Category Archives: Artist Interview

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND… California Oranges’ “John Hughes” (2000)

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Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). After that we dipped way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly. Now Prof. Hinely dials the wayback machine to 2000, as John Conley talks about his band the California Oranges and their pop gem “John Hughes.”

BY TIM HINELY

You’d think that being two hours east of San Francisco that Sacramento would be a veritable wasteland of musical talent. Ah…but you’d be wrong. Oddly enough for the capitol city of the Golden State (with a population of under 500,000) this hamlet has produced some of the best indie rock music out there. From Tiger Trap to Rocketship to Baby Grand to Arts & Leisure to too many others (you’ll see ‘em below). Well, a big part of that fabric is the music of the crew of John Conley and his sister Katie, the Levine Brothers (Ross and his brother Matt) and Verna Brock (who was also in Rocketship for a time as well as doing her solo project under the name of Beanpole). They’ve been spread out amongst bands like Holiday Flyer, Desario and Soft Science, but there was one band that all of them had passed through at one point: California Oranges.

For their self-titled debut from 2000 (On Darla Records) the band was a trio of John, Verna and Ross. For later albums both Katie and Matt came aboard to make the band a 5-piece, but this particular song, “John Hughes” was from the previously mentioned debut.

For those of us used to the (mostly) very soft sounds of Holiday Flyer, “John Hughes” came popping out of the speakers like an M-80 stuffed inside a high school locker. A joyous blast of unbridled melody. The song is all about a guy trying to get the courage to ask a girl out, which, as we males know, in those high school years were the mostly nerve-racking, anxiety-inducing experience (personally I had to know 100% that the girl liked me before I would even ask her out and even then I’d be ready to have a heart attack while other guys in school, those with no fear at all of rejection, would walk up to any girl an ask them out, usually getting shot down and laugh about it).

“John Hughes” is one of my favorite songs by the California Oranges and I was curious about its origins. I shot some questions over to John Conley and he was more than happy to give me some answers.

BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song?

CONLEY: Well, I guess John Hughes and his films. As I teenager I could really identify with the characters. I must have been re-watching at the time. I was also really into Kevin Smith (he is referenced is the song) and his films reminded of the Hughes.

Did it take long to finish writing it?

If I remember correctly, it came together pretty quick.

I think it was one of the last songs I wrote for the first album.

I had the main guitar riff and the melody and first verse.

I remember showing the song to Verna and Ross, and they both really liked it.

I think we knew at that point it would start the album.

Any idea how your long time fans feel about it (i.e.: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)

I’m pretty sure it was one of our most popular songs. I was going to be featured in a documentary about John Hughes. Ross Levine and I were interview for the movie and the band rerecorded the song to be included on the soundtrack. We were told we made it through the 3rd or 4th cut of the film. During the editing process of the movie John Hughes passed away and the music portion of the movie was shortened.

Here are some links about the film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0fPLN459_I

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don’t_You_Forget_About_Me_(film)

john conley

Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later?

It stayed in the live set up through the 3rd album.

Is there anything about the song you’d change?

No, I think it’s a good snapshot of where I was as a songwriter at the time.

I wanted to do something very different from Holiday Flyer. I feel we mostly succeed. When the band started playing live, one comparisons we got was Belle and Sebastian meets Ramones.

I always liked that.

Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?

I think the recording came out cool. We wrote and recorded that album very quickly. Verna (Brock) and I each had 5 song ideas. We rehearsed with Ross (Levine) 3 or 4 times and recorded and mixed the record in the evenings or a week. JH is my favorite song on that album. I do have some problems with the production on that album as a whole, but “John Hughes” came out great. We also recorded a cover of Vanilla Blue by Naked  Raygun during that session that is one of my favorite recordings California Orange did.

 How do you feel about it now?
I still really like this song. It’s so different from what I’m doing now in Desario, but I’m proud of this period in my music career.

 

A NEW SOUND FOR KIDS THAT’S COOL: StevenSteven

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Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips) and Steve Burns (“Blues Clues”) join forces and make music everyone can enjoy.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Children’s music is often shunned by those who look for sounds of a more “serious” variety. For those who are don’t have kids of their own, or whose kids have matured beyond the early adolescent state, it means music of a specialized nature, great for weaning infants but hardly the kind of thing to share as an everyday pastime.

These days though, that may be an outmoded notion. More and more artists who once provided  the soundtracks for emerging maturity and the everyday challenges of love, life and the consequences of being a grown up in an oppressive world, have now turned their attention to making music for the younger set, achieving respectable results in the process.

Even so, Steven Drozd, best known as Flaming Lips’s multi-instrumentalist — a band that’s built a reputation on being avant-garde experimenters of the decidedly eccentric variety — and Steve Burns, the host of the children’s program “Blues Clues,” have joined forces under the all-too-appropriate handle StevenSteven. Their recently released debut album, Foreverywhere, does the improbable, offering up songs about princesses and unicorns that the kids can enjoy with adroit and intriguing melodies that adults will find immediately accessible as well. This isn’t your parent’s children’s music, or anything like the sounds us adults might have been nurtured on early on. It is instead, remarkably enticing, a set of songs that ought to appeal to Flaming Lips fans, and anyone else that prefers music with a decidedly progressive posture.

BLURT recently spoke with the two Stevens – depending on how one interpret text fonts, the duo could arguably be called Steve N Steven, which in fact is how one of their videos is listed –  and asked them to share the backstory of how their collaboration came about.

BLURT: For starters, how did you guys hit it off so quickly?

DROZD: I think it’s a testament to what a stellar human being Burns is. We met in late 2001 at Tarbox Road Studios in Fredonia, New York, The session was set up by Dave Fridmann, long-time Flaming Lips producer, and I only had a few of Burns’ demos to go on. I didn’t really know of “Blues Clues” (this was before I had kids), and I just had no idea what the vibe would be. Burns disarmed me within fifteen minutes and we were instantly laughing and talking about absurd, stupid, silly things. I knew immediately that we were going to work great together.

BURNS: We share a similar sense of humor — dark, but goofy, Steven is a remarkably unpretentious guy. He’s a very open book. We also shared a surprising amount of musical favorites, and that’s always a trusty barometer of potential friendship. Plus you have to remember that the (Flaming Lips album) The Soft Bulletin was — and still is — my favorite album of all time, so he probably could have poured a glass of chocolate milk over my head and smacked me in the face with a trout and I would have been completely accepting of it.

BLURT: Had either of you tried making kids music individually before this?

DROZD: I had made a couple of silly songs for kinds of my friends, but nothing too substantial.

BURNS: I hadn’t, but recording the songs of “Blue’s Clues” episodes was always my favorite part of the day. I love the process of making and recording music…more than performing it really. I just find it so fascinating.

BLURT: Was this project intimidating at all, knowing you had a very specific young audience you were trying to reach?

DROZD: By the time we decided to make the record, we had received such positive feedback for  our song “I Hog The Ground” that it felt like we were meant to make this music! It was mostly fun — Burns had the kid friendly educational content to consider. But I just got to make music that I was very comfortable making

BURNS: I think children are a very difficult and demanding audience if you’re serious at all about being sincere with them. I’ve always sort of made it my mission not to talk down to kids with the entertainment I provide them, and that’s much easier said than done.

BLURT: What is it about Foreverywhere that finds such appeal with both kids and adults? Is that a difficult divide?

DROZD: I guess it can be difficult, but there really is a long history of music that is loved by both kids and adults that isn’t just kid music. The Beatles, Vince Guaraldi, “Sesame Street,” etc. – I guess we were trying to connect the things we loved as kids to what we could listen to now and also have our kids love. I think it has worked in that way as I hear from a lot of people that specific things on the album remind them of their own childhood.

BURNS: I don’t think there has to be such a division between what makes great music for children and what makes great music for adults. Drozd mentioned Vince Guaraldi, and I think it’s a terrific example of music that is both. There’s plenty of overlapping space to explore.

BLURT: Still, most family friendly music these days seems to be aimed wholly at children. Why do you think that is? Why does it not engage adults as well?

DROZD: There is just so much music in general these days. We are inundated on a very regular basis with so much stuff. It’s like the Onion headline from a few years back — “U.S. children born with 1,000 songs on their iPods!” Haha… it’s true, though. My kids know #so much# music and they’re still very young. So, I think the children-specific idea is to try to make a mark in a sea of new stuff. But, we want the kids and their parents to connect…

BLURT: The kids market has become huge in the last decade…How have you seen it evolve? Was the fact that the market has really embraced it an impetus for the two of you to dive in?

DROZD: We did the song “I Hog The Ground” back in 2006-2007, and it felt like this big wave was happening. I thought the wave would crest, but it seems as though it just flooded and then became a whole new market, which is great timing for us…

BURNS: It does seem like there is an impulse out there to return to children’s entertainment that works on many levels at once. I grew up on the Muppets and Electric Company. I might not have understood all the jokes with actual clarity, but I knew they were inherently “funny,” and all of that informed my sense of humor in a positive way.  I think people are coming back around to multi-level content in general.

BLURT: What is it that each of you brings to this project that was specifically gleaned from what you had done before — specifically “Blue’s Clues” and the Flaming Lips?

DROZD: I just make a lot of music, and I like to make music for different things and with different people and projects. Working with Burns is fun and pretty rewarding. We’re on the same exact plane 95% of the time. I’ve fooled him into thinking I’m a musical genius and he is an actual genius.

