|the Tall Bald Grandfathers|
The Tall Bald Grandfathers are the husband and wife team of Ethan Cascio, who plays all instrumentation, and Allison Aaron-Cascio, who does all vocalisations. They run the Hourglass Bird recording studio out of their home in Cambridge, MA.
They may be contacted at:
36 Essex St.
Cambridge, MA 02139 usa
Their work can be found on the following Vuzh Music releases:
the Tall Bald Grandfathers - Incomplete Inheritances
various artists - the Linked Dreams of Lonely Moons
It was also considered for a while that they might contribute to the Unseelie Court recordings, but things didn't work out very well in that respect.
The following is an interview that i conducted with Allison and Ethan way back in 1992 for Concept:Personality 'zine.
c.: Allison, your lyrics seem to concentrate on the dreamlike state of childhood. What was your childhood like?
Allison: Yes, the state of childhood is something I try to retain in my life, or rather to retrieve. My mother became ill with cancer when i was 7 years old, and she ended up dying when I was 10, and me before my mother got sick and me after were definitely different. ... I've definitely been, in this past period of time since college, been retrieving who I was as a child, and the oddness of me as a child. ... I kind of feel myself as a continuous being, and all of it is important to who I am, but definitely my child self that I consider my basic self is very important.
c.: Do you think a child or an adult is more able to relate to the Tall Bald Grandfathers?
Ethan: Well, I'd hope both, actually. I think adults probably have a better frame of reference for understanding it, but I think that it's enough different from other things that kids sometimes just really clue into it, and sort of go 'PING!'
Allison: Some of our songs are purposefully childlike, like on our album-to-be there's a song about me and my parakeet going off into space.
Ethan: It's a good kid's song. It's the core of our coming Raffi rip-off album !
c.: Allison, who are some of the singers you admire and feel have influenced you? And who are some of the other musical influences that informed the TBG sound?
Allison: The vocalists that I always say have influenced me, my trinity of vocalists that I've been influenced by are: Yoko Ono in her primal scream stage, actually when I started to sing, I said that I'd been wanting to let out my Yoko Ono part for a while. Meredith Monk definitely, and Grace Slick.
Ethan: Actually, I was thinking about this question this morning, and something struck me in terms of the raw, screaming level... I can imagine Janis Joplin being an early influence. I hadn't thought of that before.
Allison: That's probably true. Also in creating a dreamlike environment, I think Brian Eno was influential.
Ethan: That's more along the lines of a total music influence because I think he's influenced your lyrical approach sometimes, and also your delivery. He's also influenced my music heavily, so he's an overall influence. ... my influences would be: Brian Eno. Of course the Beatles, they influenced everybody of our generation. Avant-Garde jazz... the Chicago Art Ensemble. Fred Frith with his noise guitar experimentations. Bartok, Bach, and to a certain extent the way Laurie Anderson puts spoken word and music together was an influence on how we structured our music early on.
Allison: I forgot to say I've had an experience with chanting. I grew up in New York and Nisida Yoga Ashram was right in my neighborhood, and I used to go there and chant a lot, and I feel that's where I got my breath control, and that chanting in our early music was totally non-verbal. So it was definitely part of my development. I used to say at the beginning that it grew out of an "ohm".
c.: In some of your songs you've sampled George Herbert Walker Bush, and also Ronald Reagan. What kind of political statement might you be trying to convey?
Ethan: Well... it certainly was political. Those pieces we did around the time of the last election. There certainly is something we want to convey, but I don't think it's a specific message so much as just that we find Reagan and Bush absurd and ridiculous...
Allison: Demonic !!!
Ethan: ... and a little bit scary, and they say a lot about our society and how it's structured and the downside and our times. We were definitely trying to evoke a feeling... picking quotes that exemplified what we think of them. In one of our songs one of my favorite prominent Reagan quotes is "... it was a mistake ...", and I think that sums up our feelings about them pretty well.
Allison: We got so much mileage out of Ronald Reagan's talk when the Iran-Contra thing first unravelled... "...plenty of furniture to move in the weeks and days ahead...", but Ethan has used radio voices as sound elements in his pieces for years, even in all his solo stuff.
