106

Bill Laswell: No Boundaries

Nenad Georgievski By

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For some people music is a mere entertainment product, a pastime amusement. For others music is a powerful force and the act of its creation carries within itself a sense of discovery. Bill Laswell's music, production and remixes have always carried that sense of discovery and riskiness. Multifariously creative and independent, he has always been revered by avant-gardists, jazz and improv and electronic music fans with equal zeal. 

In the last 30 years, this incontrovertibly cool producer has emerged as as one of the most important figures in today's music. He has been involved in the making of so many records that chances are that anybody with the least interest of modern music will have crossed paths with one of his recordings. His pieces are like busy intersections of different sounds, cultures and people that in a way resemble global conversations. They are rooted in the process of collaboration and, especially in the '90s, these records represented exciting points of musical confluences. The band Material was a loose aggregation of musicians where many people contributed to these unusual records, ranking from guitarists Sonny Sharrock, Nicky Skopelitis, Fred Frith, Nile Rogers to saxophonists Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, to keyboardists Herbie HancockBernie Worrell or percussionist Aiyb Dieng and tabla player Zakir Hussain, to name a few. Laswell's records are much more in line with Miles Davis' or Jon Hassell's explorations of sound and choice of musicians rather than simply creating tapestries of exotic but shallow sounds. 

In 1983 he recorded "Rockit" for Herbie Hancock, a state of the art dance track that sampled beats and turntables with groovy synth sounds. It was an instant and timeless hit, especially in the UK, that brought to light a whole underground movement, and pointed towards the future. This collaboration with Hancock resulted in other records with the first, Sound System  (Columbia, 1984), being awarded a Grammy. Soon after he was so in demand as a producer that He went to produce records for such diverse artists as Laurie Anderson, Mick Jagger, Sly and Robbie, Motorhead, PIL, Ginger BakerFela Kuti, Yoko Ono, Afrika Bambaataa, Iggy Pop and the Ramones, to name but a few. 

Laswell has been a man on a journey and his extensive travels throughout the world have had a significant impact on the way he perceives sound. His interest was directed towards real experiences and real situations which create an atmosphere and environment for a flow of music. On these travels he recorded various kinds of indigenous music, like the famed Master Musicians of Jajouka, Mahmoud Ghania or oud master Simon Shaheen, experiences that always had an influence on his music and creations. Back in 1990, he created Axiom Records in collaboration with Island Records where he created pan-ethnic polyrhytmic musics. Until 1999 it was a playground for the creation of many brilliant forms of expression. 

One of the most interesting endeavors of his was the process of reshaping the music of other artists. Laswell used terms such as "Reconstruction," "Sound Sculpture" and "Mix Translation" to explain his process of making records. Starting from the music of reggae artist Bob Marley, he went onto reshape the music of Miles Davis between 1969 and 1974, as well as Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and Sussan Deyhim. These were album length reconstructions rather than singles and they offered fresh perspectives on the material of these artists whilst simultaneously retaining the spirit of their music. 

The new millennium brought a new label, MOD Technologies, and a plethora of new projects and productions that came with the speed of light and carried the same sense of discovery and experimentation. One recent project saw Laswell team up with Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer Chad Smith and keyboardist Jon Batiste . The work of Bill Laswell is ongoing and continues to evolve unpredictably as he restlessly moves from one sound to the next, always navigating by instinct and with no set destination in sight. All in all, it reflects a true visionary, a restless spirit and sonic alchemist who creates sound worlds where "nothing is true and everything is permitted." 

All About Jazz:  Your name appears on an avalanche of records which is an indication of unseen and unheard diversity. To what can you attribute your interest for various kinds of music? 

Bill Laswell: As you start and continue on, it requires diversity just out of necessity. Actually, you realize that you are repeating yourself by saying the same thing over and over again. So, diversity comes out of nature I think. It's a necessity. And I think that happened to me. It seems to be quite a lot of different things just because it's been quite a long time. Things were able to develop for the most part. 

