Spilling Audio was ( and still is) run by Eric Hausmann, now of Portland, Oregon. In addition to his solo music he would also release compilation tapes on specific themes. Above and below, the cassette “No Dub” which was home recorded songs by various artists all recorded live, no overdubbing. Artists included Russ Stedman, Screamin’ Popeyes, Big City Orchestra, Little Fyodor and others, including yours truly.
interview with Eric Hausmann
When did you first hear about the tape trading scene?
I discovered home recording enthusiasts who were trading tapes back when Factsheet Five was in existence, during the original Mike Gunderloy years. I was living in Albany, New York and we had just started carrying Factsheet Five in a store I was working at. I eventually took on some freelance projects for Mike, working from his home, and as a result, I also began writing music reviews for Factsheet Five and over the course of a summer, I discovered all these new resources for trading, selling and buying new underground music from around the world. When I first saw a list of all the releases Carl Howard’s aT label had already put out, I was completely amazed.
Were you already recording your own music?
Yes, even before this discovery I had released 2 solo cassette albums (“Black Paint Chips” and “Backbones of Lost Dogs”), along with a couple of releases by the bands I was performing with.
Eric also released his own music and continues to do so. His “Big Guitars” tape is a classic instrumental foray and his more recent “Solo Traveler” continues his musical explorations.
Eric Hausmann’s 2010 release, “Slow Ambient Dub” is one of his finest works incorporating instrumental guitar prowess with the power and essence of dub.
Another recent release features Hausmann in a group setting with vocalist Tiffany Lee Brown among others in an experimental pop mode called Brainwarmer. This one was not on Spilling Audio but appears on the Corporate Collapse label.
One of Eric’s group activities is called Tres Gone. On this release the group is expanded to a sextet and features renowned clarinetist, Perry Robinson.
The 1994 cassette on Spilling Audio “Redrum” featured Qubais Reed Ghazala, John Herron, Peter Hinds, Your Host Bobby, Eric Hausmann, Ken Clinger, Dimthingshine, David Barnes and several others.
When did Spilling Audio begin and how did you come up with the name?
Spilling Audio was a label name I used on “Black Paint Chips,” my very first solo cassette. I think this was sometime around the late 80’s/early 90’s. I had the cassette on consignment at a few local record stores, so I figured I should have an actual label name, since it was so official and all. The name Spilling Audio comes from the title of a improvised piece of ambient music I recorded with Hank Jansen called “Spilling Shadows.”
In addition to your own solo work, Spilling Audio released compilation tapes with “themes”. You put out a drum tape, a live (no overdubbing) tape that I know of. Were there others?
After I moved from New York to Seattle, I started asking people for submissions and releasing theme-based compilations. The first one, simply titled “Drum,” received so many excellent submissions, that a single 90 minute cassette wasn’t nearly enough to accommodate. Shortly thereafter I released “Redrum” and finally “Repercussion.” The percussive-based compilations were by far the most popular.
As you mentioned, there was also “No Dub” – every track was recorded live with no overdubs. It sounds simple enough now, but back then, a lot of people involved in underground homemade music were people who often recorded alone with not much more than a 4-track cassette deck, and taking advantage of this new technology with every new recording. This comp was especially interesting to me, because I was hearing a lot of talented musicians who were making things that I found both interesting and original, but everything had layers. I really wanted to hear what people would do in a more live, intimate setting. It ended up being a fascinating collection of songs and more varied than I was expecting.
Are there themes that you wanted to develop into releases but did not?
Yes, there were at least 2 other compilations that I had hoped to release, but for a number of reasons, never saw the light of day.
“Scratch” – a compilation of songs made using homemade instruments or devices that were not intended to be musical. I did receive a few submission tracks. My favorites were the Screamin’ Popeyes playing a trailer, and dimthingshine playing his back yard.
The other was to be a collection of David Bowie covers called “Is it Any Wonder?”
Early on, before the home taper involvement were you in rock bands in your area?
