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A Fireside Chat with Bill Frisell

By Published: February 21, 2004

AAJ: Because I do not create anything, I am constantly in awe of any artist. The thought of creating a significant contribution to the art form is daunting. An artist has to establish his or her own motivation, whereas I am motivated by salary. Have there ever been days where you are drained by the creation process?

BF: Yeah, it is. It's always this kind of up and down thing. For me, I have to just keep doing it all the time and then within that, you have your, some days, nothing happens and then the next day, something will come out. That's sort of always happening, but I guess I'm trying to keep pounding away at it. A lot of times, when it's time for me to have a deadline or when there's something coming up that I have to have something finished, that definitely motivates me to get it done, but I also, it feels like I'm always drawing on, I have sort of an accumulation of stuff that I try to keep working on stuff all the time. Sometimes you write something down and it seems like it's nothing. It's just kind of a worthless, nothing really happening, but I will save it and then leave it and then when it gets time where I have to come up with something, I go back and I look through all these old scraps of paper. Sometimes when you find some of that stuff after you haven't seen it for a while, it seems like it's not so bad after all. That seems like that's where a lot of my stuff comes from.

AAJ: Do you spend much time composing?

BF: Well, I think more over the last, oh, boy, even maybe the last twenty years or so, when I have time to sit down, that's what I do, rather than practicing the guitar. I know I'm a guitarist and I have the guitar around all the time, but I don't sit there and practice scales and things. I used to be more concerned with just the instrument. Now, it's more about just trying to write or trying to create a context for my band. That's all I do, really, is write, I guess, one way or another.

FJ: Do you foresee a time when you will put down the guitar and focus on composing?

BF: I mean, every once and a while, I've done, it doesn't happen very often, but I do things where I've just written something. I wrote a little orchestra piece for a film or I wrote an arrangement for Elvis Costello one time, where I was just completely writing without having the guitar at all or where I didn't play. I don't know. I still feel like it's so much a part of my, it really feels like the guitar is sort of like my voice or something. I wouldn't want to give it up. I just have too much fun playing it. And just playing live, I just love doing that.

AAJ: As a composer, my homage to Cameron Crowe, do you need to be in love to write a ballad or do you need to have been to Paris to write a French song?

BF: Well, I think you just need to write about yourself. That's all I think I'm doing or that's what I'm trying to do is just try to get stuff to come out that reflects. It's not a conscious thing. I don't think now I am going to write a piece about something. It's just this, music sort of bubbles up from down there somewhere and I write it down. Hopefully, it's some kind of honest expression of where I've been throughout my life.

AAJ: Is that your dog on the cover of your Good Dog, Happy Man release?

BF: Oh, yeah.

AAJ: The track, "Shenandoah," has a reflective melancholy and I find that it suits a rainy day.

BF: Yeah, that one, that was actually Ry Cooder, that was sort of a weird combination of all these events coming together in one place. I was kind of hoping I could play with Ry, like sort of as a guest on the record and he's really good friends with Jim Keltner and so Jim introduced me to Ry and then Ry sort of had the idea that we would do that song because of a version of it that he had heard Johnny Smith play that song, this older guitarist. I had known Johnny Smith years ago in Colorado and so there was all these kind of weird things converging on that tune that sort of said we had to do it. So when I told Ry that I actually knew Johnny Smith, it was like, "Oh, we've got to do this song." The whole thing about that tune is, I guess, it was written during the, it's really old, like during the Civil War when these, something about these soldiers that went way out West and they were wanting to go back home to that Shenandoah Valley or whatever it is. I think it's in Virginia or West Virginia or something. I don't know exactly all the details, but there is definitely this kind of feeling of being really far away from home and wanting to go back. That's kind of built into the way the song was originally written.

AAJ: I know how much touring you do, are there moments in between the applause and the traveling when you miss your own Shenandoah?

BF: Oh, yeah. Well, I guess, I either miss home and my wife and my daughter. I have a daughter whose has just turned fifteen and I have to be away from them a lot, so I miss them. But then you can also miss, well, just the other day, actually, Fred, I went back to, I did a recording in Colorado. I grew up in Denver. I hardly ever go back there. So there is all kinds of segments of my life that I miss.

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