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Interviews

Andy Milne's Music for the Human Condition - A Little Dapp'll do Y'All

By Published: October 6, 2003

AAJ: Steve has a rep as a very intense, uncompromising cat, to say the least. Is that a fair assessment?

AM: The rep is true but I don't want to devote any more energy to that here.

AAJ: Which of the M-Base discs would you point the fans toward as your best work?

AM: I guess I would say that from Def Trance Beat onwards, I more or less had a good handle on his concept. The live box set from The Hot Brass was one of my favorite recordings and experiences. Personally, I think some of the more interesting performances from the Montpellier Live CD from 2001 never made the CD, which is a shame. Steve and I don't share the same philosophy on the making of CDs.

AAJ: You must have developed a close association with all the members of that band, including Gilmore, Matt Garrison, Reggie Washington and Gene Lake, who I have to say, along with your bad self, are some of my favorite players today on their respective instruments. I notice a few of those folks played with you on your first CD, Forward to Get Back. Please relate how the concept for the record and the sessions came about.

AM: Gene Lake is one of my closest friends and I'm close with and respect the hell out of all the cats you just mentioned. Gene and Matt were actually my rhythm section from 1993 to 1995. We did another recording called, The 'E' is Silent, which I only released on cassette. I plan to release that on CD in the future. Anyway, the band with Matt and Gene, along with Audrey Martells on vocals, really got to a special place but I didn't have any support in terms of the industry- so I wasn't able to compete with Joe Zawinul, Me' shell, Marcus Miller or Scofield so I had to regroup and start from scratch. The drummer from that new group, Mark Prince, went on to play in my band until 2001. I couldn't find a strong bassist who understood how to approach my music, so I asked Reggie Washington to join the band. I think Reggie always liked my writing, but also had other better paying gigs, so I knew my time with him would be short. Anyway, I managed to get one recording made and he did one tour with me. I always wanted to have Reggie and Matt play together because they are both so strong at what they do- having them together was like having the best of both worlds. David Gilmore actually appears on the new Dapp Theory CD, but I'll get to that later.

AAJ: Those relationships appear to continue intermittently. You made a nice appearance on Gene Lake's solo disc . Can you comment on that one?

AM: I didn't realize when I played it, that it would be on Gene's disc. I was over at his house one day and he asked me to play some keyboards for him. We are always helping each other out as friends, both musically and personally- in fact, I introduced him to his wife.

I think these of these relationships as deeply profound because of the nature of the friendships we formed during our years together with Steve. Being a member of Steve's band can really test your inner strength, so your friendships with the cats in the band become essential to your survival. In 1994, Gene, Steve, Matt and myself embarked on Steve's first west coast residency in Oakland. We lived together for two months in a house and basically became local musicians out there. That is some serious bonding time, on top of the regular touring road togetherness. The closeness I have with Gene is similar to the closeness I have with Sean Rickman, who replaced Gene in Steve's band and is the current drummer in Dapp Theory, as well as co-producer of the CDs with me.

AAJ: On the same note, I see you've continued to gig with Ravi, too. You were on Ravi's 'Round Box' recording. Will that relationship continue? Are you on Ravi's new thing?

AM: The same is true with Ravi and me. We are also close friends. I toured with him for several years and did two recordings with him, including his latest, Mad 6. Like I said, it can be stressful playing in Steve's band, so strong friendships help keep you sane. Ravi contributed significant support in completing Y'all Just Don't Know. We did a bunch of overdubs and edits at his studio before the final mix. I really value the fact that I have close friends who know what I've been through and where I'm trying to go, as well as understand my music. The fact that many of my closest friends have been members of Steve's bands is no mystery. They get it.

AAJ: I heard the response to the Jazz Gallery gig with Ravi, Matt Garrison and Jeff Haynes was pretty off the hook. Will that unit continue to gig together occasionally?

AM: That was a one off but it was a really unique and enjoyable experience. I used to perform with Jeff a lot with Carla Cook and with Cassandra Wilson before that. I hadn't played with Matt since he did my first CD, so that gig was blissful for me, hearing all of these cats together.

AAJ: Any other sideman work you'd like to hip the audience to?