AAJ:  In the same vein, where did the interest for mixing all of these different styles of music together come from? Many of your records resemble global conversations between different cultures. 

BL:  Yes of course, I think it's just from having the opportunity, having the availability to sort of navigate without being stuck in one place. You can move to different areas and meet different cultures, different people, different geographies, whatever you might call it. It's just moving out—it's from not staying in one area, so when that happens, it's fine. It's a different experience, a beautiful experience to have with different cultures and different musicians, people and areas, so it's from reaching out and moving outwards. 

AAJ:  As someone who has traveled extensively throughout the world, how have those travels influenced your work and how you perceive sound? 

BL:  I think everywhere has a kind of deep influence on you, whether (or not) you are able to pinpoint it or to say what those influences are. But the experience in one territory will provoke influences that will make a mark on what you do, what you've been doing intuitively. So, if you're working in Morocco for a while, and then you are somewhere else, that feeling or sense of experience will carry over and however small it is, it will have an effect on what you do next. 

AAJ:  Would you agree that the band Material reflected your diverse tastes in one place? Can you also talk about the musical concept behind Material? What was its mission? 

BL:  Material is just kind of a brand. It's a name. It doesn't really represent a band of fixed musicians as representatives of a kind of a style of music. It's more like a title or a branding. And you can put that name on anything. It could be a free jazz, it could be metal, it could be everything of it. You just stick that title over it. It's like a label and not a music statement so much. 

AAJ:  Is there a difference between a Material record and a Bill Laswell record? 

BL:  Yes and No. It could be exactly the same or it could be totally different. I don't follow any kind of a code book or rules so it's whatever it is. You won't know until it happens probably. Maybe it's planned, maybe it's not planned, and maybe it's planned (laughs).  

AAJ:  What are your views and opinion about the group's legacy to date, as some of the most brilliant and very important musicians have played in this band? Even Whitney Houston's career as a singer began in this band. 

BL:  Again, it wasn't really a band and for Whitney Houston it was a recording project. I made a record for Bruce Lundval, who was the president of Electra and I had permission to do an album with a lot of people, and I was gonna use a singer called Fontanella Bess (she did songs like "Rescue Me" and all these things) and I thought to get her to sing. When I reached out to her and started the process it was complicated and uneasy, and in the process of that, sort of turbulent period, I reached out to Archie Shepp, whom I invited to play and Bruce sent his friend who was called Sizzy, a pop singer, who said she has a daughter who sang in a church, but she has never been on a record. I was suggested maybe I should try her 'cause we have to finish the record. That's how it happened. It wasn't like she was in a group, but she was a singer who sang under the label or the brand of Material. I'm pretty sure it was her first recording as a soloist. 

AAJ:  What about the thoughts and feelings about the group's legacy to date? 

BL:  I think it's kind of timeless, you know. It's endless and timeless because there is no solid form. You go back and run down a list of people. They were never in a group. There never was a band, but there were live performances, as there are recordings, and you run through names you can see Nile Rogers, William Burroughs, Herbie Hancock , Sly & Robbie, Shabba Ranks—it's endless. Endless and timeless means infinite, so it can happen even if I'm not here. It's an ongoing kind of process of multiple combinations. 

AAJ:  Having worked with collectives and bands in various situations, how do you organize a collective effort with so many people involved in order to come out with something in the shape of a record? 

BL:  That's based on experience and it's also spontaneous. It's not a sure thing. You may have an idea, you put it together -this thing works and this doesn't. It's all a spontaneous juggle. What happens is not the traditional format--- four guys meet in high school and they all play different instruments and they form a band and they stay together for their whole lives. I couldn't imagine that, but it works, you know, for U2 or The Beatles. This is very different and has nothing to do with a band configuration or playing together, developing a sound or`something else. These things don't develop. They stay in one place. It's the consistent redundancy, a repetition of something that keeps it alive because people like to hear the same thing over and over again. Whether they know it or not, they are repeating themselves. 

AAJ:  Regarding labels, is the band Method of Defiance and the MOD label a continuation of previous efforts with Material and the Axiom label? Do you see this label as a successor to Axiom? 

