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Ry Cooder Discusses His Forthcoming Album, "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down"

  • Thursday, July 28, 2011
    Ry Cooder Discusses His Forthcoming Album, "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down"

    Used to be, we called them “stories”—reportage, analysis, investigation—the thing we’d come to know as “news.” You’d snap open a newspaper sit a spell and travel deep into different worlds, discover some sense of your place or role in it.

    Some days a story might feel slanted, others, under-reported—but more often than not, the pieces that went deep gave you a sense of gravity, of consequence, of what was at stake, how you might be affected or implicated.

    More and more, Ry Cooder noted the absence of such “stories.” Instead of breadth or depth, there was something vague called “content”—not context. And that steady feed of poll results or carnage counts arriving over our smart phone reported the result, but not the cause, made us aware but not informed.

    The timing, Cooder observed, couldn't have been more telling: advantageous for the power elite, disastrous for the people. A succession of world-altering events scrolled across our collective screens and our consciousness the world at war, the mortgage crisis, the rollback of immigrant rights and civil liberties, the war on the environment—more than ever, it seemed, we needed to fight back, hold some one’s feet to the fire—but whose? “Fear and isolation,” he’s learned, “are the ways you keep people under control.”

    His new album, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down grew out of this information void—and the pervasive political and corporate double-speak that began swirling in its absence. Snaking through it are familiar themes—the struggle toward real democracy, the trials of the working man, the elusive goal of equality—set against the mayhem of contemporary front page news. Paired with it is Cooder’s fluent command of the rhythms and textures of American vernacular music—but bent and reshaped for this moment: “Some of this should be vivid and intense and it should roll right at you,” he says, “but it shouldn’t tire you out so you stop paying attention. I don’t think they’ll listen to this and say: ‘Hey, I wonder what was on his mind?’”

    The album is a trenchant examination of power and the abuses of it. Accordingly, it’s also a measure of Cooder’s own growing sense of disaffection. “Never have I seen the Republicans be so tight-fisted as they are now. The worst of it is the chipping away of what people, by rights, ought to have, should have … the resources they deserve, pay taxes for.”

    These songs—forthright, declarative—express sentiments or critiques often voiced only in private, among family or ideological allies. “People listen to music with a different part of their mind,” says Cooder. “We need to hear some of these ideas and hear them in musical settings.”

    Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
    has been Cooder’s way to consider some complex questions, to pull back the curtain on the “official stories” by applying a healthy dose of reporter-style skepticism. The album gives “voice” to those affected by corporate greed, self-serving legislation, a culture of fear and hate—and the corrosive nature of apathy.

    Consequently, these 14 songs—voices from the wreckage—work as a meditation on not just the state of the union or of the world, but really the state of our hearts and minds—our priorities and values. What happened to the concept of community? Who are we behind our fences and multi-billion dollar homes? What have we—or are poised to—become? Cooder sets these questions in motion, some as “eyewitness” soliloquies, others as allegories—in “El Corrido de Jesse James,” the erstwhile-bank robber asks God if he can have the .44 he checked at Heaven’s gates so he can clean up Wall Street. In “John Lee Hooker for President,” Cooder, fully inhabiting Hooker’s pace and flow, the musician re-appears to make a run for the presidency after being turned away from the White House door.

    Pull Up Some Dust is a reaction not a “concept,” the fall-out of being fed up and refusing to sit silent. “I started hearing these stories during Bush-time, about soldiers returning from Iraq who were disabled and weren’t being helped, “ he recalls. “In some cases parents tried to established programs to get right prescription drugs and counseling and medical services that they needed. And then the Walter Reed scandal broke.

    Much of this was transpiring around just as the holiday season was cresting. The inherent dissonance wasn’t lost on him—the loop of cloying holiday wishes for good will toward men juxtaposed against the very real, bracing consequences of disenfranchisement. Out of it, came “Christmas Time This Year”—a skewering commentary on the hypocrisy of church and state, and the empty sentiments we swap. “I asked myself: OK, what’s it like for these guys? I asked myself, ‘Do they know its Christmas?’”

    He polished it up, put it away. Right on its heels came “Simple Tools,” about “making a living working with your hands as a opposed to the bad things over the telephone.” He filed that away as well, but by that time, the exercise seemed to unlock something: “Because once you start this,” says Cooder, “the events, the ideas just seem to come at you. They seem to come out of the air, “ says Cooder, “they are everywhere, so your ear becomes attuned to these resonances.”

    The project, gathered momentum, Cooder says, after he saw a headline on journalist Robert Sheer’s website, Truthdig: “No Banker Left Behind.” Cooder clicked through; read on, “Sheer started telling you how the banks were going to take this bailout money and they were going to sit on it and how it was possible for them to bundle these toxic mortgages and how the deregulation worked and how they had been bailed out because the deregulation guys had been sitting with Obama in the White House.” It was obvious, says Cooder, “it wasn’t just a title—it was a song, I could see it,” he says. “It all began in earnest.”

