Thread: Buckethead: Beneath the Bucket
11.22.02, 02:43 AM #1
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The Buckethead backstory begins with a kid named Brian Carroll growing up in a Southern California suburb not far from Disneyland. He's a shy kid and spends a lot of time in his room, which is filled with comic books, video games, martial-arts movie memorabilia, slasher-flick stuff, all the usual youth-culture detritus. He also spends a whole lot of time at Disneyland.
As a teenager, Brian takes up the guitar, plonking away under the sway of such metal masters as Angus Young of AC/DC; the late Randy Rhoads, of the Ozzy Osbourne band; and Swedish overdrive virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Like the latter two, Carroll incorporates a considerable amount of classical-music consciousness into his burgeoning style. He reads a lot of music theory. He starts getting really, really good.
Unlike his idols, however, Carroll is anything but flamboyant. Mane-tossing guitar-god moves are not something he'll ever be comfortable attempting. In fact, in an ideal world, there'd be somebody else he could one day take up onstage with him and hide behind. Some sort of alter ego.
Nobody much liked the 1988 fright flick "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers." After 10 years, this slasher franchise was pretty much played out. (Even though it's still with us today!) But Brian Carroll was inspired by the film. He went right out after seeing it and bought a Michael Myers-like white mask. Then, that night, as he was eating from a bucketful of take-out fried chicken, another inspiration struck. He described it in a 1996 interview with Guitar Player magazine: "I was eating it, and I put the mask on and then the bucket on my head. I went to the mirror. I just said, 'Buckethead. That's Buckethead right there.' It was just one of those things. After that, I wanted to be that thing all the time."
Unlike the editors of Guitar Player (for which Bucket once wrote a column called "Psychobuddy"), you needn't be conversant with minor 9th intervals or quadratonal arpeggios to be knocked sideways by Buckethead's war-of-the-worlds guitar eruptions. His star-burst chord clusters and eye-frazzling eight-finger solos aren't like much else you'll be hearing on this planet anytime soon.
Of course there are all kinds of aspiring guitar wizards out there (although probably none within pick-flicking distance of this guy). But what sets Carroll decisively apart from the pack is the outré "Buckethead" persona he's so painstakingly created. This character, with its vaguely sinister mask, soberly upended KFC bucket, and absurdly detailed chicken fetish, is pure American surrealism. Buckethead is a star of a strange new kind: not the projection of a preening personality, as is usually the case, but a mirror, a screen, a somehow lovable cipher. As a musical presence, he seems almost (one of Carroll's favorite words) disembodied.
Although most people are probably experiencing Buckethead for the first time in his current stint with the new Guns N' Roses, the man has been putting out solo albums for the last 10 years. Some, like the 1999 Monsters and Robots, are pure "post-metal psycho-shred," as one writer put it. Others, like the just-released Electric Tears, are serenely ambient. Buckethead also records under the name Death Cube K (an anagram); the 1994 Dreamatorium is a good one.
In addition to this solo output, Buckethead has also recorded and performed with a wild array of other musicians, from P-Funk all-stars Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell to Iggy Pop, Primus, avant-fusion bassist Bill Laswell and the late Miles Davis Quintet drummer Tony Williams. He's played on three albums by "The Lord of the Rings" star Viggo Mortensen, one by the painter Julian Schnabel, and some movie soundtracks and scores, too ("The Last Action Hero," "Mortal Kombat," "Beverly Hills Ninja"). He longs to do an all-Disney album. ("When You Wish Upon a Star" is one of his favorite tunes.)
We encountered Buckethead backstage at two recent Guns N' Roses shows, in Vancouver and Seattle. On both occasions he was standing in his dressing room, in full Bucket regalia, wailing away, at subdued volume, on his extra-large, custom-made Flying V guitar. (Since he stands about seven feet tall — with bucket — he feels that regular, off-the-rack guitars look too dinky in his hands.) His fingers, like those of such renowned forebears as Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix, are extraordinarily long, and dizzying to follow as they caper among the frets. (He says he has a "really huge" big toe, too. Whatever.)
