Beaten Tooth: The Indian Lake

Navel-Gazers #4 is an interview with Chris Anderson who is going to talk to us about The Indian Lake, a strange album he and Jeff Jackson recorded as "Beaten Tooth" at a cabin deep in the Adirondack region of New York, a decade ago. This is a work which so captivates me that I once ventured upstate myself in hopes of encountering phenomena such as the Great Spirit and the Ponderosa Beach which are conjured in its lyrics. Listening back to this music in order to prepare for our discussion I was instantly transported to that time and place and I was left with many questions for Chris. I doubt I will ever be able to decipher or comprehend the mysteries of The Indian Lake but let's see if I can come any closer.

AC: Indian Lake is located in upstate New York, which is where you grew up and also where you've lived for much of your adult life. However when "The Indian Lake" was recorded you were not living in upstate New York, you were actually living in Philadelphia which is how I know you. Do you remember why you traveled upstate on this particular occasion or anything notable about the trip?

Chris Anderson: Philadelphia summers in the mid aughts: hot, steamy blacktop and every air conditioner running, creating a heat sink and making it even hotter outdoors. The unnamed band called the Previous by default was on a hiatus. I was looking for some kind of alternate spark for creative collaboration. I called JJ, and somehow we came up with this idea to go to the lake house, off the grid, and record an album using only battery powered electric and acoustic instruments.

I don't know whether I had been to the Indian Lake before that or not. There are a lot of legends surrounding the Abenaki tribe which had lived there in another century, their Chief Sabael, and his wife. Jeff's grandfather built that lake house. It has the aura there, especially that year, of seclusion, mystery, and backwoods, unrecorded history. The kind of feelings and memories that live in the wild trees, grasses, and stones. And then perhaps find a way back into reality through receptive creatures who wish to express something in concert with their experience there.

I do remember personally having the image of a flaming phoenix prior to departing. I felt a real need for a creative rebirth and felt certain that this was the nexus in time and space where it would occur.

AC: In reading up on the Abenaki I stumbled on the figure of Odziozo, a mythical giant said to have existed in the ancient days before creatures evolved legs. The legends say that Odziozo carved out Lake Champlain and other landforms by dragging himself around with his arms. To me that's very reminiscent of The Fish Grew Legs. Had either of you any specific exposure to the Abenaki mythology prior to that visit? Or is there something intrinsic to the locale which inspires this kind of interpretation?

Chris Anderson: I can't say I'd ever heard of Odziozo, but it feels very appropriate that there's a parallel. We nowadays tend to think of individuals and cultures in a binary sense. They exist/they're gone. But nothing is ever really gone. Everything becomes compost. This idea of separate peoples and lives is just a contrivance that has been added. Maybe so that a test question can be prepared from it. Which begs the question of why the knowledge questions are desired. I think it boils down to this - "buy from us". Because that old thing has been rendered unrecognizable enough that it's new for tonight anyway.

I'm currently in a very big and bustling place where every single doorway seemingly has a person standing in it wanting very much to sell you some random thing or another if you make eye contact. So that may be coloring my economic interpretation. But it pertains very much to the song's subject, as I experience it, it's just getting to this strange thing we don't like to talk about which is how ferociously consumptive life often is in its active phase. What tends to be talked about instead is all the cover ups to assuage our unique human guilt about being part of this cycle and being aware of it. Also, our tremendous success which makes us appear so destructive to ourselves. Can you imagine if the fish and everything all felt the same way? But the laws of physics and biology don't ultimately give us an out. We can play a bit with the parameters of the equation, but we can't change the fact that life depends on death and leads to it. It's a bit absurd that there's so much discomfort around it for us, but there you have being human. And the universe won't bat an eyelash at all this, maybe if it could, it's getting a great chuckle out of it.

AC: As with all lyrics, yours may be a red herring. Fundamentally, music is sound and therein lies the story, be it this grim narrative of compost and consumption, the familiar tale of the foreigner in the marketplace or the American blokes at the Indian Lake.

Instrumentally, "The Indian Lake" sounds totally improvised but I can also point to chords and rhythms and other patterns in the music so I've never really been sure. How spontaneous was it actually?

