Django Bates: Spring Is Here (A Long Time Coming But Worth The Wait)
DB: When I start writing a piece of music, there are two main things. One is myself and what I want to hear; the other is the listeners and what's going to be the effect on them of every part of the composition. So right from the beginning I'm thinking of the structure of the piece and how it's going to effect people. My instinct nearly always is to try and surprise them, not necessarily in a stupid or funny or shocking way, sometimes in a very subtle wayso that they find themselves taken to another place.
AAJ: You're clearly not just trying to make a living out of your music. It feels like there's something bigger going on.
DB: Well, if I was just trying to make a living, I would probably be better off not doing most of what I am doing. I suppose, if it doesn't sound too bigheaded or pompous to say so...(Bates pauses, considering whether to continue)...what I'm trying to do, ultimately, is change peoples' heads through music.
That's the broad answer. Within that is all the detail of what I want to writetrying to create something that is multi-dimensional and works in different ways for different people, and where there's lots going on from whatever angle you listen to music. My experience of listening to many big band albums is that it can be frustrating, because it's very difficult to record the music so that you can clearly and distinctly hear everything you want to be heard. You may find you've written something that is impossibly rich. You mentioned cooking earlier. With an incredible piece of cooking, you can taste all the ingredients, you can sit there and list them out, and they all blend together. It's fascinating to record this music and make all those decisions about what you want to hear.
AAJ: You've done that brilliantly. The music on Spring Is Here is very rich and dense, both in the rhythms and the harmonies. There's so much going on. Yet the production is so clear that the listener can zoom in on the smallest details.
DB: That's certainly the idea. It was produced with Andrew Murdock, who recorded Winter Truce. He's an American character who has had enormous hits with a US rock band called Godsmack. It's not the sort of thing I listen to myself, but Andrew is working in that side of the business almost accidentallyhe's very keen to do what he might describe as more artistic projects, which is why I'm able to get hold of him for my stuff.
He did the live sound for Bill Bruford when I was in Earthworks. He had a good vibe and worked in a very different style to the way most English engineers would work. Like in England, if I'd say, "Can you turn that thing there up?" (Bates mimes sliding fader up), they'd nudge it up by maybe a millimeterwhereas if I said that to Andrew, he'd go whack and push it up a couple of inches. Because he doesn't want to be asked again!
That's what I wanted. With all my delicate detail, I wanted someone to come in and go "yeah!" and crank it up, smash it out of the speakers. He also did You Live And Learn (Lost Marble, 2004), he worked fantastically on that one. When it came to Spring Is Here I told him I didn't want it to sound like a traditional big band album, very brassy, horn heavy, where there isn't much production going on, where everything just sits in the same place and there's no reverb or effects.
AAJ: Is your work at the RMC going to continue for a while?
DB: The contract's for five years, and I've done three. I need to have a meeting and find out what's planned beyond that. It would be sensible to look a couple of years ahead. As time goes on I realize it's fantastic to have the job, where at the same time I have the freedom to carry on with other music and other bands. It would have been a mistake if I'd just gone into a room and come out five years later and said, "42, you've got to play everything in 42!"
There are new projects that I can't wait to get started on. It's quite easy to record things at the RMC, with their studios and good pianos and the resources of great musicians who are eager to experiment. So there are several things I want to do. Time is the challenge, finding the time.
You've observed that it's often several years before I record things, and that usually occurs when I can't bear to hear them anymore without them being recorded. But I would like to speed up my output, to record a few more things in the next couple of years. For the first time, since my very first gigs, I'm playing with a piano trio. I'd moved away from that as fast as I could because it seemed such a cliché. But now, having had time to be away from it and to reflect, it's been really good fun to just walk into a room and not have to carry any leads or use any electricity, but just to sit down at the piano and play music just for a piano trio.
But I shouldn't go on about that too much. It's best to do things before you talk about them.
Django Bates StoRMChaser, Spring Is Here (Shall We Dance?) (Lost Marble, 2008)
Django Bates Human Chain, Josefine Lindstrand & The Smith Quartet, You Live And Learn (Apparently) (Lost Marble, 2004)
Django Bates Human Chain & Josefine Cronholm, Quiet Nights (Screwgun, 1998)
Django Bates Human Chain & The Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, Like Life (Storyville, 1998)
Django Bates Human Chain & The London Sinfonia, Good Evening...Here Is The News (Decca Argo, 1996)
Joachim Kuhn, Europeana (ACT, 1995)
Django Bates Human Chain & Delightful Precipice, Winter Truce (And Homes Blaze) (Winter & Winter, 1995)
Django Bates, Autumn Fire (And Green Shoots) (Winter & Winter, 1994)
Tim Berne, Nice View (Winter & Winter, 1994)
Django Bates Human Chain & Delightful Precipice, Summer Fruits (And Unrest) (Winter & Winter, 1993)
Sidsel Endresen, Exile (ECM, 1994)
Bill Bruford, Stamping Ground (Summerfold, 1992)
Bill Bruford, All Heaven Broke Loose (Summerfold, 1991)
Django Bates Powder Room Collapse Orchestra, Music For The Third Policeman (Ah-Um, 1990)
Sidsel Endresen, So I Write (ECM, 1990)
Django Bates & Human Chain, Cashin' In (EEG, 1988)
Human Chain, Human Chain (Ah-Um, 1986)
Loose Tubes, Delightful Precipice (Loose Tubes, 1986)
Loose Tubes, Loose Tubes (Loose Tubes, 1985)
Top Photo: Paolo Soriani
All Other Photos: Martin Munch