A chat with Ted Whalen:
introvert.net: So, how long have you been involved in music?
tew: Well, in high school there was this inchoate-but-never-realized plan to form a band. A bunch of us thought it would be cool to play music. We were all giant nerds, though, so we all wanted to play anything but guitar. I really wanted an autoharp, but had to settle for a mandolin. Someone else had a pair of bongos. Someone might have been on claves or woodblock too. I remember turning my bedroom upside down, looking for the recorder I used to have. If we'd ever gotten our shit together, it would have been a very 4th grade music class sounding band. We would have had to play "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" or something. Back then, I didn't realize it was a politcally radical song. We probably didn't have the right lyrics in our 4th grade songbooks. Anyway, this would have been 1994.
introvert.net: And the band never got off the ground?
tew: No. It was a real shambles. We were under the influence of this bizarre coffee-house thing, and we wanted to play acoustically, because we thought it would be easier. I think we might have had a few "practices" after school, but since no one knew the first thing about music, we always ended up playing Doom on the PC. I also remember no one wanted to sing. We were going to be all-instrumental, all public school music-class-tuesday-and-thursday style. I think we tried to learn "Polly" by Nirvana.
introvert.net: How the hell can you play that on a wood block?
tew: You can't. We were going to be called "Greasy Joan". God, what a bunch of assholes we were.
introvert.net: So why did you have to settle for a mandolin?
tew: Well, it was impossible to find an autoharp in Dayton, Ohio. Also, autoharps were more expensive, maybe. Plus the mandolin was tuned like a violin, so I would be able to bring my violin experience to bear. I could read the music.
introvert.net: You play the violin?
tew: Well, I own one. That's about all I can say. I could probably scratch out "Twinkle Twinkle" without squawking too baadly, but that's about it. In sixth grade, I was fourth-chair in my school's orchestra. We played the love theme from Top Gun. I'll always have good memories about that song. I ended up buying the cheapest mandolin I could find at a pawn shop downtown. It was made in Mexico or something. It was rotten, a true piece of trash.
introvert.net: You get what you pay for, I guess.
tew: Yeah, I was really excited about it. I remember we drove to Friendly's and I sat outside on a picnic table and tried to tune it and play a song right away. I don't think I've ever really gotten any better at it than the first day I held it in my hands. I have a different mandolin now. I traded up.
introvert.net: Haven't you taken lessons or practiced or anything?
tew: Yeah, I took a few weeks worth of group lessons, but none of it really took. I can play about 4 chords, but I don't know anything about rhythm, strumming, picking, or writing songs. I can make D, A, C, and G chords, but can't strum with any kind of consistent rhythm or pattern. What's the use of that?
introvert.net: Dunno. A more talented person could make something from that, maybe.
tew: It doesn't help that I can't sing. I can hear the notes in my head, but can't make my voice sing them. And, I can't tell when, by some miracle, I am making the right note. There's a total disconnect between my brain, ear, and throat. It's impossible.
introvert.net: Wow. It's a little amazing that you own an instrument at all, given your total lack of aptitude.
tew: Well, I can read music, so I'm not totally inept. Ok, just the treble clef. And I also have an old, crummy, Casio keyboard. Which I used to love to play with, trying to pick out songs with a finger or two. Now it just gathers dust in my closet. How did I get this way?
introvert.net: So who would you say your main influences are now?
tew: Umm, that's a tough one. If I did write or play songs, they would have to be amateurish and dissonant. I might be able to write a decent lyric once in a while, if I tried. What would you say my influences would be?
introvert.net: Jandek, maybe? Some of the homeless guys you see on the street, singing to themselves?
tew: Yeah, that's about it. I can't imagine that I would sound like anything I wanted to listen to.
introvert.net: Thanks for your time.
tew: No problem. Oh, I remembered. I can play D minor too.