BURNS: I feel like the curricular parts of the record are pretty relaxed and from the hip, but Drozd keeps reminding me that I was a total stickler for the details of the content and lyrics. That’s #definitely# a vestige of my time on “Blue’s Clues,” which was so painstakingly researched and considered.

BLURT: How do you think the fans of your previous work will take to this? What’s been the reaction so far?

DROZD: There’s been a lot of great support from so many different people. I think Flaming Lips fans that like certain elements of The Lips hear things that they recognize and respond to.

BURNS: What’s freaking me out, truly, truly blowing my mind, is that fans of my previous work have spawned new fans of my previous work, and that sometimes both present and previous fans of my previous work are fans of our present work at the same time. In the present.

BLURT: What was the overall idea/concept at the heart of this album?

DROZD: Wondering is wonderful. Being excited and having your mind expanded and your heart open at all times is what to strive for.

BURNS: Yup. What he said. That, and never giving up. There is often great beauty in the struggle!

BLURT: How difficult is this to replicate on stage? Is there a lot of storytelling involved? Did you model your touring show after any particular precedent, such as Disney, “Sesame Street,” etc.?

DROZD: We are figuring out the live show literally right now. There is storytelling, puppetry, rock n roll hootchie koo, sadness, epic wonder. All of those things. Hopefully it’s gonna work!

BLURT: So what’s next? Will you continue to work together, and if so, will it be a challenge to balance it against your “day jobs?”

DROZD: We will definitely continue to work together, and, if the upcoming Brooklyn Bowl show goes well, we will definitely find a way to perform together whenever we both have any free time.

BURNS: I want to do a Bing Crosby/David Bowie-esque holiday album that’s part music, part radio theater, full of sound effects and characters from our first album and stuff. That’s my idea, so please don’t steal it if you’re reading this. Thanks.

BIGGER AND BADDER: The Godfathers

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The UK band may have bum-rushed the charts during the ‘80s and early ‘90s with their powerful brand of R&B-tilting punk, but on the evidence of a new studio album, there’s plenty of fuel remaining in the tank. Following the text, check out some recent live video clips.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Legendary British rockers The Godfathers could easily spend the next couple of decades coasting on Gen X nostalgia, hitting the festival and theater circuit every summer to cycle through an endless greatest hits set from Birth, School, Work, Death and More Songs About Love & Hate. But to quote band founder and front man Peter Coyne “We’re not dusty museum pieces!”

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s The Godfathers churned out one great album after the next, mining a sweet spot between punk rock and classic R&B. They band called it quits for a while, when Coyne tried to walk away from music and simply “just be a human being.” But normal life didn’t take and the band was back to playing music again. godfathers-cd

After a long time away from the recording studio, Coyne has reassembled The Godfathers and recorded their best album since 1991’s Unreal World. The latest, A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a clarion call to the world of rock, an album crammed with big guitars, strong hooks and soaring vocals.

Coyne, who is currently touring across Europe with the band took some time recently to talk about the

BLURT: It’s been years since you last recorded as The Godfathers. What got you to do it again?

PETER COYNE: Well, we did something in 2000 and took and eight-year break. In between that I didn’t want to be in any other groups and was quite happy just being a human being. So, I got a call from Kris Dollimore, who used to be in The Godfathers and was putting together a band, and I said, “I’m not really interested, to be honest.” I then said, “Well, who’s in it?”

“It’s Rat Scabies on drums and me on guitar.” and I said “I’ll do it. Just like that.” We did that for about a year. We were called The Germans, recorded a bunch of demos and did about eight gigs, but we never made proper recordings which I always thought was a damn shame. Then I got The Godfathers back together to promote (the anniversary of) our debut album, Hit By Hit, in 2008 and that’s how it all started again. (Below: “Rewind Time” from the new album.)

In getting the band back together, and recording that great live record (Shot Live at 100 Club) in 2010, did that show you that there was still an appetite out there for more from The Godfathers?

Definitely, because we were playing gigs all around the world and there was still interest in The Godfathers. There was a lot of love out there for the band. That was quite pleasing to discover, so we started it all again. (Below: classic early hit “Birth, School, Work, Death”)

You guys certainly have a slew of songs that go back decades, which fans still relate to. You could just as easily make a comfortable living, and I’d assume easier, touring solely off playing the hits. Why keep writing new music and record again?

I’m not interested, neither is anyone else in this lineup of the band, in reflective glory or trading on what we’ve done in the past as The Godfathers. I think we’ve made some fantastic records with the band: Hit By Hit, Birth School Work Death, More Songs About Love and Hate, Unreal World, that one’s that’s called “the Orange Album,” they’re the sort of classic Godfather recordings as far as I can work out, but we wanted to do something with this new album that’s a completely different sonic adventure. We didn’t want to do More Songs About Love And Hate, Part Two and Hit By Hit: The Sequel; Unreal World: The Follow Up. Not interested; No, thank you. We’ve done things like that before. Our job right here, right now is to make rock and roll for today and make it sound even better, if it’s possible, then we’ve done with the group in the past. We’ve got high benchmarks in this band, lofty standards and we don’t want to drop the load ever. And I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a fantastic album. It’s a collaboration between everyone in the band, it’s not just me. birth-school

This is the first time you’ve recorded with a lot of the folks that are in the band now. Were there any rules or outlines about writing that you had?

Not really. The only rule was that all of these songs must be great, they must have something special about them. Writing came completely naturally. I’d done a lot of work with Steve (Crittall, guitar) and I’d just show up with a lot of lyrics to his studio in Soho, London and I’d explain what I thought was the best way to approach it. He’d turn around, have a think about it and then start working musically about what fit. We’d bat it about between the pair of us and within half-an-hour to 45 minutes we’d always have a great number we could work with. The same with Mauro (Venegas, guitar).

Over the past 10 years or so, a lot of younger bands have cited The Godfathers as a musical influence. Were there any bands that influenced this album when you were writing it?

Not really. I think we were copying The Godfathers, copying our own sound if you know what I mean. Everyone is influenced by someone. I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is influenced a little bit by The Stooges. I think musically “You and Me Against the World,” the finishing track on the album, borrows a little bit from David Bowie. Musically it was inspired by the death of David Bowie and lyrically from the fallout of Brexit and what’s happening at this moment.

It’s very pleasing that bands in the States, and in fact all around the world, are influenced by The Godfathers because we’ve definitely been influenced by the bands that came before us and it’s great to get that feedback from other groups. There’s a couple of American bands, Local H and Spoon have covered Godfather songs on their records and there’s that band Mars Volta that said that whole album (editor’s note: Noctourniquet) that was influenced by The Godfathers. That’s fantastic.

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I know you guys have started a tour in Europe. Any chance you’ll be in the U.S. now that the record is out?

I’ll be quite honest with you, we’re seriously looking into it. It is so expensive, you wouldn’t believe it, for British bands coming to America. It’s a lot easier for American bands to come to the UK. It should be no problem to get us to the States, but you’ve got to pay for visas, you’ve got to pay for flights. It’s incredibly expensive. We really want to do it though. We love to play live and with an album like A Big Bad Beautiful Noise you’ve got to hear this live. We’re not dusty museum pieces this is fresh rock and roll music that we want to deliver to people. We want to go back to the Motherland of rock music and deliver this to the yanks.

Top photo credit: Sean Robert Howarth / Live photo: Monty Strikes

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Jazzmenco by La Vienta

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The El Paso jazz guitarists were an unlikely highlight of the Lone Star State’s music scene in the ‘90s, and with the album discussed here, they stormed the Billboard charts and nabbed a Grammy nod. Time to revisit—and to catch up, as well.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics, From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk, Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots, Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil, and Illuminated by the 360’s. Here’s our latest, a remarkable album, released in ’93, by a remarkable Texas-based jazz outfit that is clearly dear to our “Story Behind…” editor Levitt’s heart. Enjoy.—FM

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La Vienta is a jazz group that formed in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. Founded by Mario Otero and Stefan Schyga in the early 90s the band was one of those rare occurrences in a town filled with either metal heads or Freddy Fender wannabes.  This was one of those cases where the right elements for success seemed to just coalesce out of the ether, like a freak thunderstorm in the desert beauty arrives and quickly dissipates from whence it came. Sometimes the right climactic conditions come together and all hell breaks loose, as it did when a young guitarist from Hildesheim, Germany studying music at UTEP of all places became friends with a local El Paso guitarist who together as La Vienta set the jazz scene on fire with their debut album Jazzmenco released back in 1993 for jazz label Telarc records.

With lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” or you’re smile you knew the band could bring the goods.  Here and on the rest of the album you could tell the band was working from a deep fondness for flamenco music. Their collective talent crossed like bridges over a desert wash blending flamenco guitar with a broader jazz sensibility to take the music to somewhere fascinating and uncharted.

“San Miguel” is more straight ahead flamenco with strains of Cuban piano that fuses well. Here drums, congas and palmas (hand claps) sparkle and give the song even greater heft.

“Spanish Invasion” is healthy mix of Pat Metheny and Carlos Santana. I appreciate the shifting of styles on this piece and the delicate fret work in the calmer moments of the song. It’s also a cool moment on the album that despite the dated sounding keyboards shows one of the many strands of creativity flowing through this duo.

“Paco’s Night Out” bolts out of the gate with its galloping beat, here the playfulness of the guitar playing dips and climbs over the pulsing beat, a great track to play as you drive up Transmountain Drive to catch the sunset.