AM: I think if I don't continue as a musician, I'll switch gears and become a manager/tour manager. That's how I sort of came into Ralph Alessi 's band. Ralph called me up to ask me my opinion on the viability of a tour he was getting ready to do. It seems all the grass roots experience I've gained from being my own manager, booking agent, bus driver, and tour manager has given me quite the rep on the scene. Anyway, within a few minutes of helping Ralph on his tour, he asked me to join the band, which is a band I really love being part of. Ralph has a lot of really sensitive music and he leads the band in a way that gives us freedom to be us within what he creates. 'Us' usually consists of, Ralph, myself, Don Byron, Drew Gress or Ben Street on bass, and Gerald Cleaver or Mark Ferber on drums.

I also collaborate with tap dancers Max Pollack and Roxanne Butterfly from time to time.

AAJ: What axes do you focus on with your projects? For instance Ravi is acoustic while Steve's featured a lot of electric piano as well.

AM: I think of myself as a pianist and largely that's what I have been playing in all the groups I've performed with, including Steve's. I play some keyboards to augment my setup but it's all centered around the acoustic piano. I use a sampler for sound effects and longer soundtrack type recordings like nature sounds or voices.

AAJ: Any thoughts on the current Rhodes renaissance? Do you pump the electric piano through effects, or just use samples for that? How much synth versus Rhodes versus acoustic are you playing with Dapp Theory on the gig?

AM: I wish I never got rid of my Rhodes 'cause it's a timeless instrument, I just wasn't smart enough to acknowledge that back in 1990. Anyway, I use a Rhodes sample but I keep it clean. I'd say I play 70% piano, 20% synth and 10% Rhodes.

AAJ: Keyboard players today have unlimited sonic territory and opportunity available to them. What factors go into any 'self-editing,' purely in terms of the sounds or patches you use, in terms of what sounds good and what sounds bad to your ears?

AM: I try to seek out sounds that will complement the piano, the harmonica and the voice because those are the acoustic instruments I'm trying to blend with in Dapp Theory. Other than that, I guess, I'm looking for sounds that fit the vibe of any particular song.

AAJ: In terms of harmonic territory, are there particular sources that you would point interested people towards? What books or recordings would you particularly advise students of harmony, improvisation and 'time' concepts to seek out?

AM: I have not really consulted with books for harmonic stuff. Playing with Steve challenged me to develop ways of hearing differently and that just kind of became part of what I'm about. I remember the first time Bobby Colomby heard me play with Steve, he raved about our duet version of 'Body and Soul' and wanted me to play the same harmonies I played on the gig. I told him I couldn't do it, because so much of it was in response to how Steve plays. I play differently with everyone I play with but I guess what you would consider the 'Andy Milne' part of my harmonic language is the combination of some Herbie/Bill Evans type approach with the more sparse structures Steve hipped me to.

AAJ: Are there particular elements of improvisation that are particularly fruitful for you, concepts that you keep revisiting and/or reinventing that keep your playing and your lines cutting edge and fresh?

AM: Not playing in 4/4 and not thinking about the phrase length I'm playing as being a meter is a big part of it. Wanting to surprise myself, the band and the audience would be another one. I don't want to get house with something I know works. I'm not saying I don't like it when an audience responds, but I'd rather get that feedback when we play something that we didn't know works.

AAJ: What aspects of your own playing style would you point listeners to? How would you attempt describing your own playing style?

AM: I try to leave space. In Dapp Theory, I'm blessed with some of the best players on the planet so it's easy for me to lay out because I want to listen and enjoy them just like the audience. Deeper than that, I strive to play the whole piano without playing the whole piano. I don't know how I'd describe my playing style. Buy me a beer and we'll talk about it.

AAJ: What aspects of your compositional style would you point listeners to? How would you attempt describing your own compositional style?

AM: I think what distinguishes me as a composer is that to a degree, I write jazz filtered through pop and classical music sensibilities. Almost all of the drum and bass parts are composed but they are composed with the specific players in mind. I'm always trying to find balance with my compositions. Once the musicians know the material, it's going to morph, but we all have the original sound in our heads to refer back to if we get off balance. The goal is to give the song character but to also leave room for the characters of the players to shine through.

AAJ: Tell us more about your latest conceptual focus, Dapp Theory. What events transpired that brought Dapp into focus as your direction?

