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Clogs: Opening Up the Possibilities

By Published: March 20, 2006
AAJ: That's very distinctly a two-part piece.

BD: It's definitely that. A mix of two types of behavior.

PN: But there are sneaky stealings—there are sneaky stealings in the second part as well. Some of the vertical, some of the chordal material in the second part. We're not afraid to improvise on other people's music, say, from the classical or romantic period. In my mind, I know that Schubert was a huge improviser. You can tell he's one because he wrote two pieces with this one idea. So in my mind, he's drunk at midnight improvising, going "yeah, man, it's so fucking cool, what I did"—so I figure, why can't we use that material in that way?

AAJ: There's that notion about classical repertory that has gotten confused over the last couple hundred years—people now think it's some static material.

PN: The improvisers were incredible. They were amazing. Bach, Schubert—they were amazing improvisers. That's how Beethoven wrote his sonatas, by improvising. Anyone who played the organ as well—anyone who was an organ player and who was writing for organ. You know these guys were spending the first hour of the church service—while everyone's walking in—improvising on their fugures or their ideas. Like Messiaen.

AAJ: Padma is credited for the lion's share of the composing on the earlier Clogs CDs, but on Lantern, all the pieces except the first two are "composed and developed by Clogs." Does this mean that the group's compositional procedures have changed?

BD: Not really. Padma does write the lion's share, and I usually get credit for a few things. Tom and Rachael contribute a lot, but they don't really ever get composition credit. So we kind of just made an egalitarian decision: "let's not stake our claim to this or that; let's credit it all to the band." Nothing's actually changed about the way that we work.

AAJ: The group's spread out geographically; no one lives in the same city. I'm curious as to how that affects your work.

PN: It's a big challenge. I mean, once we're in the same place, it's all good. But actually getting to the same place is sometimes difficult. Organizing tours is sometimes difficult. But regardless of any of those things, once we're sitting in that room, we're back to our old selves and learning how to play with each other again and getting excited by each other's playing and so on and so forth.

AAJ: All right, enough small talk. I really want to talk about your new CD Lantern exhaustively. This is your fourth album. Superficially, I suppose this is your electric guitar album, Bryce.

BD: Well, Lullaby For Sue [the group's second album from 2003] has a few electric tracks—at least two, maybe three. But yeah, there are maybe ten electric tracks on this one.

PN: But some of this comes from a situation where you're gigging and you're just sick of picking up three instruments.

BD: I'd also gotten really into electric guitar—playing it a lot in my rock band [The National] and then in a lot of new music settings. There are just so many creative possibilities about it. That said it, in Clogs I play a lot of finger-style electric, so it's classical technique.

AAJ: Well, I don't find it jarringly different from your acoustic work; it seems very much of a piece. The album starts off with a piece by Johann Hieronymus Kapsburger—now, my advance copy calls the song "Kapsburger," but that can't be its title?

PN: I think that's what we called it.

BD: No, on the record it's called "Ostinato."

AAJ: I'll admit to not being familiar with Kapsburger's work, but I will guess that it was composed for lute.

BD: Bass lute.

PN: Beautiful, beautiful instrument, and this was his specialty; he was a virtuoso himself. Sixteenth-century.

AAJ: This one has a guest musician—Luca Tarantino on classical guitar.

BD: A baroque guitar, actually.

AAJ: And Bryce, you're on acoustic and electric?

BD: Just electric. There's an electric and a baroque guitar.

AAJ: I thought I heard two acoustic guitars in there.

BD: The baroque guitar is double-chorused, so that might explain what you heard.

AAJ: Fair enough. Is there any reason you start off this record of mostly originals with someone else's piece?

BD: Yeah, there's an interesting story. That piece was not part of the record for quite a long time. Luca's a musician from Italy that I met and worked with at a festival there, and we invited him for a residency in France last year with a French group that we were collaborating with there. We added Luca to the mix. He's just an amazing, interesting musician. I had been writing some music myself—actually, "Fiddlegree" is from this period of time when I was kind of riffing on Renaissance music and the idea of ornamentation. Padma's also dealt with that a lot in his own music. So Luca showed up with this piece and said, "I want you to hear this." He called it baroque minimalism. Because, you know, I did a tour with Philip Glass around this time and was reacting a little bit to that music.

So basically, this song is a set of chords and that's all it is; it's not written out. It's not at all done as a period piece—we did it in a weird way. Electric guitar, the arrangement is totally out, I'm playing these harmonies over Luca. So they sent us the recording from France probably eight or nine months after we did it—it's a live recording, one take—and I thought it was such a lovely opening. And somehow it made everything else on the record make more sense. There's already the Schubert quote on the record and there's this other music we were relating to.

PN: We felt the record was too poised in a way. It felt very poised, so we chucked these others in and it opened the whole record up.

BD: Yeah, it felt like a great opening to me.

PN: Let's go back to what that piece is in its actuality. It's a chord chart. That's it. So there would have been ways they played that that probably we don't know about. But it's an improvising piece. There are lots of ways you could actually play that.

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