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Moers Festival Interviews: Matt Mottel & Kevin Shea

Moers Festival Interviews: Matt Mottel & Kevin Shea

Photo credit: Miriam Juschkat

Martin Longley By

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Improviser In Residence becomes Improvisers In Residence, for the 50th anniversary of the Moers Festival in Germany. Running since 2008, this has been a year-long in-house situation for invited artists, and usually offered to a single being. In 2021, we have the innovation of a twosome, in Matt Mottel (keyboards) and Kevin Shea (drums), who also happen to be the long-running band formation called Talibam!, normally (or abnormally normally) resident in New York City. The avenues over there were becoming much too quiet for their taste, so this almost two decades-old twosome elected to move their entire kaboodle to the town of Moers at the beginning of 2021. They have already been regulars at the Moers Festival in recent years, playing in a range of formations. The IIR scheme literally offers a full house, situated on Klein Allee, right near to the Schlosspark, a long continuation of which leads to the Moers Festivalhalle, right at the other end of this extended green stretch. The IIR is strongly connected to the Moers Festival, and funded by the Kunststiftung NRW. The pandemic might not provide the best backdrop, but Mottel and Shea have already been broadcasting a weekly Tuesday session from their house. Soon, they will be able to stage in-person shows.

AAJ: How did this year's improvisers-in-residence positioning come to be? It clearly grew out of previous Talibam! stormings, but was it your idea that you'd be well-suited, or was it a surprise offer from the Moersfolk?

Matt Mottel: Kevin and I have always attempted to exist towards an unanticipated inflection of flexibility. We play without instruments, there's a gong accident, a pandemic, improvising within life and in music. The Moers Festival Invited us. It was their idea. To celebrate their 50th anniversary of Moers Music Festival being the creative juju of Moers, they wanted to invite a duo. And rather than invite two musicians who had little relationship to each other, it made sense to them, to invite Kevin and I, who actually after 18 years of playing music together, may still be 'perfect strangers.'

Kevin Shea: Picture a Neanderthal on the brink of extinction, inertia vaporized by confused/meaty alternatives...hindsight's unimaginative fog eternalizes within the question's subconscious. Therein lurks a stubby answer-sound like the fat blunt of a zen koan, a spoiler alert so patronizing even the circus child falls asleep. As the dance of false opportunity ceases with no great noise, the puzzle of the Vigilant Artisan (deemed detritus by the greater unknown) dreams an exorcised synchronicity. Did I bolster purposeful behaviour simply by willing consciousness into pragmatic circumstance? I theorize the more authentic answer is truth...but of course no one will agree on how or why we are here... Alas, let the earthlings know I am grateful for every moment on my voyage to invalid celebrity...the many people who have inspired me over the years are constantly weaving in and out of my daft outline, a phasing in perimeter we can both deem demented. To the haters...they can be punished by fantastical assumption, but I believe in their capacity for beauty.

Old Gig Reviews #4

NYC's Talibam! opened and closed the long weekend, also providing conceptualised sets over the middle days, as the duo-in-residence, augmented in novel ways. The core twosome of Matt Mottel (keytar) and Kevin Shea (drums) were joined by saxophonist Matt Nelson and pianist Ron Stabinsky, the opening set's Hard Vibe band generating what amounted to a systems music version of a 1960s organ groove number, repeatedly swooping up to next-stage climaxes, Nelson rarely letting up in his streaming solo passages, as the general suspended funkiness pulsed onwards. Hard Vibe performed in the dark, until a midpoint shift cued a sudden burst of strobing flashes, before the old blackness resumed. This was apparently a strategic choice requested by [festival director Tim] Isfort and company, the first of many personalised touches littered across the weekend. Inflatable sharks with whirring tail-fins were led around on long string leads, by the fest-staff, as if they were perambulating their poodles. A table of strawberries mysteriously appeared. There was a Sunday infestation of garden gnomes, both inside and outside the Hall. (Moers Festival, 2018)

AAJ: As with last year's Mariá Portugal residency, you're being affected by the pandemic, but probably not as much as she was, as Germany will doubtless be opening up a lot from June and July. Will the Moers Festival sets be your first live appearances in front of audiences this year? Do you have any gigs actually lined up in Moers after the fest, or are you waiting until the virus regulations have been eased?

