Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Avant-garde rock band Doctor Nerve will be performing at Zappanale in about three weeks.
Here's a short chat with guitarist, composer and Doctor Nerve band leader Nick Didkovsky.

UniMuta : Hi Nick, it's good to hear that Doctor Nerve will be at Zappanale. I know that Doctor Nerve has performed all over the world already, but how does it feel to come over to Europe again? Does Doctor Nerve get many opportunities to tour, to perform in clubs or at festivals?

Nick Didkovsky : It's an honor to be invited! Thanks to Charly Heidenreich and everyone at Arf-Society, all our Kickstarter supporters (over 100 people contributed to this effort), and the folks at MidAtlantic Arts. We really worked hard to get all eight of us over here. It was a huge effort and very satisfying to reach our goal with support from so many people.

We've done a lot of touring in Europe, and haven't been back in much too long... so this feels both exciting and familiar at the same time. Nerve's been rolling for over 25 years, so you can imagine the many layers of experience and memories that an experience like this triggers!

We keep moving forward, having recently recorded a number of new pieces in the studio (you'll hear these at the show). We've got new musicians in the band, and we just did some gigs before coming here... so there's a stream of creative activity and forward motion that's apparent when viewed the inside, that may not be obvious to people who know us only through our record releases and European tours.

UniMuta : People with the weirdest taste in music come to Zappanale, but they do have one common factor they're all into the music of Frank Zappa. Will this be influencing your setlist? What can we expect?

Nick Didkovsky : You can expect a seriously high energy cross section of the Doctor Nerve legacy! This includes tunes from each of our albums, some conducted improvisation (one of my favorite parts of the set), and five unreleased pieces which are all European premieres.

Our conducted improvisation uses a compact set of hand signals that lets the band respond quickly to where I want to take them and enables me to respond very quickly to where they want to go. Some of the new tunes follow the heavier direction that our record SKIN ushered in. And a couple of the new pieces were composed by software and are pretty freaky. One of them is going to require some audience participation, so watch for it!

I think Nerve fans are going to dig this show because we're playing a healthy cross section of our existing repertoire, but we're not just look backwards, as we've got a lot of new music in the set. I hope we'll make new friends with those in the Zappanale audience who've never heard us before. I certainly think Zappa fans will relate to the model of a composer-guitarist leading a band that plays complex rock music. But there's a meta-similarity that sort of stands above these kinds of comparisons, where I think a deeper connection will be felt: something like an iconoclastic "we do what we want" commitment that I think we share with Frank and his fans.

While I'm at it, I'm also proud to introduce two new band members: Jesse Krakow on bass and Ben Herrington on trombone. Some of your audience might know Jesse from the Beefheart cover band "Fast 'n' Bulbous". And Ben's been a member of the venerable Meridian Arts Ensemble forever, who are some of the world's finest interpreters of Zappa's music. Ben tells the story of when Meridian visited Frank when he was too sick to travel, and played them their arrangements of some of his pieces, and he was very touched by it.

UniMuta : You're a computer music program developer, so I guess you're quite well-acquainted with the digitalisation of the musical world. What do you think of the recent developments in the music industry with downloadable albums, iTunes and the ikes versus the old-fashioned vinyl or CD. Do you think that the CD will disappear how do you feel about that?

Nick Didkovsky : Well first I should say that my use of computers in music is focused on writing software that creates compositions. So I am no digital music industry expert! But I do have some thoughts about it.

