Long before I had a studio and an interest in pursuing a career in music, my ambitions were simple: I wanted to be a Beatle. It was years before I learned that, hell, my whole generation wanted to be a Beatle. We all took up the guitar that Sunday night in February 1964, sending my friends and me all on the same course.
After fooling around with the guitar and drums, I found a real love of playing the piano. When I was 10, we had an old beat-up piano that I couldn't stay off of. As I got older I joined my brothers in forming a band, and together we moved here to Los Angeles.
All my ambitions to become a studio owner, engineer and record producer were the direct result of wanting to make records of my own music. This page contains some details on some of that music. Though I never became a Beatle, and it has not been easy at times as there were probably many more setbacks than triumphs, putting these pages together reminded me of just how lucky I have been to make a living doing what I do. -- Travis
Travis Dickerson: piano, B3, vocals
Lindy Dickerson: guitar
Paul Ill: bass
D.J. Bonebrake: drums
I know most of the interest, if any, in my music is based on the dozen or so records I have made and released on this site since the late '90s. This CD, released in 2012, bears no resemblance to those. It was inspired by a milestone year and a desire to express it in a stripped-down, thick-and-crunchy rock record.
All my CDs released on TDRS up to this point had been instrumental records. Although I really enjoy making instrumental records, there is an expression that can be realized only in a vocal record: a need to tell a story and the emotion the human voice imparts to that story. There is a craft and challenge to songwriting I have always enjoyed, and somewhere a decade ago I got sidetracked and left that part of my writing aside.
So that brings us to this record. I knew what I wanted to say and I knew who I wanted to play on it, but I didn't know who I wanted to say it. I did all the vocals as a demo for the eventual real singer. In the process I came to feel that if I wanted to be honest, this is my story and I should be the one to tell it.
So, it's all me, for better or worse. I know I'll leave a lot of folks behind, but I still needed to do it. So, rather than blindly subjecting you to this music, I am offering an EP of three of the songs as a free download in the humble hope that you will come to enjoy it in some small part as much as I enjoyed making it. -- Travis
I started “Iconography” in 2008 as a solo CD. Like so many attempts to record with a collection of friends as my own CD, many of the early songs got turned into other efforts, in this case “The Dragons Of Eden.”
However, once "Eden" was done, I tried not to become distracted so I could finish this.
I have worked with all the people on this CD many times over the years; they are people I admire as musicians as well as for being good people.
I started early in 2009 by building up tracks and getting the arrangements the way I wanted. Next I brought in the drummer for each song. I had a pretty good idea which drummer would work best with each song.
“Legerdemain” was the first track that drums were added to. I had worked with Doane Perry for many years, with Vince DiCola and Jethro Tull and many others, so I was really excited to have him on a few tracks. He's a powerful and precise drummer with great ideas and the perfect feel for “Legerdemain.”
Next I asked Buckethead to come in and take a pass or two. Normally with stuff we do, that’s what he does and I work with the tracks after the fact. Mostly it's solos and riffs, very few chords because it's improvised. In this case he took a lot of time to learn the chord changes and came up with some great parts. I'm a big fan of parts. Next Cameron Stone came in. What can I say? Everything Cameron does is magic. He always adds more than you could ever imagine for the song. His feel and melodic and lyrical playing are always perfect.
I then asked Paul Ill to play bass. Paul is an amazing player with great ideas and one of the best work ethics of anyone I have ever worked with. He studies the track and writes out the arrangement and works everything out perfectly.
I did “Commemoration” next, with the same lineup. This is one of my favorite tracks on the record. Again, superb playing by everyone involved; all stayed completely attuned to the mood I was trying to achieve.
Next were “Hue and Cry” and “Horology.” I asked Ramy Antoun to play drums on the tracks I had already started. I am always most fortunate when Ramy plays on anything I do, as he is one of the most gifted drummers I know, and I know a few. He stayed on to play “Pi” as well.
After the first session, there was no question I was going to have Paul play bass on all the tracks. I also asked my brother Lindy to play guitar on these. He's a superb player with a great touch, feeling and tone. He brought an aesthetic I wasn't going to get with any other guitar player.
Also, I had worked with violinist Scarlet Rivera on several projects and was thrilled when she said yes after I asked her to play on my record. Of course I was a fan from her playing with Dylan, but I don't think most people realize what a deep and accomplished player she is. Her sense of melody and effortless articulation were the perfect match for what I was trying to do.