“Skeleton Samfa” is a jazzy number that offers a great back and forth dialogue between Stefan and Mario. The tune which is stretched over a taught drum beat cut with some Jimmy Smith organ virtuosic embellishments will have you tapping your toes, and luxuriating in the positivity.

“Moroccan Face Dance” would have gotten the band in trouble had it been released in Trump’s America with its Mexican and Arabic influences or at least it would have had to been left off the album due to visa issues. Joking aside, this track is worth the price of admission alone, with its deft playing that’s infused with intrigue and romance, sailing in on tendrils of myrrh incense. The song then shifts gears with vocals and palmas and an electric guitar that just rips before ushering the flamenco guitar back into the mix. Stefan says, “[It’s] a song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.”

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Despite being a shade too early for internet promotion, Jazzmenco managed to climb to #17 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart and garner a Grammy nod for production. As with many big label debuts this record shows the abundance of talent the group would draw upon for subsequent releases. That said, there’s something vital and electric about this first album that later albums seemed to dampen down a bit, which is why over the last twenty years this record has remained on constant rotation in my life, providing me with a much-needed dip back into the beauty of the southwest, with its sun-bleached edifices and alluring smell of creosote permeating the air after a summer downpour.

I was able to connect with Stefan and Mario to answer a few questions about how Jazzmenco came about. These days besides teaching music, Stefan is busy recording his next solo record that will be out sometime in 2017. Meanwhile Mario is also still involved with making music and running a music school. Both of them still call El Paso home and while they aren’t currently playing together as a duo, the bond of friendship remains deep between the two.

Online: http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/La-Vienta/

https://www.stefan.us/bio

http://mariootero.com

Blurt: How did you guys start playing together?

Stefan Schyga: We met at the UTEP and heard each other play and thought it was cool to play together.  In those days’ lots of people just hung out in the hallways and jammed, it was a really cool situation.

 

Who came up with the name? What does it mean?

It is from a poem by Doug Adams.  He talks about a girl “and she moves like the wind and he called her La Vienta”.  We just always thought that the name was cool and different, and kind of described our south west style of music.

 

A German-American is not the first person you think of when it comes to Flamenco, how did you develop a taste for this sort of music?

When I was 16 I found a couple of Flamenco albums and fell in love with the music, even though my teacher later said they were horrible. I won’t mention any names but he was very popular in the US during the 60ies. My teacher then let me listen to some great players such as Ramon Montoya, Mario Escudero, Sabicas and many more. I was just amazed by what these players were able to do on the Guitar.  I also loved Classical Guitar but these Flamenco players were using all these cool and formerly unheard (by me) techniques.

 

How long after forming La Vienta, did you start to get interest from labels?

Mario had some good friends Keith and Muriel that were kind enough to finance the first album.  It sold like crazy locally, even outselling Michael Jackson during the Christmas Season. We decided to just send it out to some labels and had 2 labels jump on it.

This was pretty crazy, as one label guy told me: “This stuff never happens”. The labels were Higher Octave and Telarc. We decided to [sign] with Telarc. (Below: Stefan’s advance check in 1993 from the label.)

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Where did you guys record the album?

We recorded it here in El Paso at El Adobe a really nice 24 track analog studio, but Telarc brought in their Digital recorders.

I think they were Yamaha Digital 8Track recorders that you could chain together, kind of like the first ADATs

I know we did not have quite enough tracks since most of the recordings they used to do were live sets such as Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson.

This presented a big problem during the mix since the Engineer had to bounce some of the audio, such as congas and other percussion onto one track and we could not change those levels later.

Of the 14 tracks on the record, what was the oldest song that had been kicking around? What songs went through the greatest evolution in the studio?

I think the oldest song was “Paco’s Night Out”, a great song that Mario composed.  We added the drums and stuff so it sounded a lot bigger than we were used to with just the 2 guitars.

Also in “Moroccan Face Dance”, we added the Jaleos and Palmas performed by a Flamenco Singer who happened to live in El Paso. Mario also added some cool electric guitar so this song became a lot bigger sounding.

 

Before you guys entered the studio were the songs 100% ready to go or was there some major tweaking to be done?

We really had rehearsed them well, but there were still slight changes.  Before the session we had opened for Flora Purim and Airto Moreira and we played pretty much all of the songs with the full band.

 

What was the input of your producer Michael Bishop and what songs went through the greatest changes in studio?

Well, Michael was really not our producer but the Engineer.

The biggest issue that we had was that we were using new digital technology and had very limited tracks. So, some instruments were bounced to a track to save tracks and we could not go back and change individual instruments in the mix.  That was a real problem.  Telarc was used to more “live” recording than studio multi tracking.

 

How many of the compositions were penned by you and how many by Mario?

From the beginning, we decided to always do a 50/50 split. (Below: La Vienta with fan Billy Gibbons)

la-vienta-billy-gibbons

 

How many songs were recorded in total and who made the decision on which songs to cut?

We recorded 14 and fought for all of them, and Telarc worked with us.  There were issues such as string noise, but they did agree to keep all the tracks. I think this really helped the album to be a cohesive listening experience.

 

Of the tracks on the record who came up with the running order? Was lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” (Your Smile) worked to jazz radio?

Telarc had radio promoters and other people listen to it and they came up with the order.  We really did not know how any of this worked.  When we listened to the final order though we were happy with it.

 

How did the song Moroccan Face Dance come about?

I just wanted to write a song that combined Rock and Arabic/Flamenco elements with full drums. Can you say “Spinal Tap”? A song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.  I really enjoyed recording that song and Mario really whaled on that electric guitar!

 

When the record came out how was it received?

It did extremely well, much better than expected.  The album got lots of radio play with stations like KKSF in San Francisco having up to 6 songs on heavy rotation.  We got quite a few concerts out of it and did radio interviews etc.  Telarc promoted it with Sound Warehouse (a record store chain) and it jumped on the Billboard Charts!

 

When is the last time you listened to Jazzmenco and if you could change one thing about it what would it be?

I’ve been listening to the album for this interview. I don’t really listen to it.  Maybe once every 5 years!  I think we’d like to re-record it, but most artists feel like that.  It is a moment in time and that’s it. Some songs sound great and some songs well, Mario and I might have heard them differently. Sometimes we feel that our first self-produced album captures the feel better than the first Telarc recording, but then again the guitars sounded much better on the Telarc recording.

lavienta-surf-club

What formats was the album released on?

Cassette and CD.  I still have a cassette, what a weird thought.

 

Where did you first hear the final mix?

I think Mario and I got together and listened to it.  It was weird, because the mixes were done sending tapes back and forth to Telarc.  We were not present for the mix, which in the end was probably not a good idea.  We still liked it though, and I remember driving into LA and hearing it on the Wave ([radio] station), [that was the] coolest feeling ever!

 

What was the feeling when you opened the cd for the first time?

Wow, just pure excitement! All the work has paid off. Let’s see what happens.

 

Stefan, do you disown that haircut that graces the front cover?

The hair got even worse for the second and third albums!

 

Will there ever be a reissue?

Mario and I are currently researching what it would take for us to re-release the very first album. I think people might really like it.  We just have to be aware of publishing contracts etc.

 

When and where do you remember hearing that Jazzmenco was nominated for a Grammy?

We were actually just told after the fact, like yeah you guys were nominated.

 

Did you guys attend the ceremony?

Nope

 

After the nomination, what sort of venues did you play at and what artists did you perform with? Any Jazz fests?

Nothing much changed but we played gigs with people like Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Tommy Emmanuel, The Rippingtons the Ike Turner review etc. We did play some wine fests also in northern California. (Below: performing at a jazz festival)

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How did the album sell?

I believe it was like 100,000 copies

 

In terms of sales do you remember your first royalty check you received from Telarc?

Yes, the very first one was actually an advance.  Still have a copy of it! As far as royalties I don’t think we ever recouped, at least to the statements we have seen.  We still have to receive a statement from Concord Jazz, but that has been our fault for not checking up on it.

 

Seeing as you’re of German extraction (Stefan) did you manage to pick up some coverage in Germany at the time?

We did actually pretty well in Europe.  I remember my former guitar teacher seeing the album in Amsterdam and not buying a copy!!!!  Got lots of radio play.

 

Did any of this make an impact in El Paso?

I think so, lots of people remember us, and I hope we helped to start some other groups.  We have a very vibrant music scene in our Border Town(s), this includes Juarez. Mexico.

 

Did the A&R people or other label staff get involved at all with pushing some creative ideas towards the band?

They let us record what we wanted, but then they started to push some of the tracks they thought were [going to] be more successful in radio play.  They also listened to radio promoters to check on the order of the songs.  All that input was really helpful for the project.

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What was Telarc’s input on the promotion of this record? Did you have any issues with the publicity for the record?

Well Telarc had all the greats like Joe Pass, Al DiMeola and really did not have to promote them so much since [they’d] sell anyhow?

We kind of felt that Higher Octave might have done a better job breaking a new artist, but hey what do we know?

 

How soon after the record came out did discussions begin floating around for the next one?

Right away, since it sold so much (for a new artist), but now with a “real producer” etc.  That is a whole different story though.  I think our favorite album will always be Forgotten Romance.

 

Will La Vienta ever surface again for a new album?

Hey you never know!

 

Stefan, when will your solo record come out?

It will be released this summer (2017)

***

Below: Some of the group’s press clippings and billings.

