BILL LASWELL, BASS: The Final Frontier – BASS MUSICIAN MAGAZINE INTERVIEW…
BAJ: Let’s begin by asking you to articulate your general concept of the word “sound”… Not, necessarily “your sound”, perse. But, what does sound do to your soul and what is your immediate reaction to sounds that give you pleasure?
BL: I probably don’t have a general concept of the word “sound”… I could say that it’s infinite, like space, constant…there’s a very detailed soundtrack going on at all times. No such thing as silence. Impossible… Even in the most remote and hidden location… Your ears will ring in different frequencies /pitches, your heart beat keeps the pulse, with nervous system and blood stream, moving at a turbulent, chaotic pace. The fundamental bodily rhythm section meets the orchestrated, ambient mind space. The basic foundation of human music.
BAJ: Is there a mental/emotional process for you when moving from project to project – say, between leaving a Bladerunner gig and moving into dates with Massacre? If so, would you talk about that process? How do you seamlessly move from one project to the next – seemingly without taking a break?
BL: There’s no real process that I’m aware of moving from project to project. I’ve tried to think of it as all one experience…or maybe not to think too much at all… Intuition is key… This is where training, order and systems can do the most damage… Learning to do things a certain way, based on preset theories and ideas. Education – being the number one enemy of intuition. There is no distance between one event and the next…even if time is short…you have to disregard the distance. In fact, it never existed…like the chains of the law.
BAJ: Taking an aside, would you tell us about M.O.D. and your latest output? You seem to have a very cool approach to marketing product! Or, is it that you produce so much…?
BL: The most recent release on M.O.D. is The Process…with pianist Jon Batiste and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith…and many special guests…just came out, doing well. Past releases have included Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bernie Worrell, Sly & Robbie and others. There’s also THE INCUNABULA DIGITAL SERIES which features a lot of rare live recordings…Wadada Leo Smith, Milford Graves, Akira Sakata with Pete Cosey, RAMM:ELL:ZEE, DJ Krush and more. As far as a cool approach to marketing, there’s not a lot of hype because there’s limited funds…that simple, hoping for the best.
BAJ: You posses a commanding feel and approach to the bass guitar. Whether you are playing melodies, or deep within the pocket, there is “exactness” to your approach. Would you elaborate on aspects of your playing that a new listener might overlook?
BL: I think it’s very important to develop your own signature sound that should be recognized as your sound…the feel, the finger pressure, phrasing, tone…will come with experience…especially if you have the opportunity to play with great rhythm musicians.
BAJ: Does travel aid, or hinder, your ability to spend time on your instrument? Also, have you found a remedy for the grind of being constantly “on the go”? Do you have a process for dealing with your very limited downtime?
BL: I think travel is crucial. And don’t spend any time on the instrument. It comes out of the bag for work only…which is pretty consistent fortunately. I’m not really constantly on the go. And as far as downtime, there’s no such thing…if you are thinking, you’re working.
BAJ: Your musical approach is varied and yet incredibly consistent! Was there ever a time when you said to yourself, “This is Bill Laswell and this is where my sound is going next!”?
BL: Can’t say that I’ve had that experience. As far as next, I always have to look back to see what’s coming. As if the past came from the future.
BAJ: How do you approach composition, and are there parallels between composing music and producing?
BL: If this word “music” is sacred and reserved for eighteenth – and nineteenth -century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound (John Cage: Silence) Organization of Sound is the current state of composition / production… The result of experimental production can create totally new compositions. Cage stated in the fifties – in the future records will be made from records…before DJ culture and sampling.
BAJ: Since you very often blend acoustic instruments with electronic instruments… What sonic factors tell you the music is moving in the right direction?
BL: Blending acoustic instruments with electronic instruments all sounds for that matter should be an intuitive process. However, sometimes a random event, even a mistake or accident can drastically change a musical or sonic direction. It’s going right when it feels right. And that can change constantly as it goes along… You have to be able to make quick decisions but also be open. Having a plan is good…not having one can also be good. So, on occasion – “destroy all rational thought”.
BAJ: Your vocal production is reminiscent of horn production. Was that a goal? What is the perfect placement of melody in your composition process?
BL: I didn’t make that connection between vocal and horn production… could be the concept of placement, size, balance of a top line or theme / melody. As far as melody, sometimes out of a dense cacophony, transient harmonics from at random to produce a inherent, natural, melodic statement… A good example of this would be the throat singing of Tuva and Mongolia…as well as noise music where heavily distorted, out of tune guitars collide harmonically.
BAJ: Whom are you listening to, musically, of late?
BL: I think it’s healthy not to have a fixed routine or schedule for listening… I still try to hear a little of everything and not too much any one music… What I buy consistently and always have, is current popular music…hip hop related, electronic, reggae, and on… Kanye West, for an example, is usually pushing out some kind of new and unusual production approach…who says the avant-grade can’t keep up with the Kardashians…
BAJ: Do you ever find yourself wrestling with your own clichés, or tendencies? How do you escape yourself when producing, or performing?
BL: Wrestling with clichés or tendencies… I think everyone does… Sometimes, I’ll change instruments, or effects…or maybe listen to something totally unrelated for a minute… I remember playing Steve Vai some Gamelan and North African trance music on headphones right before he played guitar solos meant for a heavy rock context. Had to have been confusing. But produced some great and surprising results.
BAJ: Are you still challenged by bass playing, and do you maintain goals for your playing –in the overall sense?
BL: Still challenged, yes and no… I think the goals are to continue…sounds, ideas, technique. I think develop naturally with diverse experience. The things I don’t know how to play are luckily the things I have no interest in playing.
BAJ: Would you be able to share any insights about what keeps you motivated and moving forward?
BL: Motivated yes… I’m not sure anybody is really moving forward… I would be fine to just keep moving …inspiration, motivation comes from many directions… A quick random scan. Sound, nature, industry, writing, film, painting, Brion Gysin, Che Guevara, Alejandro Jodorowsky, William S. Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Williams, William Blake, dub, mysticism, John Cage, science fiction, alchemy, magic. Endless & Timeless.
BAJ: Finally, what are you hopes for the next musical year?
BL: Hopes for the next musical year probably in a word “continue”. Travel, in spite of the reality, that it’s getting harder. More recording, continue developing some existing music groups. The Master Musicians of Jajouka with Material, Bladerunner, Massacre, projects with DJ Krush, Wadada Leo Smith, Milford Graves, John Zorn.
Think Beyond the Limit.
Talk for the Young Mutants.
NOTHING IS TRUE, EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.
HELL’S KITCHEN, NYC
NOV. 19, 2014