An interview with
Herb Heinz (dud)

By Beppe Colli
May 22, 2007

"My newest band is called dud. It is a large improvised music ensemble, somewhere between art music and jam-band, a little like The Grateful Dead, but completely improvised, with vocals. We are starting to play local shows." So spoke Herb Heinz in an interview we did about three years ago. And given the fact that Heinz is both gifted and original my curiosity had been stimulated.

Given the importance that the visual side has in the whole picture, the collective (whose name, by the way, is dud) decided to release a DVD-V, titled eyes. Since - as I wrote in my review - I found eyes to be well worth my time, I thought this was the perfect time to ask Herb Heinz a few questions. Conducted by e-mail, the interview took place last week.

As a first topic, I'd really like you to talk about the way dud originally came together. Whose idea was it?

dud was formed primarily by myself and my longtime friend and improvisational conspirator, Mark Briggs in early 2003. Mark and I had been playing together, in various formats, on and off for 20 years, primarily as a group called Hmmm... We had recently completed our CD, I Only Want Love, and we were ready for something new.

At the time (and still now, to be honest) I was wondering about the relevance of music to the people and other important things in my life. In particular, I wanted to explore new ways of creating and presenting my music that might feel more connected and relevant to my community. dud is a great forum for this exploration, thanks to our quick and interactive creation process and our relatively frequent and very diverse performance schedule.

Talking about the musicians who appear on eyes: I have to admit that I know just a couple of them, so I'd really appreciate if you would talk about them all, however briefly, and about their contribution to the group.

A long list of artists and musicians contribute to dud. It's fantastic to have such a major talent pool, for the tremendous collection of skills and experience, and because, in general, we've found that a larger pot of musical/artistic brains makes a better soup. Here's a bit about most of the performers on our DVD.

Micah Ball is an inventive and skilled multi-instrumentalist and my former band-mate in Amy X Neuburg & Men. He was an early member of dud, playing bass, fretless guitar and his z-tar (an electronic controller) on several tracks on eyes. He also sang the song mind.

Mark Briggs and I have been friends and collaborators forever. I don't know of anyone who can create a coherent "lead" vocal, on the fly like Mark. Religion, the rules, and kool-aid are some examples from the DVD. Mark also contributes experimental guitar and wind instruments like flute.

Doug Carroll is a totally original electric cellist. Doug was one of the earliest members of the band and he is on most of the tracks on eyes. Doug played cello and spoken-word vocals on several tracks.

Shawn King is an extremely creative percussionist who was an important contributor to my CD, Another. Shawn has been with dud since the early days, but because of his busy schedule, he is only on a couple tracks on eyes. His percussion on mind (along w/Richard Smith) shows a glimpse of his talent.

Craig Latta is dud's newest recruit and a very talented and original multi-instrumentalist, who deserves mention even though he is not on eyes. Craig joined dud late in 2006 as a bass player; currently he is playing guitar.

Melissa Rae was originally "just" a listener to dud, but she quickly found her way into the group and developed her unique role as a kind of (Greek) chorus, commenting on the various goings-on. Melissa’s lovely vocals are featured on several tracks like canyouhearme? hopes&fears, and religion. She also plays clarinet.

Kate Ruddle is another very talented artist who contributed a tremendous amount to early dud. Kate's fearlessness and her gift for verbal expression enabled her to function, often, as the "archetypal" voice. Although she is no longer with the group, she can be heard on several tracks of eyes, like fear, try and nothing. Kate also worked a bit on the visual side of dud, contributing camera work and handwriting to the track mind.

Sam Sheats is simply a fantastic bass player. He played on seven of the eleven tracks on eyes, holding down the grooves and never missing a beat.

Richard Smith has been dud's drummer since the beginning, and he is such a crucial part of the group that it's difficult to imagine the band without him. He is featured on every track of eyes, either on electronic drums and/or singing in his rich distinctive baritone.

Tim Walters is a widely and deeply talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, recording artist, and performing musician. He is one of the more recent additions to the band. Tim brings several of his musical skills to dud, including laptop-based sound design mayhem and bass playing.


Reza Abusaidi and his son Alex have contributed tremendously to dud, bringing a different point of view. Reza operates video cameras and created several of the earliest dud videos. He eventually brought  his (10-year-old, at the time) son Alex into the group. Alex has worked in several technical roles, from camera to lighting operator.

Andrew Juris is an extremely gifted artist whose work and talent I admire. He only performs with dud occasionally, but these are often very special shows. Andrew's "live digital painting" is completely original and unique - hopes&fears is a great example. Andrew is also the main on-screen visual performer in the track hungry.

Franz Keller is gifted artist with a bold and original style who joined dud more recently. Franz's work is featured on the first half of the track called fear and the track nothing.

