December 15, 2010

Interview: Floating Action's Seth Kauffman

Photobucket"None of Seth's music feels like some reference or some attempt at a copy. It just feels like the natural extension of who he is as a person." — Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog

Floating Action is the moniker of North Carolina musician Seth Kauffman. Fusing elements of dub with rock, soul, country and the occasional splash of sitar, Kauffman has shaped a distinctively laid back and timeless sound that pops along like a needle on your favorite old groove: a whole-heartedly original, personally curated and unclassifiable vein of funk that's like medicine for the soul. His newest record, Desert Etiquette, is due out February 22nd via Park The Van.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I’m a huge fan. I think I was sold when I first heard “50 Lashes”—I love that high bass riff. And then “Marie Claire”… that whole Floating Action debut is classic.
Man, thank you!

Were you happy with the reception it got? I feel like it’s still making the rounds and being discovered. I know I didn’t stumble upon it until early this year.
No. I'm starting to realize there's a 3 to 4 year delay on people getting my records. Not trying to sound conceited, I feel it's a curse. I made that album Research in '06, and just now, people are clicking with it. It's terrible—causes me to have to psych myself out all the time. Trends that I think are already played out, won't actually be considered played out for a good year and a half.

So many bands these days come from either New York City or southern California. What’s it like making music away from that hubbub in Asheville and Black Mountain? Is it a pretty close musical community?
In my soul I know it's correct, but in my head I know I'm screwing myself success-wise. Black Mountain is so far off the grid. That's what makes it and breaks it. There's always this pull though, that it would be an easier battle if I moved to one of those areas. Can't do NYC, too swampy, no mountains. I could see relocating to Portland though Portland...that'd be a good compromise, right?

I know the name Floating Action came from a vintage drum pedal. Is that a piece of equipment you worked with? What made you decide to switch out your name with it?
Yeah, that's the first and only kick drum pedal I've ever had. I use a leather strap instead of a big metal chain like ones now do. Every time another drummer starts to share that pedal, they change their mind as soon as they hit it.
I was going to call the self-titled album Floating Action by Seth Kauffman, but had long been wanting to switch to a band name rather than my own name. I've always thought band names were much more mysterious and interesting than just some dude. If you're a prolific all-time legend like Bob Dylan or Tom Petty, it's ok...but not for me.

You released your previous band The Choosy Beggar’s album for free on Bandcamp earlier this year. Was that you playing all the instruments? Even violin?
Yes, that was me fumbling through on violin. Everything on that album is either Bryan Cates or myself.

A song like “Good Times, They Dissapper” feels like an old soul number. I don’t hear the reggae or dub influences yet. Is that something you consciously started to incorporate more with your solo material and Floating Action?
Bryan and my musical tastes are so in sync it's kind of gross; except with Jamaican music. The reggae/dub direction is more just mine, I suppose. So yes, I did consciously incorporate that heavily into my own stuff because it wasn't quite right in Choosy Beggars.

You also play with styles from other corners of the world. A song like “Cinder Cone (Part II)” reminds me of Indian and North African music with the drone instrumentation and what I believe is a sitar? Have you done a lot of travelling?
Yes, sitar on that...that was just a spontaneous jam that just seemed awkardly right to follow up the first "Cinder Cone"..."Part II" is a place to come down and reflect on the an opium den decompression chamber.
I did go to Africa back in the day, in 1999 I think. I just went by myself to check stuff out in the bush of Angola.

Then there’s “Dead Reckoning” which is absolutely brilliant but completely unclassifiable. How’d you like recording for Weathervane? Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken acted as a producer of sorts for you—was that something new, working with a producer?
Thanks! Weathervane is super great, and one of the only studios I've worked in where you didn't have to fight to get non-cheesy sounds.
Yes, that was the first time someone else had produced for me. But Scott almost seems like the brother I never had. I feel like we can spur each other on infinitely by following crazy ideas. I had a super chill Beach House direction in mind for that song, but it was Scott who it took into a harder realm.

As far as I know, you’ve played every instrument on every record you’ve released. Does that continue with Desert Etiquette?
On Desert Etiquette I played everything, except for pedal steel on the last track, "Rogue River."  That was Matt Smith from Asheville, who I've driven through the night many a time with, and made up crazy stuff with. One time while driving through the night in rural Pennsylvania, we made up a nightclub called Frollicker's Mild.
But on the self-titled, I got the great country songwriter Shannon Whitworth to sing on a couple. I also got four Jamaican girls who are friends of my wife to sing. And I got the mindblowingly amazing Maxine Gwynn to sing on some. She's sung in gospel groups her whole life, and used to back some cool soul groups back in the 60's.

What’s it like having band members translate all of your individually recorded parts to a live setting? Is there a Seth 101 crash course?
Ha! No, it's more like "this guy's cool, I think he could do it."

Desert Etiquette is named after a legend your sister told you. Is there a story behind that? How did she hear the legend?
A friend of hers had gone on a desert tour in the Middle East, where they take you to some famous ancient oasis. Apparently there's a super old cup there that for centuries people have left there for the next person to use. When my sister relayed the story to me, she said "it's kind of desert etiquette for them to leave the cup for the next person."

How does it fit in with the vibe of the record?
The record has a lot of space, it's not a harsh, in your face record. In that sense there is kind of an etiquette to it; a respect. And in my mind, there's sort of a vast, calm, darkness to the record...not unlike a desert. Calling it that seemed so right.

I understand the recording process for the record was much more condensed than usual. What inspired you to change your work habits and dive in like that? You completed the record in just a few days?
Every song I write and every record I've made, I keep trying to make it hard on myself by trying something I've never tried before. I'd done sprawling and spontaneous before, but hadn't done concise.
I actually started recording this record at Echo Mountain studio in Asheville, and wasn't sold on the sounds I was getting. So combine that frustration with the stress of knowing you're paying a ton of money you don't have for studio time...I think that gave me a burst of intensity to just do it at home and knock it out with great fervor. I ended up getting the whole album recorded in 48 hours.

We’d love to have you out on the west coast, especially up here in Portland. Are there any plans for a national tour for Desert Etiquette?
We'd love to play Portland too! The record comes out at the end of February, and we're planning on being on the west coast in March. We're doing everything we can to make sure there's a stop in Portland!

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, if your band Floating Action were an animal, what animal would it be?
A krill.

Floating Action - "Well Hidden" (from Desert Etiquette)
Floating Action - "Eye of A Needle" (from Desert Etiquette)

Floating Action

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