Q&A With Miles Kurosky

MilesKuroskyqaPortland, Ore.-based Miles Kurosky is what old-time journalists used to call a “great quote.” He’s one of the few interview subjects you’ll find in the music biz these days who’s totally unafraid to step on a few toes to get his point across. And he’s got the musical chops to back up his shoot-from-the-hip posture. Kurosky’s previous band, Beulah, was a true California original, good enough to catch the ear of pop genius Robert Schneider of Apples In Stereo, who released the first Beulah album under the banner of the Elephant 6 collective. As is the case with other creative one-man shows (Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, for example) the transition from band to solo career is as simple as painting a new name on the office’s glass door. The Desert Of Shallow Effects (Majordomo) is every bit as exhilarating as anything Kurosky has ever cut. Read more about Beulah.

“Dead Language Blues” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/DeadLanguageBlues.mp3

MAGNET: “An Apple For An Apple,” from your solo debut, details health problems. Are you feeling OK these days?
Kurosky: Yeah, the apple of science versus the apple of religion. Adam and Eve versus Newton. I had some shoulder problems in one of my arms, had a few surgeries on that. Then my tendons were getting caught on screws and the surgery didn’t take. They had to go back in and do it again. That took about a year and a half to rehab that arm. But I couldn’t play guitar very well because I couldn’t open the wing of my arm enough to put the guitar underneath.

Like the story where the guys comes out of surgery and asks the doc, “Will I be able to play piano?” The doctor says, “Of course.” And the patient says, “Great, I never could before.”
Then I got diagnosed with an intestinal disease, which led to kidney problems. I had chronic kidney stones that would get stuck in my ureter. And if it gets stuck, you can’t pee, which is very dangerous. In the space of a few years, that was my life: five, maybe six, surgeries, I can’t remember. Getting old is a bitch, isn’t it? It’s crazy. My body just fell apart all at once. I’m starting to tour tomorrow and I have a cold.

Well, at least that’s fairly pedestrian, unless you have to do a lot of flying. Do you still play some of the Beulah songs live or just the new stuff?
I’ll play a few of the Beulah songs because it seems the kids want ’em. I have no problem with that. It’s not like they’re asking me to do a cover.

I see you recorded some of your new album in Eagle Rock in Los Angeles. I’ve done some work in a studio in Eagle Rock. Are there a lot of studios in Eagle Rock?
I don’t know about proper ones. This was sort of this guy’s house.

This was a place called Penguin that specializes in working with vintage material.
Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that. Too bad it’s in such a shitty city. I grew up there. I just don’t like the sort of general disposition. I think Los Angeles belongs to the triumvirate of evil in terms of cities along with Miami and Las Vegas. A lot of the stereotypes and the clichés about L.A. are absolutely true, you know. People are not as nice. They’re caught up with a bunch of superficialities. For lack of a better word, they’re a bunch of douchebags. What I like about Portland is people are nice. People are friendly. People are helpful. People are kind. Whereas you just feel everyone’s aggressive in Los Angeles. People think that people in L.A. are laid back. That is not the truth. I’ve never met a more aggressive people. I think they’re more aggressive in L.A. than they are in New York.

Have you run into this thing in L.A. where people are categorized as either winners or losers? Nobody in between.
See, that’s just it. And not only that, most of the losers think they are somebody. And the way they show they’re somebody is just by buying things, like having rims on their fancy car. These people with shitty apartments with tinfoil curtains will have a Porsche, you know? They’re an odd people. Almost like on American Idol, just a bunch of delusionals. I hate that place. I’m sure the last good era was checking out the ’60s, the Whisky and the Sunset Strip. And the ’70s were kinda OK, but after that …

What I remember most about the ’80s in L.A.—and I spent a bit of time down there—were good bands like Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate at Club Lingerie, then all this endless parade of horrible hair bands playing places like Coconut Teaszer. That’s when I think it all started going to hell.
Yeah, hair bands, and also in the ’80s they started destroying their architectural heritage, which was really unique. Really interesting buildings that just made way for mini-malls. It’s just a sprawl, just a mess.

