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Interviews

Nels Cline: Finding Others

By Published: April 8, 2013
AAJ: To step back a bit, it's often a fine line between being in a groove and getting into a rut where you don't want to push yourself. How do you push yourself? Do you have other people that push you by saying this is sounding old.

NC: Nobody has ever said anything like that to me but I push myself, in some regards, just thinking about it and wondering. I see people like, we just mentioned Henry Kaiser or Fred Frith, play over the years, playing guitar and I think "God, maybe I'm just playing it safe," by always having certain things that I like to use. But I haven't really gotten sick of those things yet so I don't go too far with that. I would have to say that there are situations where it's really the other musicians who are pushing me and I play better, I think, with people who inspire me and are catalysts for a certain kind of creativity, more so than when I'm by myself. Playing solo for me is very difficult, very nerve racking.

I'm playing in a duo now with a guitarist in New York, Julian Lage
Julian Lage
Julian Lage

guitar
, who's a young jazz guitarist and I'm playing with no effects whatsoever. Just because I think that's how our music works together but I also have to say it's pushing me technically because he's so technically brilliant. It's insane—he's got more than jazz chops; he's like some sort of X-Men! But I feel comfortable and very relaxed playing—and I feel almost like I can execute pretty much at least half of the ideas I have in my head. At times, if left to my own devices or alone, that's where I fall into a rut, which is to say a sort of helplessness, where I just think, "What am I going to do?" And then somebody plays one note, and then I know what to do.

AAJ: There are some guitarists that have the same gear their entire life and then you get someone like Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
who started off with a Gibson SG...

NC: Yeah, when I met Bill it was the SG with the cracked neck; that was 1983... And yet, it's still Bill. The reason I use the Electro-Harmonix 16-second digital delay is because of Bill. He loaned it to me in 1985. We were playing with Julius Hemphill
Julius Hemphill
Julius Hemphill
1938 - 1995
sax, alto
and I still use it. Now I have four of them but two are broken; Bill just got fed up with them breaking. He is the master of that thing.

AAJ: Have you thought of your next steps, career-wise? Fred Frith got into academia, a toe at a time. Do you see that for yourself?

NC: I think the only way that could actually happen would be if people tricked me into it, which may have been what happened to Fred also. People have asked—Glenn Kotche was over at Dartmouth College and we did a residency, workshops and we visited classrooms. Glenn's got a Bachelor of Arts and I don't; I don't have a degree in anything. And I'm much older than he is and it was a different education system back then. I'm always surprised when people ask me to do that but at the same time there's something very rewarding about doing it when it goes well. I did it the first time, probably, at the Creative Music School that they had in Vancouver; they asked me to do a week there as a visiting teacher and do master guitar classes and I didn't even know what I was going to do. I didn't learn from a teacher that taught me any guitar, per se; I learned more from taking theory classes and then tried to apply that to guitar. And I also played with people, like my late friend Eric Von Essen, who were great musicians and I learned how to play by learning their music and asking them questions about it.

AAJ: And that's close to Fred's situation as well. And yesterday's interview with him, he mentioned one violin teacher that he had when he was a kid and then one more teacher and he said that was kind of it for teachers that had an impact on it.

NC: It is hard to know. My parents were both school teachers in the L.A. city school system and they were dedicated to the idea of public education and the idea of teaching and it was their passion. It's not my passion because I don't feel I have a model for what a good teacher is. So, I'm always hesitant or always unsure [when it comes to teaching]. But that said, when I've done some of these things and I realize—okay, I'm 56 years old now and I have a certain amount of experience that I can speak about things and people say I'm glad you spoke about this because I never knew this, this, or this. And I start to realize I've accrued a certain amount of information which could be perceived of as knowledge. But at least the information is of interest to someone and I can impart it or connect the dots for people, just the way the dots have been connected for me over the years, realizing that you hear this which leads you to that which has you meeting this person and you realize you're both thinking about this and that sends you off to this place and it's such a beautiful, beautiful pattern that can emerge in life. If I can do that, then maybe, I'd end up doing some kind of part-time thing but it's not a goal. And that said, endless touring, like I do now, is not the ticket for a 60-someodd year old person—it's not that far away.


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