Dave Heumann of Arbouretum interview

I remember being 8 or 9 and listening to 45’s from my fathers record collection on a little turntable I was given as a Christmas gift. One of the first records I played was by THE DIAMONDS and the song was called LITTLE DARLIN. It blew my mind. I played it over and over and over again. Do you recall your first musical stop you in your tracks moment? What was the song and band?

I don't know if I can remember a "stopped me in my tracks moment" from that early, but I was constantly trying to find things in my parents' record collection before I started taking records out from the library. The moments that I remember most vividly mainly came from adolescence and right before. I can remember how seeing Dylan's video for Jokerman blew my mind, back in the early days of MTV. I might have been 12 then. I can remember going to a friend's house when I was 14 or so and hearing the John Coltrane quartet for the first time, and how that seemed to open up a portal in my awareness. I can also remember being in eighth grade and hearing this guy playing Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" on his boombox, and what a revelation that was.

Did you grow up in a musical home?

Not really, though we had a piano and a guitar in the house. My mom played piano and my dad played a little guitar, but neither played often. I had an uncle that visited sometimes- my father's brother. He was decent on the guitar and banjo and had a pretty good voice as I remember. He'd show up, having driven from Chicago to Baltimore, sometimes with a banjo, and sometimes with a bag of Chinese herbs. He was into a lot of things- martial arts, stringed instruments, acupuncture, meditation, lacrosse...interesting guy.

What was the moment that made you want to pick up the guitar? How old were you?

I had picked up my dad's old nylon string guitar here and there, but I didn't know how to tune it and I don't think it had all the strings on it most of the time. It wasn't until I was 14 that I got my own guitar, which was a cheap strat copy made by Kramer. I got it for Christmas and I still have it, actually. It just seemed like playing lead guitar was something of a shining path for me. Back then, it was the early days of MTV, so you'd have Eddie Van Halen playing "Hot For Teacher", and Prince doing that end solo in "Let's Go Crazy". I wanted to be up there doing that stuff too.

Who were your early influences ? Who were the players that made you want to pick up the guitar at first? I read in an interview where you mentioned SANDY DENNY “Sandy Denny was probably a bigger influence though, but that's a little harder to pick up on because she was a woman and not a guitarist”. I find this very interesting can you expand on this. I do hear parallels in vocal delivery and cadence but that’s not guitar related. Or is it?

When I answered that question I probably should have stressed that she wasn't a *lead* guitar player, because she did play guitar and was good at accompanying herself on it.

Anyway, I was thinking more songwriting-wise when I was talking about her being an influence, and as you mentioned, vocal delivery was part of that too. There are things in the way I sang our song "False Spring" that I can directly tie to Sandy Denny. Richard Thompson has come to be more influential to me as a guitarist than he probably was when I gave that interview. He's one of the best out there, I think.

For example her song - Green Grow the Laurels begs to be covered by Arbouretum. It’s all there waiting for you. The song structure and melancholy of it screams “COVER ME”.

This is actually the first I'd heard it. Cool song! Maybe we'll do it sometime. I've also thought of covering REM's "Green Grow the Rushes". I think someone compared a song from my solo record Here in the Deep to that song, which was the seed of that.

For the music lover Music is a journey. Discovering a new band that you fall in love with is one of life’s great little moments. Typically someone doesn’t discover a band like LUNGFISH, ARBOURETUM or THE VELVET UNDERGROUND right out the chute. I started with The Diamonds and Little Richard then into Classic Rock then THE RAMONES and from there I was off to the races. What was your journey like and what were some of the highlights?

I feel like I've answered this partially elsewhere, but The Ramones were big for me too in adolescence. I didn't get into too much punk then, but I did love them and got into a little hardcore too. The Velvet Underground were also important, but that came a bit later. I got into Lou Reed's solo stuff before I really dove deep into the Velvet records.

How old were you when you started or joined your first band? Can you tell us about that period ? What was the bands name ? What style of music were you playing or covering?

I was 14 and had really only been playing for a few months when I joined my first band. It was called Scattered Winds. We played classic rock covers, basically. We got pretty good for our age. We were our high school's house band for a couple years and played assemblies and such, also played house parties in Baltimore County. We actually reunited and played at our HS reunion recently, which was pretty wild. In February we're playing again for a benefit show.

How did you come to form ARBOURETUM?

