Sunday, November 16, 2014

Alan Bishop 13 Questions

Photo Frank Schmitt

Alan Bishop is an American musician, born in Michigan, co-founder of Sun City Girls with his  brother Richard Bishop and drummer Charles Gocher (November 12, 1952 – February 19, 2007) in Arizona, 1981. He has also released solo material under the aliases Alvarius B. and Uncle Jim.

Alvarius B. alias started with 1994's self-titled recordings and followed four years later with another double self-titled release. "Alvarius B is an enigma with elements of sociopathy and a deft collusion of the beautiful, the musically sublime and the sarcastically, hilariously caustic...". The music was an perverted version of the Sun City Girls' free-thinking experiments that wound together post-punk theater, improvisation,nonsense and musical traditions from around the world into a prolific and audacious catalog. While the first Alvarius B. disc collected some 32 short and noisy acoustic guitar sketches Bishop recorded on cassette between 1981 and 1989, later discs found him working as a lo-fi-style home-recording songwriter. Thirty-two instrumental acoustic guitar excursions into a realm of weird rustic beauty that sketch retro-portraits of several folk guitar styles, from abrasive to delicate. Brothers Alan and Richard Bishop, embarked on a tour of the United States and Canada in May 2008, called "The Brothers Unconnected" in tribute to Charles' death, featuring showings of the man's video works and stripped-down, acoustic versions of selected Sun City Girls songs, including several tracks written by Gocher himself.

Photo Benjamin Siebert

Sun City Girls are not really a 'Band' but more of a factory of ideas; musical, artistic, philosophical and beyond. They are the epitome of DIY, having recorded, toured, traveled, researched, and hustled for over two decades creating an archive of music, film, writing, Art, etc., with their own financial and associate resources. Because of their fearless approach, bizarre performances, and trickster reputation, there are many legends spread about them: some TRUE, some half-true, some false, yet many of their more 'extreme resumé entries' will probably remain, for the most part, unknown. Every mystery revealed about them seems to create even more mystery. There is a strange energy surrounding them and an honesty about their presentation which separates (and isolates) them from the entertainment industry. They are THEIR OWN entertainment industry, entertaining themselves. 
Tom Vague (Vague Magazine)

 Photo Frank Schmitt

He is the co-founder, along with Hisham Mayet, of Sublime Frequencies, a Seattle-based record label focused on "acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers," mostly from Southeast Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. The releases are primarily divided into four categories: field recordings, folk and pop compilations, radio collages from specific geographic locales, and DVDs. In the early 2000s, as Sublime Frequencies got off the ground, Bishop grew more productive as Alvarius B., issuing albums throughout the decade.In words of Alexander Provan: "Bishop’s ethnomusicological mission is certainly deserving of its own documentary; his obvious, insatiable passion for these musical cultures and their living artifacts, along with his idiosyncratic tastes, imbues the Sublime Frequencies’ releases with a simple, even naïve, but always overpowering exuberance. But Bishop would rather “leave the over-analyzation to those who undoubtedly will suffocate the world music community with praise for this music in the future.” Bishop has released more than 70 records, introducing previously poorly know musical genres from Syria, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Niger, Thailand, India, Morocco, Egypt, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Algeria, Turkey and from anywhere.

Photo Frank Schmitt

By 2005's Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset, the scope of Alvarius B. grew broader, leaving his sense of absurdity intact but pulling in more of the Sun City Girls' eclecticism and employing more fleshed-out production that could sometimes find Bishop sounding consonant and even gentle. Lurid lyrics, deep emotion, isolation mixed with the best political feeling, that one mediated by poetry and acute self awareness. No limits genre, perfectly sculpted from the boundaries of every border, overwhelmed by a new folk genus, still (always) in training, looking for (creating) its own space. Released in 2011, Baroque Primitiva continued the trend, including covers of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" and John Barry's "You Only Live Twice." Baroque Primitiva is perhaps Bishop’s most heart-on-the-sleeve declaration of love for Ennio Morricone.Throughout, Bishop continued traveling, researching, and recording for Sublime Frequencies, which forged relationships with a generation of contemporary African guitar bands, including Group Inerane, Group Agadez, Group Bombino, and others.

Photo by Hannah Cooper

Since 2011, Bishop has been living in Cairo, composing & recording new Alvarius B. material while simultaneously establishing his own Egyptian-based band, The Invisible Hands, the English translation of the band's original Egyptian Arabic name: El Ayadi El Khafeyya, a transcontinental collaboration between Alan  and four stellar young musicians from Cairo, Egypt: Cherif El Masri, Aya Hemeda (both formerly of the popular Egyptian group Eskenderella), Adham Zidan and Magued Nagati.Arabic and english sinister versions, drenched in lovely psychedelic folk arrangements and vocal choruses with a nod to what could have potentially been an album that surfaced decades ago but instead found its way into the future, superimposed over historic and tumultuous times in the center of the Arab world. The group was established during the summer of 2011 and his first album was recorded in Cairo in May of 2012, including the colalborations of Sam Shalabi (Shalabi Effect/Land Of Kush) on oud and Mohamed Medhat on violin and viola.

