Django Bates: Spring Is Here (A Long Time Coming But Worth The Wait)
AAJ: So arriving at the RMC and starting StoRMChaser provided the final spur to record Spring Is Here?
DB: What I said at my interview was that if I got the job, if I got the chance, I'd form a band with the letters RMC in the name and take it round the world and put the RMC on the map. They looked at me for a moment and then it was kind of, "Go on then, do it."
I thought Spring Is Here would work with StoRMChaser, because I've worked a lot with young musicians, presenting them with what is in some ways complex music, and it's always been my experience that if you go at it with utter confidence and commitment it's successful. When you start, it's an enormous mountain to climbsometimes we'd rehearse something for a week and then there'd be a gig where we could try it outbut the adrenalin and the excitement that is created by the process kick in and you're swept along with it.
AAJ: There's an irresistible groundswell of enthusiasm coming out of the band.
DB: There is. We meet every Friday and just keep pressing home, playing around, having fun. The RMC set-up means I can experiment. To have a band like this that I can play around with every Fridayit's a real luxury. It's something people like Duke Ellington had. Ellington had his band on a retainer and so he could always call them up when he needed to and say, "Could you come in and play this chord for me?"
It's a wonderful resource to have. I had it back in the days of Loose Tubes. We met up even when there was nothing new to play. It was like a social commitment, a very nice social commitment. It gives the opportunity to try out ideasslow processes, rather than the usual thing where you write all the music and go into the studio and read it, nail it, get it down and that's that.
AAJ: Let's talk about some of the individual tracks. "The Right To Smile" articulates something at the core of your philosophythe right to be free and enjoy life, the right to be yourself. The way you weave Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" and those national anthems into it is very effective.
DB: The piece is partly about nationalism and borders, the way border controls keep people within certain areas. I have quite direct experience of this in several ways. One is being in Denmark at the RMC. I'm there about half my time, so I have experience of being a "foreign worker." Of course, it's different to the situation many foreign workers find themselves in, because I'm regarded as coming from an "acceptable" country.
Then I have a friend who's English and his partner's Italian and they had a child in England. They've been living in England all their life together but the child can't get an English passport because they're not married. Little things like this make you realize what a paradoxical world we live in. The more you think about it, the stranger the world seems.
So I had the idea of having some fun by throwing all these nationalistic songs together, to make something basically un-nationalistic out of the blend. When we perform "The Right To Smile" live we start with everyone singing their own personal anthem in their own language. There are quite a few different nationalities at RMC and doing this really destroys the whole idea of nationalism and patriotism because you get this chaos of sound. Then we go into the piece and have some fun with those songs. "Ode To Joy," that's such a special one, because it's the European anthem, and it's also such an incredible, joyful bit of music.
AAJ: As well as your experiences as a foreign worker, you travelled pretty widely as a child, didn't you?
DB: My parents led an unconventional lifestyle and we did a lot of travelling. There was one trip, to the Balkans, that I particularly remember and that I'm pretty sure has had some effect on my music.
My parents woke me up before it was daybreak, which is quite disorientating, and I remember I had to dress myself and I'd never done that before and I got everything in the wrong order. Then we got on a motorbike and sidecar combination, my sister and me in the sidecar and our parents on the bike, and off we went to what were then far flung parts of Europe like Romania and the former Yugoslavia.
It was an amazing journey. The only thing that I remember about Romania was that we got lost and it was dark and it was rainingI think it rained for most of that trip, and nothing was waterproof in those days, they hadn't invented Gortex. We were rescued by real Romanian Gypsies, and they gave me a wooden mug, carved out of single piece of wood, full of milk from a cow, still frothing and warm. I remember drinking that really clearly.
I'm sure there was lots of music around as well. I can't remember them singing and playing but I do know that when I hear that music today it strikes an immediate chord with me. And that's come through in everything I've wanted to write myself, the sound that I want to hearthat beautiful, real, coming from the earth sound.
Django Bates (center) and members of StoRMChaser