MM: Right. But I thought at that point in time it was a huge step. The acoustic piano-that sound.
RM: Definitely.
MM: It was something that I always knew was there‚ but finally it's like...
RM: That's how I felt‚ for sure. We were really excited and proud when we were putting that together. For sure. Oh yeah. I haven't heard it probably in a year‚ but I remember being so thrilled. But I think The Sameness of Difference turned out a lot better… or not better‚ but I think we play better now. (laughter) I mean Walking With Giants‚ so much of that is really open‚ as far as the form of the songs. It's just these vehicles for completely conversational open-ended improvising. Which I think we did more lyrically than we ever had‚ but it's still free-form improvising. And the music on Sameness of Difference and the music we've been writing lately is a lot more organized. We're seeing if we can take that freedom and apply it to forms. Not only is it cool for us‚ but it makes them a little more song-ish‚ which is what most people like to listen to. (laughter) They like to listen to songs‚ not like…
MM: A bunch of dudes yelling at each other?
RM: Or just like… some Jackson Pollock or something. That free-form stuff‚ it's more like painting than playing a song. It's impressionistic‚ whereas playing a song is a little more literal‚ a little more lyrical. And people can dig it. Especially when you play songs they know. That was one of the main ideas behind the songs we chose to work out for the record. What stuff do we have in our record collection that people can sing along to‚ that we can put our weird little Jacob Fred spin on?
MM: I've been thinking about that idea a lot in the past year. Especially listening to someone like Brad Mehldau and the way he plays the Beatles and Radiohead. It's interesting to hear you guys do the Flaming Lips.
RM: Oh yeah. I wanted to do that whole Flaming Lips record. At one point we were actually discussing having the record be a cover of the entire Soft Bulletin. I think that's one of the best records to come out in years. There's another one off that album that I really want to work up. We've talked about it and are all into it‚ but‚ God‚ we never rehearse. (laughs) We might have a day to rehearse Nov. 1 before the Tonic show‚ but I'm playing on Sirius Radio with Kimock that afternoon…so we probably won't rehearse. (laughs) We had a lot of fun for The Sameness of Difference. The week before we went into the studio‚ Brian and I drove up to Cincinnati‚ where Jason lives‚ and we went to Jason's brother's place and set up in a circle in the living room and just sat around and drank tea and played like eight hours a day and just worked up all the songs. It was just so fun. I love playing at houses. You're in bars and stuff all the time. That can be nice‚ too‚ but it's just so nice to play for you and your friends.
MM: Yeah‚ kind of brings back the reason why you're doing it.
RM: You remember the reason. It's really nice. And it's just fun to be laid-back‚ and you're not trying to put on a show. There's no pressure to get to it. You can just relax and explore the song. Some of those songs that are three minutes on the record‚ we played for three hours. (laughter) I was actually wishing I had recorded the rehearsals because some real magical extended things happened on some of those songs. But the record doesn't have that vibe going for it. The only song where we really stretched out is the Mingus song‚ "Fables of Faubus." We got stretchy on that one. The rest of them are real succinct‚ which I really dig.
MM: But at the same time it still feels kind of loose‚ like what you were saying before‚ the conversational aspect of it is still there.
RM: Yeah. That's my favorite thing about Jacob Fred's music. In some ways I think that might be the signature. If there is a signature‚ it would be that sort of continuous conversation. Nobody really has a role; at any point you're free to come into the music. And it's not like‚ "Well‚ I have to keep the bass line going‚" or‚ "Man‚ I gotta keep this groove going on the drums." At any point you can say your piece.
MM: Which is something I've witnessed quite a few times seeing you play‚ where it's blown my mind about how right in the moment the improvising is. Where it's almost like every second. There's no relaxing.
RM: Well‚ yeah‚ except‚ in order to do that‚ you have to be utterly relaxed.
MM: (laughs) Yeah‚ exactly.
RM: That's the paradox. To be that in the moment‚ you have to be relaxed. I've always thought that perhaps muscular relaxation is the key to good improvising. Not having unnecessary muscular tension in your body‚ which is just physical anxiety or physical doubt. And if you can keep your muscles loose‚ which is not easy for me‚ then the music just flows out on its own accord. But that's hard to do if you're afraid to play shitty or if you feel the need to impress somebody who's listening to you. That stuff can get in the way. Really it's all about being relaxed‚ but I don't know what it's like to listen to it or watch it. (laughter) It may not be that relaxing. I've often wondered what I would think if I walked into a club somewhere and Jacob Fred was playing and I'd never heard it. I really wonder what I would think. Actually‚ I'd probably really dig it. But there's some nights when we're playing and I'm like‚ dude‚ would I like this? There are people that pay 15 bucks and come in at 11‚ and I'm like‚ wow‚ would I even like this? But I think I would. I love playing it so much that I almost don't care if anybody likes it. I hope they like it. We try to bring a very high level of sincerity to the table‚ which I think might be a big selling point‚ even if you don't like free jazz or whatever. Everybody can relate to really sincere self-expression. There have been nights where we've been in a weird place‚ maybe like opening for a band that's more of a dance band‚ or something like that‚ where the crowd came to see the Funky Meters. And then somehow it connects. And I'm always like‚ man‚ what is that? 'Cause I know these guys don't all have the complete Coltrane collection. It's not that kind of crowd. So why are they getting it? It almost seems like it's because they can relate to that kind of honesty or sincerity. Brian's a master in that area‚ and probably has been since he was a little kid. From the accounts I hear of his piano competitions when he was 12 or whatever‚ he was ruling shit then. All the other 12-year-old aspiring virtuoso pianists were terrified of him. He's just always had this cutting through the bullshit vibe. His playing has no bullshit. There's no politeness‚ there's no compromising for anybody. He is who he is. Love it or leave it. And it's so beautiful‚ and it's incredibly consistent. He's an amazing musician. I've been playing with him for 12 years now‚ and for many of those years it's been 300 fucking nights a year. And I'm still just totally amazed. That's why we still do it‚ you know?
MM: Yeah‚ he was saying that was his mission. The classic Brian moment‚ talking to him on the phone‚ and he was like‚ "We were put here from God on a mission to make music!" Love it.
RM: He's been hanging out with Mikey and Skerik; that brings out that quality in him. The tendency to sermonize. (laughter) Skerik can sermonize like nobody‚ man. He's amazing on that shit. I love it when he gets all fired up and starts going off on something.
MM: He played up here with Critters Buggin‚ and he pulled out a book‚ and there's this kid in the front row yappin'. He pulled out this book and was like‚ "On page 433 of the Emily Post Guide to Etiquette‚ when a musician's playing‚ you've got to SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!" And just screamed at this kid in the front row. And I was like‚ "Wow‚ the balls."
RM: Oh‚ man‚ he doesn't care.
MM: I'm just thinking‚ well fuck‚ right‚ shut up.
RM: I've seen Charlie Hunter pull that move. I saw Charlie Hunter stop the band in front of like 800 people in Austin‚ because some kid in the front row was smoking a cigarette at a non-smoking show. Charlie stopped the band and was like‚ "Are you fucking trying to kill me? Do you want me to die? Do you hate me and my band? Do you hate us?" This kid was so shamed. Robert Walter told me he's seen Skerik give people in the audience a time-out and make them come stand onstage. (laughter) That's great.