Geoff Geis


The Rev. Howard Finster, Man of Visions, Talks about R.E.M.

I recently found this interview with Howard Finster on Youtube, which reminded me of the time I talked to Howard Finster.


Reckoning was R.E.M.’s second full-length.

When I was a kid I bought the No Alternative AIDS benefit album because it had an unlisted Nirvana song on it. I didn’t listen to much of the rest of the album, but I liked this song by Pavement called “The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” because it was about my favorite band: R.E.M.

A good chunk of that Pavement song is just Stephen Malkmus listing the titles of songs from Reckoning, R.E.M.’s second album. The cover of that album was painted by The Reverend Howard Finster, who also did the cover of Talking Heads’ Little Creatures.

Finster's philosophy is spelled out here.

Finster’s philosophy is spelled out here.

Howard Finster  lived on a plot of Georgian land he’d dubbed “Paradise Gardens” and turned into a wonderland of religious art made of broken glass, concrete, bicycle wheels, and more. Years before, Reverend Finster had a vision from God, and after that he started junked materials for building a chapel. Over the decades, he constructed a masterpiece.

The members of R.E.M., being drawn as they were to Southern eccentricities, went to Paradise Gardens a lot in their early years and filmed the video for “Radio Free Europe” there.

I, of course, was drawn to anything and everything that was related to R.E.M. So, when my church’s youth group had a field trip to Paradise Gardens, I went. It was the first church field trip I ever went on, and in order to go I had to promise I’d become active in the youth group.

This chapel is made of what other people considered trash.

This chapel is made of what other people considered trash.

We got to tour the garden and meet Rev. Finster, who was sitting on the porch with his banjo looking exactly like he does in the above video. He talked to me about R.E.M. and about Elvis, and he gave me a quaint and totally ineffective 2-minute banjo lesson. It was an enriching afternoon with an ancient man who was simply effervescent, and I still have a picture of the two of us together. I found it recently, but I didn’t scan it for some reason and now it’s in a box somewhere.

I did not live up to my promise to become active in the church youth group.


Here’s Howard.


Filed under: Human Interest, , , , , , ,

Tongue (R.E.M. cover – 2014 remix)

Monster is the most maligned of the well-known R.E.M. albums (among people who know R.E.M., the actual “turd in the punchbowl” — to borrow a phrase from Michael Stipe — is Around the Sun), and I remember it being a fixture in clearance bins of the used CD shops I frequented as a teenager. As a band increasingly known for mandolins and ballads, R.E.M.’s mid-90s electric about-face was interpreted as contrived and, because of their supposedly-old age (late 30s? early 40s?), embarrassing.

That’s silly, though.

First, R.E.M. had a long history of both writing rock songs and shifting sounds; the band had turned to ballads and mandolins in a previous about-face only a few years prior to the album in question. Second, Monster is the result of a band trying to break its formula and explore new ground — thus, it’s contrived by its very nature. So, what’s the problem?

It’s not their best record, but it’s still great and it has something that most records don’t have: a unique sound. It may have been the band’s “reaction to grunge,” as some people said at the time, but it certainly doesn’t sound like grunge.

“Tongue” doesn’t rock, but it does stand alone in R.E.M.’s catalog. The piano-led simplicity, the falsetto… in the midst of a catalogue from band so rich and diverse, this song is still somehow an outlier.

I built my cover off of a sample from the original and released it in 2011 on my EP Diva, but this is a remix that I just did for Zine Fest last month. It’s got bigger beats and more vocals than my first attempt.

This version is a lot better than the first one I did and it makes me want to do rerecordings of all sorts of jams but I must resist. I’ve got to move forward.

Filed under: geoff geis, mp3, , , , , , , , , ,

New free EP: “Diva” available now

Click here to download my new covers EP, Diva.

For me, 2011 was transformational. Since about 2004, I had been a guitarist and songwriter in bands — but both Pizza! and Big Whup dissolved this year. Until that happened, I had two songwriting modes: I could put songs together on an acoustic guitar, or I could contribute parts to collaborative pieces with other musicians. Both Pizza! and Big Whup were group efforts, and I’d prioritized writing with those groups over making anything on my own. This year, I decided to move in a new direction.

