INTERVIEW: A CONVERSATION WITH TREY GUNN


From: aprasad at ccs dot carleton dot ca (Anil Prasad)
Date: Tue, 6 Jun 95 23:20:06 EDT
Subject: INTERVIEW: A CONVERSATION WITH TREY GUNN
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          A CONVERSATION WITH TREY GUNN by Anil Prasad
          Copyright 1995 by Anil Prasad & i/e Magazine
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This interview took place just before the release of the _Vrooom_
EP and originally appeared in issue #8 of i/e magazine, an
American publication devoted to progressive and electronic music.
This interview is being posted exclusively to the Elephant Talk
King Crimson digest and may _not_ be reproduced in any format.
Please respect my wishes. By violating them you discourage the
posting of future interviews. Let's keep the Internet a place of
mutual trust and respect until the machinations of the corporate
world transform it into just another conduit of greed and
corruption.
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Many thanks to Darren Bergstein, editor extraordinaire of i/e for
permitting this interview to be shared with ET'ers and to Trey
Gunn for being so generous with his time and patience. And last,
but certainly not least, thanks to Toby Howard for continuing to
run the Internet's finest music mailing list. If I may
editorialize for a moment... there are some listowners of prog-
related music lists who are intent on turning the 'net into a
hard hat area where childish insults are dropped regularly to
provoke and disturb for no particular reason. Even though said
individuals maintain their dignity on their mailing lists, their
non-list behavior illuminates their true inclinations. These
people are simply creating a house of mirrors where reflections
of their true maturity levels are easily seen by all.
ET/Discipline has avoided this nonsense and remains a place of
intelligent and interesting conversation -- even during a time
when the 'net is in danger of collapsing under the weight of
mindless chatter.
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If you enjoy this interview, you can find more information about
fascinating and unique artists in i/e magazine. Write to:

i/e Magazine: Music In Flux
2300 N. Yucca
Chandler, AZ
85224
U.S.A.

A yearly subscription is $16 U.S., $20 U.S. for Canada/Mexico and
$30 overseas. The current issue (#8) features interviews with
David Cross, Richard Sinclair and Popol Vuh -- as well as this
Trey Gunn interview. i/e needs the support of people interested
in this sort of music, so please check it out -- you'll be
pleasantly surprised.
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     Someone once said "talking about music is like whistling
about chickens." For Stick player Trey Gunn, the phrase holds
entirely true.
     Music is Gunn's aura, and he's far more interested in
exploring it rather than discussing it. But when fused with the
Stick, his fingers become an eloquent mouthpiece for his sonic
philosophy. It's one born of jagged edges and ambient
dreamscapes. It's also one which spits in the face of convention.
     It wasn't always this way though. Gunn, 33, first shot onto
the scene as a guitarist and bassist with hard rock and new wave
bands in his native San Antonio, Texas. In 1981, he pursued a
degree in music composition at the University of Oregon.
     As chance would have it, Gunn attended a guitar course
Robert Fripp was teaching in 1985. The experience triggered Gunn
to steep himself in Fripp's eclectic, anti-traditional approach.
Inspired by his teacher's quest for innovation, Gunn also decided
to pursue the ultra-complicated Stick as his full-time
instrument.
     Seeing a kindred soul in Gunn, Fripp decided to forge a
musical partnership with him. It's been a frutiful relationship.
Gunn has toured and recorded with Fripp as part of the David
Sylvian/Robert Fripp group, Sunday All Over The World, The Robert
Fripp String Quintet and The League of Crafty Guitarists.
     Besides his involvement with Fripp-related enterprises, Gunn
has released two solo albums: 1989's _Raw Power_, and 1993's _One
Thousand Years_. The former is a Stick extravaganza, while the
latter is a sweeping, ethereal and sometimes kinetic release
which showcases Gunn's songwriting and composition skills at
their pinnacle.
     Gunn presently resides in New York City where he's gearing
up to tour and record with the newly reformed King Crimson. The
current line-up also features guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian
Belew, drummers Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelatto and bassist/stick
player Tony Levin.
     King Crimson will release a new EP entitled _Vrooom_ this
November. Plans are afoot to record a full-length album in
December at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios in England.
     In Gunn's first english-language interview, he discussed his
flourishing solo career, King Crimson, and the musical terrain
he's currently traversing.
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AP: How would you describe the Stick to someone who has never
seen or heard one before?