BL:  Absolutely! I think it is exactly that. Again, it's not really planned that way, but this is how it falls. The concept of Method of Defiance is also not a band, but a title. It's a name and it can be used for different configurations of live and recording and otherwise. The label is exactly that -it is a continuation of Axiom and I would like to get these things together and unite them. I wish everything to be together.  I hope. 

AAJ:  So what is happening with the Axiom's back catalog? 

BL:  At the moment, nothing, because the back catalog is property of Universal, so we have to do some negotiating and some business, and bring it back. It will happen and eventually that will come. Again, it will be put next to this MOD concept. Everything will be together. I will make an effort to put all back catalogs together, if I can. It's just time consuming and you are dealing with the kind of people that don't exist. They are there, and then they are not there. One day they are behind the desk, and the next time they are somewhere else. And then, there is another person. One has to deal with the non-existent flux of non entities. It'll come. I'm trying to think about it and work on it. 

AAJ:  Since you have an extensive output on that label -your own records and various of your productions, has something remained unreleased in the vaults?  

BL:  Not really. I don't have a lot of unreleased material. There is something, but not like other people where everything is on the shelf and there is quite a lot of things that were not released. I never really had that and I pretty much used everything I had. 

AAJ:  As a label owner, how do you cope with the online piracy and the streaming services? 

BL:  I guess I don't really know about that. I'm not really an owner. I'm a creator. I make things and I try to present them. But it doesn't appear to me as property or ownership. I just see it as creating things and making them further available. I'm not a label owner. A label owner is someone who has power, property and control. I'm not that. I'm someone who creates records, but I'm not someone who understands the business so well, all the different increments of the process of how things are arranged in terms of business. I'm not good at business. I don't think about it, I just make these recordings and make them available. 

AAJ:  So you are assigned to the creative side of running a label aka the making of the music? 

BL:  Yes, I suppose so, because that is my job. Without that there is nothing else really (laughs). Outside of that, it's a job. It doesn't have to do very much with the job concept. It has to do with creating things. 

AAJ:  I'm also interested in what drew you to the world of remixing other people's music? 

BL:  It just came to me that the concept of remixing was sort of re-imagining something and that there is no sort of finite version in terms of sound. Mixing, to me, is all a kind of random, spontaneous activity. A person would listen to a record and say, well this is how it is and that's how it has to be. But that's very naive because that's just a version, in terms of technology, in terms of the moment, the spontaneous mind and the thing that happened between the human being and the technology. It could have gone a million different ways and it can still go to a million different ways. When I got into that, I realized there is no absolute version. Everything is open to interpretations. Everything has another side to it. And when you do one piece why not think of it as endless music, music that can start here and never stops. 

An album remix, no one has really done that, as far as I know, of the major artists I've been able to do Bob Marley, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana , Herbie Hancock and do full album of reconstructions. I think, so far, that has never been done and that's what I want to do more. I want to continue doing that. So far I've been the one who established that concept and did it as re-composition, not re-imagining. I'm continuing, but continuing forward and not just thinking that just because some technicians balanced something that was spirited away, that this is how our music sounds. That's incredibly naive for the audience. 

AAJ:  People aren't always acquainted with the delicate process of working in the studio. 

BL:  But the studio is no different than any workplace. Your home is a studio, a restaurant, a bar where people go. The studio is not a special environment that produces anything of it own. It's just wood and carpets and things that look like equipment. It's nothing. It shouldn't be thought of as place that produces things. It's people that make the thing and its all in your mind. It's not coming from this facility so much. 

AAJ:  What can a great studio or a great producer still add to the recording? These days, most people take the DIY approach when it come to making records. 

BL:  Yeah, you can make a record on an aeroplane. You can do it on your laptop. Technology can help you do that. It's all about ideas and presence character and manifesting the feeling, expressing the feeling. It's not about studio. That is business. It's more to do with business, and not so much to do with creativity. 

AAJ:  So what would be major reasons to go into a professional studio over a home recording setup? 