Tell me why Beulah rode off into the sunset.
The reasons why all bands break up. Or a guy and girl break up. We’d run our course. You grow up and realize you can’t always be in a band. Sometimes breaking up is one of the best thing that happens for some bands. We’d done what we’d done. I couldn’t see us going into our 50s or 60s and playing in a band. And most people don’t. They go on with life. That’s the thing about rock ‘n’ roll: You have a lifespan, you die, and your bones fertilize the next bands that come along. That’s how it works. We’re probably both big fans of Love, and seeing Arthur Lee come out and play a few times, it’s cool. The Zombies, too, when they had their reunion—fantastic musicians. But you get the sense you can’t go back and relive stuff. It’s just not the same. There’s a real fine line between that and those oldies shows they do on PBS.

Yeah, old guys who can barely get up onstage.
I’ve seen Steppenwolf trying to rock it out. If that’s what you want … But it seemed silly to carry on and make a solo record and keep the (Beulah) name.

I like the tracks on your new album with heavy instrumentation, using a big group of players.
Yeah, it kind of has a modern psychedelia to it.

I know a bit about big bands, and I couldn’t even tell what you were trying to do.
Yeah, I don’t know what I was trying to do, either. I just put stuff in. I wanted to make it really exciting, like a mini White Album. I was going for something really eclectic that kept your interest. No matter how many times you listen to it on headphones, you hear something different.

That’s probably the best thing about the White Album: It’s all over the map.
Yeah, sure, it’s one of the Beatles albums that’s gotten the most grief. I remember watching that Anthology documentary and Paul McCartney saying, “It’s the Beatles. It’s the White Album. What are you complaining about?” I think it’s one of their best records because it is so odd. My wife and I recently took just the Paul tracks and made a record and just the John tracks and made a record. I’m a John fan, but if you take John’s best songs from that album and Paul’s best songs, Paul’s stand up better.

I always thought Paul could hold his own with John.
John’s all get very similar. They’re cool because they’re great songs, but they’re all the same tempo. Paul’s are like “Blackbird,” “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” and “Helter Skelter.”

And the pop stuff, like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.”
Exactly. That would have made an amazing solo record for Paul. I’m familiar with Motown and Stax, but recently I’ve really gotten into African soul music from the ’60s or Cambodian soul. It’s like they all had one James Brown record and a bunch of broken instruments.

That’s my favorite thing about music: You’ll never run out. There’s always something out there you haven’t heard, even if you stay up all night. Why The Desert Of Shallow Effects for your album title?
It’s a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright about Los Angeles. He called it a “desert of shallow effects.” When I was living there making the record, there was a grander quote about how we live our lives. You have to add up your sum, your worth. It seemed perfect at the time because I was getting into Buddhism. My wife grew up as a Buddhist, and I got into it. Then her uncle is the Buddhist minister of Palo Alto, he married us. Her family helped build the Oakland Buddhist temple. As I got into it, I thought, “Wow, this makes sense to me.” At least you should recognize your life as a desert of shallow effects and then, hopefully, do something worthwhile and substantial.

The last Beulah album I got was (2001’s) The Coast Is Never Clear. I totally missed the fourth one, (2003’s) Yoko. Are you a big fan of Yoko Ono?
Yeah. I mean, I was. I’m a fan of certain things. Anyone with as big a discography as hers, you like certain things, right? She’s an interesting character. Made a name for herself, musically, but in some ways she’s more a cultural icon.

Did you see her tour last month with the Plastic Ono Band? I saw her play in Oakland and was kinda disappointed. Maybe I was expecting too much. It just seemed a little on the safe side. She started out trying to do some funk. And it wasn’t quite happening.
I’m a bigger Beatles fan. I like more what she represents. She’s bemoaned by all those Beatles fans out there, but the story wouldn’t be complete without her. She makes the story far more provocative and interesting. Obviously, Beulah weren’t the Beatles, but I thought that’s what I wanted to do, go out before people stopped caring and we started playing smaller places.

Ever see Robert Schneider anymore? The first Beulah album came out on Elephant 6, and I saw you play with the Apples In Stereo once.
I haven’t seen Robert in a while, but he sent me a text recently, just telling me how much he liked the new songs. He’s fantastic. He’s actually one of the true good guys of rock ‘n’ roll. There are plenty of people in this industry who get tagged as good guys. But I know some of these people, and they’re just complete fakes. There are plenty of schmucks who people think are nice, but Robert’s the real deal. We used to say that Robert has love Tourette’s. It’s unabated, and he has no filter. He can’t help himself from hugging you and showing that he cares about you.

—Jud Cost

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