I'll confess something about my Polaris ballot: when asked to prioritize the five Canadian albums I loved the most from the last year, I indulged in some ultimately futile strategic voting and put Goodbye Lucille by Feuermusik in my number one spot. Considering the love for this record among at least four or five Toronto critics, I thought that might be enough to vault this obscure saxophone-and-buckets duo onto the list. Oh, such hubris!
Jeremy Strachan and Gus Weinkauf comprise Feuermusik--a band whose moniker that, for the longest time, had this Kraut-challenged Canuckophile thinking they had something to do with Montreal MVP Mike Feuerstack (Snailhouse, Wooden Stars, Julie Doiron, etc.).
They don't, of course, and nor do they sound like anything else you might expect. Not the hardcore band Rockets Red Glare, where they both spent the early years of this decade. Not the eggheady art-rock of the Sea Snakes or the cinematic orchestrations of the Hylozoists, two bands where Jeremy played guitar. And certainly not like most jazz records you own: Feuermusik play intricately arranged pop songs based entirely on buckets, bass clarinets and saxophones. Intense rhythms frame an abundance of melodies and harmonies, very few of which sound improvised--there's even sheet music in the liner notes if you want to follow along at home.
Feuermusik went on hiatus almost immediately after the release of Goodbye Lucille, when Jeremy moved to St. John's, Newfoundland to study at Memorial University. He's back in Toronto this summer, where's he wasted no time in gigging steadily in various incarnations, including Feuermusik, who are recording new material as we speak. They play tomorrow night (Thursday) in Guelph, and Jeremy will be part of a tribute to John Coltrane's Ascension at the Tranzac on Saturday. More details here.
Jeremy also just released his first album of solo saxophone improvised pieces, called The Heart of the Matter, inspired by the paintings of Kate Bond Pretti. It came out this month on the new imprint Standard Form, founded by Alex Turlak of hardcore band I Can Put My Arm Back On You Can't.
The interview below was excerpted in this piece for Eye, and another for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record which has been reprinted here. It's a rather exhaustive discussion: everything you never knew you wanted to know about Jeremy Strachan but didn't have time to ask.
You can also hear Jeremy interviewed by David Dacks on CIUT 89.5 in Toronto tonight (Wednesday) at 6.30PM.
June 26, 2007
Locale: his parents’ basement in Erindale
Driving by Erindale high school on the way in here, I was thinking of the large posse of Mississauga musicians that have taken over the Toronto scene. Which ones did you go to high school with?
I went to Erindale. I grew up with Shaw-Han [Liem, I Am Robot And Proud], although we didn’t go to school together. Gus [Weinkauf] and Jim [McIntyre] went to different high schools a well. Kristian [Galberg, Sea Snakes] and Lee [Shepherd, Holding Pattern] were in Oakville. The only person I really went to high school with that I ended up playing music with was Evan Clarke. Other than that, everyone else was spread around. It was less of a high school thing than meeting at shows in Streetsville and Oakville, at the Kinsmen Lodge and Masonic Hall.
So you just met by seeing each other’s bands?
Yeah. Shaw-Han, Evan and I were in a band when we were 15 or 16 that lasted until we were 19. There were a lot of bands that would form and play a handful of shows and then it wouldn’t work out. That’s how I got to know all these people. It’s weird, because these friendships have lasted so long. I’ve known Shaw-Han for 15 years now. He and Evan and I have been friends since we were 13. The high school aspect was not a huge factor. There were these shows at the church that were the nexus of where I met everyone. Then we all moved to Toronto in drips and drabs.
How far back do you go with Gus? To Rockets Red Glare?
Earlier. Gus and Jim McIntyre used to play in Blake with Evan. Before that, Jim and Gus were in a band called Scrambled Debutante with this guy named Dan Zubawa, who is in a band called Girls Are Short. The first time I think I met Gus was outside the Opera House when I was 16. He had dreadlocks and was trying to force me to drink his Slurpee. I didn’t really get to know him well until Rockets Red Glare, which was 1999. It’s a good chunk of years now.