BL:  It's more about people. If you go into a professional studio with a professional person who has a specific approach and a gift, and maybe a signature that you recognize, and you know exactly what, maybe not exactly, but you'll get an idea, of what the result might be, then it's a good investment in terms of time and money. And you hope for something great. But to say you are going in a great studio that means nothing. It's like saying I'm gonna visit the White House, you know, its white. 

AAJ:  So, how do you operate in the studio? Do you operate on instinct? 

BL:  Yes and no. Sure, instinct is a big part of it. Sometimes it's kind of a routine. It makes you feel you've been there before, in terms of decision making. Sometimes it's a repetition and another time it's pure spontaneity. It depends on the situation. You really shouldn't kind of pattern things or have a diagram for everything. So sometimes it's totally spontaneous. Sometimes you have a pretty detailed plan and sometimes it is relatively intuitive. 

AAJ:  How do you determine what projects you want to take on? 

BL:  That's also pretty intuitive. Sometimes you do it because you need money in the end. Some pay more than the other and sometimes you do it because you are obsessed with it. It's something you wanted to do a long time and it's very important to you. And you do that because you want to attach that to your own important creative things. It's probably history. That's kind of a big thing. Sometimes it's really maintenance. I need to do this to pay for this. If you have the technique, skill and the experience, sometimes you do it as a job, same as most people in the world have to wake up in the morning and go to their job. You might approach it that way, sometimes. I don't do it so often like that, but it has been done. 

AAJ:  So how do you go from producing Public Image Ltd. to Motorhead or Mick Jagger to Simon Shaheen? Where is the common thread here? 

BL:  I don't know if it makes any sense, if it fits together, but everything, like I said, comes from different reasons, different fulfillment, different purpose, different necessity. Some of those things were to gain experience in a place you haven't been. So, bigger names, rock stars and that world. There is a curiosity about it. It doesn't mean you are obsessed with the music that comes from that place, but you become curious about that environment and the only way to know for sure is to be in that environment. It's easy for people outside of that to say I don't like that, this is bad, this and that, but they don't have the knowledge or the experience so it has no meaning. If you are gonna comment on these things you need to know so I wanted them to know, I guess, about rock stars, heavy metal... What is their worth? I had the opportunity to gain that experience. I guess I know more now than I knew before. 

AAJ:  What would you say is the key to being a successful producer? 

BL:  I don't know, I'm not a successful producer. I'm someone who is trying to continue. I'm trying to follow and continue with what I was interested in from the beginning. And the beginning doesn't seem so different from the present time. But a successful producer is someone like Rick Rubin who does successful, million selling records. They have an approach that will justify the budgets and they do big records. That's a successful producer. I don't like the word 'producer.' I became that word because I couldn't hear myself. I just wanted to hear myself and that led to other things. Then they started to call me that word, but it's not something I wanted to be. I sort of wanted to play with people I had respect for and I had respect for very few. So I had to work harder. The word producer to me sounds very corporate. I'm not corporate and I'm not successful. 

AAJ:  When working with other people do you aim to realize the artist's vision or to expand it? 

BL:  Probably to expand it. This situation of making a record with a band or an artist should be a shared experience. It should be a learning experience for someone or for everyone. If it's not, it's probably pointless in a way. You hope that everything can have some kind of meaning.  

AAJ:  You've worked consistently with sound engineers Robert Musso, Jason Corsaro and Oz Fritz. What makes these people so special for you to work with? 

BL:  They are all different and all do different things, but you work with people because intuitively they sort of know what you are thinking, a lot of the time, not all the time. But they... sort of... before you say something, they kind of know that you are gonna say it, a big percentage of the time. This speeds up the process as you can waste a lot of time with mis-communication and lost translations. People sort of know where you are going and they tend to be there as you say so. It's like, let's do this and I'm gonna do that, and they are already there. Because they have that experience of knowing what you are thinking, so those are the reasons you work continuously with people. It's not that they are the greatest thing that ever happened. It's just intuitively everything connects and there isn't a lot of talking or leading to excessive communications, but more to do with intuition. 