 

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RE-ANIMATED IN THE FUTURE NOW: Milemarker

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The post-hardcore group, with roots in both the Chapel Hill and Chicago indie scenes, formed in 1997 and powered through eight glorious years before going on hiatus. They briefly re-emerged in 2008, then disappeared again—until now. And we’ve got the scoop on their new album, Overseas, and a whole lot more. The band is currently on tour in the west and then to the midwest this week.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY DAVID ENSMINGER

As the millennium unfolded, bands like These Arms Are Snakes and Milemarker felt like redeemers that cracked the egg-dome of punk norms. Emo had taken shelter in pop modes, math rock unleashed charmless vanities, street punk often felt sulking and rodent, but Milemarker felt like an expedition transmitting new frequencies. Their searing coterie of tunes, like “Signal Froze” (with its warped vocals, undulating electro vibes, and crackling rock’n’roll urgency) and dramatic “Shrink To Fit” (imagine Gary Numan meets Atari Teenage Riot), signify their crack post-modernism.

Instead of mustering play-by-numbers angst, thin protest, and soon faded disaffection, the stuff of teenage war cries, the music of Milemarker seems fermented in a nuanced analysis of the sensory-overladen landscape of late-capitalism and the information economy. Plus, they always feel shaped by prescient literary sources: William Burroughs, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard, and more. Hence, nothing in their music, lyrics, or composition is overtly stripped-down or bareboned; they offer no simple recitation of revolt. Instead, they approach tunes in a cyber-fiction way, creating scenarios, news dispatches, and memos from the digital edge, producing music that morphs and transcends.

Roby Newton’s (who also masterminded their light show) moody chromium voice fills tunes like the hypnotic “Food For Worms” as she excavates all the damage done to women in the world of dead, damaged, suicidal heroines and forced silence, when the best minds of a generation starve for their place in intellectual and cultural spaces: “The girl’s heroes have taken their own lives. We’re left with sewn lips and model lines. The place for us: we are seen and not heard.” She urges people not to take shelter in desultory destruction; instead, turn off the ovens, throw out the stones, shut off the gas, she infers, and don’t enact the tragedies all over again, like a vicious interlocked replication of breakdowns. It’s a call to liberate from the dire ends of Sylvia Plath and others, to crush the monocles of madness, and to fight omnipresent confinement, barriers, and censure.

Meanwhile, her tireless tidal waves of dark, distressing keyboard shape the erratic pull and push of “New Lexicon,” a prescient tune examining the idiom of conformity – the recited phrases learned by rote, never questioned or doubted, like pre-programmed, mass-recited Orwellian thought squelching all dissent and difference. Due to so many memes, jargon, and scripts emanating from the political spectrum, the song looks hard at how language can become no more than a glass paperweight dampening the flicker of free thought.

Yet, despite heady preoccupations, Milemarker can still unleash pummeling power and slanted rhythms, like “Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery” and the holographic punk of “Tundra,” which doesn’t feel a million miles from Kanye West (as does their urban dance-throttled “Idle Hands”) as it gnaws on incandescent keyboard riffs, the drums explode in sudden urges (from jazz-bridged syncopated asides to sheer fist-stomping smackdowns), and the slow, degraded guitar forms a distorted plumage. Newton and crew weigh in on the impending ice age – using the song as stretching harsh light to illuminate the impending eco-cataclysm bound to upset economies, military agendas, populace routines, etc.

Having taken a break since 2005, they have re-emerged, like nomads populated with new band members and up-to-the-minute visions. Overseas (released on the Lovitt label), with Monika Bukowska providing the unflinching internal roil and rhythm on the heaving beats on songs like “Conditional Love” (an electro-punk motif frosted with singalong punk propellants), is dancefloor odored and ordered, an electrifying emblem of punk hybridity.

Al Burian kindly offered to answer questions “haphazardly.” [Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared at the most excellent ‘zine Dagger, which not so coincidentally is helmed by our very own Tim “Dagger” Hinely. Many thanks to him and Mr. Ensminger for allowing us to share it with the BLURT readership.]

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DAVID ENSMINGER: No doubt, members of long-lived bands come and go, line-ups change, etc., but now only half of the band remains at the core. Have you essentially re-imagined Milemarker, not just resurrected it … perhaps taken off the guardrails?

AL BURIAN: Milemarker always had a pretty shifty line-up; every record has had some variation in the musicians playing on it. And from the beginning, we always had an agenda of pushing boundaries, at least our own personal boundaries, of getting the people in the band to go places where they are uncomfortable. Dave and I wanted to do some new stuff with the band in 2015, so we found the other two people, Lena and Ezra, and immediately wrote a record with them. The band history gave us some sort of aesthetic range or parameter for writing– I guess in that sense the band as an abstract entity is the guardrails.

Your tune “New Lexicon” (which musically always reminded me a bit of …Trail of the Dead) is so apropos to this volatile era, this immediate strife. Was the song intended as a play on Orwell’s notion of language being an epicenter of control: “We don’t need big brother to enforce the new lexicon … we wrote it for ourselves.” Is the general public, and not just Trump, responsible for the emergence of alternative facts? 

.A lot of the dystopian science fiction elements in the bands’ past lyrics are becoming descriptive of current reality, which is not a very good development. It seems to me that this current administration is fundamentally different from anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.­ Though to be honest, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve been sitting in my apartment in Berlin, viewing the U.S.A. through the mediated lens of the internet. Of course, we are all responsible in some way for what is happening. With the band, and especially with touring in the U.S. now, I assume everyone in the audience is going to be aware of what’s going on; they don’t need a political analysis from us. Our agenda is to make music. That’s not meant apolitically: if I’m going to be optimistic, I’ll say hopefully that music can serve as a unifying force, maybe even communicate something fundamental and transcendent.

 

Another changing format that has become the de facto norm is “reality TV” (actually, scripted to the core), which the band presciently recognized on “Make Love to the Camera Obscura.” The line “what’s the point of doing anything if it’s not on camera” is eerie. People have shifted from mere consumers to endless makers of content. Does that appeal to you, in the “become the media” sense punks like Jello Biafra once espoused, but also trouble you?

That line is actually taken from Warren Beatty, spoken derisively to Madonna in the documentary, Truth Or Dare. But yeah, if “new lexicon” is Orwellian 1984, dystopia “make love to the camera obscura” is Huxleyan Brave New Worlddystopia. I think Huxley was closer on the mark in terms of predicting our present situation, although really maybe it’s kind of a gross melange of the two, with an authoritarian Big Brother presiding over a sheep-like hedonistic pleasure-centered society. The worst of both worlds! I think the song still holds up overall, social criticism-wise, although the line “you’re on camera an average of ten times a day” is out-dated: that was the average number of surveillance cameras you’d encounter per day in 1999. The number of cameras that capture you on a daily basis now is undoubtedly exponentially higher.

By the time you cut tracks like “River of Blood” for the last album– over eight minutes in length – had you become restless with post-hardcore routines? The lyrics seem pointedly political – the destructive machinations of government and war, but the song (called “math-core” by Pitchfork), seems restless as hell…searching.

“Rivers of Blood” was a pretty old song when we recorded Ominosity. It was written fairly soon after the songs onAnaesthetic. We were into longer songs at that point. As far as the lyrics, why do you say “but”? You can’t be pointedly political and restless as hell at the same time?

 

People tend to romanticize the independent networks of labels, indie publicists, and fanzine editors that formed the backbone of punk from the 1970s-2000s, etc., but the longer I chronicle the movement, the less transparent, and even less honest, it all seems. How would you describe dealing with the punk “infrastructure” (for lack of a better term)? Did we create an alternative commerce and ethos, or did we fail?

Punk led me to pretty much everything I know about as far as “alternative” or anti-mainstream ideas. It’s a conduit for all kinds of information and can lead you to all kinds of interesting places. But it’s only one way to get to these points, and it can lead you to some pretty dumb and nihilistic places too. The question of failing depends on what the goals are. We’re all only humans, and we exist in the framework of the current economic system; to feel like a new world didn’t spring out of your efforts is a beautifully idealistic standard to hold yourself up to, but maybe a little unfair to yourself. We’re all doing the best we can, for the most part. One thing I always liked about punk is that it embraces deviance generally. So there are a lot of freaks, a lot of scam artists and schizophrenics, a lot of bad thoughts, bad ideas, experiments gone awry. There are a lot of lonely people just trying to get attention. That’s all part of it, and part of what makes it great. “Succeeding” might be the wrong paradigm for thinking about it.

On the web:

www.milemarkerwebpresence.com

www.lovitt.com

THE PHILLY KID: Dave Hause

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Despite living in California now, the punk/Americana artist is still very much a child of the City of Brotherly Love—and he’s got a terrific new album to prove it.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Born and raised in the city, it’s where he started his hardcore band, Paint It Black, and eventually his punk band, The Loved Ones. Hell, his first concert was The Hooters, and despite the rest of the world’s insistence that the City of Brotherly Love is all cheesesteaks and Rocky statues, you don’t get much more authentically Philly than a Hooters concert.

So, the fact that Hause – who as a solo artist now plays a perfect blend of punk and Americana – asked Hooters singer/guitarist Eric Bazilian to co-produce his latest shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. The album title? Bury Me in Philadelphia. (Natch.)

Released last week, on Feb. 3 via Rise Records, the album is quite possibly his best to date. Not an easy feat as both Devour and Resolutions, his other solo efforts, were praised by critics and fans alike. Hause, gearing up for a tour that will likely have him on the road for most of this year, spoke recently about the influence Philadelphia has had on him, the chances of another Loved Ones record and writing music after getting sober.

