Editor's Note: The Ghost of Cliff Burton's Jef With One F is a regular contributor for Rocks Off and the Houston Press.
When the oddball experimentalists in the Black Math Experiment went on hiatus four years ago, Houston lost a strange and unique musical voice that's been missed by many. Thankfully, that band's dominant creative axis, the duo of vocalist (and Rocks Off contributer) Jef With One F and multi-instrumentalist Bill Curtner, has returned to deliver a second helping of sonic weirdness with a new project, the Ghost of Cliff Burton. The pair's debut album, The Maybe Laser, was released this week.
For those with even a passing acquaintance with these two, it's no surprise that they couldn't stay quiet forever. They're not people who run out of things to say easily. The collaborative dynamic -- and enduring friendship -- between Curtner and Jef lies at the heart of their decision to record together once again.
"There's a chemistry there that I don't have with other artists," Curtner said. "(Jef) and I share some kind of bond; in some ways it's eerily telepathic. We both want to do this for the same reason. We're just looking for pure expression, and we're the best outlet for each other's expression."
Die-hard fans of the group's namesake, late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, are likely to be disappointed and befuddled by what they find if they stumble across The Maybe Laser online. Ride the Lightning this ain't. Instead, the eclectic offering features a swirl of electronic pop, goth, dance-rock and video game music. Think Cake at its most spare, fronted by Beck -- or possibly the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes on mood stabilizers.
"Some of the album was lying around in demo form since the Black Math days, and some of it came together in about 45 minutes," Jef said. "We work very fast. We're both fathers and we don't have a lot of time to record together, so we make every moment count."
However long it took to create, it's pretty out-there stuff. One song, "The Divine Church of the Broken CD," offers up a strange-but-serious perspective on personal spirituality realized through dead media formats. Other tracks revel in pure absurdity, such as "The Annexation of Puerto Rico," the band's paean to same-sex sexual assault perpetrated by double-amputees.
Unclassifiable as it may be, The Maybe Laser is the sound of two friends on the same weird wavelength having fun together. The album is an entirely DIY affair, largely a side effect of the pair's grown-up responsibilities. Though Black Math Experiment was known for its memorable live shows, toilet-paper cannons don't appear to be in the offing for the Ghost of Cliff Burton. There simply isn't the time.
In place of record deals and touring, Curtner and Jef have opted instead to connect with their audience via digital album downloads and music videos on YouTube. Not only does the online approach offer uncompromised creative freedom, it also keeps the both of them at home with their kids.
"The music videos are a huge focus of ours," Jef said. "There are always images tied to music, and it's wonderful that we now have the capability to shoot these with an iPhone and bring those images out and present them to people. We've already gotten over 1,000 hits on them, which may not seem like a lot. But compare that to going out and doing a show, doing hours of flyering, and the reward for our time spent is exponentially greater."
Though the pair ascended to the brink of breakthrough stardom once before with the Black Math Experiment's You Can't Kill David Arquette, don't count on the Ghost of Cliff Burton running off to Austin in search of fame and fortune anytime soon. The Maybe Laser is the result of a musical bond played out in bedroom recording studios, not barroom rock showcases.
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Besides, they're Houston boys at heart.
"We're very much influenced by musical atmosphere here," Jef said. "There's this developing attitude in Houston that there's no point bitching that there's no good scene here because it isn't this or it's not like that. There is a good scene here, a wonderful scene here, and the people we come in contact with color everything we do."
Feels good to have 'em back.
The Maybe Laser is available now on iTunes, Amazon.com and CDBaby.