AAJ:  I'm mystified by terms you've used when working -"mix translation" and "reconstruction." Can you explain what these terms mean to you? 

BL:  What it means is that it's a term which kind of commends something to a higher level. It's not just a remix. Remix is to me like disco and clubs and people using the fads. The whole concept of the version, which is a remix concept, comes from Jamaica, to me, and it came out of necessity. You create a song quickly because you have limited time and limited funds, so you create a song and you don' have time, enough time and enough money to do a second song. So, a 45 recording has two sides, A side and B side. So, the A side is obviously gonna be the song that's gonna be the on the B side. They are taking the A song and deconstructing it and that's where remixing started. But my concept was to begin with where they began. But to see the whole thing as reimagining the composition. It's like if somebody plays with the music of Beethoven, that have been doing it for another composer; representing it, reconstructing it, arranging it, conducting it. I think of the whole thing as reimagining composition. 

I tried to find names that don't say remix because remix is a kind of stupid word from the '70s where disco people were making longer versions of things with repetitions of beats. No one, absolutely not one person on the planet has taken the concept of reconstruction of recorded music and approached it as composition. It hasn't happened and it won't happen because people don't think like that. There is no educational system for them to learn that process because  there is no process. It's all like playing. If you don't know how to improvise, you don't know how to play. You can learn music, you can read it, write it, you can study it, you can copy someone's solo so well that you sound exactly like them, but if you don't improvise, you don't play, and that's what the reconstruction concept is to me. It has to do a lot with improvisation, spontaneity and continuing the concept of reimagining the composition. It's not a remix. Remix is a money grab for people that aren't even musicians. 

AAJ:  When you were reconstructing the music of Marley, Santana or Miles, what were you aiming at? 

BL:  I was aiming at the artist. I'm drawn toward the artist especially Miles Davis because it's a music that I chose, that I listened to, that I found interesting. Miles Davis was very much music that was unresolved. It was unfinished.  It wasn't the pure product of, say, this is my song, this is how my song sounds. This is how it is. I didn't feel that was established. This was the kind of unfinished music. So I didn't plan to finish the music, but I planned to continue the lineage of this flow of sound that came from this period, from an artist of that time, because after 1975 I have no interest in Miles Davis. I met him, I talked to him, we were gonna record. It wasn't interesting. What was interesting was the period between '69 and '75, a period of unfinished music. In the case of Bob Marley, it's reggae, so there is a nature there, natural connection to reconstruction because it's coming out of dub and there is a lot of atmospheric aspects to the music. Santana, similar, same thing. As I go and apply this ambient experience, this dub experience, this ethereal kind of sound collage to all things, at the moment I'm confident pretty much I can reconstruct anything if I can find a center and then move outward from that. 

AAJ:  In many interviews you have stated the importance of Miles' electric music. Can you elaborate more what that music from this period has meant to you? During that period, Miles kind of directed a collective of brilliant musicians much in the same manner you do on various projects. 

BL:  There is not so much diversity in that period. It pretty much stays in one place, but I think it's a combination of having an idea and then there's people who don't have a clue what are they really doing in the middle of that and that energy, kind of a feeling of lost participation, contributes a strange energy. Its very alert, it's very awake because of that and there is repetition which was unheard of coming from a musician associated with innovative jazz. There is some kind of redundancy in the repetition that was really very startling to the jazz people. The concept of soloing over a kind of a metronome, in a sense. For the time, and considering the name of the people, it's pretty brave to do that. It is very extreme, in a way. 

AAJ:  Do you think Miles was aware what the minimalism composers were doing at the time with repetitive music? 

