Interview with Graham Wiggins of Dr. Didg
by Thad Ayazides
Guest Correspondent from Grizzly Magic Entertainment
Approximately ten to fifteen minutes before Dr. Didg hit the stage at the Living Room in Providence, RI on Wednesday, February 21, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Graham Wiggins and ask him a few questions.
TA: When you saw the demonstration of the didgeridoo techniques at the Small World Music Concert in 1982, why do you think it caught your attention so much?
Dr. Didg: Mainly because I had actually heard the didgeridoo in some movie soundtracks, where it was more of a real traditional stuff. I hadn't known what it was, it was just a crazy sound, a really spine tingling sound and it kind of went past me when I saw it in the movie. And then I saw this guy explaining and realized that all you need to make that sound is a tube. You can do it on a drainpipe, a vacuum cleaner hose, a parking meter pipe. So I put two and two together and I realized that's the thing that makes that sound I heard in the movie, because his (the demonstrator) playing was fairly basic.
TA: May I ask what movie it was?
Dr. Didg: Walkabout, and also The Last Wave, both had some didgeridoo in them and both cool movies too.
TA: What did you learn from the aboriginal masters and how has it changed your own personal sound?
Dr. Didg: A variety of things. I had to learn a whole different way of holding my mouth and producing the sound on the instrument in order to imitate their style. And in the end, I've gone back to playing in the style that I've developed myself. But I can more or less move towards the more traditional approach at different times which has given me a greater spectrum of sounds that I can make. But also it was philosophically important just on a musical level because I discovered that for them the circular breathing is not something that's primarily to do with keeping a note going for a long time. Their songs are only thirty seconds long, and so you can almost play that long with one breath. For them circular breathing is how you create the rhythm, the basic in and out cycle of the breath, the circular breathing cycle creates the rhythmic phrasing of the music, and thats opened things up for me too. Seeing the phrasing as a form of articulation rather than as a bagpipe to keep the sound moving.
TA: Besides the all night jam session at Glastonbury in 1993 when you ran out of material and decided to just improvise was there anything or anyone else that influenced you to use the didgeridoo in a more improvised manner?
Dr. Didg: I don't know, it was mainly that night that brought it out, because the general music culture in England is fairly negatively oriented towards improvisation, and most of the bands I know there they all write their own stuff, they don't play covers, they don't take long solos, they don't jam. They are high on originality, and having your own style and having your own thing, but they don't jam. So I was really afraid to do that because I thought that they would say, ahhhh he's wanking, as they would say in England. So we ran out of stuff to play and we started jamming and we discovered that it slipped under their radar because I was improvising loops that ended up sounding like dance music, and they didn't mind that it went on and on with the same riff forever because a lot of transy dance music goes on for fifteen, twenty minutes without a huge amount of...
TA: They couldn't tell the difference.
Dr. Didg: Yeah
TA: Who would you say influenced you the most in western hemisphere music?
Dr. Didg: Jerry Garcia, and after that John Coltrane.
TA: How did you ever come about meeting Mickey Hart and being invited to play with the Dead in 1993?
Dr. Didg: Mostly that came about through the fact that Mickey Hart was releasing his solo stuff on Ryko disc, who were also releasing my albums so I had some connections through the record company. Although there's a funny story because before Ryko bought my old label, I was trying to get in touch with Mickey and tell him what I was doing with the didgeridoo because I thought he would be interested. And I went to see the Grateful Dead in London and brought a CD of my first band Outback with a letter and put it in an envelope and during the setbreak I went down front and chucked it on stage. It had 'Mickey' written on it. And the thing went arcing, spinning, spinning, spinning, and then went WHAM!, straight into Jerry's speaker cone. I'm sitting there going, "OH SHIT!!" It's got my name and address on it and it just hit his speakers, the only speaker on stage that didn't have a grill over it, and I just whammed right into it. And then some roadie comes out and picks it up and puts it up on Mickey's drum riser and Jerry comes out to play and I'm waiting for some kind of...
TA: This was before the unabomber day's.
Dr. Didg: Yeah.
Dr. Didg: And it was alright it must be a fucking strong speaker because nobody noticed, but I was sweating. But I don't think realistically that chucking the CD on stage got through to Mickey, it was when the record company told him about me, which actually got things rolling.
TA: Tell me about who you are currently playing with?