For experiencing recorded music, I think few things are cooler than the tactile and visual experience of a vinyl record! Staring at the cover art while listening to the music. Reading the liner notes, flipping the cover over, studying all the details of its design. There's also the wonderful notion of an A side and a B side, and how bands used to take creative advantage of that format; as a listener you'd have a favorite side for a while then at some point your tastes might change and the other side would become your favorite. There's that great sound when you turn up the stereo and first put the needle down; you hear that loud "thunk" when the needle hits the vinyl and then slips into the groove, and you brace yourself for the sonic assault. That's delicious. And of course the spinning label when viewed from above, and the optical illusions there... I love vinyl. But honestly I don't miss it much from the point of view of releasing my own music. Mastering a vinyl record's a pain. Out of phase signals are a disaster (we had some cool deliberately out of phase signals on the first Nerve record and it wasn't until the music was re-released on CD that I could hear the sound as it was originally intended). And vinyl hates to get louder as the needle moves closed to the center of the platter, and that may not jibe with the artist's musical intent. And there's no random access on vinyl (you might be familiar with the 44 Nerve Events on our "Beta 14 Ok" CD, each on its own CD track. Listeners can program their CD players to drop these odd little mini compositions between the longer tracks, or put the whole record in shuffle play so you'd get a few of these short pieces between the longer ones). So really I don't miss vinyl, but as a fetish object, let's be honest you can't beat it. As for CD's, it's a very odd feeling for me to buy a new CD, rip it into iTunes and then hold that CD in my hand and feel that its nature has somehow changed. It feels like a dry empty husk, like I sucked everything out of it and now it's not useful any more except as backup storage. Some bands spend a lot of energy on making the CD something special with creative booklet design, and I appreciate that as well as the high resolution audio you get from CD's. But I think the CD object is threatened even more by digital distribution than vinyl is.

What I like about digital distribution is that for the first time in my life I have just as much "shelf space' as any other artist. I mean, you can search for "Doctor Nerve" in iTunes Music Store, and you'll get to my music just as fast as you can get to any other artist. There's no hierarchy. My record is never out of stock. There's no warehouse, no shelf space to compete over, no leaving some CD's on consignment and hoping you get paid for them. These are all good things.

What I don't like about digital distribution is the fragmentation of the body of work that constitutes an "Album". I wonder if the notion of an album will disappear entirely. I think it's almost a little melancholy to think of somebody downloading just one or two tunes based on a few seconds of a preview, instead of experiencing the entire body of work. When I think of all the time and energy I put into sequencing tunes and how they flow into each other, it's a shame that this musical arch is so easily dismantled by selective downloading. I think if we had track-based digital distribution when I was a kid, I'd probably have missed some great music, like the more obscure tracks on a record that tend to grow on you over time. And downloading will never be as rich an experience as going into a small record shop run by music aficionados. Both from the point of view of supporting a small business as well as the relationship you can develop with the guys in the shop who can turn you on to new things every time you enter the store... the small record store run by music fans is a precious resource that I hope can hold on in the face of digital distribution.

UniMuta : Talking guitars, have seen pictures of you with different guitars. What guitar do you usually play? Is that the one that you also take out on the road? what kind of effects & amps do you use.

Nick Didkovsky : The guitar on the first Nerve record was Gibson L6-S with a Dimarzio dual sound humbucker in the bridge position. 24 fret neck, really liked that guitar, it screamed. Although the neck was ridiculously narrow at the nut and I consciously tended to avoid playing down there since it was so crowded! The L6-S was stolen and I bought a Gibson Les Paul from my friend Steve MacLean who worked in a music store at the time (you might know Steve from the first Nerve record, or from his own records on ReR). The moment I played the Les Paul I remember saying to myself, "This is the guitar I should have been playing all my life". It felt that good, that natural. The sustain was awesome. That red Les Paul was the main Nerve guitar for about a decade (in fact I recently "rediscovered" this Les Paul, and it's become my main guitar in my metal band Häßliche Luftmasken). But at a point I felt like I wanted some changes to achieve a variety of sounds, specifically 24 frets, a whammy bar, and coil tapping. I got turned on to Paul Reed Smith guitars (again by Steve!). My PRS Custom 24 is a great instrument, very versatile. I played that starting with the Doctor Nerve SKIN record, where I was exploring a heavier guitar tone. This is the guitar I'm bringing to Zappanale.

