Interview with Fizzle Like a Flood

Omaha, Nebraska native Doug Kabourek aka Fizzle Like a Flood has some unique ideas about his music. From a concept album that goes backwards (from the present to the past) to an album of lo-fi tunes professing to be the demos to another album of fully layered grandiose pop songs, Kabourek isn’t adverse to trying new things. In fact, the freedom of not being on a large label and having preconceived expectations by fans is what drives him to try new things.

On his latest release, the “supposedly 4-track demos” album Flash Paper Queen, Kabourek shows off both his lush pop sensibilities and the more acoustic singer/songwriter side. And yet he tells us his next album may not really be either, perhaps combining the two styles or trying something new, even hinting of another little joke with the listeners.

In an e-mail interview, Kabourek discusses the dominance of Saddle Creek records in Omaha, the impetus behind his unique approaches to his albums, and his own musical abilities, which he says aren’t that strong. But it’s the song he focuses on, which is readily apparent in his music, and Doug talks about his love of the song as well.

Delusions of Adequacy: First, give us some history about Doug Kabourek. How long have you been making music, and have you been in any bands you’d care to mention? What’s your best and/or favorite instrument?

Doug Kabourek: I’ve played the drums since middle school, and when I was around 20 or 21 I ran into some old friends of mine from that time who wanted to start a band. They talked me into playing drums, and we called the band Matchbook Shannon. I kind of picked up how to play a little guitar and write songs while I was living with those guys in the middle of Iowa and going nowhere fast. So I’ve been writing songs for about seven years. I can only really play drums, basic guitar chords, and a very, very rudimentary piano.

I don’t really have a favorite instrument. I guess I play the guitar more than anything because that’s the only thing I can play and actually perform a song on, but I don’t really even think of myself as much of a musician – and even less a singer. I think of myself as a songwriter more than anything else. Or a musical artist, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the “thing” I’m making – and hopefully it’s not always going to be just 10 new songs on a CD. It could be like a sculpture, a painting or something else.

DOA: You once mentioned how I and other critics have wondered what is in the water in Omaha, Nebraska for so many stellar bands to be making such great music. As an Omahan (Omahanian?), why are there so many great bands there, and which are your favorites?

DK: That’s mostly an illusion cause by the Saddle Creek people. With the exception of the Creek bands from outside of Omaha, there are like at total of only 20-some musicians who just happen to share near a dozen or so different bands, so while it seems like there are a lot of great bands here, that’s not really the case. The bands are all kind of the same band of people – just with a different name and sound for each . I don’t really get why Conor made another band for the Desperacidos stuff. I think it would have been more interesting if Bright Eyes had just made the Read Music.. album – who says they can’t make a rock album? I guess maybe they have more rigid ideas of what each band’s sound should be than I do. I think they should just have a single band called Saddle Creek or something and have had one album be Danse Macabre and the next Lifted… now that would be an amazing band.

DOA: What has the local response been to your music? Do you feel eclipsed ever by the Saddle Creek entourage, or is there room in Omaha for even more bands/musicians?

DK: I think it’s pretty hard to not be eclipsed by them to some extent. I mean it’s kind of interesting when the local paper names Bright Eyes’ album the best album of the year – over the Sprigsteen, Gabriel, and Lips records. I mean that record is really good, but you know – it’s not that good. I don’t try to get much attention here though, so it doesn’t really get in my way. But I do think it is harder for non-Creek bands to get some attention. The response I get to my music is great. Some people have told me that Fizzle Like a Flood is their favorite local band, and that’s really amazing. I think if I ever made some t-shirts, they’d sell pretty well. I make it hard on myself though by doing weird projects that people don’t understand. I haven’t really had any local press for a record since Golden Sand, but I still think the shirts would sell.

DOA: You mention on your site that your favorite bands are The Beach Boys (ever) and The Flaming Lips (currently). That seems so fitting, since many (myself included) hear the influences of those two bands in your songs, especially ones like “Like Wind Like Rain,” with your own unique approach. Do you think those bands played a big role in your musical approach, and what are your other influences?