AM: I just got off the phone with Sean Rickman and we were talking about this. In a strange way, being part of 5 Elements for so long created a set of circumstances where I was recognized, but I wasn't getting recognition. It seems like that condition is somewhat unique to Steve's band. From Miles to Dave Holland, Chick Corea to Wynton to Cassandra Wilson we've seen former sidemen get their DAPP as leaders. So 10 years with Steve was certainly an inspiration. Beyond that, it comes from my desire to see the condition of humanity improve. I think there are simple messages out there that get clouded by greed and ultimately keep us from truly living in harmony. After greed comes hate and anger. I think Dapp Theory is a combination of all of these experiences and revelations for me. Everyone in the band is focused on using their talents to put positive energy out there. We want people to leave a concert feeling better and actually wanting to be better people, all in the name of good fun and good music.

AAJ: Tell us a bit about the evolution of the Dapp concept.

AM: I've had vocalists in the band since 1993 because I recognized that people respond to the human voice differently than they do a saxophone or piano. Eventually the human voice in the band shifted from traditional vocalist to vocalist/MC with Kokayi. I didn't make this shift consciously, I just liked what he did musically and wanted him in the group. As I continue to compose for this particular formation, I realize that making room for a spoken word component allows me to comment directly in verbal language about issues that concern me in the world. I don't think the message of a song like 'Trickle Down,' which I wrote with Bruce Cockburn and Kokayi, would be possible if it were just an instrumental song.

AAJ: Do you have other concepts for other solo projects? Tell us about how the compositional approach will vary between them?

AM: It's so hard to get the music industry to take notice of what I'm doing with Dapp Theory, I don't have the time to embark on other bands. I suppose in time I'll have that luxury and I'm certain the compositional approach will be different, but without knowing what that band is, I can't say how.

AAJ: Are any Dapp tunes written off of jams? Or are they all written out?

AM: Sometimes we just 'go,' but most of the time, we are playing off of a composition, written or unwritten.

AAJ: While no musician particularly wants to tell anyone how to 'listen' to their music, is there any advice you'd consider helpful?

AM: Just don't compare it to Steve Coleman's music. Other than that, don't think 'I don't like hip-hop' when you hear an MC or 'I don't like fusion' when you hear electric bass. Just listen and enjoy. Consider coming to hear us live before making a final judgement. We've got a really diverse fan base that includes people you wouldn't expect would like what we are doing. We've been described as 'the band Miles would have were he alive today', and 'the Weather Report for the new Millennium' and lots of other interesting metaphors in between.

AAJ: What kind of recording technology is Dapp using these days? Hard disc or analog?

AM: We do it all baby. The new CD started out on 2 inch 24 track analog and then we moved to the Tascam MX2424 when we ran out of money and had to get resourceful on the technology tip. My attitude to making commercial recordings is this-since everyone is burning and downloading like crazy, I want to make the best recording possible. I'm speaking both sonically and musically. There are way too many CDs out there and I think if you want people to actually buy your product, you have to consider that they're making a serious choice to buy yours versus some other CD. What's going to make them want to listen to your CD repeatedly?

AAJ: Do you have a home studio? How much unreleased music do you have written or demoed that you'd want to release?

AM: I don't have a home studio per se, although I do have the means to lay down crude tracks. Dapp Theory has a lot of stuff on video that I suppose we could release but that's going to be up to my estate or Sean Rickman's estate once we're dead and gone. Right now, again, I want to focus on releasing material that warrants repeated listening. I think quote unquote jazz artists should think about making recordings like rock records from the 70's, not documenting 'live gigs in the studio.' It's 2003 and even the brokest of musicians has enormous technology at their fingertips. I say let's use it. I'm not saying compromise your music in doing so. I'm just saying we ought to be more selective about what we release. Why do you think people just burn a few songs from a CD and leave the rest? But then again, that's just how I'm feeling today.

AAJ: It's an interesting perspective. Let's shift gears and talk about the working members of your band. Tell us about them and how you found them.

AM: Well, the core of the band is made up of Gr'goire Maret on harmonica, Rich Brown on electric bass and Sean Rickman on drums. I met Gr'goire through Sean, who suggested I call him when we were recording my second CD, New Age of Aquarius. Initially I just had him play on a few tunes but when we had a tour of Canada the following year, Gr'goire asked if he could come on the road. Even though it was not in the budget, I did the math and realized I had to make it possible because he really wanted to be in the band. That means a lot, especially when I guy can play his ass off like Gr'goire.