BL: I'm not sure how. He was very conscious of  Sly Stone and James Brown. They had bands that were, what you would call, extremely tight and together playing repetition. Miles' bands were never near that in terms of tightness. Jimi Hendrix a little bit, but that wasn't so minimal if you think about it. Rhythmically it was pretty all over the place. He was certainly conscious of the fact that repetition led to a broader audience, that this concept of a beat and a bass line was what younger people were extremely connected to. He wanted that. I think he thought that maybe something like On The Corner  (Columbia, 1972) represented that, in a way. I think it was way too much far out than people were ready for. That sounds like something that maybe in hundred years on another planet, that would be break dancing music (laughs). But when I made "Rockit" with Herbie Hancock, I think Miles thought that's he should have had that street credibility and a hit record. And that's when we started talking about doing records around that time. 

AAJ:  Regarding street style records, do you keep up with what is happening in the clubs or underground kind of music? 

BL:  Unfortunately, I do and I'm obsessed with that, and that's the only thing that I follow. It's hard because there is so much. Things are changing and happening all the time, so I have to look at Jamaica all time for what's the latest sound and production, which is usually terrible, but still I have to hear, and new vocalists. ...Listen to any new form of pop, or, rather, pop related more to hip hop. Not so much the generic rock or pop music, but hip hop related things, and whatever is new. Not just commercial music, but strange concussions like Flying Lotus and things like that. Bands that play to do more with noise and drone music. It's difficult to keep up with, but I think it has to be done. I need always to know what is happening. If you really believe that, you could lose everything, throw it all away, and it's been done, if you could have just a little bit of a look at what's coming. 

AAJ:  How open are people when you experiment on their records? How open was Herbie Hancock to the idea of introducing turntables and early hip hop sounds to what he usually did? Not that he is a stranger to experimentation. 

BL:  I think he probably could have been more open and it's probably based on patience and knowing the fact, that he is who he is, and he was veritably just kind of patient. Maybe he didn't quite understand at the beginning, but he made the decision if I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do it. I'm not gonna complicate it, I'm not gonna waste anyone's time or energy or money. He was open and that's the word. And he is still open. You can do the same thing tomorrow with him. Some people would fight you on things. Miles would have been the same. He would also have been open because he is not challenged by his confidence of his person. He is who he is. 

AAJ:  A while ago, when trumpeter Wallace Roney played here in Skopje at the Skopje Jazz Festival I spoke to him about Miles and his experimentation. He mentioned that Miles wasn't experimenting for the sake of experimenting, but he was curious what would happen if he did something. "What if" was the guiding light for him and he was mystified by it. 

BL:  Probably Wallace Roney is more of a jazz musician. He would get the vision of someone like Miles Davis, its very different. It's not just training and copying people when sounding like somebody else and doing this traditional thing. Miles was very anti tradition. He has a lot of other aspects to his character. There's an ego there. There's power, there's drugs, there's all kinds of things that go into making a human being. He is special. Wallace Roney is a jazz musician. It's like calling someone a sports person. 

AAJ:  He (Miles) was naturally curious about what lies ahead if he tried different things.

BL:  Yeah, that's nature. That's not experimental at all. That was just natural what he was doing. The word experiment wouldn't be there. It's just called demolition. 

AAJ:  For me experimentation in music is an attempt to see what else can be called music. 

BL: Yeah, you have to try to get out of the way of doing the same thing over and over again, and I think a musician like that who repeats himself is quite boring. 

AAJ:  With Hancock's "Rockit" back in the '80's. you brought the underground music from that period into the mainstream. This opened the path for the future turn of events where the underground went overground. How much of that can you hear in today's music? 

BL:  Yeah, there is an influence of underground music even today, just it is not presented as a full blown statement. But if you listen to any pop related hip hop music, you are gonna hear strands of what we did in the '80s. You're gonna hear Africa Bambaataa a little bit, you're gonna hear Sugarhill Gang, you're gonna hear references and you'll hear in choruses pop references that relate to rock music from the '60s. But its not a full blown statement. It's more to do with increments of influence. Things are smaller at the moment. There aren't any big music statements. It's more to do with a riff or a hook. Things go by so quickly you don't really measure it. But as far as underground and more esoteric things existing, you know, when I was 14 or 15 years old I thought pop music was Cream, Jimi Hendrix and that was pretty out, you know. These guys are playing a song for 10 minutes and it entered the mainstream. Later on, we did it with rock, but I think that can happen with some kind of music from outside, it can definitely penetrate the format, but I don't know how it works. I'm not sure how can that make happen. 