DK: Vocally, the Beach Boys played a big part. I didn’t really try to layer vocal melodies that much before I got into them. I’m glad I got into that though because I think it’s something that helps me stand out locally. Most other bands either don’t have good enough singers or record in a studio where it would be too expensive to take the time to do it. The real reason behind my musical approach was there from the very beginning when I was making my first tape, and it’s just that I couldn’t play guitar and sing into a microphone at the same time. If I could have, my record probably would have been me just doing that like old Simon Joyner records, but because I couldn’t, I ended up having to overdub the vocals. You do one overdub and at least a half dozen will follow every time, so that’s how I just started doing more and more – it wasn’t really because I was into the Lips. And so everything up until LWLR (“Like Wind Like Rain”) was me just taking it a bit further. I don’t think any of my favorite bands play much of a role in the songwriting itself. I couldn’t figure out how to write a Beach Boys kind of song if I wanted to because I don’t know any of the chords they use. I just write the kinds of songs I write and then color them in a similar way I think.

DOA: Do you still consider yourself to be a bedroom musician, or is it going to take a studio to create the big layers of sound that you go for on songs like “Love” and “Like Wind Like Rain”?

DK: I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I certainly do feel limited now. The kind of sound I’d like to get is way more than I can do by myself in a little room mixing it myself with no compression on inexpensive speakers. I’ve kind of hit a wall – my ideas are larger than my resources. I’d like to do a real “follow up” to Golden Sand, but that’s just not going to happen in a bedroom. I don’t have the motivation or knowledge to mix it. I could record it just fine, but I hate mixing ’cause that’s where I realize I’m not getting near the sound I could be. I don’t know how to EQ at all or make it punchy. The stuff usually sounds to me like a toy version of the real thing, so it’s kind of a bummer. I’m just hoping someone will come along and give me some chance to make a real record and have it mixed and mastered in a studio – then I’ll make my next big album. My ultimate dream is to be able to record the demo at home and then take it to a major studio and have session players re-record all the music there. I’d probably buy a nice mic and pre-amp to do the vocals at home though. In my ultimate fantasy, I am Peter Gabriel mixed with Phil Spector, but without the goatee or gun.

DOA: You aren’t taking the normal pop musician approach to making 30-minute mindless pop albums. Tell me about your impetus for taking different approaches to your albums.

DK: I guess it’d probably be different if I had any kind of big audience or success, because I’d certainly feel the pressure to stay within a certain sound. But since I don’t have a record label that’s yelling at me about this and that, I can build a more interesting catalog. I tend to think of everything as an album or a song, and I guess I fell the same about my catalog of releases. Just like how you wouldn’t want a whole album of the same song over and over – I don’t want a catalog of the same album over and over. I like how actors can have been in a bunch of very different kinds of films even though if you looked at the history of the directors of those films, you’d find that they tend to make the same kind of film again and again. I want to have a history like an actor. Could you call that a “character musician?” I mean Jack Nicholson has done both the guy in About Schmidt and The Joker. I want to be diverse like that. I tell my label about some crazy album idea like once every two weeks, and it provides constant entertainment for them I’m sure.

DOA: How did Golden Sand and the Grandstand come about? Why a conceptual album, and why tell it backwards?

DK: I have no idea what I was thinking in 1999. I kind of can’t believe I spent a whole year and a half working on an album about some dumb horse track. I guess I was just kind of lost in a creative place or something. I decided to do a concept album simply because I was impressed by this concept EP my friend Chris (Chrash) did. The inspiration came from this huge horse track grandstand that is right in the middle of Omaha – in fact you can see it from the Ranch Bowl, where a lot of touring bands play here. I would ride by it everyday on a shuttle bus that took me to classes at UNO, and one day I decided to skip the bus and just walk back to my car. I kind of explored the grandstand that day, and it’s always a very strange feeling to be somewhere that has been very worn and colored by life but that is completely void of any now. It was like the place to be for 60 years, and now it’s probably only months away from getting dozed. I just started to think about how many people had spent time there, and I wrote “Shadows.” I then just decided to write a whole collection of songs based off that place, and that ended up being the record. People always seemed surprised that I sequenced the songs from present to past, but it didn’t seem weird at the time. Maybe because I wrote “Shadows” first. I also did it because I thought it would be a bit more interesting – and also sadder – to make the eventual demise clear from the start and then tell about the people trying to stop it. I think it gave the last song a weirder feel because it is so cheery – yet you already know it’s all gonna end eventually. Plus I then got to call that song “Delayed Dedication,” which I liked because 1) it has massive amounts of vocal delay on it, 2) in the story it rains and that delays the dedication, and 3) what should have come first on the record has now been delayed until the end. Sometimes I go out of my way just to have a certain song title.