I was fronting a band which was very much a straight-up late '90s, early '00s rock band. Very much song-oriented, and the songs were played more or less the same way every time we'd play them. There weren't really many places to improvise or do interesting variations on the fly. Then I joined up with Will Oldham's band for a tour- it was the European tour supporting the Bonnie 'Prince" Billy album Ease Down The Road. I was playing with Ned Oldham's band, The Anomoanon, as well, and that time period also saw me doing more stuff with Will and also David Pajo, with his Papa M project. After playing in those bands, where the arrangements were a bit more fluid and open to a certain amount of interpretation on any given night, what I was looking for in a project changed. So I started Arbouretum in late 2002, and one goal was to work with some of those ideas in the sense that the music could be looser and more flowy versus what I'd experienced in bands up to that point.

Baltimore always had a vibrant music scene. So many amazing bands call it home. It’s the birthplace of HALF JAPANESE for Gods sakes! LUNGFISH is another favorite. What was the scene like then and has it changed? What is it like today?

Back in the day, when I was seeing bands like Lungfish for the first time, the scene as I remember it was pretty crazy. This is the '90s I'm talking about. There wasn't this sense that as a musician you had to fit any kind of mold, really, it seemed pretty wide-open. Part of this was that we were constantly getting passed over for larger touring bands in favor of DC, so we weren't on anyone's map, and there weren't too many expectations. Mostly, people wanted to have a good time, and that's something we excelled at. And we did have some great bands, tons of them in fact, whether or not anyone else in the world knew about it.

Then after the turning of the millennium, you had bands and artists appear that the public at large did start to become aware of, and this started in warehouses and other DIY spaces and became a larger thing. Pretty soon we became something of a hotspot.

These days, a lot of the same artists from the early 2000s are still around, but they're playing bigger rooms. There's still a DIY scene, and it's a little different than it was 20 or 30 years ago but has a similar vibe sometimes. When I go out to see music now, it's often in smaller spots, sometimes in not really official spaces, and it's often somewhere along the jazz/noise spectrum, not really rock bands as such. Of course, there are still a lot of shows happening in Baltimore that I'm only barely aware of and never make it out to, which is probably as much of a generational situation as it is owing to any other factors.

ARBOURETUM has released 10 critically acclaimed records and several EP’s. Is there a record amongst them that has a special place in your heart? Maybe because of certain things that were happening in your or band members lives at the time? The way the record was engineered? If so which one and why?

This is a tough question. I've heard other artists say that they love their albums like they were their children, and how can a parent say they love one child more than another? I get that, but also when I look back on making them, I more than anything think of separate experiences that happened, scattered over years. 

I can go back to when we were making The Gathering. We were in Brooklyn, NY, recording with Matt Boynton in the studio he had there at the time. I felt that When Delivery Comes needed some thickening for the bridge section, maybe a cello. Matt was like, "ah, I know a guy. It will cost you such and such per hour, which is the going rate in NY, but this guy is great, super creative and a great player". So this guy came over named Danny Bensi. I think he was there 45 minutes total maybe, and he laid down four parts which harmonized with each other, all played perfectly. He was brilliant- it seemed like he saw it all laid out in his head pretty much instantly, and it was his first time hearing the song. I never kept up with him after that, but saw his name in the credits of some shows I was watching as the composer, like Ozark and The Outsider. I'm glad he ended up getting a lot of work, he deserves it.

Is your main guitar your Martin EM-18 ? It appears in photos and videos. What is about that guitar that makes it special to you? Where did you acquire it and how long have you owned it? Does the guitar have a backstory?

I've had it since 2009. I first saw a picture of one in a glossy coffee table book about guitars. I liked the look of it at first I think because it reminded me of Jerry Garcia's Wolf guitar. But also it had this crazy headstock that was reminiscent of Martin's first guitars, which were made in the late 1800s. It looked like a guitar that came from outside time. So one morning I got up and knew that this would be the day I found one on Craigslist. Not sure if I saw it in a dream or what, but I just awoke with a feeling of certainty. Sure enough, there one was- about an hour and a half away, by the Maryland Eastern Shore. I called the guy, he'd only had the post up for five minutes at that point. I told him I was going to come down and not to sell it to anyone else, and that's how I ended up with it.

You had your Martin modified to use lipstick humbucker pickups with a coil tap options. How did you determine that Lipstick pickups were the tone you we’re looking? Where did you first hear a guitar with lipsticks? What is it about them that makes them right for you?

I got into the sound of lipstick pickups when I played mainly a Danelectro baritone. Just loved that chime-y sound. When I got my EM-18, it had tired old Mighty Mites that squealed a lot, so I had the lipstick humbuckers put in. I've since had the bridge pickup replaced with a DiMarzio Super Distortion, and instead of having it a coil tap, it's wired for series/parallel switching. Sounds awesome. Using it in parallel mode actually brings me about halfway to a tele sound, it's really cool.

