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Bill Frisell: Why So Stressed Out?

By Published: September 26, 2006

AAJ: You play some obscure chords on the recording. When you play a series of chords are you familiar with their harmonic dissonance? Or is it totally spontaneous?

BF: I'm always trying to find something new, but that's part of the process. Every time I play I'm trying to push it a little bit further. Sometimes I just completely jump off into outer space where I don't know where I'm going, and then I find things. I remember reading something that Herbie Hancock said about making a mistake. He said, if you make a mistake, then you hear what that sounds like. And sometimes that will sound good and sometimes it will sound bad, but it's the only way you're going to get to that point of jumping off the cliff. In that way you can find something and do it again if you like it.

AAJ: With so many bent notes and bent chords and dissonances and going without a rehearsal before taping the session, was there ever a moment when you and Ron played something that, together, sounded like shit and forced you to call for another take?

BF: The deal with that is the recovery. You know, you play something that you wish you hadn't played, but then it's what you do next to make it sound right somehow. I think that's constantly going on. But this session definitely was not one of those situations. A lot of it was just one or two takes. There was no fixing things later in the mix or repairing wrong notes. It's just one of those things—you sort of live with whatever it is.

AAJ: As the leader of the session, did you give instructions to Ron or Paul, as far as what to play?

BF: No, that wasn't it at all, especially with those guys, or with anybody. I don't really like talking about stuff anyway with the people I play with. If I need to talk too much, I don't even want to bother.

AAJ: "Worse for Worse sounds almost like a film noir soundtrack, with Ron's pedal bass and Paul's sizzle cymbal playing time, like someone's standing under a streetlight lighting a cigarette or something.

BF: That's a tune I wrote for a visual presentation produced by Seattle artist/cartoonist Jim Woodring. The music was inspired by his original artwork—definitely dark and ominous.

AAJ: "Raise Four is a playful, medium-tempo, bouncy blues.

BF: That's a Monk tune. I don't why that tune slipped by me for so many years. I thought I had heard all of his tunes, but just a few years ago I discovered it. It's very simple. There are very few notes in the whole tune—a total genius tune. I don't why I hadn't found it before, but I've been playing that a lot lately.

Bill FrisellAAJ: But again, like you were saying, it's a real simple tune. Listening to it, like a lot of the cuts on the recording, one gets a sense that the grownup musicians are emptying their old toy chest and playing like children again. Then there's "Pretty Polly.

BF: That's a traditional ballad about a guy who takes his girlfriend down to the river and stabs her, or some horrible thing, but these days a lot of bluegrass bands play it. The tunes of Ron's and Paul's or something like "You Are My Sunshine ...a lot of those tunes are deep in my blood and have been with me for my whole life. But then something like "Pretty Polly —in the last ten years I've been focusing more on those kinds of tunes. And what's interesting about that tune is that I've never heard Ron play bluegrass. He was just responding to the melody, but it's about as far from any kind of bluegrass as you could get.

AAJ: Let me ask you about "Monroe.

BF: It's one of my tunes. People wonder if I'm talking about Marilyn Monroe, but, again, it's bluegrass music, and I originally wrote the tune for Bill Monroe. The first time I played the tune, about ten years ago, was with a mandolin, but I wanted to play that with Ron for a long time. I could hear him playing that.

AAJ: "Introduction is really laid back.

BF: That's one of Paul's songs. He writes these amazing ballad melodies, and I recorded it on one of the first albums I did with Paul around 20 years ago. He really writes great melodies.

AAJ: "Misterioso is another Monk tune.

BF: That's another song that I've been playing a long time. Because we didn't have any rehearsal I was looking for stuff that everybody knew so we could hit right on it.

AAJ: The last cut is "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. You play it like a spiritual.

BF: There's a definite country song, by Hank Williams, with a little bit of extra stuff in there. Some of the chords have been messed with, but then it goes into a straight ahead, simple tune. I keep seeing these similarities, lines that cross over. I'm always bothered by labels proclaiming this is jazz, this is blues, this is country, this is rock. All those boundaries, I don't think they really exist. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry is a classic—basic, strong melody with simple chords. It could have been played on Miles' Kind of Blue record. What happens with it just depends on who's playing it.

AAJ: How many times have you listened to the new recording?

BF: I guess when I heard it the most was when we mixed it. That's the last time I heard it really. I don't listen any more after that. [laughs]

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