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20 Questions With Bob Gaulke

The prolific Bronx artists on channeling Lou, life in the ghetto, wasabi & more.

Bob Gaulke is probably not somebody who believes less is more. Or that a little is enough. That much is obvious from the Bronx singer-songwriter and bassist’s absurdly prolific output — last year alone, the ambitious musician self-released a dozen albums, culminating in the new two-part set The Humanities. Like much of his work, it adventurously dances on the fence between pop, rock, psychedelia, jazz, world music, dub reggae and whatever else strikes his fancy. Need more proof of his disdain for half-measures and corner-cutting? He answered every single query on my ridiculous questionnaire. Let’s see how it went:



What is your musical origin story?
Grew up suburban upstate N.Y. in the ’80s. Son of an Iranian mother and a classical music father. Hooked on “college music”, early MTV, then N.Z. + Australian pop, later French Pop, J-Pop, and loads of other older bands/trains of thought through the influence of friendly record collectors. Started doing bands in my 20s. Fell into a love of Brazilian music in my 30s. Been living in N.Y.C. since my 40s, where I’ve continued to put out recordings. Somewhere along the way did stints studying/teaching English in France, Japan, and Brazil. Adhere to the late-bloomer/lifelong learner adage.

What’s your latest project?
I’ve just spent a year releasing short albums monthly. January release was a double album called The Humanities and reflects how I feel living in an era where everything I love is considered worthless and uncool.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I feel a strong link to the troubadour tradition — the poet who sets their verses to music. I think you’ll find my tunes a pretty unique blend of dub, post-punk, west African styles, and bossa nova.

How will my life improve by listening to your music?
You might feel a kindred spirit in hearing the experiences of an easily bored, restless cosmopolitan.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played.
I think I was ripping off Pay To The Piper by Chairman of the Board. Ahh, major chords. First gig was at La Maision Francaise at my alma mater, Nazareth College in 1992(?).

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
Being two hours late for a show at the very renowed Barbès Club in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with the great Suely Mesquita needing to pee.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
Les Rita Mitsouko in Sevrès was up there. The Brazilian ballet company Grupo Corpo also blew my mind. John Cale always impresses me. Seeing Bruce Springsteen play acoustic up close in Paris in 1988.

What living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?
Wow. I don’t know what I could add to anyone’s work I’d admire. I keep trying to hustle Adrienne Pauly on my songs. She almost bites sometimes. I feel a kindredship with Camille Bazbaz, but I prefer him solo. I wouldn’t mind writing some lyrics for Jacques Dutronc since Lanzmann passed. It’d be great if Milton Nascimento made one last Clube De Esquina record. Dead heroes: Fred Neil + Sergio Sampaio.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I like anything that has poetic aspirations. Brazilian favela funk is nice. My students listen to drill rap, so I listen to it, too. If it’s important to them, it’s important to me.

What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
I’d hope they’d think my lyrics were decent. No one seems to notice, though.

What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
Everything I do comes from poetry. I fake the teaching, but the City of New York pays my bills. I teach English as a New Language in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx, Morrisania.

Who can you do an impression of?
I think one always thinks of another singer when they try to sing. I worry my vocals sound too effeminate. I try to imagine Lou Rawls.

Tell us a joke.
About Brazil?

What do you collect?
CD Box sets mostly. And books. I’ve got to stop.

If money was no object, where would you live?
I might move to Queens. I’ve lived in the ghetto for 25 years and it’s started to wear at me. Isn’t a tenet of Buddhism to surround yourself with beauty?

What would you like to be reincarnated as?
Charlotte Rampling.

Which historical event do you wish you had witnessed?

What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
Artistic success on my terms / Being stuck inside American corporate culture.

What are your pet peeves?
Teachers who don’t read.

What’s your greatest regret?
Not learning piano as a child.

What are you afraid of?
Not reaching my potential.

What would the title of your autobiography be?
Still Trying.

Who should play you in the movie of your life?
Christopher Walken.

What’s your motto?
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” — Martha Graham

What’s always in your refrigerator?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
More money in my bank.

If you had one day to spend as you please without any consequences, what would you do?
Be on a beach in Rio.

What’s the silliest thing you believed as a child?
That I was uniquely talented.

What was your favourite class in school and why?
I loved Social Studies/History. I wanted to love English, but hated the kids who could write flawless, empty prose.

What world record would you like to break?
Writer of the most most-loved songs.

What was the worst job you ever had?
I cremated people in a mausoleum, but enjoyed it. I was a sperm donor at the same time, but was let go.

What’s the best and / or worst advice you were ever given?
“Stay in a learning stream” (best) “You’ll thank me later” (worst)