Next I did “Wheedle.” I asked my good friend DJ Bonebrake to play on this. We have been playing together for years but, oddly, hadn't recorded together in a while. DJ is a powerful drummer, as anyone who's a fan of X knows. But what many don't know is that he is also an accomplished and technical drummer in all different styles. Doing this session rekindled the love I have of playing with him, and now we have several projects in the pipeline.
The next set, I asked Brain to play on “Amaranthine,” “Principia” and “Scansion.” Brain brings a wild kinetic energy to the mix. I am so lucky to have the pleasure of working with all these great drummers.
The last tracks, “Pi” and “The Children of Nyx,” I wanted to be a bit different. For “The Children of Nyx” I thought just Cameron and I would be all that was necessary to present the melody, and the space around the playing was more important than a full band. It’s another of my favorite tracks.
Last, I wanted to involve Vince DiCola in the record. Vince and I couldn't be more different as keyboard players. He's scary prodigy-type talented and I'm a hunter-pecker. But we had so much fun doing this that we continued after this CD was done and now have a whole disc we hope to put out soon.
“Iconography” represents the end of what I had hoped to accomplish with instrumental records that I started recording in the early '90s. Before these records, I always was involved in singer-songwriter records. The instrumental record is a very different form from vocal music. In a way it's a lot harder because whenever a vocal is added to music, it immediately trumps whatever was going on. The power of the human voice and the message it's conveying are so great and immediate that the chord movements and melody lines of instruments seem subtle in comparison. Here, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep everything interesting and let the players be the voice that wasn't there.
I have loved doing these records and have in fact done several others since, but I am looking forward to again trying the grand form that is songwriting.
"Running After Deer" started out as an idea of Alix Lambert's. I met Alix
through Viggo Mortensen. She had consulted on Viggo's movie "Eastern Promises";
from writing her book "Russian Prison Tattoos," she is well versed in that
culture. Alix asked if I was interested in working on a CD, and I jumped at
the chance -- I loved her idea.
Alix had taken a portable recorder to Sammy Stewart's gym and recorded him speaking and working out. Sammy is a mesmerizing character and great storyteller. Alix ended up with snippets of dialogue and sounds from the gym. I took the gym sounds and looped them to create the rope-skipping and punching-bag rhythms. Alix particularly liked the super-booming body-bag sounds and had great ideas for placing those and the ring bell here and there. I started playing keyboards to these loops.
For the next month or so that I was left alone with the tracks, I just became totally absorbed in layering keys and sound onto the loops. Once I had the CD's structure, we brought in DJ Bonebrake and Paul Eckmann. I set up the playback, and the three of us played along to what was already there. After quite a bit of editing, I asked Buckethead to come in and take a pass. All the guitar on this CD was recorded in one single take, front to back. Naturally, a lot of editing was done to the guitars, but the overall sound seems almost live.
Then Alix invited Sammy to the studio. We set up a mic in the lounge and were going to ask him questions. Well, it only took one question and he was off. He spun out the amazing story of his boxing career. Alix and I went through the tape of the interview and used the most compelling parts. I then went through the record and edited in all those parts and snippets, moving music around to make it flow. The overall effect makes it one of my favorite CDs.
Also, the entire Sammy interview became an Alix CD project called "The African Toy." It's available as a download here: The African Toy
I started working with Buckethead in the late '90s. We had
worked on Viggo's record "One Less Thing To Worry About" and I did "Cobra
Strike" and "CSII" and "Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse" and some others. For
"CSII" and "Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse" I had fashioned some tracks for
Buckethead to play over and told him if he liked them, he was welcome to
use them. "Spider Crawl," "Pin Bones and Poultry" and a few others were the
Sometime in 2000 I started putting together a bunch of these types of tracks. I asked Ramy, who had been doing sessions here, if he was interested in playing on them; and before I knew it, I had "Thanatopsis," the first CD. It's been awhile, but I seem to recall that "Worm Hole" was the first of them. I would put the tracks together, Buckethead would add a few things, I would edit, Ramy would add his thing, and then more edits and all of us would add a bit here and there. We worked that way through the whole CD during the year.
I think my favorite is "Final Reparation." I used loops I made from Mozart and played my funky upright piano to it. Then Ramy played and then Buckethead. We also put Buckethead's guitar through my Hammond organ Leslie for the eerie guitar sound on "A Thanatopsis."
I'd had the idea of doing a project called Thanatopsis before starting this project. I always liked the William Cullen Bryant poem and in fact named one of the tracks we did on the Death Cube K "Tunnel" CD "Thanatopsis." "Thantaopsis" was meant to be dark and evoke the feeling from the poem, and I had Fred from my Macintosh read the poem as the intro to the last track.
