Interview: Howe Gelb a/k/a Giant Sand

Howe Gelb's Giant Sand plays the Blender Theater at Gramercy this Sunday, September 21. Tickets are $15 and on sale here.

"Every time the Republicans have been in [office], it seems like the best rock music gets made."

Since relocating from Pennsylvania over a quarter-century ago, and particularly since the death of his friend and fellow founding member Rainer Ptacek, Howe Gelb has served as the driving force behind Giant Sand (f/k/a Giant Sandworms).

Earlier this month, Gelb released proVISIONS, an atmospherically spacious collection spooky enough to stand-in for any David Lynch film with a Southwestern setting, and the first Giant Sand record in four years--an unusually long lull for a man who's spearheaded a half-dozen solo and over a dozen Giant Sand albums since 1985.

A second marriage to a Denmark native has caused Gelb to split time between the Southwest and Europe over the past few seasons, plus add two children and three new Danish band members to his extended family. On August 11--just days after Gelb returned to Tucson from the Old Country, with Gelb's legendary philosophizing playing lead--we discussed songwriting, his late friend Ptacek, his estrangement from former Giant Sand members and Calexico founders Joey Burns and John Convertino, the "Tucson sound," and the meaning of Giant Sand. -- Rob Trucks

Let's try a big, broad question to get us started. In the past, Giant Sand has been described as a one-man band with a revolving cast of characters. What's the current definition of Giant Sand?

It's always been more seasonal than any kind of cast revolution. I think it's just like, the current crop of storm huddlers, and the storm comes around every so often and we suffer through the same rains together, so to speak.

The thing is, the revolving cast, I don't think it really revolves. People don't come back around necessarily. They've all got lifetime memberships and all that, but the idea of what Giant Sand is is just like this escapade that has its own season. You know, the orbit is like a comet. I don't know exactly when . . . It doesn't come every November, or every two years, it just comes when it comes. And then I find myself in it and whoever's around me seem to be the ones in it at that time for as long as it seems to last. For better or for worse . . . I don't go out looking for members and I don't go out getting rid of members. I just let it happen by itself, and that's had its ups and downs. But that's how it's happened.

Why is proVISIONS a Giant Sand record as opposed to a solo record?

That's a good question. Because there's evidence there that it has a certain flavor that I always get when . . . Well, twenty-something years ago, 25 years ago? When I first started Giant Sand, that always seemed to be the basic rock band format. Three or four piece, sometimes a two-piece, sometimes a six-piece, but basically, you know, kind of like a guerilla tactical maneuver. You know, get in, get out, any kind of situation whether it's recording or touring. With Giant Sand it's usually like an enclave that's there for the duration of the entire record and tour. And often several records and several tours. So I don't feel like it's . . . That kind of music, when it's happening I know it. With these guys, it started out being--maybe this is too much information--but basically it started off being a solo thing back with a record called The Listener. And then on the tour for The Listener it occurred to me that the vibe I was getting, the feeling I had, the things that were starting to occur with me writing material, was just the way it's always felt like when I was with Giant Sand, and that was kind of a relief to realize. So that morphed into this band, the next lineup.

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