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David Binney: Airplanes, Cities, Moods and Vibes

By Published: September 4, 2006
AAJ: Let's talk about some of the individual pieces on the record. "Contributors seems built out of stacked, static parts—there's a looping, accumulating quality to it as your sax melody repeats with that descending guitar counterpoint and Craig's piano alongside. It's a very Binney-ish melody, and pretty beautiful, but at the same time sort of stalled—like we're sitting in a gorgeous spot in a boat that's becalmed in the middle of a lake. Frisell eventually breaks free and solos over the rest of you, or at least decorates what the rest of you are doing. Any insights into this one?

DB: Well, it is sort of in a style that I've written in before. Sometimes I write these things that are basically vamps that I build on. It is a certain kind of thing that I do that, as you say, kind of builds upon itself. And I've always liked that sort of thing, and basically, it was just something that I came up with. I think when those things happen you just take them to where they go. I just don't have any preconceptions when I'm writing them; I just start to write, and a lot of times I'll write something and realize, well, that's it. The basic thing—this is it, whether it's a four-bar pattern or whatever it is. Then I just hear things building. And that's basically what that tune is. It's a groove and a piano rhythm and all of that. Then I just let Bill go crazy at the end.

It's fairly simple, and it's something that I brought it that, when we played it, I thought, "Well, this could be cool, but I'm not sure about it. Then everybody else in the band was really into it, so they sort of talked me into keeping that piece. Originally, I was thinking, "Yeah, it works good, but I don't know if I'm going to put it on the record. This was before we recorded it, when we were rehearsing it. And everybody was saying, "No, you should definitely do that one; it's really great. So that's how we ended up recording it and putting it on. I'm actually glad, because they were right. I really like that thing now. But in a way, it's almost like an interlude to me, some sort of—like you said, it's like a moment. It's not supposed to be anything more than a mood and a vibe.

AAJ: Well, it's an album. This CD, like any, is composed of moments and moods, and one of the qualities of this album is that it is very much the whole of the individual parts. Maybe even more than your average record.

DB: Well, I hope that's the case, because that's the reason that I don't sell the downloads like iTunes would. I don't sell song downloads, because I make albums, and I think I always will. Unless I do a pop record or something—then maybe I would do some kind of tune download thing. But I definitely hear things as one large piece, and that's the way I try to put together all my records. Actually, the one that's coming out in September is the most like that, even though it's a complete blowing record. But we recorded it all in one shot—we didn't take breaks in between the tunes, we just played. There are interludes, and they're what we played in the studio.

And it really sounds like a complete thing to me in that way, and I'm really into that now. When we play live, we've been playing that new record—the one that's out in September—just as we did on the record. The tune order, who plays in between each tune, everything. So that's our live performance now, and I really like that, instead of changing the set list around all the time. You can really get into a bigger picture. I've also been studying Indian music lately and, if you listen to a raga, that's what it is. You start here and 30 minutes or whatever later, you end there. And that's what it is. I really like applying that kind of sensibility, even to songs. So that's what I've been doing lately, and I think it started with this record, with Out of Airplanes. The next one is even more like that.

AAJ: "Jan Mayen is Eivind's tune. It's got a fantastic, icy beauty and is, to me, a really important one on the record. It's got a lovely theme melody that resolves heartbreakingly, but the textures around the melodic materials seems just as important here: Bill's chiming, brittle guitar parts, for example. What I like best is how a two-way Bill/Craig dialogue turns into a three-way dialogue as you join in, and then that turns into your solo—although those two are still in there, commenting.

DB: I think that was one where we just played. One of the reasons I may not remember certain details of this record is that I had a 103 fever, and was literally hallucinating because I was so sick. It's really weird, because I never get sick—and the two days we were in the studio, I was completely gone. And I've been on other records where that has happened to me. I was on a Medeski Martin & Wood record years ago where, again, I was feverish and hallucinating in the studio, and they were trying to get me to play much more on the record than I ever did. Because I couldn't [laughing]. But musically, I feel fine with what I did on this record. But I was definitely sick, so a lot of it is a blur as to what happened when we were in the studio.

But I remember, on that one, just directing where we would start soloing and where I would come in, basically, and then just letting it happen. After the fact, we had overdub things to orchestrate—the guitar and the synths. Actually, I did some of the synth overdubs. I don't list that on the record, but I did a couple of them, just the simple melody doubling things. And it's really just what we did live, with some orchestration after the fact. That's all it is. But I love the way that tune came out, and I really love that tune, and the way Bill plays on it—at the start of it, he's got that classic Bill Frisell clean sound, and by the end he's completely distorted, all in one take. But that cut is one of my favorite things on the record.

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