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Weasel Walter: Revolt

By Published: August 3, 2009

Victimless Influence

AAJ: Continuing with the subject of clarity, at times listening to your work gives an illusion of multiple drummers present, because with most players you don't hear that level of clarity.

WW: One of the people I try to work with regularly is Marc Edwards, the drummer from New York who played on Cecil Taylor's Dark to Themselves LP (Enja, 1978). Marc's a really singular guy—his approach and musicianship are really staggering and he doesn't get a lot of credit for what he does. In fact, I think a lot of people are really scared of what he does. To me, it's like—fuck, that's who I want to be playing with! He kicks my ass all over the stage and I want to learn from that. But the thing is that we have a group with two drummers who are very fast and powerful; that clarity is there because he's always thought about the same thing.

Weasel WalterIt's important to say something meaningful, and we're in a post-noise era where noise has been maxed out and isn't really special anymore. Noise for its own sake is what I'm referring to, and it doesn't accomplish anything anymore. With a good idea in 1990, you could do it and there weren't a lot of indistinguishable releases out there. Noise is a good thing, but what do you do with it? That's the challenge of free improvisation as I see it—it's not just to make noise, but to make something out of it, order from chaos. It's dense music and not easily understood the first time you hear it; maybe there's something about it that makes you want to listen more than once. Maybe not a lot of people think that way about music; some of the stuff I've done I've worked hard, and you're not necessarily going to get it on the first try. It puts the onus on the listener, and the only way you're going to "get" it is by spending time with it.

I hope that the intensity draws people in, and that maybe they'll try to understand it, though I don't have any illusions that people are going to "get" it at this point. I hope there's something there that attracts people, though. I ultimately make the music that I want to listen to.

AAJ: It's the musicians one doesn't understand who are often most interesting.

WW: I think there are different kinds of people; some are only interested in what they're familiar with and others only with what they're not familiar with. I'm part of the latter group, and I only want to listen to things I don't understand. Late John Coltrane was like that, as well as Magma and Sparks—I didn't get any of that music on the first listen.

AAJ: You've mentioned Charles Noyes (of the Toy Killers) as an influence before. What is he even doing and how does it fit into your work?

WW: [laughs] Well, listen to the track "Victimless Crime" (which is sort of the main Toy Killers track that anybody knew), the drumming on that, and if you think of where a sixteen year old drummer into weird music might be, you'd see how I thought "Oh, this guy is totally fucking everything up." He wasn't coming at music from a drummer's perspective; he wanted to make music and decided to play drums. He also liked Japanese Noh music and Korean music, not rock and roll, so what was he going to do with this instrument? I didn't have to know that to like it—when I first heard no wave, it sounded exactly like I knew it would sound. It was like I had come home or something; not everything challenging is hard on you at first. I've done some pretty extreme music and I'm not surprised when it's not understood or even liked.

AAJ: Could we delve into your influences a bit more? We've talked about Noyes, and with Hiroshi Yamazaki's drumming, there's a similarity there. You've mentioned Rashied Ali, too, so could you talk about that a bit more?

WW: First off, I don't see myself as a drummer but as someone who plays the drums. My main interest is in execution of concepts, but I've had the most work as a drummer so I've concentrated on that. My influences go beyond the instruments—I'm interested in great thinkers with great visions, people like [filmmaker] Alejandro Jodorowsky, [composer] Iannis Xenakis, Cecil Taylor or the Marx Brothers or [graphic artist] Jack Kirby. If I were to list my drum influences it would be a mile long because I like a lot of drummers and they were all in good contexts at some point. When I was young, I liked weird music, so I gravitated to as much weird stuff as was available. Keep in mind that there wasn't as much weird music then, so anything I could find had to be good. The playing field was small and difficult, so that kept it interesting.

Weasel Walter One of the first things to appeal to me was punk rock, back in the early '80s. Punk led the way to no wave, the Residents, Ornette Coleman's electric bands, then into free jazz which led to modern classical music, Balinese gamelan and death metal. Stumbling around looking for the light switch is again a good analogy, and I've always had a voracious appetite for music. As far as my drum influences go, there are a lot—I may have taken little parts from each drummer, rather than whole concepts. Punk drummers like Rat Scabies from the Damned, Jerry Nolan from Johnny Thunders' band, as well as free jazz drummers like Beaver Harris, Sunny Murray, and Andrew Cyrille.

The Europeans were harder to hear back then, but I really liked Jamie Muir from the Music Improvisation Company—it was the most fractured shit I'd heard. That whole European (especially English) approach that Derek Bailey and Evan Parker had—the alien bug music—imagine hearing that as a sixteen year old; it was mind-blowing. To have coherence and power while making the most obtuse sounds possible—that was incredible. In the early '90s, [guitarist] Kevin Drumm got me into death metal, and up to that point I was a snob who thought metal was all about spandex and big hair. I heard the second Deicide album and loved it—those drummers have really had a definite effect on my playing.

I'm a polymath in some regard, because some people focus on my free drumming as being implicitly derived from death metal; that's more of an assumption on the part of critics who think I've come from rock music into improvisation when that's not really the case—I've been doing both as long. I don't have any more recognition in the rock field; the levels of obscurity are on a pretty even keel. It's interesting that certain people assume I'm a dilettante rock guy trying to play free. It just happens to be that there was more work for me in the rock milieu, and I certainly still do that, but there is more given back in the free jazz milieu.

AAJ: The Luttenbachers' early stuff had [multi-instrumentalist] Hal Russell, which was the basis of the whole thing.

WW: That's the first serious recording that I did in 1992 (Live at WNUR, Coat-Tail Records), and nothing could be more free jazz than that record. I sort of hit the ground running; when I moved to Chicago, I wanted to play free jazz and kick ass, and I was an impetuous little bastard and things didn't quite work out the way I'd planned. I'd been playing that kind of stuff for years and I was ready to go. Meeting Hal Russell was very important—that CD still sells for some reason, which I find fascinating.

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