.
David: Yeah, so we don’t know exactly how it came about.
Kyler: How did the costumes come about? The baskets?
Nils: We enjoy hanging out in certain parts of the world, man. We were just in a particular place where, what you wear when you’re here… you just gotta put a basket on your head.
David: It was not an obvious choice. There were several ideas. I think it would be informative to say we were looking at the National Geographic.
Nils: National Geographic is a perennial favorite.
David: We were inspired by some of the outfits that we saw in a National Geographic article, and it was talking about rituals of, of what?
Drew: Traditional European wild men.
Nils: All these countries have some surviving relic of somebody dressing up in animal skins or like *laughs* sheaves of wheat terrorizing the countryside on a specific day of the year *laughs* so it’s ok, cause that’s just, you know, what the men do. There has to be one in every region.
Drew: There’s a traditional wild man that’s like a 12 foot tall sheaf of wheat… guy. And I was like, I would like to wear that outfit. Then they said, well…
Nils: *laughs* Well if you think our outfits are awkward you should see these sheaves of wheat. Like armor.
Dan: They looked very uncomfortable
Drew: Yeah, very fantastical
Dan: And we were hoping to go for a similarly itchy kind of an outfit.
Kyler: You don’t like to be comfortable when you play.
Dan: No. Well, not yet.
Drew: I believe at this point we were kind of like the kings of itchrock.
David: So yeah, there was quite a bit of research that went into it.
Dan: And we also really liked the way Nil’s four-year old daughter looked with a basket over her head.
Kyer: So all of you are previously members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at some point except for Drew, right? So how did you come about to join the group? Was it part of the email, like the audition thing? I got one of those emails.
Drew: Kind of, yeah. I’ve been a fan of their works since Idiot Flesh. Sleepytime obviously was like a big deal. My wife actually used to sing with David, and I’ve had other friends, I’ve kind of been like one degree of separation away from pretty much everyone in the band for a long time. And then, I think the others posted a sort of call for musicians on the Sleepytime webpage. And I responded, I was like, I think I have everything that you’re looking for, and somehow they let me in. So that was nice.
Kyler: So what specifically does Drew bring that you didn’t have before?
Drew: I don’t know if I bring anything that they didn’t have before.
David: We had a lead player before Drew, so Drew brings another electric guitar, and Drew also brings a wonderful sound palate to the band, and gives us a lot of new colors, tonally, and a great personality, great to work with, and we hope he writes some great material soon.
Drew: Basically a willingness to do whatever absurdities need to be done.
David: Very flexible
Drew: Yeah, I try.
Kyler: OK, great, well we’ll probably wrap it up soon because it is late, but are we looking at a possible Free Salamander Exhibit album sometime soon, or some sort of recorded material?
Drew: I hope so
David: Yes we hope to record very soon, I would love to record very soon, I feel like we’ve got a good album’s worth of material. So yes, soon. Soon. It’s a matter of getting everyone’s schedules in line. And you know, that will happen. Within the next year.
Nils: There’s still a lot of music where we’re like, “ok now I know what order these parts go in,” but as far as being able to…you know. We can also put down stuff and shape it in the studio too.
David: Yeah there are some bands that like to start out with a cd and then go out and play and we just happen to be playing first. Then we’ll record.
Matt: Are you guys planning on doing a number of local gigs and stuff?
Nils: Yeah, we’ll play.
Drew: That’s the plan.
Kyler: Will you tour? Will you come to Salt Lake?
Nils: We have plans to go to the Northwest but no plans really to tour anything across the middle.
Drew: We’re talking about spring touring.
Kyler: How do the songs come together? Does it start as a jam session, does one person write most of it?
Dan: Almost all of the songs start with just one person.
Kyler: And they just bring that and then everybody else kinda builds around that?
Dan: Sometimes they’re almost completely finished but then sometimes they get elaborated and taking turns in the rehearsal process
Kyler: Is that different from how it functioned during Sleepytime?
Dan: No, that’s how Sleepytime was. Same basic process. We didn’t go into this band trying to make it different from Sleepytime. The main difference is that each of us are thinking of slightly different things and writing slightly different songs. We’re still just writing the songs that we’re thinking of.
Drew: And I’m not Carla.
Dan: And you’re not Carla.
Drew: So there’s that. Other than that it’s the same.
Nils: This version of Sleepytime never existed, with Dave and Michael as part of the same band, so you know, that just feels really different.
Dan: Dave and Michael are always at each other’s throats. We have a little divider we put in between them.
Kyler: Well, is there anything you’re dying to add as a last remark?
David: We wish you luck with your website and keep up the good work.
Nils: Did you hear Darling Freakhead’s prog rock speech?
Kyler: No, uh uh.
Drew: Darling Freakhead’s a fuckin’ force of nature.
Nils: ‘Kay, so Darling Freakhead, this guy right here, at his show at the Stork Club, he made a speech about prog rock, and he was not playing a particularly prog set, for him he was kinda focusing more on his like 80’s death rock with his phazered out guitar… All of a sudden he stops and is like, “Prog rock! Yeah!” *laughs* cause he can really rip, he can really scream. And he was like “Prog rock! You gotta listen to it! It’s rare! Rare, it’s fuckin’ rad! Listen to prog crazy rock instead of pop! Blah blah, it’s rare! Blah blah!”
(Darling Freakhead comes over)
Nils: He’s made progressive rock a theme, it’s a veritable theme in your music.
Darling Freakhead: Yeah well I was saying, whatever you want to call the listeners of progressive music, they are so so happy to get a hold of such a rarity, or whatever you want to call it, that they’re just going to latch on and not leave, you know. To me it’s like progressive music is like a family, you know. It’s just the dedication – the listeners are very dedicated. And so you know, I was kind of screaming it before that progressive music will never die, ever, because it can’t, because nobody will let it, because they’re so happy to have it. It will constantly continue, it will always be there. When everything else comes and goes, it will still be there.