MM: The first five months of this residency have been a massive sonic echo, with the longest gated delay of slap-back, still waiting to feel the warmth of our sonics in the ears of an audience. Our prac space haus is a living room converted into a full-steam [and stream] music room. We are the band in the room, and music tastes better when u cook next to the piano. Kevin has never lived in a place with his drum set, available to play every day. And drummers do what drummers want to do. Which is drum. His work ethic at his relationship with his instrument is a paramount appreciated energy he places towards his musicianship. Already, we have had more than 25 collaborative projects in the haus; musicians that were already doing rehearsals in Germany, since January, felt comfortable to come to the house, get 15 minute Antigen tests, and we would wear masks in our sessions. These became online broadcast videos, weekly, shared, more than 500 gigs of video and audio files. A future NFT of the year. Five Terabyte? 10? To be determined. But yes. No audience exists. But I've grounded myself this year, feeling that for me, the most important energy is to play in your home, and exist with that relationship with your instrument and musicality, not only at the whim of a 'set' on the hit.

Honestly, I've been used to playing to seven people all my life, so doing online broadcasts is the same hot-take energy to give it your all, as I did when I was 17, and we played CBGB 7pm Monday audition night, to Hilly [Kristal, club owner] and my dad. But yeah, I was fortunate enough, that in October of 2020, I played two gigs inside... and it was at the invitation of two of my favorite innovators and musicians who push all sides of the sonics into the best places: Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes, who released a duo LP on International Anthem, and are both part of Irreversible Entanglements. I play music with both of these guys, and Aquiles jammed with me and Kevin in December 2020 at my mother's house in Long Eddy, New York. We recorded 54 gigs of music. Almost 12 hours, with BBQ Brisket on the menu. Aquiles and Tcheser, they invited me to play with them at their record release party. And even 20 people in the room. The adrenaline was wild after the hit!

KS: As a butterfly weaves in and out of the prairie grass, so does the future flow in flux...to and fro. The taught horizon jiggles like a leftover pancake on the plate of a stoned-out Princeton dropout...do you see maple syrup dripping from the clouds? Let the impotent paradigm reign free like the flabby gurgle of a punctured party balloon...for at night I collect wanton dreams as the lone amoeba did long before I was but a faint woo. As much as it pains me, I will myself to answer this question, to fulfil my duty to the best of my hollow desires... yet the only phrase waltzing off my tongue is "patiently patient," a phrase infused with much musicality, yet whose nuance has been spoiled by the nascent entropy of human feeling...an entropy known as certainty...a blatant lie, to appease "le freakz."

Old Gig Reviews #6

Talibam! had been lurking around all weekend, but they returned to the Hall for the closing set on the last night. Big Impakt corralled (barely) most of the drummers who had been playing throughout the festival, ranging them across the large stage in a majestic battalion of (semi) organised thunder (with a strange sort of subtlety being an occasional option). Rarely has such a total blow-out performance concluded a festival. Kevin Shea led from his drum electro-pads, the only drummer without a kit, coaxing on a stick'n'skins ensemble that included Chad Taylor, Christian Lillinger and Tcheser Holmes.

Ron Stabinsky had undergone a remarkable transmogrification into a death metal emcee, dashing out, locks flowing, from the wings on repeated occasions to hold up coded prompts for the drummers, as each section shift launched, then chundering into the vocal microphone alongside Shea. Turning around, your scribe suddenly noticed that keytar maestro Matt Mottel had the secondary stage all to himself, as he too prompted switchings of mass potential within the ranks. As Big Impakt careened and rumbled to its conclusion, Mottel strode from mid-stage to front-stage, stepping from bench to bench, as he made his inevitable progress towards complete and united cacophony, clambering up to combine with the core. The Moers Festival closed with awe-striking frenzy, delivering its biggest communal ritual of the long holiday weekend. (Moers Festival, 2018)

AAJ: What are your tactics for this residency year? Between January and now? And hopefully a somewhat more outgoing second phase, soon-coming?