As he played, he appeared to be meditating on a large rack in front of him filled with odd dolls and objects: Michael Myers, of course; Leatherface from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"; a little plastic replica of Colonel Sanders, the late KFC impresario; and a rubber chicken straight out of vaudeville.
Brian Carroll is very soft-spoken and self-effacing. He seems to be the sort of person who's consumed by music, and one wonders, in talking to him, if there's any musical style or school with which he doesn't have at least a glancing acquaintance. Since the Buckethead character was famously raised by chickens, and has made it his mission in life to alert the world to the ongoing chicken holocaust in fast-food joints around the globe, we wondered about the presence of the Colonel Sanders doll in his travel rack. Carroll said, "It's like your father; maybe he beats you, but he's still your father, and you love him, and ... it's complicated."
Unlike Carroll, Buckethead doesn't speak at all, at least not for public consumption. When our cameras were about to start rolling, he fitted a whole-head rubber monster mask over his right hand and said that this improvised puppet — he calls it "Herbie" — would answer all questions. We asked what the chicken deal was. Apparently, the evil man who owned the farm where Buckethead was raised (with chickens, remember) came to the coop one day and cruelly slipped some fried chicken pieces inside.
"And for the first time," Herbie says, "he realized they were cooking chickens. And they were his family, so he tried to put them back together, and he just kind of went nuts. And he put the bucket on his head 'cause he thought he could help all those dead chickens come back to life. So when he plays, it's like the sound of all those dead chickens coming through his hands."
Okay. And this rubber chicken here?
"This is kind of sad," Herbie says. "It makes him play more pretty. When he sees this, he thinks of lullabies and that sort of stuff. But it's not real, and he knows it's not real."
When Brian Carroll first got a call from Axl Rose inviting him to join Guns N' Roses, he was nonplussed at first. He knew the band, of course, but it wasn't really ... his kind of thing, right?
Axl persevered, though. At Christmas he invited Brian over to his house. It hadn't been a happy Buckethead holiday up to that point: he'd really, really been hoping that someone would give him a certain hard-to-find Leatherface doll he'd been coveting as a gift, but no one had. Then he arrived at Axl's place, and Axl had that very doll — and he gave it to him. Brian took this as a sign ("He must understand me somehow"), and he joined the band.
So has Axl been any help to Buckethead in scoring chicks on this tour?
There's a pause, then Herbie says, "He's scared of, uh, girls. He just gets a weird feeling. He doesn't understand the feeling that he gets."
Some sort of chick/chicken confusion, maybe?
"That's a possibility," Herbie says. "I've never thought of that. And I'm sure he hasn't, either."
By this point, showtime is impending. Bucket has to head for the stage. We've pretty much covered everything, though: the chickens, the bucket ... But wait — the mask. What about the mask?
"There is no mask," Herbie says.
[ November 22, 2002, 04:00 AM: Message edited by: FH ]
11.22.02, 03:38 AM #2
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Anybody else think that maybe Buckethead is really Howard Stern?!?!
I really dig Buckethead and his wackyness. He truly is not from this planet. That said...I sure wish he was not "filling in" for Slash. Slash is a part of the real GNR that I don't think you can just replace.
Rock on Buckethead!
11.22.02, 03:43 AM #3
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Here's another cool interview I found a while back on Buckethead. http://shredlikehell.homestead.com/f...allmonster.htm
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS
Guitar Player Magazine 1996
(thanks to T for making this available to the Shred Like Hell team)
Krraaaccckkkkk! Shaaboooommmm! Thunder and lightning rip through the foyer of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, flashing a terrible light on the domed ceiling and the corpse that dangles from it on the end of a noose. Everyone present lets out a bloodcurdling scream - almost everyone that is. A six-foot-plus, long-haired, guitar-wielding robot wearing a white mask and a fried-chicken bucket on his head - Buckethead - alone stands unfazed. But then, he's probably been on this ride at least 500 times, mostly at night, then he can slip past the guards and enter the mansion undetected to sit in with the haunted mansion house band. (Buckethead claims their invisible pianist taught him how to play Chopin's "Funeral March.") From Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean, Buckethead likes weird places and strange people. Maybe that's why his virtuosic post-metal psycho-shred has been tapped by ecentric collaborators from Bootsy Collins to John Zorn to Bill Laswell to Jnas Hellborg to Iggy Pop. Or maybe they're just really scared of Buckethead and will do anything he tells them to.