Sure. I played in several bands, most of which didn’t make much of an impact outside of the local scene. Most memorably, I played drums in Ancient Chinese Secret, percussion and baritone horn with Amscray Amok, and I also played trumpet, drums, keyboards and anything else I could get my hands on in Locust Pudding.
Was guitar your first and main instrument?
I started learning music at age 6 when I first started taking violin lessons. After a year or so I migrated to the cello. At some point I started trumpet lessons which continued throughout most of my school years. The only reason I even started playing the trumpet was because, when I was a kid, I’d heard this really cool guitar sound on an Emerson Lake and Palmer album. I asked someone what instrument it was, and they said, “That’s a trumpet.” Not knowing any better, I started learning the trumpet. Before realizing the faulty information I was given, I remember thinking it must be really hard to be able to make those kind of sounds with a horn.
When I finally discovered the guitar, I was 13. I taught myself using my older sister’s abandoned half size Sears acoustic. I played along to my Foghat Live album. I mastered the single string version of “Slow Ride” and was on my way. I eventually upgraded to another Sears guitar, but this one was an electric SG copy. Eventually, I also started teaching myself how to play the drums.
Did you ever sell many Spilling Audio tapes or were they primarily used for trades?
They were mostly traded, but I did also sell a fair amount of cassettes through mail order. They were pretty cheap though, mostly between 3-5 dollars each (postage included). At this stage, I really was more concerned with getting music out there, and trying to come close to breaking even.
Did you ever put ads in any underground publications?
Sometimes, yes. I ran paid ads in a few of the larger zines. Gajoob, Factsheet Five, and others. I traded tapes for ad space with a lot of smaller publications.
Is there a catalog still online somewhere?
Spilling Audio is still running. Do you still offer the old tapes or have you digitized them to CD?
I’ve remastered about half of my solo cassettes to CD, and a few other releases. I would actually like to rerelease the “Drum” series compilations, but it’s been a long time since they originally were created. Ideally, I’d like to have permission to rerelease them from all the contributors but I know that’s no longer possible given how much time has passed. I still may do it though.
More recently it appears that Spilling Audio has focused on your own material and no more compilation or theme tapes. Is this just a matter of time and focus on your part?
Yes, those are exactly the reasons. Most of the music I’ve been writing and recording for the past few years is much more deliberate and focused than a lot of what I’ve done in the past. For a very long time, I would take the approach of coming up with a single idea and moving forward, each step influencing the next, which is a really satisfying to work, but also indulgent and often ends up as another experiment. Sure, you can point to it and think, “Hey, that’s really cool how it all came together” but if it actually works as a piece is sometimes just getting lucky.
More recently, I’ve taken a more planned approach while still allowing for plenty of experimentation along the way. I still record experiments, but I’m more selective about what tracks are going to be released.
As for time, the strange thing is, as you get older, you mysteriously have less time to do all the things you want to do. I’m not even sure why that is, because it’s not exclusive to people who are now parents; it seems to happen to most everyone.
You have also collaborated with others, both live and recorded I believe. What do you like about this process?
I love collaborating. It’s a whole new experience each time. It challenges you to work in different ways (both stylistically and logistically), and you think about music from another artist’s vision, rather than just your own perspective, or for that matter, a listener’s perspective.
You also have done live gigs with your improvising ensemble, Tres Gone. What appeals to you about the improv process?
Yes, I’ve played many shows with Tres Gone, an all improvisational trio with Mike Mahaffay (drums), Scott Steele (guitar) and myself. We’ve played together long enough that we’re all intimately familiar with each others playing style and abilities, but we can still surprise the hell out of each other. Strict improvisation without any sort of framework is really interesting. The idea of it is basically an experiment, and you strive to make that experiment produce something wonderfully surprising and magical. Often it does not. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of “free music” out there that doesn’t take you anywhere. Sometimes it’s a jam, and other times it’s just meandering and aimless. But when it comes together, it becomes significant. It starts to create an energy between the musicians that’s very exciting. With improv, there’s a thrill in seeing (or hearing) your combined experiment come to life, and evolve into something special that you didn’t anticipate. Of course, being that it is an experiment, it can also fall flat on its face too. It’s all part of the process.