MM: Between Jan and now, we recorded two albums worth of duo material based on the bpms of Iggy Pop's David Bowie-produced Berlin-era LPs, The Idiot and Lust For Life. It was an elemental influence that galvanized our improvisations in a displaced referential way. It's a humbling feeling to reference something you love, and also know you won't be it. Our music sessions with the 25 psychedelic warriors gave me the proactive positivity during what is still a morose and tragic moment for the world. If I can bring some version of joy and exclamation of sonic 'action' via sound into the world, I'm very grateful to have the opportunity. Yuko Otomo, my dear friend and wife of poet and collage artist Steve Dalachinsky, says that a new century doesn't 'really start' until some time, after the 'official start.' Maybe this is that time...

I have discovered that Moers is the new Manhattan, and that there's a great Fish Truck that serves smoked and grilled/fried fresh-catch, that's as tasty as Zabars. I grew up next to Central Park, and the birds of Moers are incredible. There's also no pigeons in Moers. Other birds own this town. I hope to make new friends with our mohawk brown hair'd squirrel. I went on a lot of bike rides between March and April. Some rides of 50km round trip across the Rhine, up thru Duisburg and then around the curve of the river again, thru lots of farm land and government social housing complexes. The Ruhr is a megalopolis, full of almost 10 million people, and I travelled via bike and train to Essen, Dortmund, Krefeld, and more, making purchases of music equipment via Facebook Marketplace. Maybe one day I'll do a band with this assembly of 'digital community...'

KS: I am a drummer by trade, 'tis no secret to those blessed with a fine taste of empathetic reckoning, curiosity and joie de vivre. The procedure may startle some, but others may know my words verbatim before they are formulated. I penetrate patterns of parlance perpetually without a common course of convention. I have released three albums composed at the residence and there will be more to come ... but I mustn't spoil the pudding, must I? Is there no mystery left preserved in this world? Does the first kiss have to taste like the last? Does the giant Shea marketing empire have to continually feed the fire over and over again?

Old Gig Reviews #8

The sets were mostly exceptional, including NYC's manic Talibam! twosome... (Citadelic, Gent, Belgium, 2019)

One of the early 2021 Moers Festival sets will feature the Kleine Allee big band, which includes all of the previous Improvisers In Residence since 2008, aside from the prematurely departed Sanne Van Hek.

AAJ: Will the Kleine Allee ensemble be organised by you, or be totally free-form?

MM: The ensemble is organized by the members that are in it, and the birds of Moers.

KS: So many times have I asked myself this very question only to be saddened by the lack of concurrence. I must ask of myself the utmost patience, for it is only through calm that circumstance shall be unfurled over the vast milieu ... perhaps in real time, perhaps not...such is sweet the beauty in a lack of information.

Old Gig Reviews #5

There were vintage claps captured by Achim Zepezauer and Wolfgang van Ackeren, from sets by Anthony Braxton, Talibam!, and David Moss, amongst many more. (Moers Festival, 2020)

AAJ: Will you be involved with the Moers Sessions?

KS: A personal manager might tell me not to answer this question...to keep the audience in suspense until the sound of my snare drum cracks its beacon of blasphemy across the ginormous gauntlet of knowing. I may yet appease said manager...though I can't be depended on to tell the truth in this response. Dare I apologize, as I lay twee upon my naughty chamber?

MM: Jan Klare has asked me to play in this configuration on 23.05: Mottel, Ava Mendoza (guitar), Marie Nachury (voice), Hubert Zemler (drums). I know Ava well, and we have jammed together, but everyone else is new to me, and I'm excited to jump in!

