Recorded during the spring of last year, Docile Cobras is Rootless (AKA Jeremy Hurewitz) at perhaps his most mystical. The record is made up of spacious double-tracked acoustic soundscapes augmented with a cornucopia of rare and unusual indigenous Mesoamerican instruments, played by guest contributor and folklorist, Luís Pérez Ixoneztli. – Record Crates United
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Rootless aka Jeremy Hurewitz, whose most recent album Rootless (Flower Room Recordings) is now available on vinyl.
Besides Flower Room you can find releases by Rootless on Aural Canyon, Nullzone, Otherworldly Mystics and Cabin Floor Esoterica labels. Docile Cobras was mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri and there’s also a companion remix album available.
More TBTs in our archives.
This song made me think about a stormy seascape and I kept seeing a clipper ship bobbing precariously on angry waves. I never shared that vision with Luis Perez, but as with so much of this record he just intuited the vibe I was after. I love the way his breathing adds to exactly that feel of something sinister going on, the looming specter of catastrophe but the memory of beauty beneath it all.
The title comes from a Kurt Vonnegut quote from Cat’s Cradle: “peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” I love that quote, both as someone who spent his 20s and early 30s overseas traveling constantly (and to some peculiar places), but mainly as a vote for spontaneity. I sometimes have to remind myself to be open to spontaneity and this quote has been my lodestar and has served me well. As for the music, as with most of these tracks I recorded the guitar parts and then Luis Perez followed with his overdubs; we didn’t play together at all during these sessions. This track is a great example of the incredible range of instruments Luis Perez has and the amazing sense of how to utilize them. If I heard this for the first time I would think that the sounds are samples from an actual jungle when they are in reality ocarinas and whistles, many extremely old. I also love the subtle piano that producer Jesse Peterson added.
As Flower Room Records noted in their write-up about the record, some of the instruments that Luis Perez used are pre-Colombian, some perhaps over 1,000 years old. He used a clay flute on this track that fits in that category and I feel like you can hear all the old ghosts and ancient rituals in there. Some of those flutes were buried underground to survive Cortez and his army, because they destroyed folk instruments as they tried to forcefully divorce them from their rituals and convert the natives to Christianity. I like to think about the history of all of that in the pained shrieks and haunting cries of the flutes circling around the guitar lines of this song.
This track is the one I come back to more than any other. It’s another great example of the brilliance of Luis Perez and his respect for the song. What would this track be without his idea to use the sound of water? We had the water drums set up for “lost at sea” and we recorded him gently moving the water around, splashing a bit – I love it. He also used his shakers on this one, which are dried moth shells.
A while back I read an interview with Glenn Jones, whose music I love, and he talked about partial capos and it really opened up a lot of things for me. This track is an example of that. I’m terrible at noting down what tuning I’m using and where I had the capo placed if I ever wanted to play this live (though I could probably figure it out); so much of these sessions were spontaneous; I probably had a sense of the tuning and capo placement and had been messing around with it, but I can hear the sense of exploration and I love the way Luis Perez, using another ancient flute, hovers in the background. I also cannot recall how the name came to me, just one of those ideas that get beamed into your head when you’re in a creative zone, but it felt so right.
I was originally going to call the album “Lost at Sea” and I’m grateful to Britt Brown of Not Not Fun records (killer label) for saying I should call the album Docile Cobras instead. Again, the range of instruments that Luis Perez utilized is just magic for this one – the bells, flutes, shakers, etc. He did also use a flute that I got in Indonesia called a “suling” that I brought in for the session as well. I love the way we made the track transition from the rhythmic guitar to a psychedelic soup roughly halfway through. Props to Conrad Burnham – who mixed the album and is a really creative and amazing artist – for the filter he put on the guitar that brings it in and out amidst all the other sounds, he really nailed what I was going for there.
I think this song feels like a nice response to “docile cobras,” a sort of postscript to that track; something has been revealed and now is the time to meditate upon it; there are different directions to go with it – wisdom is not monolithic, it can be interpreted and utilized in different ways for different people. This song is a key that only you have to unlock a secret that only you know.
This song was an improvisation and typically when I play, and in particular when I improvise, my mind is blank, and that is a beautiful thing, a kind of Zen peace. But as I was playing I kept thinking about my wife, Rachel, which is why I named it for her. We were recording in a pretty dark room, but it was a sunny weekend in LA, Keyboard Money Mark from the Beastie Boys was hanging around, and I felt really positive about life at that moment. I hope that comes through in this song.
The genesis of this track is a field-recording I made in McCarren Park, Brooklyn, before I moved to LA. I sat on a bench and I got some cool sounds of a young mother playing with her kids. I love the juxtaposition of this with Luis Perez’s Shamanic breathing, the spiky guitar, and the menacing swirls of synthesizer underneath it all. I feel like there is something being said on this one that is elemental, existential, and alluding to the dichotomy of good and evil we all have to reckon with. I was pretty obsessed with Lawrence Durrell (and as an aside I turned Ash Brooks of Flower Room on to his work, and she really nailed that vibe with the cover art) and Durrell got me thinking about Gnosticism, specifically the idea that there was a struggle between God and the Devil and the Devil prevailed and we’re all living in a universe that is slowly drifting towards evil. That sounds darker than I typically am, and not how I see the world day to day, but the thought lingers with me and is present on this track.
On a Different Note:
- Review: Rootless – Live at Rhizome
- Track-by-Track: Body/Negative – Fragments
- Blog Archives // March 2021: Pt. 1
- Track-by-Track // Corntuth – The Desert is Paper Thin
- New Music Releases – August 2020: Pt. 1