On this particular day, it's Buckethead's alter-ego, mild-mannered Brian Carroll, who roams the dark corridors of the haunted mansion. Like Peter Parker to Spider Man or Bruce Banner to the Hulk, Caroll is the flipside of his freakish creation. A likable, guileless, extremely self-effacing 27-year old, Carroll molded his childhood fascination with hardcore horror movies, martial arts, Michael Jackson, Disneyland, and heavy metal guitar into a playing style and onstage persona that shatters the stereotype of the babe-snaggin' guitar-jock cool guy with the same force that it explodes the harmonic and textural possibilities of the guitar. Like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, he's on a super hero's mission not to harm, but to help. He dreams of constructing his own version of Disneyland for the children of the world - Bucketheadland.
With two new records on the shelves - jungle beat driven "The Day of the Robot" on Sub-Meta and "Giant Robot" on NTT (2633 Lincoln Blvd., Suite 405, Santa Monica CA 90405), plus an album with jazz drummer Tony Williams featuring Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders, an upcoming project with fellow guitar virtuoso Shawn Lane, and an all-Disney theme album for Zorn's Avant label, Buckethead is poised at the guillotine edge of progressive rock guitar. Inspired by forward thinking buddies like Laswell, Praxis drummer Brain and the DJ outfit Invisible Scratch Pickles, he's genetically mutating metal guitar into bizarre hybrids with hip hop, jungle and ambient music. Sprawling metropoli and thatched villages beware: the time has come to destroy all monsters.
The suburban room where Carroll grew up near Los Angeles (about a half-hour from Disneyland) say it all: Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson and Leatherface posters adorn the walls. On the ample bookshelf, works on Paganini, Slonimsky and Glenn Gould are slipped between magic books, martial arts material and slasher flick compendiums. Robot toys with laser eyes stare from every corner and there is a futuristic rack of CDs boasting titles from hip hoppers the Wu-Tang clan, techno-trip-hop buddies the Chemical Brothers, Yngwie's Rising Force and the soundtracks to Godzilla and War of the Gargantuans.
It's clear that visual stimulation is every bit as important to Buckethead's guitar playing as the music he listen to and the theory he has absorbed.
Onstage with Praxis - with Brain and bassist Laswell or with his band Giant Robot, Buckethead moves with robotic precision, but he imagines pictures in his head as he plays. "It's just more fun that way", he explains, fiddling nervously with a Giant Robot doll. "For the most part, I think in terms of amusement park rides and monster and robot movies. I'll watch a movie without the sound and play to the picture. I would watch the death scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre where Leatherface slams the steel door, and a low and creepy drone comes in. I would use that drone to solo over, the sound of that guy's death. I guess that's kind of bad, but I was into it. The whole scene is so vicious and powerful, it gives me a certain feeling. When I put myself in that position, I like to tape what I'm playing and feeling, because of what it brings out in me."
As a kid, Brian's mom nicknamed him "Boo" because of his obsession with monsters and robots, and he took karate lessons from the age of ten. By the time he was 13, he'd picked up guitar under the spell of Angus Young and Randy Rhoads, whose classic "Crazy Train" riff and 32nd note pull off runs are echoed on Bucketheadland's "Park Theme" (The Japan-only release is available through Avant/Disc Union, 2-13-1 Iidabashi Chiyoda-Ky, Tokyo 102, Japan, or direct from Buckethead). "I was really into sports, but I liked guitar because it was something you could do all by yourself," he recalls. Yngwie Malmsteen's early recordings, some of them only available as Japanese imports - like many of Bucket's albums - were a major revelation.