Old Gig Reviews #2

Meanwhile, Mostly Other People Do The Killing were busy deconstructing the entire history of jazz, like a pod-shuffle gone awry, glorying in the short attention span as they jackknifed from trad to terrorising, in a real-time feast of fleshly dicing'n'slicing. One moment trumpeter Peter Evans was blowing Dixie, the next he was circular breathing a deep drainage drone, as Kevin Shea spidered all over his drumkit, manic cowbell in hand. (Winter Jazzfest, NYC, USA, 2012)

AAJ: During the IIR year, will you play as Talibam!, or will you maintain an individual persona stance, to aid in making improvisation even more fluid?

MM: Talibam! Exists, in and of us and beyond us as two people who play in a band that is named TALIBAM!. As a word, It is a critique of the militarism and infantilism of humanity continuing its disposition towards greater inequality, plunder and misinformation and political and environmental violence. The album titles, of our records 'endgame of the anthropocene' in 2017, and 2007 'ordination of the globetrotting conscripts' are written as a civic duty, to attempt a 'dissent' in the echosphere of hipster linguistics. Yet, since a band is also a band, and we are two individual humans with our own methodologies, and artistic aesthetics it was important and affirming for Kevin and I to have been invited to Moers not as Talibam!, but as Matt Mottel and Kevin Shea. This way, we operate on the basis of a more self defined individual identity, coexisting together, rather than under the artificial construct of what a 'band is.' If there are any invitations for Talibam! To perform, we will show up. Also stay tuned, likely...for a Talibam! Holiday Spectacular.

KS: I like how you framed this question of identity, and it only encourages me to base my answer on its presumption of fluxional probability. The audience, were there one, may differ in my analysis (was there one).

Old Gig Reviews #7

Meanwhile, Shea was a smearing of stick-fluidity, scattering close-knit beat-ratchets liberally, ever in motion, sutured to his cohorts. (Colonic Youth, Trans-Pecos, NYC, USA, 2014)

AAJ: What's it like in the house?

MM: I have a 20 euro Krups espresso maker that I bought on Facebook Marketplace, on a frigid February night, taking a bus from Moers to Krefeld, and waiting in a weird outdoor mall, to hand it over. It's a nice machine, that doesn't make an exact espresso, but something 'close to it.' I have a 1969 Tunturi stationary bicycle that I also bought on Facebook marketplace for 100 euros, that got me through the ice cold of February to flex the muscles. Taking a hot bath in the tub, with the blue tile floor, reminds me of what the YMCA swim locker felt like when I was 11 years old on West 63rd street. Ernie Brooks, who I toured with as a trio with Steve Shelley in 2019 (my second to last tour before the lockdowns), when hearing of the lifestyle at the house, described it perfectly: The Tour To Nowhere...

KS: You may have heard the phrase, "architecture becomes you." I presume to understand how one's mental facilities are diminished or energized in vague accordance with one's confinements, but I also presumed to know what scheme sycophants wore on their sleeves before I didn't. Poetic interpretation is a blast for those unhindered by thoughts of vengeance...the mind teases each nail, brick, and door knob into a furtive dungeon while cries of purposeful acquiescence placate the low frequency standing waves. I am as much an unreliable narrator to this house as she is to me, as the basement ghosts are to their maledictions, as the red squirrel is to its synesthetes.

Old Gig Reviews #9

Meanwhile, Seabrook bowed his banjo and drummer Kevin Shea scuttled around his skins, and then further around the wooden hull. (Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Barge Music, NYC, USA, 2015)

AAJ: Are you anticipating contact with the local folk, eventually? Including musicians?

MM: I meet people every day on my bicycle, and as an improviser in life. An important cultural center just outside of Moers is the Seewerk, which was the home of sculpture and conceptual artist Anatol Herzfeld. It was on my list of places to go, and I hadn't made it, but on a random bike ride to an unknown GPS point, I passed by it. Went inside, found an incredible sculpture garden, and an empty scene. There was a guy sitting on a bench, who told me he was waiting to see his friend's art studio. That guy, artist Becker Schmidtz, became my friend and has enjoyed Augustiner beer next to our fire pit!