DOA: On Flash Paper Queen, you don’t tell anyone that these aren’t really 4-track demos to a different album. Is it a big secret the critics are all going to give away, or is it ok for the readers to understand that approach?

DK: Oh they should certainly know it – I don’t want it to be a secret. I am leaving that part up to the press. You just can’t make the thing right and fill them in at the same time because that would ruin the completeness, and thus the humor, of the design. You have to take it all the way. I do want people to realize that the songs are all recorded especially to sound the way they do – they weren’t recorded as demos at all – they were just recorded real bad to get the sound I wanted!

DOA: Why present them as demos? Do you plan on fully developing more of these songs into the fully layered pop direction as you did with “Like Wind Like Rain” and “Don’t Go”?

DK: I was trying to come up with a way to present both this big single and the collection of dirty-sounding songs at the same time, and this was the most interesting way to do it. I actually was considering this record the second in a line of singles I was planning – it was to be a single with an album as its B-side until Ernest Jenning got interested, and then charging only $4 for a 30 minute recording became impossible to do if it wasn’t going to be made at Kinko’s. At the same time, such stripped-down songs seemed hard to put out with the Fizzle Like a Flood name, seeing as I have kind of been getting known for doing big, intricate stuff. The packaging idea just made sense to me for some weird Andy Kaufman-like reason. It’s no different than The Blair Witch Project or Spinal Tap when you think about it – something packaged as something it is not for creative purposes. Also, doing it this way presents the illusion of another album even though none exists, and the idea of actually engineering a “lost album” was interesting. There’s a theory that a Beach Boys album called Remember the Zoo existed – in concept anyway – right before Pet Sounds, and it had a lot of Pet Sounds songs “on” it. It has been called a “lost album” by some, even though some of the songs that were supposed to be on it were never recorded. Maybe in 30 years people will talk about Flash Paper Queen like it was something great that never came out – or maybe they will just say “yeah, that one kind of sucked.” Aside from the single and maybe one or two others, this is how I think these songs should sound, so I don’t plan on ever doing bigger versions of them. I guess it’s possible I could maybe do up another song here and there and put them out on comps like I did with “Don’t Go.” We’ll see. Maybe some bands will try covering some since I haven’t really made anything crazy to compete with – that’d be cool. I’ve never heard anyone cover a song of mine.

DOA: Your approach to Love and “Like Wind Like Rain” seems to be the antithesis of what pop singer/songwriters are doing these days, and I know you’ve talked about continuing with these types of songs. Tell me about that approach and why this approach is important to you.

DK: Are you talking about the sound of the records or the kinds of records? I think the sounds aren’t that different than what others are doing, and I kind of already talked about why I do the projects I do. I do think I’ll make a full instrumental record along the lines of Love sometime.

DOA: I got the sense with Love that that was the direction you intended to take, and then you flip-flopped with the more back-to-basics Flash Paper Queen. Why did you go for the more traditional singer/songwriter approach?

DK: Most all of the songs just called for it. They are more personal and sounded weird when I started making them this big thing. I did a lot of work for the song “Flash Paper Queen” and threw it all out because the song just didn’t have any emotional punch with all the vocals and instruments and stuff. I did decide to take it up a notch and do the best I could with the single though – I think that songs works well orchestrated. I also wanted to put out something that shows that I can be minimal too. I wanted to do that so that in the future, when my wife and I have a kid and I have even less time to record, I can release records of just me and the guitar or piano and it won’t come as a total shocker. I can see that happening way too soon. I hope some people will be interested in just my songs.

DOA: On your website you say “I want to write some really great songs now.” Does that mean you give less credence to the songs you were creating before, or is it more a frustration with the time-consuming approach to those fully crafted, layered pop tunes?

DK: I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t like the old ones at all. I like them as much as I ever have. I don’t know exactly what I meant by that – I change my mind all the time. I think I pretty much just meant that I plan to start focusing more on the actual song rather than its presentation now. I want to see if any truly great and timeless songs happen to be inside me.

