VP: When did you first pick up the drums and how did you become interested in Jazz as an art form?
AB: I got my first drum in 1981 when I was 10. My dad had a few Art Blakey records, and my Grandfather gave me some Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa records, so I was aware of it early on. But my first gigs were in church, and my dad taking me to fish frys to play with a local country band. Later I played in high school bands, and in rock and punk bands. But it was really from listening to records like Miles Davis' "Four and More" with Tony Williams, or any of the classic Coltrane quartet with Elvin Jones that really informed me of the possibilities of the drums, and seemed like a departure from the often corny elements of jazz that I had heard before. Hearing records by people like Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, or Art Ensemble of Chicago really opened my eyes to a new spectrum of music.
VP: Do you find that you’re free to apply elements of punk and rock style drumming into avant-garde jazz technique?
AB: Absolutely. We're all free to apply elements of any form into any music. Who's going to stop us? The music police? Wire magazine? Wynton Marsalis? But really, when people get trapped into tiny, carefully labeled music boxes...that's when the trouble starts. It's one thing to learn and appreciate traditional elements, but when the curiosity stops there, things can get boring. In fact, I don't like to present myself as a "jazz" drummer. I'm just as much of a county, rock, experimental, or metal drummer as I am a jazzer.
I've done recordings and countless gigs with vocalists like Kelly Hogan, Chris Lee, Faith Kleppinger, and groups like Melts, Delarosa, and The Holy Childhood...so when I hear "oh yeah, Andrew is a free jazz guy"...it's annoying. I pride myself on playing in a wide variety of situations -- I can enjoy playing brushes on a standard like "Satin Doll" just as much as playing completely freeform improvisation, or a rock tune. Ultimately, it's more about how the music sounds, not prescribed genre specifications.
VP: The Music Police will try to stop you, but it's our job as musicians to destroy all concepts! More and more people with backgrounds in Metal, Punk, Rock, and Noise are playing Jazz or experimenting with elements of it in their own music. (Example: Zu or Mats Gustafsson's work) With this some of the older Jazz musicians like Daniel Carter are working with Noise Artists (Ghost Moth). Is any of this music being produced really Jazz or is it a new direction in music, yet to be labeled?
AB: I think it's up to the artists themselves to classify what they do...or not. Ultimately, those labels have little to do with music. Back in the 60's, certain jazz critics classified John Coltrane as "anti-jazz," and that was the so-called classic quartet with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison! Not even the really far out stuff with Rashied Ali, they were calling his music "anti-jazz"... music that is now considered "classic"! If musicians and listeners were to let feeble-minded critics decide how to classify their music, we'd all be doomed to a life of reruns and leftovers. Hopefully, there will always be music that defies classification.
VP: What's some of your favorite music to listen to right now? What bands are you interested in?
I listen to all kinds of music constantly, especially now with all the diverse content online. I'm still an avid record collector, and I just picked up some great LPs in Atlanta, GA while visiting my folks...records by Sun Ra, The Fall, Tiroro and his Voodoo drums, Wanda Jackson, George Jones, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy McGriff, and Lefty Frisell. In the last few years I've been getting back to much of the heavy music that I was into in my teens and 20's...like Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Slayer, and EyeHateGod. I just saw EHG on a boat in NYC! It was part of the Rocksoff boat cruise concert series. They played with Pig Destroyer and Goatwhore. It was kinda surreal listening to tunes like "Sisterfucker" while the boat floated around the Statue of Liberty. It was an insane show, a boat full of stoned metalheads and no one went overboard (that I know of), and it was the most fun I've had at a show in years!
VP: What are some of the projects your working on now?
One of my current projects is my trio called ACID BIRDS, an electro-acoustic group with Jaime Fennelly (The Peeessye) on electronics and harmonium, Charles Waters (Gold Sparkle, Go: Organic orchestra) on woodwinds, and myself on percussion. It's largely improvised music, with some of my graphic scores as a launching point.
I'm also involved in a group called "Light in August," with Ryan Ingebritsen from Chicago. He puts contact mics on my drums, and manipulates the sounds through his laptop, triggers loops, and creates textures and soundscapes that fuel the improvisations. I'll be performing with both of these groups on Feb. 26th at the Issue Project Room in Gowanus Brooklyn.
I also have a new quartet with Tanya Kalmanovitch (viola), Hill Greene (double bass), and Daniel Carter (woodwinds, trumpet). So far we've done one recording session, and one gig. I hope to do more with them in 2010.
Gold Sparkle still does gigs occasionally. We just played on December 20th; a memorial concert for our late friend Thomas Peake who was heavily involved in the Atlanta music scene as a writer, and music director of WREK in the 90's. He was an early champion of our music back in the day, and an all-around great person who will be sorely missed. There were a lot of great bands on the bill, including DQE, FLAP, The Purkinje Shift, San Augustin, and the Fourth Ward Afro-Klezmer ensemble. The concert raised a good amount of money for Thomas' favorite charity, the East Atlanta Kids' club.
The project that I have been most involved with over the last year is my slow metal band, HALLUX. It's been a great change of pace for me, as I'm playing guitar and writing all the music. I had been making demos of the songs by myself over the last couple of years, and then hooked up with my friend from the Atlanta days Hans Chew (D. Charles Speer) on drums to flesh them out. Later, we were joined by artist Jake Klotz on vocals, and the great Jason LaFarge (Pineal Ventana, Seizure's Palace recording) on bass. Since then, we've been doing about a gig a month, and just finished mixing our debut record. We plan to release a limited vinyl LP in 2010. I think I really needed a break from the preciousness and self-importance of the so-called avant garde in NY. Though I've played guitar a bit over the years, this is my first real band on the instrument.
HALLUX's music is decidedly simple, noisy, and heavy on the riffage. It's great fun, and a much-needed respite from the things I’ve been doing over my last 12 years in NY.
VP: A career full of diversity indeed. What final words do you have for our readers?
AB: Since I was a kid I've been very lucky to be surrounded by great musicians, and most of what I've been able to accomplish has a lot to do with what I've learned from them. I can't imagine my life without music in some form. I believe that music is in everyone, and it's a component of human existence that separates us from the beasts. People who spend their time denigrating or categorizing other people's music are just missing the point. People hear and relate to music in so many different ways that music criticism becomes a pointless endeavor. So many Frank Zappa quotes come to mind...so I'm gonna shut up and play my guitar now.