11 Apr

If the musical menagerie of sonic weirdness that fuels New Fumes ever starts to sputter and choke – to, in fact, begin running on fumes – Daniel Huffman can at least take comfort in knowing that he will have only himself to blame.

Yet there’s nothing implying any sort of sputter and choke to the sound of New Fumes, the solo, one-mind band project of Huffman. Rather, the New Fumes engine seems to be running smoothly – though hardly quietly – on spark and imagination, as shown on the album “Bump and Assassination.” Combining the techniques of a mad-scientist, home studio wizardry with that of a solitary, mystical, musical guru, New Fumes sounds to our ears like the joyful collision of both, resulting in music that is complex, simple, chaotic and beautiful.

Given Huffman’s past and current musical pedigree (time spent in the 90’s with the bands Comet and Ghostcar, touring and collaborating with his friends in both The Flaming Lips and The Polyphonic Spree – with whom he was opening for on tour at the time of this interview), it’s little wonder New Fumes boasts such a wonderfully robust sound.

And given the break-it-down, build-it-up, take-it-apart, piece-it-back-together nature of the New Fumes sound, it’s little wonder that Daniel Huffman disassembled our typically ridiculous interview questions, before connecting them back to his thoughtful answers. In advance of New Fumes’ appearance at Austin Psych Fest 2012, we feel fortunate to present the interview below. Enjoy.

What would you imagine your music would be like if you were recording 35+ years in the past, before the advent of (relatively) inexpensive 4-tracks for home use?

I like to think it would be like Faust’s “The Faust Tapes” or “IV,” or Silver Apples or some drone folk weirdo stuff … I don’t know … In reality, it would have sounded like a bunch of crying and banging around – I was only 2 back then.

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Would you ever be interested – or even able – to turn full control of your New Fumes songs over to someone else to mix and edit?

Hmmm, maybe, but probably not. Depends on the circumstances. If someone I respected wanted to do a mix, I’d let ’em give it a go to see what happened.

If you could choose one living person (apart from yourself) to record your music, who would it be and why?

ONE? Damn. Are there any fourth grade aspiring engineers out there?

Do you think of yourself as a solitary person by nature?

Sometimes, but not always. Mostly yes.

What have you had the opportunity to learn about yourself when working on music alone, different than when collaborating with others on music?

As suspected, I really don’t have all the answers and I don’t need pot. I’ve learned to be a little more free, or how to access more easily that frame of mind that allows me to be free.

What are the parts of the collaborative songwriting/recording/performing process that you feel most positively impacted the path you’ve taken with New Fumes?

Collaborations have always good for helping me expand my scope on many levels. One of the best things I could have done is be in an improv group with people that could really play (because I couldn’t). That band was called Ghostcar. I’ve been fortunate to work with many fantastic musicians, songwriters, engineers etc. I feel like I learn something from everyone I work with, always. Working with David Baker (former vocalist for Mercury Rev) in the mid 90s really opened my mind to a lot of possibilities in the studio.

Making improv music with my trumpet-playing buddy, Karl Poetschke of Sivad and Ghostcar, really made me a little more fearless to just get up there and do it. It’s not always going to be good , but some unique and amazing stuff will happen if you can be in the moment and be willing to sweat sometimes. I could go on and on. Long story short, it made me better, I hope.

What was the first album that captured your imagination based on its sound alone – not necessarily the songs, the image, the artwork, but the sound?

Maybe “Pet Sounds” by The Beach Boys … As a kid my dad would always play Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and early Beach Boys for my brothers and I … so when I heard “Pet Sounds,” it was such a departure from “Help Me Rhonda” – the “sound” of the album just kind of jumped out at me. For the first time, I became aware of the “sound” . It was mesmerizing, haunting. It’s so emotional and strange.

Why do you think that album resonated with you?

Like I said, it’s so emotional and haunting. So warm and strange. It’s got the catchy hooks and the atmosphere.

How have your thoughts in this album evolved over the years, if at all?

Every few years I hear it in a whole new way and have to listen to it twenty times in a row. Watching “The Wrecking Crew” documentary really opened my eyes and ears to it in a new way by making me more aware of the process and the people behind it.

The way that I hear and understand music has changed so much over time … so I’m hearing many albums differently all the time. I love it. The only band I feel more negatively about now from when I was a kid is Credence Clearwater Revival. I loved it as a kid and can’t stand it now. Fucking hate it.

What does the title “Bump and Assassination” represent to you?

Well, it’s not some deep, perplexing thing … I read somewhere that William Shakespeare invented those two words, and I got to thinking about those words and their multiple meanings. It seemed to apply to the music I was making at the time. It’s really meant for you to get your own meaning out of it.

