It’s 4 o’clock and I am right on time. My knack of perfectly timing a metro/tram/walk is a terrible habit to have when you’re interviewing musicians. They’re not the type of people known for keeping regular business hours. But, I ring the bell anyway and after a moment get a fuzzy “hey” from the intercom. I have scheduled this interview with Geoff Tyson after a previous meeting at La Loca. Our initial chat had been all business. We talked about his new role as music manager for the club, the acts he’s brought in, the events he’s added to the lineup, namely the Jazz & Blues Tuesdays and the Songwriter Stories Thursdays. But it’s hard to get a real feel for someone (Tyson would say their “vibe”) when they’re in work mode. I knew after our initial interview I was just scratching the surface of Tyson’s talents. So, I scheduled a second talk, only this time in his home studio.
Home for Tyson is a 4th floor flat near Namesti Miru. The flat itself is in a classic Communist style building lacking the color and detail of the surrounding area, but with the added benefit of solid construction (more on that later.) I take a seat on a leather chair in the studio/living space and get out my notebook. Tyson, meanwhile, in his trademark black t-shirt and jeans, is perched on a window sill smoking a cigarette. “I was lucky to find this place,” he says, letting out a puff of smoke. “I have terrible insomnia, so I get a lot of work done during the middle of the night. I used to live in places where the neighbors would bang on the door ‘we can hear everything!’ and it made me self-conscious. Then I found this place. These walls are so thick a nuclear bomb could go off and it’d be the last building standing.” The room is large and bright with high windows and plenty of space for the guitars, amps, editing equipment, microphones, and other musical accoutrements you’d expect to find. Most notably, aside from a lamp with a very interesting on/off switch (use your imagination), is the amount of guitars. I counted seven, ranging from three acoustics to two gorgeous electric guitars from famous maker “Vagina.” There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not going to make it.
Geoff sits down at his computer and clicks through 36 tracks in various states of production to give me an idea of his creative process. He clicks. A solid thud, thud, thud of a drum comes through the speakers. Another click and a funky bass line builds the beat. Click. Synth. Click. Acoustic. Click. Acoustic in a different key. The formation of the track is like watching Tyson put layers of stratum one on top of another until he builds a mountain of sound. The result is a cohesive track that hits the ears with electric energy. “What’s that one called?” I ask. “This one is Six Weeks of Tina,” he answers, turning to me. “I keep a list in my phone of phrases I think are funny.” He reads things like “It’s Got Electrolytes!”, “Stole My Stick”, and “Strawberry Napalm.” When I ask how he chooses titles for the tracks he scoffs, “they’re instrumentals. Who care’s what they’re called?” He’s of course referring to his latest project “Drinks with Infinity,” an entirely instrumental album that like the tracks themselves is being built piece by piece, with Tyson releasing new material as he creates it. “With lyrical pieces you have to plan and make tweaks and keep going back to parts that aren’t working. Instrumentals give you a lot more freedom,” he says. “With them, I don’t know what will really happen until I start playing. Once, I threw my guitar on the ground and recorded it. One take. Smash. Done.” I wonder aloud what Tyson is thinking when he’s improvising on the guitar. Tyson laughs, “nothing!”
Tyson got his start in music as a kid in the bay area of California. His mom, like most moms, shuttled her kid each week to his piano lesson, but once the teen years hit, all hopes of having a classic pianist in the family were dashed. Guitar was the future for young Geoff. Tyson couldn’t get enough of playing and would hang around after his guitar lesson to have extra jam time with his guitar teacher (just some dude who gave lessons in Berkeley…that “dude” being Joe Satriani.) Tyson soon hit the local music scene with his band T-Ride and damn, what a time and place to be alive. “San Francisco was great in the early 90’s,” he remembers. “One thanksgiving we went looking for a bar to just hang out. We found a jazz place that was totally empty, but then Primus got on stage. Just randomly! Another time we went to the DNA Lounge and saw an amazing Cars cover band. It took us a second, but then we realized…wait…that’s Ric Ocasek!” The good times continued for T-Ride, getting signed by a major label and hitting the road. “It was a lot like camping,” Tyson says. “Except there was a gig every night.” The band got along like brothers and made the most of touring (“nothing self-destructive” Tyson adds.) Sadly, it didn’t last. With all the touring, Tyson’s reputation as a guitar player grew and the label asked him to join another major act heading out on tour. One would think this was the holy grail! Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll! Yeah…not so much. Let’s just say Tyson walked away from the experience with a bad taste in his mouth not even Jameson and beer could kill.
The hard times were not in vain however, as the “worst job of his life” was just the push Tyson needed to build a one-man musical empire. There was opening his recording studio in a sketchy neighborhood in Oakland, to mastering pro-tools for producers Mike Shipley and Jason Corsaro in Los Angeles, to learning every aspect of marketing, social media, and merchandising. “Unless you have one hit song to support you the rest of your life,” he says. “You have to be able to do lots of things.” Those “lots of things” for Tyson have given him quite an impressive resume. Anyone who attends live shows in Prague knows that Tyson is hands-down the best sound engineer around. Toss in his solo acoustic work, writing and performing with his band Smooshface, managing the La Loca music club (go for the live acts…stay for Tyson’s play list), plus writing and releasing new tracks for his instrumental album, the guy is clearly busy. Add to this an already heady list of songwriting credits, a stint as a college professor, tv appearances, voice over work, and creating his own jewelry line (okay, maybe not that last one), Tyson has built himself one hell of a solid reputation in music.
By the time we’d finished talking about Tyson’s music, touring, and many other projects, I’ve filled a notebook and my pen is starting to run out of ink. I ask, “Can you play something on the guitar before I go? For research purposes.” Tyson obliges, picks up a black electric guitar and sets it on his lap. For a moment there’s hesitation, then out of the guitar comes a shockingly beautiful melody. Really, really beautiful. So beautiful I suddenly become hyper aware of it being a profound moment. Here I am on a gorgeous sunny day in Prague, while one of the city’s finest musicians is playing something entirely original and only I can hear it. “You should definitely record that,” I say. Tyson stops for a moment and looks up. He smiles, “too late. It’s already gone.” Damn. I guess for some, talent and inspiration really do go on for infinity.
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