"When Yngwie came out he was totally in your face; you can tell he just wanted to destroy," Caroll raves. "It's so dramatic, and that aspect of it was as cool as the speed. Plenty of people play fast but they don't set it up like he does. Like the way "Far Beyond the Sun" builds and builds until there's a break, and then the guitar rips into it - the payoff is so great. Yngwie had that fire and even now I'm trying to use that to motivate me. The fact that he hasn't changed is pretty rad too. He doesn't care what people think and I admire that."
Sitting across from Buckethead as he fires off four-fingered diminished-scale tapping licks at breakneck speed is humbling. But he makes it look incredibly easy, as if technical wizardry were second nature. It's partly the result of keen observation. "I can usually understand what someone's doing pretty quickly," he nods. "In martial arts, I can see why Bruce Lee was so much better than everyone else, because of the way he moved his body. It was in the way he held his arms and all those little details. When I saw Yngwie or Paul Gilbert or Shawn Lane, I could see quickly HOW they did it, even though it took a lot of time to actually play it. I looked at Shawn Lane's hands to see how he picks, because technically I've never seen anyone more efficient. Of course, the real ideas are in his head. When he plays, he's always looking out into space, because he's going for the sound. But I still had to ask myself "What is he doing to get that sound?"".
Back at Disneyland, the Rolling Thunder roller coaster is suddenly pitched into darkness as it flies through a miniature mountain range, and its occupants - mostly teenage girls - let out a communal shriek that subsides for a moment when the car re-emerges into daylight. Relief turns to horror, however, when they notice that Buckethead, seated in the front car, has zipped his jacket up over his head and is waving his arms in the air as if the tunnel has just decapitated him. Reunited with terra firma moments later, Buckethead draws a parallel between high speed roller coasters and his own careening 32nd note phrases. It's an apt analogy. Buck's peaks and troughs come from his weirdo scale forms and note choices, including minor 9th intervals, whole tones and stacked minor seconds. Surely Leatherface didn't teach him that. "I got a lot of mileage from Slonimsky's "Melodic Patterns", he says of the late musicologist's classic text. "There's a lot of really disjointed stuff in there, like far-apart intervals and octave displacement [the transposition of certain notes in a phrase or chromatic line an octave above or below their normal scale position]. There's also a section on quadratonal arpeggios - that sounded crazy." In addition to Slonimsky, lessons with Mr. Bug's Paul Gilbert and classical guitar studies sharpened Buckethead's technique, right-hand/left-hand independence and theory chops. He's also picked up a thing or two from books by G.I.T.'s Steve Trovato, and he's plundered Danny Gatton and Albert Lee videos to learn, uh, chicken picking. These days, though, he says he's more inclined to leave the books at home and trust his ears. "I just love the sound the hammering stuff makes", he insists. "It isn't about using four fingers on both hands. That's just the technique I use to get there. It's not even that tough to do technically , but the way it sounds is so bizarre. When Shawn Lane plays fast, it's like a swarm of notes; it really creates a texture." Suddenly, Buckethead face drops and goes quiet. "Captain Eo", he gasps, as we approach Disneyland's 3-D theater, "Huge influence." He's not kidding. Two thirds of the way through the film for which the audience views stunning effects through 3D glasses, Michael Jackson's singing and dancing - the biggest influence on Buckethead's stage moves - has turned all but a handful of the bad space guys into orange-clad love-happy dance fiends. Only the Medusa-meets-Siouxsie Sioux evil queen, played by Anjelica Huston remains to be converted to the light. "This is the best part", he whispers as the theme music goes into a robotic drum-machine and bass breakdown that Jackson moonwalks to with killer finesse. The groove uses exactly the kid of heavily syncopated breakbeat and funky bass line that Buckehead exploited on his early Japanese releases, and the outer-space funk vibe is straight-up Bootsy Collins (the legendary P-Funk bassist and Buckethead's frequent collaborator and inter-galactic mentor.) After getting a copy of one of Buckethead's homemade videos, Bootsy with fellow P-Funk vet Bernie Worrell on keys, became part of the first Praxis ensemble, which included Brain and DJ Afrika Baby Bam. The group debuted with the Laswell-produced Axiom album, 1992's "Transmutation", Later, Bootsy produced Buckethead's first solo album.
