Somewhere in the middle of our phone conversation Moris Tepper begins to sound like he is channeling an arcane Hindu text:
"I found molded Sukiyaki right where Rooster stepped out of the bamboo when the bird flew out of his mouth," he says, properly masticating each syllable for later transcription.
This bit of free verse and the story that follows are a not so gentle reminder that when speaking to Moris Tepper, you must allow for the law of water, the path of least resistance. Let the man speak, let the man perform and analyze later--or don't, just accept. A trickster fond of his own word salad, Tepper tells strange tales, fine examples of what this man has contributed to the world of art.
His musical contributions began when he was a teenager, playing with Captain Beefheart in the Magic Band phase II period, working on Shiny Beast, Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow. He followed this by playing on Tom Waits' Frank's Wild Years and briefly touring with Robyn Hitchcock. Most recently, Tepper recorded and toured with Frank Black. He has also put out two solo recordings, toured Europe and the U.S., and developed a reputation as a visual artist. While he sports an impressive musical pedigree, Tepper is still relatively little known.
This may be due to the fact he puts out his own recordings, which can only be bought on his multimedia website Candlebone.com and at live shows. All this should change shortly.
"Until it's in dry ink we wouldn't want to say anything other than it's an anonymous good label," he says, cagey as hell. This "anonymous good label" also has a stable of great producers, and any kind of deal can only step up the distribution of his material. It should only be a matter of exposure.
We'll get to the music, but now back to the molded Sukiyaki:
"The song "Sukiyaki" was big when I was a child in the '60s," he remembers. "It was a love song it seemed like to me from Japan. It was the only Japanese artist and Japanese language song that I can think of that hit No. 1, or at least the top 10 in the pop charts in the early '60s. A Taste of Honey covered it in 1980 and they turned it into a love song because the mood of it (the original) was a love song. So I bought that record thinking it was the original, because there are two girls in kimonos on the cover, and was devastatingly bummed when I got home and played it because it was two black chicks or whatever A Taste of Honey was.
"So one day when I was on the phone with Beefheart, Rooster, my cat, appeared out of the bamboo. I said, 'Hold on man, I think he's got an animal.' And I walked out of the studio and Rooster opened his mouth and a bird flew--it looked like it shot out of his stomach at 80 miles per hour--and flew straight out into the sky. It was the most Hindu, Vedic thing I could imagine. It was like one of those posters came alive, with the 100 arms and elephants and all that shit. It was just a blow mind. Well, at that exact spot where rooster showed up with the bird popping out of his mouth, is where I found this molded 45 of "Sukiyaki" and put it on, forgetting it was A Taste of Honey. So the other day Dutch, my former drummer came in from Chicago, and I was telling him the story, and he walked right back out to his rental car and produced immediately the original version of Sukiyaki."
Moris Tepper has a short time to speak and a whole lot to say. He's so highly quotable and lightning bright that it would have been a perfectly good read if the story had simply begun: "We spoke to Moris Tepper and he said ..." followed by any of 10 surrealist speeches the man shared with us.
Taking a brief pause, Tepper offers an unseen guest a drink, and then one to the interviewer, knowing that each will most likely need it.
Rather than explain that we don't have replicators yet, it is easier to accept his offer; of course it would be nice to have some Korean Shochu. This is indicative of our stream of consciousness conversation. Why disrupt the flow? Forget silly probing questions about the man and his art, his multifaceted nebulous world of expression that mutates from music to visual art to performance pieces to sculpture.
This is what he does: turns his art and himself inside out and puts it on display for your edification. In his live shows, Tepper plays like he speaks, in a high-energy non-linear style, all what feels right, a stumble, a hiccup and then a scream from the fretboards. His voice is worn like an old shoe, imperfect and soulful, cigarettes and ragwater, and this is just the native tongue.
There are swampy ballads and up-tempo, foot-stomping melted rockers and kitchen-sink experiments. Always surprising in his live performances, Tepper and the band challenge you to predict what you will hear 30 seconds from any given moment.
The lines bleed and this is how he likes it. Tepper speaks about Picasso in musical terms, about his music with painterly language, on and on. Little glimpses here and there are all we get: images of Tepper's backyard in Mar Vista, Calif., where Hindu gods come alive and desert tortoises share the turf with a parrot, a cat named Rooster and molded Sukiyaki.
What's next for Moris Tepper you ask? Why, strawberry harvest, of course.
Moris Tepper appears along with Les Payne Product at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 30, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. For more information call 622-8848.