I met Rich on one of my gigs in Toronto around 1995. I think initially, he was trying to get the gig with Steve, but through the divine order of things, he joined my band in 1999. Initially, he did a demo with us so I could to check him out. I was so impressed, I hired him immediately and the demo became part of the New Age of Aquarius CD.

Sean, I've known since 1996 when he joined 5 Elements, (although we met in DC at a gig of mine a year before). He and Mark Prince, my former drummer, were friends as they're both from DC, so I had been hearing Sean's music way before we met and thought, 'Who is this cat?' Anyway, we developed a close friendship and musical rapport in 5 Elements, so it was an easy transition when I asked him to join Dapp Theory. Plus, Sean had already produced one of my CDs. When he joined the band, we were finishing Y'all Just Don't Know, so he was doing double duty.

We've been flip flopping MC's since Kokayi left the group last year, but I think John Moon, the new cat we are working with, is going to take it to another level. He's got really great instincts.

AAJ: Yeah, Rickman's just a fantastic drummer who's also a current Coleman collaborator. Tell us about what he brings to the table. He's an extremely able multi-instrumentalist as well, right?

AM: He's actually no longer in Steve's band because everyone's time must come but I think we've covered that. The boy kicks ass at many things and he's really helped move the band forward musically. He's also the vibe manager and head shit talker/tour van DJ which keeps us all alive on the road. Sean is also largely responsible for the production on the CD because he has such great ears and he's dedicated to the band for the long haul. On the multi-instrumentalist tip, he's finally finished his solo CD, entitled 'One' which I think will be available quite soon. He has a website, seanrickman.com.

AAJ: How many gigs do you usually do a year with Dapp? With other projects?

AM: Dapp Theory usually goes on tour about twice a year. Because we all live in different cities, we only work when we have a bunch of gigs. We can't just do a Wednesday night hit in New York because I want to try out some new tunes- it would cost too much just to get everyone to the city. Now that we're with a label and with solid management, I'm confident that we'll be performing more frequently in the future. Because my role as bandleader requires much of my energy, I don't gig with a lot of other bands. Also, musicians in New York seem to perceive me as someone who is always on the road with Dapp Theory, which of course is not exactly true. I'd actually like to gig more with other groups because it fuels my growth and helps relax me when I'm not having to be in charge.

AAJ: What do you perceive as the differences, in the European tour circuit versus the American opportunities versus Canadian for gigging?

AM: Europeans are spoiled because all the best groups tour Europe frequently-that's just how its been for so long. When you get into the more remote places in America and Canada, you find really appreciative audiences. The trouble with touring in North America is geography. I've been determined to overcome this challenge but it's not easy. The other difficulty in Europe is that because everything is so firmly established, and with the economy going south of late, it's hard for an emerging artist to get enough attention to get a decent gig. Dapp Theory just performed the Montreux Jazz Festival but it was because we were a part of the Concord Records Night that we got the gig.

AAJ: By the way, are you Canada based now? Toronto?

AM: I've been living in Brooklyn since 1991. Before that I was in Montreal.

AAJ: Speaking of Canada, tell us about your special project with Bruce Cockburn? How did that come about?

AM: It came about when I approached Bruce about collaborating back in 2000. I have been a fan since high school, and at some point I drew a connection between the spirit of his poetry and that of the poetry found in hip-hop. I wanted to pair Bruce with Kokayi to explore the common ground between the singer-songwriter tradition and the hip-hop tradition. Bruce was surprisingly receptive to my invitation and fortunately for me, he was beginning a one-year sabbatical, so he was available for writing sessions.

AAJ: It seems like a jazzy collaboration with Cockburn could help cross the music over more than a bit.

AM: The CD hits stores August 12th so we shall see. After the Dapp Theory CD, we recorded the two songs we wrote together for Bruce's new CD, You've Never Seen Everything, which came out in June. Already that's helped bring attention to me as a composer-at least with Bruce's audience. As far as broader crossover appeal, I think we're on our own, and that's cool with me. Ultimately, the new CD is about Dapp Theory more than it's about Bruce Cockburn being a part of it. My goal was to integrate him, not showcase him.

AAJ: Is Bruce only singing on the project, or playing some guitar as well?

AM: He plays guitar on 2 tracks and sings on 3.

AAJ: How about for you, as a solo artist? Where do you do most of your solo gigs? Are there differences in Europe for you as a solo artist?