DOA: You’ve said it took you six months to hone “Like Wind Like Rain.” Although I’m sure you’ve written and recorded many of the other Flash Paper Queen songs in that time, does that lengthy process make it difficult to continue producing those types of songs?

DK: Oh it totally sucks. On one hand, with mixing I end up taking forever to get a song done – I only have like one day a week that I get the chance to record, and with all the editing and stuff that is involved with it – that’s not much time. The decision to use some outside musicians on “Like Wind Like Rain” made it take even longer because I had to plan the time with them and everything. On the other hand, I have kind of lost my flow when it comes to layered pop. I actually don’t find it all that challenging or exciting anymore because I simply know I can do it. Aside from a less-than-stellar final mix, the songs always come together just fine and pretty much like I expected them to. I guess that’s a good thing, but it can also be boring. I don’t really surprise myself anymore, so I’m trying things that aren’t just more. I’m trying to think of things that are different for me. I think “LWLR” is kind of my “Good Vibrations” last harrah when it comes to the layering of vocals and instruments. At least until I get some sugar daddy waving hundreds at me.

DOA: Will the next Fizzle Like a Flood release take the Flash Paper Queen approach or the lofty “Like Wind Like Rain” approach? And do you think you could create a full album of that kind of music with the time it takes?

DK: What I tell you about the next record will be completely wrong in like a week, but I’ll try. Like I said – it’s not going to be “LWLR” because I just don’t think that can be topped in any department other than studio production, which isn’t my game. I would like to try to do a full album of layered pop, but with how long that would take for me, I couldn’t finish it. I need more immediate rewards to keep motivated. If I could take a whole year off from work and do that as my job, and if I had a studio to mix and master it at, I’d do it – but not the current way. I think the next record is going to still be complex as far as melodies, but it will be more stripped down instrumentally. Like there may just be a couple of instruments on a song, but those instruments are overdubbed and there are like three or four counterpoint melodies on just piano or something. It will probably have tons of piano on it, because that is something new for me and a sound I haven’t had on many things. The next record is pretty much written, and it will also have a misleading packaging design that kind of echoes the Flash Paper Queen idea. It will also have a slight theme in some lyrics and music, but you wouldn’t really know it unless you know me. The title of the record is Fizzle Like a Flood.

DOA: How much touring have you done for Fizzle Like a Flood, and do you bring a full band, or is it a single singer/songwriter kind of approach (which I imagine would be more suited for Flash Paper Queen)?

DK: I have never played a show outside of Omaha. In town, I have been playing about four or five songs by myself – which are mostly from Flash Paper Queen – and then bringing the band up for another set of five songs. I have an awesome drummer, bass player, and keyboard player. I also have a bit of stage fright, so I don’t book many shows. I don’t plan on doing any touring until someone books the shows for me. I’d be happy to go then, but the business side of music is the last thing I’m interested in. Booking a tour is not fun – I tried that in Matchbook Shannon and grew to hate it quite quickly.

DOA: What do you do in your spare time, or is Fizzle Like a Flood what you do in your spare time, in which case the better question would be what you do in your non-spare time (a full-time job, perhaps, or independently wealthy)?

DK: My spare time is either filled by hanging out with my wife Julie and our friends or writing and recording. In the summer, I like to run – about three miles every day or so. I work full time for a website called toolbarn.com where I add products to the site. It’s the only job I could get after graduating college in a recession with an advertising degree.

DOA: You’ve bounced around on a few labels for your three releases, with Flash Paper Queen finding a home on the respected Ernest Jenning Records. Are you happy with a home there, and how is that working out for you so far?

DK: So far it’s awesome. I’ve never had someone actually working with me. I mean, I’ll say something to them about how it’d be nice if this was like that and they’ll actually tell me they have a guy working on it! That’s nuts to me. Though I can’t sell enough to warrant radio mail outs yet, this record should eventually be available at most anywhere you can get indie music because they just got a sweet distribution deal. I sure as hell have never been in a record store outside of a consignment or used bin. The Ernest Jenning guys seem genuinely interested in my different ideas – I am as happy as I can be.