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Gary Willis: Something to Say

By Published: October 23, 2007
AAJ: I think the studio these days, in fact for many, many years has been another instrument. I mean, Sydney Bechet, over sixty years ago overdubbed six different instruments, which he played himself on the one album. That technology was there then, so I think if the technology is there then it's absolutely justified and, to be honest, I don't really want to hear an absolute carbon copy of a song in concert.

GW: For me it's using all the tools at your disposal. On Actual Fiction a few of the tunes were inspired by spontaneous jamming and some of the soloing was inspired by spontaneous jamming, so for me working in the studio is just as spontaneous as playing live. You have to approach it that way. Sometimes you have to be like a mad scientist and experiment and in the process of doing that you'll come upon things that have this element of surprise and unexpectedness that is the opposite of peoples' stereotypes about really "produced music.

AAJ: Would it be fair to say then that although on the face of it the approach to Slaughterhouse 3 and Actual Fiction seem to be very different in actual fact the approach is quite similar?

GaryGW: I think what they have in common is that with Slaughterhouse 3 we used what was available, which was a total of one day of studio time and just jammed all this music, we went back and produced a little bit of it, though none of this was to take away from the improvisational part of it. Actual Fiction is mostly just me and my imagination.

AAJ: You've been based in Barcelona for a number of years now, what led you to set up camp there?

GW: I met my wife here. She came to the US for about a year-and-a-half, and then we decided to see what it was like to move here.

AAJ: It's been nine years since your last CD as leader, Bent (Alchemy Records, 1998) and then you produce two great albums back-to-back. Do you think your new environment has played a big role in this wave of creativity?

GW: It definitely has. I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is a gorgeous place to live but I couldn't really be a musician; I was a web designer, I was a part-time Private Eye...

AAJ: Really? You were a Private Eye?

GW: Yeah, I did some surveillance work for a friend of mine. I ended up turning down some music just to do surveillance—the choices I had to play music in Santa Fe were not that great. Moving here has been great because it's given me the opportunity to be a musician again and focus on music.

AAJ: What's the music scene like in Barcelona?

GW: There are really great musicians but it's not a huge scene. I would venture to say it's pretty much like any other place. There are few outlets to play live.

AAJ: Do you have a regular gig?

GW: No. What I do regularly I teach at a conservatory a couple of days a week, that allows me time to work on my own things , go out on tour and have something to come back home to. It's not really possible to be playing live all the time unless you are touring because when you play locally you're considered a local musician and you're paid like a local musician. That dilutes the impact on your pocket and on the public.

AAJ: Going back to Abstract Fiction, on Actual Fiction you use three bass guitars on some of the tracks like "Cartoon Fetish and "Mean Streak —what was the necessity for this?

GW: They each have the possibility of different sounds so the obvious answer is using the same bass wouldn't have created enough contrast. My main bass is the fretless GWB 1005 and both that and the ATK are outfitted with a pickup which allows me to use the Roland V-Bass system. The V-Bass allows a variety of sounds, in a higher register and more melodic. Then the other four-string bass, the Percussion, that I've strung with low strings allows me to get under my own bass and support that, so it just widens the range of options below and above what I regularly do,

AAJ: One of the basses that you use is described as a "modified P-bass [Fender Precision]; in what way is it modified?

GW: It's unconventionally strung with flatwounds—the B string is 120, so it's a kind of a loose B string, and then I modified it by putting some foam under the bridge to really deaden it up some more, so it sounds ancient. It sits underneath my bass. It doesn't have any bids!

AAJ: To my ear the song "Say Never sounds particularly inspired, what was the genesis of that tune?

GaryGW: It started out as the chord progression which I played on bass, and it may have sat there for a year, a year-and-a-half. Upon returning to it I started playing over it and gradually put it together, layered different things and made it build. I did have this concept of eventually turning the half-time feel into a double-time feel and I worked a lot on that transition, but I didn't want it to feel frantic and I wanted the bass to flow but not have the speed create excitement, just the feeling that you're going somewhere.

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