Suke Cerulo is the guitarist and flautist from Schleigho‚ one of the most innovative bands of the past decade. Suke has recently released a live solo album showcasing his inventive jazz guitar work and tasty flute playing. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Suke about his solo endeavor and the music of Schleigho.
Mike McKinley: What are some of your thoughts on the solo disc you just released?
Suke Cerulo: It came out of necessity‚ actually. Last summer Schleigho wasn't playing a lot - I'm always the one who gets stuck with getting a crappy blue collar job and I'm sick of it (laughs). So I got a loop pedal and I started playing straight ahead jazz stuff at country clubs and cocktail party things‚ kind of little more uppity‚ posh places‚ playing very mellow jazz stuff. So I got this steady gig at a country club and it was a lot of fun. It was such a good thing for my playing. I would pick a jazz tune and walk a bass line and play chords through it for a cycle‚ then I'd loop it and I could instantly play on top of it - that allowed me to play flute as well. I was getting awesome shed time because this one country club I played from 7 to midnight - five hours straight of music‚ you know‚ with a few small breaks. I would play through 40 to 60 standards in a night‚ just cranking through tunes. I really got my chops and skills up by doing that. It was really cool‚ and I thought maybe I can do some solo stuff with this‚ I was solo‚ but more in terms of being an artist and not just a hired musician. So there's this place called the Fire and Water Café in Northampton‚ MA that Schleigho used to play at when they first opened eight years ago. It's a great little vegetarian café‚ nice vibes‚ and I started playing there three times a month. So I called my friend might have crossed paths with him...
MM: Cleantone‚ right?
SC: Yeah‚ Cleantone. He came down and started recording‚ and at that time he was getting a bunch of new gear‚ it was in the fall of last year. So anyway‚ he recorded a bunch of shows and I found some stuff that I really liked. There are a few originals on it‚ and I wanted to have a few more on it‚ but it serves as a good preliminary introduction to what I'm doing.
So I've been sending them out trying to get it out to fans‚ and all the guitar people love it - it's totally indulgent guitar music (laughs). Well‚ I play flute on it as well‚ and that was really cool because it changes things up quite a bit and I never get to play guitar and flute at the same time. On this album I get to do it simultaneously.
MM: So is this something you think you're going to continuously pursue?
SC: Yeah‚ especially with Schleigho playing less‚ it frees up the time to do it. But I'm unsure about to what level‚ you know‚ as someone who's up there playing solo...Keller (Williams) is a perfect example of someone who's doing it right on. We just played the Higher Ground Music Fest last week and we saw him play. That was the first time I've seen him in like three years‚ and back then he wasn't even doing that much looping. He was doing killer trumpet solos with his mouth and beating on his guitar very percussively as well as playing it. That works really well for him as solo artist‚ but sometimes I feel that the stuff I'm doing is almost gimmicky because I'm using a pedal to loop shit with. A true solo guitar player would play true solo guitar - someone like Joe Pass. I mean‚ you still need to be able to play really good solo guitar even with the loops. I don't know‚ I'm going to see how far it goes but I'm not going to continuously put out albums and tour heavily as a solo artist - like a Charlie Hunter. That probably wouldn't be as realistic‚ because I just don't think there would be the audience for it (laughs). The guitar is not a very popular instrument as much anymore; a couple of years ago for the first time in the music industry instead of the guitar being the number one selling instrument it was the DJ set up. The times are a-changing (laughs)! The age of guitar gods went out in the 1980's‚ and now dance music doesn't even have any guitar in it. But anyway‚ I'm going to give this a try especially now that I live in NYC there are tons of small places that my music would be suitable for with the loops and two instruments. For awhile when I was playing at the country club I would bring my sax down as well and do some loops with that. So I'm going to feel it out and see how it works.
I'm also getting really into music production; actually there are some tunes up on my website that I created. Eventually I would love to score for a film that has always fascinated me. It would have to be a cool film obviously (laughs). The realistic side of it would be to make music for libraries or production houses or just licensing music to companies. There's a market for that down here so I'm trying to put a portfolio together.
