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Weasel Walter: Revolt

By Published: August 3, 2009

Chicago or Bust

AAJ: Could you give some more insight into how meeting Hal Russell came about?

WW: That old tired story? Sure, I'll tell it again. [laughs] Well, given the exposition I've given you about my teenage years, I moved to Chicago ostensibly to go to school, but I wanted to become the star of some free jazz scene I imagined existed there. Keep in mind that in 1990, there wasn't one—this was pre-Ken Vandermark; there were some scattered remnants of the AACM and Hal Russell had his NRG Ensemble and Liof Munimula (Aluminum Foil, backwards), which was [drummer] Michael Zerang's thing. There was no scene, no audience, but I didn't care and I was there to do it.

After about a year of being there and working at Southend Musicworks, an avant-garde performance space, I met Hal doing sound for one of his shows on a Tuesday night. I persisted and made myself known; we hit it off immediately and Hal said, "We should make a band together." After a while, my friend [saxophonist] Chad Organ insinuated himself into the group; we called ourselves the Flying Luttenbachers, based on Hal's given last name, and we thought it was funny. That shows you the level of humor that was going on at that time, though after a while the name had other connotations. I sort of revised it to reflect the whole Armageddon myth and I was on a crusade to prove that free jazz was punk rock, there was no difference, and we would go into a club playing free music and kick people's asses. There was a gung-ho youthful attitude, sort of a "you will love it" thing, that persisted.

AAJ: It's not an unhealthy attitude, in a way. It would be welcome.

WW: I'm not as dewy about it and I'm not as much of an idealist now, but I don't think there's a huge disconnect between what I do with free jazz and what good rock music does. I don't really care about it at this point, though; it doesn't need to be proven. I just want to play the music I want to play.

AAJ: That group in all of its various guises seemed to get a fair amount of traction in Chicago.

WW: All I chalk it up to is being in the right place at the right time.

AAJ: But through that you were able to intersect with a lot of people who were doing interesting things at the time—Vandermark, Jim O'Rourke, people like that.

WW: I met Ken Vandermark in 1991 when we were both working in an Anthony Braxton workshop orchestra; there were a lot of hacks in the band who brought the music down. We recognized in each other that we were not part of that genus. So, at that point there weren't a lot of people to play with and we exchanged numbers. When Hal left the Luttenbachers very abruptly in the summer of 1992, I was ready to make a record, so I called Ken and invited him to the session. He sight-read the music and we made the Luttenbachers' first seven-inch. He was in the band for about two years; he didn't quite get it and was trying to play music and accept the challenge, but ultimately we were coming from different perspectives and he left to do his own thing.

Weasel Walter

I was antagonistic towards him because when I was younger, I thought the way to find out who I was, was to spend time bringing others down who weren't me. I burned a lot of bridges that way, talked a lot of shit and caused trouble. I thought it would make an impact, but I made a negative impact on my available opportunities—I don't regret it because I felt it was the right thing to do. I was kind of a dick, but I figured some things out. I haven't mellowed out and compromised because I want to please people; I just don't need to define myself anymore and it's irrelevant to me if something is uninteresting or it sucks.

AAJ: The Luttenbachers did move to the Bay Area as a concept—when you left Chicago, you were ostensibly involved in that process.

WW: Well, it became obvious that the Luttenbachers was just me—I was the only constant member. It was a solo vision and I would cooperate with other musicians who were appropriate to the time and place. When I came here, I was working on a solo album that was a reaction to how the previous band ended. It petered out because it was so intense it couldn't last; the album I made myself pushed it to an even higher level and set a tone for the final years of the band. When I moved to the West Coast, there was a pocket of energy. The noise-rock scene was happening; there were encouraging people and bands that I liked. In Chicago, I hated everybody and everything and stopped improvising because it felt like a drag. I had been ready to leave Chicago since 1999 but it took until 2003 to actually realize that leaving was a very healthy thing to do. I don't have the same issues with fighting my environment because it's more copacetic for me here.

AAJ: Did you know Damon Smith before you moved to the Bay Area?

WW: I knew of him before I came here; he was my logical counterpart because he was also busy destroying people who he thought were weak. Obviously we knew who each other were because we'd felt all our hot air blowing over the internet. When I moved here, I was involved with bands like XBXRX, Total Shutdown, and Burmese (which I'm still a member of). I was in Erase Errata for a week on tour, also Deerhoof and I knew John Dwyer from Pink & Brown and Coachwhips. There was a lot of energy when I got here—things were on the wane but still happening. I've been lucky to intersect with a lot of scenes over the past few decades.

In 2005 when the Luttenbachers had gone on our last European tour, we played at the Nickelsdorf Jazz Gallery in Austria and that shook something loose in me. The promoter's basement speakeasy where he invites musicians to play had stacks of rare private press free jazz records that I'd never seen, only heard of. I freaked out and DJ'ed for like four hours that night and realized I didn't hate improvised music, just my impasse with the scene in Chicago. When I went back to the US, I got really excited about playing free music. I called Damon and asked him who I should ask to make a group. That became the quartet that recorded Revolt Music (ugExplode, 2006), and it all blossomed from there.

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