BLURT: I wanted to start out talking about how and why you got Eric Bazilian involved. I think he’s wildly underrated and was stoked to see you were working with him.
DAVE HAUSE: I totally agree, he’s vastly underrated, and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. Helen Leicht, the midday DJ at WXPN in Philadelphia, found out that my first ever concert as a 7- year-old kid was The Hooters at the Tower Theater, and introduced us. Eric checked out Devour and Resolutions and really dug the work I had done, and came out to the headline show I played in Philly for Devour. He played “And We Danced” with me and my band as part of the encore, and we kept in touch. When things weren’t working with the producer I initially started working with for this record, Eric was my first call. He loved the demos of the songs and we booked the time and within a few months, the record was done. It was pretty amazing.

I know you live in California now, but even more so then just the title, I can’t help but think that this sounds like a Philly record. How has the city influenced your music?
Philly is what shaped my whole perspective, my work ethic, the way I view the world. It took moving to California to understand how much of a Philadelphian I truly am, and that ended up being a big part of this record. It’s another reason why recording it with Eric in the Philly area was so crucial. The cover art is the sky above Roxborough, where I grew up, and ultimately that theme of figuring out where you’re from and who you are, no matter how far you run definitely makes its way through the album.

You started writing this record after getting sober, from what I understand. How did that change the way you approached writing it? Was it harder?
I wrote it over the course of a few years, so some of it was while I was still partying. I think the focus that came once I stopped drinking and using drugs was really pivotal to not only completing this record the way I wanted it to be, but also the 40 other songs I have that’ll come out over the course of the next few years. It really helped to have clarity and to get the hell out of my own way. There are more than a few songs I wrote about that topic that didn’t make the record, but maybe will see the light of day down the road. We’ll see.

Your brother also worked with you on this one, right? How did that come about?
Tim was taking classes at Temple University when Devour came out but was a little uncertain what he wanted to do. He played a few songs with me at the record release shows I did in Philly and it was really fun, and it got my wheels turning to take him on tour. His first tour was a 10-week trip of North America in the winter, which was insane. We developed a musical bond beyond any I had ever come across, and when I was having a hard time determining what songs would become this record, I just started collaborating with him and he was a natural, he came up with so many amazing lines. I look forward to writing more music with him, most of our collaboration was lyrical, and his sense of melody is so keen, that’s gonna be so fun to turn over that leaf. He’s a great kid, really is a personal hero of mine.

You put out a great record last summer under The All Brights moniker. Any chance you guys will record a follow up?
Actually, we recorded another EP that’s been done for a year. I think it comes out Memorial Day, 2017. It’s even more ridiculous than the last one, and marries my love of satire, making fun of California culture, punk rock and cartoon noises to an absurd effect. It was fun making those songs with my friend Matt (Wilson), we cranked them out really quickly with the rule that if it made us laugh, it stayed. So, stupid.

You also played some shows with The Loved Ones last year to celebrate the anniversary of your debut. Any awkward moments playing with those guys again after so much time?
I think the only awkward thing about that stuff is that you revisit who you were when those songs were made. I’ve grown a lot as a human, and I’m hopefully kinder, more compassionate, and have less to prove, so remembering some of that young arrogant scared guy is uncomfortable, but all in all it was nice to play and see that we all survived, and actually thrived, 10 years later. We had a blast.

Any talk about working on new music with them?
I have most of what could be a third Loved Ones record written, it really is just a matter of whether or not we all set aside the time to rehearse and record it. We’ll see. I don’t want to play any Loved Ones shows unless we were to make new music.

What’s next for you after this record comes out?
Touring like crazy. We do record release shows on both coasts, headline Europe, then do Canada. It’s really exciting, I can’t wait to get this band up and running and really see what we can do. I have a record’s worth of songs almost completely recorded already, we’ll see what we do with that, and then a bunch of songs written that I need to record in addition to that, so things will be busy. I’m not taking such a long break between records, I want to see if I can get on a few years’ tear where I put a lot of stuff out. Who knows, gotta get this one out first I reckon…

TIME & A FEW WORDS WITH… Alan White of Yes

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Tempus fugit when you’re having fun—the virtuoso drummer on Yes’ past, present, and future.

BY BILL KOPP

Progressive rock heroes – and 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees – Yes are embarking on a short, 10-date tour of the Southeastern USA in February 2017. A continuation of the band’s popular “Album Series” of concert tours, the performances will feature the group’s 1980 album Drama plus Sides One and Four of the sprawling 1973 album Tales from Topographic Oceans. The tour kicks off with a February 3 show at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Western North Carolina.

The “Album Series” is a relatively new approach for the enduring British band founded in 1968. Beginning in March 2013, Yes concerts featured performances of complete albums from the group’s deep catalog. The band would take to the stage and run through an entire album of material, start to finish (sometimes, as in the case of performances of 1972’s Close to the Edge, they would play the songs in reverse order). The first albums to be performed live in their entirety were Close to the Edge, Going for the One (1977) and 1971’s The Yes Album. The group’s 2014 tours featured 1971’s Fragile along with other songs. The 2016 tours featured the first complete performances of Drama, considered on its original release as a major musical departure for the group. By Summer of ’16 Yes was performing half of Tales from Topographic Oceans (specifically, sides 1 and 4).

Since its inception, Yes has gone through myriad changes. In fact – if one wants to get picky about it – the 2017 Yes lineup includes no original members. Allow me to explain in as concise a manner as is possible …

Yes was founded near the end of the ’60s in London by bassist Chris Squire and vocalist Jon Anderson. The remaining three members – guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford on drums – would each subsequently leave the band; both Bruford and Kaye would return at various points, but a full Yes personnel chronology would be mind-numbingly intricate; consult Wikipedia if you really must know.

Jon Anderson left for the final time in 2004; he currently tours with two other Yes alumni, guitarist Trevor Rabin and keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman. Chris Squire – the only member to have participated in every Yes concert and album up to that point – passed away from leukemia in 2015. With Squire’s passing, the sole founding member of the group was gone. But the current lineup of “new” members is anything but new. Guitarist Steve Howe joined in 1970; drummer Alan White took over for Bruford in 1972, and has played on every Yes release since Tales from Topographic Oceans.

The other members of Yes all have substantial history with the band. Keyboardist Geoff Downes came on board for Drama back in 1980, and rejoined as a full member in 2011 (he’s also been a mainstay of the closely related progressive/pop group Asia since its founding). Bassist Billy Sherwood is unique in Yes world in several ways: he’s one of only two Americans (current vocalist Jon Davison being the other) in the group; Sherwood has been in and out of Yes – in both official and unofficial capacities – several times beginning as far back as 1991. It’s worth reminding oneself that 1991 was more than a quarter century ago.

And with the exception of a medical leave during the group’s 25-date Summer 2016 tour, Alan White has been behind the Yes drum kit for every show since a concert in Dallas, TX on June 30, 1972.

White didn’t simply appear out of nowhere back in ’72; his impressive résumé already included work with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Denny Laine’s short-lived group Balls, and stints with former Animals keyboardist Alan Price as well as a brief tenure in Ginger Baker’s Airforce. Through absolutely no fault of the preternaturally good-natured White, most of those projects had run aground in disarray. But the drummer remained undaunted. “I’ve always been very positive,” White tells me during a late January 2017 conversation. “If things fall in place around you all well enough, I don’t complain about much at all. I just get on with performing, and go in a straight line forward. Things come and go around you.” That resilience has served him well during his 45-year tenure with Yes, as he’s seen the band endure – and thrive – through countless changes in style and personnel.

Yes’ original drummer Bill Bruford approached his craft from something of a jazz and improvisational mindset; in fact his stated reason for leaving Yes – already known for its intricate and demanding musical arrangements – was to pursue an even greater musical challenge with King Crimson. But even then, newcomer White was no slouch himself.

White provides some context. “Prior to Yes – and in fact for quite a few years while I was doing all of this other stuff – I had my own band in the English countryside that actually played a lot of prog style music.” He says that the music was in a style not wholly unlike Yes’ approach. “So I tried – when I got into Yes – to incorporate the rock and roll style along with knowing how to do the jazz things. I combined all of that into a fusion type of drumming that went along with a lot of Yes’ music.”

Looking back upon his entry into the band, White recalls the challenge of joining the band on the eve of a major tour of America. “Getting asked to learn and play the whole repertoire in three days was quite an exciting challenge for me,” he laughs. “One I’ve seem to overcome.”

When I interviewed Chris Squire in 2011, he recalled that time as well. “I was never sure it was going to work out when Alan first came in,” he told me. “But after awhile, he did so well that we melted into being the new ‘engine room.’”

For his part, White recalls that he seemed to get it mostly right onstage in Dallas. “Chris said, ‘That was great! We were all sweating bullets, because you didn’t really have enough time to learn the songs!’” He notes that while Bruford had played drums on the then-new album Close to the Edge, even he had never attempted to play the demanding material live. “I was experimenting to the point of how it would work on stage,” White says.

White and Squire quickly developed a close musical rapport, one that did indeed serve as the engine room that Squire described. White says, “When you play with somebody for 43 years – or even for 20 – you get to know how each other play so well, you kind of know what they’re doing before they do it. It’s an unwritten thing.”

Shortly before Chris Squire passed away, he made clear his wish for Yes to continue without him, and hand-picked multi-instrumentalist and longtime musical associate Billy Sherwood to take his place as the group’s bassist. For his part, White has a long musical history with Sherwood, both in and out of Yes; the pair have played together in Circa, a side-project band. White has also played on many of the various tribute albums Sherwood has produced and recorded.

