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Nels Cline: Of Singers and Sound

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AAJ: It's rare to see a Cryptogramophone CD without [label head/violinist Jeff Gauthier producing.

NC: I met David Breskin doing this project called Dirty Baby that's coming out later this year—another double CD. The music accompanies an Ed Ruscha art monograph and poetry by David Breskin— his recontextualization of these lesser known Ruscha works from the mid-'80s to early '90s. He commissioned me to write this music. Ron Saint Germain is his chosen engineer, and he just told me he'd like to produce anything I'd like to do. So, that's the reason for that. David and Jeff get along.



AAJ: And the Super Collider imagery is a metaphor for your giant guitar sound?

NC: The Collider imagery was brought to me by David Breskin for consideration. He showed it to me on his laptop while we were mixing, and I was totally staggered by the beauty and otherworldliness of it—very mandala-like. So I picked which ones I wanted on the outside of the package and let David and Jeff put it all together. I'm not a physicist, but I did like the idea of something that is essentially the world's largest machine and also something that people thought was possibly going to suck us into a black hole and end the world, having a certain kind of unique beauty.

AAJ: The vocals we hear mixed in—are those all you, or did everyone participate?

NC: They're all me—wordless singing, I've now blown the ironic name of the band.

AAJ: Are you developing a vocal side?

NC: I sing with Yuka in Fig, but no, I don't think so. Initiate, disc one has a concept that's not a new direction for the band as much as a different kind of record, which is to say a little warmer, at times a little sunnier and groovier and dronier—just less jazz syntax and less noise overall. Not that there isn't noise, of course. But then through all that, you just get the live disc and get right into our usual impact.

AAJ: I like the bookending of "Into It."

NC: Well, that was David Breskin's idea to end the album with a remix. So, Ron Saint Germain and I remixed it and I asked Yuka to play a little synthesizer on it, to take my voice out of it, and make it sound a little different—replace my voice with her synthesizers as a melodic voice. And you can play it over and over again like a circle, like the Hadron Collider. Actually, that theme recurs again in the middle of the record, at the end of the piece called "Redline to Greenland." So, we're going for a weird built-in symmetry.

AAJ: You get pretty funky on "Floored."

NC: Blatant '70s Miles Davis reference. We'd been playing that for awhile without some of the little riffs thrown in—there are only a couple. And it didn't have a title for a long time, so we threw that in as a little voila moment, channeling John McLaughlin and Chick Corea with Miles damage.

AAJ: Scott and [bassist] Devin [Hoff]are pretty powerful on that.

NC: Those guys know how to groove. The fact that they can do that is another reason that starting the Singers was different, because the feel was going to better than my previous groups, but beyond that, since that capability exists, I feel free to do things that aren't super obvious for me because I know it's going to be groovin.'

AAJ: Then you slow things down with "Divining."

NC: Yeah, that's one of my favorites. It's kind of just like "Blue in Green" [from Miles Davis' classic Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)]. It's a reference to some of that glorious early '70s Fender Rhodes jazz. For me, it's a blatant reference to Latin- tinged jazz at the beginning.

People have mentioned [guitarist] Grant Green when they hear the guitar solo. I was playing in an open tuning, so I was trying to negotiate that. But I was trying to get a whiff of '70s George Benson in there, and Wes Montgomery certainly, but then the ending—which is pretty psychedelic, except for the percussion—is all live performance, [and] to me is redolent of Brazilian psychedelic music, which I love so much.

Some of those so-called Tropicalia artists—Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and also people I've listened to for years like Egberto Gismonti, and people that I'm just getting into now that I kinda missed like Tom Ze. Not so say that it's a Brazilian thing, but the subdivided triangle I asked Scott to play in there—that kind of build, and the voice added there—I wanted it to have a little Tropicalia psychedelia.

AAJ: Then things get going again on "Redline to Greenland."

NC: That's kind of a rock tune we wrote collaboratively, Devin, Scott, and me. It's not really much of a song. It was based around a groove on this old Electro Harmonics drum machine I have. I'm not sure how serious a tune it is, but when you listen to it in the car it sounds serious, and it blows your car up, so that's cool.

For the first time on any of my own records, I play a guitar solo that's a little bit wanky, maybe at least a little bit, trying to deal with my earlier influences, which are sort of oozing out of me these days: Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, primarily, but also Ernie Isley. I never wanted to do that on any of my own records, but it sort of feels right sometimes. With Greenland mentioned in the news alongside the concept of Global Warming, the title's a roundabout way of saying it's urgent we address this, not that we can address it with instrumental music. I was just hoping for a positive future.

I actually shook Jeff Beck's hand. I saw him in a hotel bar in Hollywood where everyone in Wilco was staying except me. I just walked up to him and shook his hand and scampered away. I didn't try to talk to him or tell him I'm a guitarist or anything. But that was fun. He looked just like Jeff Beck.

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Date Detail Price
Dec29Sat
11:59 pm
Nels Cline, Billy Martin, Skerik, MonoNeon
Sony Hall
New York, NY

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