After finishing the first "Thanatopsis" CD, I never stopped constructing tracks. I kept
working on them over the next couple of years whenever I had a chance. The
way I worked was, I would create an idea or chord change and lay that on
top of a programmed drum. I would then flesh that out and bring in Ramy to
add drums. Then Buckethead would take some passes and riffs.
All of these CDs involved lots of editing to put together the final product. But we didn't always work that way.
A couple of the tracks were started from snippets of riffs and chord changes Buckethead would play to drum loops. Usually after tracking he would let the loop play, and play by himself for a while as raw material to create new tracks from. Later I would edit the bits together and play keys on them. Then Ramy would replace the drum loops. The track "New Year" was created this way.
Since so much time had gone by from the first CD and no preconceived ideas went into making this CD, no attempt was made to replicate the vibe of the first one. The result was quite a different sound from the first CD. But we thought any CD that had the three of us on it would be Thanatopsis, and that's the way it stayed.
The making of "Anatomize" is really an extension of the story of making
the first two Thanatopsis CDs. Long periods of time would go by when I
was the only one available to work on these projects, so I just kept making
tracks. I had in mind a solo CD; but when the other guys became available, I
had them play on these tracks, and since any tracks that all three of us
played on became Thanatopsis, a new Thanatopsis CD was produced.
This is my favorite Thanatopsis CD. I was more than aware that I would probably be alienating some of our audience (all two dozen of them). Buckethead's fans had gotten younger and he was getting into more of a hard metal sound on his own CDs, and I was much more interested in nuance and mood.
That was going to clash at some point. But among us, to their credit, both Buckethead and Ramy were supportive of this direction, and it gave everyone a chance to dabble in something none of us did apart. One of the things I most admire about Buckethead is that he doesn't care about any other considerations having to do with what he works on as long as he thinks it has merit. I have never had a genre of music I liked more than another. I always look for the merits of the music, whatever style it is.
I think that's always a good part of collaboration. Without the contribution of each of us, this wouldn't have worked on any level, and as I said, it became my favorite because I think it achieves a combination of mood and dexterity.
I have seen these CDs called jazz or jazzy. I never understood that, unless the definition of jazz is music that's not in any other category. I have never been influenced by jazz and have no real working vocabulary in jazz as a musician. There are very few key changes or tempo and time signature changes on these CDs. I think there are more classical and blues sounds here than anything else, but it really is just hard to categorize. I hope so, anyway.
Interestingly, as new Buckethead fans became younger and more into aggressive metal, the Thanatopsis tracks that had been placed on Youtube began to generate an audience quite independent from the younger metal listeners. I started seeing much more interest in these records several years after they were released. I think they have found their own audience; and as the younger listener matures, a new appreciation for what we had been doing has emerged.
I don't know if there will be any more Thanatopsis CDs. I guess it's possible that the three of us could play together on something again sometime, and by definition that would be Thanatopsis. However, in a lot of ways I think it's a nice little body of work; and if this is the last one, I'm happy with that.
Buckethead and I had talked about doing a bit of a nod to some of the great vinyl records
of the '60s and '70s for some time. Some of the records we were talking about included John Mayall's
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland," Traffic and some of the post-James Brown-inspired
funk of the '70s. After finishing the sessions that became the Cornbugs' "Brain Circus," where the three of us
-- Bucket, Pinchface and I -- jammed under Choptop's vocalizing, we thought the circumstances might be right.
So, armed with his white Les Paul and my brother's old Tele, Bucket turned his amp up to 10, and I threw an analog
synth on top of my suitcase Rhodes and pushed them next to my Hammond B3. Pinch played my studio Gretsch
kit, and for two days we played for hours while the tape rolled. Over the next few weeks we culled the stuff
we thought had the vibe we were looking for, adding bass and a few guitar and keyboard overdubs.
Thanks to Big D, who after listening to the tracks came up with the inspired concept and song titles, and Frankenseuss, who came up with the equally inspired marriage of images to the concept.
Buckethead: guitar, bass
Travis Dickerson: keyboards
Cameron Stone: cello
One of my favorite collaborations. With the contribution from Brain and particularly Cameron Stone on cello, we found a new sound from what we had done previously.
This one was inspired again by our mutual love of funk and -- as in Population Override -- blues-based feel. Add Buckethead's love of '80s power chords, Brain's drumming virtuosity and then the amazing Cameron Stone on top of that, and I think it got really interesting. Buckethead's bass playing is a stand-out, and one of my favorite piano solos is on this record.
