1.0 When did you start playing music? what was your first instrument? Well my first ‘official’ instrument was alto saxophone, starting sometime around 5th grade. When we were handed a piece of paper with the choices of instruments to play, all that was left was sax or oboe, and I didn’t really want to get beat up for something else at that godforsaken place. Todd Woloson and I used to meet up before school, him on trumpet, to play “Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione! Even before that, at home I made daily visits to our piano and made noise. The first song I ever figured out was the “Theme From Rocky”.
In freshman year of high school I was asked by my old friend Derrick(Suede)Stout to play in his band: “Yesterday’s Future”. That was so exciting to me- and I really felt like a star. It was a good little teen band, and we wrote our own songs… which set us apart from the other bands at our high school. Unfortunately, the honeymoon ended when I got the band kicked out of talent show Senior year for drinking booze in the parking lot with a junior, who got her whole act thrown out as well. To all those whose dreams I crushed that day, i apologize sincerely. I think around that time I joined a little band of degenerates called “Plastic Finger”. Ahh…. I can still recall the aroma of Doug’s basement…
2.0 What was the first record you ever purchased and what impact did it have on you? I think it was “The Jimi Hendrix Concerts”: a double lp, maybe an import. It owned me from the solo in “Stone Free”(OMFG!). It was absolutely magical to me. This was what I used to play along with on sax, to try to mimic the bends and the trills and the feedback. I had somewhat of a crappy Zenith integrated stereo, where the low wasn’t low enough and the highs were muted so I got plenty of quality midrange, so it kind of sounded like a guitar amp anyway.
Even more cherished was “Discipline” by King Crimson. This coincided with my introduction to “hooch” which of course took me into the netherworld. Around that time I got a Casio CZ-101(an amazing phase-modulation synth from the 80’s), and figured out the gtr riff from “Frame By Frame”. I think that riff was so hard-wired into my head after learning it that it surfaced in different forms on many songs I wrote for years after.
3.0 As a teenager you were way into Al DiMeola and fusion, do you still enjoy it? Not really. I’m not impressed by musical athletics or hubris like I was as a teen. Actually, quite the opposite. I prefer to be seduced, rather than clubbed in the side of the head I guess. There’s a certain ‘macho’ in his playing that trips a gag reflex in me. It’s the same thing with rock vocalists whose every note has the perfect amount of pitch and nuance- It just becomes tedious to listen to and makes me want to hear a real person, flawed and vulnerable.
But I still enjoy old jazz/rock records quite a bit- the ones that are more about interaction than solo grandstanding: Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and “Pangea”, Headhunters, Weather Report. Weather Report changed the way I heard music. I think that Joe Zawinul is the most gifted human ever to touch a synth.
4.0 Like DiMeola, you have always pushed the boundaries, is that a choice or is that something that came naturally to you? I think you’ve officially exceeded the Al Dimeola reference limit! I think the true groundbreakers change the context and the genres of music itself. Maybe it’s a sign of my age, but I enjoy more tasteful/unpredictable/understated musicians who seem bigger than their instrument. A perfect example is guitarist Bill Frisell– who can go from Americana steel-string to demented reverse-feedback in the course of one song.
I don’t think that ‘pushing boundaries’ was ever a conscious choice for me. It was definitely in the back of my mind, as a type of quality control mechanism. I’ve always tried to change the parts of my music that I see as stock or trite. It irritates the fuck out of me when I hear cliches, so I try to keep them at a safe distance. I think I benefitted from not playing guitar, and approaching pop from a synth and electronic angle. Without trying to sound like I’m soliciting a sponsorship: Korg was a big part of making that happen. When the M1 came out, it was the first “music workstation” ever produced. In one machine, you had a large palette of sounds, a sequencer, and effects. I can’t say enough about the creative value of a one-stop shopping environment. It has probably made me sound much more original than I really am!
5.0 What are you listening to, Fall of 2010? A lot of ME, actually. (blushes)
6.0 What are you working on presently? I’ve been playing with a few bands: one being Matt Walker’s new project of1000 faces, a psychedelic space-punk band called Tomorrow The Moon with Steve Gerlach, and a band fronted by Charlie Otto called Savvy. Charlie’s the frontman(David Byrne) for a Talking Heads tribute band called This Must Be The Band, which I’m also in. I’ve been really busy.
7.0 What do you prefer, creating live or in the studio? Since most of what I conjure up for my band Impossible Recording Machine is born inside my keyboard, my first connection to it is always in the workspace. Every song starts as an infant, becomes a toddler…child…etc. So I feel a connection to it in a kind of safety zone. I create at a certain pace, that I’m not entirely comfortable sharing with too many people. I’m sure many would think that there’s something wrong with me if they saw how I work.
Re-formatting my music for a live performance has always been a challenge. There are tympanis, organs, bells, saxes, found sounds- all really hard to actualize live without some kind of backing audio. This goes back to the ‘pushing boundaries’ thing, does it not?! I would really like to write something that would be easy to transfer to the stage with a typical instrument. That’s a new goal…
8.0 Much of today’s music sounds pasteurized, how does one keep it ‘real’ and remain positive? I don’t really listen to new music that much. Whether that’s a self-insulation or just lack of interest I can’t say. I like and absorb exactly what fits my needs. I’m really a musical Libertarian! There’s just so much out there– one doesn’t have to seek out music any more, it comes barreling through your computer or from the car next to you or at the Starbucks. I’m not saying there’s a void- there is so much great music to hear, and Chicago has more of it per–capita than most cities. It’s a great place for me to live and thrive as a musician.
9.0 What do you think of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? I think it’s a bullshit idea manufactured by a couple of Baby-Boomers who thought that the experience of their youth was much more significant than yours. But people sure buy into it.
10.0 Can you still play the solo to “Little Wing” on both keys & sax? Could I ever? Do you have it on tape?