Jean Baudin likes to push the limits of his instrument. Unsatisfied with the range he could achieve on his bass, he kept adding more strings to the mix. It's added a very unique sound to every one of his projects. The band he formed, Nuclear Rabbit, sounds like you're going down the rabbit hole to wonderland, only it is in a full-blown, post-apocalyptic, nuclear winter.
But Nuclear Rabbit's last CD came out in 2003, and there is no solid word on when a follow-up is coming. So Jean has occupied himself with solo work that is in the completely opposite direction. While his band transports you to a twisted fantasy world, his solo work strips away the rest of the world, and envelopes you with soothing, ambient sound.
It's a jump that some of his fans might not be able to make, but I was on board the second I heard both. Jean was nice enough to shoot some emails back and forth with me, and answer some of my burning questions. We talked about how he writes his music, why he made the jump in sound between Nuclear Rabbit and his solo music, video games and their influence on his music, and ostriches... always ostriches.
Read the interview here...
Alex: If I've got the order right, you went from 4, to 5, to 6, to 9, to 11, to 13 strings. Will you ever be satiated, or is it just going to have to come to the point when no one can build you anything with more strings?
Jean: That's about it... I had a 12-string built for me by JP Basses in France. The 13 is still in the works, and last I spoke with the luthier he was having a hard time making the neck fit into his jig -- a similar problem Ken Lawrence ran into with the Joust bass which resulted in him going old school and doing a lot of work by hand and chisel.
I'm actually fine with just 11, any more than that and both the tone and the instrument itself are compromised.
Alex: Probably the easiest way I've found to describe Nuclear Rabbit to people, is to just say the name Mr. Bungle. How do Mr. Bungle comparisons make you feel? Is that something you strived to be as a band?
Jean: I never thought of us as anything like Mr. Bungle. If we wanted to be like them we would have added horns, keyboards and written our music completely differently.
Alex: True. It's similar to comparisons of a band I enjoy, Tub Ring, to Mr. Bungle. I never really heard it, but I could understand it as effective for conveying the crazy, turn-on-a-dime feel of the music.
Jean: Yeah, you can say we are both crazy, but just listening to recordings of both Nuclear Rabbit and Mr. Bungle, we are very barebones, whereas Mr. Bungle has lots of production/tracks/overdubs etc.
Alex: The frenetic bass and guitar lines match Greg's crazy lyrics and characters perfectly. It's like you're crafting a twisted little world. Did you try to match your bass lines to what he wanted to sing, or vice versa? What was the writing process like?
Jean: We actually have a pretty creative way of writing songs, it's like writing imaginary soundtrack music. Take for example Gazelle: The beginning music is like background music for a lion creeping behind a bush looking at a gazelle. He leaps out of the bush and starts running toward the gazelle, which is represented by the bass intro. When the Gazelle notices him it freaks out and bolts, kicking up some dirt, which would be the guitar lick at the end of the bass intro. As the main riff starts with the full band, the gazelle is represented by the guitar (the ska riff kinda hops like a gazelle), the bass (which is the lion), and the drums are like the pounding on the dirt of them running. Now, if you listen to song and have this mind you get a whole different perspective.
"The Pimp, The Bitch, and The Magic Beans" has a lot of crazy shit going on as far as a story but unfortunately the original lyrics kind of sucked so we switched to kind of a rip on The Hobbit (long before those LOTR movies came out)... yet, we kept the original title and the original soundtrack is still there -- 1:49-2:01 has the guitar representing a beanstalk growing and the bass part is the pimp scrambling up the vine. Cotton Anatomy has a crazy part when the little kid rips all his stuffed animals apart. I could throw out a ton more examples and a lot of the shit never really makes it into the lyrics.
The Pimp, The Bitch, and the Magic Beans
Alex: I check the band website on a somewhat regular basis, hoping that a national tour, or at least a Michigan date, will magically appear. But I am constantly greeted with, "No shows right now. Writing new tunes." If the new cd is ever released, will I possibly get my fabled Michigan show?