TG: It's a hybrid instrument that combines the disciplines of the
drum, guitar and the keyboard. It looks like a two-by-four with
10 to 12 strings attached. It's played by tapping the strings.
Only one finger is used to get one sound, so you can use all of
your fingers simultaneously. That means you can use both hands to
play bass lines, chords, melodies or whatnot. It's kind of a
keyboard technique, but unlike a keyboard, the fingers have to
move around a whole plane, not just up and down a line of keys.
The bass sound is the most immediate and appealing sound. It's a
big fat, funky sound with a lot of punch, but you can make it
sound like a guitar or a keyboard too. Everyone has their own way
of playing. The advantage is there's no history to the instrument
so you can do whatever you want. The disadvantage is because
there's no tradition, you're left to generate everything on your
own.

AP: You made your first career splash with Robert Fripp's League
of Crafty Guitarists. Why do you think he first asked you to work
with him?

TG: It's because I'm not interested in doing something that's
been done before. It's not that you can't hear me doing something
that hasn't been done before, but in general, I'm looking for
another way to play the bass line. At worst, you'll get something
quirky out of me. We've spent the last few years building up a
new vocabulary of music together. The vocabulary of rock music is
old words, and what you say with old words is old things. The
League of Crafty Guitarists and Sunday All Over The World were
frameworks for that vocabulary. Hopefully Crimson will really be
the beginning of it.

AP: Can you define this new musical vocabulary?

TG: We're discovering it as we go along, and not reflecting and
keeping track. All I can say is we're at the beginning. We just
woke up, we were just born yesterday and we're really in the
dark. It's a matter of "Does this feel new to us? If it's old,
it's out." I'm not so keen to really define it yet. At some point
in the next few years there will be a period of reflection, but
right now we're barrelling ahead as fast as we can.

AP: Although the liner notes don't mention it, I understand _Raw
Power_ was a soundtrack album.

TG: It was originally music for a windsurfing film. A friend of
mine is a windsurfing cinematographer in Oregon. He asked me to
do some music and I thought it was a really good opportunity to
learn the Stick, as well as some percussion and drum machine
stuff. There's a few good things on it, but it's a bit naive
compared to the Stick playing on _One Thousand Years_. The sound
of the instrument was so wild for me that the sound carried it.

AP: Whereas Raw Power was a showcase for the Stick, _One Thousand
Years_ features much more fully-formed compositions.

TG: I didn't want to make a players' record. I hate players'
records. I think if anything, I feel like that was successfully
accomplished. I think the audience for the album could be people
who aren't connected into that whole musical world. I think it's
the kind of record that will take several years to find its place
and I'm happy with that.

AP: The album cover of _One Thousand Years_ features a Navajo
Indian girl holding a picture of her grandfather. It's a striking
image that lends the album a spiritual aura.

TG: It had very little to do with me, but it was just the right
record cover. The art director, Bill Smith, said he had the
picture and didn't know what do with it and as soon as he heard
my record he thought these two should go together. I don't know
the girl's name, but her grandfather is a Chief. That's all I
know. But there's Choctaw Indian blood in my family. Indians are
very natural in the world as opposed to us in the cities and I
tried to deal with that in the record. I live an urban life, not
by choice, and for me it was very strange and so right that
there's an Indian motif of the natural world which is what I'm
personally struggling towards while being stuck in the middle of
Manhattan.

AP: Let's discuss some of the lyrical themes on the album.

TG: I'm not sure I can do that. Obviously, no lyrics are printed
in the liner notes, unless you bought the Japanese version. They
made me translate them, and I said "Okay, you can translate them
as long as you don't print them in english."

AP: Why?

TG: For me, lyrics are not to be read. They're not to be visually
assimilated, they're to be listened to. The most important thing
about lyrics to me is that they sound right and good. They should
sound right in the mouth of the person singing and the ear of the
listener. I have no interest in the singer-songwriter style of
music.

AP: You handle all of the lead vocals on the album. How
comfortable are you with that role?

TG: I've been singing on and off for fifteen years in various
bands I've worked with. I love to sing, but I'm not entirely
convinced of myself in that role though. I think my voice is very
unique sounding, but I'm not sure it's a good voice. For
instance, David Sylvian has an amazing voice, and he doesn't need
to sing loudly to make it work -- it's just there. He's the only
person I've run across like that.

AP: The album's compositions are painfully intricate and layered.
How did you go about composing them?

TG: Most of it was based in improvisation. That's pretty obvious
in some of the lyrics. The words are very clearly improvised.
Musically, I would build up a rhythm track and do a whole bunch
of different improvisations, different percussion and different
vocals and edit everything together. So, different things are
jumping in and out.

AP: How do you look back on the David Sylvian & Robert Fripp
album _The First Day?_

TG: It was great recording it. We had no idea what was gonna
happen when we went into it. There ended up being a lot of
improvisation and three pieces ended up being hugely longer than
we expected. We played them live in the studio and when the songs
were over no-one would want to stop, so we kept going. Those
became the long codas on "Firepower" and "20th Century Dreaming."
They turned into psychedelic landscapes and we kept going for it.
They just kept building into bigger and bigger things. With
"Darshan" the tape ran off of the reel!

