Record store culture is in the blood of Jeffrey Alexander.
“I’m a complete record nerd,” said the Dire Wolves band member. “Just like everybody who plays this kind of music, I’m sure."
He fell hard for record stores in the late 1970s, so much so he ended up working at record stores for years after that.
“That was pretty much my only job for a few decades,” laughed Alexander. “I’ve moved around a lot, but the last few record stores I worked at were in Providence, Rhode Island. There’s something very enjoyable about listening to stuff on headphones … finding things you can really connect with … and also records just sound better. They really do.”
Alexander plays guitar, moog, and wooden sax for the psych-rock improvisational quintet that makes a return appearance Wednesday at Bloomington record store Reverberation Vinyl.
He's also an occasional taper of other artist’s concerts.
“For me the goal is to get great sound,” said Alexander. “It’s also about documenting an event and being able to go back to it later, or share it with other people who weren’t there. So having a great recording is part of that.”
Alexander doesn’t consider himself an avid taper, but does get excited about specific recording dates.
“Some of my favorites include some Pearls Before Swine that are pretty hard to find,” said Alexander.
He also values a Pentangle taping from the same 1970 tour that included a stop at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Editor’s note: If you ask Reverberation Vinyl owner John Anderson nicely, he may share his taping of last year’s Dire Wolves appearance at this store.
So how does an improvisational band that prides itself on playing a song differently than previous performances (or even the album version) even begin a song?
“Perhaps we’ll pick a key,” said Alexander. “For example we may elect to start a song in C minor. Or we’ll just get together and pick a story. We’ll take turns. For example the drummer Sheila (Bosco) might say, ‘OK now we’re going to play something that is like walking in the woods and you come up to an empty field with a lot of birds.’ You know, some story where we then create the soundtrack.”
How do you know when you’re done?
“You know we don’t always know when we’re done,” laughed Alexander. “We have a couple riffs we can return to so maybe someone will start playing that and we’ll go in a different direction that way. There are a few little signposts or guide points we have, but the majority of it is improv. And our vocalist Georgia (Carbone) uses her voice as an instrument. She’ll make up words and her own lyrical sculptures in the moment.”
Nobody is going to confuse the sound of Dire Wolves with the swinging Duke Ellington band, but there is a similar sensibility between the psych-rock quintet that can stretch to seven members to perhaps late era Miles Davis, who often confounded fans by incorporating rock and other sounds into his music.
“We approach our music the same way a lot of jazz musicians approach music,” said Alexander. “Jazz musicians are probably much more musically educated than I am, so I don’t think I can hold myself in that realm, but I aspire to it.”
He said Dire Wolves has had some write-ups and reviews in jazz magazines.
“I think we play a jazzy sort of thing but within a rock environment,” said Alexander.
Perhaps not unlike what Miles was doing in 1970 on his two song, 40-minute “Jack Johnson” album?
“I mean, thank you,” laughed Alexander. “I don’t know if we’re anywhere near that greatness, but I really appreciate that. The most satisfying and rewarding thing about playing music is just getting out of your head and comfort zone and completely listening to what’s happening, and creating a new uncharted improvisational jam.”
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