What can you tell us about the sequencing of the album of the same name?

It was originally going to be a 7″ box set. There were pairs of songs that seemed to go together. It was a seven song EP. Then a label I was talking with asked if I could go ahead and make it a full length, so I did. I’m glad it turned out that way. I just went with a sequence that felt right.

We ask here because we find the album to be such a quirky, creative and self-contained release, its difficult for us to consider the songs out of order, or being performed in a live setting.


Speaking of a live setting, our intensive research reveals that your approach to live performance with New Fumes is one that relies on visual as well as aural stimulation. In what ways do you approach the visual elements of New Fumes differently than the musical?

I had visions for most of the visuals for each song before I started working on them (the visuals). They are collages of found visual elements and footage I took with telephone cameras. I was a painting and drawing student before I was ever in a band, so audio and visuals go hand-in-hand for me very naturally . Like, I can see music and hear colors and shapes. Both have movement. I’m always trying to marry the two. I hope I’ll get better at it as time goes on.

When I’m making music, many times a song will emerge out of explorations rather than a preconceived vision. But of course, I approach both sound and vision different ways at different times, depending on the inspiration .

What are some of the most compelling live performers you’ve had the fortune of seeing in your life?

I saw Michael Jackson when I was seven years old. I saw Kurt Cobain get punched on stage in Dallas. I decided to REALLY learn to play guitar after seeing The Flaming Lips open for Dinosaur Jr. at Trees in Dallas when I was in high school. Mind blowing! But I still have not figured out how to really play guitar. Ha! The Lips put on a great show with great visuals and stunning audio. I’ve seen them hundreds of times, I think. Ronald Jones used to blow my mind and my ears. Deerhoof is always a pleasure to behold … Greg Saunier’s drumming! The first time I saw Liars, I loved it. More on the local side: Paul Unger, Mike Dillon, Earl Harvin, Pinkish Black, Clay Stinnett, Tim DeLaughter and Polyphonic Spree … the list goes on.

Speaking of your life, at the time of this interview, you’re on tour with The Polyphonic Spree and have previously done time playing guitar live with The Flaming Lips. What have you learned from these experiences and how has that impacted New Fumes?

I am very fortunate to have spent time with those bands … such inspirational, genius, freaks of nature. Both really have stimulated my musical brain in unmeasurable ways, and still are as we speak. Everything from my musicianship to my work ethic have been effected. Really, more than I can explain in a brief interview.

The musicians in the Spree are quite amazing. Playing with them and seeing how things were put together and how different elements work together was/is a very valuable lesson. Then there’s the Coyne, Drozd, Ivins, Salisbury, Fridman and Booker team. Forces of nature. Where do I begin?

To be clear, I was a touring guitarist for the Spree for a year after Annie Clark left to do St. Vincent. I was a stage hand that played a little Casio sampler keyboard and some guitar (very little and not very well) on a tour with the Lips when “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” came out. I see press sometimes saying I was a touring guitarist for the Lips. It isn’t true. I have known them half my life and I have worked on and off with them for years doing a variety of things, but I can’t claim to have been a touring guitarist for them.

Knowing these people and having these opportunities in my life has been like a constant kick in the ass. It’s awesome! Mostly, I would say that it all taught me the value of hard work. I see both of those bands as survivors that never gave up. I could really go on and on, but I’ll just say that I love them and both have had big impacts on New Fumes.

Both of those bands have had (perhaps surprising) success at delivering what is essentially a counter-cultural message to a very broad audience. What bands could be said to have had delivered a similar message to you?

I’m not sure i understand the question accurately, but I’ll answer with: Pink Floyd, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, Spiritualized and The Who.

What music have you been listening to lately?

Older stuff: 70s kraut classics like Can, Faust , Aphrodites Child, EROC, Brainticket. Soft 70s rock classics. 60s Bee Gees. In the past few days: The Flaming Lips with Heady Fwends, Preteen Zenith. In general, if I have free time, I’m making music more than listening to others.

If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Gary Numan song of all time and why?

“Observer,” I just love the groove and energy in that song. I did a cover of it recently, check it out!

How did you first hear about Austin Psych Fest?

The wind blew and I heard an echo … It was cool!

Are there any bands in particular appearing at the Fest that you are excited to try and see?

Thee Oh Sees, Wooden Shjips, Peaking Lights and Ringo Deathstar.

Former U.S. President Harry Truman once said the following:

“Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination.”

Your thoughts?

That’s funny!

What’s next for New Fumes?

I don’t know. Hopefully more touring, recording, more house parties, more singles, another album, more collaborations, a DVD … More fun! I’m open! Maybe I’ll start a band.

New Fumes


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