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Interviews

Tim Berne: Superstitious Pragmatist

By Published: January 23, 2006
AAJ: A lot of these recent records we've been discussing—all except the Big Satan one—are live records. Feign is live in the studio, anyway. Is the reason just economics?

TB: Well, I don't see Feign as a live record. It's recorded live in the studio, but that's a big difference. If that was a live concert, those tunes would have been twice as long. Being in the studio definitely adds a certain conciseness—the first Science Friction, same deal when you compare that to the live one. The tunes are much shorter. You just tend to think that way in the studio. Some of those live records are out there because I got inexpensive recordings. I don't think I set out with any of them to make a live recording; they just kind of happened to be recorded. For the Science Friction one, I just happened to get a tape from Swiss Radio. The new Paraphrase one—some kid in the audience was recording it. All the Paraphrases happened that way, actually. And the Bloodcount one. If we we had been trying to make a live record, it would have been a lot tougher. We would have been thinking about it. If we were spending a couple of grand to do it, it definitely would have been on my mind. But yeah, I like live records. I think when it's good, there's nothing like it.

AAJ: Especially with music that features improvisation and people listening.

TB: The audience is huge. It makes a big difference.

AAJ: Are your audiences usually pretty good? Ever get a bad one?

TB: Definitely. We've played in places where the place isn't oriented to having music, or our kind of music. It happens once in a while. In Spain, I remember recently, we had a gig and nobody really wanted to hear it [laughing]. They just all walked out. But I don't play a lot of club clubs. Most of the clubs I play, people come to listen. I can't say I enjoy it when people don't like it—but I've gotten better at blocking them out, that's for sure.

AAJ: One thing I like about your recorded product is its artwork. It's very sly and humorous—kind of black-humored at times. There's bleakness and beauty coexisting—like the Jesus-cow-pig-soldier figurines on the cover of Feign.

TB: That's 'cause I let my boys go. Steve Byram. I just say "do it, and that's it. Then I get it and that's what it is. He's a collaborator on this and I kind of want to give him as much rope as possible. And Robert Lewis, the photographer. We're all really good friends. Usually with Steve, I'll just say, "do it, and I'll see it at the end. He and Robert will just see how fucked-up it can get. Every once in a while, I might say, "let's not do this. Let's try this direction—which might just mean let's go photo instead of art. But 99.9 percent of the time, it's Steve at the controls. He's amazing. I definitely couldn't do the label without him. With him, I have an art department, basically.

AAJ: That's a luxury.

TB: It is, and I definitely don't take it for granted. Plus, it's fun. It's like working with Torn—it's not my area of expertise. It makes a big difference, too—it's a lot harder to sell packaged CDs now. If it was just some jewel box with a cheap cover, I think a lot of people would prefer to get the downloads for cheaper. There's got to be a reason to want to have it besides the music.

AAJ: You're not one of those five-years-between-records guys. Do you have anything new recorded? And if not, what are you going to do in 2006?

TB: That's a good question. I was thinking about that yesterday. I actually don't want to do anything—I kind of want to not plan anything, because nothing's jumping out at me. I have one idea, but it's just too expensive to think about. I kind of want do a record of just really slow stuff that's kind of lush. And that's as far as I've gotten. I wouldn't say ballads, just slow.

AAJ: Not Tim Berne with strings?

TB: Well, maybe. But not what you're used to. Maybe electronics and strings—I kind of batted something around with David [Torn]. But I'm hoping I don't do anything for a while; I just don't want to force anything.

AAJ: You don't mean you won't even gig, though?

TB: No, no, just plan a project. A lot of these tours you have to think about a year in advance. But in terms of bands and writing, I honestly don't know what I want to do. I'm kind of happy about this stuff with Torn, because I think we'll have some gigs and it's so much fun. And Drew, Drew's got a lot of work. So I'm hoping I won't have to think about it for a while.

AAJ: Right, you're off to Europe with Drew's group.


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