What do you think you and he have together? Why did you want to work with him for Feuermusik?
Actually, he asked me. After Rockets broke up, there was the Sea Snakes thing for a while. I really learned how to play with him. He has a very distinct way of playing. He’s a very detail-oriented musician, and I mean that in every respect: his playing and the way he wants to put things together. In Rockets, he and I had more of a thing locked in, where Evan was playing on top.
You were playing bass in Rockets, yes?
Yeah, locking into patterns he was making. I learned how he would build up a beat and play changes on that beat. We established a fairly common vocabulary in terms of playing. Then he called me to say he was playing buckets and wanted to try a duo with saxophone. That started in 2004. We’re just on the same page both musically and personally. Feuermusik is a very easy band, compared to the Hylozoists or these massive juggernauts that require huge amps and lots of co-ordination. Whenever Feuermusik plays out of town, we usually take the bus.
Were there many out-of-town gigs during the two active years you were together [before moving to Newfoundland]?
We played Montreal and Guelph a handful of times. That’s about it. We’re doing some shows this summer, like Ottawa. Both Gus and I are very content to focus locally, instead of trying to do the thing we’ve both done before: build up a local following and then go play in other cities. Especially after living in St. John’s, you get the sense that there can be an inflated sense of importance that local scenes have—which is a good thing, because it bolsters that identity. That’s much more important, though that vocabulary and awareness might not translate to other centres. Living in St. John’s, no one knows what’s going on in Toronto and no one cares.
Yes. I’m very happy to be back here and playing in Toronto. You really do realize the insane amount of music being made in this city, and stuff like the Extermination Music Nights and the Poor Pilgrim thing, you really realize how special this place is. That sense of importance is vital to keeping things going.
Rockets ended around 03, right?
Yeah. Started in 99, ended around 03 or 04. I can’t remember when the last show was.
I found an interview with you from 03, when you were in Rockets, and you say that you didn’t think you were a very good saxophone player. When did you start taking it seriously, or when did it step up?
Really when Feuermusik started. At some point I became very disinterested in being a guitarist and a bass player. I played guitar for many years and it’s the instrument I went to school for. I bought a cheap saxophone when I was 19 and squawked away on it for three or four years. At some point I made a concerted effort to learn the instrument better, and then I became interested in other reed instruments: bass clarinet and the other saxophones, alto, soprano and baritone. And flute—most of what I practice now is flute, because I’m very weak on it and I want to have that proficiency. Towards the end of Sea Snakes I made a conscious effort to get better. And I kept getting calls to do studio work for indie rock records, because people knew me and that I was a nice guy and wouldn’t be some studio monkey charging $300/hr for my time.
This was for horn work and arrangements?
Yeah. I figured I should learn how to read a bit better on the horn, and play in tune!
What were some of those records?
I played on the Golden Dogs. The Constantines’ albums, both Shine a Light and Tournament of Hearts. The Fembots, Jon Rae, the Deadly Snakes. It’s mostly through Paul Aucoin, actually. He’s so busy recording all of these records, it seemed like in 05/06 every record had to have a horn section on it. A lot of the arrangements were Paul’s, and he wanted me to play horn. Nathan Lawr’s newest record, I did all the arrangements for. I think Paul really liked the idea of a live horn section: tenor, trumpet and trombone in a room with three mics.
Are there melodic things you’re more comfortable exploring on the saxophone than you are on guitar?
Sure, it’s a totally different way of making music and even experiencing music. The way that I play guitar is that it’s fundamentally orchestral: you can play a melody and a bass line and harmonize at the same time. On the horn, it’s much more a linear thing. There’s only one note you can play at a time. When I’m playing it, I try and hint at the harmonic implications of a melody. With the bass clarinet, the lower registers of the instrument are so contrasting with the high and middle sections, and there’s so much richness in that instruments and I can really hear the chords in the melody. I’ve become much more attuned to melody, as opposed to the guitar…
Which is more shapes.