Do you have a favorite amplifier? I know you own an Ampeg Reverborocket ? Is it an original or reissue? Where did you find it? Did you go through a lot of amp and guitar combinations. What is special about this amplifier?

The Ampeg Reverborocket was a '90s reissue. I think I'd just gotten in from Guitar Center. I'd always liked Ampegs. I had owned a VT-27 before that. The thing was 100 watts and about 100 lbs too. Such a heavy amp, more so than a Fender Twin I think. I sold the Reverborocket last year to a friend who lives in the DC area. It just got to a point where I didn't feel like it had enough clean headroom relative to the weight. Around when Arbouretum recorded Coming Out of the Fog, I was mainly using Egnater amps. I still have those- they are both Rebel 30s. One is a combo and the other is head-and cabinet style. Each one is louder with 30 supposed watts versus the Reverborocket's 50 watts. And you can switch between power amp tubes using a dial, which lets you blend them if you want. I use a speaker soak these days with the head before it goes into the cabinet, which is pretty much my best sounding option for playing at home at a lower level, or even most gigs, since anything I do that isn't Arbouretum is going to require me to play at a lower volume than the Rebel 30 puts out while keeping a decent tone intact. I think that this amp is a very versatile one, and probably has the best feature set for the money as far as tube amps go, but it's not totally perfect. If I could find one that does what these do while being point-to-point hand-wired, that would probably be ideal for me.

You said in an interview that you “learned a lot about what amps are good for what kinds of sounds in the course of making that record.” (2011’s The Gathering) You we’re referring to some various amps that were in the studio Vox AC30 , Silvertone, Fender Blues Jr. and a Music Man combo. You used your Ampeg for most of the heavy lifting on the record but what were the other amps good for for making certain sounds?

I've still got the Blues Jr. I sorta gave it to my partner, but she almost never plays electric guitar, so I'm way more likely to use it. They of course have a great bluesey crunch sound, and are really lightweight and portable, which makes them ideal for certain kinds of situations. The Music Man combo I used belonged to Paul Oldham, and was what I played on "Pale Rider Blues", from Rites of Uncovering. Those are cool amps. Similar timbre as Fender amps really, but styled differently, and of course they have that solid-state power amp. I don't remember that specific interview you mentioned, but I think I almost exclusively used the Reverborocket on the Gathering.

I know you enjoy using pedals and in the past have used a Snarling Dogs overdrive, a Swollen Pickle fuzz, an Electro-Harmonix Micro-Synth, a Fulltone Supa-Trem, and an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man. What is your current set up like? What’s on your pedalboard?

Wow, I don't have any of those on my board right now. The only Fulltone pedal I still use is the 2B, which is a clean boost. I like that it acts as a unity gain buffer while not in use. Other than that, it sounds pretty good for adding gain, maybe not quite as transparently as I'd ideally like. Then there's the EHX glove, which replaced my OCD pedal. The glove has a smoother, less harsh sound but otherwise does all the same things as the OCD. The Snarling Dogs is great but too big, so I had to take it off. I also have two pedals from Fairfield Circuitry on my board- the Shallow Water (weird modulation), and Randy's Revenge (ring mod/trem). They are both excellent- very unique. I also have a Nano Pog, a Holy Grail Reverb, an EHX 720 stereo looper, and an Eventide Time Factor delay on my board.

Fuzz pedals come in many different flavors. Do you have a favorite fuzz and why?

I recently put the Zvex Mastotron pedal back on my board after not using a dedicated fuzz for a couple years. I like this one especially since it's so tweakable. Tiny footprint on the pedal board too. One sound I really like with this pedal is this almost staccato bit crushy sound, where sustained notes cut off early and sound like they're being eaten.

I once searched up on YouTube “psychedelic rock guitar” and a video popped up titled: Psychedelic Modal Soloing Tutorial and it was you ! The video was uploaded on October 9, 2014 and to date has 159,583 views. How did that come about? The video has been seen by a lot of people. Ever think about doing a series of guitar tutorials?

That was in partnership with this business some friends of mine started called Lessonface, which is a video lesson hub. The lessons are over Zoom now, and they used a different videoconferencing software up until a couple years ago. It's been a while since I've done remote lessons through them- a year or more. The idea behind the tutorial was to bring more people to the site who would hopefully want to take lessons from me there. I had paid a friend to come out and film and edit that one, and later did another tutorial video at their headquarters in NYC. In any case, I've had a lot of people tell me that they have watched the "psychedelic modal soloing" video and have gotten something out of it. So yeah, I'd be up for doing more lesson videos at some point, though I'd want to have someone else on board to do the actual filming.

