Interview

EVERYTHING NEW IS OLD AGAIN! TALKIN’ TIKI PARLOUR WITH DAVID BRAGGER

“Yeah,” exclaims a rather exuberant David Bragger, “old time’ is one of those lovely terms that has a different definition depending on who you talk to! And what time of day you’re talking to them!”

Says Bob Dylan, an old-timer who knows a thing or two about timeworn tunes – it’s simply “that old, weird underground Americana!”

They're both right! Tiki Parlour Recordings is Mr. Bragger's labor of love and an actual old time record label. To him, ‘old time’ was “the music folks played at home or at communal gatherings which emanated from the Appalachians and the Mississippi Delta.” The harmony was derived from Scots-Irish Celtic and the rhythms by way of African slaves.

It all started for Bragger when he tried to master the guitar – and failed. His next obsession was Northern Indian music and the sitar. After directing short films for Bad Religion – an L.A. punk band, which, I assure you, did not play ‘old-time’ music, David travelled to India with the intention to study music, but instead joined a nomadic group of street musicians who entertained the locals. 

Upon his stateside return, Bragger focused on banjo and fiddle, which, oddly enough was inspired by his time in India wherein his ragged group set audiences into a "trance like state." The Clifftop Appalachian Music Festival was also a revelation to him – hence the need for Tiki Parlour to document old time musicians for future generations.

I try to relate to David that roots music has always been a part of popular music, from Hank Williams to the Flying Burrito Brothers to Feet Foxes to Mumford and Sons. Heck, even Lady Gaga employs similar motifs familiar in bygone eras. However Bragger’s pedigree runs a lot deeper than Nudie cowboy suits, twangin' guitars, and raw meat dresses on a VMA Red Carpet.

"No, no, no, I'm talking early American pre-war music - stuff that people played at home on fiddles and banjos. Pre-bluegrass! In fact bluegrass is actually a splinter music that came out of ‘old-time’ music." I never thought of bluegrass as a modern sub-genre!

He continues "modern roots music may draw on elements of old time music and sometimes it's as simple, and dare I say 'shallow,' as using a guitar in the shape of a banjo! While there is innovation in my world, it’s much more about carrying on a tradition and the preservation of older sounds. My personal obsession was 'what were people were doing on these instruments a hundred plus years ago?' The techniques have clearly dissipated…and I'm really about preserving those, especially in the context of this double-fiddle release where we're sticking to the old sounds, but playing a game of 'what if.”

The double-fiddle disc Bragger refers to is his new collaborative effort with Susan Platz entitled King's Lament. The duo waxed fifteen duets with the classic "rhythms, drones, and nuances" of such iconic old time fiddlers as Ed Haley, Mel Durham, French Carpenter, Dock Roberts, Sarah Armstrong, K.C. Kartchner, and Glen Fannin. 

"Susan came to one of my workshops that I was teaching at a festival. And growing up, she was playing some classical violin, and pretty much stopped because she became interested in other fiddle genres. She did what a lot of us did, in that not knowing how to learn the music - she began to read notes out of fiddle books. And she knew that it just wasn't sounding right! When she came to my workshop she was smitten" he boasts. "She became a student and voraciously ate the music and the technique up! Heck she even joined my old-time band Sausage Grinder!"

The two were inspired by a few "existing recordings" of "doublers." Bragger emphasizes that there is a rich history of such instrumentation in Cajun music. "There was a famous Cajun fiddler named Dennis McGee - he did recordings with Sady Courville which captures some of the most beautiful ancient sounds ever. In fact, it sounds nothing like accordion driven modern Cajun music. So we started experimenting with some of these old time fiddle tunes and a second fiddle, without approaching it like a classical violinist would approach harmony. So it all comes down to rhythms, and chords, with smaller passages of harmonic movement but it reeks of that 'old soul' you hear in the double fiddle recordings that Dennis and Sady did! When I started recording musicians for Tiki Parlour sometimes they would do some double fiddle numbers, so this record has been percolating in my subconscious for a while!"  

Bragger has befriended and studied with the masters including Mel Durham, Tom Sauber, Dan Gellert, Charlie Acuff, Benton Flippen, Clyde Davenport, and Joe Thompson. And he’s now an in-demand instructor himself.

To date,Tiki Parlour has ten releases out - including collections by old time music icon Bruce Molsky who speaks highly of Bragger and Platz' platter "their music really reaches into that space where two instruments become one and draws you right in with it. King’s Lament is one of the most sonorous and rhythmically locked-in sets of tunes you’ll hear, and spans across familiar and unfamiliar old-time terrain…."

The irony is not lost on David that he is spreading the religion of ‘old time music’ by way of Skype and the internet!  Bragger, who serves as director of the UCLA Old-Time String Band Ensemble and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddler's Convention also takes on students in the flesh. In fact, his graduates have won awards at the Topanga Fiddle Banjo Festival and Galax Festivals.

“My students are all over the world” Bragger brags, “and they’re obsessed with learning how to ‘bow’ a fiddle the old-time way…even classical musicians come to me…this can’t be taught in a book!” 

For all things Tiki Parlour visit http://oldtimetikiparlour.com