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Interviews

Billy Childs: Lyric

By Published: November 7, 2005

AAJ: Well, the guitar thing man...the way the strings are tuned, some in 4ths and one to a 3rd apart, so you have to write for it. There are some things that are just impossible voicing-wise or [just] much more difficult. So it's cool that you got the guitar and fooled around with it a little bit to see the limitations. I read that you're actually going to be writing something else for the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Luciana Souza. Is that right?

BC: Well, they asked me. I have yet to hear any more about it, but...

AAJ: Larry Koonse is a great guitarist. Maybe those guys [L.A. Guitar Quartet] will have even more crazy, classical technique and they'll be able to deal with some stuff that's just really hard guitaristically.

BC: Yeah. That's what I'm really looking forward to. After I write the piece for them I should be pretty straight on how to write for guitar. Yeah. I love acoustic guitar actually.

AAJ: Me too. It's a great instrument. There's a lot of stuff on Lyric where you're using a technique that seems more classically oriented to me—passing around the melody to different sections or to different voices in the group. I assumed you maybe had that in mind before you wrote it, or [did it] occur to you while you were writing the piece? Also, what are you thinking when you're passing that around; whether that has some kind of meaning for you or whether you just like it musically? I'm remembering melodies being passed either from the guitarist into the string section and then maybe to another voice.

BC: It wasn't a conscious, "OK, now I have to use every instrument in the group." I approached it the same way as if I were writing an orchestral piece. I guess I'm attracted by asymmetry, things morphing into other things in a kind of seamless way. Not so much asymmetry, but the seamless flow of ideas and things turning into something else.

An effective way for me to deal with that is to have the same melody, but stated a lot of different ways. It could be in different instruments, in diffrent keys, different rhythms...but it has to be going for something, trying to achieve something, have some purpose. And hopefully...who's to say if I achieved that? That's for anybody. That's for the listener to decide. Yeah, I have all the instruments on the CD because I like their sound. I want to use them and have them make a statement.

AAJ: There was one other thing I wanted to ask you about. You mentioned this tune earlier, "American Landscape." I think you mentioned the fact that the melody is triadic. I wonder maybe what else makes it particularly American for you? The triad thing is kind of American.

BC: Yeah, Coplandesque in a sense. I guess kind of the aggressiveness of it too. And it has a lot of different environments that it travels through. My sister, who lives in New York, every time she visits us here in L.A., she hates to fly. So she takes the train. This was kind of inspired by her descriptions of the American landscape whenever she takes the train. How beautiful it is.

AAJ: Wow. From New York to L.A.? It's probably a fun ride.

BC: Looking out at the coutryside, yeah. It takes about three or four days. I want to do it actually. So the song goes through a lot of different moods and solo sections and kind of transitional sections and each are different but hopefully similarly tied together. There's kind of a simplicity about America, a kind of transparency and obviousness which I think is represented by the triads. And also because America is about progress, sometimes at the expense of everything else. It's a real aggressive, fusion type of vibe I put on the piece.

AAJ: That's exactly what I thought with the opening line [when] the whole band is in and there's that unison line. It definitely made me think of fusion—it's mostly acoustic instruments, but it's definitely a fusion-like line.

BC: Because of the unison aspect of how we're playing it, and the aggressive nature, the odd time signaures, and all of that.

AAJ: The first thing that jumped out in my mind was Return To Forever! (Chick Corea's band from the 1970s) Just immediately that first line made me think of that for some reason. Then it goes all these different places.

BC: Yeah, yeah. Return To Forever is definitely in my blood you know. Pat Metheny Group, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, all of these groups. When I was impressionable, age thirteen or fourteen, when I first started playing piano, what was happening at that point was Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy by Return to Forever. Kind of an unprecedented, in my opinion, era of inter-genre tolerance and respect. Where you would have Michael Tilson Thomas collaborating with John McLaughlin and you had Leonard Bernstein, a Jewish guy, writing [Mass] with everything but the kitchen sink in it? Words by Paul Simon, rock guitars, symphony orchestras and choruses. So this kind of shaped my conception of what to do in music. It's kind of behind this whole jazz chamber conception anyway. In the attempt to seemlessly merge even more disciplines of music.



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