The audience does so much. I can't thank audiences enough. They focus a band completely. They... they're like the gas tank. It's really tricky to go from having that to... it's like going from a race car to a skateboard, and you don't even know how to ride a skateboard [laughter]. We have enough jokes and history and love between us that we pretty quickly got into the fun of recording, which is a total thrill.
Going back to the Vanguard gigs, was there a specific moment that really stood out?
Lorraine, who runs the Vanguard, is one of the most quotable people in all of history and she always says funny things. I was really nervous going in with that band and she loved it. She said, "I like the explosions." [laughter] That was one of her first comments -- I wish I could remember all of them. But she was right there with it. And she's someone who cries at a song like, "Embraceable You." She's in her eighties and I think she just recognized the energy and the melody. You know, it's not free... I don't know if I'll ever be free of melody and song. It's still all in there even though it is a little bit more rambunctious than some of my other records. A song like "Poly Jean" is just a pretty clear song. It could have words to it. Or even "Blues for the Village Vanguard." It's very, to my ear, very clear. It's not asking the listener to stretch too far. It's just giving a bunch of energy to that clear composition. Anyway, it was fun to play for her.
What were the memorable moments? There's so many little in-jokes in the band throughout the week, but just being on that stage for twelve sets in a row is as close to heaven as I'll probably get in my life time.
I'd have to say that it's been true for the other weeks that I've played there. I've done four weeks there as a leader, and a bunch of weeks not as a leader [in other bands]. The most recent one was in December with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade, and that was just total heaven. It was different every night. It's like the room plays with you. And the staff is totally familial and funny and neurotic and passionate. It's just great.
Well, it must be really hard with this band because everybody is so busy.
I know. Everyone's so busy. I was thinking a lot recently about that time in history, around the Count Basie era, when bands would play 330 nights a year, either 7 nights a week at a hotel or touring or whatever it was. And they lasted like that for ten years or more. And with almost the same instrumentation. That's really what a band is. Wilco verges on that, right? Or some of these rock bands. In the jazz world, it really doesn't exist anymore. You could say that Bill Frisell has some trios that play frequently, but he's leading fifteen different projects, not to mention the ones that he joins every year. Jason Moran has the Bandwagon, and I don't think they've played together in over a year. It's just a totally different environment, and that's part of the new economics of being a jazz musician. And just the way the things have moved artistically. People have the freedom to experiment and play with lots of different combinations. There's much less branding of different sound, you know? By branding, I mean it in the good and the bad sense. In Mayhem, if we stay together, which I think we will for a long time, we'll have a certain sound. If we were able to play 330 nights a year, we'd probably get to another level. But I've been in New York long enough to not have my heart broken every time I can't get all the good players together for a good offer. It's just sort of the way it is [laughter]. It's like that with super famous musicians and it's like that with less famous musicians. It's just hard to get people together. It's tricky.
With Mischief & Mayhem, I would say Nels and Jim are the busiest. I'm also really busy too. We're all doing a million things. Every time you play with people they're coming from something that has just totally blown their mind or reconfigured their sense of their instrument. There are so many influences right on the surface of all the musician's imaginations. I've done a few gigs in my life. Like, I worked at the Big Apple Circus when I first moved to New York. We did ten shows a week and I did that for maybe five months or so. It was sort of a Broadway gig. It was really fun for lots of reasons, but it was also the closest I'll ever get to that experience of being in the Count Basie Band where you're playing the same music every night. You end up seeking influence and new ways to approach the music, and you definitely don't need to do that in this new environment of jazz where people are just... Nels is coming off a Wilco gig or a Yuka Honda gig and Jim is coming off a trip from Europe where he's played with a bunch of Italian players and Todd is coming from an Ani DiFranco tour or producing an Anais Mitchell record, and I've just been playing with Lucinda Williams for a month. So, there's so much exciting new stuff to talk about all the time, and if not talk about, then play about. That's the positive part of a situation that is hard for keeping the band together.
Everyone's always coming back together with a fresh perspective.
Totally, yeah. And we're always so excited to see each other. I don't think we're going to have some kind of dramatic break-up and need a therapist [laughter]. I don't think we'll get to that point.
Another answer to your question: I would love to play with that band as much as possible. I think that's a mutual feeling among all the members. It's just a matter of scheduling. So every time is really precious.
A few years back when we spoke you told me off the record that you were living in the same apartment building in Brooklyn as Nels, Bill Frisell, Todd...
Right. I'm glad you reminded me of that, because that came together after Mischief & Mayhem came together, but I'm sure it had some kind of effect on the longevity and the glue of the band. But we no longer live in that building. It was sold. The other musician in the building was Ches Smith. That building was quite a musician's den. It doesn't quite exist like that anymore.
What was that experience like? Obviously, you were all on the move a lot, but was there a creative atmosphere from all being in the same space?
It wasn't like a bunch of 18 year olds all living together in loft and jamming all the time. We were all out on our tours and stuff like that, but I did hear many records being mixed from Todd's apartment seeping through the floors. He heard me coming up with my next record from upstairs... plucking away at my violin at 3 in the morning. But that was actually a very peaceful building and there was a lot of music. Bill and Nels were not in town all that much, because Bill really lives in Seattle, but he spends like 2 and half months in New York per year. So, he was there a lot and he would often extend his trip because it was a lovely place to be. It was a nice building. I think what it really did was deepen all the friendships. It was a really great moment in all of our lives in New York.
The New York housing scene is one of the biggest struggles. As a musician, if you live in an apartment above somebody that doesn't like noise, it's total hell. Total hell. And it's just so close. It's like you're walking on lava all the time. If you can manage to fill a building with sympathetic souls, it can be really great. Because you're really close.
You have a two and half year old son and you're expecting your second child -- any surprises entering motherhood and how that affects your musicianship?
That's an interesting question... it changed my life a lot, but my life was changing anyway. It's a lot of new things to think about. It's definitely made me more efficient. If I have an hour and a half, I can move mountains now [laughter]. Before, I would sit there and clean my desk and think about music. But now I can write an entire album in three days. It happens to everyone who has a kid. You become more effective with your free time. It's not a very deep answer to your question.