In '94 Buckethead recorded Dreamatorium [Subharmonic, 180 Varick St., New York, NY 10014] under the name Death Cube K (an anagram for "Buckethead" coined by Keyboard magazine editor Tom "Doc" Darter). The album was a dark, quasi-ambient duet with Laswell that highlighted his cinematic flair, clean-toned melancholy and improvisational sensitivity. "I practice a lot, but when I'm improvising I don't think about any of that', Buckethead explains. "In basketball you shoot 50 baskets in practice so that in the game, it's instant. As long as you have the control, you can just do it - BAM!". Before Dreamatorium, he appeared on 1993's "Octave of the Holy Innocents" [Day Eight US, 532 LaGuardia Place #421, New York, NY 10003] with jazz bassist Jonas Hellborg and drummer Michael Shrieve. There his clean tone has a plucky quality that fits in nicely with the album's dry, crisp grooves. He's also appeared on Henry Kaiser's "Hope you like our new direction" [Reckless], Anton Fier's "Dreamspeed [Avant], Bootsy's "Zillatron", Will Ackerman's "The Opening of Doors [Windham Hill], Derek Bailey and John Zorn's "Company 91" [Incus], the Axiom Funkcronomicon collection, Jon Hassell's "Dressing for Pleasure" [Warner Bros.] and the soundtrack to "The Last Action Hero". "I listen more and hear things a lot better because of being around all these incredible people," Buckethead nods. "That education is the best. It's insane, really."
When it comes to piloting a rocket ship or roller coaster, Buckethead is untouchable, but admittedly he's no expert on gear and his take on guitar stores is succinct: "It's like a slaughterhouse in there, with all those guitar carcasses hanging around. You could do a jig in there." If pressed, he'll 'fess up to prizing an '80s Ibanez X-series Flying V style ax with a Schaller-floating tremelo and custom egg-yolk colored double coils (one white, one yellow) designed by Steve Blucher at DiMarzio. He often plays a blue ESP M2 strat-shaped custom with a Floyd Rose but he complains that the guitar is too small for his tall frame (at a recent show in San Francisco with Mike Keneally, he accidentally snapped the headstock off the ESP after dropping it in frustration). On several Laswell projects, he experimented with a '59 Les Paul Custom. He generally uses .009 D'Addario nickel-wrap strings.
While his phrasing is unmistakable, a trule personal, distinctive tone has always eluded Buckethead. Possibly his best recorded sound was on Praxis' "Metatron", on which Axiom house guitarist Nicky Skopelitis hooked him up with a Well's 17 1/2 watt head designed by gear wizard Matt Wells. The Wells amp wired through a Harry Kolbe 4x12 cab produced a full, bright tone that was particular effective on Buck's Eddie Hazel-ish auto-filtered clean chords and psychedelic shred-blues passages. It also tracked his hyperspeed leads and trill-punctuated chunk rhythms equally well. But Buckethead, a fan of solid-state gear's even response and good tracking is just as likely to turn up at a gig with a VHT Pitbull 50 watt head, and for a recent "Buckethead and Friends" show at Manhattan's Wetlands he rented TWO Mesa dual rectifier full stacks and ran them in stereo. "That sounded soooo gnarly", he gushes "I was freaking out." Then again, the devastating tones on Sacrifist were recorded direct through a Zoom multi-effector. Go figure.