"Rockit" was a success for Columbia. They made some money back on him and they didn't even want to put that record out. They were like "what is this?" It's not possible, what's going on? Somebody, somewhere made the decision that made the connection, "Ok, let's try," and what made it happen was they made a video. MTV at the time was a big way to sell a record and there was  zero percentage of black people on MTV. Think about it. It was Michael Jackson, OK, but that's one person. Herbie's video had robots in it so it wasn't like African American culture. Here is this weird electronic thing. It's like Bambaataa was associated with Kraftwerk. It's not Black. So it translated. They thought it could work on street level and they put the money into it, because if they didn't put the money in it, it wouldn't have been a hit. It was all about investment, marketing and the fact that if he hadn't been owing them money, they probably wouldn't have done that. They were trying to recoup on him. 

AAJ:  What about Future 2 Future  (Transparent, 2001)? What was the situation like for that collaboration? That record had similar approach by employing the talents of various underground electronica artists from the '90s and '00s. 

BL: We just did the sound of the moment, where things were happening. there was a lot of electronic music that was influential, but some of it was kind of underground, some of it was Herb, some of it was hip, not a lot of turntablism at that moment, more to do with sequencing and patterns and Detroit and techno. Jeff Mills was very popular, Derick May, Carl Craig. I was listening to those things. Drum 'n' bass was coming. It was just the sound of a moment, in a way. 

AAJ:  How do you approach you bass guitar as an instrument? For eg. on records such as Invisible Design (Tzadik, 1999) and Means of Deliverance (Innerrhythmic, 2012) the bass sounds like a fully fledged orchestra. Its used for various purposes like for adding textures, melodies, moods. 

BL:  I don't come from a school of faking about that instrument, about who played before and what are the sounds. I see it as influential if you hear the low end of the pattern.  If you hear the low sound of the tabla of the one hand from India, and that's a pattern, and these are the repetitive patterns, and if you associate this with what came out of version in reggae in Jamaica, the repetition of the low end but extreme low end. That's pretty much how it starts for me and otherwise it becomes kind folkloric. I don't relate to jazz, I don't relate to even rock. It's folk music and what I see is what I can put to the sound, so it's kind of retro-space where your life is there, and you see things from your life experience. Music is a life experience first, if it's real music and not the things you study, but I see things and I see where I grew up and I see rivers, Arkansas, Mississippi , Kentucky. I see that and I try to channel that. I learned to play train tracks. I don't play jazz and I don't play styles. I just want to establish this picture that moves very quickly from place to place.

AAJ:  Where did the interest for free improv and noise music come from? Last Exit, Painkiller, Massacre, Blade Runner. These projects come in contrast to your ambient-fusion-jazz-world projects. Some of them are very aggressive. 

BL:  They are all different. Those kind of aggressive bands are all different. Last Exit was more to do with self-destruction. I think at that moment I wasn't planning to live too long and I was just trying to kill myself anyway I could. I'm not sure the others felt that way, but they were all nuts and plying very aggressive. We survived. Some of us survived. Sonny (Sharrock) is gone, Shannon Jackson is gone now, but it was extremely aggressive and very much kind of a statement to the jazz world. I mean it was like putting the punk rock noise band in the middle of jazz festival where half of the people would walk out in disgust and the other half are elevated to another level. They start living differently. It's like it had an effect and little later on with Painkiller it was both myself and John Zorn  had a big interest, fascination with hardcore music and I especially some of the Japanese hard core bands, and off course, Napalm Death was a fixture, and doing a piece of music that will last 10 seconds or something, and that's what brought Mick Harris to this band. He was the drummer of Napalm Death, so we didn't just want to kind of copy that, we went to the source of that, so that later on bands like Massacre still exist today in fact we are playing next month in Paris. Also aggressive but it developed, it's one of the few that developed and Blade Runner also can develop because the drummer has evolved tremendously since I first played with him. It's a whole different thing. He is on another level now. It's all about beginnings. Endings should be blurred. It's a cross-fade like  in a sound. But, beginnings are the necessity. 

