SXSW Profiles

Thursday Night

SXSW Profiles

John Cale, Texas Union Ballroom, 11pm Thursday

John Cale was on the telephone recently, pondering the news of his upcoming honorary doctorate at Belgium's University of Antwerp in May. It was an honor indeed, he agreed, then added in his sonorous Welsh accent, "But I don't think it will have any value on a club marquee."

That wry sense of humor and a prodigious talent has kept Cale slightly to the left of left throughout a career spanning almost five decades. It's one that has as many falters as triumphs, and includes a short-lived but notorious stint as a founding father of the Velvet Underground.

Cale's classical training evinces itself early in the lushness of albums like Paris 1919 and, later, the various European soundtracks he scored during the Nineties; other albums, like Slow Dazzle and Sabotage/Live, display anarchic muscle. The late Nineties found Cale backed by a string quartet, but lately he's been performing with DJ Adam Dorn and guitarists Mark Deffenbaugh and Lance Doss. That distinctly non-classical lineup suggests a memorable show, for Cale excels in improvisation.

Although his last American release was the underrated Walking on Locusts (Rykodisc, '96), his next release will be something of a change. Cale scored the soundtrack to American Psycho, due out April 4. Taking an active role, Cale had a thought when the effects recorded for the murder scenes didn't work as expected.

"There's a lot of carnage in the movie, and it was difficult to decide whether it was to be underlined by sound design or music," explains Cale. "It turned out to be about 50-50, but one of the discussions was how to create tension in the movie. I was making some squeaky noises with a vocal tape, but it wasn't very good -- sounded like chipmunks. Like mice. So I said, 'What do you want me to do, call up the FBI and ask for those tapes from Waco of the tortured rabbits that were played into the compound?'

"There was some serious discussion about it, but finally, I said I didn't think we could get them because the whole thing was under indictment. It was interesting to think that they would consider that."

Cale heads to Austin having just celebrated his 58th birthday, just as outspoken as ever. "I'm a little like Charlie Brown sometimes, ya know? 'I love mankind. It's people I can't stand.'"

He lets out a good chuckle. That's our man Cale. Or, should we say, Dr. Cale?

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