Dr. Didg: Well I got a new band since I moved to America. We got Scott Eisenberg on drums, and Todd Wright on guitar and they've been playing with me since a year ago now, last January of 2000. And just a couple of weeks ago we added Brad Chirmin on the bass and its quite an exciting time now. A lot of last year we were just trying to get out on the road, and do gigs, and spread the word. The guys were playing a lot of repoitoire that I used to play in England, basically trying to do the thing I do, and since the end of last year we've started moving on to what the next thing is going to be with this band, and particularly since we brought in the bass, because its opened up all kinds of new possibilities in terms of how I use the sound in different approaches to improvising. And its quite an exciting time now, because each gig we do there's new ideas developing. We tape it, and drive to the next gig, listen to last gig, and talk about new ideas.
TA: Where is Dr. Didg most popular?
Dr. Didg: As far as I can tell, on the west coast, California. We sold a lot of records there and when we play out there we get a big response.
TA: How about Australia? What would they or do they think of your band's music down there?
Dr. Didg: Well my first band Outback I had some very good reviews from Australia, even to the extent of saying why can't make music like this here. With Dr. Didg I haven't specifically heard any reactions, only that sales have been fairly small. I had an interesting experience with the aborigines because when I went to live with them, I was introduced around town and this antropologist who was there would say, "Oh this is Graham, he has come over from England and he plays the didgeridoo." And they would look at me like yeah right, and I would get out my didgeridoo and I would play my hottest licks for them. And then they would be like yeah, well you can play but what are you doing? They didn't get it, musically. What am I getting at, and why am I making these sounds, and for them they never used the didgeridoo alone, the only reason they play it is to accompany singers, and if they play it alone they are playing the accompaniment to a song, and everybody who was there would understand it in that context. They know what the song is, and say oh yeah, you did the right part. And then I played them a tape I made with Outback, and they loved it. They're suddenly hearing me do my thing with guitar and drums...
TA: They understood it a little bit better.
Dr. Didg: Yeah they saw it in context. And in fact demanded copies of it because I ended up having a bootleg of my album handed out around this village. Because I hadn't thought, I didn't go to Australia with stacks of my tape to sell to the aborigines, it was the last thing I would think of. I had like one or two copies to play for people if they're interested.
TA: The Horning's Hideout show with String Cheese last summer is gaining quite a bit of notoriety around here as having been a really special event. For those of us who were not there, could you tell us what that was like.
Dr. Didg: That was pretty wild. They had invited us to play at their festival and they said specifically, we want you to come with your didgeridoo and we're gonna have this third set where we're gonna do this whole big production deal with giant flaming portals of fire, and all kinds of costumes, and giant mushrooms. And I figured they were gonna have me play for maybe twenty minutes, as this thing started and then they would do their set. But instead they kept playing, and they kept wanting me to be there, and its the only time where I had been playing a set and I had to get up and go to the bathroom twice in the set. Everytime I got up to go, they're like "No, no don't go. Play some more!" They had invited Todd, our guitarist, to come up and he was having a fantastic time. And then the magic thing that happened during all this great jamming, but then they brought up DJ Harry who started taking samples of the band and playing them back. And Tye North, the bassplayer from Leftover Salmon took over on the bass, and Jamie Janover started playing percussion. And then String Cheese, without me noticing, gradually left. And left me, and Todd, and Tye North, and Jamie, and DJ Harry just going for it, and we looked around and said, "What happened to the band? It's just us now." And we looked to see the guys from String Cheese were out in the front rows of the audience dancing and shaking hands with people. Never expected that. Like I said, I thought we would do a little introduction to things and they actually let us, by the end, take the show over for twenty minutes, so it was magical.
TA: Finally, what would you like to see as the future of the didgeridoo as far as becoming more involved in western hemisphere music?
Dr. Didg: Well, my whole thing with the didgeridoo is I see it as a rhythm instrument, and that's certainly what I push in my own music. There's a whole lot to be developed there in terms of playing techniques, and making it an equal partner with all of the other instruments in the band. And the tendency for a lot of people who start to use the didgeridoo is treat it kind of as a sound effect, and you like to give a big drone in the background and be a bench on which everybody else plays on top of. I would like to see the didgeridoo as being like a funk based, that it's right in there with the guitar, drums, and horn section, funkin it, as a fully equal partner. And that's what happens when you hear us play, I hope, and I think there are other ways to do that, that people could develop. I feel a little worried that this is becoming this cliche that western people come with the didgeridoo and want to transe out to it. Just have long notes, and slowly evolving things which actually has nothing to do with what the aborigines do with it, but thats what a lot of people find in it, and its become kind of like a cliche. I'd like to hear more people funking out on it.
Thanks to Grizzly Magic Entertainment and to Anna Pikul for the black and white photos.
Dr. Didg will be performing at the Scholz Beer Garten in Austin, TX on Saturday, March 17 as part of the JamBase Showcase for the South By Southwest Music Festival.
Check out all of Dr. Didg's Tour Dates!