AAJ:  Can you describe the seeds of The Process  (MOD, 2014) collaboration? 

BL: Jay Bulger made the film called  Beware of Mr. Baker  and when he was doing that we did interviews about Lee Perry and then Ginger Baker, and for the film he also interviewed Chad Smith the drummer for the (Red Hot) Chili Peppers, and so we're both doing a little bit of talking in that movie. Somewhere along the way he ran into Jon Batiste playing live and then Chad met Jon Batiste and they were all talking about working and they brought me into it and that's kind of how it happened. When it started up he was trying to make some kind of film about musicians going into a studio and playing without any conceived music. It wasn't a new idea as I've been doing that since I was a teenager, but that's how it happened and we went to the studio, he is filming and then I saw that there was potential with some of the things and I decided to work on it and spend time. That's how it happened. Later I brought in other people to do things. 

AAJ:  Can you give me an insight into Chad Smith's involvement and how you both worked together? 

BL:  We spontaneously recorded some bass and drums just the two of us and a little bit the three of us. His concept of playing, i think was very different from what he normally does, and it kind of gave a direction to the whole thing in a way. We were conscious of references, we were conscious of influences and he was extremely conscious, i think, of Ginger Baker, because that's kind how me and him came together, was this kind of Ginger style which is not rock so much as it has to do more with polyrhythms and more of a tribal rock thing. Ginger thinks he is a jazz drummer but he is really playing kind of tribal music, in a way. I think that came a lot in the drumming and the drumming kind of gave direction a little bit to the overall focus, in a way.  

AAJ:  I read somewhere that Jay Bulger is working on a film about writer Paul Bowels. 

BL:  Last December, we all went to Morocco and I stayed for two and a half weeks -he stayed longer. He started a film. It's loosely based Paul did a book, a travel book in the '50s. He went to record indigenous music. A lot of the music that he was recording doesn't even exist now. It's gone. No one carried on with it. The book was called Their Heads are Green, and Their Hands Are Blue" and it's a travelogue of his trip. His intentions were to go to 10 different locations and record the music. And he made it, I think, to about 7 of them and out of fatigue he went back to Tangier. I did the same, I did 7, but I left because it was Christmas and I came back to New York. It's incredible footage, incredible music. I don't know what's gonna happen with the film. I don't know the business part of it, but the recordings were what we were supposed to do. Oz Fritz was the engineer and he recorded incredible music, really, for today. Even though its many years passed the time when people say music is going away, but Mahmoud Ghania, Essauira, Dalila, the whole trance ritual, Jalala music, Master Musicians of Jajouka -I played with them at the Roman ruins in Morocco. It sounds like total punk rock, with them just going crazy and they continued on. I left them in that part of Morocco and went back, but they continued on to the south, to Daklah where there's guitar players. That's where you start to hear the desert blues kind of thing. They have incredible recordings. I hope, even if the film doesn't never happen, that there is this document of these recordings, and that's what I know from Jay the last thing he did. He is always doing something but this was a great thing. The film is different than recording and it's so complicated. There is so many people involved, there's money involved. It's little different.   

AAJ:  As someone who has explored a lot of things, what further musical boundaries do you seek to explore? 

BL: It hasn't happened yet. I'll never make it, but as far boundaries, boundaries don't exist. That's just a word. There are no boundaries. It's something that somebody said. It's like don't cross the border. How's that possible? So it's not even a thought. There is no boundaries. There is no category, there is no genre, there is no style. It's wide open, unless you are trapped. Unless you are controlled by something else. But if you are not, there is no boundary, there is no point where the line stops. There is no area that it's not explored. It's just the continuation of life as it is and it has a soundtrack, so it goes on and on and on till it stops. And when it stops it doesn't even stop. It will continue without you. 
About Bill Laswell
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