I think it's really cool, compared to all the other projects that you have, that you do also play in a band like Wilco. I was just thinking about this earlier today -- years ago I was talking to bassist Oteil Burbridge, and he played in a lot of different bands and then he got hired by the Allman Brothers.
Yeah, that guy. He's like a sick virtuoso. Yeah, he's very good.
He sort of struggled playing music for years and then he got the Allman Brothers gig. And he was talking with guitarist Derek Trucks, who also joined the Allmans around that time, and the conversation was about what other gig is out there where you get to stretch out that much every night and get paid that well. It's a nice thing to finally have that.
Oh yeah, my life is definitely easier than it used to be. There's no doubt about that. The thing about Wilco is that it also engages the early teenage part of me that never really went away. And I don't mean that we all act like children together and we're completely juvenile in Wilco, but what I do mean is that it engages certain aspects from my aesthetic past that have never ceased to fascinate me -- relating to psychedelic rock and garage rock and folk rock and that sort of thing. And the pageantry of rock in general, which is to say the show -- the big PA, the lights, and whatever, and even a bunch of nerds like us can look pretty cool up there. I like all that stuff. It's fun. It was always really magical and fun for me, and that's what I want to impart to the audience -- that complete immersion in the magic of whatever kind of sound you like. In this case, it's the sound of a rock 'n' roll band with a bunch of guitars and cool keyboards and percussion sounds and interesting lyrics. You know what I mean? That's one thing. I think that's one of the things that makes me comfortable and happy about the situation is that I enjoy it. I don't need it, you know? I play with my own band obviously, and really can't afford a front of house sound mixer and I don't have a light design and we're not playing songs with words that people can relate to. And frankly, not designing the sets to be liked, so-called, by the audience, just for it to be as powerful and challenging and balanced as it can be. But I like all the stuff... maybe it's because of the electric guitar. I don't know...
But I was just irrevocably transformed by exposure to rock 'n' roll in the late-60s/early 70s, and a lot of that I'm guessing in a slightly more grown up way I've been able to emerge as a part of some kind of ongoing investigation and inspiration for me, in addition to all the improvisation and all the other endeavors related to so-called jazz or related to exploratory, improvised free music -- all of those connect in some way and I think maybe through the flexibility of electric guitar, or this lack of purism and boundaries in some sense in terms of genre or style, just trying to relax into that has a maturation process for me. I used to have it a lot more carved up in my mind and it was not as fun. I was at odds with myself about these different styles and tendencies, and in my case perhaps some kind of inability to do them. I didn't know how to put them all together. Now I just stopped worrying about it [laughter]. It took forever man!
You've spent a lot of time improvising, so when you're really into something and hit that level of improvisational bliss, where do you go during that?
It's a weird thing to try to describe. It's when we're in the realm of pure sound, where it's a free improvisation situation and I'm in the realm of pure sound. Some of my favorite playing I've done in that way has been with the harpist Zeena Parkins and I've done that kind of stuff with Thurston Moore and the Pillow Wand duo stuff and other things, and where I go is a combination pure engagement and dialogue -- in this case what I've mentioned is duos, which I really like doing, where I am reacting to every sound I can perceive coming from the other person which sets me in motion and sets certain ideas into play. So, it's a combination of something that is at times very methodical, but generally considered and conscious and banal in that way, it's just like hands are moving, knobs are being turned, strings are being hit, pedals being turned on and off, and so forth. And at the same time, there's intuition involved that is some kind of process or phenomenon or a state of naturalness that exists outside or alongside with all the different conscious, more banal fascinations with music making. It's this sublime experience and at the same time it's an extremely banal one. It's hard to describe, but that's the closest I can get for you.
And then of course when you're done and something either unexpected or really magical or overwhelming or mutual has happened there's this great feeling of satisfaction tinged with a bit of mystery and wonder. It's not the type of music that most people in the United State are dying to listening to, you know, but you have to keep going [laughs]. You can't do stuff for other people all the time. I try to walk a balance between so-called art for art's sake and maybe an overtly outstretched hand that is a more community minded art endeavor. But, generally, I've done stuff for myself [laughter]. With no expectation of success. I just like to imagine that people are like me and want to hear a certain kind of balanced presentations emotionally, sonically, dynamically. And that's about as far as I go. I try to please myself and my comrades within my playing. I try to write them into the music and give them freedom to balance the sort of more didactic written material. And that's what I like from other people, like Jenny. She does that really well. Tim Berne is really good at that. Lots of people I play with have this ability to the let the individual shine and at the same time inspires us to... what's the right word for this? I would say surrender to the composer and surrender to the composition. It's a good combination.
Jenny spoke about the incredible chemistry you have together. Years ago we spoke with Mike Watt, and he spoke about the powerful connection between the two of you. It seems like you've really built great relationships and connections with the people you've play with -- so I'm curious if there are other people that you are seeking out that you want to play with? Or is there...
Oh dear... you know, I've sort of been asked this before and usually what comes to mind is the people who I really, really like playing with that I already played with, but not enough. In the improvising community, especially. I don't even get enough opportunity to play with my wife. We have a duo called Fig -- Yuka Honda and me -- and I certainly would like to do more with that. We released a record last year called BB&C The Veil with Tim Berne, Jim Black and me, and we haven't been able to play a gig since it came out. I'm working on new material for the Singers, my band. It's sort of new version of the Singers, so figuring out when we can even play.
I was hoping to play with one of my heroes, the drummer Paul Motian. I played with him once back in 1983 and I was hoping I would have the chance to play with him again. My friend Steve Cardenas, a great guitarist in New York, asked me to play with him a couple of times to substitute for Ben Monder or somebody, and I was unable to do it. And now Paul has passed on -- I hope he's jamming out with somebody. He was on my list. Many years ago I got to play with the bandoneón master when I was playing in Charlie Haden's West Coast version of the Liberation Music Orchestra, Dino Saluzzi from Buenos Aires, the bandoneón master of modern, post-tango, is somebody I've been maybe wanting to play with again someday -- just because he's so amazing and inspiring. I'm not sure I'm good enough, but certainly it would be nice to try again. But, yeah, I don't spend too much time thinking about people I haven't played with, I just really want to keep playing with the people I've been lucky enough to play with as it is. I'm getting to play a little bit more with Thurston, which is really lovely. I'd like to play with Zeena some more. I had a trio with Tom Rainey on drums and Andrea Parkins on the accordion and piano, and we haven't played together in forever. That's another quality problem [laughs].
Finding the time to deepen those connections.
Yeah, I just want to keep going. There's been some marvelous confluences and I just always want a little bit more. I have a lot big projects that I want to try to write for and finish, which aren't even live things. They are just recordings I want to do and just trying to get it all done has been the new challenge. I'm not good at writing while I'm on the road like Glenn Kotche of Wilco is. I'm trying to adjust my sensibilities or whatever so I can actually get some writing and arranging done while I'm playing Wilco music, but it's not as easy for me as I wish it were.