Ethan: And I've always liked them as pure sound elements, and they were often contentless ones, so it seemed like a natural thing to throw in those political people and get that "HHFFHFHHHHURGHHH !!!" (obscene gutteral sucking noise)
Allison: Four years ago we very consciously were making an election piece, we'd just upgraded to 8 tracks, and Ethan laid down a piece and I just had the inspiration to open the Tao Te Ching at random, which is something I like to do, open books at random and see what it says, and I just decided to speak and sing from it, and that's our piece on the tape excerpts from: He Stares In Sealamp Colours called "...And Made Them Cry". The words that came out over the samples of Bush... of course anything in the Tao Te Ching would be appropriate, but it was particularly so it seemed; "When a country is confused and in chaos...". I love to use random source materials in our pieces, and they always seem appropriate. I do believe that there is a way that we can all live together in peace and diversity, and that's something that's important to me. ... Often when Ethan and I perform, we start off in chaos and in hell...
Ethan: Hell may be a little extreme.
Allison: ... and then end up being hopeful. I always want to end up on a hopeful or humorous note. Keeping perspective is very important.
c.:How did you meet and decide to start making music together?
Ethan:Well, the two are separated by quite a few years. When I was 18 and Allison was 15 we met on a NYC bus and it turned out we lived 2 blocks away from each other, had lots of friends in common and had never met through any of them. We just saw each other and thought we looked neat.
Allison: November 13, 1978.
Ethan: So we ended up together... During all this period I was playing in an Avant-Garde band in New York called Blasphemy. I was playing bass recorder through electronics. My freshman year in college, I got a 4-track reel-to-reel and started doing a lot of solo stuff, and all through college I was involved in an acoustic improvisatory ensemble with a friend of mine who plays cello that I've been playing with since I was in 9th grade.
Allison: I had been wanting for years to find a way of combining my writing with Ethan's music, because often what would happen when he was working on music in our room in the group house we lived in was that I would start titling his pieces. I love titling things. Or I'd title them, and then be inspired to write a poem, a prose piece or whatever.
It was a hot, August day in 1985, which was the year we got married, and we had wanted to do something together for a long time and I said let's just do it ! There was a piece of writing that I had done that had childhood memories in it, it was very sad, bittersweet, and Ethan constructed a piece of music around that. Our first piece just flew out from that, it was called "Whirlpool". I was in tears by the end of it because all of this primal stuff came out. My grandmother had just died my last year of college and she was like a mother to me, she was my mother's mother, and my mom had died when I was 10 as I said, and her death brought back a lot of that as well as just missing her so much.
Ethan: From then on our musical trip built up and very soon after that point I stopped thinking about doing solo music. It seemed like the music we were doing together was too important. I feel that having Allison come in and begin to sing and bring her direct emotional communication to my music, which up until then had had ints own emotional content certainly, but in a less direct way because it was all instrumental. Allison really gave it that focus and a centerpiece that it had been waiting for.
Allison: I had always found Ethan's music so inspirational. It's been the background of my life for so long, ever since I was a teenager.
Ethan: We had been together for 7 years living together for 4 years when we started to make music together.
c.: What do you want people to get out of your music?
Ethan: I want them to enjoy it, remember it, be struck by it...
Allison: And for it to HAUNT THEM FOREVER AND EVER DEEP INSIDE !!!!!!!
Ethan: I don't think you can get any more specific than that. An interesting thing about our music, not to be egotistical or anything, my feeling was that it had a very limited appeal, it would only appeal to those in the avant-garde and blahblahblah, and Allison always says "Oh, play it for these people, why not?" ... And I'd think "Oh, they're Grateful Deadheads, they're not going to like it" But actually we've found that from playing our music to people who are not versed in unusual music that it has a surprisingly wide appeal, that people who aren't really into unusual music really like it.
Allison: Something that bugs me about the music industry, is that, well all of the commercial arts industries, the film industry... they pander to the lowest common denominator, and I think that most people would really enjoy experiencing things that are more interesting.