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Skinny Vinny: The Answer to Everything

By Published: February 10, 2010

JJ: From just playing and listening to each other and going, "That works." We'll play and we'll go, "I like what you did there, and that worked when you did that there," and we'll go, "Let's call that the 'Gordon' piece, and I'll know what he means when he says that. And that might be like seven or ten different notes and four different measures of things, if you wrote it out, but we don't write it out.

Joshua Jefferson with Duck That, from left: Jefferson, Steve Norton, Angela Sawyer

AAJ: So you do have a process.

JJ: There is a process, but it's not written out. It's all verbal, and it's all felt, it's all heard. On our new album (we're in the process of mixing it), each one is a piece. Maybe one or two are free...We have structures. He'll say, "Play the 'Window' piece," and I know what he'll do. He'll do a specific thing, and I'll do a specific thing.

AAJ: Literally the "Window" piece, where Andrew scrapes a window...

AE: In practice, we invent these things, though...It's always different how we play things, how we start it, how we end it, live. But there's always that—Josh does something, I'll know where to go. It's loose. I don't think we could score it.

JJ: I think if we did score it, we wouldn't be able to play it.

AE: It wouldn't be fresh, and that for us is a no-go.

AAJ: Now where did this love of windows and doors come from, Andrew? I've seen the tables made of doors in your loft...

AE: I like old wood. I may have gone to school for conceptual art, but I definitely enjoy building things, and I'm kind of hand-crafted in some regard. I'm a very hack, hack, hack carpenter...The first time I had the doors was in 2005, in Andrew Square (South Boston). I had a garage. It was a big concrete garage. We had performances there. I had a lot of doors, and I leaned them against the walls so it didn't look like it was cinder blocks.

AAJ: What I see conceptually is the love of material, the materiality of an object. I was talking to Vic Rawlings

Vic Rawlings
Vic Rawlings
about the old-time banjo he plays, and he said what interests him about it is not the music itself or the melodies, but the sound of the banjo and its materiality. So I imagine that with what you play on sax and percussion you draw on the materiality and the grain of the instruments.

JJ: Absolutely. It's organic. We've heard that before, told to us, and we both agree; we're finding these sounds out of these instruments that aren't necessarily what they're supposed to be designed for, but at the same time are what they're making. And that itself, that materiality, is refreshing.

AE: I love to think we play jazz. I'm not quite sure we do, but the influence of noise, everyday life, everything around us now—that has taken what we have for jazz, and it's this new hybrid. The fact that it's acoustic is- -

JJ: It's more poignant.

AE: That's our hope.

JJ: There's no price tag on that.

AAJ: Do you have a mission, an ethics?

JJ: Just play, get better and better.

AAJ: I asked Forbes Graham

Forbes Graham
Forbes Graham

this question, and he said an artist's first allegiance is to his artistic community. I see that in you. If even just between the two of you.

JJ: We both like to reach out.

AE: I can speak to ethics as a performer. As a performer, I have ethics—to myself. What I do has to be free. Otherwise, we just want to be true to whatever sound we're inventing. I think that's important.

AAJ: What does your music say?

JJ: I think it says whatever the listener listens to, or feels...I have a friend who came to a show, and he said afterward, "What I like about your music is that I didn't think about your music, it made me think about other things." It was so abstract, that it made him not engage in the sounds. The sounds actually engaged in his brain—memories, and thinking about other things...I think we're very emotional, but I don't think we're trying to convey a message.

AE: I think there are a couple of things wrapped up in there. One is, "This is possible." There's a lot of what we do being on the edge of experimental music, and there's a whole lot of other music out there, and we represent the avant-garde where this is possible, this is unique. I'm sure we could take our unschooled asses and go play something straight, if that's what we intended to do.

JJ: Maybe we're communicating speed, communication—

AE: I think we're communicating that—we're conveying invention and ingenuity, and, "This is totally possible" and not only is this not impossible, but it's legit, and it's valid. I think that's there but at a certain point, after playing together for so many years maybe that's decreased a little bit. I think that at this point it's very important for us speak clearly and comprehensibly. We've already established that we're way, way out, and now maybe it's important for us to just be succinct. I kind of get off on when people say "I like this." We've had many comments and critiques over the years: "Wall of sound that you don't want to move 'cause it's just beating down over your head" and so forth.

JJ: We always hear people say we're emotional.

AE: Now I would say, the more comprehensive and concise we are, the more people are enjoying it.

AAJ: Have you always done short songs, or is that a new thing?

JJ: We like to get in, we like to get out...The kind of music we play, you can say a lot with a little. The kind of music we appreciate encapsulates so much so quickly. Our favorite artists, like Evan Parker

Evan Parker
Evan Parker
sax, tenor
and Paul Lovens
Paul Lovens
Paul Lovens
, the way they're doing something, it's like fifty seconds, but---it's a whole album. We appreciate that, the short minute. But honestly, at the beginning, that's all we had to say!

AE: That energy, it's easier to digest.

AAJ: Could you give us a preview of your new album?

JJ: It's called The Elements of Style (Self Produced, 2010).

AE: It's more "up" than the first one, it's more free-jazzy, more of a jazz sound.

JJ: Andrew's cooking more on the drums, I'm screaming more.

AE: We didn't "tumble" on the first album. We really went for extended technique on the first one, and it really pushed the sound and drew out nice pieces. This one, we're doing our fake-ass jazz, and it's good.

JJ: We're freakin' out.

AE: More energy...We never look back. As soon as this new one comes out, it's time to stop what we're doing and start reinventing again.

Selected Discography

Skinny Vinny, The Elements of Style (Self Produced, 2010)
Joshua Jefferson, Turkey Boot Foot (Self Produced, 2009)
Skinny Vinny, Skinny Vinny (Self Produced, 2009)
Joshua Jefferson, Jefferson Solo (Self Produced, 2008)

Photo Credits

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