Exactly. I find it’s a forest-for-the-trees thing. When you pooch a note on the bass clarinet and it squawks, especially in Feuermusik, there’s nothing underneath that. Of course, the other option is to incorporate that into the vocabulary. And I do incorporate a lot of extended sounds.
In Feuermusik I hear a lot of specific scales and cultural influences, for lack of a better term. Are there specific things you’re intentionally bringing into it?
The first record, there were definitely things I was aware of after I heard what was going on. I wasn’t trying to say, ‘I want this to sound like a weird Mexican thing, or an Afrobeat thing.’ Mostly when I was writing those arrangements I was thinking of the colours of the different horns on top of each other. The record we’re working on right now, we just did a session on Sunday, and I improvised with four bass clarinets doing polyrhythms, because I’ve been playing with a drummer in St. John’s who just spent a lot of time in Ghana, and he’s influenced by that kind of thing. His name is Curtis Andrews, and he’s amazing. So that knowledge is latently being absorbed by me.
I’m curious about the composition process. The live and the studio experiences are obviously so different. I didn’t see you play before I heard the record, so was there stuff that you knew you could only do in the studio and didn’t play live before that?
The record turned out very differently from what we anticipated. We wanted it to sound really scrappy and dirty, loud and abrasive. We planned to do live off the floor in one day at Jeff [McMurrich]’s studio. We did something like 24 takes in one day. But I don’t think we were good enough as players at that point.
We started those sessions in 05. I was playing a really beat up old student model tenor which was really a piece of junk. That kind of energy that translates so well live as players—just between the two of us—just doesn’t translate to the studio. All you hear are bad notes.
We had no deadline for the record, so we kept building on these duo performances that we did. It was a weird way to make a record. Our bed tracks were buckets and a single tenor saxophone line. We’d go in, record, and I’d improvise on top of some things, then I’d take the record home and chart out some more concrete ideas.
We’re taking the opposite approach with this record, me living in St. John’s and Gus being in Toronto. I’m bringing in bigger charts now, because I know what it’s going to sound like when we go into the studio.
I like that the live thing and the record are two totally different things. I feel like I’m getting better on the horn and I’m able to access a much more extensive “bag,” as they call it, that I can grab on to as an improviser. It’s taken me two and a half years to do that. Same with Gus. Our performances are free-er now.
I don’t know if this is accurate or not, but when I listen to the record I think I hear you harmonize the overblown notes, or the squawkers. Is that true?
Yeah, there are some parts on the record where that happens. “In a Violent Way” starts with a really low overblown Bb on the tenor, and then I mimic that on the bass clarinet, so you get those harmonics and textures. That was intentional, for sure. And on “Tyranny of Apperances” there’s a middle section where there’s a wall of horns that opens up for a minute or so. Mistakes in the playing become the starting points for weird compositional things like that. The instruments have these crazy acoustical resources that you can really build on.
Why cover “Summertime?”
That’s a good question. I always really liked the tune. I was really into Coleman Hawkins, who has this famous tenor sax solo called “Picasso.” There are a few other unaccompanied solos by guys like Eric Dolphy. They’re really tuneful pieces. So I took that melody because I really like those opening chords, those lush half-diminished chords rocking back and forth, and I wanted to see if I could do something with that with just the saxophone, to bring out the harmonic implications of those opening chords. The melody is really easy and it’s really well-known, and I knew that Gus would come up with something insane to put underneath it. That tune is probably the album’s biggest question mark, because we couldn’t get a good tenor sound on it, and the beginning and ending are weak.
Is there a lot of editing on the record, in terms of stretching Gus’s parts to create room for a solo, for example?
No, not too much. Most of the editing was just fixing mistakes in the beds and banging little parts into tunes.
No time stretching, then.
I think in one tune, “Doppelspiel,” because we thought it was too short at the end. I think that’s it.