Jean: We all live pretty far away from each other so it's tough to get some solid band rehearsals in. On top of that, in this day and age, few people actually buy music (bless the ones who do) so getting all the funds together for us do a tour is pretty hopeless. That's the unfortunate reality.
Alex: Your solo work is a stark contrast from that of Nuclear Rabbit, more atmospheric and contemplative. Is this a natural maturation of your musical interests, a desire to try new things, or something else entirely?
Jean: Being that it's just bass and that I did a lot of crazy stuff with Nuclear Rabbit, I strived for a more atmospheric sound. It may sound cheesy, but I wanted the music to envoke feelings and emotions. I also tried to lay off on the technical stuff and tried to leave it to essence of the melody.
Alex: A lot of people may only know you from the YouTube video in which you play the Super Mario Bros. music on your 11 string bass. Are you a big gamer? What is your earliest gaming memory and what are your current favorites?
Jean: My earliest memories of playing games was bugging my mom for quarters to play games like Dig Dug, Robotron and Dragon's Lair at the local arcade. I've definitely been a lifetime gamer... Atari 2600, Super NES, Dreamcast, Saturn, PS1, PS2, PS3. Some of my current favorites are Street Fighter IV (I play a mean Dhalsim and E. Honda), Borderlands, Uncharted 2 and I just started playing The Saboteur.
Alex: Has your love of video games seeped into your music at all, besides the obvious game music covers?
Jean: Definitely. I've always wanted to do a game soundtrack.
Alex: You have a Pac-Man themed 9 string, and a Joust themed 11 string. Any other video game themed instruments?
Jean: Yeah, there are a couple in the works. It will be a couple years yet before they are finished so you'll have to wait until then to see what "theme" they have.
Alex: Speaking of the Joust bass, I've sort of created a running gag in my writing involving riding ostriches and playing real life Joust. I wasn't even aware you had a Joust themed bass when I thought to interview you, but upon discovering this fact, I'd be remissed if I didn't continue the trend. So, is there a cooler animal to ride then an ostrich? Because I can't think of one.
Jean: Have you ever been face to face with an ostrich? Those fuckers are mean. A Vicuna would be my first choice to saddle up.
Alex: Well, I imagine they could be tamed as there are people that race them. Still, birds would probably be the hardest things to tame. Speaking of a gazelle, that would probably be quite the ride. Ridiculously fast and you could hold the horns to stay on.
Anyway, I read that you've collected some arcade cabinets. I also collect them. I've got Williams OXO pinball, and their odd game/pinball hybrid Hyperball, as well as Space Invaders and Capt. America. What have you collected over the years, and if I ever realize my dream of opening an arcade in my tiny town, would Nuclear Rabbit play there for no payment other then free-play?
Jean: Haha that would be rad. In 1994 we played a show at a place that was kinda like a treehouse (in Santa Cruz) and they had a bunch of games and they had to pull me off of Mortal Kombat II to play the show.
I've had something like 80-90 arcade games (and a few pins). Mostly stuff from 1980-1983... games like Tron, Satan's Hollow, Q*bert, Donkey Kong Jr., Asteroids, Tempest, etc. I'm down to about 25 however; we converted our basement into a video arcade so it's pretty sweet place to throw parties occasionally.
Alex: What exactly are you working on next? The Internet tells me you're in a more heavy metal band called VooDoo Gods, and a cd is forthcoming, but I've also heard lots of rumblings about a follow-up to Mutopia. What's going to come first?
Jean: Voodoo Gods was basically just a recording. They contacted me to see if I could play bass on their CD. I warned them that I might do some crazy shit that wouldn't fit the standard "metal" mold and they said "Go for it." in fact that's exactly what they wanted. I finished all the recordings for them over a year ago. Not sure what the hold up is.
As for new stuff, I have a technique book that will be available soon as a digital download from jeanbaudin.com. There are new solo pieces and Nuclear Rabbit material in the works but nothing to be announced yet.