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Interviews

Marc Ribot: That's the Way I View It From New York

By Published: March 27, 2006
AAJ: That cover you do of "Go Down Moses that's on your Saints album is a favorite of mine—I've always thought of it as Derek Bailey meets Tommy Johnson. I also really like your take on Ayler's "Holy Holy Holy on this CD. Best of all is "Somewhere, which is a favorite pop tune of mine in general—it's quite the deconstruction. There are lot of changing effects on the guitar there and a lot of stereo panning—was that done live with separate amps or pickups or after the fact during mixing?

MR: That was done live. Mostly live. You know, it's not really that complicated. What it is is that I used this thing on a lot of those pieces where it's miked directly. Electric guitar, but it's also miked directly. And the things are panned differently. So when I put up my volume pedal and you're just hearing the acoustic sound—wait, I can't even remember—was that an electric guitar?

AAJ: Yeah.

MR: That would make sense. I don't remember if I was using other effects, but the main effect is using amplified and acoustic and changing the ratio between the two.

AAJ: Is a record like Saints indicative of the sorts of solo performances you do now?

MR: That's indicative of the kind of solo performances I have done for the last eight years. I'm in the process of changing, and I'm working with a bunch of pieces that I've written myself that are kind of setups for improvising. I want to publish them as a written exercise book. They're called Exercises in Futility and they teach guitarists how to play with and in spite of futility.

AAJ: The Well-Tempered Guitar?

MR: Yeah. Something like that. The Mean-Tempered Guitar.

AAJ: I know you have a new band, Ceramic Dog. I haven't heard a note. Tell me about it.

MR: It's a rock band. I decided to have a rock band because I did all these projects in which I've kind of rewritten stuff by [Cuban bandleader] Arsenio Rodriguez and other things as punk rock. I thought, why not just have a punk rock band? So I'm trying that. And it's really fun. I have two great musicians—Shazad Ismailly on bass and Ches Smith on drums. Ches is a West Coast guy. They both have a different set of influences than me. Ches comes out of playing in post-punk rock bands, but he's also a great musician. He's not a naïf; he knows how to play. Shazad has a lot of experience in that, but also in electronica, ambient sounds. They're bringing things into the mix that frankly, I wouldn't know how to bring into the mix. So it's good.

AAJ: Do you write the tunes?

MR: I've been doing most of the writing, yeah. The group is actually a band—a real, collective group. We laughing divvy up the bread. I mean, usually when it's not a collective group, I get less [laughing]. It's an actual band where we rehearse even if we don't have gigs and everybody's into it.

AAJ: Are you going to record?

MR: I sure hope so. The label scene is dismal!

AAJ: It's very bad for rock. I just think it's a bad time to be in a rock band, in terms of recording.

MR: What's up with that? Aren't we supposed to be in the middle of the new utopia?

AAJ: I do think there are also less decent rock bands than there used to be.

MR: There's great bands! There's great things all over. The only thing you can't do is get paid. And this is the new utopia—the internet is "creating a level playing field, and blah blah blah. The only question those "new utopia fuckers never want to answer is who's supposed to pay you to live while you're spending two months making a record? Who pays for your rehearsal studio and your recording studio? I keep hearing about home studios. Yeah, that's cool if you don't need a drummer! And people say "home studio as if that falls from the sky too. Mine cost five grand; I don't know what yours cost. And it has to be constantly updated. Another situation with an incredible amount of hype, and the reality at the end of the day is just a form of violence against those that aren't independently wealthy. [Laughing, and with a high-pitched, prissy voice] That's the way I view it from New York!

AAJ: Tell me about your MusicMobe website.

MR: I'll say that musicians who are touring now in Europe should check it out. It's at http://www.musicmobe.org. The intent was to connect touring musicians with peace, environmental, and social justice organizations that are local to where they are touring. If, for example, you want to create a connection with Greenpeace while you're on tour in Holland, you could hook up with them through this if you type in your tour schedule. It gets posted on the website. It's not available to the whole world, but it's available to those organizations that have signed on. Basically, we took it from dating service software; that was the prototype. Except the dates that are being arranged are between touring musicians and those organizations. And like dating, it's a personal nightmare for the artist to have his personal email number out there on the web for everyone to see, use, clog up.

The meetings and messages here all take place in the website. I would really encourage artists who are touring to sign up and to use it. We're still in the beginning stages and need to get a lot more artists up there, which will enable us to get a lot more organizations up there. There's no obligation here—posting your tour dates doesn't mean you have to accept a single thing. There are things that could be accepted if you feel it's appropriate. You could allow an organization to set up a table at your gig, you could give them merchandizing space, you could play a tune or speak at a demo.

We came up with this when I was on tour in Europe during the Gulf War and as people who tour in Europe might know, there's been almost complete political breakdown between the U.S. and most of the rest of the world. So it's up to civil society to take over the function of if we want there to be a continued relationship here. In other words, if you want to keep going over there and gigging, you're going to have to convince them you're not a fascist! And if you think that's done automatically because you play a loud guitar, you'd better think again.

They read the papers too; they look at who we collectively elected. They see us collectively say that torture is cool and warrantless searches are just groovy. They hear what's said by our political leaders. They see the effects of global warming there. And they're pissed. I've spent three months a year since 1982 touring in Europe. I have a lot of friends and contacts there and it's where I've done a lot of my work. And I'm giving you the message: there is a breakdown and you can't expect the benefit of the doubt just because you're young or play weird music. Or even not-so-weird music.


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