AP: I've heard the recording sessions for the album were often
filled with tension.

TG: We were really, really picky about the feel of the album. It
was tedious to work on at times. David [Sylvian] is very good at
crafting every little thing -- if something didn't quite feel
right, we would fix that one little thing. It's not really fun
for a musician to do. It's very hard to do and it's very time
consuming and expensive. But then you end up with some very
exceptional performances on the recording. That's one way of
working. The other way is you just come in and blow and that's
what Robert [Fripp] does. In that respect, Robert and David
represent two entire extremes of making a record, but that's why
the record works for me. It's very crafted, and because of that
it's a very interesting record to listen to.

AP: Many perceive you as a background player on _Sunday All Over
The World_ and the Sylvian/Fripp album. However, your
contributions as a writer and producer have been paramount to the
success of both projects. Does that lack of recognition bother
you?

TG: It's nice to be recognized for your work and that rarely
happens to me because I work with such high-profile people. I
can't compete personality-wise. It's nice to have your niche
where you're recognized though. I think having my own record out
will make quite a difference. I don't need to be under the
spotlight, but I'm happy when I am.

AP: Why did you choose to join King Crimson?

TG: When Robert asks you to join Crimson, you just don't say no.
The fact is, Crimson is Crimson and no-one else is Crimson and
no-one else can do Crimson music but Crimson. I think there's a
need for Crimson to make its commentary on the times. As soon as
we got together and played it was so obvious that no other band
in the world could play these musical ideas.

AP: King Crimson line-ups have tended to implode after an album
or two, leaving an atmosphere of animosity and hostility amongst
the musicians. Why will that be different this time?

TG: Well, it may not be different. I think people are older and
more experienced and we only have an industry commitment to make
one record. We may do that, do some touring next year and that
may be it for this line-up. The situation with the last line-up
was they were under obligation to deliver several records. The
music stopped happening for the group after the _Discipline_
album and they weren't allowed to stop. Hopefully that won't
happen this time. There's a lot more guys in the band and more
complications and relationships to bounce the tension around.

AP: Describe the chemistry of the current King Crimson line-up.

TG: It's really good. I've never worked with so many people with
such strong voices before though. Sometimes you don't necessarily
want six different things happening at the same time. But we
really clicked into the six pieces on the new mini-album.
Everyone contributed to them successfully.

AP: The band is operating in a double-trio format. There's two
drummers, two guitarists and two stick and bass players. Why
choose such a complicated line-up?

TG: If you listen to the new recording, there's generally that
much going on, so why not have it actually done live? It's less
of a rock band, and more of an orchestra without keyboards.

AP: It's rare to see two bass/Stick players in one band. What
approach are you and Tony Levin using to make the combination
work?

TG: Funnily enough, there's no Stick from Tony on the new EP. He
only plays bass and I play Stick. Tony played a lot of upright,
electric and bowed bass that sounds really amazing, with me on
the low-end of the stick as well. However, we have been working
on some interlocking bass parts. We're also still looking for
ways to do something on two Sticks that's really unique and
really well-delivered. The same goes for the two drummers by the
way. Basically everyone is just getting to know each other. For
instance, Bill [Bruford] hadn't seen Adrian [Belew] in ten years
until these sessions. It'll take awhile for everyone to figure
out how things will work out.

AP: I understand the band members have a profound dislike for the
word "reunion" when it comes to describing this new King Crimson
undertaking.

TG: When the last line-up was together none of the old music was
considered, and the situation is different this time. We're re-
developing some of the old ideas and reworking some of the older
pieces that haven't been played for twenty years. I think Robert
feels we have a band that can tackle some of that material. I
think it will work. I think we want to draw on the whole history
of the band, but without it being a reunion. The trick to that is
new material and that's what we have right now.

AP: Are you worried about the King Crimson curse? The group's
been a mixed blessing for many previous members who now languish
in permanent obscurity, known as ex-King Crimson members and
little else.

TG: I'm not worried about it at all. I don't have any idea what's
gonna happen with this band, but I have a hunch that it'll be
quite a wild rollercoaster ride once it kicks in. I think things
may spin out of control for awhile. It's just another stage in
what I do and it's possible it'll be the highest profile thing
I'll do, but you never know. I think the key is to continue to
work in as many different contexts as possible. There's a lot of
people who hate King Crimson and I hope I'll be able to play for
them too.
                               -- end --
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          A CONVERSATION WITH TREY GUNN by Anil Prasad
          Copyright 1995 by Anil Prasad & i/e Magazine
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       You can reach Anil Prasad at aprasad at ccs dot carleton dot ca
                and i/e Magazine at iemag at aol dot com
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Mike Stok