Chris Anderson: That's one thing I don't really understand about those songs either. They sound like songs, like some of the changes are prepared... but I've never played any of those songs before or since. I don't know what tuning they are in or anything. It's tempting to ascribe it to telepathy, channeling or something of that sort, because it's so unusual for me to have so many song-like experiences arrive together at once. Of course, it goes completely against my scientific training and pedigree to dabble in such speculation. That may have something to do with why I've been marginally if at all involved in mainstream science for the last decade or so.

Of course, as you may remember, something like this happened on another occasion, with you, in an even more compressed time period. I retrospectively called that collection Prism Point.

My scientific training insists that I must at least posit some "rational" alternative explanation for such events. Parsimony and all that. However, I'm not really sure what the point is, as science seeks to explain and control things, which perhaps is somehow self-unraveling when it comes to art. If art could be entirely explained, controlled, and reproduced mechanically without "human" input, would it continue to be art? I guess, at heart, I am superstitious about the ultimate nature of things, meta-skeptical of scientific explanation...

Anyway, in brief, nothing about the songs were prepared except that I had a strong desire to write again.

AC: There definitely seems to be something inexplicable or miraculous in art, if not intrinsic to it.. I guess science would suggest that we never technically create anything!

Aside from the improvisation, "The Indian Lake" is stylistically divergent from anything yet covered on Navel-Gazers. Yet it bears one striking resemblance to Martin Clarke's "slides" in particular, which is a quality I call Asymmetry. "The Indian Lake" changes course around a third of the way in, never to return.. the vocals carry on but the electric guitar and the drumkit disappear, leaving hand percussion, exotic stringed instruments and the environmental sounds of the cabin to drift in as the evening approaches. Could you explain how this came about, was it an artistic development, more of a practical thing to do with the battery-powered amps, or both?

Chris Anderson: I'm grasping a bit at the straws of memory to try and procure an answer for you... my experience of the album has overtaken some of my memories of how it actually happened. But I do remember that the dynamic definitely emerged partly in the editing room back in Philly. It is not exactly chronological to what happened at the Indian Lake. There is also an element of the batteries dying, because the PVC pipe amp could only charge from AC power. The other amp used either. There is no AC power at Indian Lake, short of driving a ways to the nearest Stewart's to plug in to a wall socket and eat ice cream and hot dogs for however many hours that took. That was simply not an option with the rate of outpouring we had going on at the time limit we had to be out there. And with one amp down that kind of put the kibosh on the other amplification, because voices would have been drowned out.

AC: I'm surprised to learn that it's not chronological - but not surprised that the memories are hazy!

Ok, one important question I've always had about "The Indian Lake": What's Inside?

Chris Anderson: The Hindu-Urdu dialect translation of Shel Silverstein's "What's in the Sack?"

N a n g .i N a m a z P e r e z

AC: Hmm, just as I suspected..

Out of consideration for our readers I've actually been resisting an urge to carry out this entire interview in enigmatic inside jokes. But I have to ask, does the name Beaten Tooth have anything to do with a certain dentist?

Chris Anderson: Oh man. I want to read that funhouse mirror interview, though. I think Jeff may have wanted to write an alternate dimension version of one, too.

In any case, it's not my fault if your readers lack a depraved enough childhood to know about the 77s; to feel that their music was somehow relevant enough to propagate within their proto-internet enclaves. Pray Naked! Until the sacred cows go home.

As for the Beaten Tooth moniker: the primary inspiration was to come up with a new band name that could also be a Native-American-Indian name. The fact that the tooth got into the name probably does have something to do with the dentist episode. Since we were working on the A.C. Shagazaki album "Man and his Cymbals" at the time, which somehow also contained inspiration from the horrors of that dental chair. Horrors which, mercifully, I barely recall. Though I seem to remember there were more than a few odd stories about that dentist floating around Philly.

In any case, I think teeth are somehow an apt locus for modern people at least to enter into reflections on mortality, and possibly, regeneration. Since most young people listening to [eccentric? asymmetrical?] music are fortunate to have good health, sanitation, adequate calories, and so forth... cavities are probably some of the earliest or more frequent indications for many that they are not in fact invulnerable.

I still like the name. It sort of carries a triple entendre... is this indicating a tooth that has been pummelled on? Is it the name of an "Indian" who has been defeated in a battle, yet still rises to howl? Is it a dental drum? Periodontal percussion?

In my mind, "Beaten Tooth" is the ghost of an Indian warrior who returns to haunt the dreams of the living for many generations. It is uncertain what this spirit being might have in mind, or be up to next.