    The result: Cooder aimed straight for the raw nerve, rounding up the topics Americans often attempt to circumvent or couch in metaphor: Immigration legislation the emotional and physical effects of war, the shadow boxing of politics, race and class divisions, white flight. But what pushes this cycle of songs beyond just commentary is the precise detail and the shifting point of view: The stories are narrated by survivors, perpetrators, fat cats, the disenfranchised, the former lettuce growers, border coyotes, the high-school army recruits, new American Dreamers; fathers, mothers, daughters and sons. It’s what happens after the news story breaks; it follows the very long trail of consequence.

    The critical piece of course, was what it should all sound like. Some songs announced themselves “the words would come to me in ¾ time, that meant corrido, that means accordion; banda horns because they’re exciting.” He wanted the music to be part of the story–nods or homages to specific traditional styles while engaging contemporary issues.

    “More and more I’m convinced that you don’t want to over-think it. You just want to express it, almost like you’re sitting in dancehall, or somewhere, and people are playing together. That means you sing live. It’s sounds real.”

    The musical settings themselves provide another layer of the story, a third rail moving the scenery, sentiment, mood and message forward: “It’s taken a long time,” says Cooder, “but it becomes natural to combine an idea you have or a story you want to tell with whatever seems conducive.”

    Much of that intimacy he was after derived from the recording process itself. Engineered by Martin Pradler (much of it in Pradler’s living room), Cooder was joined by his son, Joachim on drums, while other familiar names fill out the personnel: Juliette Commagere, background vocals, Rene Camacho, bass, Robert Franics, bass, and several reunion cameos from Flaco Jimenez on accordion, Jim Keltner and Terry Evans, Arnold McCuller and Willie Green, vocals.

    Pull Up Some Dust unfolds as a vivid topographical musical map of an evolving America—jug bands and norteno and banda horns with a sliver of blues. It’s as if you’re moving through it, windows rolled down, finding your place in it. But this isn’t just taking in the view, it’s bearing witness: It’s a way to shake us awake.

    “These times,” says Cooder, “call for a very different kind of protest song. ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ We’re way down the road from that.”

    —Lynell George

    Ry Cooder's Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down is due out August 30 on Nonesuch/Perro Verde Records on CD and digital August 30, 2011, with vinyl to follow on September 13. Pre-order the album on CD and vinyl in the Nonesuch Store to receive a free instant download of the album's opening track, "No Banker Left Behind," at checkout and high-quality 320 kbps MP3s of the album starting release day.

on July 27, 2011 - 6:34pm
Excerpt: 

Inspired by a news headline about the Wall Street bailout, Ry Cooder began work on his forthcoming album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down with the track “No Banker Left Behind,” an ode to the corrupt few spared from the financial crisis while most were left to fend for themselves. The songs on the album express sentiments or critiques often voiced only in private, among family or ideological allies. Here, Cooder discusses the inspiration behind these songs.

Copy: 

Used to be, we called them “stories”—reportage, analysis, investigation—the thing we’d come to know as “news.” You’d snap open a newspaper sit a spell and travel deep into different worlds, discover some sense of your place or role in it.

Some days a story might feel slanted, others, under-reported—but more often than not, the pieces that went deep gave you a sense of gravity, of consequence, of what was at stake, how you might be affected or implicated.

More and more, Ry Cooder noted the absence of such “stories.” Instead of breadth or depth, there was something vague called “content”—not context. And that steady feed of poll results or carnage counts arriving over our smart phone reported the result, but not the cause, made us aware but not informed.

The timing, Cooder observed, couldn't have been more telling: advantageous for the power elite, disastrous for the people. A succession of world-altering events scrolled across our collective screens and our consciousness the world at war, the mortgage crisis, the rollback of immigrant rights and civil liberties, the war on the environment—more than ever, it seemed, we needed to fight back, hold some one’s feet to the fire—but whose? “Fear and isolation,” he’s learned, “are the ways you keep people under control.”

His new album, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down grew out of this information void—and the pervasive political and corporate double-speak that began swirling in its absence. Snaking through it are familiar themes—the struggle toward real democracy, the trials of the working man, the elusive goal of equality—set against the mayhem of contemporary front page news. Paired with it is Cooder’s fluent command of the rhythms and textures of American vernacular music—but bent and reshaped for this moment: “Some of this should be vivid and intense and it should roll right at you,” he says, “but it shouldn’t tire you out so you stop paying attention. I don’t think they’ll listen to this and say: ‘Hey, I wonder what was on his mind?’”

The album is a trenchant examination of power and the abuses of it. Accordingly, it’s also a measure of Cooder’s own growing sense of disaffection. “Never have I seen the Republicans be so tight-fisted as they are now. The worst of it is the chipping away of what people, by rights, ought to have, should have … the resources they deserve, pay taxes for.”

These songs—forthright, declarative—express sentiments or critiques often voiced only in private, among family or ideological allies. “People listen to music with a different part of their mind,” says Cooder. “We need to hear some of these ideas and hear them in musical settings.”

Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
has been Cooder’s way to consider some complex questions, to pull back the curtain on the “official stories” by applying a healthy dose of reporter-style skepticism. The album gives “voice” to those affected by corporate greed, self-serving legislation, a culture of fear and hate—and the corrosive nature of apathy.