About your new album, can you tell me who Kate Bond Pretti is, and how would you describe her work?
She’s an artist from Toronto. The work I’ve seen of hers, she does a lot of black and white etchings with swaths of colour. It’s mostly the contrast of these lines, these meandering pieces that she’s done. There was a series of pieces she did called The Heart of the Matter which I thought were so great.
Her pieces are very musical. You can see the movement, and the impulses behind what’s going on. I knew that when she does these etchings that she’s listening to music, and you can see that they’re responsive pieces. I emailed her one day to see about the idea of doing responses to her etchings, because I thought it would be such a neat idea to keep that cycle going. Conceptually it appealed to me. I don’t know if she’s a fan of solo improvised music.
Do you know what kind of music she listened to while doing them?
I don’t, actually. I do know she liked Rockets Red Glare. I don’t know how relevant that is. She is Alex Turlak’s partner, the guy who is running the Standard Form label. I knew Alex was working at the Power Plant. For a long time, he had been bugging me to record something weird and wanted me to play some guitar music in an alley or something. I think he was interested in uncontrolled environments, the results that a recording process would yield. We booked two days at the Power Plant gallery.
Did she have a show there?
No. Alex was working there as an installation crew that would set up and tear down the galleries for each exhibition. He arranged for me to come in on a couple of nights in this massive gallery with nothing in it. The only thing in there was an exhibition of this Inuit artist with these bleak snapshots of the north, about alcoholism and abuse. Alex printed off some high quality prints of [Pretti’s] series, and I put them on an easel and improvised to them. There are five in the series, but one of them had been sold, so there are only four cuts on the record.
Do you think there’s a relationship between her drawing style and the notation for improvised music? I was noticing on the Goodbye Lucille sheet music you included in the liner notes, that there are lines on the sheet music indicating spaces on the register where I’m assuming the player is expected to improvise.
That’s totally interesting. I didn’t even consider that at all, but you’re dead on the money. A lot of graphic notation, the contour or the gesture is much more important than the actual notes you’re hitting.
The glissando between notes.
Absolutely. In a sense I guess I was improvising from these graphically notated scores.
It just struck me because what little I’ve seen of her work seemed to be very much about lines as opposed to rounded shapes.
Part of your artistic statement in the liner notes for this album says this: “I am largely concerned with the mutability of simple musical gestures, and their ability to sustain an expanded perceptual present.” What do you mean?
Less so now, but when I wrote that I was really interested in the idea of form in music. Large-scale form is largely a learned process.
The argument—and I’m paraphrasing here—is that when you’re listening to, say, a 27-minute piece of music, the music that you’re experiencing and not remembering or anticipating, is an incredibly short amount of time. It’s seconds long. The idea that you can perceive these large-scale forms and structures and closures in music is an enculturated thing, more of a series of expectations. It’s an engagement with listening that doesn’t actually involve a lot of listening, but more anticipating and regurgitating and fulfilling expectation.
Musicologists and phenomenologists and cognitive scientists—there’s been a lot of research into this idea—[ask]: what exactly is a perceptually present musical engagement? It’s an incredibly short amount of time. So I was saying that I’m not thinking in large-scale terms or closure. It’s the idea that the music in the moment that you’re listening to is there, and if it can sustain itself through various permutations and transformations—if you can sustain that engagement—then there’s a loop that goes on between either the sound source and the listener, or the musician and the instrument, or the audience and the recording device. If the idea is there and it’s constantly regenerating itself, it’s something that interests me.
Sometimes I’m more interested in writing out songs and having really good form and sections that resolve and close. The other end of that, which most people have problems with, is that improvisation is indulgent and esoteric and alienating, etc. One way of looking at it is that it’s a way of producing and experiencing music that blurs out the anticipatory and recollective aspects of listening, and it becomes pure listening.
I’m sure a lot of people will think that’s bullshit. But as a musician, it alters how you approach music in performance. It gives you that license and all sorts of tiny gestural things that could be a tiny second or millisecond or a mistake or four notes, it’s the immediate experience.
