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Led Bib: It's Not Lady Gaga

By Published: February 1, 2011
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
sax, alto
is often seen as another influence on Holub and on Led Bib. Holub is a huge fan of Coleman, but is somewhat surprised by references to him with respect to the band: "I love Ornette. In a lot of ways, he was my route into jazz. I'd been listening to a lot of Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
, and to me Ornette was a natural extension from that. But again, it's also his spirit. ... I think people can focus too much on how fast he could play something, but who cares, who cares? The great thing about him—about lots of major jazz musicians—is that he just sounds like himself. He sounds like Ornette."

Holub was responsible for founding Led Bib, and he remains its leader and main writer, but he also acknowledges that as the band has become more established, the others have taken on more responsibility for the sound. "Over time, I've learned to step back as a band leader and let the others do their thing, to be less prescriptive. In the beginning I would be, 'Oh, can you make this weird sound like on this Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
record?' Then I realized that wasn't maybe the best way to do it. All the guys are into lots of different musics: it all comes into the band."

One of the most recognizable aspects of the Led Bib sound is its twin alto front line— the responsibility of Williams and Grogan. But this wasn't always the intention, as Holub explains: "It started life with guitar, trumpet and alto, but that was brief." This lineup never recorded: "No. Thankfully," says Holub, laughing. The twin alto setup came at a time when Holub was listening to Zorn and Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
on their album of Coleman tunes, Spy v. Spy (Electra, 1989). As Holub describes it, "It's super full-on thrash metal-y versions of Ornette tunes, with Zorn and Berne squealing away. It's a very harsh sound, but in that harshness there's a lot of beauty."

Holub is keen to stress that Grogan and Williams are not simply mirroring each other, but bringing different sounds to the mix: "They both play very differently, and over time they've both developed so much. Even though they sound really different, they kind of speak with one voice."

Led Bib's members have been together for some years—the same line-up appears on each of the band's recordings. Every member of the band is now so integral to its sound that Holub is never happy at the prospect of having to arrange deputies if any of the quintet has to miss a gig: "Occasionally one of the guys will be ill, so we have done gigs with deps, but it's really tough. It's not that we can't play, but the band really is these five guys."

Keyboard player Toby McLaren seems to have broadened his tonal palette on the album, adding a mix of new sounds that integrate well with the other instruments. On the album sleeve, he's credited just with the Fender Rhodes, but it's hard to believe that he isn't using more keyboards. "Toby's also been finding out what it is that he wants to sound like. It is just Fender Rhodes, but he's running it through all sorts of weird gizmos like ring modulators. That's really changed what we sound like. Toby is much more subtle than Liran, but he's the glue that holds it all together: if his sound wasn't there, then we wouldn't make so much sense."

Holub is clearly pleased with the outcome of the Bring Your Own sessions, even if he's a little more circumspect about his response as time passes: "All the stuff we've been working on—it kind of feels like it's all come together. That's it; we're done. I feel we've really achieved what we all wanted to sound like. Maybe five months down the road, I'll want to burn it, but for now it feels pretty good."

One tune in particular, "Hollow Ponds," shows a different side to Led Bib: a more organic, reflective side. Donin's double bass playing is superbly lyrical and reflective. "That whole bass-and-drums introduction was improvised in the studio. I think that's where the magic of that track comes from: we're both playing like we don't know what the other person is doing—it's a nice contrast for the record."

"Hollow Ponds" counters the view held in some quarters that Led Bib is simply the producer of scary sounds. It's a view Holub is aware of, and disagrees with: "Sometimes we receive a really positive review, but it seems like the writer doesn't quite get it. A lot of the time, they'll write something like, 'This is the most terrifying music you'll ever hear'—and I don't think it is. I think it is quite listenable, quite accessible. Okay, it's not Lady Gaga, but I hope people get it, approach it with open ears."

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