More recently I scored a 1967 Gibson SG Special (with P-90 pickups, similar to the one Pete Townshend and Tony Iommi played), and this is probably the single most inspiring guitar I've ever played in my life. For over a year, playing it was the first thing I'd think about in the morning and the last thing I'd do before going to sleep. I'm still obsessed with that guitar (you can see it on all my YouTube Sabbath lessons). More recently I grabbed a '92 SG, this one with stock humbuckers which I think I'll replace with Fralins, and I recently inherited a '65 Gibson Melody Maker that has a very unique tone and feel. All have strong personalities. But I can only bring one guitar on tour and that's the PRS, since I need the versatility.

Amps have been a real head trip. I am in a state of almost continuous dissatisfaction. I crave an amp that will give me a pedal friendly clean tone with a high gain channel that can reach into metal territory, and be able to cover the rock vibe as well. I used a Line 6 Flextone amp for a while, and with its modeling capabilities, I've been able to get a wide range of tones out of it. I recorded the Bone record with it, and have used it live with both Nerve and Bone. But the arrival of that '67 SG broke open an amp quest that's really spun out of control... I've been looking for an amp that will deliver some serious sonics, respond quickly and feel like it's in a tightly bonded relationship with the guitar. I've bought, returned, and sold a lot of amps over the last couple of years... the list is embarrassingly long and is marked both with disappointments and happy discoveries. My current stack is comprised of two Marshall Valvestate 8100 heads and two Harry Kolbe 1x12 closed back ported cabs (some of your readers may recognize the 8100 as the sound of Chuck Schuldiner's guitar in Death). I tune one of the 8100's bright and the other dark and run them in parallel and the sound is pretty intense. Surprisingly the 8100 cleans up well too. But there's some issues with it, so I'm thinking my next amp might be a two channel head built by Ben Fargen, with a Marshall side and a Fender blackface clean side. Fargen's Marshall design solves some problems associated with the original Marshalls, adding more gain on tap, more bottom end, and more discrete eq controls. One amp I really enjoy is the 15 watt Vox Night Train. Not enough teeth for Nerve but it responds to the guitar in a beautiful and intuitive way. I love that thing and won't ever sell it. I used it to record the bonus track for the Hugh Hopper benefit CD The Gift of Purpose (Cuneiform Records), and some beautiful tones oozed out of that amp.

UniMuta : And you're not just into composing and playing. My friend Danny Mathys told me that you produced the Ornithozozy album by belgian band Fukkeduk in the early ninetees (which I fnd fascinating because I live in Belgium). The band only made one album (and featured the great Bart Maris on trumpet). Do yo have any recollections of this project?

Nick Didkovsky : Well I remember laughing a lot. The sense of humor in that band was absurdist and as we got to know each other it got more and more colorful. Fukkeduk was an interesting band because it had such a wide range of personalities in it. Some truly astounding talent in that group, very strong compositions, very strong solos, wide open mind about music... great people, and hilarious too. One of the most rewarding experiences was working with Frank Ghysels on his guitar tone. He was a very intuitive player who could run hot or cold depending on his sound, and I was very satisfied that I helped him achieve a tone that opened his floodgates. He did some great soloing on that record.

It was also the first time my PRS was recorded. The band invited me to do a solo on Jan Kuijke's tune, and as I'd brought my new PRS along to Belgium, I premiered it on Ornithozozy.

Other recollections include Nic Roseeuw having just gotten a kitten and this little thing was so intense it single-handedly chased a couple of big neighborhood cats out of his back yard... we'd hear this chorus of cat screams and kitten wailing during the great territorial conquest. Later I bought a toy for the kitten but it overstimulated that thing too much and Nic threw the toy away because giving it a toy was like injecting caffeine into a chihuahua. Freaky little cat. Anyway, working with Fukkeduk was a great experience, and I'm very proud to be a part of that record.

UniMuta : That's a great story. I'm glad to hear that you had a good time working with Fukkeduk.
Really looking forward to your Zappanale concert.
Thanks for the interview & see you in Bad Doberan.

Doctor Nerve will be performing at Zappanale on Friday, August 19, 2011.
Better be there !!

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