AM: I don't really do solo gigs. It's either Dapp Theory or me as a sideman. Europe is a tough market right now and basically when I've been pitching Dapp Theory, promoters are still looking at it from the perspective of it being Andy Mile's band. I'd like for it to stand on its own and I think it will, but there are always growing pains in any transition.

AAJ: How do you feel about the effects of the Internet on the music scene?

AM: I think it's been an amazing transformation. I just wish the record industry embraced the Internet like they embraced radio when it came along 50-some-odd years ago. All this scrambling to hold onto their money is sickening to me. I think they missed the boat in terms of knowing how the Internet could help them. Its certainly poked holes in everybody's weaknesses so that's sort of a good thing. The Internet has made the world a smaller place and has been incredibly valuable for me as an independent artist, trying to launch my own tours. The next couple of years are going to be very interesting in terms of seeing what the new paradigm will look and feel like.

AAJ: Your site is always evolving. Is it self-published?

AM: All done from home. It tends to be the last thing I get around to which is a drag but I try. I'm not a web programmer and I don't pretend to know all about it, but I do what I can do. If any fans out there want to take a crack at giving the site a facelift, they can email me at andy@andymilne.com.

AAJ: Would you ever consider marketing recordings totally independently, via the Internet?

AM: Eventually, yes, but I'm with Prince on this. Record labels still serve the purpose of marketing and career building for emerging artists. I'm not saying any of them do a great job of it, but for me right now, being on Concord makes sense. I've heard a lot of artists complaining about their labels, but most of them have never tried to self-produce, release and promote their own product. I think once you've seen it from both sides of the fence, you have a better understanding of everyone's position. It's different being independent when you are established versus emerging.

AAJ: How long is the recording process for your records? I'll bet extremely short. How much rehearsal occurs beforehand?

AM: For Y'all Just Don't Know, we had very little rehearsal. We rehearsed as a group with Bruce Cockburn the day before the session. The band already knew most of the material however when Sean Richman joined the band, we had to rehearse a little but ultimately, there wasn't much time for that. The recording process was long but that was due to external factors like money, geography, and politics. We did the recording in two sessions, one pre-9/11 and one post-9/11.

AAJ: With all you've got going on, how do you decide on which project to do next? Is there a lot of work you decline?

AM: The really frustrating thing is that I'm forced to decline the interesting things because they fall right when I've got a Dapp Theory tour. I know a lot of band leaders who will cancel their tour if for example 'Herbie or Wayne calls', but I'm committed to my band because I recognize its a slow, long struggle, and because they've remained committed to me.

AAJ: Explain to us your perception of yourself as an artist. Where do you see yourself? For instance, who makes up your audience? Dapp theory must be shifting your audience.

AM: I'm someone who has had to be both an artist and a businessperson for a very long time. My time wearing the manager hat is finally coming to a close so I'm really excited about having the time to devote to digging deeper into my musical side. The experience of being creative and resourceful in business was stimulating; however I need to feed myself musically now more than ever. I think from here forward, the goal with Dapp Theory is to continue to find our audience. Someone recently asked me how I did it and I said, 'one fan at a time.' We've been quite successful in Los Angeles , a city that is traditionally hard to crack, so I think if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere in due time. It's jazz but it's not jazz. It's hard to describe but I think coming to a show will answer that question.

AAJ: What music holds your most extreme interest these days, and what of it may influence your next project or recording?

AM: I heard a group from Chicago on the radio recently called, 'Broke Back' which I really dug. I liked the minimalist vibe, as well as the emphasis on texture rather than solos. I know for the next CD, I'm going to be looking for ways to embrace those kinds of aesthetic values.

AAJ: What's in your cd case at the moment?

AM: Joni Mitchell's Travel Log. I think it's a masterpiece. I want to have the chance to compose for larger ensembles in the future.

AAJ: Any other musicians you'd like to comment on? Whose playing do you particularly respect?

AM: Karim Ziad has a killing band a really wonderful CD that blends North African music with jazz that I really love.

AAJ: Any musicians you would particularly like to work with that you have not?

AM: I would love to perform with cats like Elvin and Max Roach while I still can. Jonatha Brooke and Peter Gabriel are artists I'd like to work with sometime as well. I think more than anything, I'd like to get the hell away from my computer and reconnect with my piano.

AAJ: To wrap up, please tell us your musical plans, or projects in the pipeline, for 2003 and beyond.



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