"The Dragons of Eden" started out as a collaborative effort between Buckethead and me. The idea was to sit down together and work out chord changes while sitting at the piano and guitar. We managed to complete three songs this way, "The Abstractions of Beasts," "Tales of Dim Eden" and "Drako."
After that, time began to get away from us. Buckethead had laid down a bunch of riffs to a drum loop that I'd strung together and added keyboards to that became "The Cosmic Calendar" and "Knowledge Is Destiny."
I had already started recording "The Brain and the Chariot," "Lovers and Madmen" and "Future Evolution" for what would become "Iconography"; and since we didn't have enough material for a CD, I added those to the mix.
We then asked Brain if he was interested in the project and he said yes. After drums were laid down, I asked Cameron Stone to come lay some tracks down. Since he was going to work on the tracks that came from the "Iconography" project anyway, I just had him play on a couple of the others. I worked on adding solos and little parts here and there, and Buckethead added a few more bits and solos. It was mixed the summer of 2008 and released that fall.
"Cruel Reality Of Nature" off "Population Override" has always been one of our favorite tracks.
We decided to explore just the Telecaster and Fender Rhodes combo for some extended tracks.
"Chicken Noodles" is that, four pieces of music, very stripped-down. If you liked "Cruel Reality Of Nature," you may enjoy this.
"Chicken Noodles II" soon followed. A bit more up-tempo but still just Telecaster and Rhodes piano.
Over the years, a lot of tracks got left behind, some finished but most not. These were leftovers, tracks that didn't make it onto the records they were started for or that never got finished.
I have always been aware that there were some good ones there, and eventually I asked Buckethead if he was interested in adding whatever was needed to finish them.
So, we got together and did missing overdubs and fixes, and these are the tracks that resulted. Most of the tracks are from the sessions for "Population Override," "Gorgone" and "Thanatopsis," and other odd sessions over the years.
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson, Brain
This is an early track from the group that would become "The Dragons Of Eden." The basic track was cut several years before, and a few overdubs were done to flesh it out for this release. This track was never meant to be on the "Dragons" record, but it did inspire us to work again.
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson, Ramy Antoun
This Thanatopsis track was made sometime between the first "Thanatopsis" and "Axiology." Why this wasn’t used is beyond me. I was really surprised hearing it again after all this time. Great drum track by Ramy. It should have gone on "Axiology."
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson, Brain
Another early try from "The Dragons Of Eden." Recorded around the same time as "Continental Drift," it is such a sparse track that it didn’t fit any other project. We liked the organ trio feel, and it really showcases Buckethead’s bass playing.
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson, Pinchface
Recorded during the sessions that became "Population Override," this track could have been added to it. The bass was added recently, but it is -- as a lot of the songs from that session were -- an improvised jam. Another pass was taken for the solo guitar and synth lead.
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson, Ramy Antoun
This Thanatopsis track is also pre-"Axiology." It was never finished. We recently added the synth and some guitar. The use of the Roland synth instead of my Moog gives it a bit of a "Dragons" feel. However, it also shows how important Ramy is to the Thanatopsis sound.
"What The Hell Was That"
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson, Pinchface
Another from the "Population"/"Gorgone" sessions. This track shows the in-between nature of some of the jams that became "Population Override" and "Gorgone." It wasn’t used because it didn’t fit either one. However, this track does really show the influence of the "Electric Ladyland" jams we wanted to get the vibe of.
"Box Beat Boom"
Buckethead, Travis Dickerson
Buckethead brought a beat box to the studio one day, and we plugged it in and hit play and jammed along. It was really just done for our own amusement ... and now yours.
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
-- William Shakespeare
While doing the recording for "Population Override," the three of us spent a lot of time just going off while the tape rolled. The stuff we put together here has nothing to do with "P.O.," or Thanatopsis, for that matter. This is just the three of us having a good time. The three pieces on this collection are the ones that cracked us up the most. None of it was worked out ahead of time; it's totally improvised. We added a few overdubs here and there just for fun, but mostly it's just as we played it. So if you're looking for pretty melodies, clever construction, slick production or anything of redeeming quality, look elsewhere; we're putting this out because it sounded "Gorgone."
Death Cube K is a series of ambient soundscapes. "Tunnel" was one of the first recordings Buckethead and I did after the first "Cobra Strike" record.
Many years later, we did the box set DCK collection "Monolith" -- five unbroken tracks spanning five discs. This is a CD-R release.
There are several other non-TDRS DCK releases. One we carry here is the DCK silver-gray. This started out as a limited edition and is now available in this
Earlier DCK recordings were released on ION records, produced by Bill Laswell. Some can still be had through ION records and others are now out of print. Check the ION store on EBay for those.