Consequently, these 14 songs—voices from the wreckage—work as a meditation on not just the state of the union or of the world, but really the state of our hearts and minds—our priorities and values. What happened to the concept of community? Who are we behind our fences and multi-billion dollar homes? What have we—or are poised to—become? Cooder sets these questions in motion, some as “eyewitness” soliloquies, others as allegories—in “El Corrido de Jesse James,” the erstwhile-bank robber asks God if he can have the .44 he checked at Heaven’s gates so he can clean up Wall Street. In “John Lee Hooker for President,” Cooder, fully inhabiting Hooker’s pace and flow, the musician re-appears to make a run for the presidency after being turned away from the White House door.

Pull Up Some Dust is a reaction not a “concept,” the fall-out of being fed up and refusing to sit silent. “I started hearing these stories during Bush-time, about soldiers returning from Iraq who were disabled and weren’t being helped, “ he recalls. “In some cases parents tried to established programs to get right prescription drugs and counseling and medical services that they needed. And then the Walter Reed scandal broke.

Much of this was transpiring around just as the holiday season was cresting. The inherent dissonance wasn’t lost on him—the loop of cloying holiday wishes for good will toward men juxtaposed against the very real, bracing consequences of disenfranchisement. Out of it, came “Christmas Time This Year”—a skewering commentary on the hypocrisy of church and state, and the empty sentiments we swap. “I asked myself: OK, what’s it like for these guys? I asked myself, ‘Do they know its Christmas?’”

He polished it up, put it away. Right on its heels came “Simple Tools,” about “making a living working with your hands as a opposed to the bad things over the telephone.” He filed that away as well, but by that time, the exercise seemed to unlock something: “Because once you start this,” says Cooder, “the events, the ideas just seem to come at you. They seem to come out of the air, “ says Cooder, “they are everywhere, so your ear becomes attuned to these resonances.”

The project, gathered momentum, Cooder says, after he saw a headline on journalist Robert Sheer’s website, Truthdig: “No Banker Left Behind.” Cooder clicked through; read on, “Sheer started telling you how the banks were going to take this bailout money and they were going to sit on it and how it was possible for them to bundle these toxic mortgages and how the deregulation worked and how they had been bailed out because the deregulation guys had been sitting with Obama in the White House.” It was obvious, says Cooder, “it wasn’t just a title—it was a song, I could see it,” he says. “It all began in earnest.”

The result: Cooder aimed straight for the raw nerve, rounding up the topics Americans often attempt to circumvent or couch in metaphor: Immigration legislation the emotional and physical effects of war, the shadow boxing of politics, race and class divisions, white flight. But what pushes this cycle of songs beyond just commentary is the precise detail and the shifting point of view: The stories are narrated by survivors, perpetrators, fat cats, the disenfranchised, the former lettuce growers, border coyotes, the high-school army recruits, new American Dreamers; fathers, mothers, daughters and sons. It’s what happens after the news story breaks; it follows the very long trail of consequence.

The critical piece of course, was what it should all sound like. Some songs announced themselves “the words would come to me in ¾ time, that meant corrido, that means accordion; banda horns because they’re exciting.” He wanted the music to be part of the story–nods or homages to specific traditional styles while engaging contemporary issues.

“More and more I’m convinced that you don’t want to over-think it. You just want to express it, almost like you’re sitting in dancehall, or somewhere, and people are playing together. That means you sing live. It’s sounds real.”

The musical settings themselves provide another layer of the story, a third rail moving the scenery, sentiment, mood and message forward: “It’s taken a long time,” says Cooder, “but it becomes natural to combine an idea you have or a story you want to tell with whatever seems conducive.”

Much of that intimacy he was after derived from the recording process itself. Engineered by Martin Pradler (much of it in Pradler’s living room), Cooder was joined by his son, Joachim on drums, while other familiar names fill out the personnel: Juliette Commagere, background vocals, Rene Camacho, bass, Robert Franics, bass, and several reunion cameos from Flaco Jimenez on accordion, Jim Keltner and Terry Evans, Arnold McCuller and Willie Green, vocals.

Pull Up Some Dust unfolds as a vivid topographical musical map of an evolving America—jug bands and norteno and banda horns with a sliver of blues. It’s as if you’re moving through it, windows rolled down, finding your place in it. But this isn’t just taking in the view, it’s bearing witness: It’s a way to shake us awake.

“These times,” says Cooder, “call for a very different kind of protest song. ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ We’re way down the road from that.”

—Lynell George

Ry Cooder's Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down is due out August 30 on Nonesuch/Perro Verde Records on CD and digital August 30, 2011, with vinyl to follow on September 13. Pre-order the album on CD and vinyl in the Nonesuch Store to receive a free instant download of the album's opening track, "No Banker Left Behind," at checkout and high-quality 320 kbps MP3s of the album starting release day.

Publish date: 
Thursday, July 28, 2011 - 10:00
Article Type: 
featuredimage: 
Ry Cooder: "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down" [cover]

Comments

Sounds right on target. Looking forward to the cd and the San Francisco shows.

Please come back to play in Scotland Ry! Your last concert in Edinburgh 2009 was outstanding !

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