White brushes away any suggestion that Sherwood’s bass playing requires a significant change in the way he plays drums on Yes songs. “You know what? Chris was Billy’s mentor. Billy studied Chris a lot through his life from an early age,” White says. He knows what he’s getting with Sherwood. “We were just in Japan together, doing a Yes tour,” White recalls. “Billy turned to me one day and said, ‘I’m 51 now. And I’ve known you since I was 19!’”

Asked to name his favorite song and/or album from among the 21 Yes studio releases he’s played on, White launches into a long list, jumping forward and backward through the catalog, naming songs and records from most every year and incarnation of the band. “You could go on forever,” he laughs, and he means it. White does make special mention of “Ritual,” the 21-minute-plus track that makes up all of Side Four on Tales of Topographic Oceans. That track features a long and memorable – and exceedingly musical – drum solo from White, and it’s a centerpiece of the February 2017 tour. “It’s really exciting to play,” says the 67-year-old drummer.

White’s long tenure with Yes has seen him take a major role in creating the band’s enduring legacy. But he takes accolades in stride. Case in point is his reaction to the recent announcement that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – long viewed as hostile toward progressive rock – will be inducting Yes in its next annual awards ceremony. “Yeah, well, it’s funny enough,” he says, noting that an artist has to have been active for 25 years before they’re eligible. “And it’s been almost 25 years since that happened for us.”

He continues on that point. “Fans have been saying for years and years, ‘I can’t understand why you guys are not in there!’ I talked to the guys in Rush when they got in; I was down at the ceremony in 2013. They said, “I can’t understand how we’re getting in the Hall of Fame when we modeled all of our music on yours!'”

Yes begins its February 2017 tour in Cherokee, NC, followed by a headlining/hosting spot on the five-day Cruise to the Edge floating festival. Once back on dry land, Yes will play a string of dates in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Future – but as yet unannounced – plans call for a Yes summer tour, a South American series of dates, and, says White, “possibly doing another album in the studio after that.” As the group heads toward its 50th anniversary in Summer 2018, Yes shows no signs of stopping.

You may also enjoy Bill Kopp’s 2016 interview with Yes’ founding member Jon Anderson

 

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND… Michael Fennelly’s (Crabby Appleton) “Go Back” (1970)

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Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). Now we dip way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly.

BY TIM HINELY

At this stage in the game we probably don’t have to tell you that the early ‘70s was a breeding ground for the genre we’ve come to know and love as power pop—Big Star, the Raspberries, and the Nazz being just three of the more prominent progenitors. Count L.A.’s Crabby Appleton—vocalist Michael Fennelly (late of Millennium) plus a group popular on the local scene called Stonehenge: Felix “Flaco” Falcon (percussion), Casey Foutz (keyboards), Hank Harvey (bass), and Phil Jones (drums)—among those icons, too. Although the group managed to land insistent, hooky Fennelly composition “Go Back” in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970 and tour nationally on the strength of their eponymous Don Gallucci-produced debut album, the couldn’t maintain their momentum and wound up splitting following the release of their poorly-selling 1971 followup, Rotten to the Core. Fennelly would go on to a lengthy career as a songwriter and solo artist, and we recently caught up with him at his home in Portland, Oregon, to take a quick trip down memory lane to the “Go Back” period—and a musical legacy that’s still cherished by power pop fans across the globe.

BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song? 
FENNELLY: There wasn’t a particular incident or person as inspiration. I wrote songs all the time. Sometimes they were personal, and sometimes they were attempts at commercial placement. Some songs seem to write themselves. Go Back was one of those. Sitting playing my big old Gibson acoustic 12 string. Stoned. Out it came. Probably took less than a half hour.

  Any idea how your long-time fans feel about it (ie: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
It’s the song more people know about than any of my others. A lot of people really liked it upon its release and many remember it fondly and comment how it was among their favorite of the era. So, in some respects it’s a fan favorite, although people who are familiar with my catalog over the years might have other choices for their faves.

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Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later? 
After Crabby Appleton, I didn’t play “Go Back”. Many years later, in the ‘80s, my bands would include it – sometimes as an encore. It was fun to revisit.

Is there anything about the song you’d change? 
Nope. It came out just as it should have.

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Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
“Go Back” was among songs I’d written before Crabby Appleton. We worked up our version in rehearsal. When we recorded it, producer Don Gallucci suggested the keyboard be a Farfisa Organ. It was a nice suggestion, I think. When we ran into problems was when we were close to finished mixing the album, and Don felt strongly that Go Back should not be on the album. He’s been involved with heavier concept album stuff (Touch) and though the song was too light and kind of bubblegummy.  Of course it did have elements of that genre, but I felt they were well offset by the minor-to-major changes in the chording, and the power of the overall sound. I also felt VERY strongly that “Go Back” was to be Crabby’s hit. We got in a shouting match in Elektra’s VP’s office over it. I won. [Below: Fennelly’s original demo for the song.]

How do you feel about it now? 
I like the song – I like Crabby rendition of it. And I feel a fondness for it as my one-hit wonder. Having a song and record that many people know and love is indeed a wonder! And “Go Back” opened all sorts of doors for Crabby and for me. It got us on American Bandstand [watch the performance, below), and had us playing arenas and pop festivals. We used to hear it come on the radio as we were driving to gigs across the US. That was a thrill.

I’ve attached the original scrawled lyrics, and a link to the original pre-crabby guitar/voice demo.

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A FEW QUICK MINUTES WITH… Todd Fancey

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The New Pornographers guitarist talks about his new album, writing for television, disco angels, and more.

 BY TIM HINELY

If you know his name at all it  is probably as being the low-key guitarist for Canadian popster’s New Pornographers but Todd Fancey has an alter ego (sort of). He’s released a handful of records under his last name. Yup, Fancey. While the New Pornos add some more glitter n’ drive to their pop confections Fancey heads back to that blighted decade known as the 70’s where he gleans inspiration from those AM radio pop records that his parents might’ve played (start with David Gates’ Bread and head westward). On his latest record,  Love Mirage (out this week, Jan. 27, on his own  Stoner Disco label) he goes a few steps further…..further into the world of soft pop and even disco. Cuts like “Baby Sunshine,” “Disco Angel’ and the title track and too shiny for words. We caught up with Todd and asked him about his long absence, the new record and who he’s currently digging on right now.

BLURT: 10 years is a long time since your last full-length , Schmancey. What have you been doing?

FANCEY: Aside from touring and recording with the New Pornographers I did a few songs for television – most notably “That One Night” with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupinsky for the “Dinner Party” episode of The Office.  I also watched a few prospective solo albums collapse under the weight of their own mediocrity as I learned how to do a lot of the editing and recording myself.  I started Love Mirage in 2015.

,How did the songs on Love Mirage come together? Was it 10 years of working on them?

Some of the songs on Love Mirage are remnants of the aforementioned failed projects that I tried to get off the ground artistically.  Luckily a romantic break-up or two came along in the interim to give me a more focused lyrical direction!

Did you do anything different in the studio this time from previous records?

Yes I did a lot different things in the studio this time, using an actual producer- Allan Rodger.  He wanted us to try and attain what he calls “supermarket grade” which means keeping the sound friendly and warm at all times….that was the goal!  I got similar advice from my friend Gary Mallaber who drummed on Steve Miller’s hits.  Gary plays percussion on the album.

Tell us about “Disco Angel.” Where’d the inspiration from that one come from?

Disco Angel was inspired by the way people used to “waltz” in the disco-era to a song like Kiss’ “Beth” or “Sharing the Night Together” by Dr. Hook.  Basically two people slowly turning around to the music under the mirror ball…just an excuse for polyester to bond.

Will you be touring for the record at all (specifically the states)?
I have no plans to tour the record at the moment.  I wanted it to be a truly studio album like the am radio stuff of the ’70s…faceless music with no worries about how it would be done live.  Not ruling it out though.

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Is the New Pornographers still keeping you busy?

Yes the New Pornographers is keeping me busy, we’re going to release our new album in the spring and there will be lots of international touring.

Who are some of your favorite current artists?

I can name at least three modern recording acts that prove stellar music is still being made: Tame Impala, Neon Indian, and MGMT.

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PAINTING OUTSIDE THE LINES: John Abercrombie

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UPDATE JAN. 19: We just learned from Abercrombie’s label, ECM, that the musician, in his early 70s, has been hospitalized with pneumonia. All currently scheduled tour dates have been canceled for the time being and we will republish this interview when rescheduled dates are announced. And our heartfelt prayers and support to Abercrombie, his family, and his fellow bandmembers.

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With the recent release of a retrospective of his first Quartet and a new album from his latest four-piece (pictured above),  plus an extensive U.S. tour looming, the jazz guitar legend talks about his long, celebrated career. Tour dates follow the interview.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When talk turns to great jazz guitarists, certain names always come up: Jim Hall, Barney Kessell, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield. Though not the household name of his predecessors and peers, John Abercrombie belongs in that pantheon. Steeped in the traditions of Hall and Montgomery while constantly stretching their boundaries, Abercrombie brings a perfect balance of technical skill, soulful feel and fertile imagination to his projects. That balance has earned him four decades’ worth of gigs with everyone from Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans and Billy Cobham to Charles Lloyd, Jack DeJohnette and Kenny Wheeler.