KS: So far we have collaborated with over 30 lovely musicians. The culture defined by expectation evaporates as tour chops rear their full potential on the studio floor. Communicative gestures, though limited as they are by space and time, shan't preclude the golden thread that is collaboration, discourse, and compassion... Vertebrates prompting vertebrates to sour or swathe the artificial assumptions of insecurity... "music heals the bewildering facade," I have surmised in a vacuum until now.

Old Gig Reviews #10

Then, one of the weekend's mightiest acts stormed the stage, early evening light still dappling, even though their crazed sounds were meant for the midnight hour. Alien Whale brings together the tri-borough (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens) New Yorkers Colin Langenus (guitar), Matt Mottel (keytar), and Nick Lesley (drums), three musical maniacs with a desperate rapport, once again taking a form, psychedelic jazz-rock, and bending it into an extreme parody, thrilling, absurd, macho and moronic, virtuosic and violent. Mottel and Langenus were vying for supremacy as they traded ever more elaborate solos, kept aloft and limber by Lesley's whipcrack patterns. They played like it was their final show, as if it was the latest, most drink'n'drug fuelled nightcap possible. (Supersonic, Birmingham, England, 2014)

Another Moers set will present Das Queue, an outfit that brings Mottel and Shea together with old pardner Ron Stabinsky (on the mysterious 'buzzer'), as well as Marja Burchard (vibes, keys, horn, percussion), Maasl Maier (bass, horn, keys) and Keisuke Matsuno (guitar). Additional artists will be invited, and will all be at the mercy of Stabinsky and his quiz show electro-alarm.

MM: The meaning of our title for our festival project Das Queue is to both consider and reflect on this year as both an internal moment that the whole world existed within, and a stasis of waiting in the unknown. Within this, we were challenged to make our homes even more of a place you have to work within and build a creative reality to participate in your own culture, while 'waiting for gigs to come back.' And The Queue refers to the stagnant nature of the bureaucracy floating above us and then literally the weight of testing lines for phone calls/ unemployment/On Hold Muzak For Three Hours.

The wait in the line.

The life in a line to nowhere is what we've all been living continuously, and now with the vaccine access expanding rapidly across the USA, and the rest of the world waiting, and the pandemic rampaging in other parts of the world, that exist in a greater density of population, Das Queue is this moment of us being Online All The Time.

And what Kevin and I see, is that if we just stay waiting, if we don't shake it up, we will miss the boat. So the best boat that floats for us, in the first three months of our residency, is to make a new band by playing with musicians who we had a real kindred connection in spirit with that came to our house in March of 2020, and now return to play with us at the festival.

This is Keisuke Matsuno, a Berlin guitarist who had met Kevin in New York City and existed with us in a trio of joyous tenacity and exactitude of creative poise. Then we have Marja Burchard and Maasl Maier of the Munich and astrally travelling Embryo who I met in Salzburg in summer 2019. The sessions that we had as a trio and as a quartet were so uplifting for Kevin and I, that it was clear, we make a band of people we already have played with, rather than assemble an ' all star fantasy band' .

Old Gig Reviews #1

Citadelic featured several artists who presented different collaborative sets, working in unfamiliar formations. The NYC duo Talibam! were due to start early with a core set, but sticksman Kevin Shea had railway problems, so keytar maestro Matt Mottel was suddenly forced into solo mode. This was no bad result, as this was quite a rare chance to catch one of his far-ranging improvised expeditions, planting down layers on beats, topped by a degraded, rough-hewn solo line, with bent psychedelics, warbling and vibrating. Aided by improviser and instrument-maker Cooper-Moore, Mottel has added three strings to his keytar, allowing Eastern trimmings, fed through pedals and boxes. His second section had a repeating figure over which he soloed with an organ sound, getting more conventional with a filmic John Carpenter atmosphere. Then, his next number had a trudging rock'n'roll approach, coupled with a circus acrobatic flipping motion. Just as well that Shea got derailed, so that we could witness this alternative Mottel manifestation! (Citadelic, Gent, Belgium, 2019)

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