Claudine Naganuma is a very talented and successful dancer who has been involved in several dud performances. She is the performer in soundwar.

Tim Thompson is a brilliant and inventive computer programmer and artist who created much of the visual content of the eyes DVD. Tim came to dud with only limited experience in this area but has developed his own very distinctive and sensitive style.

I noticed that in concert most of you wear headphones, I guess for monitoring purposes. Talk about this aspect of the group's live dimension.

Indeed, headphone monitoring has turned out to be one of the basic elements of the band. Because we create and inhabit sometimes dense and complex electronic sound environments, it is important that we all hear as much detail as possible. There is one "live mix" in a show: our headphones carry the same mix as the audience, so we can hear all the details and evaluate our contribution to the whole. This method also helps our recording process because the "live mix" recordings are usually quite good. We do usually record in multi-track, in case there are things to "fix" or creative changes are wanted. But sometimes there's a recording problem, and the live mix is all there is - for example, on the DVD, the tracks mind, nothing, and fear are all "live mix" recordings.

There is a way in which headphones can feel like they are separating the band from the audience. Yet they also bring you closer to the (shared) musical space. I think they are a nice way to listen to dud, as it allows the listener to inhabit the sound-scape like we do when performing. Someday we may find a way to have an entire audience wear headphones.

Though the music on eyes is definitely on the accessible side, I think it really needs a certain amount of attention on the part of the listeners to really work. So I'm curious to know more about the different types of places you play in, and audiences' reactions so far.

Our best audience reactions tend to come from open-minded and creative people, particularly other musicians, artists and people who appreciate the un-ordinary.

This isn't really surprising, because the music does not really "tell" the listener how to hear it. It probably requires "creative listening" to really appreciate. Ideally, there is enough happening in the music to keep a "creative listener" busy. I like this notion, because the audience is participating in the process.

dud has performed in a lot of environments like galleries, parks, parties, theatres, clubs, festivals, etc. We are interested in different venues not only to access different audiences, but also because the venue has a major affect what we do. The "topic" of a concert always includes the environment.

I noticed that in concert you play a Novation keyboard - but what's the guitar, a Strat-like Modulus (with, I imagine, a graphite neck)? It's because it works well against the Gretsch?

My guitar is usually a Modulus Graphite with a Roland GK pickup, often driving a Roland VG8 guitar processor directly into the mix (no amp; the VG8 simulates that). The great thing about the VG is I can change everything (tuning, effects, amp, etc.) with a footswitch.

Mark often plays the Gretsch, but he also uses other guitars. His instrument is a bit more "traditional" in that sense.

I usually use the Novation X-Station as my keyboard. I use it to drive various synths or the internal one.

Though the music of the group is, I understand, improvised, the resulting whole sounds surprisingly coherent, and quite easy to grasp, I think. Do you think there is an “imaginary” conceptual whole the members keep in mind while playing acting as a "rejection rule"? (Hope this is clear.)

The coherence you refer to is, to me, our goal. It is a thing that we recognize immediately, but it's elusive. We sort of know how to get there, but we don't when we are there... we can't know, because once we (think we) know, we tend to lose touch with our connection to it. Getting there seems to require some intention but primarily a kind of pure openness, sincerity, and/or heart. Kinda like quantum physics... or maybe religious faith. Sometimes we call this place "the zone."

Other than that, we're just a pop band, dig?

Of course, everyday life gives us plenty of topics to think about (I often wonder about the reason why so many groups restrict themselves to such banalities in their songs...). Would you mind talking about the way reality contributes to the group's work? (I mean, in the way of the lyrics.)

The lyrics are attempts to poetically state what's on our mind that day, that moment. It often starts with something banal. When it is "translated" or expressed as a poetic idea or an image, possibilities open up in the interpretation (listening).

Mostly, it must be true when it is said. Again, I go back toward the coherence/truth/heart idea above.

dud is really a strange name for a group, inviting all sorts of reactions (dunno whether you remember J.D. Considine's review of an album by the group GTR, which consisted of just one word: SHT). How do you see the group's work in the context of today's (music and media) landscape?

As artists and makers of (pop?) culture, it's our job to be creative. Much of today's music/media/cultural landscape, like other competitive environments, favors non-creativity. So the name - our first impression or introduction - tries to get you off on the right foot by challenging you to form your own opinion. The easy choice is to mindlessly agree. The creative possibility is to decide for yourself!

In closing, the usual question about future plans.

dud is really all about our live shows. Everything else is window dressing. But dressing the windows seems to be my job, and it keeps me busy. So I do not currently have plans for any major artistic projects outside of dud. We will likely release a DVD of our January 6, 2007 concert, in order to open another window. Maybe a series of "video singles" on DVD. That's about it... oh, except for the expedition to Mars...

© Beppe Colli 2007 | May 22, 2007