But it’s as a leader in his own right that’s truly put Abercrombie on the map. During a 40-plus stint with Manfred Eicher’s ECM Records, Abercrombie has recorded in many different contexts, from the fusion of his 1974 debut Timeless and the orchestral electronics of 1989’s Animato to his guitar duets with fellow ECM mainstay Ralph Towner and his reimagination of the organ trio in his mid-90s record with Hammond master Dan Wall. That’s not to mention the ethereal dynamics of Gateway, his collective with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, and his late ‘80s trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine.

It is Abercrombie’s quartet work, however, that is perhaps most celebrated. Recently collected in the three-disk box The First Quartet, the records made by his first four-piece band – with pianist Richard Beirbach, bassist George Mraz and drummer Peter Donald – represented a step forward for his musical vision, and his return to the quartet format in the 2000s with Johnson, drummer Joey Baron and violinist Marc Feldman was hailed as some of the best work of his career. Debuting in 2013 with 39 Steps, Abercrombie’s latest foursome with Baron, bassist Drew Gress and old friend Marc Copland on piano continues the guitarist’s upward creative arc. Up and Coming, the band’s new album, comes on the eve of a U.S. tour, and is one of Abercrombie’s most tasteful and imaginative works.

We spoke to Abercrombie the day before Christmas Eve about the album’s creation, his early development as a musician, and more.

***

BLURT: Congratulations on Up and Coming. It’s a beautiful recording.
ABERCROMBIE: Thanks a lot.

How was the recording experience for that album?
It was very relaxed. It was just four musicians, the engineer James Farber and, of course, the producer Manfred Eicher. It was a very quick session. For some reason it just seemed to zip on by. A couple things we recorded, when we listened back to them, we didn’t like them, so we didn’t use them. We didn’t belabor it and so we wound up with what we wound up with. So overall it was very relaxed. We did it in two days. We mixed it on the third day. Manfred is very fast. We mixed it in about four hours and then it was done. I guess all I had to do was come up with titles. Sometimes it’s easier to write the song than think of what to call it – you just write the song and it doesn’t necessarily have a meaning to you. It’s not about a sunny day or a pretty girl – it’s just a song and you don’t know what to call it. Sometimes you just have to make up funny titles, and every once in a while something just comes to you that seems to suit the song.

I’ve often wondered how people who aren’t writing lyrics and choruses come up with the titles for these things.
It’s tricky. You go through a lot of possibilities. Everyone does it personally. Some people like very fantastic titles or romantic titles. I tend to like titles that are sort of tongue and cheek or might have a couple of meanings. Like “Up and Coming” – there’s two meanings to that title. It has a melody and chord progression that ascends, it’s kinda going up – it’s coming up, actually. Since it’s a new cd from this band, I had to call it Up and Coming. Sometimes there’s reasons and sometimes there’s not (laughs)

What’s your favorite song on the album?
I like the second tune on the record “Flip Side.” It’s very short. It’s a rehearsal take. We didn’t even know we were being recorded. We were just running the tune down and getting on the same page, and we did a few more takes. Manfred said, “You should listen to this other take,” which we didn’t know was recorded, because we played the tune from beginning to end and we took solos and it was a little on the short side. But I think it’s one of my favorite tunes on the record. Then I also like the thing called “Sunday School.”

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When you sit down with a group of musicians, especially your current quartet, do you know which direction the music is going to go, or do you just go in and it just comes out when you start performing?
I have a basic idea of how I want the tune to go – approximately what kind of feeling I want the tune to have rhythmically. I usually have basic things like the feeling, the tempo, maybe – other than that I don’t put in a lot. When I write these things, I just put sketches on paper. It is the song – it’s got all the melody, notes and chords. I guess most of the rhythms and the melody are close, but I’m in a hurry and I jot them down and I don’t make the rhythms or the melody exact. I just get them on paper so I have something to show somebody. And then they say, “Well, how do you want this melody phrased?” Then I will say, “This is how I kinda hear it.” Because if I play the melodies by myself, I can play them any way that I want. I’m not trying to play them with somebody. Then we usually run the tunes down and I’m always wide open for anything a musician, especially these guys, would have to say about the tune in terms of how to perform or not perform it. If somebody said a really negative response to the tune, I don’t want to force the tune on somebody. I’ll save it for another time.

Do you ever have that?
No, I’ve never really had that, but I’ve had tunes that I felt that way about. After I’ve performed them or rehearsed them, I’ve said, “Yeah, I’m not as crazy about this tune as some other tune.” So I just don’t play it. So I’ve got maybe about ten tunes like that, sitting around that never got recorded and hardly ever get played, but every once in a while I’ll play one of them.

Just to see if you still feel the same way about it?
Yeah. If you leave time, you might actually realize, “Well, this is actually a pretty good song. I don’t know why I didn’t like it in the first place.”

You’re grounded in the jazz tradition, but you’re also constantly pushing the grounds of what that means. How do you achieve that balance between having one foot in the tradition and the other always going in your own way?
I think the traditional part of it comes from what I experienced when I first started to play jazz. I didn’t start out playing jazz. I started out in the late 50’s playing rock and roll – listening to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and all these people. When I first heard jazz, I decided I wanted to play that. I went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston and was listening to music, hearing live music, playing music and that’s where the traditional part got formed, and in those days that’s all there was. There wasn’t fusion – music hadn’t started to melt together in this big pot. Basically I wanted to become a jazz musician and that’s all I put my time into. I didn’t listen to rock and roll. I didn’t listen to Indian music, but that came later in the 60’s. People started listening to all that music, so I thought there must be something to it. So I jumped on the bandwagon and started listening. I found myself playing in a lot of fusion bands and then later, free bands and bands that did ethnic music. They mixed things up a lot and I kinda lost track of the jazz, but I was starting to develop something else. I was playing folk music, I was playing rock music, different kinds of things. I think that early experience of playing different types of music opened my head up and made me start to mix things together and try to find new or other ways to play anything.

Those days if you wanted to play jazz guitar, you could go to a recording of Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell or Jim Hall or Tal Farlow and there was a reference point on how to play that music. But when I started playing in these situations I was getting involved with, there was no reference point really for guitarists. People were writing their own music and you just had to fit into it. When you have to fit into something that you don’t understand and you’re just trying to make it work, you come up with interesting chord voicings, techniques, sounds. This is where the more far-reaching aspect comes in.

My first real love is jazz. If I had to say this one thing, I’d say I like jazz. Mostly I like from the 60s on. I like the earlier jazz a lot, too, but I don’t listen to it a whole lot, so I tend to listen to Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Coltrane and Jim Hall. The people that were on the scene and making newer music when I was coming up.

This current band is on its second album together. But you’ve been playing with Joey Baron and Marc Copland for a decades. How did this particular band of players come together as a group?
I’ve known Marc the longest. I played with him back in the early 70s when he was playing saxophone with Chico Hamilton’s band. Then Joey I met in California – when he moved to New York, we would get together at my house and just improv and do jam sessions at my loft in New York. The band before this one was with Mark Feldman playing violin and Joey Baron and Marc Johnson, and I had been playing with Marc, so he was a logical choice and then I just called Joey Baron and he was totally into it, and that became a band for five years or so.

When I decided to start this new band, Marc [Copland] and I had a relation playing guitar and piano. I had recorded on several of his little projects. So I said, “Let’s just try this and see what it sounds like and feels like.” So we got our agency in Europe to set up a tour. We hadn’t planned on particularly recording it. We were just doing a tour, just having some gigs and some fun. Manfred came to a gig we got in Switzerland. After the set he just came rushing up and said, “We must record this band.” I said OK. I enjoyed it, but I hadn’t thought about presenting it to him as a project, particularly. I didn’t know how it was going to work out because it was the first time we were all playing together in this configuration.

Drew Gress came about largely because of my affiliation with Marc Copland. Marc knew Drew from a period when Marc lived around Washington and Baltimore and that’s about where Drew went to school. So Marc introduced me to Drew and I immediately liked the way Drew played. I found it very refreshing. That’s why I put these four people together for the tour. When Manfred got very excited about the music, then we got serious about it, and then I said, “I’ll write some tunes. I’ll write some things and as soon as I have anything that looks decent, I’ll get in touch with you and we’ll try to set up a record date,” and that’s what happened. That’s when we did 39 Steps.

Is this group giving you something that previous groups didn’t?
I used to have a piano quartet way back in the late 70’s with Richie Beirbach and George Mraz and a drummer named Peter Donald, and they recently reissued the three recordings of that band. So I have had this instrumentation before, but since then I’ve gone on to mostly piano-less groups. Although I have worked with Hammond organ, which I like very much. But I think one of the things I get from it is having the support of a harmonic player like Copland. He’s there to support me, so I can play off of the sound of the harmony as well as playing off of the bass and drums. I can hear the notes I choose against the harmonies and that’s something I really like. Even though it would seem like the guitar is the main upfront voice of the band, it’s not really that way. I feel everybody is a little more equal in this band. I like the interplay and the way people listen, and I think the new record really captures that. I think it captures it maybe more than [39 Steps]. There’s some very interesting things on it. Maybe more interesting for me than an average listener, because I know how the songs are constructed and I hear funny things going on, and guys interacting and leaving certain things out.

