Greg Kelley: Flesh to Metal
AAJ: Can you say more about those aesthetics?
GK: Axel, his style is very controlled; he's coming from more of a jazz background. I feel like there's not such an emphasis on "instability."
AAJ: That's what I've suggested, what I'm calling "physicality"or almost "animality."
GK: Right. I think his playing is so controlled, he's so good at what he's doing, that it almost takes the physicality out of it. And even in his more free-jazz playing it's definitely very much coming from jazz and also has this control, whereas my free jazz playing is just trying to push the limits of what I can do.
AAJ: But you cook when you do it, like in Cold Bleak Heat [band with saxophonist Paul Flaherty].
GK: In that, because I don't have an affinity for or history with jazz, I feel it's a more alien kind of place that I'm coming frombut more just trying to push the limits of the sound to get it to a more unstable place...It's hard to articulate these things, which is why I like working with Bhob [in their duo Nmperign]. He's great at verbalizing his intent, why something works and why it doesn't.
AAK: When you play with Bhob, who leads?
GK: Who leads! It's more of a bickering, there's no leading. In that situation, we really do work both with and against each other. If anyone lead I think we would fail. It's not that kind of dynamic, it's more like boxing.
AAJ: But you're not competing, are you?
GK: No. We're just sort of...It's a combination of letting the music go where it wants to go but if you see it going to a familiar place, then changing the path.
AAJ: It seems that if you do plan ahead, it is only to demolish what you've conceived.
GK: Right. There's no planning ahead. Maybe for a solo you'll have a certain idea of what you want to do but in any of the groups I've been in where we attempt to have some kind of plan it usually doesn't work. There were a couple on the first Nmperign tour, with Tatsuya Nakatani. We had one show where we said, "Let's play really quietly. It's a small room, a great room to really explore these minute sounds." We started and it wasn't really going anywhere, it seemed kind of aimless. Then one of us decided to play something a little more aggressively and it ended up building into one of our most ferocious sets of the whole tour.
AAJ: Who broke the ice?
GK: I'm not sure. I think it was a combination of one accent that was a little more and then someone else feeding on that...And then another time we were in this loud bar and we were pretty much told to make it quick because they didn't want us to play. So for that one we said let's just do a blazing free jazz set and we played loud for about 20 seconds and then Tatsuya started bowing something and we ended up in this sort of glacial, slow-moving, mid-volume to low-volume improvisation that wasn't at all what we intended.
So I think intention doesn't always work out because then you're stuck, sometimes, with something that doesn't work.
AAJ: As long as it's an intention you can dash?
GK: Right, but those are the only two times we've ever talked about what we were going to do beforehand in any of the Nmperign performances. Usually we don't say anything except should we use microphones because we're in a huge room or not.
AAJ: At a panel talk at the Axiom Gallery in Jamaica Plain, Bhob said he basically has four "songs" in his repertoire and every improvisation he does is a variation on that.
GK: That's interesting. I haven't heard that one before [laughs]! I don't know any of those songsor I probably know all four of them!
AAJ: Do you have music going on in your head, or sound or noise, that you think you want to direct into your music or is it justagain, the "body/instrument continuum? "
GK: I have a lot of different ideas bouncing around, some of them have to dosome of them are conceptual, some are more organizational. Some are sound-based but when I play usually I try to shut all that out because I feel like just adds to the noise of everything.
AAJ: How do you feel when you are playing? Are you relaxed or stimulated?
GK: It depends. I think most of the time, anxiety is the main thing I feel.
AAJ: When I see you live it can be very tense because you're sitting in those uncomfortable chairs and you don't want to disturb the person next to youor you and Bhob, first and foremost. So it's an edifying experience, not always pleasurable in the immediate sense, but there's an afterglow.
GK: I think in the moment of making it, it's an intense concentration, almost like doing a job, something as boring as shoveling snow: you just know you have to clear this entire driveway and it's hard work, and sometimes it hurts and you have to keep doing it, but the end result is hopefully something pleasurable. But not always...
And about the afterglow you speak of: it could be immediate or it could be two weeks later you realize, "Oh, actually now that I think about it or now that I have some distance from it, I'm happy with how it came out."
But it's very rarely that I'll be making music and enjoying it at the same time. I might like the way it's coming together but if it's working now, you have to keep it working. And also, if you're in a moment where you're thinking "This is sounding really good," you can get into the trap of (thinking), "Why change it?" And then you get to the point where you're stuck with it and you really need to switch out of it and how do you do that? And so it can be kind of frustrating. It depends who you're playing with, too.