What do you recall about your guitar learning process?

I taught myself from listening to the radio and playing records. The turning point came when I was 16 years old, from a dream where I was perfectly performing a Black Sabbath song on guitar and when I awoke, I was angry that I couldn’t play a guitar at all. But in that dream I was playing beautifully as if I really did know how to play lead guitar. I was extremely frustrated and disappointed. So, within 6 months of that dream, after buying my first guitar and putting in some obsessive work and dedication, I was well on my way to actually playing the guitar, thanks to Tony Iommi. Fortunately, I continued to unlearn everything from that point onward.

What's the main difference between your last and your first recording, in terms of experience?

There is absolutely no difference. I feel I have accomplished nothing and that I am still working on my first album.

What do you remember about your first instrument?

It was my mother’s upright piano in our house as a child. I remember my brother and I taking piano lessons and hating the teacher. His name was Randy Pfeiffer and my mom initially commissioned him to paint portraits of Rick and I, he was one of her high school students and I hated that portrait he made of me that my parents hung on the living room wall for all to see. Then, as if she was rubbing salt into the wound, our mother hired him to give us piano lessons. He brought small busts of Beethoven and Chopin to place on the piano to inspire us to play more often. He was so utterly clinical and boring and we hated him so much that we smashed those little statues and then he knew we were not interested in tucking in our shirts and becoming academics with no personality or sense of humor the rest of our lives.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

All previous works are in the rear view mirror and I would rather keep my eyes out of focus on what’s ahead.

How would you define the present time in musical terms?

I don’t know how to define anything (and neither does anyone else) but I know for sure we’re not in any type of renaissance period. Perhaps we’re living in the anti-renaissance. We need to create it ourselves instead of hoping it happens because it’s not happening.  Sadly, I think a fair amount of creative artists and those involved in facilitating the creative arts are going to have to be imprisoned, maimed, injured, even guillotined before we can move forward.

What is the difference for you between playing alone or in a group? What do you prefer?

I prefer the diversity of doing both. Today it’s much easier for me to play solo yet it’s more challenging & rewarding playing with others.

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

Never trust anyone in the music business.

Alan Bishop & Sam Shalabi at Sharjah’s 10th Biennial, United Arab Emirates, (18/3/11)

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music.

It’s not about a particular piece of music for me as much as it was meeting specific people when I was younger (1980-1982) who turned me on to many forms and concepts in music and with whom I collaborated with to reach unique territory. Charles Gocher (Sun City Girls) introduced me to a more discerning and vibrant world of jazz music, and was the first drummer I played with who could improvise extremely well and that changed everything for me. Another was Jesse Srogoncik (Paris 1942) who lent me his record collection to record on cassettes & had some crazy ideas, encouraged my crazy ideas and introduced me to Moe Tucker. What Jesse may have lacked in technical abilities, he more than made up for in energy, imagination and sheer determination. David Oliphant (Maybe Mental) was the first person that made electronic/noise music (called Industrial Music at the time) sound artful to me so I embraced it.

What's the last guitar you bought?

A cheap Yamaha acoustic guitar in Dubai when I was there with Sam Shalabi in 2011 working on a joint composition, which became the guitar I now keep in Cairo. I don’t care about having nice guitars and gear. I will play anything and make it work for me. I refuse to be a slave to the economy of illusion. If one cannot make a $100 guitar sound as great as a $2000 guitar, they are complete fucking losers. I prefer to take the extra $1900 I saved to purchase a room full of hammers so that I can pound all those losers into the ground with them.

Photo Olgu Aytac
Sugar: The Other White Meat (2003)

 Alvarius B (of Sun City Girls fame) and Dylan Nyoukis (one-half of the UK's Decaer Pinga/Prick Decay). Side A of the LP features each of the two in solo mode: Alvarius with five songs of varying length and Dylan with one twelve minute piece. The B side of the LP is a side-long collaborative track.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?  What were other early records you bought?

I don’t remember the first, it was in the mid-1960s and it was probably pop music like the Beatles, The Monkees, Glen Campbell or Tom Jones, something like that. When I first discovered Jimi Hendrix right around the time he died, I bought everything I could find of his music in any format available - my first record collecting obsession. I spent all the money I had on records in the early and mid 70s. My brother and I worked for my dad in his store from when we were 5 years old onward, got cheated out of childhood summers and school vacations learning how to run his Army & Navy store instead while all our pals were fucking off being kids. But we always had spending money and then we started playing poker with our less clever friends and making even more so we were buying records every week from as early as 10 years old. The last record I bought was a spoken word LP by Hunter S Thompson called “My Last Words ate the ghost of Dutch Schultz”.

Where are your roots? What are your main influences?

My roots are music from the 1950s and 60s. My influences mainly come from western pop, rock, folk, soul, psychedelic, jazz and film scores to music from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America.