I’d like to ask you about your choice of cover songs in Arbouretum. Your version of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is stellar. It’s a haunting rendition. Your cover of the Jimmy Webb song Highwayman is equally haunting and beautiful. What was it that made you pick these two songs to cover?

Thanks for that. I think a cover should take the song somewhere where it hasn't been taken before, a direction that was there all along, but unexplored. Experientially, I've got to feel the melody in a certain way that makes it work with my voice, and the arrangement needs to fit the character of the band in the case of Arbouretum. There are excellent songs we've tried to cover but just couldn't pull off convincingly. Like a shirt that's not really one's style. I think that one should also bring something of themselves into a cover. Something that you sing just because you're a fan of it- that can be fun to do, but is it really necessary? I'm pretty solidly in the "make it your own" camp.

Eric Clapton once came up in a review of the Arbouretum song Pale Rider Blues and you went on to say that “everyone knows, secretly or not, that what he did later was a bit schlocky, tame, and devoid of any real risk-taking. I can't stand that fucking song "Wonderful Tonight", but some of Cream's stuff is decent. Actually, an exception to the later-Clapton-is-bad-Clapton thing is his eighties hit "She's Waiting". It's kind of hooky in a good way”. I agree with all of the above with the exception of the “She’s Waiting”

Now that some time has passed here’s your chance to retract your “She’s Waiting” statement or do we file at a guilty pleasure? Lol.

First off, I think that for me, there are no guilty pleasures. I either like something and am not afraid of saying so, or I don't. It's funny seeing those words pop up again. I don't actually remember saying them, and my opinions on a lot of things have shifted since then, including whether or not I feel it's warranted for me to publicly reflect negatively on other people's music. To answer more directly- I did actually like that tune, mainly when I was a teenager, but I haven't heard it in probably 20 years and haven't sought it out. There's stuff I'll still unironically enjoy from the mainstream of the '80s though, when it comes on. Elton John's '80s stuff. Joe Jackson. Men at Work. A lot of it still holds up if you ask me, especially when the singer is good.

What plans lay ahead for you musically in 2022 with Arbouretum or any of your solo work or side projects?

I don't know if Arbouretum will do anything or not. We have some obstacles in the form of life responsibilities and work-type things that have made it difficult to get together and play. I've been getting into playing improvised music lately, some pretty out-there stuff. Been learning a lot and enjoying playing with Mike Kuhl, the drummer. I think we'll make some kind of record, and I'll probably do some more solo stuff as well. Maybe I'll score another film this year if I'm lucky enough to get the opportunity. 

Best live show you have ever seen?

It was either Lungfish or the Grateful Dead. They're probably tied. I can't remember specific ones so well, but there's an interesting thing which happened with both groups in that their music could take one to similar places using entirely different and in many ways opposite routes.

Worst live show you have ever seen?

I saw this show in the '90s at a DIY space in Baltimore where this guy had all this gear onstage. He was going to perform some electronic music that involved using these rack-mount modules. Well, he was up there onstage and it was time for him to go on, so they'd cut the house music and everything had gone quiet. Except none of his shit worked. He'd plug something in and hit a switch, it would maybe buzz a bit but nothing else, and then he'd go "hmmm" and try another cable or whatever. This went on for a good 20-25 minutes and you could feel the tension rising. This guy was getting really frustrated. Finally he yelled "Fuck!!" and just started slamming his gear around. I think he broke most of it. So in some ways that was the worst gig I've ever seen, because no actual music ended up happening. At the same time, it was kind of a brilliant piece of performance art and I still think about it often.

If you were stranded on the moon and could only have 5 records up there with you which would they be?

-I'd like a good quality live Grateful Dead recording with "Standing on the Moon" on it, because hey I'd be doing that too.

-Probably some Hendrix, like Electric Ladyland. It helps that it's a double LP.

-Some Sun Ra, perhaps Languidity, or Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy. Can't be up in space without listening to some Sun Ra; I think it's basically required.

-The Andy Irvine and Paul Brady record, which is very good.

-East West, by Bill Frisell. It's such a cool record, a live-recorded double LP. Great playing on it. There are a lot of licks I could learn if I'm just going to be stuck up there on the moon. In this hypothetical situation, I'd hope to also have a guitar and amp handy.

 Any final words?

Just that I'd encourage anyone reading this to take a look at the Arbouretum Bandcamp page, which is where I've self-released some things such as the Wilderness Road Soundtrack, and my experiment in binaural audio (and 432hz tuning) called At Heights We Sway, At Depths We Speak. There is a good live Arbouretum recording from our 2017 European tour we've released as well. It's here: https://arbouretum.bandcamp.com/

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about all this stuff, and apologies for the long turnaround time.

Thank you Dave !