The question then is what an audience takes from that when they’re listening to a 12-minute improvised solo saxophone piece, vs. listening to Feuermusik—which to me is essentially pop music, where it’s very composed, it has a head and a chorus and parts you recognize.
Sure. I don’t think this [Heart of the Matter material] would work with Gus, because of his approach to playing music. He’s very interested in improvising, but I don’t think it would translate in that context. I think we’re both on the same page, where there are improv aspects in what we do, if there’s a tune or a head or a chorus or some structure we can go back to, then… That’s probably what people have come to expect from us. There’s a level of expectation from people that you want to meet them halfway on.
Slightly off-topic, I went to see the Fiery Furnaces last night, and it was really confounding in the most glorious way. I’d seen them before and kind of knew what to expect, but quite often a song would have the same lyrics, but a completely different melody and totally unrecognizable chord structure. Everything is plucked apart, and the melody of one or two songs will be dropped throughout the set for about four or eight bars as recurring motifs. When you talk about people’s linear perceptions of a longer piece, one could tell that a lot of people there just didn’t understand—or like—what was going on because it really toyed with their expectations.
This is also something that’s interesting to me. You start getting into interpretive strategies. There’s a book by this jazz scholar, Ingrid Monson, called Saying Something: Improvisation in Jazz. She’s picking apart the language metaphor in music, like musicians are talking to each other, etc.
One of the things she says is that there are these concentric circles of interpreters in any given audience situation. There are people who have an experiential knowledge of a tune or a piece. So for example, you can remember these things and you can hear them being dropped into different points in the set, and you come to a Fiery Furnaces concert with this knowledge base. Whereas other people won’t: they hear sounds and chord structures.
Her argument is that in any given situation where jazz musicians are playing with each other, there are these infinite levels of familiarity and understanding at play, between people listening to music, between musicians themselves who have this capability to speak with each other, by throwing in quotations or switching things up and displacing the melody, bla bla bla. The more you hear, the more you have this aptitude for being able to recognize these structures.
Whereas, I’ve never heard a note of the Fiery Furnaces so I wouldn’t know what’s going on in that situation.
The question then is, is it completely impenetrable? A friend of mine who works in tech crews at the Guelph Jazz Festival told me that he just doesn’t get it, and that he wants someone to come on stage—whether the musicians or someone else—and explain it before the performance. And I told him that there really is nothing to explain: at a core level, you either have a visceral, spiritual reaction to it or you don’t, and there’s nothing right or wrong about either reaction. Foreknowledge and experiential listening informs how you react to it, but the question then is when does it just become a big circle jerk and an in-joke?
Sure, yeah. That’s a massive question that’s plagued—well, I shouldn’t say plagued…
It’s confronted experimental music making since musicians decided to work outside of structures, to step outside canonical streams of music making. All the labels you have—new music, avant garde, experimental—those questions are always there. That’s what program notes are for. That’s why when the Canadian Opera stages Wagner’s Ring Cycle, they have afternoon-long talks explaining what this four-hour 11th century Norse saga was about, and why it was important. What kind of knowledge can you assume? What kind of interpretative skills can you expect to be confronted with as a musician on stage?
How do you think that applies to a four-track, 36-minute solo saxophone record?
It applies to it in the sense that there will be a lot of people who don’t like it, which any musician engaged in this kind of music-making recognizes. It’s not for everybody, but it is for a lot of people. It’s a very important record for me. I remember Lori Freedman did an Interface series that AIM Toronto puts on—do you know those?
The Association of Improvising Musicians do the Interface series, when Joe Sorbara and Scott Thomson will bring in an internationally recognized improviser—usually someone from Europe. I know they get a lot of people from Europe, especially Dutch musicians because there’s a funding thing that allows them to do that.
The Dutch are very well funded.