I got some technology, I collected instruments, and I started writing and producing songs on my own. I de-emphasized guitar and concentrated my attention towards the elements that I’d previously left to others, including beats, bass, and synth melodies. To practice production, I made some fun new albums with friends: Into the Forest with Magii was released in March, and Nima and Geoff (featuring So Many Wizards’ Nima Kazerouni) made an EP to release next year. Through these efforts, my process was upended. It was a very prolific time.

Princess, my solo debut, chronicles the earliest fruits of my labors. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of ideas and moods — some of them fresh, some of them rebuilt from the past, some of them improvised, and some of them orchestrated. I made and released Princess, above all, to prove to myself that I could do it. I gained a lot of experience while doing it, and I’m already hard at work on a follow-up that capitalizes on everything that I’ve learned.

This EP, however, is not that follow-up.

Instead, Diva rounds out 2011 with a some fun while paying homage to a handful of artists that have greatly influenced me. Throughout the year, I’ve been recording cover songs as well as originals. Covering this music has taught me a good deal about song craft and has given me many opportunities to experiment with technique and delivery. Diva is a collection of my four favorite covers from this year, including versions of tracks originally by Mariah Carey, Dusty Springfield, La Roux, and R.E.M.

Click here to download the EP in its entirety.

The lead track is my take on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” When I made it this May, I was aiming to win the award for “creepiest song of the holiday season” with de-tuned pianos, off-kilter harmonies, and vocal effects meant to evoke a bad psychedelic trip. Unfortunately, Mariah decided to win that award herself by re-recording the very same song with Justin Bieber. Hopefully this is a strong contender for second place.

“I Only Wanna Be with You” is a duet with Michael Nhat. Michael Nhat is one of the most iconoclastic performers in Los Angeles, and also one of the best. He came over one day this summer and we covered this Dusty Springfield classic. We also started work on a Boys II Men and Brandy cover, but that’s fallen by the wayside (that’s my fault — sorry Michael).

La Roux‘s debut album is one of the almost I’ve most loved over the past couple of years. “Bulletproof” isn’t necessarily my favorite song on the album, but of course it’s the one that attracted me in the first place. I used an Omnichord as the basis of this downbeat, calypso-inspired version. Dalton Blanco (Sexting, Skull Tape, Robin Williams on Fire) provides some extra hard beats, and Big Whup’s Jenna Eyrich wrote the bassline. I think  this has already been covered by a lot of other bands. Oops.

The best recording on the EP, in my opinion, is my interpretation of R.E.M.’s “Tongue.” This was a cool experiment because it was the first time that I used a sample in a song. I built it using a loop I made from Mike Mills’ original piano line. When I was a teenager, R.E.M. was the most important band to me. They impacted both my taste and my worldview, and their demise inspired a lot of nostalgia and rumination. I finished this recording in September, immediately after they made the announcement that they had disbanded.

Filed under: geoff geis, mp3, vanity projects, Wonderful Christmas Music, , , , , , , , , , , ,


Today R.E.M. announced that they were accepting remixes of their song “It Happened Today” on a Soundcloud site. The original song sucks pretty hard, mostly because Eddie Vedder’s incredible background vocals aren’t mixed loudly enough. I thought that Eddie needed to be more “front and center,” so I made this remix:

It Happened Today – Eddie’s Avant Garde Mix by Geoff Geis

Filed under: mp3, , , ,


This is Soft Sailors! We're a new band from Los Angeles. We don't have any upcoming shows scheduled, but you can hear us online:

Also, here are some solo songs I've uploaded recently to Soundcloud. I'm playing solo July 19th at the Pickle Factory at 647 Lamar Street in Los Angeles and September 1st at Los Globos in LA for a KCHUNG benefit.

In 2011, I released my first solo album, Princess. You can listen to it and download it on Bandcamp:

From 2005 until 2011, I was in the band Pizza! This is our album We Come From the Swamp:

From 2008-2010, I was in the band Big Whup. Here's one of our songs that I sang, called "Cover My Eyes:"

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