Talk about some of your musical influences and favorites.
I listen to a lot of different music, and I love a well-executed soundtrack. As far as specific artist influences, I’m a huge fan of Bill Laswell. He’s an extremely talented bassist, but it’s his production that interests me most. He has an ability to create something totally new and cool out of an unlikely combination of people and instruments.
I also listen to a lot of Anoushka Shankar. Not only is she one of the world’s most talented sitarists, but her past few albums have successfully married Hindustani sounds with more modern music elements. A lot of people are attempting this now, but often what happens is the electronics and beat machines have a tendency to overshadow a well-executed sitar or tabla performance. I think that can still be enjoyable, but an album like Anoushka’s “Rise” travels from delicate to haunting to pulse-pounding all in one perfect trip. This is a piece of work that sets the bar much higher, and is probably the most played album I own.
Other artists I admire and make me want to make music include: David Sylvian, dub-era Clash, old Aerosmith, Eno, Pat Metheny, Terje Rypdal, Grant Lee Phillips, Zakir Hussain, Beastie Boys, Karsh Kale, Talvin Singh, Cheb I Sabbah, Bad Brains, DJ Spooky, The SIGIT, Dub Trio, Cream, Nithyasree Mahadevan, Hendrix, Zorn, Steve Tibbetts, Gingger Shankar, King Tubby and Lee Perry, Adrian Belew, Opeth, Cesaria Evora, Chicago (during the 70’s), Lhasa de Sela, the Nomads, Jagjit Singh. I could keep going but this list would easily grow to several pages in no time.
Your guitar talents are exhibited strongly on many of your works like, “Big Guitars” and “Slow Ambient Dub”. Do you practice a lot?
Not as much as I would like to, or should. I’ve never really thought of myself as a talented guitarist in the way you might think of someone who has a lot of chops and can wow you with a lot of skill and dexterity. I’m extremely comfortable with the guitar and feel I have a lot of control over what I’m able to do with it. It’s a combination of knowing your limitations, exercising restraint and a great deal of focus. I think it’s probably true with all the instruments I play, that I take a more stylistic approach to playing and concentrate on being able to bring good ideas to life.
You have an interest in world music as well with your tabla studies and more. When learning these instruments do you actually learn something about the instruments you already play?
Absolutely! It first become obviously apparent to me when I started playing a 10-string Chapman Stick. The Stick is a two-handed tapping instrument with the left hand reserved for bass while the right is for melody, much like a piano. After spending a lot of time with this instrument, I started transferring some of this to my guitar playing. Now, I sometimes form pressed chords, or bass lines, with one hand while doing something completely different with the other.
A few years back I started learning about Brazilian samba while playing a surdo with a local batucada group. This made me think about rhythm in new ways that I hadn’t thought of. But it was when I decided I wanted to start learning to play tabla, sitar and generally dig deep into Indian classical music, that I was propelled me into a whole new dimension. I’ve always loved the sounds of the instruments in Hindustani music, the direction of melody, the combination of musical discipline and improvisation—there’s nothing else quite like it.
A couple of years ago I started weekly tabla lessons with a fantastic teacher who’s been playing since he was a small child. It takes a good long time to get going on the tabla, or maybe that’s just my experience. Once I learned the bohls, I started playing with better form and posture. Following that was a concentration on precision and tone, and that focus alone has transferred to all instruments that I play now.
What do you learn about yourself from playing and recording music?
I guess it depends on the nature of a project, if there are other artists involved, even the environment I’m in. I’ve discovered that if I have clear ideas, or even a clear vision of what I’m about to do, that I like to immerse myself and keep working until I’m too tired to do anymore. Coffee or tea are helpful.
What kind of goals/projects do you foresee for the future?