(laughs) I know. The Dutch consulate might pay them a thousand dollars to help export Dutch culture. The idea is that the improvisers of international renown will improvise with various configurations with local players, bringing their knowledge to the community, which will then be disseminated through other musicians.
So Lori Freedman did one of these a while ago, and Feuermusik played—not with her, just the middle set to give her face a break from blowing so hard. If there’s any one person that has influenced me to believe that you can play a solo bass clarinet in that way, it’s her, because that’s what she excels at. I find it exhilarating and fascinating and inspiring.
Anyway, she said that at one point [in her career] she was really worried, saying, ‘There’s this music I have and this relationship I have with my instrument when I’m playing, but I don’t think anyone wants to hear it.’ Somebody said to her, ‘No, in fact there are a lot of people who want to hear this. You just have to get over the fact that because it’s weird, because it’s a very strange forum for music, a strange vehicle for solo woodwind stuff, there are people who do want to hear that kind of thing.’
So especially doing this record, I kept that in the back of my mind. For instance Alex has been so supportive and gung-ho about putting this release out. I’m like, ‘Really?’ It’s something you always want to have to keep you going.
Goodbye Lucille seems to have really struck a chord with people who wouldn’t normally listen to a sax and buckets duo. Were you surprised at how well it was received?
Yes, I was surprised. At the same time, I knew that it was a really good record. We put a massive amount of time into documenting this thing, and really, really obsessed over the details—that was largely Gus. We have this yin/yang relationship, where I’m always saying, ‘Yeah, that sounds awesome!’ And he says, ‘No, it doesn’t.’ There’s a certain sense of satisfaction that this amount of work is being received well.
I try not to think about this too much, but I would be really devastated if people said, ‘This is just a joke or a novelty record.’ Sure, ‘sax and buckets’ equals ‘busker.’ But I spent so much time on the arrangements and the voicings and the structures and making it make sense. We wanted to make sure something was happening with each song.
Last weekend [at an Extermination Night underneath the Dundas Street bridge in the Junction neighbourhood] you performed with two auxiliary players. How does that fit into Feuermusik’s long term plan?
It fits in when we can find people to do it and when I have time. It amounts to me rehearsing, which I don’t particularly like doing, directing a room full of people. When we did the CD release show last summer, in August at the Bummer in the Summer at the Tranzac, there was a quintet. Three other horns and me and Gus.
Who were the horns?
Doug Tielli played the trombone. Kai Koschmeider played alto. Mark Leder played soprano. We did the same configuration at the Extermination Music Night in the bun factory last year. Those work really well, and it’s fun because it fleshes out the sound.
But the dynamic that Gus and I have—because we’ve been playing together for eight or nine years—that vocabulary we have with each other gets sacrificed to ensure that people are playing the charts. The fun thing about that is that if you can get players who are comfortable with loose structures and things falling apart. The reality is that good musicians are busy so rehearsal time is at a premium. I factor that in when I do the arrangements, but it’s stressful. With Gus and I as a duo, it’s really easy to just shut your brain off and play. You can’t get that with people reading charts.
What are you studying at Memorial?
I’m doing an MA in ethnomusicology. I went to Memorial because I wanted to study with Beverly Diamond, who is head of the program out there, and it’s a really small and new program. Bev used to be at York and Queen’s. Aside from being a fabulous human being, she’s a great writer and a great teacher and a great thinker. I’m researching Canadian music around the centennial, the Canadian avant-garde in the context of nascent ideas of Canadian nationalism and how that fits in with Indian compositions. There are many pieces by Canadian composers that are based either in name or more substantially on aboriginal texts and myths. A lot of that has to do with notions of Canada figuring out what it is as a nation and its folk history, which it doesn’t have as a bunch of colonizing Europeans.
So it’s not performance based?
No, not at all.
Was that part of your undergrad?
I did that at U of T. I took a long time to do my undergrad, dropping out and doing stuff part time. I’d been at U of T so long that I needed a change. My undergrad was in music history theory. I started doing a degree in classical guitar, but I wasn’t interested in being a classical guitarist. And I was in classes with guys who had smokin’ chops, and I just wasn’t interested in being that dude. The sensitive rocker kind of thing!