MM: That's interesting and well; it's the other spectrum from playing live - different ways to sell your art.
SC: I've always subscribed to Jimi Hendrix's approach to recording and playing live. He used the studio for the studio‚ and uses the live playing for live playing. He was never concerned about reproducing his albums with the live energy‚ and he was always interested in capturing more than just the trio in the studio. He could put five guitars‚ six vocals‚ and backwards drums... he could do all this to the max in a studio. He would introduce these things from his albums like it was his diaries and they were entries from his life that he captured. The live thing you're tapping into the natural energy and creating something right on the spot.
MM: Well‚ that definitely relates to Schleigho - a great live band with tons of group improvisation. I've read that you were planning on going into the studio to record another album.
SC: We're planning on it. Our record company‚ Flying Frog‚ wanted to find a space and build a studio as the Flying Frog studio. So once that's built we're going to be taking some of this downtime and actually rehearse and work on our sound. We as a band haven't really done that since our formation. So hopefully we'll get that together‚ but for the summer we're taking it easy.
MM: Well Schleigho has cut back on touring in the past couple of years...I remember a few years back you guys were road warriors‚ constantly moving‚ and playing a lot of shows.
SC: Yeah‚ I don't know...I might be a little more bummed about that than the rest of the guys because I really enjoyed that. Nowadays that's the way you progress more‚ you know‚ with a fan-base. We just hit this point where...well‚ we did this tour right during 9/11‚ and of course‚ everything was bad about it. Right after that all the promoters and club owners dropped our guarantees by like 40%‚ and that really broke our financial back. We were operating on bare minimum when we were going full steam. So we had to spread things out a bit and that led to everyone getting involved in other projects. That kind of pulls you apart even more then helping you regroup. So we're kind of in this constant pick up state; trying to get back up‚ but we're looking at it with different perspectives. We want to get back on to the same page and direction of what we want to be like and what we want to sound like‚ and what type of material do we want to play...I mean not totally like "let's be like Devo‚" (laughter)‚ but you know‚ just reevaluating what we like to listen to and how we can best use our sound and tone. Reevaluate what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are‚ and if that happens I think we'll all be psyched. It could be some powerful stuff

MM: That's the weird thing about it; there are so many people that already think that it is and they've seen you progress over the years.
SC: Yeah‚ listening to it we changed sonically so much‚ but had the same signature type of sound. I don't's hard to step aside and perceive what we come across as (laughs). It's kind of like a magician thinking his tricks actually trick people‚ he knows how they work. Can he actually fool people? He doesn't know (laughter). Not that we're fooling people‚ but I can't tell if we're moving people in the same way we're being moved because we're creating it. It always sounds different in the moment when you're creating than it does when you listen back to it. A lot of it is just different perspectives.

MM: Well‚ let me throw this at you about my perspective on Schleigho; I started seeing you play in the mid-90's when you guys first started getting out and touring‚ and I think the first time I saw you I didn't really get it.
SC: Yeah‚ I think a lot of people felt that way (laughs).
MM: Well‚ I knew there was something there‚ but I didn't really understand what it was you guys were doing. But after a year maybe something clicked and it was like "oh‚ I got it‚" you know (laughs)?
SC: What was it at first? Was it something rhythmic‚ or was it too much to digest at once? Was it the busy interaction between the instruments or was just the sound of the overall band - was it too much to listen to? (Laughs)
MM: Yeah‚ well...I think there was a lot of language‚ particularly jazz language in the music that I just didn't understand. In terms of group improvisation I didn't understand it‚ and in terms of composing I didn't understand it. From my perspective‚ I think I evolved as listener of music (laughs). Over maybe the course of a year‚ the music began to come across. Here's a good example of it: Around the same period of time I remember listening to a Miles Davis album from the fusion period‚ I think it was On the Corner‚ and I remember reacting like "what the fuck is this?" A year later I loved it. So the first time hearing it‚ I just had no idea what he was trying to do…