For all those nightmarish, chandelier-smashing swirls, Buckethead plays his characteristic tapping flourish through a Roland SE-50 multi-effector set to harmonize the part in four ascending half-step voices above each pitch, essentially forming a cluster above or below each note. Apart from that, his effects are limited to a ProCo Rat, an Alesis Midiverb II for echo, occasional wah and a recently acquired Lexicon Jam Man for looping. "I think a lot in loops now", he says, "because of rap and dance music. Sometimes instead of using a harmonizer, I'll take one of those tapped things and record it four times, moving it up a half-step each time. You can get some really dense harmony that way."
It's getting late and Space Mountain, the last ride of the night beckons. Chowing greasy fries in the shadow of the Matterhorn, a stone's throw from Tomorrowland, Carroll squirms slightly at the thought that he's unmasking Buckethead for this interview. Like Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne, Buckethead has always tried to protect his anonymity, although he feels it's finally time to learn to co-exist with this monster. Buckethead, the story goes, was raised in a chicken coop. But Carroll, who first performed in character regularly with his old band the Deli creeps remembers a parallel genesis.
"I had just seen Halloween IV", he recalls of a dark night in 1989, "and as soon as it was over I went into a store across the street and said 'Do you have any Michael Myers masks?' They had a white mask, which really wasn't like a Michael Myers mask, but I liked it a lot. That night I was eating chicken out of a bucket that my dad brought home. It wasn't a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket either. It said "Deli Chicken" on the outside. I was eating it, and I put the mask on and then the bucket on my head. I went to the mirror. I just said 'Buckethead. That's Buckethead right there.' It was just one of those things. After that, I wanted to be that thing all the time."
The combination of Buckethead the friendly ax murderer with Buckethead the guitar wizard and robotic stage performer was practically instantaneous. "I thought it made sense with the way I play", he explains. "I play all this weird stuff, but if I just look like me, it isn't going to work. But, if I'm like this weird freak..." If anything, Carroll feels that becoming Buckethead has allowed him to express himself more freely than he would as unassuming Brian Carroll. "It opened the door to endless possibilities", he concurs as fireworks erupt in the Tomorrowland sky. "I can work anything into that character and make it totally work: all the thing I love in my life, like Disney, Giant Robot, Texas Chainsaw. Even though I'm wearing a mask and have a character, it's more real, more about what I'm really like, because I'm too shy to let a lot of things out. Every reason I became Buckethead and am Buckethead has to do with the way I live. It's not because I thought it would be successful. I never use anything that isn't part of what I really loved as a child or love right now."
You can contact Buckethead and purchase CDs directly by writing to Bucketheadland, Suite 545, 976 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711 or e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
11.22.02, 04:30 AM #4
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Mask and craziness aside, this guys output reminds me of Frank Zappa. Each release is different and unique. Unbelievable stuff. If anyone is interested, here are a few good starting points:
1)Colma-Amazing, mostly acoustic. Brain on drums. Some of the best melodies I've ever heard on guitar. Probably his best to date.
2)Thanatopsis-Jam Band Buckethead
3)Bermuda Triangle-Don't know how to describe this one, more of a techno/ambient record, genre-bending
4)Praxis Transmutations-Buckethead, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Brain-New Funk
5)Funnel Weaver-49 tracks, all riffs
6)Electric Tears-Bluesy, acoustic
7)Monsters and Robots-Shredding with Les Claypool and Brain.
11.24.02, 12:47 PM #5
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I honestly think that this guy would be a perfect fit in Primus! He's so weird!
Fun Fact though:, Did you know When Buckethead first started playing guitar, he would jam and get inspiration off of a godzilla statue he had in his room!
[img]graemlins/bounce.gif[/img]How to make a “Mad Anthony”
2 oz Cabo Wabo® Tequila
1 oz Spicy V8
Juice from a fresh Lime
A generous dollop of Mad Anthony’s Hot Sauce
Combine in a shaker full of ice and shake it up
Pour into shot glass garnished with
a dab of salt
a small slice of lime
a slice of Serrano or Jalapeno chili pepper
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