After the 1999 breakup of guitarist Duane Denison’s very crazy and much-loved band the Jesus Lizard — which pitted the reckless abandon of “singer” David Yow against Denison’s meticulous jazz-punk fretwork — Denison moved from Chicago to Nashville. There he began recording demos that initiated a long-distance musical relationship with Ipecac label founder and equally wild singer Mike Patton, most famously of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle. Powered by drummer John Stanier (Helmet, Battles) and bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle), Patton and Denison’s supergroup Tomahawk released albums in 2001, 2003 and 2007. In support of its yet-to-be released new album Oddfellows, the band will play its first show in almost a decade at Voodoo Music Experience 2012.
A schooled musician, Denison learned classical, flamenco, just enough jazz, even a bit of reggae guitar. “With classical guitar you learn chord voicings you don’t typically find electric guys doing,” says Denison, who frequently employs a five-fret stretch across his all-aluminum guitar’s metal neck. “There’s a way of fingering things, whether with arpeggios or block chords, that just sounds more distinctive, more unusual, it resonates differently. For me it was always about avoiding the clichés, and not doing the same bar chords and blues licks as everyone around me. I wanted to find my own thing, that I owned.”
Denison certainly owns his sound on Oddfellows, whether plucking out evil arpeggios on “A Thousand Eyes,” or riffing in his recognizably angular Jesus Lizard style on the record’s title cut. Denison garnishes Oddfellows with electronic drums, but concedes that John Stanier eradicates the need for machines, gushing, “Everything he plays is so perfect.”
No one would call singer Mike Patton “perfect” — even those who would call him a “genius.” One second he’s cooing, the next he’s screaming, the next he’s rapping. Along with his two most famous bands and Tomahawk, Patton also fronts a second supergroup, Fantômas featuring Buzz Osborne from the Melvins, and also intermittently co-fronts experimental “urban” project Peeping Tom with singer Neneh Cherry. “Patton came through Nashville in ‘99 or 2000 on the Mr. Bungle album California, and that album was amazing,” remembers Denison. “The show was amazing too. So I went backstage and met him. I was surprised he knew exactly who I was and all about stuff I’d done. And he told me he was starting this label. I had some material accumulating, so I said, ‘Why don’t we do something?’”
Saying Patton has a wider vocal range than David Yow is a nice way to put it. Like some demented Stevie Wonder, Patton layers gorgeous oohs and aahs behind his expert wailing on Oddfellows — a record that sounds like it could have come directly from the minds of Jesus Lizard and Mr. Bungle fans.