What do you dream, musically speaking, about?

Paying off the lighting crew and security at the Grammy awards to shut off the lights and drop 1 million giant cockroaches (painted with dayglo by a Bay Area friend of mine who specializes in such activity) from the ceiling onto the audience…after a few seconds of the attendees thinking how wonderful this blacklight glitter rain was and that it must be some kind of cute trick the Grammy’s had arranged, they would realize that the roaches were real and crawling all over them. A few music executives would have strokes and heart attacks so my friends working as LA paramedics might get paid what they deserve that evening.

THE INVISIBLE HANDS A documentary by Marina Gioti & Georges Salameh (in development). Produced by Haos Film & MeMSéA

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I’m working on a new solo recording project and I joined up with a trio called “The Dwarfs of East Agouza” with Sam Shalabi & Maurice Louca in Cairo.

Photo Islam Mohamed

Selected Discography

Alvarius B.: s/t LP (Abduction: ABDT-004) 1994; CD 2006


Alvarius B.: s/t Double LP (Abduction: ABDT-011) 1998 / Double CD (Abduction: ABDT-011) 2012


Alvarius B. & Cerberus Shoal: The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal CD (Northeast Indie: NEI27) 2002

Alvarius B. & Dylan Nyoukis: Sugar: The Other White Meat LP (Catsup Plate Records: 717) 2003

Alvarius B.: Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset LP (Abduction: ABDT032) 2005 / CS (Plus Tapes: PT37) 2010 / CD (Abduction: ABDT032) 2011

Uncle Jim: Uncle Jim's Superstars of Greenwich Meantime LP (Black Velvet Fuckere Records) 2005 / CD (Abduction: ABDT036) 2006

Alan Bishop & Richard Bishop: The Brothers Unconnected CD (Abduction: ABDT042) 2008

Alvarius B.: Baroque Primitiva LP (Poon Village: LP006) / CD (Abduction: ABDT046) 2011

Brother Unconnected: Unrock The House 2-LP (Unrock: LP002) 2012


The Invisible Hands: S/T CD / Double LP (Abduction: ABDT050) 2013

Alvarius B.: Fuck You and the Horse You Rode In On LP (Abduction: ABDT052) 2013

Alan Bishop: Radio Moderna CS (Alterity 101: ALTERITY 2) 2013

Alvarius B. / Sir Richard Bishop: If You Don't Like It...DON'T! LP (Three Lobed Recordings: TLR-104) 2014

Alvarius B.: What One Man Can Do With An Acoustic Guitar, Surely Another Can Do With His Hands Around The Neck Of God LP (Abduction: ABDT053) 2014

The Invisible Hands: Teslam CD (Abduction: ABDT054) 2014

7-inch Vinyl

Alvarius B.: Burmese Military Mandolin / Cadenza Freedom Vol. 1 7" (Chocolate Monk) 1999


Uncle Jim: Uncle Jim's True Confessions of Homeland Security 7" (Empirical) 2003

 The Invisible Hands: Insect Dilemma/Disallowed 7" (Abduction: ABDT051) 2013

Alvarius B.: 7" compilation w/ Hayfever magazine #3 1996

Alvarius B.: Color in Absence Sound CD (Hell's Half Halo: HHCD-08) 1999

Alvarius B.: "Sleep Gunner" on You Can Never Go Fast Enough LP/CD (Plain Records: plain 103) 2002

Alvarius B.: "Dukun Burial Song" on Hip Hop Shop Sweepers Vol. 1 CDR (777was666) 2006.

Uncle Jim: "The Exploding Santa" on ...And Shiva Came For Charlie compilation LP (Ri Be Xibalba: OQ'EBAL 002) 2008

Alvarius B.: "El Gomhoreya" on Eight Trails, One Path LP (Three Lobed Recordings: TLR-091) 2012

Alvarius B.: "Goodbaby Goodbye" on Your Victorian Breasts 2-LP (Three:Four Recorda: TFR017) 2013

Other Credits

Compiler: Princess Nicotine LP (Majora) 1994 / CD (Sublime Frequencies) 2003

Compiler / Liner Notes: Morricone 2000 LP (Dagored: Red 105-1) and CD (Dagored: Red 105-2) 1999

Compiler / Liner Notes: Morricone 2001 LP (Dagored: Red 125-1) and CD (Dagored: Red 125-2) 2000

Compiler: Ennio Morricone: Crime and Dissonance 2-CD compilation (Ipecac: IPC-066) 2005
Sublime Frequencies

Compiler: Victrola Favorites Vol. 4: Alvarius Burmese

Vocals: Sam Shalabi Music for Arabs CD (Majuma Music: mm-21) 2014

Guitar: Cameron Michael Nichols-Rage Let's Play CD (Readymade Tapes: rt-qs'93023) 2014

Sun City Girls Discogs | Sublime FrequenciesMyspace | Wikipedia

Photo Marina Gioti