How much longer will you be at Memorial?
I’ll go out for one more school term, and then come back and write. St. John’s is nice, but this is my home: friends, family, [girlfriend] Naomi, and the music community here. I used to be disdainful; I had a certain amount of scorn [for Toronto]. Living in the city for eight or nine years, you lose perspective a bit. There are so many bands, so much stuff, and is any of it good? But when you go away and miss it, then, yes, it’s all very good! You miss it. The people here making music are just so fantastic. The three shows I played this weekend were just so good.
It’s just not like that in St. John’s. I’m sure it is for different sets of people. The hardcore punk community and their all-ages shows are massive out there. Same with the singer/songwriter scene. It’s just not something I have a relationship with.
What about jazz or experimental music there? The Sound Symposium?
That runs every two years. The major forum for that is a monthly event called Night Music, which is subsidized by the Sound Symposium and organized by Craig Squires, who is a member of the Black Auks. They are three older guys from St. John’s, like the equivalent there of the Nihilist Spasm Band. They’ve been around for two decades, jamming every Monday night and recording it. I put a band together for Night Music last March, a saxophone quintet I did some charts for. I tried to get something going when I moved out there, but I just don’t think there’s the audience for it. It’s once a month, and even then it’s pretty low-key.
Musically, what do you think you learned from being in a hardcore band? In terms of how it applies to music you make today?
Touring as much as we did…
How far-flung were you?
Sydney to the east, Vancouver to the west, New Orleans to the south, and everything in between. We toured all over the place. The thing I learned the most was learning how to deal with people. When you’re in a band and you’re 19 and you have a six week tour booked, you have to tie things up on your end to make sure that works. You have to have enough money to go on tour. You have to get time off work. If you flake out, then you’re screwing everyone else over.
Being in a band like that where it’s The Band vs. The World, the stakes seem so much more heavier. You feel like you’re on a mission. When I think of some of the places we used to sleep in—they’re great that I have these stories to tell, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s this weird social microcosm that is the band, where it’s just about learning how to deal with people. In Rockets, there were three of us.
The unholy triangle?
Exactly! Which side are you on? When you meet musicians who have toured with a lot of people, you can tell, because they’re a bit more relaxed about it. Everybody has to deal with everybody else. You’re not going to take over the world.
Not to be fatalistic, but I used to believe in the narrative of emergence. That’s not what happens. There are bands who slog it out for 15 years and still play to five people in that city where they’ve been to five times. Once you realize that music making is a social activity, it becomes more enjoyable and you can be happy sharing it with other people.
Instead of waiting for a break.
That, or trying to delegate responsibilities to people and saying, ‘We gotta do this because we gotta make it.’
When did you reach that state of enlightenment? And is that why the band broke up?
No, we broke up because Evan and I were out of school and we weren’t making money. It sounds like a greasy thing to say, but it was a drain. We were quitting jobs and giving up apartments to go on tour. It was fun, but it got to a point where it felt like it had run its course. We had made good music, but when you play Boston for the fourth time and there’s no one there… There were two really good records and an awesome seven-inch, and our last show in Toronto was really amazing, it was packed and everyone was really into it. It was a good high point to go out on. Musically, I wanted a a change and didn’t want to play bass in a loud band anymore. Who knows, I might in five years or two years.
Musically, how do you think that band manifests itself in what you do now? If at all?
There’s a lot of discipline that being in Rockets Red Glare taught me. Other than disciplining myself as a social being. Everything about that band was about trimming the fat off of tunes and bringing out those elements that were important and getting rid of extraneous things that were just there for effect. The discipline of being in that creative environment, I think I carry that with me. Now that Feuermusik is what it is, I can kind of do whatever I want. Gus is a little more open to that kind of thing: ‘Do whatever you want, and if it sucks I’ll tell you.’