AC: It's a terrific name. It seems though you didn't like some of the original track titles? I could swear that Kurz (làm ngập) used to be called "Kort"? And wasn't Submerge originally called "Submerges"? There's also an enchanting little bonus track at the end called Oiavsa Gras (DelaiVille) which wan't there before.. Are you out to sabotage my hyperlinks or is "The Indian Lake" just not a fixed, permanent work? Is any artwork or anything around us very fixed or permanent (which I presume is what you're getting at there)?

Chris Anderson: I like your interpretation. I think I just felt that since there had been so many years of it being out of print, such as it is, putting it out again in a different format merited reviewing the project and some editorial decisions. The previous titles didn't really resonate with me, so I changed them a bit.

True, it would have changed even if I hadn't deliberately done it. Originally, I even uploaded some different versions of the tracks without realizing it. That's when I decided that adding a track wouldn't be too dubious. It does come from that excursion, although it is a departure in that it is a more proper "song" that I have been working on over the years. If you can make it out from under the other departure, that is, the heavier digital manipulation...

That song is sometimes called "Waves of Grass" and I am pretty sure it was delivered to my muse on North 5th St. in Northern Liberties. Kirk was either passed out on the floor or heating up sake at the time.

AC: I'll leave our readers to speculate on the personage of Kirk and why he behaves this way.

I do really like "Oiavsa Gras" and its artifice. It's as though you've doubled down on the Asymmetry there.

"The Indian Lake" is produced on a nascent record label, Freakweeds of the Northeast. Freakweeds is home to a vast archive of content that has rarely seen the light of day - I'd like to wrap up by asking whether you have plans to release more of that, or otherwise revive the label? Any other plans for music in the future? Any other art projects? You're also currently living in Vietnam, I'm curious whether this has incited any new activity.

Chris Anderson: Hopefully your readers will have the opportunity to learn more about the parsonage of Kirk on a previous occasion.

Look out for the last question, it's a doozy.

I have a guitar here in Vietnam, already. That was one of the first things I acquired - before a proper motorbike helmet, if that tells you anything about where the priorities lie. I did not bring the Freakweeds archive, along with many other things that would have been useful or interesting, owing to the circumstances of my departure and airline cargo limitations. So I'm afraid any archival releases would have to wait until most likely at the very least the summer, though it is an intriguing thought. I enjoy considering what kind of artwork would go with some of these albums that have a nascent existence but never got released. I'd also like to see what kind of life some of this music could have in the ears of others. Maybe if I get downtime I can work on the website or figure out how to connect some listeners with "The Indian Lake". It's still relatively weird stuff, but there are an awful lot of people in the world, and some of them even have adventurous ears!

So that really leaves me just with the prospect of new releases at the moment. I have a handheld digital recorder here and a cell phone with probably a few hours of random stuff I'm not really aware of on each. Lately things are busy and up in the air. With Tet coming up, I am likely to have a fair amount of time free to myself, and a strange environment of increasingly teeming cities that basically empty out as all the Vietnamese go back to their villages to celebrate for a week or more. Apparently, almost no one is truly native to the large cities. So I suppose that will be a very interesting feeling and psychological environment for me, my guitar and a cat.

AC: I'd be very keen to hear whatever's on that digital recorder. No doubt every bit as uncanny as Prism Point, Man & His Cymbals, The Indian Lake and the rest.

Chris Anderson: I do have a couple of projects I am not yet at liberty to discuss, taking place here in the City for Peace. I am open to new sounds, so if any readers find themselves inspired to travel through Southeast Asia in search of wild and inexplicable bursts of creativity, they are welcome to hit me up. I'll do my utmost to make sure to find a suitable place to sound off; a place that the Great Spirit also likes to visit.

AC: Thanks for doing this interview Chris. You're the first artist outside of London to participate, and it's also been a great way to tap into my own memories from the time. Recordings like "The Indian Lake" are a unique window into the past. Their timeless presence seems to affirm our own, personal recollection of the past and also perhaps the previous. (So to speak). Thanks for keeping our weird tradition alive. Chúc may mắn!

Beaten Tooth can be found at Freakweeds of the Northeast on Bandcamp. Additional Freakweeds-related material is available at Sin Job on Soundcloud. Jeff Jackson has a page on ReverbNation.

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