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Skinny Vinny: The Answer to Everything

By Published: February 10, 2010

AAJ: What I like about your duo, is that you [Andrew] pick up on what Josh is doing—

AE: Or vice versa.

AAJ: You're like Echo and Narcissus. Josh is like Narcissus and Andrew, you're Echo.

AE: We've been playing together for so long. We've done this thing where we used be able to hit it in bits. And we played out and introduced it here and there, but now we've got that hitch, whatever it is, the Skinny Vinny thing. It's fluid at this point in time. I don't know who's leading half the time, and neither of us probably is.

JJ: We even had a piece for awhile where we said, "Now I lead and then you lead." But it's usually whatever works.

AE: The transitions are nonexistent.

JJ: If he's doing something that's happening I'm going to be there, and vice versa.

AAJ: Would you be the concrete one, and Andrew the conceptual?

JJ: Interesting. I never thought about it like that. It's not really how I think it is, though.

AAJ: Well you do the collages.

JJ: Yeah, tangible-hard copy type of thing.

AE: Well in music, it's different. It's my first inclination—and this is from fluxus and dada—this concept of now and live, and this is what I'm going to make and this is the art that I'm making right now and it can only happen right now, because this is the time that I'm making it. That live aspect, I find that where— I think we've been making nicer sounds. We've honed the instruments and they give us nicer things, but at the end of the day it's about the moment, and that's where we get off.

JJ: I don't think we can compare our visual art to our music.

AE: Maybe in our choice of instrument.

JJ: Yeah, but it's a different part of the brain. I think both of us come to art in a different direction, and we both come to music in a different direction. I just think that in music we're more coinciding...Musically we have a language that's going in the same direction.

AE: We may have started that way. Josh played the clarinet, he wanted to play jazz, he wanted to play straight —and I wanted to play conceptual, but at some point we diverged to where we are now, where we are comfortable.

AAJ: You do have a real rapport. You listen to Josh and then Josh listens to you, and there's a real, nice back- and forth you have. And it blends seamlessly, too...But do you see any working or conceptual or mental relation between your visual art and your music?

JJ: I think generically you could say I play collage music. But when you really listen to it, it's really not that abstract or collage-y. The line, it's not straight, but it's really not that abstract.

AAJ: What is your process? How do you prepare a piece?

JJ: Well with my visual, I build things up and I deconstruct it...If you think of our musical history through the duration of a timeframe, it's been like a collage. As opposed to the actual moment. The timeframe of our development is, we put something together, we deconstruct it, and there's pieces of all these influences. Every time we play, I think it's the two of us just communicating the best way we know how.

AE: I think some of my art---at some point I was making some pieces, having some sort of performative event make sound. A lot of that informed what I do now...We played in a trio with [bassist] Ryan McGuire and we would work on things and talk about compositions, and he would introduce these concepts that we had no idea—

JJ: Yeah, we were the dumb art kids.

AE: We understood it from our means of understanding it. And I think what I learned from my art—now we're playing improv and there's a direct line—I couldn't have got where I am now without starting where I was...There's a John Cage

John Cage
John Cage
1912 - 1992
piece from the late '50s that I heard around '02, for prepared piano, and it was gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. My line comes through that. But right now this is the only game in town. I can't make art. I'm done with it.

'Cause music, what I'm doing musically, is it. It's live, it's now—there's no galleries. You play and that's it. It's done, and I'm gonna get to do it again real soon.

AAJ: Could you give a history of the evolution of Skinny Vinny?

JJ: Jules Vasylenko was out of town, in England. We had a trio with him, Boston Lamb & Veal. This was 2002. We thought he would be mad at us for playing together without him. There was also Vinny van Gogh, there was No Band, there were other projects...There was Dilettante, with Ryan McGuire, and Skinny Vinny came back when Dilettante started to fade. Then we decided to kick up the duo. We went to Toronto, and Baltimore. So this reincarnation? 2007.

JJ: We met at Museum School. I actually had a chess club. This is how I met him. I had a chess club at school, and I got the school to give me some money and to buy boards and little cheap-ass clocks, and I was playing speed chess with people, and I had a few people come at me, three of four, and then Andrew came down once. And I played him and I was very strict, "You can only use one hand," and I was yelling at him for using two hands. We became friends from there.

AAJ: Chess opens up a lot of boxes. Marcel Duchamp, for example...When you play together, is that anything like a chess game?

JJ: Sure.

AE: Once we get into the hustle, it's real quick. We school ourselves on getting stoned and playing speed chess, over and over and over again. By the time we started making music together, it's hurry up and go.

AAJ: So the chess came first and then the love...

AE: Yeah, the first time I met him—

JJ: We didn't get along.

AAJ: Is there any competition between you when you play?

JJ: I don't think we could play if there was.

AE: We need each other.

JJ: Even with credits, we're like, "Who goes first?"

AAJ: So what actually goes on, from a musician's point of view, in your duo?

AE: We've developed enough of a language that, when we sit down and play, we're just trying to feel each other out, feel the room and make it happen. We have our language, not to say we're done with developing it.

AAJ: Listening to the room, that's a good thing.

AE: We make some sound, how does the room react to it, how did Josh react to it, now where do we go, where do we go...In a weird sense, we're kind of always looking for the way out. You want to say just enough, you want to phrase it right—but when things land, get ready to let go.

JJ: Less is more, for sure.

AAJ: In seeing you, and watching your videos, like the one you did in Northampton, last February [2009], the audience was really getting into it, shouting out for "Freebird," and it was very serious music you were playing and you have to listen carefully, but there's a real sympathy—

AE: Yeah, there's a physicality that may be serious, but you can see the way we're moving and the sounds we're producing that we're into it—and you look around, and the audience is getting into it, even if they don't know what's happening.

AAJ: And there's humor to it.

JJ: Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes it's hard to sound that way without being pretentious. It's a weird line.

AE: That physicality—I think that humor does a lot for me. We play heady, conceptual music. You've got to sit down, take it apart. It's not easy listening. But I think our attention to the moment, our attention to playing it live—I remember the Northampton show. The kids were bopping there heads. We're playing screaming, high-pitched tones—they were into it! Those shows were big! They'd never heard the sound before.

JJ: That goes along with energy, physicality and energy. I think that brings a certain instinctual awareness. You know it's now.

AAJ: Do you have any kind of musical theory behind what you do?

AE: We're into psychoacoustics. We will play all our sounds in a search for different ways to make our tones beat against each other and collide and make that kind of weird third tone in your ear.

JJ: Making your brain wiggle.

AE: We look out for that... You put two tones next to each other, they get out, and they kind of fluctuate.

JJ: We don't write about it our talk about it, we just call it.

AAJ: Would you call it intuitive or instinctual? Would those labels be accurate?

JJ: Sure, absolutely. We learn it through exploring it. It's always been exploratory and trying to abstract that sound enough where it becomes—in you. It's in your head.

AE: We feel it 'cause we made it ourselves, and we've made a lot of mistakes and we've owned those mistakes, and made them happy things or good things...I think we each hear a sound and we play, and maybe it's a little different from what we hear, but we keep moving that target and I think we've covered a heck of a lot of ground.

AAJ: Now do you plan anything ahead, or is it all spontaneous, your performances?

JJ: No, we definitely plan stuff before. We have pieces, but they're—

AE: Loose concepts.

AAJ: How do those come about, the pieces?

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