I’m almost done with a new CD. It’s just 1 track, about 50 minutes long. It’ll be released in July or August.
Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of a power prog type of record. Lots of odd time signatures, grooves and all sorts of guitar sounds. I think it’s somewhat indulgent for guitar players to do this kind of thing, and I don’t claim to be any exception, but I think I can pull it off as long as it’s tastefully complex with a minimum of guitar solo wankery.
I’m certain I will release another instrumental dub album. I’m still self conscious about my playing but I would like to add more tabla this time. On the Slow Ambient Dub album, I kept my tabla playing to a minimum and never really stepped up into the light with it.
I’d also like to take on some more soundtrack projects. I recently recorded a soundtrack for a short interview style film and it forced me to create something I would have never dreamed up on my own, had it not been the influence of the film’s character. I really enjoy that—when you create something you didn’t know you had inside you, or were even capable of accomplishing.
Do you think Cassette Culture has a lasting legacy?
I think cassettes are quickly becoming a thing of the past, like most non-digital audio/video storage devices. I still have a ton of cassettes, filling several boxes but I rarely play them. I think a lot of people now have a nostalgic admiration for cassettes. (I miss listening to music and seeing those little gears go round and round.) I guess the same could be said for 8-tracks and vinyl too, but the difference (at least for us, as recording artists) is that the cassette was our tool for the job as well as being our completed project. We were all recording our music onto cassettes with a multi-track recorder so we could then make stereo cassettes to give to other people. It’s funny. I’m trying to think of some other type of artistic expression with a similar formula.
The internet offers speed and easy access to one’s music and life. Do you think this aspect lessens the excitement of the discovery, for example, of getting a package in the post and the tactile sensation? Or is it just different?
I’ve been a hardcore Apple/Mac nerd for a long time, so I embrace new technology and am excited by all the different ways I’m able to work on projects now. I crave efficiency when I’m recording, so having a high-speed internet connection and a respectable recording rig is a must. Anything that makes the process smoother, means I can dive deeper into the creative process. And when it comes to collaborating, I can now have a real time exchange of ideas with other artists, regardless of distance. Most recently, I’ve collaborated with Ken Clinger, and also with Space Gambus Experiment in Malaysia. As a result, there’s a good chance I will record and/or perform with them in person later this year while traveling through parts of Asia.
On the other hand, I do think there was a unique sort of excitement you’d feel when you’d see a couple of new cassettes in your mailbox. I remember many days where I was anxiously waiting for the mail to be delivered. I don’t get nearly as jazzed over new email messages. Okay, sometimes I do.
Compare the home taping community of the past with today’s social media scene. For awhile I felt it more superficial but have come around to a different perspective. To me, it’s all about what one puts into it. However, is it truly communicative or is it more of a one way street with people just pushing their agendas and not actually interacting? Your take?
It feels very different now than it used to, but it’s really just a different way of doing the same things I was doing before. In the past, I would flip back and forth between two different modes. There was the artist, recording and playing every night (while new mail would pile up) until the recording comes out the way I want. Then I would switch gears and obsess on designing a new Spilling Audio catalog, running off copies of cassettes, answer mail, make photocopies and bring stacks of cassette mailers to the post office.
I think it’s still about how much of your heart and soul you’re putting into your projects. Music and art have been around since the beginning of time. The social and media aspects are constantly changing, and while, sometimes, I think it can be occasionally annoying, there are other times it affords new opportunities as things change and develop. For me, I’m sometimes forced to work with blinders on, because it can be distracting and before you know it, the internet has taken that precious block of time you had plans for, and eaten it. I’m certainly better at recording music than I am at getting online and telling everyone about it. But I see people who are very good and doing both. People who openly communicate about their projects, thoughts and ideas, and are initiating lots of good feedback and dialogue. These people are robots, and I need to crack their code. But in the end, right now is an outstanding time to be a recording artist.
Listen to some of Eric Hausmann’s music at Soundcloud.