BP: I actually have to say no. This music‚ some of it has been with me before I even met Charlie. No‚ but certainly playing with him gave me the idea that he should do this with me. The same with everyone in the band. I've been working with Skerik for years‚ and Marco (Benevento) I just met on the Ropeadope tour‚ and I thought he'd be great. He's not on the record but he was on one of the tours with us. And Jamie Saft‚ who produced the record‚ he's the resident genius of Brooklyn.
DC: Yeah‚ I see his name pop up repeatedly on different windows in your website in different collaborations.
BP: Yeah‚ well‚ I've been playing with him for ages.
DC: It must be interesting to take this music on the road with slightly different personnel at different times‚ because based on what I know Robert Walter is going to be with you instead of Marco Benevento. How does that change the whole dynamic?
BP: I think the pertinent question is‚ does it change the dynamic? It changes it‚ of course‚ differently for every person that you hire. Every different person changes the chemical reaction‚ and you just… you have to go with it. When I was younger and running bands‚ I was much more of a control freak‚ and now I think I'm a little bit more sly. I know how to get what I want‚ yet also give the musicians enough freedom so they give me the best part of themselves. So that's what I tell people. I tell Robert‚ "Obviously I don't want you to play anything like… I want you to be yourself." I sort of adjust around that. Because we're playing music; we're not trying to render this record‚ or this isn't Madison Square Garden‚ where we've got all the suits lined up and we have to run through our paces so we can move all those units. We go out there because we love to play and it's a completely different thing that isn't really the record.
DC: Talking about being a control freak‚ how do you approach the issue of a set list each night? Do you have one? Do you fly by the seat of your pants and call 'em out as the evening goes on?
BP: It alternates from band to band. Many bands I don't do that with‚ but this band I do have a set list. However‚ I'm not sure if we've ever played the set list.
DC: As long as there's a launching pad somewhere I guess.
BP: I'm sort of famous for walking over and taking the music off the stand or pointing to something else or cutting a tune off in the middle and going somewhere else. I try and actually give my band enough power and enough freedom that they can do that too. I love that‚ when people sort of subvert the set list or start moving toward something where we gradually realize‚ "Hey‚ wait a minute. I don't know if we're here anymore‚" or "we're sort of half here and half in the other tune. Now‚ are we gonna go to this other tune or not?" And we could stay there for 10 minutes. It's not tune number one; it's not tune number two. But hopefully it's great music‚ and really that's all I care about. I don't care at all if we play tune one‚ tune two‚ tune three or freakin' whatever order‚ you know? Good question though. No one has ever asked me that.
DC: Well‚ I was on the phone for a few minutes with Billy Martin‚ and I was asking him how he‚ Medeski‚ Wood and Scofield are going to pick the tunes. He was like‚ "Sometimes we have a very loose approach. Sometimes it's very restricted in terms of if the sound in a venue is horrible‚ we're going to go by a set list almost to the letter because we're not going to be able to hear ourselves. And then other nights we're just going to call them out as we go and whatever happens is whatever happens. Because really we're playing music‚ and that's the important thing."
Talking about getting an idea that's not on set list and going with it- it was interesting to see Stanton with his trio. Late in their set‚ the Led Zeppelin tune "Communication Breakdown" emerged out of the pattern they were playing‚ and they played that for a couple of minutes and then went back into the original tune. It was like‚ "Holy shit‚ where did that come from?" Well‚ it came from one guy hearing that theme and then going with it.
Let me ask you something else about the other projects you're doing‚ like The Separation‚ Dialed In‚ and the commission pieces. How do you go about getting a commission to compose a piece like the Joan Miró thing?
BP: Well‚ I stand on the corner of 42nd and 7th with a sign. (laughs)
DC: "Will play for commission" (laughs)
BP: If I knew that question‚ I'd go be getting one right now. They just sort of fall in your lap most of the time. I mean‚ someone calls you up and says‚ "I want to commission you." I don't have a commission for The Separation‚ but that one I actively lobbied for the Walker Arts‚ and finally they decided to essentially produce the piece with us in collaboration with the Hallwells in Buffalo. So sometimes you have the piece first‚ and it's big legwork. You convince someone even though the piece is just an ever-so-nebulous feeling in your mind. You convince them it is the greatest piece of music the 21st century is ever going to see‚ and that's how you get money. That's the way of the artist. Where as in the Miró piece‚ I got a commission to do whatever I wanted‚ and that piece had been on my list to do‚ something I was interested in doing for many years. And the commissioner decided‚ "OK‚ that's fine‚" so sometimes it works that way.
DC: I remember a couple years ago you appeared in Burlington at the University of Vermont at a very nice venue they have on campus‚ playing with Wayne Horvitz‚ Steve Swallow‚ Curtis Fowlkes. That was the first time I'd seen you play‚ and it was really impressive how you adjusted your approach to drumming piece by piece as the night went on. Do you do these different pieces as a means of expressly stretching yourself compositionally and instrumentally‚ or is it just that that's a positive side effect of doing the different thing?
BP: That's definitely a positive side effect. I tend to think those are probably the wrong reasons to write music‚ but I think that some great music has probably been written just with someone deciding‚ "I need a vehicle for this‚" or "I need to work on this." So I can't make a blanket statement‚ but for me it works. What works best is if I just feel something has to come out‚ something has to happen. And later I kind of figure out how to play on it‚ and if it presents itself as a challenge to me‚ all the better. For instance‚ The Separation is a challenge. Some of double bass drum stuff I'm going to be doing in The Seperation is a challenge to me‚ and I have to practice it. You know‚ I have to practice my own music and make sure I can play it. (laughs)
DC: Well‚ that's what I was thinking when I mentioned the Vermont appearance a couple years ago. Because that music was very intricate and complex‚ and I was only trying to imagine how you and the rest of the band practiced to get that down‚ to get the changes so they seem natural rather than too careful‚ etc.