By Jim Schutze
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Leave it to Snoop Dogg of all people to put Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale in his place. "I realized I had gotten entirely away from my minimalist background," the 63-year old Welshman says. However, the inspiration he drew from "Drop It Like It's Hot" wasn't Snoop's rapping, but Pharrell Williams' production. Cale heard the song last year while recording the just-released Black Acetate, and it inspired him to strip the awkward, quasi-funk of "Hush" to its rhythmic skeleton, leaving only a sparse drumbeat and repeating guitar line with handclaps and clanking metal. Pharrell, who Cale calls the "Quincy Jones" of hip-hop's producers, didn't inspire the legend just because of the interesting, pared-down track. Rather, he appreciates the context.
"When you're using a spray can as a rhythm element, you're making a statement about the culture you're coming from," he says. "It's more than just the same musical ideas. If I look for new ideas in records, [hip-hop] is where they all are."
Cale was responsible for the sonic adventurousness of the first two VU albums, incorporating the improvisation and drone he learned with his early mentor, John Cage, into the Velvets' work. He also sought unusual sounds by stringing his viola with guitar or banjo strings and using nonmusical instruments like dragging a chair across a studio floor. So it's no surprise that Cale would gravitate to a beatsmith known for such unusual sounds.
At a rare Dallas tour stop, Cale plans to play plenty of new stuff along with cuts from his 21 other post-Velvet albums. Expect mostly recognizable renditions with some improvisations, he says, though the band has been "deconstructing" fan favorites, too. Wonder if he'll bring spray cans.
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