One place, we actually forget where we were in the tune, but we left it that way. Nobody was lost, the tune didn’t fall apart and it sounded really good, so we just left it. But there’s a couple of spaces where you can’t tell who’s playing, but it sounds nice. We’re sort of trying to decide who’s gonna take the reins now and we’re all sort of holding back a little bit, and so I do it. That’s in “Up and Coming” – there’s these little spaces. It’s right after the piano solo. You’ll hear this little pause where I think Drew is probably gonna jump in because he starts to play something that sounds like he’s gonna take a solo, but then he backs off. So I come in and play something and he thinks I’m gonna play a solo and I’m just sorta accompanying him, and about a half a chorus goes by where nobody is really in the foreground, and then all of the sudden then I say, “Well, I better take it, because I don’t think Drew is gonna take it.” It was very relaxed. I wasn’t angry. I knew if it did fall apart, we’d just do another take. It’s no big deal. Listening back to it, I thought it sounded pretty cool.

Those are the things that make music sound human.
You make what might be construed as a mistake, but it’s really not. You’re listening so well, and there’s such a democracy in the whole thing. I’m waiting for him to play, he’s waiting for me to play, so “After you, my good man, you go ahead.” It’s being polite, too, and very aware of the other people and what they are contributing, and trying to allow that to happen. So it’s not just playing the same way every night. It always comes out a little bit different, which I thought was always the point of this music anyway.

Especially when you’re improvising on a tune, you have something that most classical musicians don’t do. There’s a composed piece of music and they just to interpret it and express it, which is great, but they don’t improvise on a Beethoven sonata. But we do. We improvise on these structures and songs that I set up or Marc set up, so we have to really know how the harmony and melody and rhythm of everything is working, because we’re using all of this when we improvise, which is tricky.

You’ve had a very long association with ECM records as both a leader and session player. What makes ECM special and why have you stayed with them for so long?
They’re special because Manfred is a real producer. He’s doesn’t want you to play just something that’s going to be popular or try to fit into a current type of music. He wants you to play what you play, and he’s always been very encouraging to me and supportive of me. I did my first record in 1974, so that’s quite a long time. One of the reasons that I stay with ECM is that I know I’m going to get to do what I want to do, pretty much. I have to take advice from Manfred from time to time, and I’m willing to do that. But I know I’m gonna get basically to do what I want to do with the musicians I want to do it with, and it’s gonna get recorded beautifully and be beautifully presented. I don’t think that would happen with any other [jazz] label, because there’s not even that many labels left. Most of the labels around are small, and don’t really have the bucks to do stuff.

I know most of the younger musicians now do everything themselves. Which means they have complete control over what they do, but as far as them ever making any money from it? It’s pretty iffy. You need to have the recording to try to get work so that you can play and keep doing what it is that you’re doing. That’s how I look at the recordings – they’re sort of like documents, but they are also passports to work. People see a new recording and they say, “Oh, this guy has made another record, wow!” And when it’s new, there’s more excitement. People tend to listen to it more and then you get work, hopefully.

Speaking of some of your ECM compatriots, I spoke to Jack DeJohnette just about a week ago. When I first starting listening to jazz around the mid- to late 80’s, one of the first three or four jazz albums that I bought was Gateway 2. That was a huge influence on my jazz listening and one of the reasons I’ve been so fond of both your music. Do you think there might ever be more Gateway music at some point in the future?

I don’t know. I would like to think that there could be. If we could all just find a period where we are free at the same time and want to do it, it could come together very quickly. All it would take would be a short rehearsal, some ideas for tunes, and going in to record it.

I haven’t been in touch very much in the last few years with Jack or Dave. We’ve all been doing our own things. Jack is usually doing a million different things. I’m not really quite sure what Dave’s band is doing right now. I think the last I heard it was with Kevin Eubanks. Similar instrumentation with my group, except Craig Taborn played electric instruments a lot. We started out when we were probably in our late 30s, and now we’re considerably older. It would be nice to come back and do one more before we’re no longer here. Maybe if I speak to Jack, I’m the sure the topic would come up.

You’ve played with Gil Evans, Chico Hamilton, Billy Cobham’s fusion band, John Scofield, Charles Lloyd, Kenny Wheeler – all these amazing musicians. Outside of your own records, what was the most memorable musical experience for you?
Playing with Gateway and Ralph Towner was memorable. I really loved playing with Kenny Wheeler, because I just loved his music, his playing. His compositions and Ralph Towner’s always struck me as being sort of perfect. They influenced me a lot – when I first met Ralph, I tried to write compositions like he was writing. The same when I met Kenny and I realized I had a strong connection to the way they played and wrote.

Charles Lloyd was a great experience for me almost from the opposite point of view, because Charles gave me so much freedom. His compositions were usually pretty simple for the most part, except “Forest Flower” is really a tricky tune, and I think it’s his best tune. He just had a lot of these very open little tunes that didn’t have a lot of harmony or a lot of stuff to do on it, and so there was no instructions for me. I figured out a way to play behind him and he liked it. I found it a great experience and that came later in my life – I was already in my 60s. Maybe I was in my late 50s. Billy Higgins was the drummer at the time, and he was probably as old as Charles. Then we had Marc Johnson, who was the baby in the band – he was the youngest guy and he was already in his 40s. But I had a lot of freedom in that band. That band taught me how to use that free aspect of not being told what to do and just figuring it out. I loved Charles’ sound and the way he played. It was very natural for me to play with him. It didn’t feel like a hard gig – it immediately felt comfortable to me.

You’ve played with all of these giants and icons, and now do you feel like one of the giants yourself?
No, I never feel that way. I just feel like I’m a good musician who’s been around a long time. I’ve been really blessed by meeting Manfred Eicher at ECM and being able to have played all these years with all these tremendous players. I don’t see myself as anything other than a good guitar player who wants to get better and still has things to do. I never think about that aspect of it at all, but I know that there are people that are influenced by what I’ve done. They tell me and I’m really appreciative when people tell me things like that, but it kinda goes in one ear and out the other. I appreciate hearing it, but I don’t want to dwell on it, because it’s not that important to me.

What younger musicians do you listen to now? What more recent musicians have impressed you?
There’s so many good guitar players now. There’s Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mike Moreno, Peter Bernstein, who’s a little bit maybe older than some of those guys. Ben Monder, and this guy Gilad Hekselman – I’ve heard him play on Youtube, I’ve never heard him play live. Lage Lund – I did a recording with him and Peter Bernstein, a tribute to Jim Hall that came out about three months ago called Inspired. It was done under Artistshare, which is the label that Jim Hall was recording for before he passed away.

I’ve heard all these guys. Some of them live, but most of them on recordings. I don’t get a chance to go in [New York] and hang out and listen to music. I’m about an hour and fifteen minutes north of the city, so by the time I drive in and park the car and then come home, it’s a long trip for me, so I tend not to go and hear a lot of people live. Craig Taborn really impressed me. Chris Cheek, some of these young saxophone players. Chris Potter. There’s a few Chrises. There’s a lot of players that I’ve heard. If you told me their names, I would probably say, “Yes, I’ve heard them play,” or “No, I haven’t.” Some people you just don’t get around to hearing.

Compared to when I came up, the young musicians are better than we were. They’re more equipped. They’ve been around more music, they’ve been exposed to more music because of the internet and the speed of everything. They’re kind of like whiz kids. They learn and develop very fast. Whereas my generation learned more slowly and we developed slowly. I think that’s the big difference. They’re better than we were, and that’s good, because they should be. That means the music is getting better. I’m all for it, just as long as they don’t take away my gigs. That’s the nice thing about being older and established. They can’t really take away my gigs, because my gigs are mostly as a leader or with special projects like Gateway. There’s no way they can take that away from me.

You’ve already accomplished a huge amount in your career. What have you not done yet that you’d still like to do?
This is something a lot of jazz musicians always think about doing if you talk to them. I’d always like to record with a real orchestra, and I have, but not on my own project. I did a thing once with a composer named Vince Mendoza. We did a thing with the London Symphony. It featured Kenny Wheeler and me and a couple of other English musicians, and Mike Brecker was on it. But I did it live in a studio in London, and it was such a thrill to play with the orchestra – with the strings especially, just to hear the guitar with strings.

I think Manfred would be into it if he trusted the composer. He’d have to know his work. I did another project with Mendoza, and we wanted to use a small chamber orchestra, but Manfred didn’t want to spend the money at the time because he didn’t know Vince was such a good writer. So we wound up doing it with synthesizers. It’s a record called Animato. It came out 20 years ago. It’s a very nice record and we used Jon Christensen from Oslo to add a rhythmic input to it.

But what I would like to do would be with somebody – it wouldn’t have to be Vince, but I would think of him first – but somebody that could really integrate a small chamber orchestra around a guitar/bass/drums trio. We would play improvised sections and with the orchestra – but not a huge orchestra, maybe just like a chamber orchestra. Charlie Parker always wanted to record with strings and he finally got to do it, and I think a lot of jazz musicians have that hidden fantasy of recording with an orchestra. I’m no different. I would love to record with a small chamber orchestra but with a trio, so I could still play jazz and improvise. I’d have the bass and drums to support me in that, and I’d have the orchestra to color everything. That’s one thing I’d like to do.

IN CONCERT

January 21 – Cambridge, MA @ Regattabar

January 24-28 – New York, NY @ Birdland

January 31 – Washington DC @ Blues Alley

February 17-18 – Denver, CO @ DazzleJazz

February 19 – Portland, OR @ Portland Jazz Festival

February 22 – Saratoga, CA @ Café Pink House

February 23 – San Francisco, CA @ SFJAZZ (ECM@SFJAZZ II)