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Interviews

Chicago Underground Duo: Two Voices, One Sound

By Published: April 3, 2006
AAJ: So there were some other pieces recorded but not used for In Praise of Shadows?

RM: Yeah, I think we had over two hours of stuff that was usable that we had to leave off. Well, we didn't have to—we could have made a two-CD release. In any case, I think we're more into a more precise projection of our ideas. The Delmark Underground Trio records [Possible Cube, 1999 and Flamethrower, 2000] are very long records, and I didn't mention those when I talked about our records that were kind of made as a whole—although, certainly, some parts of Possible Cube and Flamethrower were constructed that way.

And it's a perfectly valid way to make albums, and I love those records. I think they're what we wanted to do. But I was just thinking today that I might go back into the hour of material that we haven't used and redo some of that stuff for either some downloadable things on the Thrill Jockey website or maybe even an EP—but only if it's agreeable to me and Chad. We are extremely careful about how these projections happen, from the music to the artwork to the interviews.

AAJ [to CT]: Your drums sound a little different on this record. Now I know that you tuned it down an octave on one of the pieces, but did you use any different sorts of drum tunings on this record?

CT: I did. The first thing I told John [McEntire, who engineered the album] was that I wanted really low-sounding drums. I wanted everything to sound not like a drum set, but like drums—like you'd hear with a percussionists' ensemble, really low drums. So that was what I was going for with my sound, and I had a different setup for this record than I normally do.

AAJ: I think I could have identified the music on In Praise of Shadows as the Chicago Underground Duo if I heard it without anyone telling me who is was, so it can't be completely unlike anything you've ever done, and you say that in some ways it harkens back to your first Duo album. That said, I do feel that it's somehow different from, say, Axis & Alignment and Synesthesia. Do you see it as any kind of new direction?

RM: Yeah, I think so. I think it's a new kind of maturity, if I can say that. I think what's special about Chad's and my working situation is that he travels all over the world and so do I, and not necessarily together. He has projects that he does; I have projects that I do. We're interested in different things. And this all brings a lot of incredible things to the table when we get together.

When we got together to do this record, I had moved to Brazil—I had lived in Brasilia and was living here in Manaus. And just the greenness of being here, I think, just makes the light of the cornet shine a little differently. And the way Chad corresponds with all these great, great musicians in New York and he's playing more and more with people like Henry Grimes and Marc Ribot, Tom Abbs and that crew, Cooper-Moore and all that. It's an amazing thing, and really, really different circumstances from my being here in Manaus. Here, there's nothing in terms of the sounds I enjoy listening to, unless you count the fact that here I record electric eels, storm systems, insects and birds—all those sounds are amazing here.

So because of those experiences, and because of experiences we've already had, I think this record can be looked at as a fresh start. Of course, I guess we view each record as a start, never an end. And I'm sure there's some resemblance to Axis & Alignment, but probably in a very distant way. It's like time traveling or something—maybe Axis & Alignment was the year 2050 and this record is 100 BC or something. Maybe for the next record, we'll go back even further or it'll go to 3050. And I say that in all seriousness, not in a silly way.

AAJ: It's probably less than perfect to interview the two members of the group separately, but there is one advantage: I can ask each of you about the other player. So tell me what's interesting about your partner in the Duo—what you like about playing with him.

RM: Well, I consider Chad my spiritual brother. Even beyond blood. I think because of that feeling, we're able to do things that are sometimes kind of extraordinary, and I don't necessarily even mean the music—it could be a conversation or a look. Not to mention what, of course, everybody knows: he's an incredible drummer with an incredible subtlety to his playing and a great layering or rhythms that don't sound complex but are. And he has the aura about him, and the light within him, to not try too hard—not not try too hard to let people know what your intention is. It could mean playing fast, or even the way you walk or what you order for dinner.

That's what I find really excellent about him and that's why we continue this relationship even though we hardly see each other anymore—and we're not on the phone with each other every other day, either. I don't think I've talked to Chad in a month. But it doesn't matter, because, without sounding too stupid, our relationship transcends that.

CT: I think we ended up making a very good pair because Rob has no fear, which is something that I've always respected—but [laughing] can be very dangerous. He's always the one who will push things to the limit just to see what will happen, and I have, I think, a much more conservative approach. So together, we sort of balance one another out. He's an amazing musician to work with; he just has so many different ideas and he puts so much into every musical moment when he's performing, which is very special. The other thing is that he also really thinks about music as sound—I know he thinks about himself that way. That's quite unusual for musicians to have that approach.



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